THE BLOG
06/23/2014 12:56 pm ET Updated Aug 23, 2014

How to Ask the Right Questions in Job Interviews

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Most job seekers understand that they need to ask questions during a job interview. Not asking questions is an admission of lack of attention, lack of interest, or lack of preparation. Right now, most employers have too many other people to choose from to offer a job to someone who doesn't seem very interested.

4 Important Reasons to Ask Good Questions in Job Interviews

Not asking the right questions also leaves you vulnerable to taking a job you may hate or not do well. (Been there; done that -- terrible experience!)

1. To find out if you want to work at this employer, with and/or for these people.

It is essential to know whether you'd enjoy the job or be job hunting too soon because you either got fired or quit because you couldn't stand the place.

2. To find out if you want to do this job.

Maybe this is the right employer for you, but the wrong job. Perhaps that can be fixed immediately, or maybe you stay in touch until the right opening happens.

3. To demonstrate your interest in the employer.

If you're going to work there, you should want to understand how the place is organized, who does what and when, what a typical day/week/month/year in that job are like, and on and on and on.

4. To demonstrate how you approach a task in your work.

Many employers view a job interview as a "try out" for a job. Does the candidate come in well-prepared and focused on making the most of the opportunity or do they walk in unprepared, waiting to be "fed" information and providing canned answers to the standard questions?

Show Your Interest in the Employer and the Job

Several recruiters have emphasized that they do not want to hire someone who isn't interested enough in the organization to have done some research. A couple of years ago a recruiter sent out this great tweet:

Don't ask a question in a job interview that you could have answered with a search engine.

In my discussions with recruiters since then, I believe that what the recruiter was really saying is do not ask the obvious questions that you have hopefully already answered doing your pre-interview (and perhaps your pre-application) research online.

Employers do want to hire someone who really wants to work with them. Someone who is interested in what they do and who they are.

DO ask questions like:

  • Tell me more about this job. What do you expect of the person doing this job successfully? What would you want the person in this job to do that didn't make it into the job posting?
  • Where do you see this job in two years? In five years?
  • What do you think makes this organization successful?
  • What makes someone successful in this organization? What are the qualities they have? How are they different from people in less successful organizations?

If this is not a new position:

  • How did the previous person in this job succeed?
  • Where is the person who did this job now? (You want to know if they got promoted, made a lateral move, or left the organization.) How long were they in the job?
  • What are the toughest aspects of this job, the things that others in this job have struggled with?
  • What did people seem to enjoy the most?

Then, as the interview is ending, request a copy of the interviewer(s) business card(s) or contact information, and ask:

  • Do you have any concerns about me?
  • Where are you in the hiring process?
  • What is next for me?

Finally, to get permission to stay in touch after the interview, ask:

  • How and when will I hear from you after this interview is over?
  • If I don't hear from you by (time frame they gave in answer to the question above), may I call you?
  • Who else should I stay in touch with?

Ideally, you want permission to stay in touch with the interviewer, but you may get directed to stay in touch with HR, or that HR will be in touch with you.

Do NOT ask:

  • What does this company (or organization) do?
  • Who is the CEO?
  • How long has this company been in business?
  • Where else does this company have locations?
  • Who are the competitors?
  • How well is this company doing?
  • [Most of the above covered by research done in advance.]
  • How much vacation time? What are the benefits?
  • [Not appropriate until you're closing the deal at job-offer time!]

It is important for you to understand if you want to work for this employer. Working in a job you hate is a very difficult situation -- tough to stay, but complicated to leave -- and I hope you can avoid the situation by asking the right questions during your job interviews.

Follow me on Google Plus and Twitter (@JobHuntOrg) for more job search tips!

Susan P. Joyce is president of NETability, Inc. and the editor and chief technology writer for Job-Hunt.org and WorkCoachCafe.com. This article was first published on WorkCoachCafe.