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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Williams

How to ask interviewers great questions

It’s nearing the end of the interview, and you’re asked, “do you have any questions for me?”.

Now is your chance to take the interview reins, and this part deserves some preparation too!

Throughout my career, I've interviewed hundreds of candidates and have seen a significant variation in the quality of questions asked. People who asked me the best questions excited me and left me more confident about the candidate’s potential impact.

Before jumping into great questions to ask in an interview, I want to share a few pieces of advice on the worst questions to ask in an interview:

1. Skip any questions where you could find the answers yourself.

You won’t come across as very prepared if you ask questions that are easy to answer. Look on the company website, read relevant news articles, and then turn to Google. If you can’t find a solid answer, it's a valuable question to ask in the interview.

2. Be careful if you’re turning the tables.

I’ve sometimes had candidates ask a “typical” interview question of me, e.g. “What are your strengths?”. If not done well, it can be pretty off-putting. If you have an apparent reason for asking the question (e.g. you’re being interviewed by your potential manager, and you want to understand their approach), then I’d recommend stating your intentions clearly. “I’d love to understand how you operate as a manager. How do you ensure you set your team up for success?”

There is no quick recipe for success with asking great questions. I’ve put the transferable skills to one side (e.g. tone, body language, etc) and written some tips that should help you prepare.

It’s worth noting that your questions don’t have to tick all these boxes (e.g. you may want to ask about the person’s experiences, which means you’re not displaying understanding about the company).

  • Display your understanding of the company. I’ve written an article about researching a company and role before interviewing. This preparation should give you plenty of ideas for questions about the company: the market, competitors, customers, business model, etc.

  • Use open-ended questions. When you start questions with “How..? Why..? What if..? What do you think about..?” you’re allowing a conversation to open up. This then allows you to shine and show your insight. Open-ended questions require fewer assumptions, so they’re less risky. I’ve had candidates launch into closed questions, and they were utterly wrong. e.g. “Do you assess the skills of a candidate before matching them to a role?” (My answer was a quick “Clu specialises in creating a safe space for job seekers to define and explore their skills, personally. We are not an assessment product. Are there any other elements of what we do that you'd like to learn more about?”)

  • Be ambitious. “Nothing is off limits” is a bit too extreme as advice, but I’d encourage you to find the level of boldness you’re comfortable with. An example of a bold question would be, “JP Morgan is spending $3 billion on developing products that are meant to beat challenger banks. Why is Revolut going to survive?”.

  • Make them relevant for the interviewer. Think about the areas the interviewer will feel confident answering, as this will lead to a better conversation. This doesn’t mean you have to ask the CEO deeply strategic questions, but they are in a unique position to answer where the company is headed in the next 2 years.

  • Have follow-up questions/thoughts. The best questions open up discussion, and I always appreciate it when candidates know the area well enough to follow up with more questions or thoughts. I’ve seen the opposite where candidates ask good questions, which make them sound informed, and then they are uninterested in my answer. This is very easy to spot! Most companies want employees who are curious and inquisitive, so don’t risk your question falling flat by not being able to enter the discussion.

  • Find the right level of specificity. I would recommend avoiding bland questions. An example I always use to explain this is, “What is the culture like?”. I find that question tricky to answer as it’s not specific enough: it doesn’t tell me much about what’s important to you. A more specific question would be, “Do you share notes from important company meetings, such as the board meeting? I’m interested to see how companies are run”. This one allows me to tailor my answer and gives us more discussion opportunities.

  • Ask something personal that makes the interviewer reflect. There’s a decisive moment in an interview when you think, “oh, that’s a good question”. Personal questions like “What are the people like here?” are okay, but a question such as “Why did you join [company]?” gets the interviewer thinking. Most people like telling their stories and speaking about themselves, so you’re leaning on a bit of positive psychology here.

Here are some generic questions that I’ve enjoyed being asked as an interviewer, and left me thinking positively about the candidate.

About my experiences

  • What growth opportunities have you had since joining?

  • What does [company] do better than other companies you’ve worked at? What does it do worse?

  • What’s the most exciting part of your role?

About the company (generic)

  • What’s the biggest challenge the company is facing right now?

  • What company poses the biggest threat to [company]’s success?

  • What does success look like for 2019?

Here are some specific questions that have worked well as an interviewer.

About the company (specific to a company, e.g. Clu)

  • How are you thinking about partnerships? For example, with university careers services.

  • Why did you start Clu when alternatives like LinkedIn exist?

  • What is your approach for expanding into new segments of jobs? E.g. More senior roles

This is a brief tour of things you could be thinking about now. Preparing for an interview is a skill in itself, and there are a lot of nuances when applying to different types of companies. If you need more help with preparation, please email me at _____ At Clu, we're helping you find the right job, faster. Our product is the smartest way to discover jobs you'd be great at. Use your skills to find your next role at an inclusive and exciting company by signing up through our website.


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