Offbeat job interview tips: 3 things you must ask your interviewer

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A couple of my day-jobs pre-Offbeat Empire involved working a lot with recruiters, the folks at companies who go out and find candidates to hire for jobs. Working with recruiters, I started learning the secret flip-side moment of the job interview: the part where the job candidate has the opportunity to ask a question.

It can fly right past you if you’re not listening for it (“Do you have any questions for me about this position?”) and most folks just let slide on by, in an attempt to be agreeable or seem knowledgable or something. But when you respond with, “Hmm…not that I can think of?,” you’re missing up on a BIG FAT opportunity to show the potential employer how smart, engaged, and awesome you really are.

Don’t miss your fleeting moment to get your questions in! Not sure wtf to ask? Here are my three suggested questions that rock for job interviews:

These questions are best for more desk jobs, but could be tweaked to work awesome for service industry gigs, as well.

How will my success in this role be measured?

  • What this says about you: You have an interest in quantifiable results.
  • Why it matters: You know exactly how your success is going to be measured, so that you can know exactly how well you’re doing, so that you make changes in your work if needed.

What are the opportunities for training and career advancement?

  • What this says about you: You’re ambitious, and you want to improve yourself AND stick around at the company.
  • Why it matters: Hiring is a bitch, and unless you’re interviewing for a temporary position, it’s in most employers’ best interests to hire folks who are committed to sticking around for a while.

How would the position support your work?
(If the interviewer is a potential boss)

  • What this says about you: That you’re interested in them and their work.
  • Why it matters: We’re all a little self-centered, and your potential boss is no exception. By asking this question, you’re asking them to visualize all the ways that you could make their life better. They see your face, and imagine feeling so very supported and helped. Yessss, they think to themselves. Suddenly I’m seeing all the ways that I totally want this person around.

See, it really is true what people say: that a job interview should go both ways. Yes, you might be broke and desperate for a job, but you should still be engaged and interested in at least LOOKING like you want to make sure this job is a good fit. (Even if your real standards are “will hire me, and pay me money.”)

As a final word of encouragement, I will say this: I provided this list to a friend of mine who was interviewing last month for a very exciting job at Facebook. He used these questions in his first interviews, and the recruiter was totally impressed. Ultimately, my friend had to go through FOUR interviews — but he got this job! Did these questions help my friend clear that first hurdle? WE’LL NEVER KNOW! (But I like to think so.)

Do you have any awesome zinger questions for job interviewees to ask their interviewers?

Comments on Offbeat job interview tips: 3 things you must ask your interviewer

  1. I like to toss this one at them: If you were making a hiring decision today, what reservations would you have about hiring me?

    I’ve had several interviewers tell me it’s a great question. It forces them to think about how wonderful you are while they try to find concerns (note: This is obviously not a good idea if you’re applying for a job you’re not really qualified for.). More importantly, it can show you areas where you may not have represented yourself well. For example, if the interviewer says they’re concerned about how often I’ve changed jobs, I can explain that 3 out of my last 4 positions were grant-funded, and that I stayed in the position until the grant ended.

    • This is why I always give my reason for leaving each job on my CV. While I was at uni I switched jobs a lot – between a job at home and one at school and then a couple of summer jobs. At first glance it could look like I just kept quitting, but one short sentance under each section turns it into “I was putting my education (and therefore career) first.

    • I love this question and I’ve been able to use it in service or teaching positions to great effect when I phrase it, “I sense that you might have some reservations about (blank), would you be open to talking about it?” I can literally see them adjust their opinion of me to something more positive!

  2. I’ve heard some people do actually hold it against you if you DON’T ask questions. I interview student employees and if they have no questions, sometimes it’s nerves, sometimes it’s that we gave them all the information they need to know. But if they seem desperate to get out of there, it does show they may not be right for a position that includes talking to strangers/public speaking/assertiveness.

    So my advice, in case someone IS going to hold it against you, is if you have no questions say something like, “I was going to ask about (work schedule, chain of command, whatever), but you’ve covered that very well” and thank them for the information. Or just have backups like Ariel’s suggestions that would apply to most interviews (though if they’ve already answered them, don’t ask again just for the sake of asking a question).

    • I know this post is a bit older, but I also wanted to another piece of advice: be nice to the receptionist/secretary/front desk associate. Make a little bit of small talk with them. I once had an interview somewhere and (because a friend worked there) I found out that if you aren’t friendly with the receptionist, then they wouldn’t hire you. I’m sure most places wouldn’t do this, but it never hurts to be friendly :D.

      Also, I wanted to comment to say that these are fantastic questions! I’m definitely writing these down for future use.

  3. Thanks for this! I’ve totally flaked on that opportunity to ask questions before, and even being aware of it, have never found great questions to ask. That first question is especially relevant if you end up in a situation where advancement or reward is tied to personal results!

  4. I always ask “Is there something you wish someone had told you when you started here?” – you never know what they’ll say and my supposition is that it makes them think of you starting there!

  5. I was lucky that I got the advice to ask a question at my last job interview. I don’t think it had any impact since I continuously answered multiple questions in one answer so they frequently were trying to figure out what THEY hadn’t asked yet. But it was nice to be prepared for this. I will say right now that it felt awkward. I honestly didn’t know what to ask or what I would want to ask in a genuine way. But #1 would have been a good one to ask.

    The one I DID ask was about the timeline. I wanted to know when they would be making their decision which, for a temporary position with a listed start date that had already passed, was a valid question. I’ve run into other jobs I applied for where it would have been great to have a general timeline shared ahead of time (2-3 months just to go through the first weeding out, then another month+ after submitting a typing test. At that point I’d found another job.)

    • That’s what I normally ask. I don’t know how true it is but I was once told it shows you’re genuinely interested in the job and not just applying for anything (even if you are).

      But I also like to know. It stops me checking my email every 5 minutes for a week then beating myself up for not getting the job when they’re not actually making a decision until the end of the month.

  6. I also ask
    “Why is this position open?”

    This came at such a good time; I’m hopefully interviewing within my company for a design postion and I’m totally asking ALLLLLLL these questions.
    Thanks guys!

  7. One of my favorite questions, though it takes some guts to ask, is “what keeps you up at night?” I’ve used it twice and had positive (and very successful) interviews both times. It was recommended to me by a very successful (financially/career wise) mentor of mine as one of his favorites to ask and be asked, and when i got the guts to try it it was a really really good one, and one the interviewer liked.

  8. This is awesome! You should totally do seminars on this at colleges. I so could have used these kinds of questions when I was getting out into the workforce for the first time.

    One thing I make sure to ask about if they haven’t covered it is benefits. Don’t leave that room before you know if or how many benefits come with the job. If you have medical issues it is extremely important to know what will and won’t be covered by any insurance they might offer. It’s also important to know if they offer 401k matching because that’s free money and who couldn’t use that these days?

    • I have to very politely disagree here.
      I have interviewed and hired a number of people. It really irked me when I asked if they had questions and people asked about benefits or paid time off. I get that everyone wants to know, but that question is more appropriately aimed at HR and will typically be available prior to your even applying.
      I would say, during the interview, keep things positive and keep selling the interviewer on how valuable you are. It’s unfortunate, but asking about benefits and leave and whatnot gives me the feeling that someone isn’t going to be very reliable. The questions in the post are AMAZING and at the very least you should make sure that you have asked a couple of other engaging questions before you ask that.
      It is unfair, but there is a TON of obnoxious entitlement among young people interviewing for entry level jobs. I literally had a girl who was interviewing to be the receptionist at a car dealership demand a demo (free car) and ask “Exactly when will I start having paid leave”. This is clearly not you, but if you have the bad luck to interview AFTER someone like this, and ask that question it is colored with all of the ickiness of those who have gone before you.
      To be clear, I 100% agree that you should know your pay scale, pay plan, structure, benefits package, leave policies and eligibility before you take a job. I just think you should find out before you apply. If you are going to take the job no matter what (you’re broke and need it) then it doesn’t matter and you can find out during orientation. If it is a deal breaker call HR and say “I am interested in the __________ position, but I would really like to know what the benefit package is and what your company policy is on ______. You don’t even have to give your name. HR wants to hire people because they are sick of people like you calling. They will be happy to answer.

      • I mentioned it mainly because I have some medical issues that developed while I was in a job that didn’t offer comprehensive benefits. So in all my future jobs it was very important to be clear about what coverage I might be getting, but as an employer I do see your point. I’ve never felt that way when asked about benefits etc, but it’s important to note that other employers might. And thank you for offering other avenues for acquiring that information because it is important to making an informed decision as to whether or not you want to work somewhere.

        • I have never asked this during a job interview, but absolutely if a job OFFER was made. Usually, with a job offer this is already supplied but if you had further questions or a counter-offer, this has been the time to address those very real concerns.

        • I have to also add that while I can totally see your point, when people don’t ask me about all the pay and benefits of a job I’m interviewing them for I get leery. I don’t want to hire people who don’t know their own worth, and I certainly don’t want to hire someone who isn’t responsible and valuing those things is a sign to me that they both are responsible and know their own worth. Clearly when in an interview it is important to feel out the interviewer to see what kind of vibe they are giving off because you will probably interview with both kinds of employers.

      • i totally get what you are saying, never much thought about it that way. i have always asked about benefits in interviews. i figured that no matter how desperately i may have needed the job (and sometimes was beyond desperate), i interviewed for jobs which i was more than qualified for and was confident about and felt that as much as i was trying to “sell myself” they need someone and need to “sell” the job to me. i think it makes a difference how you ask, and believe that asking for information about working there *should* not be held against you.

      • Benefits is a deal breaker/maker for me, so I absolutely have to find out if it is even worth pursuing. Jobs do NOT put this information out ahead of time, and sometimes it’s impossible to find an HR number, especially if you are not interviewing at a huge corporation with a robust website. Big companies absolutely will put that info out there, but the info I need – like how much is taken out per paycheck and what it covers and doesn’t cover, isn’t always given up front. Usually that’s in the New Hire paperwork and such. The info on how much is taken out is absolutely important because if I’m shelling out several hundred dollars every 2 weeks for health insurance (and I have seen this) then it is not worth it to me to waste your time and my time by continuing the process and acting like I’m interested when I’m not.

        • If it is a deal breaker then it makes sense to ask. I have never had a problem finding out that information before applying. Even at a tiny mom-and-pop shop. I suppose it could be seriously industry dependent though. Most places find hiring to be a pain in the but and thinning the application pool is desirable. I would be more than happy to tell someone before they applied what the benefits would include. That way if it was a deal breaker it would be one less resume to look at and interview to hold.
          I agree that you’ll probably find both ends of the spectrum and just have to gauge the interviewer. It also depends on how you broach the subject. I just simply wouldn’t recommend it unless, as it is in your case, necessary and you weren’t able to get adequate information prior to your applying.

  9. My favourite question to ask in an interview is one I’ve been complimented on most times I ask it — it catches them off guard but also makes them think.

    If someone was to ask you why they should work for this company/organization, and leaving aside the mission and vision statements on the website and other messaging like that, what would you tell them? Why is this “the” place to work?

    Often the answer turns into one of reflection, and a discussion about challenges as well as the benefits of working there. Only once or twice have I had people stick with the standard messaging. I’ve learned more about the people interviewing me and the organizations through this question.

    • Similar to this, I ask “What do you like/love about working here?”. I turned down a job when the response to this was just about how easy the working hours and job was.

      • I always ask this (and I like being asked it when I’m the interviewer). It’s flattering, for one–most people like being asked about themselves, and they like to share their excitement about their job. It can also be a useful insight to company culture and what kind of people work there and why.

  10. To guard against the “Oh, you answered all my questions already” thing, I always brainstorm a list of about 10 good questions. Some clarifying questions about their website/materials (shows I’ve done my homework), some “What’s the average day like for this position?” sort of questions, and some wildcard questions like the ones above. Inevitably, about half get answered before you get the chance to ask, so you ask about 5, take notes on the rest, and look super-prepared!

  11. In the current job I got recently I asked the killer question “where do you see [the brand I work for] in five years?”. They almost gasped! They obviously hadn’t thought that far ahead and it made me seem like part of the team that was going to challenge them to come up with a plan and then deliver it.

  12. A mentor of mine suggested this question, which I’ve used to good effect: “What’s your background with the company?” (Preferably directed towards your prospective boss.) Their answer can teach you lots of things – how the company supports people in their careers, whether your prospective boss has done a job like the one you’re applying for in the past, etc.

    I’ve used this question twice – the first time, I got an answer that made me strongly reconsider whether I wanted to work there (luckily I didn’t get a second interview) and the second time, well, I got the job I have now. So!

  13. In this economy I strongly recommend asking, “Have there been any major changes within the company recently, or any that you foresee happening in the near future?” Then you’ll learn if the company has recently restructured, is in Chapter 11, about a green supervisor, etc. First time I asked it I was nervous and did get rebuffed, but it’s worked since then. If nothing else employers who give me the impression that they’re hiding something are placed in the “Do Not Accept Offer” category.

  14. Have I mentioned that I love you? Because I love you. I’ve got an interview this afternoon and have been freaking out for a week. THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT I NEEDED. THANK YOU.

  15. I got asked one time “Is it your long term goal to stay in the position you are in now?”

    or “How long do people typically stay in one position in this company?”

    It could seem grasping, but in this industry (which this person knew) people moved up and on very quickly. So I knew that the people I was hiring for job x would be the candidates I would consider to train to replace me when I got promoted.

    As it turns out, that person was my replacement when I moved up 🙂

  16. My roommate recently went through the job-search, and his question in interviews was, “What separates someone who’s good at this position from someone who’s great at it?”
    This kind of blew my mind, actually, and I am stowing it away for future use.

  17. Perfect timing!!! I just found out we are going to be doing another selection process for some positions where I work and I always hate when they ask “Do you have any questions for us?” during the interview process, and now I can ask these!!! Thanks – these are great questions 🙂

  18. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’ve been unemployed for a year and I’m getting scared. I have an interview next week and will definitely be using some of these questions and resources.

  19. Thank you for this! It posted two days before I had an interview for a great job, and whilst I’m waiting to hear back, I think it went really well and they did indeed the ‘where do you see the company in five years?’ question 🙂

  20. I always ask “in what ways do you believe your team upholds the company’s mission statement each day?” It’s a stumper question, because sometimes the interviewer doesn’t necessarily know the statement verbatim. I find it’s less of a “I need to know this information” and more of a “I want them to remember me” question. I got hired over 400 other applicants.

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