Among the hundreds of online articles in circulation about interview preparation, you are guaranteed to come across many that talk about the “important questions to ask.” However, the immediate question you should ask yourself upon reading that headline is: “Important for whom?”
While many sources will remind you of the importance of asking certain questions so as to look prepared and professional, the most basic variety of these questions can leave your own needs unmet while also potentially painting you as a standard candidate who is very proficient at consulting the first result on Google. Luckily, there is an entire subset of interview questions that will allow you to stand-out among a sea of candidates, while also giving you a genuine sense of whether or not you even want to be the candidate chosen.
The standard vein of “essential” interview questions cover a lot of similar bases:
“What does a typical day in the office look like?”
“What is the typical career path for someone in this role?”
“Where do you think the company is headed in the next 5 years?”
Although it is important to know “what the next steps of the interview process are,” questions like these are basic at best. Recruiters have answered these questions dozens, if not hundreds, of times. They do not necessarily make you stand out. Perhaps more importantly, these often do not provide you with any real context to determine whether or not the job stands out as a good option for you personally.
There are 2 key benefits of asking more meaningful questions:
Asking insightful questions is your chance to interview the interviewer and see if the job/ company is a good fit for you
Asking meaningful questions will set you apart as an excellent candidate
In order to make sure the questions you are asking are important for you and the interviewer, it is helpful to start by thinking: “what are some questions you might ask yourself about the job?”
1. “Does this work make me excited?”
The question here is not just about what you will be doing, but it’s about whether what you’ll be doing will make you happy. Asking questions with connections to yourself won’t only give you a more realistic understanding of whether you will find this position fulfilling, but will also make you stand out as a candidate who knows what they’re looking for.
Questions to ask: I used to work (i.e. on a small team with projects that turned over every couple of weeks) and loved it, how does this role compare to that type of environment?
2. “How will this set me up for the rest of my career?”
In 2013, the Harvard Business Review coined the term “tour of duty” to recognize a shift in employer-employee relationships. It is becoming more and more widely accepted to talk candidly about how a job will set you up for the next steps of your career, whether they lie within the company you are interviewing with or not.
Questions to ask: What does this role set me up to do next? What sort of career coaching exists in this role? What is the average tenure of people in this role? What have been your most valuable development areas? What personal development has been most unexpected to you?
3. “Will I have fun at work?”
Don’t be afraid to place emphasis on something that might otherwise seem superfluous. Team dynamics and the people you interact with daily play a significant role in satisfaction with your work and, by extension, your efficacy within the job.
Questions to ask: Who are the people I will work with directly? What keeps work fun? What values seem to unite the people on your team? Who do people eat lunch with? How often do people hang out outside of work?
In making a switch from the “important” questions according to Google, to the important questions according to you, you will set yourself up better for professional and personal success. Though strategically asked questions can’t guarantee you fulfillment in your next opportunity, they can certainly get you a couple steps closer.