10 smartest questions to ask in a job interview

It’s that moment of the interview process that puts you in charge. Matt Packer provides some tips for how to make the most of it

Ah, that familiar scenario: you reach the end of a job interview, and you’re somewhat drenched with adrenaline just from making it through your hour in the hot seat intact. Then the question pops up… “Is there anything you’d like to ask me?”

Brain freezes are a renowned curse of job interviews, and this moment would appear to be ripe for one. The perceived balance of power has shifted, and you are the one who’s calling the shots – if only for a small percentage of the running time.

But that percentage is a vital contributor to your overall mark – because it gives you a chance to assert your own fact-finding and analytical skills.

Crucially, there’s one, huge advantage you have with this question that you didn’t have with any of the others: you knew that it was coming. It’s a central tactic of the job-interview playbook to hand the reins over to the candidate, because it enables the griller to find out more about the subject from an alternative viewpoint.

On that basis, with the question being largely expected, there’s no real reason for a brain freeze at all. Instead, withdraw immediately from your belongings the notepad, tablet or phone containing a set of incredibly shrewd queries that you have prepared well in advance of the only question you knew for sure that you’d get.

Ideally, you would already have imbued your questions with significant quantities of insight, originality and sharp thinking. So, settle back, clear your throat – and prepare to impress…

1. In view of my answers, how close have I come to your vision of an ideal candidate?

This one shows enormous courage. You are actively risking a touch of bad news. But on the pragmatic flip side, it will give you a feel for how well you have performed, and whether you are truly cut out for the role.

2. What would you expect me to accomplish in, say, my first three months?

Another display of chutzpah. But having a sense of what you’ll be getting yourself into will be handy. It will help you gauge the scale of the task ahead, should you get the job. It will also enable you to do a bit of planning behind the scenes while you’re waiting for the yay or nay.

3. How would you describe the organisation’s culture?

Will you be a fish in the sea, a fish out of water, or neither fish nor fowl?

4. In which ways does your organisation surpass its competitors?

Does the company see itself as a genuine contender that would be exciting – and useful – to join, or is it more of an imitative coattail rider?

5. What are the main opportunities that the organisation is pursuing?

Face-value meaning: how could you help in these endeavours? Subtext: is this a hungry company with real fire in its belly?

6. What are the main challenges that the organisation is facing?

An answer to this will provide you with a sense of how you could be of assistance – but may also tell you whether the company seems in any way beleaguered or out of its depth.

7. Why was this role created, and how has it evolved?

Similarly to questions four to six, this will enable you to assess whether the position itself is going places, or a ready-made, moth-eaten rut.

8. What’s the shape of the reporting structure I’d be working within?

Are you potentially about to be over-managed, under-managed, or managed in a twisty, complex, multilayered fashion that you can’t quite see working?

9. In addition to the technical skills required for this role, what would be the ideal soft skills to deploy?

Shows that you are committed not just to the task-based side of the job, but to making things work on an interpersonal level.

10. Have I answered all your questions clearly?

Neatly hands the reins back to the interviewer for a quick, final mop-up of any points they may want to double-check.

About the author

Matt Packer is a freelance business, management and finance journalist

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