So you’ve aced the interview so far: You had the perfect anecdote for every question, you honestly but tactfully admitted your weaknesses, and you made the interviewer laugh. You’re ready to ride off into the sunset with this job, but then the interviewer gives you the floor to ask your own questions. What should you ask that’s going to make you look smart and knowledgeable, interesting and memorable?
While the questions you ask during an interview might not get you the job offer on a silver platter, they can definitely move the needle and leave your interviewer feeling more confident about potentially adding you to the team. This is a chance to show that you’re thinking carefully about the opportunity and set you apart from other candidates, as well as learn information that will actually help you decide if you want to join this company.
I’ve heard all kinds of advice about The Perfect Question to ask (“ask about success metrics so they know you’re driven;” “ask if there’s anything about you that they’re concerned about so they’ll just tell you all the stuff they liked about you, and you’ll trick them into having a positive association with you”), but ultimately we don’t need to waste time on Jedi mind tricks.
Throughout my time recruiting, I’ve encountered a handful of questions I got from candidates that I loved and often prompted me to write “asked great questions” in my notes. These are my favourite because they’re specific, reasonably uncommon, and they send positive signals about someone’s culture fit.
If it was your last week at [company], what’s one thing you would miss and one thing you wouldn’t miss?
This is a much more interesting way of asking “what’s your favourite thing about working here,” which I already have a go-to, honest-but-reasonably-sanitised answer for — but asking it this way puts my mind in a different place and encourages me to answer more honestly and off the cuff.
I first heard this question while working at a company I didn’t love — when the candidate asked this question, I accidentally answered honestly that I would miss the people but I wouldn’t miss the unrealistic pace of work and half-baked projects. Not my finest moment, but extremely useful intel for the candidate!
What steps is [company] taking towards diversity, equity, and inclusion?
A specific question about how a company is moving towards better DEI (or anything, really) is ten times more useful than a generic question of if a company cares about DEI. (“Yes, of course [company] cares about DEI! Next question.”) Most companies still have a long way to go to achieve true diversity, equity, and inclusion, but I think this question is a good opportunity to find out if there are actual plans and steps being taken or if a team is just full of social justice-y platitudes.
How does [company] collect and act on feedback? Do you have an example?
A company’s willingness to take and act on feedback is a good clue about what the culture will be like. We’re looking for a culture where feedback is valued, gathered, and acted on consistently because it means that your voice and suggestions will likely be welcomed. Similar to the DEI question, we want to know how they collect feedback and not simply if they collect feedback. It might be through surveys, town halls, a suggestion box, one-on-ones — there are lots of potential good answers here so long as it’s not some generic hand-wave-y answer.
Tell me about the CEO at [company].
Even if you wouldn’t be interacting with the CEO every day, this is still the person who is going to make material decisions about the company and changes that will impact your day-to-day work and job security. This question gives you a good sense of how involved the CEO is in what’s actually happening at the company (does your interviewer have a story about interacting with them, or is it all just vague general statements?) and can also give you a sense of how much actual employees like and trust them. If all anyone can say is that they’re a “genius,” run.
When was the last time you took vacation?
This is fun for me to answer and gives you some actual data about whether people at this company are able to take advantage of paid time off. Anyone can say the words “we encourage people to take vacation,” but we want to actually know if they actually walk the walk. This is also a good option if you’re a little nervous, because now you can make small talk with your interviewer about their awesome recent time off.
You shouldn’t feel like you have to ask all these questions, and the right mix of questions for you is probably a combination of some like these and some more tactical questions about the job itself or next steps. Your perfect question is going to be different from my perfect question and will depend on what stage of the process you’re in, but this should give you a few options to choose from on your way to securing that job offer.