Finding good questions to ask in an interview can set you apart from the other candidates.
Your interview has gone well. You like your interviewer on a personal level and can see yourself working with them and at the company. You have answered all the interview questions they have asked, and the interview is drawing to a close. One of the last questions that WILL be asked is “Do you have any questions for me?”.
Too many candidates don’t take the opportunity to ask questions at this stage or their questions are poor. I have sat in over 1,000 interviews as a hiring manager and I am still amazed. Don’t let this be you!
Why is it important to find good questions to ask in an interview?
Asking good relevant questions during the interview demonstrates all the research you have done on the company and interviewer. By showing that you have done your research you are demonstrating to the interviewer that you are interested in the company and the job on offer.
As an interviewer, I have always thought “If you are not interested in finding out about the company and the job, then why should I be interested in you!”.
Think about all the people you like. One of the reasons you like them is because they like you. This social rule also applies in interview.
The interviewer will be judging you on the quality of the questions that you ask.
If you ask good relevant questions, you will stand out from the average candidates. Try to make the questions you ask in an interview as specific as possible to the company you are applying to.
Even good generic questions will not demonstrate your research nor allow you to stand out in quite the same way.
What are relevant questions
Relevant questions that are specific to the company you are applying to. A few examples might include:
- A recent product launch – e.g. how well has the recent launch of your new coconut and lime snacking bar gone?
- News Articles – e.g. I saw an interesting article in The Economist last month about the challenges of dealing doubling of air freight costs from China. What changes have you made in the supply chain to deal with these challenges?
- Entering a new territory / country – e.g. How are you managing differences in cultural between here and your new German office?
- M&A activity – e.g. How is the integration of YYY business going and is it on track?
By making the questions specific to the company you are applying to, you are demonstrating you have made the effort to find out about that company.
How many questions should I ask at the end of the interview?
An interview should be a two-way street. You are wanting to find out more about the company and those that work in it and they want to find out how you can solve some of their problems.
If you are happy to, ask questions during the interview. Make sure you have at least two good questions to ask at the end of the interview.
It helps to have a couple of less obvious questions to ask in case the interviewer tells you enough about the company to answer many of the more obvious questions. You don’t want to get to the end of the interview and say “No I don’t think that I have any more questions as we have covered all the ones I was going to ask” (which I have heard quite a few times now).
I suggest limiting the questions at end of the interview to five or so. Most interviewers are happy to answer quite a few questions if the candidate is keen on the company and has done their research.
Make sure you are not asking questions for which the answers can easily be found on the company website.
Don’t ask questions that the interviewer has already answered with what they have told you during the interview. That will not go down too well.
Your research is key to standing out from other candidates.
If you want to ask good questions in an interview, you need to research the company and spend time thinking about what your research tells you.
Your company research should align to the role or function you are going to be joining.
For instance, if you are joining the finance department, I would expect you to know about our financial results. When joining the marketing department, find out about our recent campaigns. If you are joining operations, what can you find out about our supply chain or manufacturing approach? And sales, what channels do we sell through and why?
Also have general knowledge about the company, recent press releases, who our competitors might be and how we are perceived in the marketplace.
Use this information to create questions for which the answers would be useful if you were to join the company.
I would recommend doing at least 2-3 hours research on the company as a minimum before going to interview. You can find out quite a lot in that time.
Don’t forget to research the people you will be meeting, where they fit into the company and what their interests are?
Examples of questions you can ask any interviewer
Here are some of our generic questions that you can ask any interviewer. The answers are useful to know if you are thinking of joining the company.
Remember to listen to what you are being told during the interview. If one of your questions has already been covered, you can ask a question that digs deeper based on what you have been told or not ask the original question.
Questions that I have always found useful are:
- Why have you stayed with the company X years? [insert time the interviewer has been at the company]
- How would you describe the working culture in your department? Is this different from the overall company and if so, how?
- What are best things about working for XXX? [insert name of company]
- Do you have a structured approach to identify and develop your top talent within the company? If so, can you tell me more about it?
- How would you describe your colleagues?
Try to have a few specific questions to ask in the interview as well.
The additional pressure on managers to ask good questions in an interview
The higher you go up the ranks, the greater the requirement for you to ask good insightful questions about the company and its operations at interview.
From an interviewer’s perspective, if you are asking good questions at interview, you are probably going to ask good questions in meetings. One of the benefits of bringing individuals into the team from outside the company is the questions and challenge they bring to the status quo.
Additionally, if the candidate is going to contribute to the running of the business, then they should demonstrate an understanding of the business and an interest in it.
As junior manager, team leader or supervisor, the expectations might be around for example:
- understanding how the management structures work,
- what staff development programmes in place, and
- the expectations around cross department working.
The expectations on you and your questions have increased from the ones I would expect of lower level employees.
If you are a senior manager, director or board member, examples of what you might be expected to be interested in:
- the strategy and direction of the company
- what the senior team has put in place to ensure roll out of the strategy within the business and how successful that has been to date
- gaining more depth of understanding of the key challenges of the business (the ones not in the public domain)
- understanding the strengths and abilities of your potential direct reports [and your peer group – be careful how you ask]
Do ask questions as you go through the interview rather than leave them all to the end. This gives you, the candidate, more opportunity to understand the business and the team you might be joining, and demonstrates your confidence, communication skills and research. All these are important for the senior positions.
The above may be obvious to many. I have seen too many senior position candidates do poorly with the questions that they ask or don’t ask.
Asking good questions in an interview is a critical part of how you impress the interviewer. Too many candidates do not do enough research to enable them to ask good insightful questions.
When you have a candidate that does, they really do stand out.
Remember, if you show that you are keen, that you have put effort into finding out about the company and the interviewer, they are much more likely to be keen on you. You will certainly be remembered and move yourself up in the candidate rankings!
Asking poor questions can easily remove you from serious consideration for the role too.
Do your research and have questions to ask during or at the end of the interview. You need to find out about the company that you are considering joining too!
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