You’re nearing the end of your interview and things have been going smoothly so far. You arrived early, prepared answers to all of the most commonly asked interview questions, carefully selected an appropriate outfit and brought along a copy of your resume just in case. You feel confident in the answers you’ve given, when all of a sudden the interviewer turns the tables on you and asks, “Do you have any questions for me?” There’s nothing worse than responding with a blank stare and the awkward silence that follows.
To avoid an uncomfortable situation, it’s important to first make sure you’ve done your research prior to the interview, and found out as much information as you can about the employer, their industry and the specific job or internship you’re seeking. According to the University of Rochester Career Center, “Effective research shows interviewers that you can independently gather in depth information (more than what is presented in a job posting), that you truly want this position, and provides you focal points upon which you build field, function (job) and firm focused answers to queries.”
Basically, use your research as a foundation so you are “ready to reveal focus and enthusiasm via well conceived inquires,” says Burt Nadler, assistant dean of the college and director of the Career Center at the University of Rochester. Avoid questions that are clearly answered on the website or any literature on the position that you should have already read beforehand, and “don’t ask questions to show what you already know,” advises Nadler. “That will be too obvious to the interviewer.”
Instead, picture yourself in the actual position and use your background research to formulate questions about specific skills you would need or issues that you’d want to be prepared to encounter if you are selected for the position. Nadler points out that “questions that project to the future inspire interviewers to do the same and envision you already serving successfully in these roles.” To set yourself up as a serious candidate, Nadler suggests the following questions:
- If I was starting this internship today, what would you advise me to learn first and do first?
- What are common mistakes that people just starting this job make that I can avoid?
- Thinking about what we have already discussed, are there particular Excel or PowerPoint talents (or sub in whatever is relevant) I can enhance to maximize my potential to succeed in the roles of this internship?
- Are there particular client-focused projects, cases or anecdotes you can share that will reveal the realistic challenges associated with this job?
- If I am selected as the person for this job, who should I turn to with questions and how best should I do that?
These questions all avoid asking about the general information you could look up yourself. Instead, they demonstrate forward-thinking, show your level of commitment to the position, and “reveal how much more you want to learn and how eager you are to serve in the internship and position,” says Nadler. In addition to the inquisitive nature of the questions themselves, you will also prove that you prepared well and provide you with a sense of confidence, which will in turn leave a better impression on the interviewer, as these are desirable qualities in candidates for any type of job.
Now of course, you shouldn’t just memorize a list of a bunch of questions and then recite them all at the end of an interview. You want to appear prepared and interested, not robotic and pre-programmed with a set of questions that you think they want to hear.
Nadler advises preparing three questions to ask the interviewer as part of University of Rochester’s three-times-four model for preparing for interviews. This involves being ready to:
- Note three requirements or roles of the position you’re interviewing for
- Cite three key qualities you possess that make you qualified for the position
- Note three anecdotes or past experiences that illustrate your capabilities
- Prepare three questions you would like to ask the interviewer
Depending on the conversation during the rest of the interview, you can certainly adjust this number and should target your questions towards specific aspects of the position that are most relevant, either those that you’ve already touched upon and have further questions about, or those that weren’t addressed yet. To ensure that you pinpoint and narrow down your questions to a few that are most important and applicable, here are the 10 general questions suggested by the University of Rochester Career Center that you can keep as a bank in the back of your mind to select from during your interview:
- How would you describe the position in terms not presented in the posting or description?
- What specific qualities are you seeking in a candidate?
- What should I expect of myself over the few days and weeks on the job, and what would others expect of me?
- What type of person would most likely succeed in these roles?
- How will my performance be judged, and by whom?
- What characteristics does it take to succeed within this organization and within this position?
- What are the best things about the job and most challenging requirements of the position?
- What goals do you have for the person who will serve in this job?
- What project would you expect to be completed first, and what would be involved?
- What quality or asset of this program is most likely “hidden” but should be more evident?
Which of these you choose to ask depends on the specific interview, and keep in mind that some might be answered during the course of the interview, in which case you could simply ask for additional clarification if necessary. Also, deciding which questions are most appropriate may depend on how far along in the hiring process you are. If you are having your first interview for the position, you may ask slightly more general questions from this list, but if you’re having a second interview or are further along, you will know more about the job and should ask more specific, in-depth questions about the particular duties of the position. A final point that Nadler makes is: “Do ask questions when invited, but also ask one or two questions early in the interview to gain clarification regarding job responsibilities, and provide focal points to address later in the discussion.”
While there is no secret formula to knowing the perfect questions to ask during any interview, following these guidelines during your preparation will make you ready to face your next interview with confidence. Every situation will be different depending on what position you’re interviewing for and even the personality of the interviewer, so familiarize yourself with this basic set of questions, actively engage in the interview to gauge the direction it’s going in, and then select a few to ask that relate to what was previously discussed. With some practice and preparation, the opportunity to ask questions during an interview will just be another chance for you to prove why you are the best candidate.
Additional Questions & Resources
If you’re still brainstorming some other potential questions to ask during your interview, check out the lists below.
About the Position
- What are the top tasks you want the candidate to perform after being hired?
- What are some of the objectives you would like to see accomplished in this job? (Most pressing, in the next x months, long-term)
- How does this position fit in the overall department/company?
- What are the attributes of the job that you’d like to see improved?
- Are there opportunities for professional training or further education?
- How will I be evaluated? By whom and how often?
- Are there other job responsibilities not mentioned in the ad (or wherever you heard about the position)?
About the Company
- What do you see ahead for the company in the next five years?
- What major challenges are you facing? How are you working on them?
- What is the general culture of the company?
- What do you consider to be your company’s most important assets and successes?
- What are the career paths in this department?
- What is the preferred method of communicating with each department/team?
- What is the style of management?
- What are a couple of misconceptions people have about the company/position?
About the Interviewer
- Why did you choose this company?
- How would you describe the work environment here?
- What is a typical day like?
- What types of internal and external training do you provide?
- What do you consider to be your company’s greatest strengths and weaknesses?
- What do you know now that you wish you knew before you started your position?
- Is there anything else you need to know concerning my ability to do this job?
- May I call you if other questions arise?
Closing the Interview
After you’ve covered all the questions you can think of, and the final thank you’s and exit handshake are imminent, be sure to close the interview with these key points:
- Ask if there is anything else you can provide, such as references, transcripts, background information, or work/writing samples.
- State your interest in the position: make sure you show you that are genuinely interested in the job and state what qualities you possess that make you the right candidate, without acting overly anxious.
- Find out how to contact them and appropriate methods (email, phone, etc.) to do so: in case you don’t hear back, make sure you have the appropriate contact information so you can follow up personally and check your status in the process.
Burt Nadler, assistant dean of the college and director of the Career Center at University of Rochester
University of Rochester Career Center