When an interviewer closes out your meeting by asking, "Do you have any questions for me?" the answer always should be, "Yes!" Consider this a freebee interview question – something you know about ahead of time and can prepare for properly.
"Having a smart (and practiced) response will let the interviewer know that you're knowledgeable about the interview process in general and serious enough about this particular interview to have done your homework," says Denise Dudley, author of Work It! Get In, Get Noticed, Get Promoted.
She also notes that interviewers want to see how you handle yourself when you "have the floor."
"Up to this point, they've been asking the questions, and you've been providing the answers. Now, at this juncture, the tables are turned, and you're basically in charge. What will you ask? How will you 'perform' as the interviewer?"
Ready to shine? Here's a look at how to come up with solid questions to ask a prospective employer:
Rely on your research
What sparked your curiosity as you accumulated information on the company prior to the interview? Target your list of questions around this research to show the interviewer you took the time to investigate the company and are eager to learn more.
Donna Shannon, president and CEO of The Personal Touch Career Services and author of Get a Job Without Going Crazy, suggests asking something like "I noticed your competitor will be releasing a similar product in the next six months. How are you adjusting your marketing to address this?"
A question like this not only shows that you see the direction the company is moving in but it demonstrates a broader awareness of what is happening in the industry.
Adds Dudley, "Ask about the company's recent move to a larger building, or the article that just appeared in the New York Times about their sister facility in Japan, or anything that shows the interviewer that you're educated and enthusiastic about their particular company."
Get more insight about the position
Pointed questions about expectations can offer a glimpse into the company's ideal candidate. Information revealed can help you figure out if this job is a good match for you, and it can offer clues about what else you might want to bring up to strengthen your case as the one to hire.
Here are some questions Shannon recommends:
- "What are some key milestones you would like the new person to hit in the first 30 days?"
- " What are some of the challenges and rewards with this role?"
- "If I'm selected for the position, is there anything you think I should know that will help me be successful in my job?"
- "What professional skills and personal characteristics do you think are most important to be successful with this company?"
Follow up on something previously mentioned
If you're relatively quick on your feet, consider asking a question that shows you've been listening and reflecting on the conversation.
"For example, if the employer already mentioned that they have a collaborative culture, the job seeker can follow up with: 'What is one of your projects that was improved by feedback from multiple employees?'" Shannon says.
Though not for the faint of heart, posing a "gutsy" question can yield some valuable information and show you seek to clear up any obstacles that would prevent the company from offering a position.
For instance, asking "What, if anything, in my background gives you pause?" permits the interviewer to vocalize what she sees as potential shortcomings ¾ but it also offers you the chance to deal with objections on the spot or through a well-crafted follow-up note later after the interview.
What Not to Ask
Perhaps as important as asking good questions is knowing what to avoid.
Avoid asking the obvious
"The #1 rule of thumb: Make sure your questions reflect the fact that you've definitely, beyond a doubt, done your homework," Dudley says. "Don't ask any question that could have been answered by looking at the company's website, scanning their social media sites, reading their customer newsletters, their blogs, or their marketing pieces/adverts. You'll simply look like you didn't study up on the company sufficiently."
Stay away from curveball questions
Dudley also cautions to stay away from any question to which the interviewer is unlikely to know the answer.
"No one, including the interviewer, likes to be caught off guard, not knowing something about the company they represent," Dudley says. "Your goal is for the interviewer to actually like you (likability counts for a lot in an interview), so it's a good idea to ask questions that allow the interviewer to share their knowledge and strut their stuff. I realize this advice might sound a bit ingratiating, but it's a subtle (and important) tip."
Everything but the kitchen sink
While you certainly want to get the scoop on everything coming your way should the company offer you the position, don't rush things in your initial interview. Shannon recommends that candidates stay away from questions "that only relate to what the potential employee will get out of the job," such as "What is the benefits package?" and "How much vacation do I get, and how soon can I take it?"
Along the same lines, realize that not all questions you have need to be answered right away. Time in the first round may be limited, so pay attention to cues. As an article on Inc.com notes, "If you're getting the vibe that she wants you to wrap it up, it's fine to say, 'I do have more questions that I'd want to ask if we move forward, but I want to be respectful of your time, so I'll hold them for now.' You can also just ask: 'I have a ton of questions for you, but I'm not sure how much time we have. I could ask a few of them now, and hold the others for later if we move forward, if you prefer?'"
And while it might seem obvious, refrain from posing "stupid" questions. Asking "What do you guys do around here, anyway?" or "Do you actually check on my references?" (two real-life examples Dudley has heard) will not form the positive impression needed to secure a second interview!