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Questions to ask potential employers during job interviews

Several weeks ago, I had a chance to interview a couple of candidates for a civil engineering position. The candidates were well qualified within their own merits, each exhibiting unique skills and attributes. One thing I found to be interesting was the varying type of questions asked by the interviewees during the do-you-have-any-questions-for-us session of the interview. Some questions appeared well thought out, while others were entirely plain and not relevant to the company or the job in question.

In my years of having to listen to these varying responses, I have realized that the basis of a good question is one that shows interest in the company while still leaving ample opportunities for discussions. Any questions whose responses can be found on the company’s website should be off the table unless you are soliciting a clarification or offering a correction. I highly recommend that you never attempt the latter.

So what is a good question? Well, it basically depends on the position you are interviewing for and how the interview has gone thus far. Ordinarily, you will get the opportunity to ask questions after you have been interviewed; so, if your interview has been sour up to this point, this will be the only chance you get to redeem yourself. On the contrary, if you feel that you have had a good interview, then you have to maintain this perception.

Thus said, here are some of the questions I have been able to collect over the years which I personally found to be well thought-out and adequately open-ended.

General questions regardless of the position

  1. What skills and attributes do the people who do well in the company have?
  2. What do you like best about working at this company?
  3. What results are expected in this position?
  4. What specific problems are you hoping to solve during the first six months?
  5. What happened to the person who had this job before?
  6. What is your philosophy regarding on-the-job growth and development?
  7. What are your goals for the department?
  8. What do people seem to like most/least about working here?
  9. Would it be possible to meet the people who work in the department?
  10. Do you encourage participation in community or professional activities?
  11. Do you have a management development or internal training program?
  12. What are the company’s plans for growth in the next five years?
  13. How does the company intend to remain competitive?

Management type of positions

  1. What do you see as the three most important capabilities of the person you will hire for this position?
  2. What do you see as the primary challenges to building more business or capturing more marketshare?
  3. What was the last person’s success in this (territory/region/position)? What would you see as being the capability you’d most like to improve with the new hire?
  4. What is your vision for the (region/territory)?
  5. How does the performance of this role play into the bigger goal or plan for the company?
  6. How are you perceived in the marketplace?
  7. In reviewing your current sales staff, what would you say are the key qualities that are common to your top producers, as I’m going to model myself after the best people in your company?
  8. I’m also interested in career pathing–logically, is there a next step that would be in progression from this role? (National/Major Accounts? Management?)
  9. How many people would I be supervising? How long have they been with the company, and what are their backgrounds?
  10. What type of support and tools are provided in this role? Leads? Contact mgmt software? Sales support? Laptop computer?
  11. How would you define the company’s unique selling proposition?
  12. Historically, what has been the primary concern or logjam in closing a sale on your product?

Project Engineer (Entry level)

  1. What design programs/software does your company use, i.e. Microstation, AutoCAD?
  2. Assume I’m the selected hire–let’s fast forward 90 days: Give me a taste of what a typical week will be for me in this position?
  3. Can you describe your organizational culture?
  4. What are the major responsibilities of this position?
  5. What are the greatest challenges facing the person in this position?
  6. Is there a job description? May I see it?
  7. Can you tell me why this position is open?
  8. How often has it been filled in the past 5 or 10 years?
  9. What are your immediate goals and priorities for this position?
  10. What did you like most about the person who previously held this position?
  11. What would you like to see the person who fills this position do differently?
  12. What qualifications would you expect the successful candidate to possess?

Risky questions to ask

The following questions are termed as risky because the outcome is entirely dependent on the translation by the interviewer. You should use these questions if you have a high degree of confidence that you are one of the preferred candidates. Before you use any of these, we urge to carefully consider the potential reward vs. the risk.

  1. Why are you looking at external candidates for this position, instead of promoting from within?
  2. How would you describe your management style?
  3. What do you see as my strengths/weaknesses for this position?
  4. What kind of support does this position receive in terms of people and finances?
  5. Do you have a lot of turnover?
  6. How much freedom would I have to determine my work objectives and deadlines?
  7. How would my performance be measured and how is successful performance usually rewarded?
  8. What career progression do you see for someone in this position? Do you normally promote from within?

Posted by on May 22nd, 2010 and filed under Career. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

13 Responses for “Questions to ask potential employers during job interviews”

  1. MAG Modelixir says:

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  2. Lolz this what I normally do on my previous jobs, now I know why I’m not hired. Thanks for a wonderful content I really learn a lot.

  3. Martin says:

    i really liked the article

  4. Treesha.S. says:

    Another question that I found to be very useful is:
    What are some of the key issues that I am likely to face in this job?
    All the best.
    Kevin.

  5. FrauTech says:

    Very interesting. I recently had a phone interview and for my questions one of them was to ask what kinds of daily tasks would be involved in the job (I’m in the entry-level category). Even though I’m very interested in the answers, I find my brain just shuts off after I ask my question. I’m so relieved the interviewer is no longer asking questions to me. I agree you don’t want to come off too demanding in expecting to be promoted soon. I’d think there are more tactful ways to ask that question. Even if you’re thinking you’d like to advance rather soon you can ask what kind of higher level challenges might be available after five years. But then, I think if I was doing the interview and someone came in focused on where they would be rather than what I need them to do I wouldn’t hire that person. You need to prove what you can do before you can be taken seriously for advancement, otherwise you should be interviewing for the position you want not the step before it.

  6. William Merunka says:

    Doug, my only disagreement with the article, is your last risky question. Personally, I feel that it is a good question and one that I ask on my interviews. Personally, I am not looking for a job, I am looking for a career. I want something where I can get in on the ground floor, and work my way up until I reach the top. Before making a decision about a company, it is important for me to know how the company feels about the position. While I do not want them to just lead me to the top floor with the magnificent views, I also don’t want them to leave me at the ground level welcoming new guests into the building. While career advancement is up to the individual, if the company is not supportive of it, it makes for a not so pleasant experience.

    • Doug Fred says:

      Thank you so much for your comment.
      I see your point. I labeled the subject questions as such because I wanted to point out that the questions can be translated differently by different interviewers. For instance, no. 8 in that section might be translated as interviewee being over-eager and overly ambitious to the point where they are unlikely to perform well in the position because you would be constantly “eying the promotion.”
      Unfortunately, given the competitive climate that we now have, employers only need the slightest amount of doubt to disqualify a candidate. So, the less opportunities you give them to doubt your candidature, the better off you are.
      Or what do you think?
      Doug.

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