Never stumble over this elusive interview question again.
If you’ve never tripped up at the interview question “do you have any questions for me?” you’re either lying, or you’re just an incredible interviewee. Even when you know it’s coming, this inquiry can still catch you off-guard—and understandably so, since it’s off-putting to shift from being asked the questions to doing the asking yourself.
One big mistake people tend to make is thinking this is the part of the conversation where they can relax—that the hard part’s over. But this particular, seemingly simple inquiry is actually loaded with intention: They want to see if you’ve done your homework; if you’re curious and insightful; if you’re savvy enough to see things no one else has; or if you care enough to even have questions at all (some people honestly don’t).
In short, don’t wing this portion of the interview. It helps to get excited about it—it's an opportunity for you to learn something about the role, the company, or even just the interview process. Come prepared with a few key questions you’d like to ask, plus, if you can, be aware of questions that arise during the actual interview.
Use the extensive prep you’ll be doing for the rest of the interview as a jumping-off point for brainstorming your questions. In researching the company, its recent successes, its competitors, your interviewer (maybe a potential boss), and the industry as a whole, you can start to jot down insightful questions that come to mind.
"By having done good homework, good gathering of knowledge—and you can turn that into compliments or questions—you’ll prove you’ve worked hard to make yourself a strong candidate," says Sandy Golinkin, the founder and CEO of Raising the Bar, a career consultancy company in New York City.
Read Golinkin’s favorite four questions to ask that will wow your interviewer—and three questions to avoid at all costs.
Questions to Ask Your Interviewer
Think of your questions as answers to their final question—each one should reveal more about why you’re the best person for the job. They should also be questions to which you really want to know the answer.
“You want to ask questions or make [thoughtful] compliments that are a reflection of your knowledge of the company or their competitors, Golinkin says. “For example, you could say something like, ‘I was reading last night and I see your stock is up 3 percent, that’s fantastic—do you mind if I ask, to what do you attribute that?’ That is an indicator you’ve done your homework and that you’re a serious candidate, that you’re not just doing a slap-dash job.”
1. What are the two to three most important qualifications you’re looking for when you fill this position?
This is an intelligent way of asking a very basic question. It conveys to your potential employer that you care about something other than yourself—that you’re willing to work hard to live up to their standards and exceed expectations.
2. What are the greatest challenges this department (or team, or company) is facing in the upcoming months?
This conveys you're excited to find solutions and drive things forward from day one. It also shows your candid curiosity about the ins and outs of the department/team/company. Their answer could offer you real insight into the problems you could be facing if hired for the position. (In some cases, the answer might actually make you realize this might not be the role for you, which is perfectly OK.)
3. Of the people who’ve had this position in the last six months to a few years, what was the difference between the people who did a good job, and the people did a great job?
You want to let them know you’re not only going to be someone who shows up and does their work, but someone eager to be exceptional. How can you fill the gaps left behind by previous, all-star employees—what are some pain points you can improve upon or avoid, if hired?
4. What are next steps, please?
“I strongly encourage people to ask this, if they don’t already know by the time the interview is over,” Golinkin says. “It gives everybody clarity.”
You obviously don’t want to drop the ball if it’s in your court, but beyond that, knowing what to expect going forward will give you better peace of mind. After a few days of not hearing back from the company, you might start playing a recurring loop of “I know I didn’t get the job” in your head. That worry could be completely unnecessary—and could have been easily avoided—if you knew, for example, they were interviewing 30 candidates, which takes up another two to three weeks to do.
Questions You Should Never Ask Your Interviewer
Avoid asking anything that focuses on more superficial things and makes you come across as preoccupied with something other than your responsibilities. “It’s important that you focus on your responsibilities and on reflecting your knowledge of the company,” Golinkin says.
Stay away from questions like these:
- How much vacation will I get?
- Do you have summer hours?
- What will my office be like?
And before you go, if you don’t have it already, ask for your interviewer’s direct contact information so you can send them a thank-you email. If your interviewer was nice enough to introduce you to some colleagues unexpectedly, go ahead and ask to have their contact in case a quick thank-you is necessary (unless you really only chatted for a brief moment).