Job seeking is a grueling process, but it is also an opportunity to put your best foot forward in order to find a company that is the best fit for you.
Although it can be nerve wracking to sit through one interview after another, candidates should remind themselves that these interactions are a two-way street, and they have every right to ask challenging questions to make a decision, should the offer come.
Here are the critical questions you as a candidate must ask during a job interview—because remember, you’re interviewing the employer, too.
Questions to ask yourself before applying for the job
Before setting off on your job search, make a list of the types of companies you’re interested in.
- Is this a place you see yourself thriving in?
- Do you believe in the mission?
- Why do you want to work at this place?
- What attracts you about the organization?
Oftentimes, our current situations dictate how we go about making our next move. Perhaps you’re working in an environment that you find suffocating and want out, or you’re seeking more responsibilities, or are looking to become a people manager.
Whatever the case, be sure to keep in mind that in every new workplace, there will be pros and cons, no matter the salary or job description. So be cognizant of all the aspects of a new role that are truly important to you; also, be mindful of what your personal dealbreakers are.
Prepare a list of strategically planned questions
Interviewing is a two-way exchange. While candidates are being scrutinized by the potential employer, the skilled candidate will have an opportunity to evaluate the company based on the flow of the conversation.
Typically, candidates aren’t given the opportunity to ask questions until the very end of the interview. That’s not to say there aren’t ways to integrate specific queries into the conversation, as long as you remember that you’ll get full control of the floor in the grand finale.
In a previous Fast Company story, Patrick Mullane, executive director of Harvard Business School Online, shares how interviewees often will drop the ball when the interviewer tosses out the famous line, “Do you have any questions for me?”
“Candidates forget that when they’re given control of the discussion, it’s an opportunity to do two very important things. First, it’s a chance to learn something genuinely useful about the firm you might be joining. Second, you get to show that you’re thoughtful and conscientious,” he said. “Both are hugely important as you look to make a change. Don’t waste the opportunity.”
When it comes to the questions candidates typically ask companies during an interview, the “big three” revolve around corporate culture, the interviewer’s personal experience (“How have you liked working here?”), and growth.
Rather than default on these inquiries (which interviewers likely receive quite often and may respond in kind with generic answers), Mullane challenged candidates to take these questions and reframe them in a more thoughtful, strategic way:
Culture questions: Rather than asking, “What’s the culture like here,” ask something along the lines of, “Can you share a time when the company’s culture made you excited to work here or helped you during a challenging time?” This bypasses a typical answer like “It’s collaborative,” and dives into the intersection of employees and culture, offering an in-depth look into a specific, and perhaps relatable, scenario.
Personal experience questions: Instead of “How do you like working here?” try, “I noticed you left X company for this one. What convinced you to make the jump?” This reframing achieves two things: It shows the interviewer you did your research and gives you insight into their decision-making, which may help you make your own.
Company growth questions: A question like, “I noticed the company is growing rapidly. Do you expect that to continue?” will often bear a generic, dead-end answer. To get additional, more useful information, put a spin on it. Ask something like, “I noticed the company is expanding rapidly. Is this putting a strain on your customer service team?” Getting information on a company’s financials is not particularly difficult, especially if it is already publicly traded. But asking a question of this nature is especially useful if you are interviewing for a role like Customer Success Manager, as it allows you to get a better sense of how growth impacts the day-to-day of the team.
Overall, it will only work in your favor when you do your due diligence in gathering intelligence on the company you are interviewing for; also, you’ll be setting yourself up for success by having prepared questions that lead to a conversation and present yourself as a thoughtful and conscientious candidate.
“In a hot job market, it’s tempting to be lazy when doing the upfront work to prepare for an interview,” said Mullane. “It’s easy to figure that the interview is over when the person interviewing you gives you the floor. But it’s not. Asking better questions in the right way can significantly increase the chances you’ll not only impress the interviewer, but also gain valuable insights that can help you decide if the position is right for you.”
Cover the basics
It can be easy to get caught up in nerves when interviewing for a company you are extremely attracted to—or even in general. Interviewing is a lot of pressure!
However, when preparing to ask your questions, the areas that you as a candidate must focus on should give you a well-rounded perspective on multiple aspects of the company, not just the specific job description.
This Fast Company article shared a roundup of all the pertinent focus areas that your questions should fall under to get you the best answers, which include:
- The specific role you are interviewing for
- The management style of your would-be boss or team
- Company culture and reputation
- What performance metrics look like
- What kind of colleagues you can expect to work with
- Opportunities for growth
Ask tough but fair high-level questions
Sometimes it’s not enough to consider the high-level questions, such as salary and work culture. Many of us are in a unique position in life, whether that involves our personal situations, families, health, or other concerns.
When considering your interest in a company, it’s helpful to understand how they can help or support you as an individual beyond your contributions to the job.
On the flip side, you’ll want to know other aspects of internal support for employees. How does this company support internal mobility? How do managers deliver feedback? In other words, what will a day in the life of this role really be like?
Prepare to ask the employer a series of questions tailored to your situation. FlexJobs’ team of career coaches offers guidance in this Fast Company story, including specific inquiries to ask your interviewer, such as:
- Why is this position available? This can give you some insight into the way things are handled at the company. Was someone fired? Are they unable to keep the position filled because of the workload?
- What makes it a great day at work, and what makes it a challenging day? Answers to this question can vary depending on the personal experience of the interviewer, but it’s good to get a sense of how they approach the question.
- How are criticism and feedback handled within the team? Mistakes can happen, and knowing that managers on the team can handle employee errors with grace will offer a sense of relief rather than unnecessary conflict when they do occur.
- Do you have any Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)? How do they support the company’s DEI plans? This question gives you an opportunity to understand where the company stands in terms of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and how well they support the objectives of ERGs, as well as pushing forward their higher-level strategy.
- How does the company approach salary differences? This can highlight whether the company pays people differently based on location, if they work remotely, in-office, or hybrid. It can also shed light on whether the company has done a pay audit to achieve equity, especially for women and underrepresented groups.
- What’s the company’s approach to supporting work-life balance? Many companies have put forth specific benefits and incentives to support employees in the past two years, including mental health initiatives, fitness classes, therapy, and flexibility. This critical question will help you determine just how the company views employees as individuals and not just by their work output.
An example of a tough conversation to navigate can pertain to how the organization supports employees in specific work situations. If this particular job requires you to relocate, an example of how to navigate the question of moving-cost accommodations might go something like this:
Candidate (C): I noticed this position is based in San Francisco. Is there an option for potential hires to work remotely?
Interviewer (I): I’m afraid our new company policy is to operate on a hybrid schedule. This particular role is based in the Bay Area and requires the individual to come into work three times a week.
C: I understand. Sometimes companies need to make tough decisions based on their needs.
I: Do you think you would be willing to relocate, should we decide to move forward with your application?
C: I think this role is a wonderful opportunity for me, and I truly believe my personal values align with those of this company and its culture. If all goes well, I’d like to learn what the company’s budget is in regards to supporting moving and transition costs.
In this scenario, the interviewer is honest about the new hybrid model their company has adopted. If you, the candidate, are first learning about this aspect during the interview, it’s important to ask direct questions about how the company plans to support potential moving costs, rather than framing the question in a way that offers a loophole or an out.
Organizations are aware that with the plentiful options of remote jobs, finding talent willing to relocate or adopt a hybrid work life will be tougher. Know that the ball is in your court and be straightforward about expensed costs if you are willing to relocate.
Wrap up the interview with these key questions
This will likely be the last time you interact with this team member before either moving onto the next stage or the decision-making process.
In a prior Fast Company story, the founder of executive search firm The Mullings Group shares the best questions to ask when wrapping up.
Don’t let the conversation end without answers to the following questions, so you have enough information to help you reflect on and assess your experience and understanding of the company.
Am I a good fit for this company? The feeling needs to be mutual. Be sure to determine whether your skills, interests, personality, and goals align with the direction of the company.
What are the expected deliverables for this role over the next three months to a year? Depending on the role of the person you are interviewing with, you may get different answers. This is a good question to ask to get a sense of the priorities as it relates to different stakeholders.
How will we both know that I have succeeded in this role? This is another question in which the answers may vary, but it will be helpful for you as a candidate to understand how to work toward specific goals and measure your own impact so that, when it comes time for a raise or promotion in the future, you have the evidence to back it up.
What are the growth opportunities in this role, and what important skills will I learn? It’s not enough to make a lateral move. You need to know how will working for this company enable you to grow and thrive.
Who will I become? Your environment and the people you work with will directly influence your work output, ethic, and your future values. Asking questions about the kind of people you will interact with regularly will help you get a sense of what your day-to-day experiences will look like.
Getting a new job is a big deal. You will be working 40 hours a week in a specific environment that supports a certain culture and hires a certain type of colleague. It’s not just the job description that matters, nor the skill set the company requires to perform in that role. A new job is a combination of your livelihood, a commitment to learn and grow, and contribute.
Remember to be selective in your process because you’re interviewing your next employer, too.