Chapter: 2

Questions about the job


The first section covered why to ask questions in a job interview. That's a fantastic first step, if you have a good and clear motivation to ask questions in your interview. This alone can already take you far, as you can come up with some good questions on the fly.

Now I’m going to crank it up a level by adding ideas for questions covering the job itself.

Since we’re talking about JOB interviews, there is no more natural way to start a real conversation with your interviewer than by talking about the job.

So to make sure you have what it takes, this chapter offers over a dozen job-focused ideas for questions to ask in an interview. Many of these should be ready for your use directly, as they are presented below.

Chapter 2: Questions to ask during a job interview - Questions about the job
Question for interviewer: What are your future plans for this job/position?

[QUESTION #1]:

What are your future plans for this job/position?

Towards the end of your interview process, the interviewer may ask you if you have any lingering questions. This is a basic opportunity to turn the tables a little, to have the interviewer sell their company to you.

Remember - you are not someone that will take just any work that is offered. You can be selective about which company you choose, and rightfully so.

This will also add another layer to your overall image. Asking relevant and insightful questions will show them that you are organized and prepared, which is definitely an impression you want to make.

Why THIS Question?

Asking a future employer what their plans are for the job or position that you are applying for is important.

Not only is this a pretty plain signal that you are planning to stick around for the long haul, but it also shows that you are willing and ready for growth opportunities.

It shows them that your eyes are on the horizon, and that you are already thinking ahead. Asking this question shows the interviewer you plan on having longevity with the company and want to better understand the position you are applying for.

You will also gain insight into your potential future as their employee.

Is this a long-term position, or is it a contract with a specific timeline of work? Is this a job where you see yourself over the next several years? Is there room for growth, or will you hit a roadblock in your career?

These are all important aspects you will need to think about if you are offered the position.

If you are applying for an entry level position, or even for a job at a new company, this question is a good place to start. It shows your employer that you will be dedicated and that you are ready to work hard for potential advancement.

Everyone likes a go-getter, so show them through this well placed question that you are one.

Their Response Is Key

How they answer this particular question speaks volumes about the company.

The interviewer should be able to provide details of the future direction of the position. If they are unable to do so, you can request them to forward you the information.

If your interviewer is at a loss, it could just mean that they have not prepared well. However, it could also mean that their business plan is a mess, or that they are planning on your position being much more temporary than you initially thought.

Either way, tread lightly if your question does not receive the solid, affirming answer that it deserves.

Ideally, they would respond in a collaborative manner, and a conversation would start. You could lend some insightful ideas about where you would like the position to go, and they will be impressed with your research.

Your thoughts on where the particular position is headed might just be the determining factor between you and the next candidate, so make sure that you have prepared well, and that you present your ideas logically, concisely, and convincingly.

Question for interviewer: Can you show me examples of projects I’d be working on?

[QUESTION #2]:

Can you show me examples of projects I’d be working on?

One of the greatest advantages that you have as a new applicant is your zest for the company, job and the industry. Use it to your own advantage.

Your new blood also comes with a set of new ideas and skills. This is one of the best parts of hiring new employees. As you move throughout the interview process, keep that secret in your back pocket.

Asking the Project Question

When you tour your potential new workplace or simply discuss the team and the company, try to take a peek at what the employees are actually engaged in. File all of the information in the back of your mind and ready yourself to ask about it at the end of the interview.

Because of your diligent research pre-interview, you should have some idea as to what the day-to-day life is like at the company. You should know something about what they are working on, or have some broad idea as to what they do.

When you ask about what projects current employees are working on, be sure to lead with something you’ve researched.

It could be something like the following:

  • “I noticed in the news that you have been working on …”
  • “I saw recently that you won a contract for …”
  • “When I was researching your company, I noticed that you do a lot of work for …”

When you ask, be sure to put what you have researched or already know at the front of your question. This will show your interviewer that you have clearly done your homework.

A Short Answer

There is a possibility that whatever the company or business is currently in progress on is a secret. Or maybe, they just are in the habit of not talking about work with non-employees.

Be prepared for your interviewer to give you a somewhat vague answer. If this is the case, take them at face value and move on with other prepared questions.

However, if they do give you a detailed answer, be sure to take detailed notes. Reference these notes after the interview, and research any key points.

You will want to be prepared to hit the ground running when you are hired, and this will help you to do so.

Question for interviewer: What types of skills are the team missing that you’re looking to fill with a new hire?

[QUESTION #3]:

What types of skills are the team missing that you’re looking to fill with a new hire?

Before you begin the application process, take a skills test at your campus career services center or online. This should give you an excellent idea as to what skills you possess, and it will help narrow down business or companies that will be a good fit for you.

It is important to remember that your skills differ from the person coming in to interview behind you. They set you apart. They will also be the determining factor in whether or not you get hired.

Before the Interview

Before you interview with the company, take another look at the requirements they listed for the job.

Match your skills up with what they were looking for, and then think of a couple of situations in which you used those key skills. This will be helpful and potentially very important during the interview.

During the Interview

When it is your turn to ask the questions, definitely ask your interviewer what skills the team seems to be lacking. This is important because it will help you narrow down how you can help the team, but it will also show the person interviewing you that you are a team player, and you come ready to help.

Be sure to list those key skills that you researched before the interview, and toss out the situations in which you used them.

Prepare to show strengths and skills off, and phrase them in a manner that suggests you can help:

  • “I’m really good with Microsoft Excel, perhaps that would be a good fit for this particular area …”
  • “I’ve been trained with Adobe PhotoShop, and you mentioned that’s something you were looking for …”
  • “I’m awesome when it comes to sales. I can show you my previous numbers, if you’d like, and I know I can help the team in this area …”

Remember: never lie. When your interviewer gives you a list of skills that the team is lacking, never comment that you are comfortable doing something that you clearly are not. Not only is this dishonest, but it puts you in a poor position for hiring.

Question for interviewer: What can you tell me about this job that isn’t in the description?

[QUESTION #4]:

What can you tell me about this job that isn’t in the description?

Assuming you are applying for a job that was advertised, you have read the description. The job ad text typically attempts to give you an overview of what the job responsibilities are and what are the requirements or expectations.

However, you have to bear in mind that the job ad is still an advertisement. Its purpose is to attract as many qualified applicants as possible. Therefore, it might focus on the best aspects of the job and not expose some of the downsides.

Most of the time, there is no intentional hiding of the information, but rather a "selling perspective". After all, companies are also competing to hire the best talent.

Further benefits of the question

Another aspect of this questions is that it opens the discussion to other points that are relevant from the viewpoint of the recruiting manager, but that were not mentioned in the job ad.

This is important, because the job ad often is used as a first draft or the script for the interview.

Therefore, some interviewers might unconsciously stick only to the points that were mentioned in the advert and forget about some other relevant items.

Finally, this question gives an opportunity for the recruiter to make a description of the job and some of its aspects in her own words. In this sense, it can be more detailed and give hints on different aspects of the work, such as team cooperation, culture or expectations.

How to approach this question if there was no job ad

If the job was not advertised and you were able to get the interview thanks to networking or cold calling, this question can be slightly modified to match your specific situation.

In any case, it is likely that someone has already given you some information about the job. You can use this information as an anchor and, in this way, ask for more. Also, you can spin it and start with your own vision of what the work might include and ask for feedback on that.

Question for interviewer: What are the prospects for growth for the person in this job?

[QUESTION #5]:

What are the prospects for growth for the person in this job?

A well-placed question at the end of an interview can make or break a candidate.

A specific question can also show the potential employer that you mean business and that you are serious about doing well in the position for which you are applying.

Whatever questions you decide to ask (and you should definitely ask a few!), be prepared to take notes. Throughout the first few weeks in your new role, reference these notes often. They will be your road map for ensured success.

Why This Question is a MUST-Ask

Asking your interviewer how you can grow in their company, and how you can move up the ranks is a must. Do not leave your interview without tossing out this gem.

This question tells the potential employer that you are dedicated to the long haul and will be a faithful servant to their business.

Once you ask, you will also gain valuable insight into how to work towards a successful progression through the company ranks.

An Important Answer

Hopefully, your potential employer will give you a good overview of how your position could change and grow throughout your tenure with them. Hopefully, they have a solid business model in place that allows employees to better themselves, and to help in new ways.

If they do, they will have zero problems in allowing you to see how you can advance.

You need to take a hard look at continuing your candidacy if they do not have a growth plan in place for employees.

If the job you are applying for is as far as you can go in the company, would you still accept the offered position? And if you answer yes to that question, then you should have a plan in place to move on once you learn what you need to know.

Question for interviewer: What hours are typically worked in a week for someone successful in this job? Is overtime expected or accepted?

[QUESTION #6]:

What hours are typically worked in a week for someone successful in this job? Is overtime expected or accepted?

The way the above question is phrased is beneficial in several ways.

First, you will be able to find out what the daily/weekly hours are for the position. Is the regular work week 40 hours, or is it expected to be more or less?

Second, you will learn if there is overtime. As an employee, you may want the option to have overtime hours. If you prefer a standard work week, you may rather not be in a job where overtime is an expectation.

And finally, by asking what the hours worked by successful employees are and if overtime is accepted, you are giving the interviewer a positive impression of your work ethic. You are suggesting you could work the hours needed in order to be successful. You are also indicating that, if the company accepts it, you may be willing to put in the overtime as needed.

Should I ask this question in the interview?

Yes, it is most of the time suitable for this question to be put forth to the interviewer. This will be the best way to ensure that the hours they expect you to work and the overtime that may (or may not) be needed coincides with what you are willing to offer.

A common mistake is to change the phrasing to “What are the hours for this position”. You do not want to come across as someone who only wants to work the bare minimum hours required. This may not be your intention, but the interviewer may perceive it that way.

Be sure to ask your question in a positive manner with the intention that you are a hard worker who would be prepared to put in the hours.

If you feel uncomfortable asking about working hours during the interview process, you may wait until you are offered the position to start asking about those specifics.

Question for interviewer: Is there much travel associated with this job? Where and how often?

[QUESTION #7]:

Is there much travel associated with this job? Where and how often?

Applying for a new jobs is an exciting time. The idea of facing new challenges and meeting new people can be fun. Even more so, if there is travel involved. But in real life this is not always the case.

Travel Time

If it has not already been made clear via the ad you are responding to or throughout the interview, then you should definitely ask about travel time.

Travel time directly impacts personal lives, and often not just your own. If you have a family, or are just starting out in life, travel time requires a period of adaption. If travel is required, you should be prepared for such before even taking the position on.

When you ask about travel time, be prepared to ask important follow-up questions. You might want to put them aside, until later in the process, but be sure to clarify these issues before signing the contract.

Who will pay for your meals, and what does that process look like? Who will pay for hotel accommodations, and who is responsible for making those reservations? Is there further compensation for travel (i.e., do you get to keep your hotel points, rental car points, etc.)?

Also, you should be aware of how often you will be gone. Is it a weekly traveling gig? Monthly? Yearly? Clear that up before you confirm that you take the job.

Interesting Circumstances

If this is a new position, your interviewer might not have a clear-cut answer for you. If they are still formulating your new duties, they might have to get back to you.

Assure them that this is okay and that you understand. However, before you formally accept the position, be sure you are completely aware of your eventual requirements. Do not sign on if they are still unsure.

Question for interviewer: How has this position evolved since it was created?

[QUESTION #8]:

How has this position evolved since it was created?

There comes a point in every interview when they ask you if you have any questions left. You should definitely come prepared with intelligent, researched questions that fit the company to which you are applying.

This question and answer time is reserved for you to make final impressions on the interviewer. Do not leave them wanting. Be ready to make one last stand. Show them how much they need to hire you.

Evolution of a Position

Intelligent questions beget intelligent answers. Asking about the evolution of a position should spur on an interesting and important conversation that will shed light on a number of different things.

First of all, you will get to see how the company has progressed over the course of the time the position has been around. Has the company grown? Have they remained stagnate? Be sure to consider this information carefully. And if you are unclear, follow-up questions are always allowed.

Secondly, you will get firsthand information as to how the actual position has grown. Is it a position that has ever-changing norms? Or, is it a position that will always require the same thing? Pause and reflect on the answers given, because this is how you will be spending your days with the company.

Finally, the answer will reveal potential. Is there potential for you to grow as an employee? Any room for upward mobility? As you gain your footing with the business, you are going to want room to expand your talents. Does this position allow for headway?

Precise Answers

Be wary if you do not get a clear answer. Covering up the fact that advancement or expansion within the position may not be possible is a shady practice. Heavily consider your reaction. Do you want to be involved with such a company?

If you get a straight answer, then make a notation. Add it to your long term “to-do” list, and prepare yourself to start immediately.

Question for interviewer: What is the biggest challenge someone in this job faces on a daily (or weekly or monthly) basis?

[QUESTION #9]:

What is the biggest challenge someone in this job faces on a daily (or weekly or monthly) basis?

Your interviewer will most definitely ask you what your strengths and weaknesses are as an employee. This is a vital time for you to be honest and open, but also to show off your talents.

Just as they ask you what your weaknesses are, you need to ask them what challenges you will face. It is a mirroring question to theirs, and one that they should very well be prepared to answer.

The Challenge

You are likely the type of person to take challenges head on. They are much easier to face, however, when they are clear and when you know they are coming. Starting your new job with the challenges already in mind will be crucial in the first couple of months.

Knowing what is ahead of you will help you formulate some sort of starting point. It will guide you as you plan your work, and serve as a compass for direction. Stay true to that compass, and when the time comes, you will be prepared for the challenges they’ve alerted you to.

What You Face

It is completely possible that you are taking on a role with hardly any challenges at all. It is more likely, however, that you’re taking something on with a long list of work ahead of you. Any interviewer worth their salt will be honest with you in this regard. It will make an obvious difference in your decision.

Let the list of challenges that you face sink in. Really meditate over where you are at in your life and career. Are you prepared to take on all that they are asking of you? If you are not, then it is definitely time to evaluate your stance on your application to their company. If you are, this might be the company that will launch your career to a new level.

Question for interviewer: What is a typical (day, week, month, or year) for a person in this job?

[QUESTION #10]:

What is a typical (day, week, month, or year) for a person in this job?

Throughout your interview, you may get lucky and get a tour of the company. Be particularly observant of the employees and how they are interacting with one another. Are they diligent in their work? Are they standing around talking? Does there seem to be an urgency in the office?

All of these questions compound into one really big one: what does a typical day in the office look like? Hopefully, your typical day will be the same throughout your first year on the job. With any luck, they will give you adequate time to really learn, grow, and mold your talents into the job’s requirements. This is a crucial time period for you as an employee, so it behooves you to really clarify their expectations.

Why It Is a Big Deal

Asking what a day or month looks like in the office is important for a couple of reasons. First, it will give you a good look as to what your office life will be like every day. Also, it will give you an idea as to how the office life changes throughout the course of a year.

By asking this question, you should gain a pretty good overview of the pace of the office, the type of work the office handles, and the general satisfaction of the employees.

Of course, this will lead you into asking more questions. The interviewer is there to help you gain insight into the company just as much as they are there to gain insight on you as an employee. Really utilize this time, and ask until you are clear of the expectations.

With the Answer

When your interviewer answers this question, it will be your job to decide what to do with the information. Do you like what you hear? Can you visualize yourself in that space every day, doing what they are asking you to do? If so, it looks like you are in the right place. If not, then it is certainly time to evaluate what your next step will be.

Question for interviewer: What is the toughest time of (day, week, month, or year) for a person in the job? Why?

[QUESTION #11]:

What is the toughest time of (day, week, month, or year) for a person in the job? Why?

While it may sound “negative”, this is a terrific question to ask.

You have already asked about the positive aspects of the job, but asking about the difficult facets of the position indicates to the interviewer that you are seriously thinking about joining the company.

This will be information that is not in your job description and is not a common question asked by many interviewees.

You also show that you understand the job will have its own obstacles that will need to be overcome.

Through this question, you will have gained information that will make you well-prepared to handle the challenges that come with this position.

How do I use this information?

The interviewer should be able to provide some instances where there will be demanding times ahead, whether it is during Quarterly Reviews, tax season, month end reports, or perhaps every Friday afternoon!

It will be how you use this information that sets you apart from your competition.

You can use these “negatives” and turn them into a “positive” by selling yourself and your skills.

When the interviewer gives details about the tough times that would be in store for the newly hired, you can relate that back to a similar difficult time you had during school or at a previous job.

You can then take the opportunity to share how you overcame that obstacle and turned a stressful time into a learning experience.

Through this question you also let the interviewer know that there will be instances that you may not be able to complete your task or will need assistance in order to be successful. It is not a sign of weakness, but rather a strength in knowing what the obstacle will be and how you will find your way to conquer it.

What you learn should help you understand the more challenging aspects of the position and if it is something you will be willing to take on.

Question for interviewer: In what area could your team use a little polishing?

[QUESTION #12]:

In what area could your team use a little polishing?

When you get a tour of the company, if you get it during the interview process, take special notice of the team you will be working with. Do you notice anything in particular? It will be a quick walk-through, so you may not be able to glean any important information from the surface.

When you are casually observing, take note as to how the employees are working. Together? Separate? Mostly at their computers? This will help you get an overall feel for the work environment, but it will also help you phrase an important question later on.

Asking About Polish

When it is your time to ask a few questions at the end of the interview, you should be well prepared already. Whatever you observed during your tour will come in handy here.

Ask the interviewer where the team could use some polish. Ask how you could help better the team, or in what areas they are the weakest.

This is an excellent question because it will allow you to gracefully engage with the interviewer. You should be able to slide in a strong trait that you have that will help in their weakest area.

This simple negative turned positive will impress your interviewer, and any time you can add another strength to their growing list is a definite win.

Listening to Their Response

When you ask the question about where the team needs the most polish, you need to make sure you listen to the response. Take notes if you need to.

Reference these notes going into the future rounds of interviews and into the job after you are hired. Come up with some ways to help easily and efficiently.

This is a quick and simple way for you to get your foot in the door with your team. They will immediately view you as a team player and someone that enjoys a challenge. And it is all due to the fact that you asked a simple question during your interview.

Question for interviewer: Why is this position open? Is it a new position or a replacement for someone?

[QUESTION #13]:

Why is this position open? Is it a new position or a replacement for someone?

When you spot an ad in the newspaper or online that you are ready to apply for, the real work begins. Submitting your resume and cover letter are the easy parts.

Interviewing is the tough part. Preparation will help.

Compile a sturdy list of questions for the end of the interview. And, as you’re being interviewed, make a mental note of things that need to be clarified. You are expected to ask questions, so never feel like you are taking up too much time or that you are inconveniencing someone.

Sometimes a Tricky Question

If ever there was a tricky question in the interview process, this question would be it.

Asking why the position is open or if you are replacing someone is a question that requires finesse, especially if the job you are applying for is not part of a graduate scheme where rotation is expected. Tread lightly and be mindful of potential minefields (like an employee death or illness).

It’s definitely a plus if this position was recently created and you are the first to fill it. Much more often, however, you will be replacing someone.

If it is the case that you are a replacement and you are not given any further details, you should probably leave it at that. Do not continue to press for a specific reason for the previous employee leaving. This is easily information that can be gleaned when you begin your work with the company.

Big Answers

It is completely possible that your interviewer will be cagey in their answer, or evasive. Take note immediately if this is the case. A lot of times, confidentiality plays a role in the exit of an employee.

Staying true to this confidentiality is a mark of character, but it also tells you to press no further in your line of questioning.

Also take note of a straight answer. This, too, is a good sign. It gives the distinct impression of having an open line of communication and transparency.

Question for interviewer: What kinds of processes are in place to help me work collaboratively?

[QUESTION #14]:

What kinds of processes are in place to help me work collaboratively?

There are not enough words to tell you how important it is for a company to encourage collaborative work. Besides productivity, it boosts office morale, decision-making, innovation, and many other positive attributes a company wants.

No matter what the position you are interviewing for is, there should be opportunities for you to collaborate with others.

Face-to-face Time and Remote Collaboration

Face-to-face time is a simple way for companies to encourage collaboration. There are many ways this happens. Working in an open, inviting space and having a break room or something similar are just a couple of examples.

Face-to-face time is not always possible in an organization. In a situation like this, you would want a company that has the appropriate technology, so that people can stay in touch and communicate.

You will want to know if the executive person hosts team and interdepartmental meetings. Meetings like these are important for employees to know what other people on their team are working on and, even better, where the success and focus for other departments has been. Whether these are formal or informal does not matter, just as long as people are getting together!

An alternative to traditional meetings are collaboration platforms that make use of internet and smartphones. Young and innovative companies tend to be more open to such solutions, while large and traditional companies often stick to the old-school approach.

Information shared at meetings or via collaboration platforms is beneficial to you because you can learn more about the company and if there are opportunities to help one another reach a goal.

Collaborating Doesn’t Have to Be All Work

While this isn’t necessarily something to ask directly (although not completely frowned upon!), listen for someone to talk about team outings, corporate activities, or just general socializing. This can give you an idea of the atmosphere within the walls of the organization.

The benefit to outings and socializing is people don’t feel as threatened or bogged down by the daily grind. It opens the doors to co-workers having more light-hearted conversation and to thinking outside of the box.

The point is, you want to know whether and how your work encourages developing relationships, fostering your growth, and is dedicated to your success.

Question for interviewer: Do you expect the main responsibilities for this position to change in the next six months to a year?

[QUESTION #15]:

Do you expect the main responsibilities for this position to change in the next six months to a year?

Having an expectation of either consistency or change in this position will set you up for success.

It is important to give yourself an expectation of a position so that you know what your measure of success will be. Typically, a job description will give that to you, but you can never be sure of any underlying issues. A job interview is the place to find these out before you accept an offer.

If They Answer “No”

If the answer is a simple “No”, then you can always ask them to elaborate on the responsibilities listed. Take careful note on any of the duties you may have questions on before going into an interview.

Most job descriptions include something along the lines of “Other duties as required”. It is helpful to understand that you might get some additional work outside of what your job description states.

What you would like to know is if the top priorities of a position plan on staying the same for the foreseeable future.

If They Answer “Yes”

If the person says “Yes” or “Maybe”, think about the details surrounding the job.

Is the department new? Have the other employees been recently hired? Sometimes in a new situation or something similar, the responsibilities may change in keeping up with the organization and it is valuable to know that.

This will be where you can ask them how and why they expect the responsibilities to change.

Remind them that you are comfortable and excited for change, but that you need to know what to expect and how to adapt.

You also want to know that there will be a place for this position in the next six months to a year.

After listening to their answer, think about if it makes sense to you and if it is in line with your personal career goals.

Even though you are the one vying for this position, the company is trying to impress you as well. You have a lot to offer and you only want to gain experience in what excites you and launches your career!

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