What to Ask During a Job Interview

interview question

Most people are trying so hard to impress a hiring manager during an interview that they forget to ask themselves if the interviewer impressed them.

They either don’t focus enough on the other person to know that answer or they ignore some clues because they really want–or need–a new job. As Paul Simon sang, “A man hears what he wants to hear. And disregards the rest.

I’m all in favor of focusing on the positive once you do have a job, but while you are interviewing you need to notice, and seriously consider, the negative. Otherwise, you may well wind up among the majority of people who say they are dissatisfied with their jobs.

Much of what is said during an interview, by both parties, is very general. Candidates make jargony statements about being hard workers or team players. Managers offer phrases such as, “we are committed to executing around here.” Those kind of statements are so broad, and so common, that they don’t have much meaning. They won’t tell you what you really want to know about a job and a company.

To get closer to the truth, you need to ask questions. That is, you need to ask specific questions to get specific answers.

Imagine you are buying a house. You don’t just find out its price. You ask a lot of very targeted questions. Has the basement ever flooded? How old is the furnace? The roof? You’ll hire an inspector to check the details. You want to know costs and dates.

Follow that same path when you’re interviewing, particularly in later rounds. Ask questions that require quantifiable or specific answers.

In a recent post on LinkedIn, serial entrepreneur James Caan gave a list of questions he thinks are good ones. Here’s one I liked: How will I be measured? As Caan writes, “You should walk out of that room knowing what you have to do to hit your targets and add value to the business.”

But here is one he suggested that I don’t like: What is the culture like?

Culture is one of those things that is so vague, and experienced differently by everyone, that most answers to that question really won’t help you. Instead, decide what culture really means to you before you go on an interview, and then ask specifics about those aspects that are your priorities. If camaraderie is important, ask how often colleagues socialize, what percentage of work will be done on teams, if there are team-building events, etc. If you want a supportive culture, ask about training programs, mentoring, how often performance reviews are conducted, how often team members meet with managers, and the like.

Of course, you don’t want to ask them all at once. An interview is not an interrogation. Sprinkle them throughout your conversations to get the most authentic answers and to appear confident and friendly, rather than confrontational or demanding. The final, crucial step: Listen to the answers.

About the Author

Susan Price has been writing about careers, entrepreneurs and personal finance for more than a decade. She’s been an editor at BusinessWeek, Money, and, among others.