I’ve spent a lot of time interviewing. I’ve been interviewing regularly as part of my job for years, and regularly spend 3-10 hours interviewing in any given week. I shadow and coach interviewers, with a focus on making the time we spend interviewing more useful and enjoyable for all participants.
One thing that has varied wildly across the 1000+ candidates I’ve interviewed is what questions they ask when given time at the end of the session.
Asking good questions shows curiosity & engagement, and it’s hard (as an interviewer) to determine how objectively significant or relevant it is when a candidate has good questions, or no questions. I find that the types of questions a candidate asks says a lot about what they care about. It’s difficult not to bias towards preferring candidates who ask good questions; which is unfair if we as interviewers are making it hard for candidates to feel comfortable asking what they want to ask.
When coaching interviewers, I’ve settled on a few tactics to ensure that the candidate feels able to ask whatever they like. I know some interviewers make this intimidating, and “do you have any questions?” is one of the least inviting ways to ask this, especially to a nervous candidate.
I like to ask:
- What do you want to know about (company)?
- What worries you about us, as a team or a business or a place to spend the next few years of your career?
- Is there anything you’d like to know that hasn’t been covered yet?
These, in my experience, result in more questions from the candidate, and a more engaging conversation around their potential concerns.
Part of all this interviewing and interview design, from the company perspective, results in pulling together question banks to cover off certain interview criteria. And when I set out on my own job search recently, I found myself building interview kits for myself as candidate.
Here’s the generalised version of my interview question bank, specifically for candidates - the questions you should consider asking every interviewer you meet when changing role.
Some of these are the inverse of what I’ve asked candidates for management roles; some I’ve been asked and borrowed(!); some are questions I have used myself in “networking” contexts.
Your future manager:
- How would you describe your leadership style?
- What personality types do you find easiest to manage?
- When you’re hiring, what general qualities do you look for?
- What do you think will be the biggest challenge here for me in particular?
- How would you see us working together?
- How do you structure your team?
- What are the planning & communication rhythms within the team?
- Can you tell me about a recent mistake or crisis or something that went wrong?
- How would you support my development?
- What’s the most useful feedback you’ve had from the team?
- How do you approach giving critical feedback?
- Which team member’s progression are you most proud of?
- When you’re prioritising the team’s work, what criteria do you use?
- Do you err on the side of experience or potential when hiring for your team?
- Why are you hiring for this role now?
- What would my first month here look like?
- How do you expect this role to change over the next 6-9 months?
- How do you measure success in the team?
Your future team-mates:
- What’s surprised you the most since you joined?
- How does the team make decisions?
- What are the dynamics like in the team?
- What does conflict look like in this team? Can you give me a recent example?
- What’s the most useful feedback you’ve had from your manager?
- What do you find frustrating about working here?
- What have you learnt about yourself while working here?
- What are you most looking for in this role - how would this person help you?
- How would you & I work together, if I join?
- What’s the biggest challenge for the team right now?
- How do you all communicate with each other?
- Roughly how much time do you spend in meetings each day?
- How much time do you spend with people in different functions?
- How does recognition work here?
- How does the company support building team camaraderie?
- How much transparency is there around decisions made at the exec level?
- How do different teams interact with each other? If I want some input from design, how would I make that happen?
- What are the overall company goals for this quarter?
- Can you talk me through an org chart? (What’s working well about the org structure?)
- If you could change one thing about the company, what would it be?
- How many people have left in the last year? Why?
- Can you tell me about a tough decision made at a company-level recently?
- What does “diversity” mean here?
- Does anyone work part-time, do you have any parents?
- What do you value, as a company?
- What are the biggest differences between here and the last place you worked?
- What was the main reason you joined?
- What are your main acquisition channels?
- What are the biggest challenges to getting new customers on board?
- (if sales) What’s the average deal size?
- What’s your revenue at the moment?
- How many months of runway does the company have?
- What’s the long-term goal for the business?
- Of your competitors, which one do you think is the highest risk to your business? Why?
- How do you expect headcount to change over the next six months?
- What’s your sales strategy? How do you expect that to change over the next year?
- What’s the make-up of the leadership team?
- Who’s on the Board? How involved are they?
- Which business functions have you over-invested in? Why those?
A quick note on research
Please don’t ask questions that you can look up online! I’d recommend looking at LinkedIn (the /people page in the company listing is super useful); Crunchbase; DueDil; AngelList; and of course the company blog & about page.
Work out who’s interviewing you, look them up on LinkedIn to see if there’s anything particularly pertinent in their background that you’d like to ask about (e.g. maybe they changed teams while at the company). Slice up your questions so you can focus on asking the most relevant interviewer and therefore getting the most useful answers.
And finally, now you have a ton of things to ask, remember you’ve probably only got 10 mins with each interviewer to find this stuff out - prioritise the things that matter most to you, not just the questions that make you think you sound smart.