Interview Question: What questions do you have for me?

By Scot Herrick | Job Search

Mar 05

In an earlier article, I asked for what interview questions you wanted me to help answer. In the comments was this one: “What questions do you have for me?”

It’s a good and common one asked in many interview situations where the hiring manager has done what needs doing and is now turning it over to you to ask questions.

The beauty of this question? It’s totally open-ended leaving you lots of choices — and many pitfalls if not handled correctly. Let’s get into this one.

You need to have questions to ask the hiring manager

This may be obvious, but take it to heart: too many people don’t have questions for the hiring manager at the end of the interview. This is almost fatal in the hiring process; it tells the hiring manager – who knows one can’t explain everything about the job in an hour – that you haven’t done any research on the company or department.

Or, you don’t care.

The other risk on this is asking questions that have little to do about the job, but instead, questions about pay, benefits or vacation time. Wrong approach to take; the purpose of the face-to-face interview is to get a job offer. That’s the time to ask questions about all those topics.

So what kinds of questions should you ask?

By the time you get through the interview gauntlet to a face to face interview, your job skills are pretty much a given – you can do the job.

While the hiring manager should have spent about 3/4 of the time figuring out if you would fit in with the manager and the team, that’s not always the case. Sometimes hiring managers are still looking at your job skills because that’s the only area they know about how to ask questions.

But compatibility goes both ways: the manager and team have to think you will fit in AND you need to feel you can fit into the management style and the team dynamics.

These, then, are the two areas you should focus your questions on during the interview.

Management style

You need to know how your manager will manage you and if that fits in with your best way of working. If you can’t stand working for a micro manager and you determine your hiring manager is a micro manager, why would you take the job knowing you’ll hate working for the manager?

But people do that craziness all the time because they don’t ask questions to figure out the management style.

“Tell me about a time you had to give tough news to one of your employees about their performance. How did you handle that?” Turn about is fair play, after all…

Team Dynamics

Any time there is an addition to the team, the team dynamic changes. Is this team desperate to get you on the team? Why? What kinds of conflict exist on the team (there is always conflict; if your hiring manager says there isn’t, your potential manager doesn’t get it…)?

Does the team collaborate, all work on the same projects, different projects…what?

You need to determine if how the team operates integrates with your best way of working. Otherwise, you’ll have a difficult time fitting in and your performance (peer pressure still works…) will suffer.

Make sure the job is right for you

Pundits spend so much time trying to get you to a job offer that they forget people need to get back to enjoying their work. That starts with working with a manager that fits your needs. It continues with the team that balances your weaknesses with your strengths.

Yes, it is great to get the job, but you will only start to get satisfaction from the work if the rest of the pieces fall into place. Use your question time to find out if the fit is really there.

  • Scot Herrick says:

    Ruth…this has been what I continue to push and you nailed it: “I'm shopping for an employer as much as the employer is shopping for an employee!!”

    This is exactly the case. Now, you may have to compromise over all sorts of things (any job for money when you have none…), but at least YOU are the person making the the choice with open eyes. But if you don't take the position that you are shopping for an employer because you have value to offer, then you'll never get to job satisfaction.

    Oh, we're adults too? ;o)

  • Ruth Portnoy says:

    That's the thing. We ARE adults. And theoretically, we're working toward a common goal. I also feel more strongly than ever that I'm shopping for an employer as much as the employer is shopping for an employee!! God knows I've figured out enough about what a bad boss is. Fortunately, there still are some good ones.

  • Ruth Portnoy says:

    OMG. This post is so on the mark! It's hard these days to stand out in an interview. But showing you know about the company and really care about the work is certainly one way. I actually love that open-ended question. I come prepared with something to ask that is related to the work I would be doing. I like to ask how the potential manager handles the assignments given to the employee. Does this person like to confer frequently? Does she prefer to let the employee do the work independently? I also try to find out more about the sorts of challenges the company is looking to overcome, to assess how I can help. But you have to be subtle. Information like that can help if you are asked BACK for another round.

  • […] Interview question: What questions do you have for me? […]

  • Scot Herrick says:

    Although I usually go for “fit” questions to find out if your work style will fit in with the manager and your new coworkers, you can also ask some questions about how people do the job itself. So a good question to ask is “describe for me what the person does during the day to get the job done.”

    This tells you a bit about what you will get into and if it will be right for you. It also will tell you what the manager knows about how the job is done (you know…the magic stuff…).

  • Cyrus says:

    I just want to say that this is a great topic to discuss. I've been on the job hunt for a few months now and have already had one interview that I felt I wasn't prepared for because I didn't have any questions ready (nor did I do enough research on the company). I'll certainly be ready next time.

  • Scot Herrick says:

    Not me. I like adult conversations where we use our business knowledge to get to answers, not power plays or wishy-washy answers.

  • This is fantastic advice, Scot. I find that a lot of people forget that they are making as much of a decision as the hiring manager. They think that the onus is on them to prove themselves and forget that, if they're offered the job, they then have to live in it for the next few years prospectively.

    Even if you ask a hiring manager a question like that brilliant one “Tell me about a time you had to give tough news to one of your employees about their performance. How did you handle that?” and they bullshit or bottle it, you'll get an answer to your question. Do people really want to work for managers who bullshit or bottle….?

  • katherinemoody says:

    Good point, Scot. Glad you pointed that out. My candidate screenings are always on the phone though webcam interviews are coming soon. And you're right, people often underprepare for phone screenings/interviews and for interviews with the recruiter!

  • Scot Herrick says:

    Not being ready with this up front is just a deal breaker — and to ask it up front can really show whether or not the candidate came prepared. Too many people formulate their questions as the conversation goes on expecting to have the questioning turn over to them at the end. This is a really good example for the need to prepare.

    And note Katherine's point here — this is on the phone interview where people usually prepare less than for a face-to-face interview.

    There is another post on Cube Rules about how you can use the job description (usually the only documentation you can get that is specific to the job) to formulate interview questions. Other company questions, of course, can come from the company web site.

    Thanks, Katherine, for sharing a great point on being prepared. (I promise not to let your secret out…)

  • katherinemoody says:

    What great advice. The quality of the questions you ask as a candidate say a lot about you as a candidate.

    Here comes a recruiting secret I don't usually reveal: the first question I ask candidates when screening them to begin calibrating them as a viable candidate for the position is: What questions do you have for me now that you've read all the information about the position. (We provide a great deal of info usually on a dedicated website for the position.)

    Yes it tells me if the candidate has done research. Equally important, it gives me the beginning of a sense of how they are in their function. If a CFO candidate asks questions about the financial state of the company, I'm reassured I'm dealing with a finance professional. If a marketing candidate asks about the marketing philosophy, budget, plans, target market,etc., I get a good sense of them as a marketing professional.

    Do I continue the screening even if they don't have question? Yes, but I let the hiring manager know they didn't ask me questions I felt they should have.

    I hope this perspective is useful. Sometimes recruiters cannot answer your questions, but they like to know you're thinking about those things.
    good luck!

  • Scot Herrick says:

    Pras,This is a legitimate concern — will the boss get offended if I ask tough questions. Perhaps my question was a bit snarky, but regardless, you really need to know your manager's style before taking the job. As I noted, if you hate micro-managers and you don't find that out in your interviews, you'll end up with a boss you'll hate.The key is to walk into the interview with some questions to determine how your manager manages. In the article, I put in a link or two to other posts here on Cube Rules that have sample questions.One other perspective on asking tough questions: the hiring manager is asking you tough questions to determine if you should get the job. If your perspective manager doesn't like getting asked tough questions or can't provide good answers to tough questions, how good of a manager do you think you'll get accepting an offer?

  • Pras says:

    “Tell me about a time you had to give tough news to one of your employees about their performance. How did you handle that?” Turn about is fair play, after all…


    This is one of those big elephant in the room questions. Its what everyone wants to know, but very few have the guts to ask. Won't this trigger concerns from the interviewer that you may be hard to work with? Or that you will expect to be treated differently as an employee?

    I generally ask these questions after I get an offer. I may try them during the interview.

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