While it’s true you can never be completely sure about how well you’ll adjust to working with a new boss, company, or team until you’ve actually started working, asking probing and strategic questions during the interview process is one of the easiest ways to gather useful intel about potential opportunities.
I mean, who wants to jump through all those hoops only to realize a month later that your boss is the ultimate micro-manager, your co-workers are backstabbers, and the work hours are closer to 60 than 40. Oh, and no one works from home, not ever.
Coming up with questions to ask during your interview—especially ones that’ll help you learn more about what it’d really be like to work at the company (and make you look smart)—is hard but necessary. You don’t want to imply that benefits are all you care about or that your number one priority is flexible hours, and so there’s a bit of a science to knowing what to ask and when.
Given that the average interview process involves three to four rounds and can now stretch out over several weeks, you’ve got plenty of time to ask about job responsibilities, company culture, and team dynamic. Here are a few ideas for every stage.
Questions for the First Round
The questions you ask in the beginning should help you get a read on company culture as well as clarity on the specifics of the actual job you’re applying for (read: questions that can’t be answered by reading the job description).
“How Does the Role I’m Applying to Contribute to the Organization’s Overall Success?”
The answer to this allows you to learn more about the scope and impact of the role. You’ll also be able to gauge how much value the company places on finding the right fit.
“What Was Your Primary Reason for Deciding to Work Here?”
The response to this should allow you to get to know your interviewer better by learning what their core values are. It can also provide additional insight into benefits of joining the company that you may’ve overlooked.
“Do You Have any Questions or Concerns About My Qualifications?”
This one shows you're not afraid to ask difficult questions and allows you to address any concerns sooner rather than later on in the process—when you may no longer have the opportunity to fix them.
Questions for the Second Round
Now that you’ve impressed your first set of interviewers and made it to the second round, the questions you ask at this stage should help you understand how your career will be managed and the overall expectations of your future boss.
“How Involved Are Employees in Creating Their Own Responsibilities and Goals?”
This is an opportunity for you to find out how much control you’ll have when it comes to owning your work day and overall career trajectory.
“What are the Immediate Projects You’d Like Me to Work on in the First 30, 60, and 90 days?”
With this one, you’ll get a sense of what types of tasks your new manager will want you to work on when you first start work. The key here is to keep digging until you’re clear on the first set of expectations for the role.
“How Does Management Measure Employee Growth and Success?”
The answer to this will help you understand how your work will be evaluated and what you’ll need to focus on in order to set yourself up to be successful.
Questions for the Final Rounds
Once you’ve made it past the second round, there should be little doubt in the hiring manager’s mind as to whether or not you’ve got the skills and qualifications needed for the role. The questions you’ll be asked at this stage will typically shift to ones that assess your overall cultural fit—this means what you ask them during this stage should shift as well.
“What Can You Tell Me About the Team I’ll Be Working With?”
You’ll be spending most of your time alongside your new co-workers, so it’s wise to get a sense of the team dynamic in order to assess how seamlessly you’ll be able to adapt to the new environment.
“What Opportunities Do the Members Within the Team Have to Work Together on Projects and Assignments?”
This is another team dynamic question and the answer will give you some insight into whether the team is collaborative and team-oriented or not.
“What Type of Employee Does Well Here?”
This answer gives you the opportunity to assess whether your work style, personality, and skill set will mesh well in the new work environment.
Although you’ve likely heard it many times before, it’s worth repeating: The interview process is a two-way street. Not only is it an opportunity for the company you’re interviewing with to find out if you’d fit seamlessly into their world, it also gives you the chance to confirm if the organization, department, and position itself are the right next step for you and your career.
It’s important that you use this time as your chance to learn as much as you can about the ins and outs of the role—especially those aspects that are the most critical for your own fulfillment—in order to make an informed decision that’s in the best interest of you and your career.