Interviewing Tip #5 – Asking Questions

In my previous post I described who should be talking during the interview.  Remember that during the face-to-face interview you are hopefully interviewing the company as much as they are interviewing you.  So, absolutely have a list of questions that you would like to get answered.

Your list of questions can be as long as it needs to be, even though you will probably only ask 1-2 questions per interview.   If you are interviewing with multiple company representatives, then split the list based on the most appropriate person to direct the question to.  And some of your questions possibly should be directed at multiple interviewers to compare their responses later.

Be very mindful of the fact that your questions tell a lot about you.  So don’t blow them.  In other words, don’t ask a shallow question whose answer is front and center on the website homepage.  This will just show that you didn’t dig very deep with your research.  Instead, ask a question that digs deeper into the strategy of the company or industry.  Or ask a question that demonstrates you’re seeking to advance your career over time, not just find a job with a paycheck.  Here are some ideas:

  • Ask the hiring manager how they would describe their management style.  One way to ask the question is “How would your employees describe your management style?”  You can also go a step further by asking what their employees like best about working for them.
  • Ask how your interviewer would describe the culture of the company.  This is a great one to ask 2-3 interviewers to see if you get common responses.
  • Ask a question about the impact or significance of a competitor’s recent announcement or some new relevant government legislation.
  • If the company is private (not publicly traded), ask about the company’s financial health.  This could relate to recent revenue growth rate and/or profitability.
  • Ask questions about your potential career paths or opportunities for more responsibility in the future.  This shows ambition and shows you’re seeking a career-building opportunity rather than just a paycheck.
  • Ask how success will be measured for the role.  Related to this, you could ask if there’s someone currently in the same role that’s performing especially well and what is it that helps make them so successful.
  • Ask what the biggest challenges your hiring manager’s team (or their broad department) is currently facing and how the role you’re interviewing for can help the most towards those challenges.
  • Ask what your hiring manager likes the most about the company and how much longer they can see themselves working for the company.
  • Ask if the company has any core values or principals that it operates by and uses to make difficult decision.  As a follow up, you could ask for any recent examples that come to mind where the core values especially came into play.
  • If you get a slight negative vibe from the interviewer or can’t quite tell how the interview is going, ask if they any concerns about you as a candidate for the position.  If they do, you’ll have a moment to address it right then and there.  As long as you’re diplomatic in the way you ask this question, you’ll be fine.  But if the interview is going really well and you’re getting strong positive vibes, you might not want to ask this question, and certainly wouldn’t want to end with this question.

Don’t ask questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no.  Instead, ask what are called open-ended questions.  These questions might start off with “How would you describe ….”, “How does the company go about …”, or “What methods does the company use …”.

Some interviewers like to start the interview by allowing the candidate to ask a couple of questions.  So be prepared for that.  But don’t take over the interview.  Instead, start with 2 good questions and then give an opportunity for the interviewer to take the steering wheel.  With most interviews, the interviewer gives the candidate a chance to ask some questions towards the interview.  And you should always be ready to follow a particular answer of yours  with a related question from your list.

Finally, feel free to glance at a pre-written list of questions and take brief notes during this part of your interview.  It shows that you are paying attention and actually care about the answer, even if you only write a few words down with each answer.  Having a simple note-taking portfolio and pen helps with the look of being a serious interviewee.  It’s also customary for the interviewee to ask the interviewer if they mind if notes are taken, even though the answer is always “yes”.

See the rest of my series on Interviewing Tips here.   I also have a related series for Resume Writing and one for Job Hunting.

Author: Gordon Daugherty

Gordon Daugherty is a best-selling author, seasoned business executive, entrepreneur, startup advisor and investor. He has made more than 200 investments in early-stage companies and has been involved with raising more than $80 million in growth and venture capital. From his 28-year career in high tech, Gordon has both an IPO and a $200-million acquisition exit under his belt. Now, as co-founder and president of Austin’s Capital Factory and as author of the book “Startup Success”, Gordon spends 100 percent of his time educating, advising, and investing in startups.

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