Asking questions in job interviews: Getting the conversation going
Making the right enquiries during job interviews can improve your chances of success and evaluate if the job is right for you
Asking the right questions at your interview can help to improve your chances of success and evaluate if the job is right for you.
Get a good understanding of the role
Not all job descriptions give you a precise idea of what the job entails, so dig deeper at the interview. For example, if the person specification says “proactive self-starter”, ask how much support you can expect. Or if it says “works well under pressure”, find out what sort of pressure it refers to. Would this be from customers, bosses or other colleagues? What causes it? This could be factors, such as sudden changes of plan, unpredictable clients, and so on.
Use the opportunity to get a good idea of the basics, such as the demands of the job – hours of work, expected travel, whether it gets busy at certain times of the year, and the salary or benefits, if not already stated. Build up an idea of what a typical day might look like. For example, ask: “what percentage of my time would I be working on X or Y project / other responsibilities?”
Think about whether the job is one you want. Could you do it well from day one, or would you need extensive support? Does it offer the chance to develop skills and experience? Is it a logical step for your career, whether that’s a promotion, or a career change?
Ask about other team members and colleagues. Who would you be supporting, liaising with or managing? How do the various roles fit together, and what impact does yours have within the department and the organisation as a whole?
Find out what’s expected of you
What does success look like for your manager, and in the organisation? Ask specific questions about how to meet targets. For example: “What do you expect me to have achieved by the first six months?” Or, “What are the short and long-term priorities for this role?” These questions should then give you an opener to talk about how you’ve achieved similar things in previous roles.
It’s also useful to find out whether the role is new, or an existing one but with increased responsibilities. How was the role performed before, and what changes or improvements would the interviewer like to see from the successful candidate? You can also ask what criteria the manager uses to determine whether goals have been met.
Ask about opportunities and organisational culture
If it’s your potential line manager interviewing you, ask about their preferred management and communication styles. How do they like to see things done? Try to probe into the company culture. Asking “what do you like about working here?” can reveal interesting aspects.
Find out about professional development in the role, and opportunities for training or mentoring. What sort of people tend to do well in the organisation? What are some typical progression routes?
The interview is also a good time to explore other priorities you might have, such as the possibility of flexible or part-time working, or any adjustments you might need.
Tips for questions
Your pre-application research should unearth details about the organisation: its values, how it operates, its position and reputation within the sector, and future plans. Use this information to ask further questions to demonstrate your enthusiasm. Make them interesting so you can engage the interviewer and open up the conversation.
Don’t save up all your questions for the end of the interview as this can make it sound like an interrogation. Ask them at natural points during your conversation.
Pay attention to how the interviewer responds. Is there something in the tone of voice that feels at odd with their replies, for example?
It’s potentially risky, but you can also ask a question near the end of the interview to show your motivation to do well in the role. For example, “I’m really interested in this position. Do you have any doubts about my suitability?” This gives you a chance to discuss any unanswered concerns there and then.