10 Questions to Ask in a Job Interview to Really Stand Out

September 11, 2019, 4:15 PM UTC

You’ve researched the prospective employer and its industry online, and figured out how you’ll answer common interview questions —like the dreaded “What’s your greatest weakness?”, for instance. You’ve even called ahead (or hung out in the building lobby when people are coming and going, at around 9 a.m. or in the early evening) to check out how employees dress there, and ransacked your closet for clothes that will help you fit in. You’re good to go, right?

Just one more thing: when the interviewer gets to those 7 crucial words—”Do you have any questions for me?”—what will you say?

What you’ll say next does matter. The standard questions most candidates ask are fine as far as they go, says career coach Julia Rock, head of Houston-based Rock Career Development. The trouble is, they don’t go far enough. “‘How would you describe the company culture?’ and ‘What’s a typical day like?’ are fine. They’re what everyone asks,” she says. “But they usually don’t give you real insights about what it would be like to work there. They also don’t help you stand out from the crowd of applicants for the same job.”

Instead, Rock recommends posing at least a few of these 10 questions (some with follow-ups):

  1. What’s the most important characteristic required for success in this role?
  2. How would you describe the team that I’d be working with in this job?
  3. Is this a new position? If so, what additional value do you expect someone in this role to deliver?
  4. What is most important in my first 12 to 18 months here, if I join you? Are there specific goals or milestones you’d like me to reach immediately?
  5. What are some of the biggest challenges someone in this job will face?
  6. What excites you most about the future of the company?
  7. What do you see as the company’s biggest opportunity/area of growth?
  8. In evaluating the other major companies in your industry (be able to name them), who is your top competitor, from your perspective? Why?
  9. What made you decide to join this company? What has persuaded you to stay?
  10. What are the next steps in the process?

Of course, unless you’re in for a series of interviews, or one very long one (like Google’s famous all-day sessions), you won’t have time for 10 questions —so which ones are most important? “Think about what matters the most to you, whether it’s the chance to work with an industry leader or whether the company shares your values, and focus on that,” Rock suggests.

Three essential questions if you (or your interlocutor) are pressed for time: #1 , #2, and #9. The first one shows “you’re eager to figure out how you can shine in the job,” she says. “Employers like that. They’re looking for people who want to add value.”

The second question should give you a clue about the people you’d be spending your workdays with. Think of this as the micro-culture that prevails in the specific area you’d be working in. “What kind of day-to-day environment is it?,” says Rock. “Will you be comfortable, and fit in well enough to thrive there?”

There may be no better indicator of that than question #9, which is why Rock believes every job seeker should ask it. “A company can say anything on its website,” she points out. “But someone who has been there for a while, as most hiring managers have, can give you a real perspective on what it’s like to work there.”

What if your interviewer hems and haws about answering, or comes across as distinctly unenthusiastic about the place? Either one is a big shiny red flag, Rock says. “Then you have to ask yourself if it’s somewhere you really want to work, or if you should keep looking.” If you haven’t already checked out this employer’s reputation on career sites like Glassdoor and Vault, she adds, now may be the time.

Speaking of red flags: don’t ask for any information that is readily available on the company’s “About Us” page, or anywhere else on their website or with a quick Google search. “That just shows interviewers you don’t care much about this company or this job,” Rock notes. Not good.

And then there’s money. It may be the elephant in the room—one recent survey of 2,800 U.S. employees showed that 43% would change jobs in a heartbeat for higher pay—but asking about it in a job interview, or about benefits, “just makes you look desperate,” says Rock. “It also makes you seem as if all you’re really interested in is what you can get from the employer, rather than what value you can add.”

Wait until you get a firm offer, “and then think it over and come back with a counteroffer, if need be,” she says. “Whoever brings up money first, loses.” Noted.

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