The Good, Bad, and Ugly of Questions for the Interviewer

November 2, 2016


For the better part of an hour, you’ve done your best to answer questions about your strengths, your weaknesses, and your five-year plan. It’s been awkward. By the time the interviewer asks “So, any questions for me,” you’re spent. But it’s not over yet. There’s ample opportunity for failure and redemption in how you answer this last critical job interview question.

I’ve asked hundreds of candidates this question through Firsthand and Evisors. Answers fall in one of three buckets: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Here’s how to know which is which and end your interview on a high note.

Your interview is not the time to get all your questions answered

If you’re contemplating working 40+ hours a week with new people, in a new office, a new culture, with new products and processes, you will have lots of questions. But don’t waste the interviewer’s time on questions you could have googled. Save your precious interview airtime for engaging questions no else can answer.

The Ugly

“Nope.” “No questions.” “You covered them all.”

Having no questions prepared screams you’re not interested in the job and that unless you’re the only candidate that meets the requirements, you’re not getting the job.

The Bad

Bad questions put you and the interviewer in a bad light. They convey that you haven’t done your homework, that you don’t have what it takes or that you lack motivation. Here are some examples:

“Can I ask to be taken off a project or switch teams if it’s not working out?”

It’s a fair question, but asking it in the interview says you’re not confident you can do the job.

“Is it true what they say about the long working hours, that you have to work weekends and holidays?”

Work-life balance is a fair concern, but you should have researched working hours before you applied. Confronting the interviewer with negative rumors like this is sure leave a sour taste in their mouth.

“Has it been hard for the organization to weather the recent downturn/scandal/etc.?”

You may think you sound smart by asking a question about a recent challenge facing the employer, but in doing so you’ve elected to spend your time interrogating your interviewer rather than building a relationship with them by discussing a positive topic that might be of mutual interest.

The Good

The best questions put you and the interviewer in a positive light. They show that you’re knowledgeable, that you have what it takes, and that you’re motivated to join the team. Legitimate concerns can be phrased as bad questions or as good ones. Below I’ve rephrased the three bad questions above to be positive, while still addressing underlying concerns.

“How can I be successful in this role?”

This says: “I’m motivated and driven. I can see myself in this role and am already planning on being successful.” If you’re concerned you’re not good enough, the answer will tell you where you need to be. This question is also a subtle compliment for the interviewer. It implies that the interviewer knows what success looks like and is successful themselves.

“Walk me through your schedule on a typical day”

This question shows that you’re interested and will give you a sense of how long the workdays are.

“What’s been your proudest/most impactful/fun moment in the organization?”

This signals that you’re excited to join in on the fun. Focusing on the positive ensures you’ll end the interview on a good note.

If you do your homework, you can turn almost any legitimate concern about the employer into a positive, engaging, and rapport-building question. For your next job interview, I challenge you to write down twenty great questions and to bring a print-out of them. Pulling this sheet out when the final question arrives will leave no doubt as to how motivated and prepared you are. 

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