“Do you have any questions for me?” Most interviews end with the interviewer asking the candidate if they have any questions about the role, the company, or the team.
So, what should you ask? And what kinds of answers are you looking for? Take a look at 6 questions you should be asking your interviewers, and what you can learn from their answers.
Question: How is the team perceived by other teams and the company at large?
What you’re looking for: With this question, you’re looking for consistency in the answers from each person, rather than the actual perception. It was a huge red flag when I interviewed with one company and each answer differed.
The team manager and a potential peer both stated that they felt disconnected from the rest of the organization. They said it was difficult to engage other employees to help when they were needed.
In contrast, the CEO insisted that it was one of the most important, connected teams in the company. He stated that every employee knew the importance of this team’s work, and therefore, were ready to pitch in whenever they were asked.
If multiple interviewers give different answers, it may be a sign that the company is not quite on the same page from team to team.
Question: How do current employees describe the company? The product? The team? The role?
What you’re looking for: Extreme answers. Are all of the employees just raving about how great the company is, how the product is the best thing ever, and how the team is just the most amazing team?
Most companies, teams, and products have challenges, and in many cases, they’re hiring to fill a role to address those challenges. You want to go in with your eyes open, and getting an accurate picture of the good AND bad about all aspects of the environment is necessary.
By the same token, are most employees generally negative or lacking energy? Why? Is it because they’re distracted with the creative problems they must solve, or because the work environment is not inspiring? During one interview, my interviewers asked me a series of questions about how I handle stress, how I would deal with an employee who was under-performing, how I manage difficult clients, how I influence slow or unwilling co-workers to collaborate, and how I communicate with distracted managers.
All of this pointed to the type of environment that I knew was not right for me. In contrast, another company acknowledged the ups and downs of startup life, the top challenges between two collaborative teams, and the main problems they were trying to solve by hiring for the role. I appreciated the complete picture, and left the interview feeling like they fostered open communication and collaboration.
Question: What does a good employee look like, and how do you measure that?
What you’re looking for: You’re looking for alignment with your values, and agreement about metrics. Is the company primarily focused on how many hours you sit in your office? The number of pieces of content you author, or lines of code you write? How quickly you process invoices? How you dress?
I interviewed with one company that required all employees to work onsite at their headquarters, wearing business casual attire, until at least 6pm. When I asked probing questions about how they measured success, every interviewer spoke of hours sitting in the office.
Another company measured success by the number of pieces of content I managed each month. For me, both were out of alignment with how I view and measure success. I looked for a company that measured results over hours, and quality over quantity.
Question: What do you seek to gain from whoever fills this role, and how will you work with that person?
What you’re looking for: You’re looking to understand what the role actually entails, beyond what the job description says. Hopefully, each interviewer was chosen for a reason: they’re your customer, they’re your peer, or they’re your manager, so understanding what they need out of this role is important. Can you deliver what this person needs?
When you consider how you might work together, think about whether your work style complements their style. Would you work well together? Do you like interacting with people in the adjacent role in general, or does that skillset/personality generally frustrate you?
Question: What does a day-in-the-life look like, and what is the primary deliverable for this role?
What you’re looking for: Actual job duties and fit! Many companies write a job description to kick off the candidate search, but the day-to-day tasks might differ from the high-level job description.
The title “Account Coordinator” could mean dealing with clients, making phone calls, and handling logistics for off-site meetings… or it could mean project management in a computer system or spreadsheet, handling invoices, and coordinating schedules among multiple parties. These are very different tasks, resulting in very different deliverables. Do you like these tasks and deliverables? Are you skilled in these tasks and deliverables?
You also want to understand the expectations for the role. Early in my career, I interviewed for a Marketing Coordinator position with a long list of skills and experience in the job description. Tasks and deliverables ranged from creating graphics, updating the website, and writing technical data sheets, to handling event logistics, tracking the budget, and interfacing with advertising vendors.
That’s a tall order for someone with only a few years of experience! By digging into the deliverables, I was able to set expectations about my skillset and what they were looking for me to personally execute vs. outsource and manage.
Question: How does the role fit within the larger vision and strategy of the company? How will this role grow with the company?
What you’re looking for: You want to go beyond the job description and a standard org chart and get to the heart of the value that the role will provide. The goal is to understand the problems that need solving, and how you can help solve those problems.
This will also help you determine if this is a long-term career opportunity or a stepping stone to another role. How do you feel about the short-term and long-term prospects of the role at this company?
Interviewing is a two-way street, and understanding the details and implications of a job, with full context, is important for every candidate. As you ask questions in your interviews, try to go beyond the job description to uncover whether the company, and the role, are the right fit for you.
Ashley is a marketer, writer, and speaker by day, and a singer, actor, and fitness fiend by night. Her work has been featured in TIME, Forbes, and The Journal of Brand Strategy. She’s shared insights with audiences at Harvard Business Review, INBOUND, and MarketingProfs. She currently works for Atlassian, a collaboration software maker on a mission to unleash the potential of every team. Follow her on Twitter, @ashleyfaus.