Q: What questions should I ask during an interview?
A: A job interview is a two-way street. You want to get to know the organization and the people who work there just as much as they want to get to know you. Asking the right questions can help you do this.
There are four types of questions to bring up during an interview:
Questions to help build rapport – Interviews are more than just an exchange of information. They should operate like a good conversation. To start that conversation off on the right foot and keep it running, you will need to build a rapport with the interviewer. Asking questions like, “How long have you been here?” and “What brought you here?” or “What are the main motivating factors that keep people here?” are a great way to start the conversation.
Questions to better understand the intricacies of the role –Naturally, you’ll want to learn as much as you can about the job you’re being interviewed for. Presumably, you’ll know most of the basics from the application process or, if you’ve worked with a recruiter, they will have filled you in with as much information as possible ahead of time. You should also do your homework on the company by searching online for information about the organization, people you may know who have worked there and ‘inside’ information about the internal culture of the firm. If you don’t already know the answers, or want to validate the information you’ve uncovered, here are a few questions that will help you better understand the open position:
- Why is this position open? i.e. is it a brand new role? Or did someone leave the position and, if so, why did they leave?
- What did previous workers in this position do well? What could be done to take the position to the next level?
- What are the top three skill sets necessary to be successful in this role?
- What type of exposure/interaction is there with other groups from the organization? What types of skills are important for those occasions?
- What are some challenges I might anticipate in this role?
- Can you describe the personality or culture of this group in the organization?
Sometimes, even if you know the answers in advance, it’s a good idea to ask the questions anyway. For instance, if you’re meeting with multiple people it can be a good way to gather and compare information.
Questions to better understand the company –Finding out about the company and its culture will help you understand the best way to position yourself to be hired there. Much of this type of information can be found by doing research online or by checking with connections who work at the company or in the industry. In fact, the interviewer will expect you to have done some research ahead of time so try to avoid asking questions with answers that could easily be found on your own, e.g. asking about the sales figures or overall health for a public company.
However, you may want to ask about the company’s management strategies with detailed questions that demonstrate your understanding of the company and its place in the market. For example, if you’re interviewing for a job in commercial real estate, you may want to ask about the firm’s strategy for selling properties and making acquisitions over the next 6-12 months. Or, if you’re interviewing for a position in healthcare management you may want to ask about the company’s hiring initiative in light of new healthcare reform mandates. For an interview with a private equity firm, asking about the firm’s involvement with specific industries or the risk associated with certain companies would be expected.
Questions to ask to understand what will happen next – Nothing is worse than feeling as though you aced an interview and then not hearing from the interviewer again. To ensure you’re on the same page, ask the interviewer about the process moving forward and what their timeline is for making a hire. You can also ask whether the interviewer has any further questions for you or if there are any areas that you didn’t cover or on which you could elaborate. If you feel really good about your prospects with the company you could also ask the interviewer if they think there’s anything that could disqualify you for the job. The key to asking this question is being comfortable enough to handle their responses and turn it into an opportunity to ‘sell’ yourself for the role. Asking these questions also gives you an opportunity to express and reiterate your interest in the position, so ask them even if you’re working with a recruiter.
Feel free to write your questions down in advance and even to take notes during the interview (as long as you don’t let it detract from the meeting). I also advise candidates not to ask questions in an initial interview about compensation range, benefits or growth potential. I’m not naïve and wouldn’t suggest that compensation isn’t important to your decision, but other motivators – such as company culture, the job opportunity, the challenges and satisfaction it’s likely to present – rank slightly higher in determining whether the job is right for you. Sometimes the interviewer will volunteer information on compensation but, again, I recommend not dwelling on these topics in an initial interview. If you get the sense that the range being offered is not right for you, you can ask about it in a later interview. There are also other ways to get this information without asking for it directly.
About the Recruiter
Greg Menzone is a 10-year veteran of the staffing industry who has made hundreds of successful placements. Greg and the team he manages specialize in direct hire placement of accounting and finance professionals.