In my last post, I wrote about how to spot good and bad bosses in a job interview. But during the interview, what you ask is also critical to your chances of landing a dream job. Too often, job candidates feel so fortunate to secure an interview that they neglect to spend enough time preparing well thought-out questions. You may not get a chance to inquire again, so be sure to maximize the opportunity.
The more you know, the better your ability to match your background and responses to the position, "real-time." A strong two-way interchange projects an admirable, inquisitive mind - and demonstrates that you can think on your feet. Typically toward the end of the meeting, your interviewer will ask if you have any questions. Avoid the kiss of death finale: “No, I think we’ve covered everything.” Take this opportunity to ask meaningful questions, while enhancing your job prospects.
Arrive at the interview armed with your own set of pertinent questions. But consider including these five inquiries as part of your list:
1) What is the first task or highest priority that needs to be achieved in this position? And what is the timeframe?
If there’s a clear answer, then you’ll know your manager is organized and goal oriented. If the answers on direction are conflicting or vague, then your boss may have unrealistic expectations.
Hold off on questions relating to compensation, vacation time, PTO and other benefits until you give the interviewer the first opportunity to address them. But if the compensation subject hasn't come up toward the end of the first discussion, it's okay to diplomatically inquire about the range.
2) How would you describe your corporate culture?
The answer will give you insight as to what image the company holds dear – and if your personality is a fit. If the department is ultra-conservative environment with little social engagement, and you’re more of a high-spirited, team collaborator, consider that challenge.
While asking questions, stay on message. Nerves can make you chatty, so when in doubt, keep it professional.
3) Who would I be reporting to?
You should be able to meet your future manager directly and get a feeling about him or her. Ask about communication approach and work style. You want a happy medium between a hands-off and micro-managing boss. You may have several managers, so this is a good time to find out - and ideally, try to meet them.
Make sure you’re not trading one bad boss for another; ask at least one or two “spot-a-TOT” questions.
4) What do you enjoy most about working here?
If the interviewer enthusiastically praises the company’s many stellar qualities – including the staff – good sign. Managers who take great pride in departmental or corporate achievements versus their own, are usually better leaders. You want a mentor who gives credit to the team. Conversely, if the interviewer seems self-absorbed or stumbles over the question, you may not find the company as charming as you had hoped.
You’ve researched the organization with Sherlock Holmes attention to detail. If you’ve uncovered some corporate gossip, avoid the temptation of becoming an "investigative journalist," even if you’re a colleague of the interviewer. However, if it’s public information, such as a new product launch or a potential merger, it might be expected that you will inquire.
5) What is the next step? When do you think you’ll be making a decision?
This question gives you a timeframe with which to follow up and prioritize other job opportunities. If you know they’ll make a decision within the week, great. Otherwise, the end of an interview is a good time to diplomatically gauge where you stand. Don’t wait until a week after to determine how you stack up against the competition.
At the end of any interview, offer a polite: “Thank you so much for your time,” and “I’m excited about the possibility of contributing to your team." Do you feel my qualifications may be a good fit? What would be my next steps?
Finally, in your thank you e-mail, you can also thank the hiring manager for describing the company, department and its goals, with some specifics – especially because you prepared questions that led to helpful insight.