"Do you have any questions for us?" As someone who regularly conducts interviews, I find it staggering how many interviewees are not prepared for the one question that you can be absolutely certain will be asked. In some ways, it is the most important question of the entire interview. The interviewer will look at the questions that you ask as representative of your top priorities.
If you just respond with, "No, I have already heard what I need to know," it makes you seem disinterested and complacent. Even worse, if you ask the wrong questions, you could immediately invalidate the rest of the interview. This is exactly what happened to the interviewee from yesterday. The two questions that he chose to ask us were: "How often are you allowed to work from home?" and "How long do you think I would have to work on this team before being eligible for promotion?"
With these responses, he unknowingly communicated that his top priorities were to avoid coming into the office as much as possible and that he really wasn't interested in helping our team succeed, but instead wanted to use us as a stepping stone to find something else more interesting. Unfortunately for him, this led to his resume being promptly moved into the Deleted Items box in Outlook.
The Right Way
The contrary side to all of this is that the question is actually a huge opportunity for you. If you ask the right questions, you can not only get the information to decide if the position is a good fit for you, but you can show the interviewers that you are a critical thinker and a problem solver.
The secret is to pose your questions in a way that will get those conducting the interview to talk for a few minutes, and then allow for you to respond to what they say. You should ideally have two or three questions prepared that all fit this pattern. The list below shows five examples you can use in both in-person and phone interviews.
Questions You Can Ask
What is the immediate need on your team that you are hoping to fill with this position? This is probably my favourite question. You know that their team has a need, because they have an opening. There is most likely a project about to get started, or a required skill -- set that they need but are lacking. Whatever they come back with, this is a perfect segue for you to explain why you are the perfect person to fill that gap. You can explain why your experience and expertise makes you exactly who they have been looking for.
What projects can I contribute to right away? One of the most frustrating things about hiring someone new is that it can take forever to get them trained and up to speed. When a candidate asks a question like this, he lets the interviewers know that he will find a way to help as soon as possible, which is a major bonus. This again gives you the opportunity to sell yourself as someone who can help on those projects, and as an added bonus -- it lets you know what skills you need to brush up on before your next interview or even before starting the job.
Is this team empowered to find better and more efficient ways to do things? The interview process is all about differentiation, and a question like this shows the interviewers that you are determined to be a rock star. Most companies have many folks who are perfectly happy to learn how to do the basic tasks of their job and then sit back and collect a paycheck. What they are looking for is someone who is driven to make things better, who won't just be satisfied with the status quo. By not only identifying yourself as a big time horse, but making sure that the company will give room to graze, you are guaranteed to stand out.
Can you tell me how your organisation defines success? It would be wise to save this question for the interviewing manager, and not for a peer/technical discussion. Nobody likes a kiss-up, but letting management know that you will communicate openly and honestly with them, always scores big points. The last part of the question can be a good barometer about how easy it will be to become a top performer. You can follow up with a discussion of how you have been successful in your previous jobs.
How would you describe a typical day on this team? Last but not least, this question is more of an icebreaker, and should hopefully lead to some banter between you and the interviewer. If the interviewer relays struggles or frustrations, be sure to note how you will help them reduce their workload and make things better. If they respond positively, be sure to reinforce that you think it sounds like a great fit and you are excited for the opportunity to contribute.
Whether you use one of the above examples or not, please make sure that you have something planned for what you will say when asked this question in your next job interview. Rest assured, the question will be asked. It always is.
Jefferson and his wife Michelle created and contribute to the website See Debt Run, where they chronicle their adventures in personal finance. On the site, they discuss items from all across the financial landscape including debt reduction, frugal parenting, ideas for making side income, and advice on how to climb the corporate ladder.