Questions You Should Ask In An Interview

Years ago I was at a job fair for veterans. During a lull, I asked a recruiter from an aerospace company what was his favorite candidate question. He said, “What do you do here?”

I laughed, but he said he was totally serious. As he explained it, for him that question meant that the candidate was an “idiot,” (to be honest, he used an adjective as well as the noun…), not worth his time, and he could then end the interview and move on to a worthy applicant.

So, excluding questions that pertain specifically to the job for which you are applying, here is a list of the questions you should ask. But first, an explanation and a little advice:

An interview is a two-way process. If the employer does not give you an opportunity to ask questions, you don’t want to work for her. (Now she’s the …idiot!) Second, take notes using a pen and paper, not an electronic device. You don’t want the interviewer to think you are checking your e-mail or playing games (it happens!). Third, you want the answers to your questions so that you will be able to personalize your thank-you e-mails to the interviewer(s). If there are multiple interviewers you can assume that they will compare e-mails. If they are all identical, they’ll know you have limited writing skills, if any. If you ask the following question, it will definitely provide you with the answer you need to write an effective thank-you e-mail. And here it is:

If I get the job, how will I be able to make your life easier?

This question, given to me by a friend who used to work at the City University of New York, is the perfect way for an interviewee to begin an interview. No matter who is interviewing you, HR, a program director, your future supervisor, the owner, you want everyone to know that you view your job as making life easier for your colleagues. Now, by asking the question, you have told them and, as just noted, they have provided you with the focus of your thank-you e-mail to them.

Why is this position available?

            Actually, this is a terrible question to ask. But it is important. The problem with wording it this way is that it sounds gossipy. It’s none of your business what happened to the last person? So ask it in a way that shows professionalism and maturity: What did the last person who held the position do that you want to see continued and what would you like to see done differently?

If it is a new position, beware! Often employers create a position without thinking it through. You don’t want to lose your job after a few months because of bad planning. So ask questions about budget, reporting relationships, and insist on speaking with colleagues with whom you will be interacting. Ask them how they feel about the new position. And don’t believe a word them tell you, believe their body language. New positions do not always work and failure is almost always the result of budgetary issues or office politics. Beware!

What have your results been?

            It was once suggested that I apply for a senior position at a local New York City college in their Career Counseling Department. The idea intrigued me. I made an appointment with the director and, a few hours before the interview was to take place, he had his assistant phone to tell me that he had to rush home and that the interview would be over the telephone. Not the end of the world, but he let it slip, during the telephone interview, that he was waiting for a package to be delivered. Not what I would call an emergency or, for that matter, very professional.

In any case, when my turn came to ask questions the first was, “What percentage of your graduates are employed on graduation, within 3, 6, 9 or 12 months?” He said he did not know and that they really should start tracking that data. He complained that the Alumni Affairs Department wasn’t very cooperative.

For me, that ended the interview. When an employer does not have basic knowledge, and when he blames someone else for what is clearly his responsibility, you don’t want to work for him. (The same, of course, is true if they won’t answer your questions! There is a caveat: You have no right to know confidential or proprietary information and they are not required to provide it.)

What are your turnover rate and average tenure?

            You can’t very well ask, Is this a nice place to work? What are they going to say, no? But by asking about turnover rate, and how long employees stay on the job, you’ll get your answer.

Do you promote from within?

            Both this, and the previous question, you may have already been able to determine from LinkedIn profiles. If not, they are legitimate questions to ask. And they send the message that you are looking for a long-term relationship and professional growth.

(If you have the answer then, when they ask you, “Why do you want to work here?” you can respond, “Because I know your employees remain for a long-time and you promote from within.”)

What was your Tylenol moment?

If you are being interviewed by an older business owner/professional, they should understand.   If not, ask it this way: Give me an example of a time that you based a decision on corporate values and not just the bottom line. By asking this question, you show the interviewer that morals, values and ethics are important to you.

(For those of you unacquainted with what happened, in 1982 someone tampered with a bottle of Tylenol. This was before safety packaging and caplets. Someone inserted cyanide into the pills. This only happened in one store in Chicago. Seven people died. Johnson & Johnson’s CEO decided, instead of launching a PR campaign to prove that their product was safe, to take all of their Tylenol products off the shelves, at a cost of $100 million, until tamper-proof replacements could be manufactured. This decision, for which he was universally praised, was based on J&J’s Credo – their mission statement.)

Why do you like working here?

Make it personal. You want to get to know the interviewers as much as they want to get to know you. In fact it’s not a want but a need. So find out what gets them out of bed every morning.

Show your research skills.

            Regardless of what you ask, you want your questions to send the clear message that you prepare very well for meetings. So dig deep. Find out about decisions that the company made years ago and ask what the results were.   Learn what you can about the interviewer and ask business related professional questions, such as, I know you volunteer for XYZ. Is that something that the company supports? Is it encouraged? Don’t worry, they won’t think you are stalking them. It’s call “preparation” and “due diligence.”

How should I follow-up?

The final thing you should do, after thanking the interviewer for having interviewed you, is to express interest in the job and then to ask about follow-up. Whatever they tell you is what you do. “We’ll call in two weeks.” Wait two weeks. “Call us in two weeks.” Call them in two weeks.

If they don’t call you, or if they don’t return or take your call, you have your answer. My advice: Wait another week then send them a letter, not an e-mail which could end up in SPAM. Write something like this: I wanted to thank you again for interviewing me for the whatever position. While I am disappointed that you probably have gone with another candidate, I appreciate the opportunity and look forward to meeting with you in the future.

This letter will be your third written communication with them since the interview. The first was the e-mail thank-you you sent immediately after the interview. The second was a hand-written thank-you note that you should have mailed. Now they are getting this one and the key word is “probably.” They actually may not have made a decision. Their timetable may have been thrown off. Things happen! So you have politely reminded them of your interest.

Or, they may have made a decision to go with someone else. But, receiving this letter, they might want to reconsider you, assuming they have yet to make an offer.

Or, they may have made an offer. But don’t distress. I know of two individuals who received job offers as a result of this “thank-you rejection letter.” It’s an nice touch. It’s classy and professional. When a new position became available, someone at the company asked the question, “Who was it who sent us that thank-you letter when we rejected them? Maybe they’d be good for this job.” And they were.

One final piece of advice: Never ask about benefits until they have made an offer. It always sounds terrible and will probably cost you the job offer.

This post is based on Chapter 9 of my book A Hooker’s Guide to Getting a Job: Parables from the Real World of Career Counseling and Executive Recruiting, and Chapter 11 of Success! As Employee or Entrepreneur.

This post was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse: