Chapter: 8

How to ask questions in an interview


Now you already have all the tools in your Questions for Interviewer toolbox. Or… do you?

This final chapter gives you the missing piece – the “How to” and the “Dos and Don’ts”.

Please, don’t take these as strong rules, but rather as guidelines. Some points here are very practical and can be easily put into practice (like avoiding multi-part questions), while others might be more of an individual opinion.

They all aim at helping you feel more comfortable as you ask questions during a job interview. Like the whole guide, feel free to take whatever feels right for you.

Ready. Aim. Fire.

Chapter 8: Questions to ask during a job interview - How to ask questions in an interview
Question for interviewer: Intro to how to ask questions in an interview?

FIRST THINGS FIRST

First of all, use your own brain and common sense. No two companies are alike and no two interviews are exactly the same. Not to mention that you are a unique person and you have to follow your own intuition.

Now that we have the first point covered, we can move on to more actionable advice (while still keeping the first point in mind).

The rest of this chapter includes:

  • General guidelines for asking questions in a job interview
  • Questions NOT to ask in a job interview
  • Frequently asked questions about asking questions in a job interview
Question for interviewer: General guidelines for asking questions in a job interview

GENERAL GUIDELINES FOR ASKING QUESTIONS IN A JOB INTERVIEW

It is important to prepare questions ahead of time. While it is normal that you might come up with some good questions on the fly, it is not enough to leave it all to chance.

Questions are part of your preparation for the interview. They not only help you shine as the best candidate for the job, but also enable you to interview the employer. Validating that the company and position is a good fit for you is as much of a job for the interviewer as it is for you.

Asking well-thought-out questions is the most straightforward and efficient way to dig into the company culture and the specifics of the day-to-day responsibilities on the job. Consequently, the questions help you get the job and have as smooth of a start as possible.

While most of the questions listed in the chapters above can be taken directly into use in your interview, it is perfectly fine to come up with your own questions. You can use those listed on this website as an inspiration.

In any case, it is important that you really think how the specific questions apply to the company, job and your profile. Therefore, you might want to tweak, expand or modify the questions listed here. Below you can find some further guidelines for asking good questions.

Ask one question at a time

Complex questions usually require complex answers. Avoid multi-part questions that require answers covering several topics at the same time. Each question should have one specific point, otherwise you will overwhelm the employer.

It is much better to say that you have several questions and ask only one at a time.

Avoid questions focused on yourself

Self-centered questions are those that put yourself ahead of the employer.

These questions include the following topics:

  • salary
  • work hours per week
  • vacation time
  • health insurance
  • and other concessions.

During an interview, you are primarily trying to demonstrate to the employer that you can deliver value to the company and not the other way around. Only after they come back to you with the good news that they would like to hire you, can you start asking much more details about what they can offer to you.

Ask questions on variety of topics

Avoid asking questions about just one single subject. If you do, this subject will stand out unnaturally and draw the interviewer’s attention.

For example, if you only ask questions about the team and their collaboration style, the interviewer might assume you have an issue with teamwork.

Ask questions about a variety of topics to demonstrate your curiosity and interest in all aspects of the job and company.

Avoid "Yes" or "No" Questions

Remember that an interview is supposed to be a dialogue. Most “yes” or “no” questions are not conducive to real conversation.

Furthermore, questions that require only such a short answer are likely to be answered by searching other sources, such as the company’s website. Thus, asking these types of questions might indicate you haven’t done proper research before the interview.

Avoid personal questions

Avoid overly personal questions about the interviewer's family, race, gender, etc.

While it is definitely a good idea to try to establish rapport with your interviewer, it is better not to step into the areas that are not public information. Examples of the topics that are typically safe to venture into are travel, sports and college.

Question for interviewer: Questions not to ask in an interview

Questions NOT to Ask at a Job Interview

Since your objective in the interview is to show how you can bring value to the company and present yourself in positive light, there are some questions that are better to be left out or, at least, rephrased.

Below is list of some of the common ones.

What does your company do?

This is obviously the question you should have the answer to before you go to the interview. In-depth reading of the company's website is a no-brainer.

If you ask this question, you clearly demonstrate you haven't done your research and suggest that you are not really interested in the job or company.

In some cases, the company might have limited information on their website, and even a thorough research leaves some question marks. In that case, you can ask a question about what the company does, if the interviewers haven't given you a good enough overview.

How long do I have to wait to get promoted?

This question not only puts your interest above that of the employer, but it also indicates that you are not so interested in the position that is currently offered. The picture you are giving is that you are hoping to move on quickly to do something better.

There are more positive ways to phrase this question. For example, "(Q# 5) What are the prospects for growth for the person in this job?". When you approach it in this way, you immediately show your ambition from a good perspective.

How many hours will I be expected to work every day? Will I need to work on weekends?

Direct questions about working hours suggest that you are not hard-working and are looking for a place where short days are common.

An alternative way to ask about the working hours is to ask about typical day and toughest time. Good examples of such questions are:

  • (Q# 10) What is a typical (day, week, month, or year) for a person in this job?
  • (Q# 11) What is the toughest time of (day, week, month, or year) for a person in the job? Why?

What is the salary for this position?

Unless explicitly asked by the interviewers, it is best to leave questions about the compensation for later. This is especially the case, if this is just the first interview in the process.

The best time to discuss compensation is when you are already offered a position. One clear exception is when you know beforehand that you would not take job that pays less than certain amount. If this is the case, you could state it in your cover letter (I wouldn't recommend that for entry level positions).

Did I get the job?

Most hiring decision require at least some consultation within the company. It is unlikely that the interviewer is ready to answer such a question straight in the interview.

Besides, this question makes you seem very impatient.

Two approaches that I'd suggest are to investigate if the interviewer has any hesitations about you and ask about the next steps in the hiring process. You can find questions that fall into these categories in Chapter 4: Questions about the requirements and Chapter 7: Questions about the next steps.

When can I take time off for vacation?

Remember, your job at the interview is to show that you can create value for the employer. Asking about time off for vacation is rather premature at the interview stage. It also leaves the impression that you are not very committed.

First, focus on showing that you are the best candidate for the job. Later, you can agree on the details related to time off.

If you do have some plans or commitments in the near future, you can ask a better phrased question. For example, "(Q# 54) When do you anticipate the person in this job will start work?"

What type of health insurance does this company offer?

Again, asking about benefits is not the best starting point. Instead, you should be focusing on showing that you will create value for the company and are the best candidate for the job.

Health insurance and, potentially, any other benefits fall more into the discussion once you're offered the job.

You might ask, for example "(Q# 36) Can you tell me what you love most about working here?". While the answer to this question is unlikely to consist of a list of benefits and perks from the job, it might include some.

Question for interviewer: Frequently asked questions

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT ASKING QUESTIONS IN A JOB INTERVIEW

HOW MANY QUESTIONS SHOULD I HAVE?

There is no one magic number. Still, it is a good idea to have at least four or five really solid questions. Odds are that at least some of them will be covered already earlier in the interview. You don't want to find yourself in a situation where you had only one real question to ask. Or worse, that the topic was already fully discussed and you have nothing to say at the end of the interview.

DO I NEED A QUESTION FROM EACH TOPIC THAT IS LISTED HERE?

Absolutely not. It's up to your own preference. Some of the topics might not be as relevant for you or the job that you are applying for. Keep it relevant and real.

In any case, it's probably good to have some questions that can always be used at the end of the interview. Questions about next steps in the recruitment process are well suited here see chapter 7. Also, questions that directly ask if the interviewers have any reservations about you are good for closing (see questions #27 and #29).

HOW MANY QUESTIONS SHOULD I ASK?

Again, there is no perfect number here. I'd rather recommend asking more than less. It shows your interest. It helps you to understand the company and the job better. And it shows that you can take initiative. Of course, these need to be relevant questions and not just some random ones.

Follow your intuition about how the conversation is going and ask all the questions you feel you'd like to hear answers to.

In general, personally I'd expect at least 5-10 questions from a job candidate during an hour-long interview.

WHEN SHOULD I ASK MY QUESTIONS?

Also here, there are no hard rules here, but in most cases the interviewer invites you to ask questions at the end of the interview. Still, in many cases the job interview is, or at least can be, a two-way conversation. Therefore, you can ask questions as you come across a relevant reason to do so.

From my experience as a job applicant and, later as an interviewer, the best interviews include several questions from the applicant throughout the interview and not just at the end.

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