There are nearly four job applicants for every job opening and this can make it very difficult to stand out when you are applying for a new job, whether you are a recent graduate looking for your first position or a veteran candidate looking to make that jump into a new industry, career, or management position. However, it should be common knowledge among job seekers that they should be interviewing the employer or manager too during an interview.
In addition to helping you determine whether this employer will offer you advancement opportunities, a competitive salary, and benefits, the hiring manager will be more likely to hire you if you ask questions that show you are interested in the position and are committed to doing a great job. One of the best ways to look prepared, intelligent, and genuinely curious is by formulating good questions to ask in an interview.
The Purpose of Asking Questions During A Job Interview
Many job applicants ask questions about salaries, perks related to the job, paid time off, education credits, their start date or other common questions an interviewer hears all the time. These are important questions to ask, but you should generally wait until at least the second interview to ask them.
For your first interview, focus on questions that will gauge your chances of landing the job, give you an opportunity to address any hesitations about hiring you, demonstrate a genuine interest in the industry and organization, and learn whether you will be happy with the company, its current direction, and how it treats its employees. Like anything else in life, you won’t know until you try and ask the right questions. Here are some of the best questions to ask an interviewer.
“Is There Any Reason Why You Wouldn’t Hire Me?”
This can be a very uncomfortable and blunt question to ask. However, it is the one question I would encourage every applicant to ask at the end of the interview. The interviewer will always have at least one concern about even the best applicants and you will want to know what it is so you can address it before leaving the interview. It may be possible that the interviewer misunderstood or misheard you, overlooked a skill set, or just didn’t get the right “vibe”. Even with a great candidate and interview, this can be the best way to dispel any doubts and guarantee an offer letter.
One job applicant I know asked this question during an interview and the hiring manager said that he had some concerns about a gap in her resume. She responded by telling the employer what she did to invest in her career and stay on top of industry trends, while looking for a new job. This demonstrated that, even though she had been unemployed for almost a year, she continued to invest in her career, maintained an active and productive schedule, and could immediately begin contributing to her new employer if given the opportunity.
“What Would Be My Biggest Priority If I Started The Job Tomorrow?”
This question will help you understand what your general responsibilities will be, some of the day to day duties and tasks you will be confronting if you take the job, and the current projects the team is working on. This may even give you the chance to inquire about and intelligently discuss their projects or even share research you’ve done into the company, reinforcing your fit and passion for the position. Just remember not to oversell yourself or act like you know how to do the bosses job better than him/her. There is another benefit to asking this question: your manager is now visualizing you as their newest employee and doing the task they’ve assigned to you.
“What Are The Most Important Personality/Character Traits For Someone To Excel At This Job?”
Every employer wants to make sure that they hire employees who have the character and personality traits to succeed at the firm. This can mean individuals who mesh with the corporate culture and the team dynamic, someone your boss and manager can work and get along with, as well as an employee who has the mental, emotional, and physical capacity to meet and exceed expectations. You will also want to make sure that you are comfortable with the type of work (high pressure, fast-paced, tough deadlines, etc.) you will be doing.
The hiring manager’s answer can tell you a lot about what the job will be like. Working in a career that requires you to be something that you aren’t can also be very draining and stressful. You will want to know if the position requires you to work independently or spend most of your time collaborating and/or interfacing with coworkers and customers. Maybe you prefer creative projects versus quantitative and analytical problem-solving or multi-tasking on a dozen projects versus working on one until its completion. This question also forces the employer to think about your personal qualities, which rarely appear on your resume.
“How Could I Help The Company Meet Its Goals?”
Many employees don’t understand what their role is within the organization. They clock into work every day, but don’t know what to do to make sure that the work they do supports the company’s short and long-term goals. They may work very hard and proficiently, however, they may be investing their effort in projects and tasks that provide little value to the firm.
I recently attended a mixer at a business incubator and learned that an Executive Director had been removed from his role. I was talking with the Chairman of the Board of Directors and he told me that he felt the change was necessary. He said that the problem wasn’t that the executive “was doing things wrong, but spending time doing the wrong things.” He just didn’t understand the underlying fundamentals of the business model, and was thus unable to bring value to the firm.
In the end, you want to make sure that everything you do helps your employer achieve their goals. Hiring managers are looking for people who are going to contribute to and strengthen the company by fulfilling their roles.
“How Can I Exceed Your Expectations?”
Employers love to see job applicants who are interested in delivering results. Asking this question during an interview shows confidence in the fact that you can meet expectations, but also demonstrates that your goal is to surpass performance standards.
Additionally, this question helps you better gauge what the company values by finding out how they will measure your performance (i.e. what metrics or systems will be used to assess your strengths, weaknesses, successes, and effectiveness) and what steps you need to take to bring value to the organization.
Sometimes the interviewer’s response may surprise you. I asked this question to a hiring manager for a financial internship during graduate school. He said that he was looking for an employee who could help bring new potential clients to the table. I was surprised to hear that because my role with the company would have focused primarily on financial analysis and valuation – at least that’s what the job description, responsibilities, and duties suggested.
Remember, we’ve all been in a situation where we accept a job or internship and it turns out to be completely different than we imagined. Instead of making meaningful contributions to projects, problem-solving client issues, or interfacing with customers, we get stuck with tedious back-office responsibilities or errands. Avoid the uncomfortable resignation and the need to explain the short stint to your future employer and make sure this is a position that will offer you the tools, resources, and skillset to advance in your career.
“What Challenges Have Other New Hires Encountered In Similar Roles?”
The previous employee who held this position was either terminated or resigned. You want to know why things didn’t work between them and the employer. On the other hand, there is a chance he/she was promoted or transferred to another division of preference. If this is the case, ask your potential supervisor what made the previous employee so good at his/her job.
This question will give you some insight into the employer’s priorities, some of the hardship or struggle you may face when starting, and possibly answers regarding how to succeed and advance within the team and company as a whole.
“Why Do You Enjoy Working At This Company?”
This question is the positive version of “Do You Like Working Here?” Let’s be real – no one in management, at least as a first impression, is going to share their real feelings about the company in an interview, so why bother asking a “yes” or “no” question when you can ask “why”. And if you are still in discussions with the Human Resources Department (unless you are applying for a job with HR), don’t even bother asking – they’ve been trained to answer questions like these and know how to market and brand the firm appropriately. However, with a potential boss or manager, the way your interviewer responds can give you an idea about how they really feel. You will need to read their body language to interpret their answers.
A warm smile and confident response will tell you that they are probably satisfied with their career. However, if they hesitate or have trouble making eye contact then that may indicate that they aren’t happy with their job. Nevertheless, that doesn’t always translate directly into whether you should accept or decline the job. Maybe the manager isn’t producing and is worried about being laid off or terminated, or is stressed at the moment with personal financial struggles. One person’s professional experience at a firm should not overrule all other factors.
Employees have different personalities, priorities and expectations. The factors that motivate the hiring manager to come to work every day are not necessarily the same things that will make you happy with the job. This is a great role-reversal question that every potential employee should ask. You may find that you have similar values which can help establish a rapport with your interviewer. You will be more confident taking the job if you know that the employer helps satisfy them.
Keep The Interview Goal-Oriented
Every job applicant knows that an interview hinges on making a great first impression. The introduction and middle parts concentrate on a candidate answering questions and sharing their story. Unfortunately, many interviewees think the hard part is over once they hear “Do you have any questions for me?”
Truth be told, after acing the basics of a job interview using our list of common interview questions, this is where the best candidates finish strong and follow-through with thoughtful and intelligent questions that guarantee them a spot in the next round. Knowing what questions to ask an interviewer can be the difference between supporting your qualifications and getting the job and thinking you aced the interview only to receive a rejection email soon after.