Preparing for an interview is often a stressful process as you attempt the impossible task of anticipating every question you may be asked. At the end of your interview the tables are turned and you will have the opportunity to ask the employer your own questions. This is your final chance to separate yourself from the competition.
Here are nine questions to ask the hiring manager, together with the reasons behind them. Some will naturally be answered during the course of the interview, so I recommend having around six or seven ready to go and focus on asking three or four.
Why is this job vacant and how long has it been open?
You need to know whether the vacancy is a new role, the result of an internal promotion or an employee’s resignation to give you some insight into what you are walking into if you are offered the job. A brand new position is great news as you have the opportunity to set the standards for success. If it’s been open for a while, why is that? Have any previous candidates turned the job down? Is the salary uncompetitive? Are the employer’s expectations unrealistic? If an offer has been turned down more than once this is a big red flag so do your research and find out why.
What do you expect from the successful candidate in the first three months?
Asking this question shows you are determined to hit the ground running and that you really want this job. It’s also helpful for you to evaluate your suitability for the role. If the employer’s expectations are more suited to the realms of fantasy you may want to think again. Skip forward one year; with that sort of pressure what will the job (and you) look like then?
What common characteristics are shared by your most successful people?
This is a great way to show the hiring manager you mean business. You want to know what it will take to join the company’s elite. Employers measure success in different ways depending on their culture and ethos. Their priorities may be based solely around sales figures or perhaps on the requirement to improve levels of employee engagement. Whatever the answer is it will also give you an indication of whether or not the culture fit is right for you. If you’re really keen, emphasise your skills and experience that are relevant to the vacancy to remind the interviewer why you are their number one candidate.
What potential challenges will the successful candidate face in the first three months?
While every employer will want to paint a picture of perfection to attract the top talent, we all know that no job is perfect. Everyone has bad days, no matter how much they love what they do. If you are going to be successful in this role you need to know in advance what is going to get in your way, especially if your success is linked to achievement of specific performance objectives. If a measure of that success is the implementation of a new strategy but you will face resistance to change from existing employees, how will you overcome that? Don’t be under any illusions; once the euphoria of starting a new role has faded and reality kicks in you don’t want to find out you’ve accepted the wrong job.
What does a typical working week involve in this position?
The employer’s response to this question will reveal crucial insights into their company culture. What will you actually be doing? If the answer involves regular nights away from home or leaving the office at 7pm every day you need to carefully consider the knock-on effect on your work/life balance if you join this company.
What career development opportunities are available with your company?
This question signals that you are thinking long-term and want a position that offers you the chance to progress - while matching your aspirations. The best employers recognise talent and provide mentoring, training and personal development to retain their talent. You need to find out if this is one of them.
What challenges is the company facing?
If you’ve done your research before the interview you’ll have a general idea of possible problems. Has the employer announced any redundancies in the last five years? Do they operate in a buoyant market? How do they respond to changes in the economic climate? How have they adapted to changes brought about by technology? Are they profitable? If your current employer is unstable or you experienced redundancy in a recent job you need stability in your next role so the answers to these questions are especially important.
Why do you work for this company?
This is one of my favourite interview questions. As eager as you are to get this job you also need to be confident that your potential employer’s values reflect your own as closely as possible. If a toxic company culture is the reason for you changing jobs, don't swap your present environment for one that is equally as bad. If the hiring manager’s answer is anything less than positive (and authentic) you need to reassess the opportunity. For further insight, if the response is vague or evasive ask the interviewer to identify the company’s core values.
I am really interested in this opportunity. Do you need any more information to demonstrate my suitability for the role?
This is more appropriate for the final round of interviews and it was a question I generally advised all of my candidates to ask. It’s your last chance to let the employer know you really want this job so ask for it! What have you got to lose? Take the chance to remind them of your relevant achievements and skills discussed during the interview too.
A final tip on follow-up
Always send a post-interview thank you note to your interviewer - this means everyone for a panel interview. Say thank you for their time and emphasise your interest in the vacancy by reminding them of the skills you share with their top performers.
Whether it’s an e-mail or handwritten note depends on the culture of the company. To be prompt, send an e-mail. If your interviews have been confirmed by letter you may want to send a handwritten note. Whatever you do don’t follow up via text message and always include your contact details.
Kate Smedley is a freelance writer and career coach.
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