If you’ve ever been to an interview, then you know they can be nerve-racking. You worry about coming up with impressive answers to your interviewer’s questions, so you can give the best possible impression of yourself. But did you know that the questions that you ask in a job interview can be crucial to your success?
At the end of a job interview, it’s common for your interviewer to ask whether you have any questions for them. It’s easy to forget about this aspect of an interview, but many successful candidates get their job offers at least in part because of the questions that they asked. The type of questions that you ask can tell an interviewer as much, or more, about you than your answers. They can help to demonstrate how your mind works, what you value, and even how you might perform in a particular role.
Why ask questions at an interview?
Interviewers typically see many qualified candidates for each role, so you want to make yourself stand out positively if you can. Since the difference between gaining a job offer or just losing out on one can often be marginal, it’s important to think carefully about what questions to ask at an interview. They could make all the difference.
Your aim, when thinking about questions to ask in an interview, should be to show genuine engagement with the role and the organisation. You want your interviewer to be interested in your question and really think about it. You don’t want it to be one they’ve heard in every interview. Thoughtful and sincere inquires will differentiate you from other candidates and show that you care about the job.
Asking things that you are actually interested to know isn’t just about coming across well to the interviewer, it’s important for you, too. Job descriptions often don’t give you a great deal of information about what the role would entail, so getting a clearer picture during your interview can help you to prepare in the event that you get the job. This makes it easier to hit the ground running when you start.
We can group questions to ask at the end of an interview into three main categories: questions showing your interest in the role, the wider company and its culture, and the interviewer’s own experiences and opinions.
This can be a lot of information to process, so if you want to get a bit of practice before your next job interview, why not enrol in Graduate Coach’s online Nail that Interview course? Use Module 4 (‘Asking Insightful Questions’) to narrow down which of your questions could help you end your interview on a high note.
Questions that show your interest in the role:
The first thing that you want to show in an interview is that you are excited about the role and have the right attitude to succeed in it. You could be incredibly talented, but if you clearly don’t care about the role, you are unlikely to make the interviewer want to hire you. The questions you ask are the best way to show your interest in the job and what it will involve. Questions such as:
- ‘What challenges do you imagine I will encounter in this role, particularly in the first few months?’
- ‘What will be the main priorities in the first months of this job?’
- ‘How is performance measured and how often is it reviewed?’
- ‘What qualities should a candidate have in order to advance in the organisation?’
- ‘What skills do you look for in successful candidates?’
- ‘What are your main proprietary analytics tools (or insert appropriate tool for role)? Will I have the opportunity to train with these?’
Questions about challenges that you might face in the role, along with consideration about potential priorities, demonstrate that you are looking ahead to the job itself and thinking about how best to approach it. Questions about performance and the qualities or skills needed to excel in the organisation show that you are keen to succeed and have ambition. They also indicate that you are thinking about what the organisation values in its employees and how your strengths align with this. Meanwhile, asking some technical questions, such as the final one above, can show that you are keen to get to grips with the specifics of the role.
It’s essential that you tailor your questions to the specific role for which you are applying. The more you can demonstrate that you understand what the role involves, the better.
Questions that show your interest in the organisation, its culture and its field, and your understanding of them:
One of the most fundamental things that an interviewer is looking for is interest in their organisation or company. If you go into an interview with little understanding of what the company does, that immediately gives a bad impression. Some prior research into the company is crucial and can help you devise questions that your interviewer will be keen to answer. After all, they work there already, so they probably have a lot to say about the organisation!
Questions that show your engagement with the organisation can also reassure the interviewer that you would care about your job and fit into their workplace culture. They’re more likely to hire you if they think you would be motivated to excel in the organisation. Questions like these can help you show interest:
- ‘What are the main projects that the organisation/company is currently working on?’
- ‘What are the biggest challenges currently facing the organisation, and how are you addressing these?’
- ‘How do think your organisation differs from (insert peer organisation)?’
- ‘Where do you see the company in 5 years?’
- ‘How do you keep clients/ consumers engaged and satisfied with your organisation?’
Questions about current projects and challenges facing the organisation demonstrate interest in the specifics of the organisation’s work and thoughtfulness as to its direction. Questions about the organisation’s place in its field and divergence from competitors allow you to show your awareness of the industry or field. Asking about where the organisation sees itself in several years can suggest that you are interested in being part of the organisation’s future. In turn, questions about approaches to client satisfaction indicate interest in the organisation’s ethos and its approach to its consumer or client base.
Make sure to include your knowledge of the organisation in your questions, mentioning specific projects or focuses of which you are aware.
If you’re thinking particularly about questions to ask in an interview in the UK, you could inquire about how the organisation has adapted and changed over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic and several lockdowns. Consider asking questions like:
- ‘How has the way your employees work changed over the pandemic and do you see it remaining that way?’
- ‘Have your organisation’s priorities or its direction changed since the pandemic started?’
Questions to help you build empathy with your interviewer:
Building a rapport with your interviewer can help you stand out from the crowd of applicants. Asking your interviewer questions about their experiences and opinions may just put you over the top when it comes to a successful interview. Consider questions such as:
- ‘What advice would you give a new employee, based your experience?’
- ‘What do you find most fulfilling about working here?’
- ‘How do you find the organisational culture here?’
These kind of questions can make the interviewer feel valued and lead to a genuine conversation, building a connection. Just remember to keep it professional and not to ask overly personal questions!
With all your questions, remember to prepare them in advance and write them down. It’s good to respond to things that come up in the interview itself, but do have your list of researched questions ready to go as well. Being well-prepared always makes a good impression!
Questions not to ask in an interview:
Lastly, now that you know what sort of questions you should be asking, let’s cover a few things that you probably shouldn’t include in your questions.
- You shouldn’t ask a question purely to show off your skills and experience. If you don’t care genuinely about the answer to your question, the interviewer will probably sense this.
- Don’t ask things about the role or organisation that you should already know from basic research, or about things that were already covered in the interview. This can make it seem like you didn’t prepare properly or were not paying attention to your interviewer.
- Avoid asking too many closed ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions about the job. These are often questions to which you could have found the answers through your own research. Additionally, this type of question formation rarely delivers fulsome answers ripe for further discussion!
- Don’t ask too many ‘me’ focused questions, i.e. ‘What could I expect my salary to increase by in two years?’ There are, of course, things of that nature that you may wish to know, but try to use your questions to demonstrate enthusiasm about the organisation and what you can contribute to it, rather than asking what you can expect from it.
If you want to learn a bit more about questions to ask at a job interview, take a look at this short video from Graduate Coach:
Have a look at this free resource regarding questions to ask in an interview.
Written by Nathalie Lahiri