For Candidates: Questions to ask at Interview
6 great questions to ask an interviewer – and why they work
It’s the moment we all expect, but never quite know how to approach.
It’s a familiar situation. You’re in the middle of the interview, everything seems to be going well, and then the interviewer asks you that fateful question, ‘do you have anything to ask me?’
Failing to ask a question at all indicates to the interviewer that you failed to prepare adequately, or that you are overly-nervous, neither of which are especially good things to communicate.
There are a few questions that you should avoid. These questions are usually the last chance to make an impression on an interviewer, and you want to avoid leaving a negative one. Avoid asking about practicalities about the job, things like expected hours, what the commute will be like, or questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no. These are either issues that it is your business to resolve, things that could have been seen on the advert, or things that will simply fail to leave much of an impression.
You should aim to ask at least two questions, but aim to have several ready to go, as some could get answered as part of the natural course of the interview. It looks even worse to ask a question you’ve already had to answer to than to not ask anything, it means you’ve not been listening!
When can I expect to hear from you?
It’s not usually good form to ask directly about the hiring process in too much detail, it can be too easy to come across as overly arrogant, or stray into you trying to find out about the other candidates. But you still will want to know how long that process can take. Often, an interviewer will use a question like this as a excuse to talk about the hiring process anyway, which is helpful. This is a simple, clean question that suggests you’re engaged as a candidate and eager to learn more.
If the interviewer isn’t certain, this might be a bad sign, as it could suggest either they’re not that sure about you, or that they don’t have a strong hiring process in place yet.
What opportunities for development are there?
This is an incredibly valuable question, with room for fine-tuning, because it suggests to the interviewer that you’re committed to the role, and that you are considering how you can grow as a candidate with this company in particular. It can also indicate a strong willingness to learn, which can certainly support you if you’re a recent graduate or looking for an entry level position.
You can specialise this question based around your level of experience. Consider asking if they will offer you the opportunity to shadow someone, for example, or if they’d rather you hit the ground running. Or you could ask if there is specific software they prefer to use, or bespoke systems for the company that you might need guidance for. Demonstrate a practicalness about the position!
“it suggests to the interviewer that you’re committed to the role, and that you are considering how you can grow.”
How would you describe the company culture?
This is a simple question that can help you build a bit of personal rapport with the interviewer. It can also help you decide if this is the kind of company you want to work for.
If the interviewer struggles to answer, this could be a red flag. You should also consider if they’re trying to frame negatives as positives. A lack of detail tends to be a warning sign, so have some follow up questions prepared to try and draw out a bit more. Before the interview, reflect on the kind of company you want to work for. Is it structured or more casual? Do you want company events? Perks? Is there a high turnover of candidates?
Alternate takes on this question could be ‘What are some of the opportunities or challenges facing this company at the moment.’ Always make sure these are framed as a positive, and you’ll give the interviewer a chance to be more honest with you.’
What would distinguish someone who is average at this position from someone who is exceptional?
Not only is this a way to indicate your clear commitment to doing well at the role, it can actually lend you additional insight into what is expected of you, as well highlight potential opportunities for growth and development. This is a better framing than something like ‘What responsibilities does this role involve’ because that implies you haven’t fully read the job description.
If the answer has a large number of responsibilities and expectations that aren’t part of the job description, and aren’t really accounted for as part of the compensation package, this could be a sign of poor management on the team, or a hiring manager who isn’t certain what role they’re actually looking for, or the type of candidate they want.
Would you like any more clarification on any of my qualifications or experience?
Interviews are a stressful time, and sometimes things can get lost in translation on both ends.
Asking this question is a great opportunity to clarify some things you may have over or under explained, and to correct any misinformation the interviewer may have. It also allows you to bring in things you may have forgotten to mention in other questions, or didn’t get much of an opportunity to explain in detail, this will let you salvage it. It can turn the interviewers perception of you around, and indicates a self-awareness on your part.
This is a question about clarity, so if the interviewer does ask for more detail, make sure your answer is as simple and clear as possible. You don’t want to undo good work you may have done earlier in the interview and confuse things even more.
Where do you see the company in five years?
Where do you see yourself in five years is one of those questions that nearly all candidates worry about answering, but it’s a good opportunity to demonstrate interest in the job. Turning it on its head and asking the company is even better, it suggests you’re considering them as a long term prospect.
If you’re being interviewed by a relatively new business or startup, this can be an especially necessary question, because it’ll let you get a glimpse into how they expect things to develop. For a more long-running company, consider tying this into research you’ve done about their background. If they’ve recently achieved something big, for example, ask them where they’re going from there.
These questions should give you a framework to consider going forward to interviews. Always remember to be flexible, try not to sound too rigid and over-prepared. An interview is a conversation, and an opportunity to learn more about where you might be working. Seeing it that way will help you relax, and get the most out of any questions you ask.