You’re sitting in the interview room. You’re dressed well, even on a budget. You researched the company and practised answering interview questions honestly and with confidence. Now the interviewer asks you if you have any question, and your mind goes blank. The only one you can think of is the salary question, and you’re worried it will make your interest in the job shallow and one-dimensional. Here are the questions you should be asking, and why.
How would you describe the ideal candidate?
This is a great question for three reasons. The first is that asks your interviewer to imagine not just the skills a candidate needs for the job, but also the personality and temperament that would be best suited to work in that environment. This can work when a job sounds like a good fit on paper but the environment just isn’t what you’re looking for long-term. The second thing this question does is give you an entry-point to showcase talents you might not have detailed thoroughly on your resume. You might hear that an ideal candidate must be excellent at organizing and processing data and you can say, “I’m so glad you said you need an Excel whiz. In my last position I…” Use this as an opportunity to describe yourself doing the very things the interviewer outlined by using past experiences and accomplishments. The third reason this is a great question is that it allows you to take notes for future interviews so you can demonstrate that you already know what it takes to be the ideal candidate.
How do you envision this position supporting you?
On the surface, this question sounds like you’re just as interested and passionate about the company and its structure as they are about finding the right candidate–something your interviewer will definitely appreciate. Even if you’re not, this question can help you in a sneaky way; it tells you about how your role fits into the company in a broader scheme and might also tell you something about the expectations of your immediate supervisor. Both of these facts will come in handy when it comes time to decide if you want the job.
Can you describe a typical day for someone in this position?
It’s important to know if a potential position either suits or is at odds with your working style. This question politely prompts your interviewer to give you an honest breakdown of your daily and weekly responsibilities, and how frequently you will be called upon to do certain tasks. Asking this question can help you avoid feeling mislead when you apply for a job thinking you’ll be doing one thing, when in fact much your job involves much less glamorous or interesting tasks.
How does this position fit into the company’s long-term plans?
This query will open the door to discussions about the position and overall business strategy. It is perfectly appropriate at this point to ask about the person who is leaving (did they leave or were they promoted?) or why the position was created. You will also want to ask about the specific challenges and goals of the job, and the company’s vision for it in the next six months, year and five years.
How would you define “success” for this position?
This question is valuable because it shows that you understand the importance of measurable success and are eager to produce results.
Depending on how the interviewer answers, the question might reveal the the expectations and temperament of your supervisor–is he or she hands-off or a micro-manager?–and could give you insight into the company’s procedures and culture. The natural follow-up to this question is: “how is performance reviewed?”, which will let you know about performance reviews, probationary periods, and how the company is organized to support employees.
What are the working hours and the salary range and benefits?
It’s important for both you and the employer to know if the hours you’ll be expected to be in the office or on the clock are incompatible with your lifestyle, and asking after you’ve received the job offer will look like an afterthought.
When it comes to the question of the salary range, there are many different schools of thought. Some experts say not to bring it up until you’ve received a job offer, the better with which to negotiate. Other experts say it’s a mark of confidence to be the one to bring up compensation. After all, no employer believes you’re looking for the job out of the kindness of your heart.
If you low-ball your salary expectations to your interviewer out of fear that you’ll be screened out, you better be prepared to work with that salary for some time. Contrarily, giving a number above what you believe you’re worth will likely backfire and be seen as unrealistic.
The best thing you can do when you ask or answer this question is to come in with a range appropriate for others in your field, with your skills and level of experience. If you’re not sure about yours, consult the Salary Calculator. Know your worth and apply for positions that reflect it, so that your salary expectations are in line with what other candidates will expect. Being hired because you’ll cost the company less, or because paying you more is supposed to confer them addition benefits will likely disappoint everyone in the end.
What can I do for you as follow-up?
You are saying “How can I help you?”, but the message is clear: you are asking what you can do to be selected for an additional interview or for the job. If you find out about who or what group will be making the decision and their timeline, you will have a greater understanding and potentially more influence over the decision when following up. You may be asked for additional information, which gives you further opportunities to shine. What employers are looking for are people who really want to work in the organization and are enthusiastic about affecting the outcome of the interview.
These questions will make you stand out from other candidates. They are probing, insightful and give your interviewer the opportunity to sell you on the job. In a tough economy it’s easy to lose sight of your own unique value and remember that asking smart questions projects authenticity and confidence. You show employers that you are as interested as they are in fitting into the company properly. You also demonstrate your worth by showing them that you know what it takes to excel in any position, and that if they want you, they’re going to have to fight for you.
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