5 Questions to Ask Your Potential Employer During Every Interview

Asking about office environment can help you identify if your working style will mesh well within the company. iStock

You know it’s coming. The interview is close to wrapping up and you sense it’s on the tip of their tongue and then – just like that – the interviewer politely asks you, “What questions do you have for me?”

Cue the crickets.

[See: The 8 Best Questions to Ask a Job Interviewer.]

Well, with the proper preparation and cheat sheet (yes, it’s totally OK to refer to your notes as you speak), you can demonstrate you’ve done your homework while making the most out of this valuable question and answer session. After all, you’re evaluating the company just as much as they’re evaluating you as a potential fit. You absolutely must ask a few questions, but instead of asking throwaways like, “When are you looking to fill the position?” (Here’s a hint: as soon as possible, as in yesterday), dig deeper and you’ll get a stronger, clearer picture of the job and employer. Here are five questions to ask your interviewer that will give you valuable insights into the company and your prospective new role.

Why do you like working here – besides the people? This is a great go-to question to ask every single interviewer. Let’s begin with the end in mind: They’re all going to tell you they enjoy working there because of the people, so remove that from the table. Answers can be across the board – one person says great benefits, another loves the challenges and learning opportunities – you name it.

You may start sensing a pattern of similar answers or they could each be completely different; all you need to do right now is listen and enjoy hearing their answers. Feel free to dig deeper – for instance, if someone says they’ve enjoyed the opportunity to grow and get promoted, ask about their previous roles and how their boss noticed they were ready for that next level.

Is this a loud or quiet office? Granted, you should observe this facet of office culture as you’re walking the halls, but go ahead and ask the question – chances are the interviewer will provide specific anecdotes about the office environment that will tip you off about whether or not it’s a fit for you.

It’s also a unique way to ask about how social the office is. Hopefully you identified the best type of environment for your working style prior to the interview, so their answer will have value to you. Perhaps you like a hybrid – a quiet office can bolster your diligent, focused side, but perhaps a midday dance party is just what you need – occasionally.

[See: 7 Ways to Crush a Phone Interview.]

Why is this position available? While you don’t need to necessarily ask this question of every single interviewer, you can ask the recruiter or hiring manager. They probably won’t reveal if someone was terminated due to poor performance, but if they say the position is available because the department is expanding, that’s an excellent indicator of growth. Or if someone was promoted internally, that’s also a great sign of movement. If the position was created because two people were overworked, that too will give you insight into the inner workings of the operation and more importantly, what your future will potentially hold. Again, feel free to ask a follow-up question. If someone was promoted internally, for instance, you can ask, “How long were they in this position before they were promoted?”

This will provide you with insight to see if the person stayed in the role for eight years or only eight months. While it may be indicative of the individual performer, sometimes the interviewer will give additional information – say the person before them also got promoted internally – showing that yes, there’s turnover in the group but there’s also upward mobility.

How long has this position been open? Be selective about who you ask this to – again, the recruiter or hiring manager is fine. Your goal is to find out if it’s been open for only a few weeks or a long period of time like six months – or more. If it’s the latter, they may not necessarily be swift in making a hiring decision. This could also mean they just haven’t found a suitable candidate yet (and if so, why not – are they being too picky?), meaning colleagues in the group are picking up the slack for quite a while until a new employee is hired.

[See: The 10 Most Common Interview Questions.]

I want to be rated excellent at year-end. Does your office have performance reviews? If so, how will my performance be evaluated and what do I need to do to exceed expectations? And if not, how will my performance be evaluated and is that directly tied to annual raises? It’s critical to ask this set of questions for a variety of reasons. First, it shows you’re ambitious and goal-oriented. Second, it shows you value performance as it relates to compensation and hope that they do, too. It also provides you with knowledge you need to truly succeed if you do start working there. Remember, a job interview is a conversation, and right now it’s like you’re a pre-employee. If you get hired, your role involves continuing the conversation – get on your boss’s calendar and say something like, “During my last interview you mentioned interesting information about the three specific goals and action items I should aim to accomplish within my first six months. I’d like to schedule 30 minutes with you to flesh them out further so I can keep them top of mind.”

Asking these questions will demonstrate your interest in the company, and will help you understand if it’s a good fit for you moving forwards.

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