Questions that dazzle!
June 8, 2008 3:23 PM   Subscribe

Job interviewing filter: What are some great questions for a candidate to ask the company that would make them stand out?

I have some upcoming interviews and always struggle with the portion of the interview where I get to ask questions (typically at or near the end). I know you must have at least a few questions or it seems like you're not that interested in the job. I've interviewed entry-level candidates and interns who never have questions and it always makes a bad impression. I also understand that your questions should focus on either the position itself or what value you can add to the company, not what the company has to offer you. However, I still draw a blank when prepping for this portion of the interview.

Interviewers: What questions have candidates asked that have impressed you? Are there certain questions that should not be asked?

Former or current job hunters: What questions have you asked that seemed to impress the hiring manager? What questions were big mistakes?
posted by bda1972 to Work & Money (21 answers total) 112 users marked this as a favorite
i like to ask the interviewer to take me through an average day, if possible. i have never been looked at like i just landed from mars, so i'm assuming it's a good question.
posted by thinkingwoman at 3:34 PM on June 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Try to avoid asking basic questions that imply you didn't perform any research. E.g., instead of "does [COMPANY] plan on growing internally or through acquisition?", use something like "I noticed in your recent SEC filings that you've had 3 acquisitions in the past two years. Is this trend of growth-by-acquisition going to continue?" Obviously, the tone/type of these questions will vary depending on the company, but I'm amazed at how many people I interview who haven't done the basic research first.
posted by um_maverick at 3:49 PM on June 8, 2008

Ask the atmosphere in the workplace, what kind of people you'll be working with.

Generally, I tend to treat a job interview as if I have the job and I'm interviewing them, finding out my roles, the people, the place and what about their company makes them a good choice to work for.
That might sound a bit.. snooty (to assume you have the job) but it allows me to make the interview take a more conversational mode, breaking the question, answer, next question, answer, which I'm sure makes me come across a lot better.
posted by Static Vagabond at 3:53 PM on June 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've had luck asking the following two questions at the end of interviews: Are there any answers I can clarify for you? Are you having any reservations about hiring me that I can address?

Sure, they might not give you an informative answer, but you've come off confident and assertive and there's a chance that they might tell you something that helps you get this job, or maybe the next one.
posted by shesbookish at 3:59 PM on June 8, 2008 [7 favorites]

People seem to consistently like "If you could give me one reason why I should choose to work at your company, what would it be?" They've rarely given it much thought in advance and since they work there, they must like something about it. I have gotten really great insights into why people stay at their jobs and what they're proud of, and this question's answers actually sold me on where I work now, which I had been skeptical about before my interview.

I've only ever interviewed candidates for internships, so I'm impressed when the person asks a question that betrays that they've done any research at all, or when it's clear they're looking at the internship as part of an overall plan to create a career rather than just a summer job. Direction is great...I most strongly advocated to hire the candidate who said that she was graduating six months after the end of her internship and was really looking for a position that she could turn into a full-time job. That plus her technical skills convinced me that she would perform well over the summer because it was part of her future plans.
posted by crinklebat at 4:37 PM on June 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm with um_maverick on this one. If you can say "Well, I read the article on your operations in $MAGAZINE's $DATE issue, and that left me with a few questions about $TOPIC," you obviously gave enough of a shit to do some research before the interview.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 4:37 PM on June 8, 2008

I seem to get: "What do you like about your job?" quite often. So much so, that I have 3 or 4 answers, depending on the day I am having.

I usually interview for entry level positions. A typical question is: "tell me about the position I am interviewing for". A great question is: "tell me about a particularly difficult situation/ bad day/ troubling problem you experienced (in that role)?".

Typical question: "How long does someone work in this entry level position before being promoted?". Great question: "What sets someone (in entry level position) apart from their peers?" or "after a year, what qualities are you looking for in this role?"

Interviewers, like everyone, like to talk about themselves. You can ask how long they've worked for the company, ask about their career path, typical day, thoughts on what is new and up-coming for their industry.

Good luck.
posted by beachhead2 at 4:49 PM on June 8, 2008 [4 favorites]

Any questions that demonstrate you've actually done some research on the specific company you're interviewing with earn major bonus points. You'd be surprised how many people come into an interview knowing nothing about the company their interviewing with beyond what they read in the classified ad, which is a major turn-off to me at least. There is nothing worse than getting to the "Any questions for us?" section of the interview and having a candidate ask something like, "So, what do you guys do, exactly?"
posted by The Gooch at 5:12 PM on June 8, 2008

I tend to dislike the questions that are obviously just kiss up questions. Don't try to demonstrate how much you know with a question if you don't want the honest answer.

The questions that show someone is carefully considering the position make me feel better about the person.

The question I'm most happy I asked in an interview was, "From what I've heard, the position sounds great. What's the downside?" I proceeded to hear someone who would have been a coworker slip from "Oh it's great!" to a ramble about the long hours, the limited communication between departments, the dysfunction of the parent company.
posted by Gucky at 6:56 PM on June 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

You want the interviewer to picture YOU in the job. So ask,

"What do you see as my biggest challenge in this job?"


"What would my first set of responsibilities/project be?"
posted by coolsara at 7:03 PM on June 8, 2008 [5 favorites]

I would ask: "what are your company's core values, and how do you put them into practice each day, and how do you assess whether or not your company is behaving according to its core values?"

You would also have to make sure you knew what your own core values were first, and how those core values affect your daily work and your daily choices.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:43 PM on June 8, 2008

I always ask three things...

1) What are the critical success metrics for this position? In other words, how will we know we've succeeded at what we set out to do?

Most of the time, this is pretty clear (e.g. "increase sales by X percent"), but especially for creative work, this can illuminate a lot about the job for you. Plus, it makes you look like you're focused on being effective.

2) What are the biggest obstacles to the above success metrics? What kinds of problems am I going to have?

This one can illuminate competition, inefficiencies in the company, the management style, etc.

3) What do you think needs to be done differently at this position?

The last one is key ... clearly, they're hiring someone for a reason. They are hiring to fill a need that is not currently being met. It could be "we just need a warm body" but more likely the hiring manager wants to change something about his department/division, and this will give you insight into his thinking.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:53 PM on June 8, 2008 [6 favorites]

Are there any answers I can clarify for you? Are you having any reservations about hiring me that I can address?

If those are really the only questions you have come up with throughout the course of our interview, I am unimpressed. Really, terrible terrible questions, I cringe at the idea of being asked those questions at an interview.
The problem is this: You need to have questions that make it look like you have actually been paying attention to the things the interviewer has been saying for the course of the interview. Yes, there might be a couple generic questions you might be able to ask (tell me more about detail X about the position is rarely inappropriate), but unfortunately there are no guaranteed good ones for every interview. I think, for example, asking about specifics into what the interviewer herself does is an interesting question, but my boss absolutely hates it when people ask him that.
The same sorts of questions make for a good interviewer and a good interviewee: questions that show that the other person has been listening, paying attention, and actively participating in a full exchange of ideas throughout the interview. So don't look for canned responses, pay attention to what the other person is saying and try to find something to ask about that.
posted by ch1x0r at 9:50 PM on June 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Reading through some of the above, make sure you know the position/title of the interviewer. (If not already answered, this should be the first question you ask). Don't ask about the company's five year plan, mergers, or HR questions from a technical person; and don't ask "what is your day like" questions from a manager who has a position far removed from the one you are interviewing for.

It irritates me when people ask questions that, in my current position, I would have no reason to know.
posted by meowzilla at 10:03 PM on June 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

"Where do you see Company X being three years from now?"

"What expectations would you have of me in the course of that time period? How would you expect me to contribute to these goals?"

I think these questions are key for two clear reasons.

Firstly, it shows that you are prepared to buy in for the medium to long haul and are interested in the overall strategy and direction of the business. By asking the second question, you align your potential position with these overall strategic ambitions of the organisation. The interviewer will see you as someone who is connecting overall organisational goals with your individual performance in your role- a big concept amongst management theorists recently. It also allows the interviewer to wax lyrical about the business which usually makes them feel good too.

Conversely, if they don't seem clear about the direction of the organisation then it is a pretty clear red flag that it might not be the role for you. No one wants to work for a shambolic organisation no matter if it is MegaCorp or Nice Charity Ltd. If they don't have a clue at the interview when they are trying to portray the organisation in the best light, what will it be like when you are working there?
posted by ClanvidHorse at 2:29 AM on June 9, 2008

I always ask "what kind of person/candidate do you think would really succeed in this position?". It always seems to catch the interviewer off-guard in a good way and it gives me as a candidate a lot of insight into whether the position is a good fit. Plus - if they describe the qualifications you've just told them you possess, you know that you've got a good chance at getting the job.
posted by jrichards at 2:42 PM on June 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

"What's the most important thing I can do to make the biggest and most helpful impact here on day one?"

"What were some of the qualities you liked about previous people who have held this position?"

“What qualities would the ideal candidate possess for this job?”

"What are some good things for me to know so I can hit the ground running on day one?"

"Can I have this job?" (The wording you chose is dependant on how things are going - but if I really like what I've heard, and feel a good rapport, I don't hesitate to ask right out for the job. Sometimes I'll say things like "so, how soon can I start?" in a light-hearted manner, etc.

"When can I expect to hear from you next?"

Other questions I ask are usually based on researching the company before the interview. These questions are both to demonstrate that I did a ton of research and I am interested, and that I am trying to gain actual facts that are important to me selecting this company as a place to work.

I also usually bring my questions written down, and have a notebook with me where I take notes on what is being said. I hate it when I interview someone and when I ask if they have any questions, they look back at me and blink while saying "nope - I can't think of any".
posted by xotis at 2:57 PM on June 9, 2008

Nthing any question that shows you did research about my company. If someone asked me something like how my company is different than specific competitors, that would be cool.

Actually, here is my hierarchy from best to worst:

Question that shows you researched my company/the position and shows you have critical thinking skills.

Question that shows you at least understand the job and that you have critical thinking skills.

Question that shows you have critical thinking skills.

You have no questions and are incapable of thinking one up on the fly.

You have no questions, so you ask me something that is prominently stated on our web site or in the job description (e.g., how long has your company been in business?) thereby proving you've done no research.

You only ask questions that make it look like you want to work as little as possible, like what are the hours and how much vacation would I get.
posted by snofoam at 10:08 AM on June 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

A couple more things: Lots of people suck at this, so it's an easy way to stand out. Also, while it's good to show interest in the job and what the company is looking for, etc. this information should have been on the job description. If you want to drill down into what was in the job description (which you should be intimately familiar with before coming to your interview), avoid general/vague questions that make it sound like you didn't actually read the job description.

Before your interview, review your notes on the company, the job description itself, the cover letter you sent and any correspondence you've already had.
posted by snofoam at 10:18 AM on June 10, 2008

I've yet to see it mentioned, so I'll do it.

The most impressive interviewees I've come across didn't impress me because they got what the job was about. Nor did they impress me because they clearly understood what it would take to succeed given the stated job description.

No, the ones I lobbied hard for knew that what we THOUGHT we wanted had, at best, maybe 40% overlap to what we actually NEEDED. Real aces showed me angles we hadn't considered when we put together the original job description and had pretty good guesses on how to solve those problems. Rare birds. Even if they're not telling me this stuff, they're asking me questions that clearly show they're thinking about this kind of thing.

I'm a fit interviewer, though - so you need to either really, really rock or really, really suck to impress me either way. I pretty much assume that if they're sitting in front of me, they either already have the prerequisite skill set, or can be brought up to speed to perform at an acceptable level. Anything beyond that is gravy.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 12:03 PM on June 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

When I interviewed for my current job, I did have questions, but I also said, "I'd like a chance to tell you about strengths that didn't come out yet" and proceeded to do so, briefly.
posted by theora55 at 9:05 PM on July 20, 2008

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