How to Formulate Good Questions for the Interviewer

​Picture this: it’s your fifth interview of the day. You’ve already met with your potential boss,herboss, two coworkers, and ...

​Picture this: it’s your fifth interview of the day. You’ve already met with your potential boss,herboss, two coworkers, and now you’re talking to the head of the entire department. You’ve answered roughly 70 questions—some of them over and over. You’re exhausted.

So when the department head sits back and says, “That was all I had. Do you have any questions for me?”, you shake your head and say, “No, I don’t think so!”

Unfortunately, as understandable as this move might be, it’s going to hurt your chances of getting the job.

Because let’s flip this and put ourselves in the interviewer’s shoes. Deciding to take a new job is a huge decision. The applicant should want to know as much as possible. Turning down a chance to get more information from a super knowledgeable source just doesn’t bode well.

Luckily, we’re here with six tips for picking the perfect questions to ask your interviewer.

1) Go outside the box

Generic questions such as, “What’s a ‘day in the life’ for this role?” or “Which qualities would help me excel in this job?” aren’t ideal because, well, they’re generic. Most people who Google “questions to ask your interviewer” will find the same 10–20 ideas—which means your interviewer has been asked the same questions many, many times.

You want to stand out. So while these lists can be a good source of inspiration, we encourage you to develop your own questions.

Which brings us to the second tip…

2) Think about what you actually want to know

The best way to come up with strong questions? Think about what you actually want to know!

Obviously, this will depend on the specific company and role, as well as the things you’ve already learned throughout the interview process.

For example, maybe you’re applying to a distributed team (i.e., a team where the members work from multiple locations). Naturally, you’re curious to know how this works. How are meeting times chosen? What does the leader do to facilitate team bonding? Are there any major challenges to this set-up? Major benefits? All of these would make great discussion points for your interview.

Or perhaps you’re considering a job with a young company. You’d be employee number 10—and you’re coming from an organization of 1,000. Maybe you want to know all about the dynamics of a small team (which probably doesn’t have many resources). What are the opportunities and pain points? Is everyone from the original team still around? What are their expansion plans for the next year?

It can be tough to think of these questions on the spot, so take some time before the interview to write down everything you want to know. Then pull from that list during your conversations.

3) Remember you’re interviewing them, too

If you’re nervous about asking probing questions, our advice is simple: don’t be. Candidates often forget that they’re not the only ones being interviewed in this process. You’re interviewing the company, too!

It feels like the company has more power because the recruiter or hiring manager is setting the schedule and, ultimately, offering you a job. But you still have toaccept. Try to remember this is a two-way street.

4) But don’t go too far

That doesn’t mean you can ask any question that comes to mind. There are several topics job seekers should steer clear of:

  • Asking how soon you could be promoted or switch departments: this makes you look unenthusiastic about the role you’re interviewing for.

  • Asking how vacation time works: it’s a legitimate thing to want to know, but it can make you seem less dedicated.

  • Asking how much you’ll be paid: this is a discussion best left to the offer stage (unless the hiring manager brings it up first).

Avoiding these three no-fly zones will ensure that all of your questions are appropriate and don’t raise any red flags.

5) And keep your questions relevant

There’s a lot of interviewing advice floating around out there—not all of it good. One particularly popular piece of wisdom? “Research your interviewer before the interview, then highlight the facts you’ve learned throughout the interview.”

While the intention is unimpeachable, the execution is not. After all, it’s not helpful to learn more about the interviewer’s college experience or current side gig. Sure, you might prove you spent five minutes the night before looking up their LinkedIn profile, but you don’t gain any insight into what you should be evaluating: the job and the company.

6) Reference earlier interviews

Let’s say, despite preparing a long list of questions, the first few people you meet with are extremely helpful…and you run out of questions halfway through the day.

Don’t panic! You can build on this intel by asking follow-up questions to your new interviewers. As a bonus, this will make you seem extra engaged.

To give you an idea, suppose you asked a lot of questions about the distributed team structure in your first two interviews.

During your third, you might say, “Anjana and Gregory told me about some of the ways the team collaborates long distance. I love the weekly tradition of getting paired up with someone to discuss your current projects and roadblocks. Where did that idea come from? And are there any similar activities you want to try with the team?”

Or maybe you’ve already gotten an in-depth explanation of the company’s tech stack. You could ask, “When was the last time you adopted a new tool or framework? What was the impetus? What’s the adoption process like?”

With a little prep work, you can nail this part of the interview. Good luck!