Questions to ask on a job interview


When I go on to job interviews I come prepared to ask questions. I was told by several job coaches I’ve had since oh . . 1998 that when you go on a job interview, you should always ask questions. It shows the person you are interviewing that you are interested in the company and in the position.

I was told by a unprofessional job coach in 2014 that I should never ask questions on a job interview.  I’m afraid if she told everyone that, then no one would get hired since – you should NEVER say “No, I do not  have any questions” when you go into a job interview. You should always always have at least 7 questions prepared when you go on a job interview.  These are the questions I ask since I always come prepared.

I’ve also read a pretty darn cleaver blog on what questions a person should ask on a job interview. It’s not just the hiring manager (or HR manager or sales manager) that is interviewing you. YOU are interviewing them as well. I’ll give you that blog post in a moment.

The first question I always ask is

1.  “Why is this position open?”.

It’s important for me to know what is going on on the inside of the company that I’m interviewing.   It could simply be that the position in new since the business is new or expanding. It could be that the person quit.

1a.  However, may be this department  needs 100 people with the same title and may be this company has 10 openings for this position?  May be they have a very high turn over rate (such as 40%).  May be that is why this position is open? May be they need to fill 1o opening this week and next week 9 more, and then 10 more next month.

That’s a lot of people that quit, get fired or otherwise – leave the company. Why would I want to work for a company that has a high turn over rate in one department? (It doesn’t matter why the person quit since that is getting into too many details and too many what ifs. It could be the person was bored with her job AND she found a better one. It could be due to the person moving away.  The point is that If I find out the turnover rate I want to know why they can’t retain their employees!

2.  So yes, I also ask “What is your turn over rate?”  I’ve asked this question before and I’ve been looked at as if I’m crazy.    I think it is due to the interviewer not knowing how to calculate turn over rate.   However, knowing this helps me to measure if the employer views their employees as expendable and how much they value their employees, if they respect their employees.  Usually those positions with high turnover rates are “telemarketer” or I’m going to guess “cashier”, although I think a cashier would like his job more than a cold caller since you are not calling people and bothering them.  I also notice that many times in sales positions – the employer only cares about quota and if the person doesn’t make that –  they let them go.

3. How many positions are open? This is similar to the above. You want to find out if they have need for 10 willy wacky operators  or only 1.  If only 1 position is open, it means you may have a harder time to get that one spot. However, if they have 20 openings, why do they need 20 right now?  Did 20 people just quit?  It could mean they have a higher turn over rate – depending on the kind of position it is.

4 .  “What is your management style” and it is closely related to “Tell me about your company culture”.  This explains (if the person interviewing you will be your manager) what type of communication s/he prefers  (email, phone, face to face) and it also shows you if they are a micro manager or if they expect you to know how to solve problems on your own.  You also get to see their reaction to this question. I think managers should know their managment style and communication style.  Do you have your door closed all the time? Are you available to your subordinates if they need you?  What about training?  If you find that they are hesitating in answering this question, then you may find that when you are on the job, they may hesitate to answer another question that also – takes some thought.   I’ve had bosses there were never around, some where around when I wasn’t (I’d get a phone call on my lunch) and I’ve had bosses that are mirco-managers. I’ve seen many types of managers.  I also like to find out what is the best way to communicate with my manager. Some prefer a cell phone call if they are not always in the office. Some only want email. It’s up for you to find out.

5.”What are the biggest trouble spots that I can help you with in this position?”.  This will give you an inside look at what exactly they need help with.

6. “What would a successful candidate have accomplished in the first 6 months?”  This will give you a look at what they expect of you in your first 6 months and also see if there are any kind of advancement opportunities within the company. Sometimes, you don’t know unless you ask. Sometimes, a position may evolve over time and you may find that you start out as a title ABC and by 1 year your title is  ABC and EFG.  However, smaller companies that only need on more person in billing are probably not going to have that many advancement opportunities unless they are expanding rapidly.

7. What are the hours of the position? This sometimes is not communicated in job postings, especially the ones I’ve seen on Craigslist. I’ve used Craigslist much less since I haven’t had much success with them.

8. Are you the direct manager for the position I am interviewing for?   This is like number 4. You are trying to find out that sweet spot in relationships and since you will  (more than likely) be working with people and with your manager, you want to know WHO your direct manager or supervisor will be.  The job you are applying for is MORE THAN hard skills. You need to see what personality your boss has (if s/he is the interviewer). Knowing what kind of personality they have, gives you a heads up on if you should accept the job or not..  Remember. They are doing the exact same thing with you. They want to know if yo are easy to get along with.   If you are interviewing with the one that would be your manager, that’s a easy interview. Is he/she easy going? Do they look stressed? How do they react if they are interrupted during the interview?

I had a boss that didn’t listen much. I mean he’d ask me questions and I’d answer him. But when I’d answer him – he wasn’t listening to my answer.  It was as if his ears were only wanting to hear “Yes, I got the appointment” and if I didn’t say that he didn’t hear anything I say.  I hated this part of our relationship. He never listened to me, even when HE asked ME questions.

You ever heard “People don’t quit their jobs, they quit their managers” ? It’s much harder to find out the type of manager you will have if you are interviewing the receptionist.

9. What do you value in your company’s leadership that has contributed to your success?

This gets to the very core of business.  Values. Leadership.  Success.  You want to ask this question to see if your values line up with your would be bosses values. If you have different values would you be a good fit? What if your bosses values money more and you value work/life balance?  What if you are working in life insurance and you value family time and your boss values making money for his boss and values greenbacks more than you do?  Are you willing to work 55 hours a week? Does s/he expect you to work 55 hours a week?   Values are at the core of all businesses and great companies will have a mission statement, vision statement and a list of core values on their website or posted in their front office. Diversity of gender, religion etc is one value. Do they hire a wide variety of people?  Employee health is another value and large employer may have may have a gym on campus. I could see a health food store or a company in the health industry having a gym. Some companies have day care on campus so you can go to work and do your job.

You want to know about the success of your would be boss (if they are interviewing you).  Why? You want to know how they view their employer – and if they believe their employer has helped them in any way. May be the employer hired them as a entry level cashier and now that person is a district manager. May be that employer has a college reimbursement program and your would be boss went to college while working there?  This question will tell you if they really LIKE working for their employer.   Watch how they answer non verbally.  You’d be surprised how many people are in managerial positions and they don’t like their position or worse – they don’t like the company they are working for.  But they are not going to tell you that.

10. Thinking about your job, what keeps you up at night? This is similar to the question above. You want to know how much stress your would be boss is under. You want to see if they can handle his/her job.  May be your boss is afraid they are going to be fired.  I’ve had a boss–  he couldn’t handle one person under him. It was me. He didn’t know how to manage and supervise. I had to come to him to get things I needed. His role was that of a mentor, but he didn’t mentor me. I was to get training for him, but I didn’t get the training I needed from him. The other manager was shocked to find out that in 6 weeks, I wasn’t trained on half of what I needed to know.  What was going on with my boss? Too much stress? You need to find this out BEFORE you are hired!


11. What sets you apart from your competitors? This sets you apart from other job candidates. It shows that you are doing your homework on the company that you desire to work for. If you know the company’s name – then you need to do your homework BEFORE your interview so you can at least bring up something you found online. You could bring something up like “I see you donate 5% of your sales to Mothers Against Drunk Driving” and if you have a story about that, share it.   If you have time (a week), you may be able to do a SWAT analysis of the company you want to work for and compare them to other companies in the same industry. If you don’t know their competitors, find out. Do your homework. If you are working full-time you may not have a lot of time to do this research! I know. researching things of this nature, take some time.

Example:  I did a  strategy report on Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo. This is dated since I did it in 2011 for my MBA capstone class.  Sony has two competitors. Microsoft and Nintendo. Nintendo is known for games, not really known for cool graphics on video games. Microsoft (Xbox) and Sony are known for video games.  They differentiate their products just slightly since they have a different target market. Nintendo (think Wii) is more for families and FUN.  They market their products differently.  The direction their business – they are going in different directions. They have to differentiate  to stay in business. I’m not going to go into detail, but I learned about each company and learned what direction they were going and their plan. I also could recommend what company I’d invest in since I did my research on all three companies.    The class was 7 weeks long and I did the research in 6 weeks time. I wrote the report in a week.  This question is just like   Tell me why I should work for you? 

12.   “How soon are you hoping to fill this position?”  This gives you an idea of how urgent it is on their list to hire you.  Do they need someone now? If yes, why?  Just know that if they say “oh, well, were are just interviewing right now”  then you can be sure that they may take up to a month to make a decision. If they say “We are interviewing this week and next week”   then don’t expect anything in one week from them, unless you are told  “I will have my decision for you by the time you get home”.   Wait util the end of the next week to call to follow up. You don’t want to appear desperate!   A thank you note or email is fine, but don’t call.   Many employers are slow in hiring.  I applied in July, interviewed in Aug, and I filled out new hire paper work in October and started in November.  They were in no rush to hire anyone for the position. They had other things going on.

Please be very careful if you are offered the position right after you interview. Most companies interview about 5 -8 people for one position. And they interview them all before they make a decision. If they offer you a job right after the interview, I’d question their actions. Seriously, I would. I’d want to know if they need so much help now.  What if you are hired to be an accountant and there hasn’t been one in 8 weeks?  Ekk. What if the last person cooked the books and it is  up to you to fix the errors of the last person that was there – 3 months of errors! And 4 of those weeks, there has been only a temp in that position.  Now you need to check to work of two people.  See what I mean!?  In this case, don’t you think you should know you are going to be fixing big money issues – not just numbers on paper- it’s real money you will be fixing. If you accept this position, best be ready to negotiate a proper salary. But if you don’t ask the right questions and you don’t know about this issue – you can’t negotiate a proper salary.

I’ve asked “Can I meet the team I  would be working with if I got the job?”, but that didn’t go over very well when I asked it on one interview.  I was told “No, you can’t. They are all typing”. Oh, okay. So I will not ask that question.   However . . .I was told “You are one of the top three people for this position” AND I was introduced to the team that I COULD BE working with. It felt weird on one hand since I didn’t know if I’d get the position, but it gave me an inside to the companies culture. I got to see how the others dressed! I got to see how the team interacted with each other in action. 

I updated this since July 2015 and the more interviews I’ve had,  I learn something new every time.  I come prepared with at least 7 questions on my interview. If I’m asked 10 questions, I try to match it with 10 questions for them.  I’ve been asked 15 questions on interviews before.   I was told on a recent interview that I was only allowed to ask three questions. I guess the lady didn’t have “time” for me to ask more.  How do I find out more about the company?  How do I find out if I want to work for you if I don’t ask you questions? Mind you,  I didn’t know the NAME of the company when I applied.  I found the ad on Craigslist. I should have known.  I was told the job was “based on production” which I KNOW that means commission only.  I can’t live on that. I need a weekly salary each week.  I didn’t accept the positions since they didn’t allow me to ask more than three questions.