It’s not about me, it’s about you… the 20 questions you need to ask in a job interview

What’s an interview about? It sure feels like it’s about you, but it’s really not.

An interview is actually about how you can help your future boss and future employer succeed. It’s about finding out what their requirements and hopes are and matching up your background and experience with what they need.

Overlooking these basic facts about the interview is all too easy. There’s so much else going on in your work, your life, and in your job search, that you can forget to look at the interview from the interviewer’s point of view. And that’s a shame, because, after all, you need the interviewer to walk away from the interview thoroughly impressed.

With that in mind, I’ve updated my collection of my twenty best interview questions below. My aim here is to arm you with easy-to-ask, revealing-to-answer questions for you to take with you into an interview.

Asking these questions, which focus on the needs, traits, and preferences of your future boss and future employer, allow you to discover how you can contribute, and also demonstrate that you are somebody who is genuinely interested in the well-being of others.

And with that, here are my twenty best questions to ask your interviewer:

1. What’s the biggest change your group has gone through in the last year? Does your group feel like the recession is over and things are getting better, or are things still pretty bleak?

2. If I get the job, how do I earn a “gold star” on my performance review? What are the key accomplishments you’d like to see in this role over the next year?

3. What’s your (or my future boss’) leadership style?

4. About which competitor are you most worried?

5. How does sales / operations / technology / marketing / finance work around here? (I.e., groups other than the one you’re looking to work in.)

6. What type of people are successful here? What type of people are not?

7. What’s one thing that’s key to this company’s success that somebody from outside the company wouldn’t know about?

8. How did you get your start in this industry? Why do you stay?

9. What are your group’s best and worst working relationships with other groups in the company?

10. What keeps you up at night? What’s your biggest worry these days?

11. What’s the timeline for making a decision on this position? When should I get back in touch with you?

12. These are tough economic times, and every position is precious when it comes to the budget. Why did you decide to hire somebody for this position instead of the many other roles / jobs you could have hired for? What about this position made your prioritize it over others?

13. What is your reward system? Is it a star system / team-oriented / equity-based / bonus-based / “attaboy!”-based? Why is that your reward system? What do you guys hope to get out of it, and what actually happens when you put it into practice? What are the positives and the negatives of your reward system? If you could change any one thing, what would it be?

14. What information is shared with the employees (revenues, costs, operating metrics)? Is this an open-book shop, or do you play it closer to the vest? How is information shared? How do I get access to the information I need to be successful in this job?

15. If we have a very successful 2012, what would that look like? What will have have happened over the next 12 months? How does this position help achieve that?

16. How does the company / my future boss do performance reviews? How do I make the most of the performance review process to ensure that I’m doing the best I can for the company?

17. What is the rhythm to the work around here? Is there a time of year that it’s all hands on deck and we’re pulling all-nighters, or is it pretty consistent throughout the year? How about during the week / month? Is it pretty evenly spread throughout the week / month, or are there crunch days?

18. What type of industry / functional / skills-based experience and background are you looking for in the person who will fill this position? What would the “perfect” candidate look like? How do you assess my experience in comparison? What gaps do you see?

19. In my career, I’ve primarily enjoyed working with big / small / growing / independent / private / public / family-run companies. If that’s the case, how successful will I be at your firm?

20. Who are the heroes at your company? What characteristics do the people who are most celebrated have in common with each other? Conversely, what are the characteristics that are common to the promising people you hired, but who then flamed out and failed or left? As I’m considering whether or not I’d be successful here, how should I think about the experiences of the heroes and of the flame-outs?

I could go on for a while, but I trust that gives you a good idea about how to make the interview about them, not about you. I’d like you to look through this list and pick the questions, and the phrasing and the wording with which you’re the most comfortable and make it your own during the interview process.

I’ll throw in one more bonus question — it’s the best one I’ve got — in honor of my brother Matthew and my wife Angela on their milestone birthdays (thank you for being there for me throughout the years and always)!

And that bonus question would be to ask your interviewer:

What can I do to help you (my future boss) get a gold star on your review next year?

This question has been tried and tested by thousands of TheLadders subscribers over the years and never fails to get a big response. Try it yourself.

OK, Readers, have a great week in the job search!

Write us your thoughts about this post. Be kind & Play nice.
  1. Tauriandells says:

    ,nice one Marc. This information is greatly appreciated to those in whom had it all backwards.

  2. totenglocke says:

    And that in a nutshell is why I despise job interviews.  Ability, skill, work ethic, etc mean jack – it's all about sucking up.

  3. Ray Tebout says:

    Great article. Very thought provoking questions.

  4. WANG.YAPENG says:

    1.  That  thingsare not  still pretty bleak,  the biggest change my group has gone through in the next year. 2.   If i get a job that i can  hope  to see in this role over the next year. 3.  To adapt to the to the interests of consumers and build  a long customer relationships.  4.  We by the good fait. I don't worry more and more competitor.

  5. Lenore says:

    This is a very inspiring story, especially for folks who have been out of work for sometime and have become doubtful.

    Thank you so much for sharing and good luck to you!

  6. Lenore says:

    Hi Marc.  Awesome questions!

    My question for you is… do you ask questions when you are meeting with more than one interviewer.  I met with 3 to 4 interviewers, one at a time.  I didn't want to come off generic by asking each of them the same questions.  I guess you can go by their role to determine what questions you are going to ask.  Sometimes they are all top executives. I'm guessing there are enough questions to divide amongst them all.  I had asked so many questions in an interview once, that I didn't want to seem redundant. Do you think this is ok?

  7. mcenedella says:

    Great question Lenore.

    Three options:

    1) Change the wording a little bit each time so you're not asking the same question in the same way.

    2) Mention that “You know, I already asked your colleague about this, and I'd love to hear your thoughts…”

    3) Divide the list and ask different people different questions, as you suggested.

    Hope that helps!


  8. JimG says:

    Great suggestions; things anyone who has been in sales SHOULD do naturally. Alas, too many do not. Really comes down to a Golden Rule process, doesn't it? Do unto others as you would have them do to you.

    Simple stuff, the good stuff is… I guess it is too easy to get distracted away from really caring about others as we let the cares of this world and pressures associated with them affect us. Reading some of the replies, it seems apparent that not all do care about others. That is the great challenge of the human experiment. And great organizations fill themselves with people who are thus-minded. Hopefully more will catch this vision.

  9. Rashid Mukharlyamov says:

    Hi. Great list, thank you. And yes, I've come to asking  some of the questions from your list myself.
    My problem is there are few employers ready to answer. Among two potential employers I was negotiating recently, both were unable to answer #2, though asked in a different ways. Yes, I end up working for one of them.

  10. Rashid Mukharlyamov says:

    Me personally would think twice before hiring a candidate being so pushy.
    And yes – I have hired people.

  11. acethis says:

    I want to thank you for your tips.  I have become a new person in interviews.  This all started over a year ago when I was part of a lay off.  I made a promise to myself NEVER again to be in this position.  Thanks to help from many sources, including the suggestions at this site I not only aced the interview process (from phone to group interviews) but will be getting what I deserve for salary and am looking forward to a positive work place that appears to be an excellent match.

  12. acethis says:

    I have come to the conclusion the response is not as important as: 1) showing you are interested in how to make there job easier and 2)understanding there needs and if I am challenged to meeting those needs. 
    Finding out what the company's needs are and how I can be there to improve on it also helps me to see how much help is needed and what baggage the company has that I will face when I am hired.

  13. acethis says:

    Personally, I think the most important way to convey a desire to make it better is to hear what can I do to take care of the pain the vacuum has caused.  The question I like asking is what do you see as the most important issues that I need to correct.  The other is: What can I do to make your position easier (in so many words)

  14. acethis says:

    Personally, I think the most important way to convey a desire to make it better is to hear what can I do to take care of the pain the vacuum has caused.  The question I like asking is what do you see as the most important issues that I need to correct.  The other is: What can I do to make your position easier (in so many words)

  15. Tlopportunity says:

    Your top 20 questions are more like 60.  There are multiple questions in each question.  I am intimidated by some of the questions and would wonder why I would be asking them.  I can only imagine that the employer would wonder the same thing.

  16. Ludihughes says:

    I believed that employment agencies should respect and acknowledge unemployed who sent resume to them. They should at least let them know what happened, did it go to the company, reviewed then turned down. It should not be about selling resume. Unemployed don’t have $200 to pay for resume making. We are all bombarded that there are jobs, companies are hiring but when you applied and you are not interested in their money making resume, most likely they will not even bother what happened to the positions you applied for. It is wrong. We applied and spent time, the employment agencies should give them the updates whether they are interested with you or not. That is mostly the complains of the applicants, no one ever bother to get back to them. But they took all the info about you: address,email,phone. These are important informations that can be sold to marketing companies. I hope not.

  17. Sean says:

    Great article! I really like the question “what improvements would you like to see in this position from the previous employee” Not only is it about “them” but it shows you are willing to work hard, and  follow directions.

  18. Marcos Ortiz says:

    Wow, simply amazing, Marc.

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