Interviewing for a job can feel so intimidating. You choose your favorite outfit, hype yourself up, and get ready to make a solid first impression, but soon you’re getting grilled by the hiring manager about your experiences, qualifications and why you would make the best candidate for the role.
Although you’re usually the one in the hot seat, job interviews are also a perfect opportunity for you to interview your potential employer. Whether you’re aiming for your first internship or your dream job, it’s important to have a list of go-to questions handy.
Asking thoughtful questions makes you look professional, prepared and engaged. Plus, a hiring manager’s answers can be great indicators of what to expect in the new role. Here are a six key questions to ask on your next job interview:
- How would you describe the company culture and office atmosphere?
This one is crucial. You may get a taste of culture from a company’s brand aesthetic or browsing the website, but the most honest answers will come from employees themselves. Do employees work silently in their own offices, or is it highly collaborative? Is the team going to happy hour after a long day? Are there company outings, retreats or in-office perks that boost team bonding? A supportive culture and office atmosphere is hard to come by, and it’s always good to know what type of environment you’re walking into.
Olivia, a youth engagement coordinator in the nonprofit sector, always makes it a point to ask the hiring manager if they enjoy their job. “I’ve found that this question elicits responses that are authentic and thoughtful,” she says. “One of the best answers I’ve ever received was a resounding and enthusiastic ‘yes.’ The hiring manager was able to cite specific examples of what made them enjoy their work. Nothing is more compelling than seeing the staff love what they’re doing.”
Catie Payne, who works in the Department of Recreation and Wellness at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG), frequently interviews candidates for her team. She tells Her Campus, “During an interview last semester, I had a student ask about my background. I really enjoyed this question because it opened the chance to tell my story. I also really enjoy being asked how I enjoy my job, because it leads to talking about my work environment, supervisor, coworkers and overall work culture within our department.”
- What is the most challenging aspect of working here?
I ask this question at every interview I’ve ever had. Is the work fast-paced and high pressure? Do employees struggle with stress or work-life balance? Are there frequent layoffs, or does the office culture seem particularly competitive? Maybe the work is meticulous and repetitive. While challenges are inevitable in any job, pay attention to how employers answer this question. If there are any red flags, go with your gut — this may be an opportunity to evaluate if the job is a good fit for you.
Olivia, who graduated from NC State University last year, tells HC, “It’s easy for job seekers to be focused on the task of merely getting a job that they neglect to think of what the job entails on an emotional level. Personally speaking, I don’t just want to ‘tolerate’ my job. I and many young professionals are eager to join organizations that excite, inspire and challenge us.” To that end, Olivia asks hiring managers about their personal experiences within the organization to help determine if the company is truly a good fit.
- Where do you see the company heading in the next few years?
If you’re curious about your potential for growth with a company, this question is key. Maybe you’re interviewing for a print magazine that wants to start digitizing its content. Or, maybe your future employer just received a ton of funding and they’re looking to expand their work globally. Are you excited about their future projects? Can you imagine yourself growing with this company? If so, this could be an awesome job for you, with a lot to look forward to.
Genevieve, a business analyst in the tech industry who frequently interviews candidates for her team, says it’s important to know if a candidate is a long-term fit, rather than simply looking for a “stepping stone” job. “In the past, we’ve gone through four candidates in one year because people are just trying to get their foot in the door,” she says.
Her team now asks candidates questions like “How do you feel about change?” and “Where do you see yourself in five years?” to assess their long-term plans. While these questions can seem vague, Genevieve says, a candidate’s responses can be telling. “Answers really help to see if candidates are applying to my team just to get their foot in the door.”
- How does your company foster diversity, equity and inclusion?
Now more than ever, companies are boosting their efforts to amplify diverse voices and be more inclusive overall. As a mixed woman of color, this question is always on my mind during interviews. Is this a safe, affirming work environment? Are there efforts to include folks of color in the work itself? Typically when I chat with employers about diversity, they are excited to brainstorm how they can grow in this area. Plus, it provides a nice opportunity to share your ideas and hint at what you value in a workplace.
Olivia, who strongly prioritizes workplace diversity and equity when interviewing for roles, says it’s crucial to understand a company’s values. “Instead of asking about what an organization’s ‘thoughts’ are concerning diversity efforts, I ask what measurable things they have seen or done in the workplace regarding equity and inclusion,” she says. “Asking for an organization’s thoughts allows them to pay mere lip service to issues of diversity and inclusion. I’m not interested in hearing superficial answers concerning diversity, but am impressed when tangible efforts are apparent.”
In a former interview, Olivia recalls speaking with a company that was clearly able to define their values of diversity and solidarity. “I was immediately impressed that they made a concentrated effort with their candidates to be transparent and firm in their beliefs,” she says. “I left that interview feeling confident in the organization, and eager to become a part of it.”
- What does success look like in this role, and how do you measure it?
There's nothing more frustrating than hustling in a job and not knowing if your hard work is paying off. At larger companies especially, there isn’t much time for personalized feedback, and it can be tough to know how you’re doing, or how to improve. Is there a performance review? Does the team set monthly goals? Asking about how success is measured can give you a good indication of how you’ll get feedback, and how you can aim for success in your future role.
Genevieve agrees that when interviewing for a job, asking about feedback is key. “I suggest something like, ‘How does your organization handle internal feedback?' If the hiring manager or team doesn’t accept feedback well, I’d question the work dynamics, which plays a massive part in your daily work life.”
Olivia says that asking about job hierarchy can also give clues about how a company handles feedback and conflict. “I’ve found that extremely ‘top-down’ methods of management are ineffective,” she says. “If a hiring manager suggests that their workplace doesn’t have time for listening to employee opinions, and only prioritizes employee rank in addressing concerns, I’m alerted that our values might not align.”
- Does your company have a telecommuting policy?
With many people working from home these days, it’s important to know your company’s policy on remote work. Maybe they have “summer Fridays” or allow you a certain number of work-from-home days per quarter. Maybe there’s an option to take meetings remotely during the workday, if you need a break from the office. If your job is currently remote due to the pandemic, ask what the company policy will be when offices reopen. When considering a new position, it’s important that your health and comfort level are taken into account.
If you have a job interview coming up, it can be difficult to know what to expect. Having this list of go-to questions will help you feel confident and prepared, whether you're visiting the office for the first time or doing a virtual interview. Once you’ve got your questions prepped, smile, stay confident and celebrate afterward! You’ve got this.