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August 25, 2014 at 1:00 AM

Interview questions: Asking is just as important as answering

The job interview I was conducting had been going well. The candidate was intelligent, articulate and experienced, and he met the majority of the job requirements. Near the end of the interview, I asked: “Now that I’ve spent the last 45 minutes asking you questions, do you have any questions for me?”

The candidate stared at me with a look of panic on his face. He looked down at his feet and then over at the clock on the conference room wall. I could see that he was frantically trying to come up with a question as he squirmed in his chair. Finally, he mumbled, “Um, no, not really.” An awkward silence followed.

It’s important to prepare questions ahead of time so that when the hiring manager asks, “Do you have any questions for me?” you’ll have a list from which to pull. That way, you won’t have to worry about your mind going blank at that crucial moment. It will also help you better evaluate whether or not the job will be a good fit for you.

As you prepare for your job interview, try brainstorming questions that you could ask about the hiring manager, the position, the department or the company. Here are a few potential questions.

About the hiring manager:

  • How would you describe your leadership style?
  • What do you like the most and the least about working here?

About the position:

  • Is this a newly created position, or was there someone previously in it?
  • What are the most common attributes of the employees who are the most successful in this position?

About the department:

  • What’s the average tenure for department employees?
  • What are the top priorities you’re trying to accomplish in this department?

About the company:

  • How would you describe the company culture?
  • What do you see as the company’s biggest opportunities?

There is an almost unlimited list of questions you could come up with, but keep your list small. Ask only the questions that matter the most to you, given what you know about the job and the research you’ve conducted.

You might even come up with very specific questions based on the type of job. For example, if it’s a sales position, you could ask the hiring manager to explain the sales compensation program and the base pay percentage versus variable pay percentage. Then, you could ask a follow-up question: “What was the typical variable payout for all those working in this position last year?”

Taking the time to compose several well-thought-out questions will help you stand out from other job candidates. It will also provide you with more information as you consider the job opportunity.

Lisa Quast is the founder of Career Woman, Inc., and the author of the book Secrets of a Hiring Manager Turned Career Coach. Email her at lquast@careerwomaninc.com.

More in Work Life Blog | Topics: career change, communication, interviewing, job search

Blog contributors

Randy Woods Writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.

Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.

Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.

Former contributors

Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant.

Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."

Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.

Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.

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