Questions You Might Ask at an Interview

As we noted in Questions the Interviewer May Ask, many job seekers consistently miss the point of the interview process. They see the meeting as some kind of interrogation of them by a distant and possibly hostile interviewer. Barring rare exceptions, nothing could be further from the truth.

Stop thinking of an interview as a test imposed upon you, which you must pass.

Instead, recognize that an interview can be a conversation between two professionals who want to learn more about each other. The interviewer wants to learn about you, your background and skills, and how good a fit you might be for a position.

You also must be ready with your own set of questions in order to make the interview a true conversation.

Design and ask your questions in a way that demonstrates your understanding of the company and the position, as well as your competence in your own field. Look for ways to build rapport with the interviewer, and demonstrate empathy for his company’s needs. Your questions are not merely tools to uncover facts. Your questions should also build a bridge between you and the interviewer, as you both seek to learn more about each other's goals.

We’ve provided a number of sample questions below to get you started as you create your own list. Remember to build a new list for every interview, so your questions are appropriate and specific to the particular job and organization. Take your list of questions with you to your interview.

During the interview, there’s no need to hide your list or be subtle about referring to it. Everyone uses notes. Even more important, your list of questions identifies you as a thoughtful professional who has done some research and who comes to a meeting prepared and focused.

Boil your list down to 5 or 10 major topics. Don’t risk overwhelming the interviewer with an endless stream of questions. If the interviewer is engaged and responsive and seems to be enjoying your conversation, you’ll know the rest of your questions well enough to remember some that aren’t on your list.

You don’t have to get answers to everything now. If the company is interested in you, there will be more interviews. And if they just offer you the job – well, you’ll simply have to deal with the disappointment of not getting to ask all of your questions.

Practice asking your questions with a spouse, friend or colleague until you feel comfortable with the way the conversation flows. Then you’ll be ready for your next interview – which will be far more pleasant and informative, since you’ll be exchanging information with another professional, not taking a test.

Questions about the organization
  • What resources are available to meet expectations and accomplish stated goals?
  • What plans for growth does the company have?
  • What would you say are the major challenges facing the company in the next few months?
  • Does the company plan to expand into new areas?
  • Can you describe the spirit or general attitude of the company?
  • What is the corporate culture?
    • Is this culture or ethic consistent within the company?
    • Do attitudes vary from department to department, or from project to project?
    • Is there a disconnect between upper management’s sense of what’s going on, and the day-to-day attitude of most workers?
    • Is management aware of this, and have there been efforts to address this?
  • How would you describe the organization’s management style?
  • How good is communication within the company?
    • Is communication clear and open from the top down?
    • Are there mechanisms to enable or even encourage communication from the bottom up?
  • How would you describe the stress or frustration levels in the company?
  • Are there new products or services in the works that I may not have read about?
  • What is the management structure?
    • Is it hierarchical?
    • Is it a matrix?
    • In what ways are decisions made and implemented?
Questions about the specific position
  • Would you describe the position in as much detail as possible?
  • What are the primary responsibilities?
  • Are you aware of any problem areas that currently exist?
  • How long has this position been open?
  • Have you encountered problems in finding just the right candidate?
    • What kinds of problems?
  • What do you need to learn about me to help you decide if I’d be a good fit for this job?
  • Can you describe your image of the ideal candidate for this position?
  • Why is this position available?
  • Has anyone been in this position before?
    • How did they do?
    • What were their major successes?
    • Are there specific challenges that need to be addressed right away?
  • How has this job been performed in the past?
    • Have the responsibilities been pretty much the same, or have they changed?
    • What level of authority goes with the job? Has this been consistent?
  • What are the expectations for this position?
    • What are the corporate or upper management expectations?
    • What are the expectations or needs of the manager directly above the position?
    • What can you personally tell me about expectations
  • How visible is this position?
    • Is upper management actively concerned?
    • Are there additional resources available if needed for success?
    • Do you need someone with experience in executive-level reporting?
  • What are the greatest challenges for this position?
  • What are the greatest challenges for the project – or department or product line, etc.?
  • How long have these challenges or problems been identified?
    • How long has the company been trying to address them?
    • What approaches has the company tried?
    • What success have they had?
  • Have resources outside the company been considered in dealing with challenges?
    • Has the company retained third-party consulting companies?
      • If so, which ones?
      • What approaches did they try?
      • What degree of success did they have?
    • Has the company used individual outside contractors or consultants?
    • Have employees been borrowed or transferred from other departments
  • What’s your own take on the kind of person who could successfully meet those challenges?
  • What specific skills or qualities do you see as necessary to be successful in this position?
  • What are the short term goals for this position, or for the project?
    • What would the time frame be for these targets?
  • What are the longer term goals?
    • What’s the time frame for those?
  • What is the chain of command above this position?
  • Who would I be reporting directly to?
    • Do you know this person?
    • What do you think of him or her?
  • How many people are on the team?
  • Does the position require travel?
    • How much travel? What percentage?
    • Is it local travel, within state, or throughout the country?
    • (Don’t ask about compensation or per diems now; it’s not the time)
  • Why am I here?
    • Do you see something in my background or training that you think would be particularly valuable to the company?
    • Are there ways that some of my previous jobs are similar to the challenges you now face?
Questions about how you would fit in the company
  • What are the opportunities for advancement?
    • Can you give me any examples?
    • Does the company have a timetable or expectations for advancement?
  • Does the company prefer to promote from within?
  • What kind of orientation or initial training does the company provide?
  • What about advanced training and education?
    • Does the company pay all or part of tuition or fees?
    • Is paid time off provided for attendance?
Questions about money

None. There aren’t any listed here, because this is not the time for them Your first (or even second or third) interview is not the time for you to ask about money. On the other hand, if the interviewer opens the door, feel free to respond; But don’t let money become the focus of your first meeting.

Important questions to finish up with
  • What is the next step in the selection process?
  • Are there any candidates that you are seriously considering at this time?
  • Now that we’ve talked, how good a fit would you say I would be for the position?
  • What aspects of my background or training are you unsure about, in terms of my fit?
  • Do you have any additional questions for me?
And finally
  • Make sure that the interviewer knows exactly how you feel about the position.
  • Close your meeting questions or statements like these:
    • “I’m seriously interested in the position and the opportunity. What would be the next steps in the evaluation and hiring process?”
    • “I’ve really enjoyed talking with you and learning more about the company. This has reinforced my interest in the position, and I’m confident that I could do an outstanding job for you.”
    • “I am still extremely interested in this position, and in working with your company. I look forward to any additional meetings or other qualification processes you feel might be helpful to you as you make your decision.”