I'm not disinterested, I just can't think of anything to ask!
June 17, 2011 10:18 AM   Subscribe

In a job interview, the interviewer asks the interviewee questions. But what questions should the interviewee ask the interviewer?

There's the question, "What do you want to say about me when this internship is over / in two years at this job?"

But what else should I ask? I'm worried that all my practical questions will be answered during the course of the interview and I won't have anything else to ask.
posted by lockstitch to Work & Money (30 answers total) 135 users marked this as a favorite
Ask lots of questions about the business. Not vague and obvious ones like, "I googled that project that just got all the press coverage, it sounds cool." Ask specific ones that go to the heart of the business-side of things, like: How do you get clients? Do you ever turn clients down? What do you consider a sign of a good [insert Company's product here]? What was the most memorable project you worked on?
posted by yarly at 10:25 AM on June 17, 2011

Tell me about the project(s) I'd be working on in the first x months, what would be my tasks and responsibilities.
posted by Dragonness at 10:27 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Find out as much as you can about this organization, whatever it is, and try to put yourself into the workplace, and try to ask about what may come up. Maybe riff on one of the interview questions, and turn it around on them, as if you were their (interviewers) co-worker or intern.
posted by Danf at 10:29 AM on June 17, 2011

My new favorite question to ask as an interviewee (courtesy of the evil hr lady's blog) is "What differentiates someone who's merely good in this position to someone who's *great*?"

Also, ask about what their biggest challenges are - what problems are they trying to solve or fix or whatever.
posted by rmd1023 at 10:38 AM on June 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

Prepare your questions in advance. Write them down if you might forget (you probably will) and bring your paper with you. Treat it as though you are interviewing the agency: how do you know that you want to work there if you don't ask them any questions? Ask about what the office environment is like, what the management style is like, why your interviewers like working there, what success in the position looks like, what challenges are present.
posted by rhapsodie at 10:40 AM on June 17, 2011

What's the workplace atmosphere like here?

How regularly will my performance be formally evaluated?
posted by Gilbert at 10:40 AM on June 17, 2011

An employer wants to hire someone that is interested in this job, not just in a job. So questions about the particular responsibilities of the position, the working culture of the company, the direction the company is taking, etc. are all good questions. I tend to avoid questions about the work-place culture, and hope I can figure it out myself in the interviews. But that may be just my inability to ask those kinds of questions with any finesse.
posted by rtimmel at 10:43 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you blank out (regardless of your attempts to prepare here :) ), something I fall back on as someone who does a lot of background brain-processing is to say, "I feel like I've learned a lot here today. I'm the kind of person who likes to marinate on my thoughts for a little while - is it okay if I follow up with questions via email?"

It never has been a problem for me, and if you feel awkward asking the questions you want to ask face-to-face, it gives you a good out to ask them in writing instead.
posted by Medieval Maven at 10:51 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Tons of good answers here about asking business-specific questions, which I totally think you should ask.

In addition to those kinds of questions, I always ask either "What do you like about working here?" or "How did your professional background lead you to you current position here?"

I personally hate being asked questions about myself, but most people seem to enjoy it, so the mood in the room loosens up.

It might also tell you something about the company. I like it when people answer that they feel supported by management, or that they've been promoted.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 11:14 AM on June 17, 2011

Imagine that you already have a job. You're already paid the same amount as the job you're interviewing for. What, besides money, would make you jump at the chance to take this new job? What would make you stay at the other job?

The thing that's served me well has been to turn the interview around: I'm going to be spending at least 8 hours a day, 5 days a week doing whatever this job entails. What do I need to know about that job and the people I'll be working with to convince myself that I should spend my time doing that rather than the myriad other things I could be doing with my life? Is it the work? The people? The environment dynamic?

Don't ask these questions in order to make them think you're smart, ask these questions because your life is finite, your time is valuable, and if this situation isn't going to help you spend that resource wisely you should be doing something else. They need you (though they may not know that yet), the question you need answered is: Why do you need them?
posted by straw at 11:17 AM on June 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

I used to ask questions just because they sounded like they'd impress the interviewer ("what qualities does it take to excel in this position?"), but I much prefer questions that give me an idea of the work environment. For example: who will I be working most closely with? What is a typical day like? Are there other people in the company who currently have the same position/responsibilities? If so, are they considered a team, or do they work independently of one another? And so on.

I also like asking about the interviewer, as others have mentioned, namely "How did you get started here?" and "What do you enjoy about your job?"

I can't remember if I read it in a previous AskMe or somewhere else, but I really like the question "Do you have any doubts about my ability to do this job?" It's like a bonus question for you! Even if you don't get the job, it will give you a better idea of what people might perceive your weaknesses to be, so you can preemptively address or prevent that in future interviews.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:29 AM on June 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

As long as you've got good bullshit sensors, I like "what's the turnover like?" Either you get the truth and that'll help you figure out if you want to work there -- I've never made the decision based on the answer, but it has been the straw that broke the camel's back -- or, it'll tell you if management makes a point of lying to you before you even start working there.
posted by griphus at 11:41 AM on June 17, 2011

Also, make sure you have a hierarchy of questions if there is a clear corporate hierarchy. Your interview with your direct manager should be about Procedural Stuff, the one with her manager about Company Issues. When you get to the Big Boss, should this be a thing, you talk to him about the really Big Ideas.

Also, I don't mean to shill but this book is fucking awesome.
posted by griphus at 11:46 AM on June 17, 2011

I'm currently working for a company with, shall we say, some problems. In my next round of job interviews, whenever they happen, I plan to add one hopefully enlightening question:

"In your opinion, how healthy is the company?"

Don't explain; you want their interpretation. Whether they want to talk about corporate culture, or the stock price, or the potential to be bought by another company and gutted--let them choose how to answer it. Then see if you can ask the same question of multiple people. Pay attention if all the people choose to focus on one particular interpretation.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 11:47 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

My favorite question to ask an interviewer is, "Where do you see this position in five years?"

It has the bonus of nipping the awful "Where do you see yourself in five years?" question in the bud.
posted by juniperesque at 11:49 AM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

I always ask them if they like their job. They usually say yes, but you can tell the ones who are bullshitting. This can either tell you something about the company or something about the person. It's not important as a question unto itself, but it is helpful to steer you in a particular direction - like if the interview has thrown some red flags for you and they fumble that one? Might not be the greatest place to work.
posted by 8dot3 at 11:57 AM on June 17, 2011

I've had some success asking "what are you looking for" in a candidate. Then listen. And then during the course of the rest of the interview subtly drop anecdotes that show the ways that you fit those parameters.
posted by Mchelly at 12:09 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

As both an interviewer and interviewee, I don't really like the "what would an excellent candidate in this job do" type questions. I think they are just kind of a transparent way to give you a chance to say, "oh, oh, I'm excellent, pick me!" You'll exhibit much more saaviness (and have a more interesting conversation) if you engage the interviewer in a really substantive conversation about the work the company actually does. That's where you get to show your knowledge of and enthusiasm for the work. You don't want to convey a sense that this is all about you ("how can I be successful here?") but rather a true passion for the job.

Of course, you should still ask all the questions you need to ask if you're unsure about the nature of the job. But I think candidates present themselves best if they take every opportunity to show that they're really interested in the job, not just in themselves.
posted by yarly at 12:17 PM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

If they are in the private sector, ask them how they make money. In many cases it isn't obvious where the main revenue drivers lie in a business. They could have all sorts of side licensing and one-off ventures that are increasingly impacting the bottom line. In my experience the answer to this question is revealing in several ways:

- If the answer is vague it may say something about the transparency of the organization or that that interviewer doesn't know
- You may discover that you are being offered a job in a division that is shrinking or growing in terms of relative revenue company wide
- If you get an impression that there is strong growth and the position is tied to accelerating it you will feel more comfortable with a generous salary request

Naturally there are limits to how detailed of an answer you can get, but I think it is one of those questions that simultaneously looks smart and is smart.
posted by dgran at 12:20 PM on June 17, 2011

As an interviewer, I don't like being asked whether I have doubts about a candidate's fit for the job. At best it sounds like a request for validation that I probably can't give before I've compared notes with other interviewers. At worst it causes the candidate to spend any subsequent interviews justifying why they X, Y or Z are not really true, which doesn't put them in the best light with other interviewers.

It's much better to ask an interviewer what they see as the most important qualifications for the job. Listen, highlight areas where you are a good fit, and trust that the interviewer is probing any areas where they have doubts.
posted by SakuraK at 1:39 PM on June 17, 2011

How many people are in the department for this position? What's their levels of seniority? This is a good way to find out where you fit and a sense of the people you'll be working with. You can follow up with questions about how work/responsibilities gets divvied up.

If it's an office job, ask how desks are laid out. Cubicles? Groups/super cubes with some dividers? One big warehouse room? Separate offices with closed doors for everyone? It says a lot about communication at the company, and leads to questions like where people you interact with sit in relation to one another (is your supervisor in an office away from everyone else or sitting next to you? are you isolated?).

As long as you've got good bullshit sensors, I like "what's the turnover like?"
I like this one too. And if it's a salaried job with deadlines, asking about overtime policies/crunch time, but only if you're really good at reading people.
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 1:49 PM on June 17, 2011

Here's a previous question along the same lines.
posted by restless_nomad at 2:07 PM on June 17, 2011

I always ask the interviewer about themselves like I'm trying to see whether or not I'd like to to work with them. It's a subtle thing, but I think it's pretty effective.

Classic consultant interview question, that basically got me my first job is: "Is there anything that I forget to ask?"
posted by dobie at 2:54 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

For technical positions, do some homework, find out what the large unsolved problems are in the field, and ask intelligent questions about how the company plans to get around those problems. The higher up you go, the less technical and more "big picture" the questions should be, e.g. talking to a scientist about drugs should deal with specific side effects activating receptor X, while talking to the CEO you might ask about the competitive landscape.

In every case I've been in where the interviewers got very defensive when asked about possible roadblocks in their master plan, the company or project imploded within a few years. If the interviewer feels threatened by questions rather than engaged, it means they are just collecting a paycheck rather than trying to solve the problem.
posted by benzenedream at 5:16 PM on June 17, 2011

Thanks! These are all great.
posted by lockstitch at 5:30 PM on June 17, 2011

I like to ask the interviewer to walk me through a day in the life of the position. And then I like to ask them to walk me through their normal, expected interactions with this position. I'll also ask about tools used to accomplish particular tasks and things of that nature.

As an interviewer, I like to get questions that factor in something I've explained about the position earlier in the interview. For example, if I explain that we use Tool X and Tool Y, a question about whether we've considered using Tool Z to supplement or supplant other tools and why we decided how we did is a great question.
posted by Jacob G at 6:43 PM on June 17, 2011

What tools will I have at my disposal? White boards? Photoshop? Firefox? Administrative support? Meeting Rooms? Remote Access? Laptop with Wireless for Meetings? This kind of stuff has a huge bearing on how effective you can be ( at least if your a project manager like me )
posted by jasondigitized at 3:47 AM on June 18, 2011

One that I actually picked up from Askme and is pretty damn ballsy but very good if you pull it off is:

"During this interview, what have I not convinced you about?"
posted by litleozy at 7:55 AM on June 20, 2011

Two favorites of mine:
  • What were you working on, right before you came to speak with me?
  • What are your biggest challenges working here?
The first question gives you some context about what's really going on, and if they say "making a PowerPoint presentation," you know to pack it up and run for the hills.

The second lets you know what kind of problems you'll likely deal with, I've gotten responses in the past like "we're short on resources for project X, we've been working weekends," which isn't a good sign. This could also be a chance for you to demonstrate your knowledge about the business as a candidate in your response.
posted by godisdad at 12:41 PM on June 20, 2011

Two questions to throw the interviewer off guard?

1. What do you LIKE or ENJOY working for XYZ?
2. I looked up some recent patent (USPTO) that your company filed. I found patent XYZ interesting. In what direction might this take your company?
posted by yoyo_nyc at 6:14 PM on June 22, 2011

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