When you’re in a job transition, getting an interview can be elusive, to the point where that alone feels like gold. It is only the beginning, of course, because the interview process now tends to be longer and more drawn-out than before, and nailing that interview sequence is of paramount importance.
In all the prep for the interview(s), you hopefully spend time researching the company to show some knowledge of them and what they do. Presumably, you spend time thinking about common questions that are asked of candidates, especially ones that you are likely to be asked. You think about what on your resume is likely to lead to questions for you to expand upon, and brush up on stories to tell. You think about behavioral questions, which are common since fit is of paramount importance.
While you do this, don’t forget something else: questions you want to ask. That’s right: you have to be ready to ask questions and not just for the sake of asking. You don’t really have a choice, and there is more than one reason why.
It is true that a candidate with no questions at all is not usually looked at in a very positive light. It makes the exchange look like a one-way exchange, and the candidate appears to have little if any real interest in the company, which is never a plus.
You can do better than that. And considering the importance of a job – this is a place where you will spend a lot of time, after all – you owe it to yourself to do better than that. You owe it to yourself to let this be an opportunity to learn about the company, especially in ways that you might never learn about it otherwise.
There are many questions you can ask, and they are not all created equal. Asking about pay or benefits is not a good idea unless you have an offer in hand and are negotiating terms. Asking for a basic description of the company or its products shows that you simply did not do your homework.
Instead, be thoughtful. This is your chance to make sure that this company will be a good one for you.
Good questions vary by the position you are interviewing for, as well as who you are speaking with at a given time. Most questions are probably fair game for a hiring manager, which means you want to make sure you save some good ones for members of the team you speak with. You might ask them what made them come to this company and (especially if they have been there for a long time) what makes them keep coming back. You might ask an operational question; in my case, it makes sense to ask about what the department does about code quality, either with tools, code reviews, something else, or a combination of things.
Hiring managers or other management (sometimes you may interview with your would-be manager’s manager) might best be asked bigger picture questions in addition to ones about the role. You might ask the hiring manager what their biggest challenges are, or what needs to be done right away in that role, or what success looks like. It never hurts to ask why the position is open in the first place – I recently asked this question and got a very informative answer that spurred a good follow-up exchange about the company and where it is going. You can even try to zoom in on what the manager sees in you by asking what on your resume caught the manager’s attention. If you are interviewing someone further up the chain, you might ask a bigger picture question about the company as a whole.
Ask away – so long as you pose the questions in an ethical and responsible fashion. Yes/no questions are not a good idea; ask open-ended ones, as they can spur further discussion.
Done right, you come away appearing to be very interested in the company and as someone who has done their homework. (You can be very interested in the company, but not appear to be.) You can come across as knowledgeable about the company and its overall business. In addition, you will be in a better position to judge if this is a company you want to work for from any standpoint. And should you ultimately take the job, you will be as ready as you’ll ever be to be productive right away, because you will have gained a sense of what happens on a day-to-day basis.
During my interviews this week – all five of them – this was one thing I did well. I have to believe it has helped advance my candidacy as far as it has gone thus far, and it has helped me come to learn about each company in ways I never would have otherwise. It has helped me to realize that all three companies are pretty good ones. And it has also helped me realize that if I am offered a job at more than one, I will have quite a decision to make.
So when you’re preparing for your interview, by all means, think about what you will most likely be asked. Make sure you know about the company and can speak knowledgeably about it. And do not come in without questions to ask them that will help you understand them better. You owe it to yourself in more ways than one.