Interviews are a two-way street. As much as the interviewer is taking a microscope to you and your skills, you’re analysing whether the company is genuinely the right fit for you. Asking questions during your interview helps you understand the company culture and is key to a successful interview.
Job hunting site Circular Board reports that 47% of employers say they will reject candidates if they don’t appear knowledgeable about the company. Asking questions during the interview process shows you’ve done your research and you are interested in learning more. But what you ask also matters — the calibre of questions you ask could set you ahead of the competition.
Ask specific questions about the job
Career matching website Chegg urges interviewees to do research and be strategic about the questions they ask, advising “[d]on’t ask questions that anyone could answer with a quick glance at the company website.” Asking generic questions could have an adverse effect in an interview, displaying what could be construed as a lack of effort. Instead, ask about the specifics of the position. “What would an average workday for this position look like?” is a question that lets the interviewer know you are interested in the minutiae of the job, and it will give you a clearer picture of what the job will entail.
Liza Kirkpatrick, director of the Career Management Centre at the Kellogg School of Management, told CNBC that interviewees should inquire specifically about the first 90 days of employment. Kirkpatrick advises asking, “What are the biggest challenges I’ll face in the first 90 days, and how will success be measured?” Asking about the challenges and measures of success gives you a clear picture of the company’s expectations, and also shows your ambition. Plus, it will help you figure out if those responsibilities and expectations make it seem like this is really the right job for you.
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Ask about the company culture
In recent years, call-out culture has highlighted the problem of toxic workplace environments into question and demanded accountability for employee and company actions. And while the movement has led to a rise in anti-racist initiatives and company actions towards diversity and inclusion, that doesn’t mean the company you’re applying to lives and breathes them.
Don’t be afraid to inquire about your prospective employer’s actions on this front. I once interviewed with a company whose treatment of Black women had been called into question. I respectfully asked how the situation had been addressed and what systems were in place to further equity among their employees. My question was met with appreciation, and the interviewer was forthcoming about the changes they’d implemented, adding insight into their own personal experience with the company’s new direction. Questions like these are crucial to your own understanding of how the company respects its employees and how they are advancing their efforts for diversity and inclusion.
Company culture also extends to changes in infrastructure due to the pandemic. Many companies were forced to shift how they work entirely, moving from in-person work to a completely remote structure, or some mixture of the two. Ask how the company has handled obstacles during the pandemic and how the staff (including the interviewer) have been affected. You’ll get a feel for the company’s ability to care for its employees and the flexibility of management. It also gives the interviewer a chance to be introspective and candid with a hopeful future co-worker.
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Ask about your chances
Before ending the interview, ask about your skill set: What does the interviewer think you can contribute to the company? This can be an uncomfortable question to ask, as you’re essentially asking about your own chances of being hired. Kirkpatrick suggests being forward in your approach by asking, “Is there anything about my background that makes you hesitant to move me forward in the interview process?” She explains, “Hiring managers love when candidates ask this question because it shows a sense of self-awareness.” A question such as this allows you to acknowledge your weaknesses and express how you are continuing to hone your skills.
If the direct approach is not a natural fit for you, career coaching site The Muse suggests an alternative:
“Couch this question in a more supportive way by saying, ‘Is there any other experience or traits it would be helpful for me to elaborate on?’”
The important thing is to be confident, and remember: You are interviewing the company as much as they are interviewing you.