Job Candidates: Here’s What to Ask in Interviews

Recruiters say hiring managers should not be the only ones to ask tough questions

7 November 2014

Many of us have found ourselves in the hot seat in a job interview, worrying if we answered a question correctly or becoming flustered by an unexpected one. But the truth is that job candidates shouldn’t be the only ones on the spot. To help you find a company that is right for you, it’s best to be prepared with a list of questions about what you want to know about your would-be employer.

 “I tell job candidates that they are interviewing us,” says Mandy Kayler, senior technical recruiter at Micron Technology, in Boise, Idaho. “Not only do we want to see if they are a fit for the position, but also if they feel the job is the right fit for them.”

To do so, applicants must study up on the employer and the job position, as well as explore the company culture, career advancement opportunities, and more.

PLAN AHEAD

To determine whether a company is a good match for you, start by preparing your questions in advance of the interview. Reread the job description and review the company’s website. Jot down anything that you might want the hiring manager to clarify or explain further, such as how long the training period is for and how employees are evaluated.   

“Not everything is spelled out in the job description,” says Shelley Wick, talent acquisition recruiter at Rockwell Automation, in Milwaukee. Moreover, ask yourself what you need to know before you can make a decision on whether to take the job, such as the organization's leadership structure or the size of the team you’ll be working with, suggests Janet Poitra, senior international human resources manager for Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, in Pullman, Wash. “This is hard to do when you're in the moment of an interview and haven't prepared.”

Wick suggests that one of the most important things to explore during the interview is the company’s culture. First evaluate the types of companies you have thrived in before. For example, you might prefer working for a large, established organization instead of a start-up, or one whose employees work collaboratively. This helps determine the type of office environment you will find most compatible.

 “To find this out, ask about the company’s core values,” suggests Wick. For example, her company’s core values include customer focus, innovation, and integrity. Also ask about the dynamics among employees. “How do colleagues interact and communicate with each other, and how often? How formal is the office environment?”

If you interview with the people you’ll actually be working with, Wick recommends asking them what drew them to the position, and what keeps them coming back every day. This is also a good chance to learn about the various roles on the team, says Poitra, which will help you understand where you fit in. She also suggests asking them what they enjoy most about their jobs. This could help you form connections and make you a more memorable candidate.

Of course, one of the most important questions that any candidate will have is about salary. Before you ask, double-check with the person you are interviewing with if that's a conversation the two of you should have or if you should save it for human resources. “At Micron, recruiters handle the salary negotiations with the candidate, serving as a liaison and offering recommendations to the hiring manager,” Kayler says.

To negotiate the best starting pay, be prepared to discuss your salary history honestly, although it is up to you if you want to reveal exactly how much you earn in your current job, she says. Some companies may even ask for a current pay stub, although Kayler says that is not considered an HR industry best practice. “An ethical company will use this information along with other factors, such as what the company already pays for comparable positions, to ensure it is providing a fair and competitive offer,” Wick says.

IT’S ALL IN THE DETAILS

Once you’ve learned about the company, find out more about the position itself, such as examples of projects you’ll be involved in and what the workday will be like.

Ask about such things as training and the travel expected of you. Kayler says it’s important to ask about advancement opportunities as well. “Some employees are surprised to find themselves pigeonholed by lack of advancement opportunities at their new company,” she says. Asking about potential career progression gives you a sense of security about your future and shows that you are considering staying with the company for the long term, she says.

Also take the time to ask how the job fits into the organization’s long- and short-term goals. This, says Poitra, can help you understand the priorities of the position and its expectations. You might also want to know if the position is a new one that didn't exist before or if you're replacing someone. If it’s the latter, ask why that person left.

You can ask about vacation days and flextime, but don’t make these types of questions your priority. “You don’t want to leave the interviewer remembering that you asked a lot of questions about time off,” Wick cautions. She suggests saving those questions for the human resources department if you get to that stage.

Make sure to ask the questions that matter most first. It can be difficult to ask everything on your list if your interview time is short. Many interviews are scheduled back-to-back and can’t go longer than planned. “Hiring managers often don’t give candidates enough time,” Kayler warns.

FOLLOW UP, CAREFULLY

Once the interview is over, you may find that you have additional questions. Sometimes it’s okay to follow up with the recruiter or HR manager.

Poitra cautions against asking questions after the fact, however. “It may make you seem unprepared if you didn’t ask everything you needed to during the interview itself,” she says.

Even if you don’t get to all of them, the types of questions you ask matter. “If candidates put together some really thoughtful questions, it shows that they’ve done their research,” Wick says. “They’re connecting the dots to what they already know about the company, the position, and their own goals. That’s pretty impressive.” And it might just be the thing that gets them the job.

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