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What questions should I ask in an interview? What information should I listen for, versus ask specifically of the interviewer?

Asking the right questions of the interviewer can be as important as answering ones thrown at you. First, you want to ask questions which will help you decide whether to accept this position if it is offered. Second, you will be evaluated on the types of questions you ask. You create a positive impression and show you have done your homework by asking intelligent, substantive, and well thought-out questions. Avoid asking questions about salary and benefits - especially in the early stages. These should come after the offer has been made or just before that point. Your questions on other subjects can become more probing as the interview process progresses. Do not put the interviewer on the defensive - especially early on. During interviews, you can get new information in two ways: through questions you ask the interviewer, and through unsolicited information the interviewer shares as part of the discussion. These are some of the questions you should ask and information you should listen for. You should also come up with a few of your own questions, specific to the employer or position. [Note: The text in parentheses should be customized to your unique interview situation.]

About the Position
  • Can you give me more detail about the position’s responsibilities? What skills are you looking for, ideally?
  • Within the areas of responsibility, what are the two or three most significant things you would want me to accomplish?
  • Is this a new position? If so, why was it created? If not, where is the incumbent?
  • When I prove my performance in this position, what other career opportunities might be open to me here?
  • How will my performance be evaluated?
About the Employer
  • What are the company’s short-term goals (3–6 months)?
  • What are the company’s longer-term goals (12–18 months)?
  • Where would you like this (department) (organization) to be in 5 years?
  • How does the company distinguish itself from competitors?
  • What is the financial condition of the company? What are its funding sources (relevant for small, privately held companies or non-profits that rely on grants for their funding)
  • What are the major challenges in this position (for this organization)?
  • How would you describe the culture or business environment of this (department) (organization)?
  • What does the company do to demonstrate its commitment to investing in people/professional development?
About Colleagues and Managers
  • Can you talk about the management team? What are their management philosophies?
  • How would you describe your (the boss) management style (communication with subordinates)?
  • Are there particular attributes you seek from members of your management team?
  • What is the decision-making process within this department? Within the company as a whole?
  • Tell me a little bit about your background.
If you are able to talk with other employees, ask questions such as:
  • Can you describe the company’s environment?
  • What is it like to work for [the interviewer or the person you’ll be working for]?
  • What do you like best about working at the company?
  • Is there anything that has frustrated you during your employment?
  • How do company leaders demonstrate commitmewnt to the company’s values or mission (e.g., customer service, innovation, growth targets, etc.)?
Here are some key items to listen for during the interview:
  • Problems the employer hopes to solve by filling the vacant position
  • Financial condition of the organization (may be indicated by reluctance to share financial information or future plans)
  • Benefits offered, including health insurance, retirement contributions, time off, and work/life initiatives
  • Work environment and corporate culture (e.g., collaborative teamwork, social events, enthusiasm, hours worked)
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