Four key questions applicants should ask in every job interview

Here are four wise questions sure to impress an interviewer (and a few more that are better left unsaid)

Job interview candidate


In the final minutes of almost every job interview, hopeful candidates can expect a moment where the table finally turns: “So,” should say any good interviewer, “do you have any questions for us?” This isn’t a throwaway; it’s another (and sneakier) way to check your fit for the gig—for the benefit of both parties. With that in mind, here are four wise questions sure to impress (and a few more that are better left unsaid).

ASK: What issues or challenges are currently keeping you up at night?

An old favourite that’s still going strong, this question’s standard for many good reasons. “By asking this question, you can uncover exactly what issues the hiring organization has identified and is currently dealing with,” says Heather McNab, author of What Top Professionals Need to Know About Answering Job Interview Questions. Deliver it well and you might just hit the jackpot to “shift from interview to conversation,” says McNab, but still good is your chance to mention how you can help. “First, listen. When they’ve finished, let them know exactly how you’ve dealt with similar challenges in the past.”

ASK: I noticed [fancy sales or strategy stat here]; is there an opportunity to broaden that initiative into other sectors?

Of course you’ve done your homework, right? Don’t be shy and definitely say so, says McNab. Pop any (interesting, up-to-date, factual) tidbit into your back pocket and follow-up with a “specific open-ended question relevant to their business,” she says. “This shows you understand the business, their company specifically and are interested enough to do your research before the interview.” And is there an opportunity for continued success? Of course there is! Sit back and let them happily tell you all about it.

ASK: A year from now, if I’m hired, what key results do you want to see?

This is a win/win question, explains Joanne Loberg, career coach at JL Careers in Vancouver, for reasons both straightforward and subtle. “Most importantly, you’ll learn if the results are attainable and if they engage you.” (If not particularly, perhaps you don’t even want this gig.) But more interestingly, you can gage your would-be boss’ communication and leadership style. “If they can’t clearly identify their expectations, you’ll know that they don’t really know, and that your chances of success at that organization is low.” (Now you definitely don’t want that gig.)

ASK: What, if anything, would stop you from pursuing me further as a candidate?

This one takes guts, says Loberg, and “most of us—expect maybe sales and marketing people—aren’t great at it.” Thick-skinned folk might get a harsh answer (like they’re lacking a specific skill or experience) but they also get a rare opportunity to address the problem and offer a fix in advance (an extra course or current applicable project might do it). This question also avoids a bonehead error that almost everyone makes, says Loberg. “Only one in ten candidates clearly mention that they actually want the job—you think it’s obvious, but it’s not.” Be the rare interview who’s very interested in the opportunity and bold enough to say so.


Of course, there are some questions to steer clear of, too:

DON’T ASK: So, what do you do here?

We’re into the definitely do not ask questions now, and besides a blank stare and no question at all, this one might be the absolute worst. “You should know this already,” says Loberg, and asking anything of the sort—or anything so obvious that’s on the website—is bad, bad, bad.

DON’T ASK: Why is this position vacant?

This is actually a great question, but at the wrong time. “Initial interviews are about passion, fit and ability,” says Loberg. You don’t work there yet, so why your predecessor left is private company business and exactly none of your business.

DON’T ASK: What does this job pay?

Loberg cheekily calls this your “Christmas Wish List”—except it’s never the season. McNab agrees: “Do not ask about compensation, including salary, bonuses or profit sharing,” she says. Ditto the vacation you were planning to take with that huge pay bump you’re expecting. Remember a first interview is all about getting them interested in you—a much better place to bargain from anyhow.

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