The Best Questions to Ask in an InterviewAug 25, 2023
It’s here! After all your resume wordsmithing and cover letter fine-tuning, you’ve finally landed an interview. Congratulations on making it this far! If you’re looking to hone your responses to common interview questions, I separately cover how to prepare for an interview so you can wow the hiring team. Assuming you’ve done that, though, you’ll want to make sure you’re armed with a handful of strategic questions to close out the big day and walk away with a comprehensive view of the company.
In the following article, you’ll learn:
- The top top five questions to ask your interviewer
- Why those questions are important to ask
- What those questions will teach you (hint: they’ll give you insight you can use later!)
- Other things you should keep in mind as you move through the interview process
- Additional resources to help you with your job search
It’s a common mistake to think that you are the only one answering questions during the interview process. The truth of the matter is that you, the prospective employee, are also interviewing the company. What do they value? What are their goals? What is their company culture, and will it be a good match for you? It’s only in asking a series of pointed questions that you’ll get the clarity you need.
As a former hiring manager and recruiter, I can confidently say that some interview questions are better than others. In asking the following questions, you’ll be able to both make the most informed decision about a company AND show off additional chops to the hiring team. Read on to learn the best questions to ask in an interview.
Interview Question 1: While I was preparing to speak with you, I read [something about the longer term mission, vision, growth plan of the organization]. How do you see this role contributing to the long-term vision of the organization?
- Why You Should Ask This Question: You want to know how people perceive the role. Are they able to give an answer? Do they struggle to come up with anything? Can they link the role to a bigger purpose for the company?
- What You’ll Learn: If they can give you an answer, you'll have a clearer picture of the "why" of your future work. If they struggle to answer . . . you'll want to dive deeper on the value the role contributes to make sure the purpose for hiring is clear.
- Things to Keep in Mind: You can ask this to several people during the interview process to get perspectives. As you ask, keep the interviewer's role in mind for context: do they lead the team? Are they part of the team? From a separate team? I'd be most concerned if the manager or direct team member couldn't answer this question.
Interview Question 2: When you think of the current top performer on your team, what three things set them apart from the rest of your team members?
- Why You Should Ask This Question: You want to know what success looks like in the eyes of your hiring manager.
- What You’ll Learn: You'll learn what your potential boss values. Let's say they say their top performer is known for asking great questions - this can tell you questions are not only welcome (they're appreciated). Let's say they say their top performer works 70 hours per week....😬
- Things to Keep in Mind: Make sure you're asking the hiring manager this question. I see a lot of candidates ask smart questions...but they ask the wrong person and it backfires. If you ask something like this to an individual contributor or manager of another team who just happens to be part of the interview . . . it may look like you don't know their role and haven't done your homework. Certain questions only work for certain people in the process.
Interview Question 3: As I was preparing to speak with you, I read that [company] had a layoff/workforce reduction X days ago. Can you share a bit about why this position is still being filled?
- Why You Should Ask This Question: You want to do your due diligence before moving to a new company in a bumpy market - especially if you're leaving a generally stable current role for a new one.
- What You’ll Learn: You'll learn the answer to the question. You'll also learn how your interviewer responds to a slightly challenging (but fair) question. If your interviewer gets defensive . . . get curious about that. Remember: a job is a business deal. These questions are like a home inspection before you buy a house.
- Things to Keep in Mind: Save this one for a hiring manager or higher level leader. You'll want to be careful not to ask this of an individual contributor or manager from another team - odds are they won't have a great answer for you. If you're in a final-ish round with a senior leader, this is a great strategic question to ask.
Interview Question 4: What was the last thing your team did together to have fun and build connection?
- Why You Should Ask This Question: You want to know how your future team defines "fun" and "connection."
- What You’ll Learn: Let's be honest: we all have different definitions of "fun." This question is great because it'll help you learn more about the team of humans you'll work with. If their definition of fun doesn't match yours . . . you want to know now.
Things to Keep in Mind: This one is best asked of a direct team member (hiring manager or individual contributor). You can re-use this one more than once. I'd personally reword the question a little each time I ask it, but I'd try to ask my future manager and one future teammate.
Interview Question 5: What business problem will I be working to solve in this role?
- Why You Should Ask This Question: The more clearly your future role is tied to a clear business problem, the better. Roles that support people doing the core business problem work can often be the first to be eliminated.
- What You’ll Learn: You'll learn how people already working within the organization perceive the role and how they link it to a core business problem. If someone can't answer this one (meaning they can't identify the business problem OR link the role to one), probe deeper here.
- Things to Keep in Mind: You can ask this one of a hiring manager or individual contributor who works directly on the team. I like the idea of asking both personas a version of this question so you can see if employees' and leaders' perspectives align.