It’s easy to feel like you’re in the hot seat during a job interview — you really want the position, you’re battling all sorts of jitters and it certainly doesn’t help that the stern executive sitting in front of you looks like he could use another cup of coffee.
What often gets lost in the interview process, however, is a dialogue between job seekers and prospective employers, rather than a one-way Q&A. Instead of letting the interviewer ask all the questions, you should find the appropriate time to ask more about the position, the company and the industry.
Here are the most important questions job seekers should ask during an interview, according to career experts and human resource professionals.
1. What is the company culture like?
Company culture means more than happy hour and free coffee. Michelle Tenzyk, president of the East Tenth Group, a strategic leadership advisory and executive coaching firm, says candidates need to ask questions about the dynamics of a company’s environment. That means discovering what the company’s communication channels are and how they match your personality.
“If you’re a really outgoing and chatty person, you want to find out what the meetings are like,” she says. “Are they speak-when-asked-to or are they interactive?”
If the company is hierarchical, and who speaks during meetings is determined by a pecking order, then the position is probably not well-suited for a creative type brimming with ideas, Tenzyk says.
2. What constitutes success?
Tenzyk warns candidates about becoming preoccupied with the power structure in an interview. Just because you’re looking for a job, it doesn’t mean you can’t show excitement about a position and ask the interviewer about how the company would measure your success if hired.
“Within context, there’s no presumption in asking questions like, ‘If today is my 90th day on the job, what criteria are you looking at to determine if I’ve been successful?'”she says. “This information gives you the ability ahead of time to ask yourself if you’re capable of accomplishing the company’s goals for your position.”
3. Who previously held this position?
When a position opens up, there’s always a backstory. Was the previous employee promoted? Was he or she let go? Is it a new role, created out of an expansion at the company, or, on the other hand, a consolidation of positions?
These may not be the first questions a candidate thinks to ask, but according to Joanie Courtney, senior vice president and career expert at Monster, they’re essential and far from intrusive.
“People need to know what they’re getting into and how this job has been performed in the past,” Courtney says.
If the company promoted the previous employee, then you can ask what made him or her successful and learn from that experience, Courtney adds.
The flip side is also important, according to Roy Cohen, a career coach and author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide.
“It’s important to ask whether there have been a series of individuals in roles for short periods of time with a high turnover rate,” he says. “It can be an uncomfortable question to ask, but it’s critical to ensure that you don’t become a statistic there.”
4. Is there anything missing from my resume?
“You need to think of yourself as a salesperson and set yourself up to close,” she says.
By asking an interviewer if there’s something missing or of concern on your resume, you give yourself an opportunity to address that problem before your potential employer makes a decision. Plus, Courtney adds, you never know where that subsequent conversation might lead. More often than not, it’ll open the door to showcasing more of your strengths and interests.
5. What comes next?
Don’t be silent at the end of an interview. Even if you’ve asked a slew of great questions, you need to find out about the next steps so you can close on a strong note.
“Many people are afraid they’ll impose at the end of an interview by asking more questions,” Courtney says. “But the worst thing you can do is not ask any questions. Employers want to hire positive and eager people, and you want to let them know you’re interested by asking about the next steps.”
After your interview ends, you should put yourself in the shoes of the recruiter, who, realistically, will be meeting with a handful of other people. How, then, might an employer’s expectations evolve as the search progresses?
Cohen stresses that candidates need to keep themselves in a recruiter’s ear for this purpose — to demonstrate not only persistence, but also adaptability.
“As a candidate, you never want to let an opportunity slip through your fingers because you haven’t stayed on top of how you fit into a company’s needs,” he says.
By Eli Epstein