Job interviews are stressful. You’re worried about making a good impression, selling your skills and abilities, and not spilling food on yourself. At the same time, you’re trying to learn all about the company, determine what the job will really be like, and decide if you like your potential future co-workers. However, the last question can be the most stressful – when the interviewer asks if you have any questions for them. You not only need to have questions prepared, but you should tailor them to the person of whom you are doing the asking.
“No, not really” or “What does your company make?”
These are probably the worst things you can ask. It indicates not only lack of preparation, but a lack of real interest in the company or the job. Other than giving a bad seminar, asking no questions is probably the easiest way to make sure you don’t get an offer.
“Why is this position open?”
The answer to this will most likely be short, but very telling. It could be due to a promotion, a new direction for the company, or something else. They probably won’t tell you the previous person quit because the department was dysfunctional (they may not know). However, seeing how open they are to answering the question can be more telling than the answer itself.
“What is the biggest problem I will face in this position?”
Phrasing the question this way makes the hiring manager think of you as already in that postion. It shows you are involved and planning how best to do the job.
“What do you like best/worst about working for this company?”
This will give you some insight into both the culture of the company, and the values of the specific person who is answering it. This makes it especially useful to ask of your potential future boss.
“How will I be evaluated?” or “In your opinion, what is valued at this company?”
Some companies have a formal review process, others not so much. In some companies technical expertise is rewarded and promoted, in others managerial aptitude is needed to get ahead. This question shows your interest growing with the company, and will help you prioritize your activities once you start work.
“What is the next step?”
Your last question will be a version of this, directed to the human resources person. It shows your continued interest in the process. What you really want to find out is where they are in the hiring process, where you stand relative to the other candidates, and when a decision will be made. This will allow you to know when to contact them again, showing interest and enthusiasm without appearing desperate.
Preparing for questions you know you will be asked is a great way to manage the stress associated with the job interview process. By preparing insightful, probing questions that show you are excited about working for this company and this role, you will end the interview on a positive note, with every chance of a successful outcome.
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The ACS Career Tips column is published the first week of every month in C&EN. Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns in the Career Development section of the ACS Network (www.acs.org/network-careers)._—brought to you by ACS Careers.