Five Important Questions to Ask in a Job Interview

Updated on April 16, 2020
Michael-Duncan profile image

Michael has been employed in various governmental and business organizations, locally and internationally.

Asking Intelligent Questions in an Interview

Inasmuch as it is important to prepare oneself as a candidate to answer questions that may be asked during a job interview, it is also necessary to think of the right questions to ask when you are given the opportunity to do so.

Given ample time to prepare, you should be able to put together key questions to ask before a scheduled job interview. To save you some time, below are some fundamental questions that should always be asked.

Note that conciseness has been applied here. In real life, the questions do not have to be worded in exactly the same way they are presented in this article. Each setting and interview process is different, so it is good to be both creative and adaptable. The goal of this submission is to provide insight into the details that a candidate should seek to know.

They will enable you to determine whether the job you have applied for is truly a proper match for you and if it correctly fits your personal goals and expectations. The answers to these questions will also help you understand the reality of what is really taking place in the company beyond the four walls of the interview room.

1. What priorities need to be addressed immediately in this role?

At the time of the interview, you do not have enough information concerning the responsibilities involved in the role you are aspiring to get into. You only have a job title and a short job description, both of which do not tell you much about the opportunity in detail.

By asking the above question, you will be seeking to clarify the following:

  • Did the person who occupied the role leave everything in proper working order (in which case you will be expected to simply pick up from where they left off)?
  • Is there a smooth transition to be expected from the former to the new, or is there damage control and in-house cleaning that has to be done, and which perhaps was conveniently excluded from the job description?
  • If either or both of the above are true, what is the strategy that has been put in place to help manage the situation? Are there tools and resources that will be deployed for this?
  • Also considering the responsibilities involved, is there a definite time frame for the remedial process? Are the expectations realistic?

Of course, you want a new employment opportunity. But the last thing you need is to find yourself in the middle of a whirling, turbulent crisis—the kind that was once accurately described by one manager as being dropped unexpectedly into freezing water.

Transitioning Into a Crisis

I think this is something that hits home with a lot of people. I once accepted a well-paying position in a challenging role where there had been some issues between the employer and the previous employees. As is often the case, I was in the dark concerning the magnitude of problems involved.

It turned out that when the employer decided to "let them go", information to that effect had leaked, and the employees knew beforehand that they were going to be dismissed. They had this knowledge months in advance.

So consequently, instead of devoting themselves to the urgent work that needed to be done in the office on a daily basis, they covertly spent the time seeking other job opportunities elsewhere.

The result of this was that only the bare minimum was done during the period before their departure. Crates of mail and a flood of online correspondences were received from clients during that period concerning issues that needed to be urgently addressed and these were set aside untouched.

At the time, the thought process was: if the employer does not care for us enough to extend our contracts, why should we care about his clients? He can deal with them himself!

So you can imagine the situation when I got the job and had to take over singlehandedly what should have been managed by a team. Aside from the massive responsibilities involved, there were months of backlog that the institution had been unaware of. I also had to hunt for important documents and correspondences that were either missing or were altogether untraceable. To cap it all up, I found myself up against some very irate customers!

2. How long did the previous hire stay and why did they leave?

Ideally, the interviewer should be able to cover this in their response to the first question. In case they do not, feel free to ask.

If the previous employee was only there for a short time, ask concerning the person who occupied the role before that. If the emerging details are that nearly all were dismissed in a relatively short period of time, you have enough of a red flag to start giving you the cue.

Understanding the immediate priorities for the position can help shed some light on the relationship that existed between the manager and the previous employee. In case you do not get a straight enough answer, the next question should be able to clarify the situation.

I once attended an interview for a position with a well-known international software company. From an email I received about a day before the interview started, it appeared there had been a switch and I found myself being interviewed for a position that was different from what I had previously applied for.

Though the job titles were somewhat similar, the job descriptions of the two positions were not. I found this a bit odd, but despite the fact that I was prepared to answer questions based on the original job description, I decided to go along with the new arrangement.

Uncovering the Details

During the course of the interview (which lasted exactly one hour), I came to realize that the new role involved joining a small team that was working on a pilot project that the company had recently approved of.

The more we discussed, it became clear that this was an experiment the company was carrying out without having to invest too much. It is this experimental aspect that led me to enquire more about the real nature of the contract. I also wanted to find out what would happen to the team once the project was completed or altogether scrapped.

I could readily see how limited the opportunity was. Moreover, I was told the transition from temporal to permanent status could only take place after two years, and this was according to the regulation was in that country (a claim I later came to find out was false).

To me, it was like being offered probation for two years knowing that you could be terminated at any moment. I also realized the previous employee did not leave in good terms, most likely due to the working conditions. The temporal nature of this arrangement seemed to be all too convenient for the experiment they were undertaking with a team where only the manager had a permanent contract.

So there are a lot of details that will not come to light until there is a meaningful discussion where such issues are clarified. Some recruiters and hiring managers may not volunteer key information unless prompted to do so, which is why it is necessary to know what to ask.

3. What is the style of management involved?

Here, you are seeking to understand whether the manager is actively seeking to bring out the best or the worst in their employees.

  • Are we dealing with an information hunter who insists on always being fed with details of everything that is going on?
  • Is this the type of position that is micro-managed?
  • Is he someone who sets subordinates loose to find their own rhythm as they strive to achieve set targets, while he stays on top of things?
  • Is he someone who can mentor or assist you when the need arises, or is he controlling?

Obviously, no hiring manager will be willing to admit directly that he or she is a control freak. But you can watch for clues in the manner in which the question is answered—especially in the choice of words.

While he/she may not outrightly respond and say, "I micro-manage all my staff", you may hear something along the lines of, "I check on each member in my team on a daily basis to ensure they are meeting expectations", or "I watch the ongoings in my department very closely".

4. What character type thrives best in this department?

Here we are enquiring about the hiring manager's opinion on the type of person or persons who are best suited for the position.

  • Are these the folks who have self-initiative and know how to manage themselves without supervision?
  • Are they the type who collaborate in teams and pull together toward a common vision?
  • Are they workaholics who have no meaningful life outside the office?
  • Are they the type who has to report and give an account of themselves and their work on a daily basis?

This question will help you get a feel of the culture in that department and in the company at large. What you see in a department will give you an idea of what to expect in terms of both opportunities and challenges, and is a reflection of the direction the company is heading towards.

If you are an independent worker and have mastered the ability to take responsibility for your own duties without being supervised or prodded along, then working in a close-knit environment where everything is shared communally, can be a challenge.

If, on the other hand, you are someone who derives energy from the mutual associativeness of coworkers, it may be difficult to adjust in a setting where you have to work on your own without much contact with others.

Those who are used to making decisions by themselves, either because they have an entrepreneurial spirit or otherwise, will tend to feel suppressed in a managerial style that whose nature is dictatorial.

Those who are used to receiving specific instructions on what needs to be done will find it hard to adapt in a role where they are expected to think on their feet and make snap decisions without waiting to be guided by their leader.

Understanding the nature of the person best suited for the role as well as the management style will help you evaluate ahead of time whether or not your personality meets the criteria.

5. How long have you worked here and what about the company appeals to you most?

Here you are trying to gauge the health of the department and the company at large. How this question is answered will also help you gain insight into who the manager really is as a person and how he or she works with the team.

What I usually do is that immediately I receive the name of the hiring manager or team who will be conducting the interview, I do thorough background research to find out as much as I can about them.

We live in a digital age where so much is connected and so it is not difficult to trace the professional history of an individual especially on such platforms as LinkedIn. Leverage the resources and tools available on the internet and arm yourself with the details before the date of the interview.

If the information is available and you do proper research, then you will already have taken care of the first part of the question. What do their LinkedIn profile and other sources show about how long they have worked in the company and the nature of their involvement with it?

Those who have a long experience with the company can give you a more reliable picture of how things actually work behind the scenes.

A manager who has just recently joined the company will themselves still be in the process of settling in. This is not necessarily unpleasant, it is just something that you need to be aware of in your decision-making process.

They may not yet have the practical experience required to guide you in the nitty-gritty, in which case you may have to obtain assistance from elsewhere before turning back to your manager for their approval.

What attracts the manager most about the company will help you understand where their priorities are when it comes to work and what they truly value. It will then be possible to ask yourself whether you too have the same order of priorities and determine if you could complement each other.

Additional Tips on Job Interview Questions

Bear in mind that none of these questions are arsenals to be shot out to interviewers as challenges. They are tools to be leveraged in order to seek information. Remember that this information has a direct impact upon your future. It is therefore essential that the questions be asked in the right way and that you pay attention to the answers you receive.

Don't hesitate to prompt for further clarification if there are answers you receive that are not clear or need further explanation. Avoid coming across as pushy, but rather show respect in the manner in which you communicate with the interviewer.

Concentrate on the answers you receive in such a way as you will have them memorized by the time you exit from the interview. This is essential because you will need time to be by yourself and process each answer later, to see if the details match with your own goals and aspirations.

As we stated before, it is also necessary to pay attention to the choice of words and phrases when the interviewer responds to each question.

  • Where is the interviewer placing the emphasis in the sentence he or she has just spoken?
  • What similes and/or metaphors are being used and what do they tell you about the interviewer's attitude toward the subject?

Also, pay attention to the facial expressions, tone of voice and body language of the interviewer.

  • Do they have a relaxed posture?
  • Are they speaking to you or at you?
  • Are they skirting around some of the answers or are they responding to them directly, without asking additional questions or diverting the train of thought?

All these are essential parts for you to piece together in order to form a conclusive picture. It is necessary to take into account both the verbal and non-verbal forms of communication.

In order to break the ice, try to find something that is important to the interviewer—something that they would love to talk about. It may not be related to the job at hand, but it could be something in their personal lives.

Perhaps they have a hobby that they like, for example, fishing or golf. You may find out that the interviewer is a parent who has just had a new baby. By bringing into the discussion something they value, you will be creating a positive feeling in them about you and about the interview experience. This strategy can be used to break down barriers and defences, such that they are all the more willing to open up and share information.

Finally, avoid asking questions that portray you as being self-centred. An example of a bad line of questioning is in matters related to vacation, salary and raises before you have even established a proper connection. These details will be sorted out in good time, but at present, you are in the job of creating a winning first impression based on what you can contribute to the company, rather than what the company can do for you.

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