8 Questions to ask interviewers

The importance of being earnest

It's very important to ask good questions at the end of an interview, if given the opportunity. Many interviewers, consciously or not, will have their decisions affected by this part. Keep in mind that many interviewers will interview multiple candidates every week - I've had weeks where I interviewed more than 10 people. Anything you can do to stand out as a candidate as someone the interviewer would like to work with increases your chances of getting a "strong hire" recommendation. How personable, relatable, and engaged you are can really make the difference between a "hire" and "strong hire." Interviewers enjoy being asked good questions, which will make you a much more memorable candidate.

You are interviewing the interviewer, too

Keep in mind that an interviewer's job is not just to find out whether or not you are a good fit for the company; they also want to sell you on joining it. This is especially true of hiring managers and recruiters. You could end up spending thousands of hours working for this company. This is your chance to make sure they're the right fit for you. Make sure to read between the lines on every answer. If they sound like they're sugar-coating, it could be a sign that they sugar-coated other things too. Don't be afraid to probe deeper on something that sounds off. You need to see through this if you want to be happy in your future job. I like to compare interviewer sentiment against sites like Glassdoor or even reaching out to employees directly on LinkedIn.

Prepare your questions in advance

It's a good idea to have three questions prepared before the start of an interview. None of these should be easily answered by a Google search. Don't be afraid to ask hard questions, and don't waste anyone's time asking easy ones. I like to have one or two that are unique to the company. Here are some questions that I like to ask in interviews:

What is the biggest challenge facing the organization right now?

This one is my personal favorite because it can reveal many interesting insights. This is the one question that I ask almost every interviewer. I try to get an answer from at least three interviewers at each company. I usually want to hear at least a couple different answers with one or two standing out as clear top ones. If the answers have too much diversity, it's a sign that everyone is going to be pulling in different directions, which is probably a sign of bad leadership. If everyone gives you the exact same answer, at least everyone is aligned. You should be ready to live with that problem every day. Ideally, the company has a clear plan to fix it as a top priority.

What is the work-life balance like?

I have heard suggestions that you might sound lazy for asking this question. If the interviewer held this against me, I wouldn't want to work there: there are plenty of companies with great work-life balance. It's best to ask this question to someone who's going to be on the same team and in the same role as you would be since this can vary significantly, especially at larger organizations.

What is the hardest part about working for <company>?

Everyone has something that's hard about their job, even if it's something they enjoy. Are you going to be okay with dealing with their answer on a regular basis?

What do you think about company leadership?

This one is pretty straightforward. Don't expect everyone to agree with company leadership on everything, but the most important things to me are that they are transparent where they can be and generally seem to be steering the ship in the right direction.

What does the career growth process look like?

Some companies have zero process here. Others have a very complex process with strict controls in place. Knowing where the company lies on this gradient, and how likely you are to be eligible for a promotion, can be very helpful in determining whether this company is right for you at this time. I like to see a performance based process. It should be enough that I know that good performance is rewarded, but not so much of a process that it sounds like I'd need to search elsewhere to get a promotion. This is especially important if you're looking to be promoted into a managerial position.

How is performance measured?

This one can be hard to answer in the scope of an interview, but I like to hear that the company has a clear measurement of performance - both good and bad. I want to know that there are incentives for good work and consequences for bad work.

What is a very difficult challenge you've personally faced recently?

Sometimes it's hard for interviewers to answer this question if the nature of their work involves discretion. In most cases, there's something useful they can provide as an answer. If not, it may be a sign that the work isn't very challenging, which I would see as a warning sign.

What is your favorite part about working for <company>?

It can be hard for an interviewer to come up with an answer on the spot, but if all they can say is the free food/some other easily found perk, you might want to take your talents elsewhere. I particularly like to hear answers about the people they work with as that's something I value highly. 

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