“So, do you have any questions for us?”
In general, it’s a bad idea to ask about vacation time or whether the office has beer on tap—at least early in the process. But the worst thing you can do is say you don’t have any questions, says Alexa Merschel, campus recruiting leader for PwC US, who oversees recruitment efforts at 200 colleges and universities for the multinational professional services firm. That indicates you’re either not taking the opportunity seriously or aren’t being discerning about whether you’re the best fit for the job.
This is an opportunity to both do some sleuthing about your prospective employer and showcase your own skills and thinking, she says. If you’re truly stumped, have these seven questions in mind for your next interview.
This question can uncover both the company’s values and the skills it prioritizes, says Simma Lieberman, founder of Simma Lieberman Associates, a workplace culture consultancy. The answer may be that the company wants the individual to hold a certain set of viewpoints or opinions, or it could be that it values diversity and looks for individual skill sets based on the job. “If you listen, the answer to this question can tell you a lot about the culture,” she says.
One of the most important things you’ll need to know about your new job is how you can be successful at it, says executive recruiter Patricia Lenkov, founder of executive search firm Agility Executive Search. This will help you evaluate whether the metrics by which you will be measured match up with your expectations, skills, and experience, she says. For example, in a sales role, will your first three months be focused on meeting customers and building relationships, or will you have sales quotas to meet right out of the gate?
Lieberman recommends this question for two reasons. First, it indicates that you’re interested in contributing to the overall well-being of the company, and you’re not afraid to share your opinions. In addition, if there is no definitive way that employees can give feedback, or if the manager seems confused or put off by the question, employee contributions may not be valued as highly as they should be, she says.
“You want get a sense of how fast the company is looking to move,” she says.
This question needs to be tailored to the role, but can be a smart way to show off your industry expertise, says Leela Srinivasan, former director of marketing of LinkedIn Talent Solutions and current CMO of the hiring platform Lever. If you’re interviewing for a marketing role, you might ask which marketing channels are working best for the firm or into which they’d like to expand, she says. Ask a question that gets beyond the surface and shows that you have deep expertise in the industry or sector, she says.
Embedded in this question is the message that you’re serious about staying if there’s growth potential, Merschel says. With the expense of turnover, a forward-thinking employee who wants to grow with the company can be attractive. In addition, the answer to this question will likely give you insight into training or other development programs the company may have. Conversely, if there isn’t a growth path, that’s a good thing to know going into the job.
Srinivasan says many companies work so hard on developing their cultures, it’s important to be sure that the prospective employee understands what it’s like to work at the company. The answer to this question can also give clues about what you can expect in terms of work hours, stress levels, and other factors that may affect your overall quality of life.
“I like to hear a question about culture in the interviews, because it shows the interviewee is aware of the importance of fit,” Srinivasan says.
This allows the hiring manager to interject a bit about himself or herself and may also yield information that isn’t in the rehearsed company messaging, Merschel says. By allowing the interviewer to delve a bit into his or her own preferences, you’ll get insight into the person, as well. For example, someone says he or she values flexible work hours and company-wide volunteerism days sends a different message than someone who says he or she values the willingness of the team to do whatever it takes to get the job done. This type of insight can help you get a better feel for whether the company is a fit, she says.