You might only have a few minutes at the end of your interview to ask questions, but they matter more than you’d think. “The quality and thought that goes into the questions candidates ask weighs into my overall evaluation of fit for the role and within our team,” says Jennifer Hankin, chief of staff at StartUp Health, a digital health company. “If someone has no questions, or asks something that could be easily found on our website, that is a sign of lack of effort on their part,” she explains.
So how do you ask smarter, better questions? For one thing, you shouldn’t wait until the very end when the hiring manager turns the tables—you should weave them throughout the interview. But beyond that, you should think a little harder about which questions reveal your priorities, personality, and skills. Here are a few that hiring managers love hearing.
1. What Do You Like Most About Working Here?
This may not be the most unusual question, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t memorable. Alexandra Scheiman, global talent acquisition manager at Spotify, says that “most often at the end of the interview, the majority of candidates ask me one of two questions: ‘What do you like most about working at Spotify?’ and/or ‘Describe the company culture.’” But despite hearing them so often, Scheiman says these inquiries stand out.
“I really enjoy answering both questions because it gives me the opportunity to share how much I love working with such talented and passionate colleagues.” As career coaches like to point out, giving interviewers a chance to talk about themselves is a great strategy across the board. Not only does it let you show off your active listening skills, it also gives you a window onto the work culture, which can be frustratingly hard to uncover as an outsider.
Hankin also loves discussing her experience at the company, especially since she was an early hire. Two questions she likes are: “Why did you join StartUp Health?” and, “What has kept you there for over four years?”
Darrell Jackson, an HR recruiter at Amazon, agrees. “I always think it’s smart when job seekers ask me about my point of view and my experiences as an employee [because it shows] they want to understand what it’s like to be in an employee’s shoes, and they are thinking about their career in the long term.”
2. How Has Your Role Changed Since Joining The Company?
Another reason to ask about the hiring manager’s experience, says Hankin, is to learn how you can advance at the company. She suggests these two: “What growth opportunities and changes have you witnessed at the company level that have been most exciting?” and, “How did you make the pivot from event planning—my original role when hired—to chief of staff?” These questions can shed light on how the company is changing, and which opportunities might not exist right now but might later.
3. How Do Your Clients And Customers Define Success?
Joe Anthony, president of financial services at the PR firm Gregory FCA, likes when candidates ask how their success will be measured in their role (a common enough question), but he also appreciates being asked “what our clients define as success.”
“Too many questions focus on details of the job; i.e. daily routine—and less on the big picture,” Anthony says. “Questions that reflect a candidate seeing the big picture and envisioning themselves here—and envisioning being successful—can help separate a candidate from the pack.”
4. How Are You Improving Diversity?
“Someone once asked what steps we are taking to elevate the number of women in leadership at Spotify,” Scheiman recalls. “It was a great question because it showed that the candidate had an interest in a topic that is top of mind for us at Spotify. Also, it opened up a dialogue around some of the great programs we run and how this candidate would be able to get involved.”
Sheiman says that led to a discussion of the Spotify’s women’s mentorship program, employee resource groups, training opportunities, internal diversity summit, “and, of course, our six months’ paid parental leave,” which the company added in late 2015.
5. What Would You Change Around Here If You Could?
It’s fair game for a hiring manager to ask about your own weaknesses, so Jackson suggests candidates ask the same of prospective employers. Like the best employees, companies should always be striving to do better, and their staff should be able to explain how. Plus, you may not want to work someplace where employees hesitate to critique the company.
6. How Does The Management Team Deal With Mistakes?
Hankin suggests that it’s a good idea to look into the company’s typical response when things go wrong. Dysfunctional work cultures abound, and while no hiring manager is likely to tell you, “When mistakes are made, we mete out merciless punishment,” a vague response like, “We try to find out why, and are as supportive as possible” might be a sign of damage-control processes that aren’t thought out. But if the interviewer launches into an anecdote about how leaders approached problem-solving after a major fumble, this might just be a culture that actually embraces failure and doesn’t just claim to.
7. What’s The Best Benefit You Offer?
“I’ve supported the benefits team at Amazon for the past three years and spend a lot of time in sessions with candidates who are interviewing,” says Jackson. So it was surprising when he recently got asked “a seemingly obvious question for the first time”—about his favorite benefit.
“It’s so simple, but it caught me off guard,” he recalls. “Not every question needs to be complicated or complex to be impactful.” Benefits are one of the most often overlooked parts of the compensation package, but Jackson realized this candidate was looking into them early on. “He wanted the most important information before he even started, so he’d know what to tackle first.”
Anthony recalls one interviewee mentioning that she’d noticed staff posting on social media about working out at the company’s gym, going for runs, and so on. “I was impressed that she wanted to get a real feel for the people and the culture of the firm,” he says. In other words, it was a benefits question couched in a culture one: “I knew that she wanted to find out if the gym was a free perk or something she had to pay for, but she showed greater interest in the company by approaching the question as she did.”
He adds, “There is so much information available online and on social media that I am surprised that more candidates don’t take advantage of that before they come in.” Who knows? Maybe the inspiration for best question you’ll ask on your next job interview is hiding on Instagram.