Many of us come to job interviews hoping to please. You arrive prepared—maybe even overprepared—for anything the hiring manager might throw at you. You have a plan for how to answer just about every imaginable question. You even have a few smart questions on standby to ask when the interview is wrapping up, and it’s your turn to pick the interviewer’s brain.
But by that point you’ve already missed an opportunity or three. The truth is that you can and should take charge of the interview, turning it into a genuine conversation where both parties ask things of each other. And that means posing your own questions all the way through, rather than waiting until the end. But this requires some tact and preparation, or you’ll come off as trying to yank the reins out of your interviewer’s hands. The key to slipping your own questions into the interview is looking for openings right after you’ve been asked something similar. Here are a few to look out for.
1. WHEN DID THE LAST PERSON IN THIS ROLE LEAVE, AND WHY?
Career coaches usually suggest asking this question, so it may not be that unfamiliar. But it could be a mistake to wait until the very end to ask it. Instead, ask how the role opened up just after you’ve finished explaining why you left a previous job or are looking to make a change. It’s a natural segue.
2. HOW WOULD PREVIOUS EMPLOYEES DESCRIBE WORKING HERE?
It’s great to ask a hiring manager why they like working at the organization, but posing the question this way lets you compare the interviewer’s response with the employee reviews you’ve already read on sites like Glassdoor and Payscale.
A great time to ask this is when you’re asked about your own current or past employers—what you’ve liked best about working for them, or how they might describe you. You could also expand this to ask about the turnover rate, either in the position you’ve applied for or in the organization overall. It may not be possible for you to speak to the person who was last in the position, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.
3. WHAT’S THE BIGGEST PROBLEM YOU’RE FACING RIGHT NOW?
Again, a tried and true question to ask a hiring manager, but one that can elicit an underwhelming response if you can’t slide it in before the very end of the interview. Where’s there an earlier opening? There are a few. Being asked about your weaknesses is one good segue for asking tactfully about any negative aspects of the organization you might’ve uncovered in your research—pain points or otherwise. When you’re asked to describe how you solved a major challenge at work is another good opportunity.
You might already have landed on the answers to questions like these from your research, but it’s always better to hear directly from a hiring manager. Not only can it give you the inside scoop, that can also provide you a chance to explain how you can help them with the problem that keeps them up at night.
4. WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF RIGHT NOW?
When you’re asked to name what you consider your biggest strengths, turn the tables and ask about the company’s latest achievements, as well as its values and strengths. Every company can post their “core values” somewhere on their website, but it’s a different thing entirely to ask your interviewer what they personally think the company is getting right.
5. WHAT OPPORTUNITIES WILL I HAVE TO LEARN AND ADVANCE?
Another common interview question that’s deceptively tricky to ask. There’s often a risk that you’ll phrase this in a way that suggests you’re more interested in future promotion opportunities than in the job you’re interviewing for. Finding a chance to ask this question earlier can help you get it right. When you’re asked to describe a memorable learning experience or how quickly you pick up new things, you could jump on the chance to inquire about training programs and growth opportunities.
6. HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE WORK CULTURE HERE?
Anytime you’re asked to discuss the things that matter to you—your hobbies, values, or what you do in your spare time—is a great chance to look for clues about an employer’s work culture. Ask about the company’s community involvement and how it offers employees work-life balance. You could even probe further to ask how common overtime work tends to be, how much travel the job entails, and so on.
If you can weave questions like these into the interview earlier on, you’ll come away with much more information than had you just tried to squeeze in a couple of them when it’s finally your “turn” in the last few minutes. What’s more, you’ll create a more genuine back-and-forth with your interviewer—which will show off the kind of emotional intelligence they’ll undoubtedly be looking for.
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