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We’re all familiar with that moment in the interview, when you’re on the downhill stretch, things seem to be going well, and the interviewer focuses in and inquires, “So, do you have any questions?”

In some interviews this can feel more like a request than a question, and even the best interviewers, knowing the question is coming, can be caught off guard with that deer in the headlights expression across their face due to nerves or excitement.

If you’ve prepared properly, you can quickly recover with a glance down at your notes and take advantage of this moment to get some valuable answers.  Asking good questions in an interview is not only beneficial to you in making your decision, it also showcases the homework you’ve done and can set you apart from other candidates with how you approach the position.

Here’s some questions to get you on the right track of what you might want to ask your potential employer:

What is the culture like?

This is a common question and one most interviewers are prepared for.  But this is also a good question to get clarification on as many interviewers like to generalize their response with things like ‘it’s a fast paced environment’ or ‘we’re a casual office.’  Phrases like this can mean different things to different people. Fast-paced is subjective, and casual could mean hosting ‘Jeans Friday’ or a ‘come as you are’ relaxed atmosphere. And culture isn’t just about the vibe you get when you walk through the doors the first day, its everyday.  Is there high turnover and constant new faces or do people stick around and form ‘work family’ bonds?

Why is the position vacant?

Don’t be afraid to delve into this question.  I’ve known employers who will say that every opening is a new position due to growth to maintain a certain outward perception, when the truth was the position has had high turnover or they didn’t want to reveal why someone left.  Find out the average time an employee holds this position, and why they leave it. (Did they receive a promotion?  Did they take another job?)  If they say it’s a new position, try to gain a better understanding of why the position is being created and if you will be able to influence how the role develops.

Who will this position report to (or who will be reporting to you) and who will you be working most closely with?

It’s important to gain an understanding of the individuals you will be interacting with on a daily basis, what their roles are, and how much contact you will be having with them.  This understanding can help set expectations from day one and let you know who you should reach out to if proper introductions aren’t made in your company orientation.  If you have a chance to meet with any of these individuals during the interview process, seize the opportunity to make sure you get along with everyone’s personalities.

How does this position fit into the long term goals of the company?

While this question helps you to better understand how you might fit into the puzzle, it also lets the interviewer know you are thinking bigger picture and are interested in sticking with the company for awhile if there’s a fit. In addition, it gives the interviewer a chance to give you insight into what the company’s goals are.  If they don’t know what the company’s goals are even on a basic level, this should give you pause.

What are the current challenges facing the company (and your role)?

This question ties in well with the one above.  If you can gain a better understanding of the company’s issues, you can more proactively address them and even show to the interviewer how you might be able to influence change in your role to help the company achieve its goals.  And just like the question above, if the interviewer can’t state any challenges, then you have to wonder why they are hiring.  Even positive things like growth can be challenges, but if the company can’t honestly identify their sore spots, are they turning a blind eye or covering up issues when they could be taking advantage of their talent to actively address them?

How do you define success (for this position and for the company)?

Success means different things to different people.  In conjunction with some of the above questions, this one can answer a lot about what’s expected of your performance as well as others in the company and how you will interact with the company at large to achieve success.  This question may also give you a chance to reiterate how your skills and experience address achieving the interviewer’s definition of success.

Will you receive any training and what’s the orientation process like?

This is not a make it or break it question, but more about making sure you are prepared for what what’s to come should you accept a position with the company.  If the role involves learning new skills or programs you haven’t had exposure to, you should know if you’re expected to pick this up on your own or if there will be a formal training program.  With many newer companies and startups, the environment can often be a bit haphazard, and you should know who you can reach out to as a resource or if you’re expected to be creative and problem solve because the answers have yet to be determined.

When can I expect to hear from you?

Some interviewers will address this for you before you ask, but if they have not covered it, this is important for you to ask before you leave.  Their timeline can help you decide your most effective method of follow-up so that you don’t come across as overbearing or a stalker.  Take this opportunity to let them know if you will reach back out to them to check in on the status of the position and what their preferred method of contact is.  Interviewers appreciate your respect for their time during the selection process.  Understanding their timeline can also help you make decisions with respect to other interviews you may have and your own time.

Unless you’re speaking with a third party recruiter, it is brought up by the interviewer, or you’re at the point where the company is in the process of making you an offer, avoid asking questions regarding compensation and benefits.  This can set the wrong tone with the interviewer about what’s important to you and take the focus away from the main discussion of the role and the mutual discovery of your fit for it.

Hopefully, if the interview unfolds as a discussion, many of your questions will be answered during the course of your conversation with the interviewer.  This shouldn’t leave your tongue tied when you’re asked for any questions.  Use the opportunity to get further clarification or address certain points they brought up when answering your previous questions.  Take notes during the interview to better inform these points and form new questions to show your desire, interest, and thoughtfulness towards the role.

And don’t forget to show appreciation for the information you’ve been provided, especially if the interviewer shows honesty and integrity addressing difficult subjects.  It shows their respect for you and the process.  The interview is about both sides putting their best foot forward, and if approached thoughtfully, the more that is revealed and uncovered in the conversation can lead to a better understanding and a better fit in the long haul.

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