The Best Questions to Ask in an Interview
By Luke Icenhower
Published April 2017
Everyone walks into their first job or internship interview ready to answer questions about themselves. But there’s one question companies ask that trips up most candidates: "What questions do you have for me?"
Don’t pass this off as just an idle question or an opportunity to wrap up the interview early. In fact, it may be the single most important question you answer.
First, let’s take a quick look at why the end of a job interview is critical, and why you should be asking smart questions. Then, we'll give you 13 best-in-class, can’t-miss questions to ask in an interview. You'll knock your interviewer's socks off!
- What You Should Gain from the End of an Interview
- Why Do Interviewers Want You to Ask Questions?
- How to Prepare the Right Questions to Ask
- Top 13 Questions to Help You Get Started
Here’s the truth: The interview is mostly about you. The company likely has a stack of candidates, trimmed to the best two or three options, and you’re one of them. They want to hire the best, so most of the time you’ll be the one answering questions.
But you’re an equally important part of the interview. This is your future. And you’re going to want to make an informed decision. If the company likes you and wants to bring you on board, you’ll want to make sure you like them in return.
Apart from the most common interview questions a hiring manager will ask you, a good interviewer will also leave at least 10-15 minutes for you to ask questions near the end. This is your chance to convince them that you’re a good fit, and find out for yourself if this job is the right fit for you, too.
Here’s the best questions to ask in an interview:
1) Ask about the company
Executives think big. They can look at company challenges and opportunities holistically—the “30,000-foot view”—before analyzing details.
You should structure an end-of-interview Q&A the same way. Think big, then zoom in a bit.
In this case, think about the company before you think about the role. Learn about what’s important to them, where they’ve been, and where they’re going.
Example question to ask:
- Where does <company> see itself heading in the next five to ten years? Do you anticipate any sudden or dramatic changes?
Understand if this is a place where you’ll be happy for the long run. Identify how you can contribute to that bigger picture, which will lead right into the next goal:
2) Ask about the role
Your first source of information about the position is the job description. The second is any information the recruiter or hiring manager have given you through the interview. Often there’s still more to learn.
Take the opportunity to learn what hasn’t already been offered about the role. Gather details to paint as clear a picture as possible of the responsibilities and expectations.
Example question to ask:
- What are the day-to-day responsibilities of this role?
Figure out if you can easily see yourself enjoying this role for the foreseeable future.
Once you’re comfortable with the role details, it becomes important to understand the people you’ll be interacting with the most. Specifically:
3) Ask about the manager
Whether you’re in the initial discussion with a recruiter or interviewing directly with your potential supervisor, you can (and should) find out more about the person you’ll be reporting to.
A great manager can open doors and create opportunities for you. A bad manager can close windows and sow dissatisfaction. But at a minimum, I think you’ll agree:
You want to make sure you like this person.
Example questions to ask:
- What does your ideal employee look like?
- Can you describe your leadership style?
Identify if you’re compatible with their style and preferences. You’ll also want to make sure other people like this person.
The manager, while important, is only one person, so you should also:
4) Ask about the team
What classifies as a “team” will vary depending on the role. Maybe you’ll work with just your supervisor, or you may be part of a 10-person department. In a prior position, my closest teammate—with whom I interacted daily—worked 1,200 miles away at a different branch of the company.
Example of good questions to ask an interviewer:
- Who would I be interacting with regularly?
- How would my role contribute to their success, and vice-versa?
- Will my efforts be collaborative, involve team brainstorming, or will I be driving projects on my own?
This is also a key moment to understand how your role crosses over with other departments, in case you might want to explore different opportunities within the company someday. Just don’t come across as too eager to explore other roles, which can be interpreted as a lack of interest in the role for which you’re actually interviewing.
If you haven’t picked up a common thread yet, let me be more direct:
5) Ask questions to figure out if this is the role you want
Seriously. You’ll be spending a large amount of time and energy contributing to the company, the role, and the success of your manager and teammates. Why would you want to do this while you’re unsatisfied?
Ask questions that shine crystal clarity on the role, so you know exactly what you’re getting into. Remember, you don’t have to be the intern who does little more than get coffee. Entry-level job doesn’t mean entry level experience, especially if you have the college education to back you up.
Sample interview questions to ask an employer:
- What specific characteristics are you looking for in the person that takes this role?
- What does success look like in this role?
Money is important. Experience is important. Of equal importance is your satisfaction. Disregarding happiness in pursuit of the others is a critical mistake, and one that can be avoided by asking the right questions at the start.
6) Ask about challenges
Every business faces challenges on macro and micro scales. It benefits you to find out what those are in advance. Interviewers won’t shy away from asking hard questions, and you shouldn’t be afraid to ask them.
- What challenges do your product/sales/operations teams face?
- What resources are available to help address challenges?
Try to identify what challenges you would be able to help solve with your skills. Pay close attention to what challenges you will be expected to solve. Is this a role that follows strictly established processes, or will you be flying by the seat of your pants?
7) Ask questions that focus on security and growth
If your intent is to turn an internship into full-time employment, or turn a first job into a career path, then make sure there is an actual path forward.
Example interview questions:
- What is the promotion path for this role?
- How will my performance on that path be measured?
Even a temp job with no guarantees can be worth the experience—it’s just better to know up front instead of guessing.
Note: This is not the same as asking when you’ll be promoted.
Don’t ask this.
Employers want to know that you’re interested in working hard to earn a promotion. Jumping straight to the promotion puts the cart way before the horse and will reflect poorly on you.
A good interviewer has three primary motivations when passing the questioning over to you:
1) To gauge your level of interest and engagement
You can demonstrate that you care enough about the position if you research it ahead of time. Pay attention to the details of the job and company and read between the lines. Show that you’re actively interested in the role, and passionate about its success.
What does it say to the employer if you don’t have anything else you want to know? Simple: it shows a lack of interest or passion for the job.
That’s not who you are, right?
Prove it by taking the time to prepare good, thoughtful questions that also satisfy their next motivation:
2) To test your intelligence and critical thinking
Ever heard the expression, “it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game?” It applies here too. You’re not expected to understand all aspects of the company or the job—but you are expected to try.
A prime candidate thinks beyond the information presented and tries to understand the implications of the role.
Interviewers know when a candidate is working to understand more, and they appreciate it. All of this paints a vivid picture of you in their mind’s eye, complemented by one additional motivation:
3) To know your personality and compatible traits
Some teams benefit from having bullish trailblazers with outgoing personalities. Some would rather have careful, methodical thinkers who focus on process. Some require vibrant, inspiring minds that think outside the box.
The types of questions you ask can reveal a lot of this to an interviewer.
They can also be critical in making you stand out if you have no prior on-the-job experience, which is likely true for most internship or entry-level candidates.
Interviewers may already have a preferred personality type in mind. This is your chance to either fit that mold, or prove that their right move is to break it.
Here’s the deal:
While the details of a role may vary, the process of identifying the right questions doesn’t. Here’s a simple 4-step process for how to prepare for questions to ask during an interview for any company:
1) Research the company
Learn as much as you can from publicly available information. The company website typically has their mission, objectives, and key information about their products and services. Social media such as LinkedIn and Twitter will likely help you paint a more complete picture too.
Just be aware that there could be stark differences between how a company views itself vs. how others view it.
Pro tip: Look into any public financial information—are they on the rise, or is it a sinking ship?
Be sure to take notes in a format that can be easily referenced during the interview. You may glean some excellent talking points that you won’t want to forget.
2) Check out LinkedIn profiles
It’s perfectly fine to ask for a list of the interviewers. Try to get their names, titles, and departments, then spend some time looking them up on LinkedIn. You can learn where they went to school, what other jobs they may have held, when they joined the company, and how many roles they’ve held there.
This gives you a chance to curate individual questions per interviewer. Did you both attend Cornell University? Ask about their experience there. Did they recently move from a completely different role in the company? Ask about how the transition process and why they made the move.
Knowing more about each interviewer helps build rapport with the interviewer through personalization, and helps show that you took the time to find out more about them.
3) Think about the nature and implications of the role
There is a lot of great information available in a job description, and even in the job title!
Does the role state that you’ll be working in a group, or mostly flying solo? Does it sound like this will be a more creative role, or a more analytical one? Is it listed as an “assistant” or an “associate”, and how does that relate to positions above or beside you?
The more time you spend breaking down the job description piece by piece, the more you’ll find that there’s a lot of half-baked information just waiting to be expanded upon. Trust me: the interviewer will love to see that you’re digging in.
4) Write at least 10 questions per interviewer
Let’s face it:
There’s no way you’ll get through all your questions. That’s not the point. The point is to be prepared for whatever way the interview unfolds. In fact, there’s a high likelihood that some of the questions you prepare will be answered before you even get to ask them.
That’s why you need at least 10 questions.
This gives you a safe buffer to ensure that you aren’t asking something that has already been addressed (big no no!), and that you aren’t left tongue-tied when it’s your turn to speak.
Spend time memorizing and practicing asking in advance, or write them down and take them to the interview, to avoid any awkward nervous forgetfulness.
It’s up to you to make sure the questions you ask are insightful and relevant to the interview and you. But let’s wrap with a summary of the baseline questions to ask an interviewer that can help you get a firmer grasp on the company and the role, while leaving a positive and memorable impression.
1) Can you describe the company/department culture?
The environment you’ll be working in can be just as important as the job itself. It helps to know if you’re walking into a rigid structure focused on process vs. a relaxed environment with more flexibility. Do they have a strict dress code? Do they prioritize work-life balance? If employee satisfaction is a priority, odds are greater that you’ll want to stick around.
2) What is the biggest opportunity/challenge for the company?
This is the opportunity to show your interest in the bigger picture, and tie it to your role. If you have skills or ideas that can help, be sure to point that out.
3) Can you describe the company’s performance review process?
Many companies are implementing 360 reviews, which allow employees to be reviewed by peers, supervisors, and direct reports. It can be empowering to be able to provide feedback on your managers and know that it’s not a one-way street. Whether this is important to you or not, it’s good to be mindful of it when deciding.
4) Can you tell me what the day-to-day responsibilities look like?
There are many small steps on the path toward accomplishing a team goal. Your manager and peers should be able to give you an idea. Perhaps the role is eclectic and ever-changing, or maybe you have a lot of meetings and PowerPoint in your future.
5) What are the most important qualities for someone to excel in this role?
By now you know what it takes to get the job, or even to be good at it. This will show you what it takes to be stellar. Respond with how you embody those traits or are actively working to integrate them.
6) What will the onboarding and training process look like?
You’ll want to understand how quickly you’re expected to go from being brand new to fully operational. Be sure to ask who will serve as your mentor(s) to help familiarize yourself with the office and the job itself.
7) How will this role best serve your specific function?
This is a good question to ask an interviewer who is in a role that works with your team. It shows that you want to prioritize the objectives of the company and all teams, not just your own.
8) What metrics of success will this be measured by?
A key component of any job is to understand how to measure the end results. Every role will have its own deliverables, and a way of determining success or failure. By asking what metrics your team is beholden to, you demonstrate the ability to think beyond “just getting the job done.”
9) Can you describe your leadership style?
In a nutshell: You’re trying to understand what your manager’s working style is, and how that will directly or indirectly impact your own. Some managers may guide and support through every step of the process; others may be hands-off, only stepping in to clear obstacles in your way. Know what works for you, and whether this manager fits the bill.
10) Why are you hiring from the outside vs. hiring or promoting from within?
This may be one of the tougher questions to answer. For you, the answer benefits your understanding of how often employees are given opportunities to advance or migrate roles. For them, the question shows that you want to understand what they value in this role.
11) What does the progression path for this role look like?
This will help you determine if your future at the company has opportunity, or starts and stops with this role. Companies value employees who are interested in longevity. As mentioned above, this is not the same as asking when you will be promoted (which you should not do).
12) Are there any concerns you have about me, my resume, or my experience?
This question is indispensable for wrapping up an interview. By asking it, you’re asking for blunt feedback—so be prepared to hear what they have to say. This is a great opportunity to address any concerns or patch any rocky answers you may have provided. As a result, you show a level of maturity and self-confidence that can greatly impress.
13) Is there anything I haven’t addressed that you would like from me?
Simple enough. You’re making sure nothing is left unsaid, and that the interviewer has everything they need to make a decision. This is the perfect question to finish with if you still have time.
Whether this is your first interview or your 50th, following these tips will show an interviewer that you are as professional as they come, and will leave a lasting impression.
Even in the best circumstances, an interview can go completely differently than you expect, so the key is to expect the unexpected by preparing your own questions in advance. That way, you'll be ready to shine no matter what the day throws at you.