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Smart questions to ask in a job interview
“So, do you have any questions for me?”
When you reach this point in a job interview — where the interviewer is done with their questions and opens up the floor — you don’t want to be caught off guard. It’s important to have a plan for how you’ll respond and a list of questions specific to that opportunity.
But what types of questions should you actually ask? And are there certain ones to avoid? I turned to two job interview experts for advice: Art Markman, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin and author of Bring Your Brain to Work, and John Lees, a UK-based career strategist and author of How to Get a Job You Love. Here are their recommendations for how to approach this part of the interview and sample questions they’ve seen work in practice.
How to Approach This Part of the Interview
Focus on two goals.
You might think of this portion of the interview as your chance to assess the organisation and whether you really want to work there, and that’s true. One of your goals is to use these questions to help you determine if this opportunity is right for you, says Markman.
However, the interview isn’t over yet, and you still want to demonstrate that you are the best person for the job, says Lees. So, your other goal is to continue to prove you’re a fit for the specific opportunity. Lees suggests saying something like, “I do have a few questions but before I ask, can I say one thing?” That will give you an opportunity to drive home any key messages about your suitability for the job. In fact, before the interview, you should “decide in advance on two or three messages that you want to get across,” says Lees, and if you haven’t been able to convey those points in response to the questions you’ve been asked so far, you should do so now. Then, you can move on to your questions.
Personalise your questions.
How you phrase your questions is important. Rather than using generic language, you want to ask the questions as if they pertain specifically to you. For example, instead of “What does a typical day look like?” you want to ask “What would a typical day for me in this role look like?” That will allow the hiring manager to begin seeing you in the role. According to Lees, this is a “great psychological trick” because “as soon as they visualise you doing the job, it’s hard to let go of that image.”
Build off of your conversation.
You also want to pick up on what’s happened in the interview so far. Ask questions that build off of what you and the interviewer have discussed. You might want to follow up on a project they mentioned you’d be working on, or a responsibility that you didn’t see in the job description. The key is to make this portion of the interview feel like a continuation of the conversation.
Sample Questions to Ask at the End of a Job Interview
Here are categories of questions you’ll want to consider in an organised list, along with samples of each that you can personalise.
Questions about the specific job
- What are your expectations for me in this role?
- What’s the most important thing I should accomplish in the first 90 days?
- What’s the performance review process like here? How often would I be formally reviewed?
- What metrics or goals will my performance be evaluated against?
- What are the most immediate projects that I would take on?
- How long before I will be… [meeting with clients, having responsibility for my own accounts, interacting with other departments, etc.]?
Questions about the team
- What types of skills is the team missing that you’re looking to fill with a new hire?
- What are the biggest challenges that I might face in this position?
- Do you expect my main responsibilities in this position to change in the next six months to a year?
- Can you tell me about the team I’ll be working with?
- Who will I work with most closely? What other departments or units will I interact with?
- Can you tell me about my direct reports? What are their strengths and the team’s biggest challenges?
Questions for your potential boss
If the interviewer is your boss, you want to ask questions along these lines as well.
- How long have you been at the company?
- How long have you been a manager?
- What’s your favourite part of working here?
Questions about the company
One important note here: Don’t ask things that you can easily find with a quick Google search (more on this in the “Questions to Avoid” section).
- What are the current goals that the company is focused on, and how does this team work to support hitting those goals?
- What gets you most excited about the company’s future?
- How would you describe the company’s values?
- How has the company changed over the last few years?
- What are the company’s plans for growth and development?
Questions about the culture
Lees warns that you should take answers to questions about the company culture with a grain of salt. It’s highly unlikely that the interviewer is going to come out and tell you that the culture is unwelcoming, or even toxic. That’s why questions like #22 below can be helpful. They get at company culture without explicitly asking about it and can “help you uncover any unexpected elements about your potential new workplace,” Markman says.
- How do you typically onboard employees?
- If the position will be remote, ask specifically about how remote employees are integrated into the company culture, Markman advises.
- What do new employees typically find surprising after they start?
- Is there anything that I should read before starting that would help me have a shared understanding with my colleagues?
- Asking this question not only signals your interest in the position but also shows that you’re eager to have “shared cultural references with the people you’ll be working with,” Markman says.
- What’s your favourite office tradition?
- What do you and the team usually do for lunch?
- Do you ever do joint events with other departments or teams?
- What’s different about working here than anywhere else you’ve worked?
- How has the company changed since you joined?
Questions about professional development, career paths, and future opportunities
Markman says it’s critical to understand what growth and career development will look like in the job. You want to be sure that you can see yourself not just in the role you’re currently applying for but that there is a career path at the organisation that you’re excited about.
- What learning and development opportunities will I have in this role?
- How does the team I’ll be part of continue to grow professionally?
- Are there examples of a career path beginning with this position?
- What are the common career paths in this department?
- How are promotions typically handled?
- Where have successful employees moved on to?
- What am I not asking you that I should?
- Is there anything else I can provide you with that would be helpful?
- Is there anything I clarify for you about my qualifications?
- What are the next steps in the hiring process?
Questions to Avoid
Here are a few examples of what not to ask at the end of your interview:
- What’s the starting salary?
- Can you tell me about your health insurance?
- What are your paid leave policies?
You want to avoid asking about salary and benefits too early in the process, Lees advises. “You’re not in a position to negotiate well because you’re still in unknown territory. The time to discuss salary is after they’ve fallen in love with you,” he explains. But what if the interviewer asks you about your salary requirements? This video offers helpful tips for how to navigate that complicated question:
You should also avoid asking questions that try to close the deal. (“So, do I have the job?”) You don’t want to sound presumptuous or like you don’t respect the company’s interview process.
Also refrain from asking something that you could’ve found out in your research ahead of time — and you should definitely do research about the job and the company ahead of time!
This opportunity to ask questions is one you don’t want to waste. It’s both a chance to continue to prove yourself and to find out whether this job is the right fit for you. Of course, you aren’t going to ask all 38 of these questions. Choose the ones that are more relevant to you, your interests, and the specific job ahead of time. Then write them down — either on a piece of paper or on your phone — and glance at them ahead of time so that they’re fresh in your mind. And, of course, be mindful of the interviewer’s time. If you were scheduled to talk for an hour and they turn to you with five minutes left, choose two or three questions that are most important to you. You will always have more time to ask questions once you have the job offer in hand.
When the pivotal moment arrives in your job interview, and the floor is open for your questions, being prepared is your key to success. Crafting a plan for your responses and a tailored list of questions are your way of excelling in your job interview. For personalised career guidance in the Life Science industry, explore how QTC Recruitment can support your unique journey here.
Also published on Hbr.org
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