We have all been there. The interview seems to be going really well and then it happens – “so, do you have any questions for us?” - and the panic rises within you.
If you say nothing, it all goes a bit flat and an awkward silence sets in. If you say something negative, you could blow the whole thing and ruin what was otherwise a great interview.
The good news is that with a little bit of preparation, you will view this as an opportunity, not an obstacle, and put yourself ahead of your competition.
In this post we will cover everything you need to know so you can leave a great final impression at your next interview:
- How to prepare the best questions to ask at your job interview
- Examples of questions you can ask at your interview
- What is the right number of questions to ask at a job interview?
- What to do if the interviewer has already answered your prepared questions
- The 3 questions you should never ask at a job interview
How to prepare the best questions to ask at your job interview
Despite this being such a common interviewer’s question, in reality, most people simply don’t prepare for it.
They don’t value its importance.
This is a big mistake because although first impressions are powerful, last impressions will linger in the minds of the interviewers. Here's an example to illustrate the point.
Aarron had spent a few weeks applying for jobs with mixed results. He had managed to get a couple of interviews that went well, and even received one job offer, but he had a problem. They just weren't the companies that he really wanted to work for. So, when he got an interview for the company at the top of his wish list, he went into overdrive with his preparation. New suit, new haircut, a great's sleep, a big breakfast and he was ready and fired up. He had put in so much interview preparation previously that he felt confident that all would go well. And it did, or so he thought, but he didn't get the job.
When Aarron rang for feedback on why he wasn't successful he couldn't believe what he heard. The HR Manager told him that he was the preferred candidate going in to the final interviews but that another outshined him on the day. The reason? At the end of the interview it was obvious that he was really passionate about working for them because he asked questions about the merger that had just taken place and how it would impact the organisation.
Aarron had prepared his questions to ask at a job interview in advance but he didn't prepare answers specifically for that interview. He should have researched company news and events that could have proved he was committed to working there.
If you Google “Questions to Ask at a Job Interview” you will find lots of examples but, unfortunately, that is not the sort of preparation that truly puts you ahead of your competition.
Sure, it will help you avoid that embarrassing silence, but you will sound just like everyone else which will make you blend in and not stand out and above other candidates.
Don’t just memorise a list of generic questions from the internet. Learn about the company’s latest projects, recent awards, culture and history.
Examples of questions you can ask at your next interview
Here are some useful, time proven examples of questions to consider when you are preparing for your next interview. You are aiming for open ended questions that will get a full answer.
1. Why has this position become available?
There can be many reasons but it is great to know so that you can assess whether the company and position is right for you. For example, did the last person get promoted or did they leave? Is it a new role where you can carve its path or an established role that will have more structure? Has it been open for a while or just advertised?
2. Where do you see the company in 5 years?
This question allows you to get important information should you be successful whilst giving a good impression of your intentions. You want to know that they are optimistic about the prospects and growth on offer. They want to know that you are looking long term and prepared to commit to them.
3. What is a typical day like at [company name]?
What you are looking for here is the balance of activities within a typical day. For example, what percentage is office based or site based? Or how many hours are dedicated to new business development as opposed to customer service?
4. What do you most enjoy about working here?
This is a great question to ask because it is positive and invites the interviewer to engage with you on a more personal level. People generally enjoy talking about themselves and in the process you will gain valuable insight into the company's culture. Further, if they have trouble answering the question then this could be a warning sign that you should take into consideration .
5. Can you tell me a little more about the work culture?
This will give you a taste of what to expect and whether it aligns with your own wants, needs, and values. The choice of words they can use is vast so it is very revealing which they choose, and decline to use, to describe the nature of their environment.
6. What qualities will your ideal candidate need to have?
This gives you the opportunity to see if you are the right fit for the role and what they feel are the most important skills and experience the successful candidate will possess. If something new comes up that has not yet been explored with you, you also have a chance to highlight the fact you have this prior to the end of the interview.
7. How do you measure success in this role?
It is important for you to understand what the organisation's expectations will be should you accept the position. For example, is it all about KPI's, or do they value and consider other achievements? Is it measured on an individual or group level? Is it celebrated or acknowledged and can it lead to a promotion?
8. What training opportunities do you offer to support employee's career development?
If this is important to you, now is the best time to find out. It will also let the interviewer know that you are prepared to fully commit to both formal training and internal development programmes and that you are not resistant to change.
9. What are the next steps?
This gives a strong buying signal to the interviewer that you want the position but take care to not seem too eager either. You want to portray a confident not arrogant air. Hopefully they will also be able to give you information on where they are in the recruitment process. This way, you can judge exactly when to follow up based on the timing they mention.
These questions will provide you with a great base to work from but don't forget Aarron's story. He lost the opportunity not through a lack of preparation but the wrong type and depth.
Generic questions will never be as good as specific questions based on actual research and company knowledge.
If you can show that you are genuinely interested in working for them in particular, and not just because they have an opening, it will put you above your competition.
But what does this look like in practice?
To help you, here are some examples of great questions to ask at a job interview from some of our coaching clients.
“I was really interested in this opportunity because of your (name) project and I wondered what other projects I might be involved with if I am successful?”
“I know that you are tendering for quite a bit of work at the moment. Which sectors are you concentrating on?”
“I saw that you implemented (some initiative). How has that been adopted within the company?
“Now you have merged with (company name), how has that impacted the key priorities of the business for the next 5 years?”
“I read that there was a major obstacle you successfully overcame with (name reason – this one was suppliers) last year. Going forwards, what would you say would be the major challenges I would face on a day to day basis with this role?”
“I see (project name) has been awarded to (the company name). What would you say made this possible?”
What is the right number of questions to ask at a job interview?
So now you know what to ask, how many should you prepare for?
This will depend on the skills of the interviewer and the type of position you are applying for.
Generally speaking though, three or four solid, well-researched questions will always be better than ten weak generic ones.
Take care not to bombard the interviewer with loads of questions in the hope it will impress them. They will just be irritated, and you will come across as desperate and pushy.
It is always a good idea to say "thanks, yes I do have a couple of questions for you. Are you OK with time?"
This will help you to decide how many are appropriate to ask.
But what if the interviewer has already answered all your prepared questions?
Make sure you have your questions with you in a notebook or printed out on a sheet so that they can see you have taken the interview seriously.
In an interview situation you may forget them so this will act as a prompt for you.
If you check your list and everything has been covered, then you can always use the fall back option and pick a topic that came up earlier in the interview and say "could you please expand upon..."
If nothing comes to mind, then thank them for being so thorough and gesture to your list when you tell them that they have covered all the questions you had prepared.
That is much better than just saying “no, I don’t have any” plus it has the added benefit of flattering them for being an accomplished professional.
The three questions you should never ask at a job interview
Aside from questions relating to the obvious areas of ‘sex, religion and politics’ these are the most important questions not to ask at your next interview.
“What does your company do” or a similar type of question
There really is no excuse these days for not knowing. All the information you need is at your fingertips. And in case you were thinking of using it, never say you have been “too busy.” Everyone is busy and it just shows that you didn’t care enough.
“Is there any reason why I might not get this job?” or similar
Yes, I know you want to ask this but resist the temptation.
I also know that a lot of advisors will encourage you to be bold and do this but, speaking as a hands-on recruiter and career coach, you don’t want to put your interviewer on the spot.
You are going to come across as confrontational and manipulative.
The better thing to do is to say at the end of the interview, when you are shaking their hand, “thank you for your time. I have really enjoyed this interview and I just want to say how excited I am by this opportunity and that I really hope to hear from you again soon”
And finally… the biggest mistake of all. “What is the salary” or similar.
Here are 3 reasons why you should never ask this.
You need to get them to want you first
Concentrate on what you can offer them, why you are better than your competition and how you will fit seamlessly into their organisation.
You might aim too low
If you go too low, the interviewer may sense your lack of self-worth and see this as a cause for concern.
If you ask about the salary they will ask what you want, and you might crack under the pressure and sell yourself short in the process because you lack the confidence to say what you want.
And what if you put yourself into the uncomfortable situation of receiving a low offer that you can’t accept because, in reality, you need more?
You might go too high
If you set a figure that is too high and out of their budgeted range, then there is little point in continuing the interview.
They won’t stop there and then - but mentally they will have.
When preparing your questions, remember that interviews are a 2-way street.
When you are at your next interview, remember that you are actually interviewing them back to see if you really want to work for their company.
This is why you need to put some effort into preparing questions that you personally want answers to on the day.
It's not just about making a good impression.
You want to know, if the position be offered, should you take it?