Q: I’ve read plenty of “top 10 questions to ask at interviews” but haven’t really found any that feel natural to ask. What are some good questions to ask a potential employer to enrich my interview performance as well as accurately provide me with information about whether the job and culture meet my needs? And what questions will just make me look bad or underprepared?
A: Good for you on doing your research. You do not want to go to an interview without questions prepared. It’s smart and practical to bring a written list of questions you can refer to, and it shows the hiring manager the research you’ve done. If you have not done your homework on the organization, it will show, and your interviewers will not be impressed. There is no excuse, especially when information is so plentiful and easily accessible.
Many of the questions that are most likely to make a good impression and get you useful information are open-ended. Start with the positives. Perhaps an organization has won an award, or earned a place on the Best Places to Work list. That can be a great opportunity for you to say, “Can you tell me what led you to be a winner in this arena?” Or “What is it about your organization that led to your win with this award?” Other open-ended questions might start with, “Tell me more about the tenure of people at your organization.” That should naturally lead in to your questions regarding the organization’s culture.
Any other “tell me more about…” questions should be based on information you’ve read. Did they just make an acquisition? Have they just appointed a new CEO? All of the news they report on their own website, or something that has been written about them, makes it easy for you to ask these questions: “I see you just brought in a new CEO. Tell me more about what that person’s plans are for the future.” Or, “I see you just acquired a new company. Tell me more about what your plans are for them.”
If you are concerned about whether or not the job is right for you, you might want to ask how they do something specific. Do you know what tools or equipment they use for a specific function in that role? Ask that. Find out if it’s older, newer, or different than the equipment you used before. Are you an expert with that kind of equipment? Not only does asking these questions give you an opportunity to show your knowledge, it also gives you the chance to show how else you might be bring value to that organization in this particular role.
Keep in mind that a question talking solely about meeting your needs will not make you look good. Your questioning should be about uncovering mutuality. Do not ask these questions but try to learn – Does your skill set meet the job’s functions? Does the culture where you thrive match this organization’s culture? What you’re trying to discover and what they’re trying to discover should be the same thing, and having that mutuality and focus will benefit both of you. Other questions that might make you look bad or underprepared involve pay, vacation time, sick time, or any of the list of benefits and questions that could have been answered with 10 minutes of scanning the company’s website.