The job vetting process is stressful no matter what stage you’re in. It takes a lot of effort to present yourself as the perfect candidate for an open role, from catering your initial submission to the specific listing all the way through to the final interview. But if you’ve made it to the interview stage, you’ve done something right. You succeeded in standing out via your resume and cover letter, and you’ve proven your skillset is something your interviewer needs on their team.
Now it’s time to nail the interview. You spent hours rifling through your closet for the most appropriate outfit, you printed out copies of your resume just in case, and you prepared answers to the most commonly asked interview questions – something candidates can agonize over. You arrived to the interview early, you feel confident in your responses, and you’re certain you’ve made a good impression. But then 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 or the awkward silence that follows.
Not only do you want to avoid an uncomfortable situation, but you want to prove to your interviewer that you’ve done your research and that you’ve been thinking critically about your possible future with the company. Not to mention that there’s such a thing as job application burnout, and while you may be feeling desperate for an offer to accept because of it, you still have to figure out not only if you’re the right fit for the company and role, but if they’re the right fit for you. It’s better to figure out if the role is or has a career deal-breaker before you take it, and tailoring a set of questions for your interviewer will help accomplish all of the above.
So no matter if you’re interviewing in person or over the phone, from questions about the company itself to questions about your prospective team, here’s how to choose the best questions to ask your interviewer at the end of an interview if the opportunity hasn’t arisen before then.
Do your research ahead of time.
To avoid an uncomfortable situation, it’s important to first make sure you’ve done your research and uncovered as much information as you can about the employer, their industry, and the specific job or internship you’re seeking.
According to Burt Nadler, former director of the Career Center at the University of Rochester, doing your research ahead of time proves your ability to independently gather information (beyond what the job listing can tell you) as well as your desire for the position. “[Use your research as a foundation, so you’re] ready to reveal focus and enthusiasm via well-conceived inquires,” he tells Her Campus. This means that you should avoid asking questions you could find the answers to yourself through research. Spend time on the company’s website, social media profiles, job review pages – like Glassdoor – and more to build as complete a picture as you can.
Use your questions to increase your knowledge, not to show off.
Nadler also says not to ask questions to show what you already know. “That will be too obvious to the interviewer,” he says. 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. Picture yourself in a new office environment with new team members and think about what you’d want to know about their culture and workflow before immersing yourself in them.
“Questions that project to the future inspire interviewers to do the same and envision you already serving successfully in these roles,” Nadler says.
Avoid asking about the general information you could look up yourself. Instead, find ways to demonstrate yourself as forward-thinking and display your level of commitment to the position. “[You can also] 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 yourself 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.
That being said, you shouldn’t just memorize a list 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. While you can and should prepare a set of questions to choose from ahead of time, use the conversational flow of the interview to narrow down which ones you want to focus on when the time comes.
Customize your questions as the interview progresses.
Nadler advises preparing three questions to ask the interviewer as part of the 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 haven’t been addressed yet. To determine which questions you want to have in your arsenal, consider:
What you need to know about the company.
These questions will help you find out more about the culture of your company. “At the end of the day, work is work no matter what corporation, and it’s important to know that if you’re hired, you’re going to enjoy growing with your company and feel safe and supported when you need assistance,” Jerry Han, CMO at PrizeRebel, tells Her Campus. The role may sound like the perfect fit, but can you picture yourself cultivating your career there?
“For example, if they require their staff to pay for training themselves, don’t send them to conferences, and don’t give them time off to attend workshops, it’s a red flag and shows you that human capital development isn’t a priority for them,” Paul Sherman, CMO at Olive, tells Her Campus. If an employer isn’t investing in their employees, they’re not investing in the growth of their company.
- What is the culture between employees?
- 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?
- How will I be evaluated? By whom and how often? How do you deliver negative feedback?
- What are a couple of misconceptions people have about the company/position?
- What is your policy on investing in employee training and development?
- What are your DEI initiatives?
- What adjustments did the company make sure to the Covid-19 pandemic? How did you support employees, and are there still any last effects?
What you need to know about the position.
“Understanding the challenges of a job can help you determine if it’s something you can handle, Noelle Martin, Career and Workplace Editor at Mantelligence, tells Her Campus. “You know your own strengths and weaknesses. And while it’s not a great idea to tell your interviewer you don’t possess certain skills and attributes, understanding what they’re looking for can help you decide if you really have what it takes.”
Chloe Chioy, a Digital Marketing Coordinator and CV Expert at CVGenius.com, suggests using this as an opportunity to determine if there are any hesitancies about your candidacy, as well. “It’s a quick way to get application and interview feedback, along with giving you the opportunity to address the interviewer’s concerns directly,” she tells Her Campus. You can also use the opportunity to prove that you can adapt to constructive criticism.
- 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 other job responsibilities not mentioned in the ad (or wherever you heard about the position)?
- 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 of this job?
- What characteristics does it take to succeed within this organization and this position?
- What are the best things about the job and the most challenging requirements of the position?
- What goals do you have for the person who will serve in this job?
- 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 would my daily routine look like?
- What does this position look like during the busiest season?
- How many people would I be working with?
- When is the ideal start date for this position?
- Why is the role vacant? Is it a new position? Was someone promoted, or did they leave?
- Is there anything about my application that makes you question my fit for this role?
What you need to know about the first few days to months.
Robert W. MacMillan, a director at Get Golden Visa, has one question in particular from a former intern candidate that has left a lasting positive impression: “If I get hired, what aspects would you suggest I focus on in the first months?” he tells Her Campus. It showed that they were enthusiastic about the role and the tasks they would be taking on.
“Understanding the expectations is important so you don’t get caught off-guard when a manager says you’re not stepping up and taking as much initiative as you should,” Bradley Katz, CEO and hiring manager at Axon Optics, tells Her Campus. “Some managers expect new interns and employees to hit the ground running as soon as possible, while some allow the new joiner some time to get to know people, take up work tasks gradually and get supervision. It also helps you understand if the pace of work is something that you expect.”
- If I was starting this position 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?
- What project would I expect to be completed first, and what would be involved?
- What are some of the objectives you would like to see accomplished in this job? (Most pressing, in the next x months, long-term)
- What should I expect of myself over the few days and weeks on the job, and what would others expect of me?
What you need to know about the interviewer.
David Aylor, CEO of David Aylor Law Offices, suggests warming up your interviewer with a question about themselves. That way, you can build a rapport and turn the interview into a conversation. “Taking yourself out of the hot seat for a minute can [also] help you regroup for the next round of questions and give you some insights into how much history the company’s employees hold,” he tells Her Campus.
- Why did you choose this company?
- How would you describe the work environment here?
- What is a typical day in the office like?
- 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?
- Can you describe the main person I would be reporting to?
- May I call you if other questions arise?
Yoel Gabay, CEO and founder of FreedomCare, suggests you ask your questions as though you’ve already been hired. “Sometimes, people are hesitant to ask about specifics until they know they have been hired. It’s impressive to see a bit of confidence and a readiness to accept the job, should it be offered to you,” he tells Her Campus. Instead of asking, “What is the ideal start date for this position,” ask, “What is my ideal start date?”
Martin also warns to never rapid-fire your questions. “A lot of the information should be discussed during the interview process anyway, so pay close attention to what they say,” she says.
After you’ve asked your questions, but before you’ve wrapped the interview, be sure to ask if there’s anything else you can provide the hiring manager to help them further evaluate your candidacy or anything else they need to know concerning your ability to do the job, reiterate your genuine interest in the position and any key qualities that prove you’re the right candidate and request the best method to follow up with them.
Which questions you’ll choose to ask depends on the specific interview. Some may be answered before you get to the end, and others you may find you want to expand upon. You may also ask more general questions in a first interview while getting more specific about the duties associated with the role later on in the process.
While there’s no secret formula to knowing the perfect questions to ask during an 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’re the best candidate.