26 April 2021 · Absolute IT IT News

“So do you have any questions for us?” – It’s almost inevitable that a hiring manager will ask this at a job interview. But you should try and get in there with questions before they have to invite this. Asking questions at a job interview may feel a bit unnatural, especially as you’re there to sell yourself and fit for the role primarily. That said, asking questions is actually a really important part of the job application process as you’re able to build more knowledge about the business and whether it’s right for you. It also makes for a much more organic conversation if questions aren’t all one way traffic from employer to you.

You’ll no doubt have read or been given some questionable advice about ‘flipping the script’ on the interviewer and asking them the ‘hard’ questions in search of some sort of reversed power dynamic. This is probably not the best way to ingratiate yourself nor is it particularly in line with regular Kiwi professional culture. Ideally you want a job interview to get as close to a normal comfortable conversation as possible, where both sides feel listened to and the discussion flows freely. 

Today we’ll look at asking questions in interviews with a bit more detail – what to ask, how to ask it and importantly, what not to ask. 

 

Do some fact finding 

Before writing out a bunch of questions about the job, the culture and the company history, make sure you spend a bit of time doing homework – read: Google. By searching online the company, what it does, its people, clients and what it presents outwardly as its values and mission, you can avoid asking those factual questions at interview time and irritating an employer who may wonder why that couldn’t be found out online.

A company website isn’t the only place to gather more information though – take a look at their LinkedIn company page, staff with active LinkedIn profiles, Facebook and Instagram – together these social channels will give you a starting point to understand what the business is all about.

If it’s a big company or one that’s made waves in the industry, you should also browse news media for articles. There could have been important moments in their history like a merger, big win, or controversy that may be worth staying aware of. 

Then you’ve got the job ad itself – that should give you plenty of information if it’s written well, so take the time to read it thoroughly before writing questions.

At this stage you’ll have answered dozens of questions that people naturally raise at interviews through a sense of duty to ask ‘something’. But you can do much better than that! Let’s carry on…

 

Prepare questions on the job – and the company

From your desktop research, you’ll have identified any gaps about the job and business that remain. We’d suggest preparing a longer list of maybe 6 or so questions about the business that is of interest (e.g. how’s the company structured in terms of teams and reporting lines?), and the same amount on the job itself (e.g. how could the person in this role make their biggest impact on the business?)

From here, you should let that list sit and revisit it a bit later on with fresh eyes. This is an essential step to weeding out any questions that are less important or irrelevant. Consider what parts of a job role really make the difference to your experience – is it the specific KPIs you’ll be set? Is it the types of work you’ll be assigned to? Perhaps it’s more around the team collaboration opportunities. Whatever it is, you need to shortlist your questions down to those that really matter – that way you’ll be more engaged with the answer you’re given, leading to a more genuine and fruitful interview.

Think outside the box – what can’t you find out from an ad or website?

Facts, figures and yes/no questions aren’t all that conducive to a good conversation. You can even elicit a negative response by rattling off a bunch of questions that could have been researched prior. 

What sorts of questions get to the heart of the business and the ‘why’? How can you show a deeper level of interest than other candidates? Here’s some things to consider:

  • Is there something about the company culture that makes it unique?
  • Who/what teams drive the energy in the company?
  • Where does the business see the industry going in the next few years? Is there market disruptions that they have a view on?
  • What sort of people tend to do well in that business’ environment?
  • And on the other side of the coin, who doesn’t thrive there?
  • What are the expectations of the other staff of this role you’re hiring for – is it changing anyone else’s job in the process too?
  • What does a superstar performance in this role look like? 
  • What sort of pace does the business operate at with regards to career development? Is it more skills and results based or experience and tenure?
  • If this is a vacant position left by someone else, were there any insights as to why that person moved on that you’re comfortable sharing? How might I be able to bring something different?
  • Is there one specific value that you hold above all else that guides your decisions around people, work and everything else?
  • What are internal communications like in the business? Is everyone closely connected to what’s happening?

These might not be the exact questions you ask, but they are here to illustrate that you can do a bit more thinking on a potential employer and show interest outside of you, your fit, and the duties outlined in the JD. Employers increasingly are placing more importance on emotional intelligence or ‘EQ’ as opposed to raw IQ, so demonstrating the nuances of how a team and business operates and self awareness about your potential introduction into an existing team are good signs to most employers. 

 

Aim for a few really valuable questions over a laundry list

Asking questions is great, but too many starts to give the appearance of either no prior research or a straight interrogation – neither of which are great for your chances of a second interview. Take a final look through all your questions before setting off to the interview and mark just 2 or maybe 3 of the most valuable things you can ask – not just valuable for you, but valuable in demonstrating insight. 

This way, if time gets on and you’re not given a large window to ask things, you can go directly to your best items. 

 

Bring your questions with you and let the interview know you’re prepared

So you’ve got your list of questions – don’t feel the need to memorise these word for word. As we’ve covered in previous articles, coming into an interview with prepared notes is unlikely to turn an employer off – rather it shows some preparedness. Each interview format can be slightly different but typically the hiring manager will summarise how the interview will be structured – at this time you can raise that you have some questions you’d love to ask if there’s time (there usually will be). That way the employer can carve out time or be more receptive when you jump in for a question at a time that makes sense. They will be eager to hear what questions you’ve got prepared. 

Scratch off any that get answered through the conversation beforehand

This is really important. If you get information through the natural course of the interview that answers your pre-written questions, you need to cross this off and skip it when you are given the floor to ask things. One of the biggest red flags for an employer when determining your level of seriousness about a role is examples of not listening. It’s okay if you don’t get a chance to do this in the moment when conversation is flowing, but when you get to question time, take a look through before launching in.

 

Engage with the answers and ask follow ups if you need

Candidates can reveal a lack of genuine interest and listening skills when they simply peel off 5-10 questions with no active engagement in the answer the interviewer provides. If you ask a good question, expect a complex answer that will provide many cues for acknowledgment or clarification – you’re doing this in your everyday life all the time, we’re simply aiming to replicate the natural dialogue in the interview context. 

Example:

Q: What’s the one value above all else that the team is driven by?

A: Good question…I think that would be honesty. We’re a very transparent organisation and we rely on everyone to live this value.

Q:  Is that honesty the company pushes something that has taken much effort to embed in your people, or do you hire specifically people who embody this.

A: A bit of both really – we do try to hire very honest, humble people, but you can only learn so much in an interview! Our culture internally nurtures transparency by carefully handling errors or issues with staff in a way that they feel safe to learn and grow from mistakes without feeling humiliated. 

Q: That’s interesting, I like that approach – have you seen this method make for a more relaxed working environment?

…and so on. This is the kind of conversation you want to have with a potential employer – they’ll remember the quality of discussion more so than your ability to recite your CV off by heart.  

 

Ask a question or two organically based on what the employer’s said.

Some questions you won’t have prepared, but will be prompted to ask based on what the interviewer says. Our scenario above is a good example of this, but the interviewer may even just volunteer some information like ‘We’ve just come from a Te Reo Māori course actually which was great’, at which point you may ask some questions about diversity in the business and how Te Reo Māori is incorporated into work life there. 

This is another way of making the interview become more an open free-flowing discussion. What you wish to ask is totally up to you – just keep it professional and not too invasive into either the personal lives of the interviewers or any business information that could be considered sensitive.

Jot key points down to think about later

As you get answers to your questions, or hear certain comments, you should be jotting these down on paper to reflect on later. There will be limited time so not every point will be addressed in the interview. You may also not have a clear question in the moment, but know it’s something you want to consider more. An example of this might be a passing comment around the timings of the start date where you have to go away and consider if that would work with your movements hypothetically. 

 

Missed something? Follow up by email or phone.

If you forget to ask something, or didn’t quite get everything from the answer provided, a follow up is perfectly acceptable to a hiring manager. We’d recommend doing this within a few days after the interview, especially if the question is in reference to part of the conversation – chances are the business is interviewing others across the week so get in there before they lose track of who said what. 

Some more questions you may wish to ask.

Here’s some other things you may want to ask about:

  • Can you tell me a bit more about the team I’d be working in, who are some people I’d work closely alongside?
  • How does the work day usually flow for the team – meeting heavy in the mornings etc?
  • A year from now, what does ‘nailing it’ look like for this role in your view?
  • Has the team experimented with different work methodologies like Agile?
  • How did the business respond to COVID-19 and working from home? 
  • Does the team have access to training or self-managed upskilling at work?
  • I’m really sociable – is there a good team culture with things like work drinks, events etc?

 

Some questions not to ask.

It can be a good idea to think carefully about how questions might come across. Here’s just a selection of questions that may not put the right message across:

  • What does the role actually involve? (You should have read the JD)
  • How quickly can I climb up the ladder? (May show lack of focus on this role)
  • Can I get annual leave at X date? (If you’re getting close to a short list then by all means advise the employer but not at first interview)
  • How much is the job paying? (There are more appropriate times to find this out such as an initial phone call or once you get past the interview – it should also be framed as a salary range rather than ‘How much?’)
  • What’s the minimum hours I have to work? (You’re already looking to cruise!?)

Each job is different – there might be times where these questions are okay, but we’d err on the side of caution. 

 

Keen for more career tips?

Head over to our Advice section for more insights into finding your next IT job. Be sure to keep an eye on our news section too for the latest ideas on job hunting. Good luck in your next interview!