There’s this misconception that the questions you ask in an interview are going to make or break it for you. Walking in with a list of questions the Internet advised you to ask might feel like the way to make the right first impression, but it actually screams rookie applicant. Employers only ask you if you have any questions so they can sincerely answer them for you. If they are testing you, they are going to do it with their questions – not by judging you off your own questions.
Use this as an opportunity to get the questions you actually should have answered. Your interviewer will respect you for your practical questions and you avoid sounding like you’re desperate for a job. Asking the following questions can help you sound more like an applicant with other offers on the table and less like a new graduate hungry for help.
Do not underestimate how much flexibility can affect a position. Flexibility comes in many forms, and it’s important to know ahead of time what kind of flexibility is important to you. This way, you can decide what an appropriate compromise might be – if you’re compromising at all – after you get your information.
Here are just a few examples of what flexibility can mean to different people:
Can I choose the hours I work? Can I work 7-3 one day and 9-5 another? Am I able to work remotely at a moment’s notice if needed? If I believe there is a more efficient way to do something, can I change it as I see fit? Can I propose a change?
There’s nothing that’ll make you unhappier than getting into a role and realizing there are barriers you can’t break down and rules you can’t disregard. The important thing here is making sure you don’t ask for more flexibility than it’s clear they are willing to give. Feel it out and make your decision offline.
Opportunities for growth
I could have been set with a comfy job straight out of school if I stuck with my first college job. The problem for me was that I was already working directly under the VP of Marketing, who reported to the CEO. I knew the VP wasn’t leaving anytime soon and I surely wouldn’t be taking the CEO’s spot anytime soon. I didn’t feel there was enough room for me to grow within the company, so I made the call to move on.
Have that discussion early. Ask questions about the organizational structure so you can identify opportunities for yourself. Ask if they typically promote from within or hire external senior management when positions need to be filled, and what kind of long-term goals the company itself has to grow. You can also inquire about performance reports and reviews and how they can influence your opportunities.
An average day at the office
Try to get a feel for the company culture as well as your own role with the company. Does everyone keep their head down or are there lunch-hour parties in the employee lounge? Are there hour long meetings at 8 am daily you need to attend? Does everyone cut out early on Fridays?
It’s better not to ask these exact questions, but by asking about an average day at the office, you can usually gather this information – both directly and indirectly. If you’re going through a series of phone interviews, don’t be afraid to ask if you can come see the office before signing any offers – but make sure you inquire further into the interview process. Otherwise you may sound like you’re assuming you have the job and can come off overly confident.
Their favorite thing about working there
Even if your first interview is with someone outside of your department (like HR), ask them why they like working there. This is where you find the details you won’t find on paper or in a scripted answer. Keep in mind they have different goals and needs than you, but it’s a great way to see a different side of the business. Responses can vary from medical benefits to friendly co-workers to opportunities for growth – all of which are good to learn about whether they’re a priority for you or not.
The big scary numbers
No one wants to have the pay conversation, but it’s going to happen eventually. Sometimes we avoid these questions because we don’t want to seem too upfront or overly confident, but you’re allowed to care about your salary. There are several ways to approach this and depending on your reason for wanting to know, you can ask at different stages.
If you’re currently employed and being poached from another company, you can usually ask earlier on than if you just landed an interview with a company you’ve been chasing for the past year. If a company is seeking you out and hoping you’ll make the jump, asking about expected salary early on can clarify for both parties if it’s even worth pursuing. It also gives you an opportunity to voice what salary you’d need in order to make the jump worth it before the official offer has been put out.
Alternatively, if you’ve had little job experience and you’re looking for that first job, sometimes salary can wait until the end. You’re still allowed to ask earlier in the process, but ask for an idea of a range in a casual manner. By asking these questions, you might even find you are less likely to sell yourself short and the employer will realize they can’t offer you any old salary and you’ll take it. Don’t be afraid to know your value. A good rule of thumb when asked for your expected salary is to give a range where the lowest number in the range is what you actually want. We tend to say $40-60K if we want $50K. Instead, say $50-70K and you can’t lose.