During any effective interview, questions come from both sides of the table.
While a candidate might walk into a meeting with a hundred questions, many of them will be ticked off over the course of the chat. As the end of the interview approaches their mind will be racing: “What else do I still want to know?”
It is also commonplace for candidates to have an opportunity to ask questions after the hiring manager has finished. Asking questions as an interview progresses is not always a good idea as conversations can get side-tracked.
In this article we explore how to approach questions at the end of an interview:
- Why is the end of an interview disproportionately important?
- Why should candidates ask questions in an interview?
- What types of questions could they ask?
- 20 questions to ask at the end of an interview
In many ways, the questions that we ask are a mirror onto our mind. Listen actively to what is being said during the interview (and what is not). Only ask questions when there is a genuine gap in your knowledge. Show how perceptive you are.
Open questions are best to ask at the end of an interview. Closed questions that only require a yes/no answer will be shut down quickly. Ask open questions that genuinely make the interviewer think. You never know what they might choose to divulge. If you have been answering your questions well, they will want to do likewise.
Why is the end of an interview disproportionately important?
When you are one of many candidates in an interview process that can last a couple of weeks, it is important to stay memorable.
The end of any conversation automatically sticks in the listener’s mind more effectively as they then immediately have a mental break to appraise and assess when a candidate walks out of the room. What will they remember most readily during their post-interview coffee or lunch break?
You can be sure that the final few minutes of the interview will be fresh in their minds.
What if the interviewer doesn’t invite questions? Any decent interviewer will want some feedback around a candidate’s thoughts and concerns, but if the end of the interview is approaching and you have not been given much opportunity to influence the direction of the conversation, it is acceptable to mention that you have a few questions.
Why candidates should ask questions in an interview
An interview is a two-way conversation where both parties wish to establish the potential of a mutual fit. During a first interview (in particular), the candidate will not have a full picture of the challenge ahead, so it is expected that they will have numerous questions.
While many of these questions will hopefully be answered by their future boss during the course of the interview, it is inevitable that loose ends will remain towards the of the conversation. This is not a reflection on the poor interviewing technique of the hiring manager – there are so many potential questions that some of them will be glossed over.
Feel free to ask the questions that really matter – in line with the advice in this article.
Is the end of the interview the best time for questions?
While every interview should have a natural flow of conversation and questions from the candidate could crop up at any time, it is best to leave the questions towards the end once there is a full picture of the role. Don’t leave the questions until the dying seconds – mention at a suitable point during the interview that you have a few questions and would like to address them towards the end.
What types of questions could a candidate ask in an interview?
While, in theory, any question goes if it will help you take a step closer to knowing what the role will be for you, employers will be expecting three different types of question at the end of any interview. Stick to these broad topics – don’t try to be too clever.
Feel free to ask any question about the role that hasn’t been covered in the job description or during the interview. You should be aware that there may be confidentiality considerations with certain questions, so don’t probe too deeply. Ask anything that gives you a better idea of what will be expected of you and whether you are suitable.
The nature of the company that you join is as important as the demands of the role. Asking questions from the hiring manager’s point of view is effective, but you should also realize that they may sugar coat their responses. Questions on culture, processes, strategy, people and commercial considerations will go down well.
If you feel that an interview has gone well, the most natural questions at the end of an interview are about next steps. Limit yourself to one such question to show that you are keen, as the interviewer will likely touch on the next steps in any case. Ask them if they would like to know anything else or clarify the timeline for recruiting the position.
How many questions should I ask at the end of an interview?
Typically, a hiring manager would expect 3 or 4 questions at the end of an initial interview. Choose them carefully and do not ask anything that you could have found out yourself. If it is a final interview and they have a clear interest in you, then you should be able to ask more questions to enable you to decide.
20 Questions to Ask at the End of an Interview
To cut to the chase, here are twenty common questions that you may wish to ask at the end of an interview. Don’t go into the interview primed to ask a specific 3-4, as you never know what will be discussed. Hold 8-10 questions at the front of your mind and see which ones are still there when the end of the interview draws near.
1. Why do you enjoy working here? What would you change?
Asking the interviewer any question that allows them to say something positive about the workplace or position will always result in interesting insights. Listen to what is being said, but also what is not said. They wouldn’t want to lie to a candidate, so omission of certain things may indicate that all is not entirely rosy.
2. What are the key objectives for the first 3 months / year?
The ultimate expression of interest in a job is the desire to get into the detail of exactly what is expected of you. You need to be relatively certain of the fit when you ask such a question as it may result in the comeback: “well, have you done this before?” Hearing the priorities of the hiring manager in their own words will cut through the HR-speak of the job description.
3. What might my career path look like over the coming years?
Everyone wants to understand that their employer wants to help them to develop. Enquiring about the career progression of people in the role before will tell a candidate how quickly the employer moves employees up (and across). You learn when you are thrust into different roles. A hesitant pause and a weak answer here will tell you all you need to know.
4. How would you describe the company culture?
You will only find out about the company culture from the employees. Glossy employer branding content will always distort the truth. A great way of finding out about the culture in a more granular way is to ask a more specific situation question: “how would people react if…… happened?” or something along those lines.
5. How will my job performance be measured?
There is nothing that indicates a results-oriented attitude more than digging into the metrics of how performance is measured. If you get an evasive or general answer it should be a red flag. The best employers know what “great” looks like and are hyper specific in what they expect from everyone. Poor employers tend to make it up as they go along.
6. What challenges is the company facing at the moment?
Every job will have its fair share of challenges and every ambitious company will have obstacles to overcome. Only a company that is happy with its place in the world will say “everything is fine.” The thing with stagnant companies is that they will not offer their people the room to grow. Listen to the scale of the challenges ahead and get excited.
7. What qualities will the successful person need to exhibit?
Another question that asks the hiring manager to zero in on their opinion – in this case their feeling on which qualities they would like to see in the ideal hire. Hopefully there will be a link between the way the job has been described and the type of person they are looking for. If there is a disconnect, you need to try to work out what isn’t adding up.
8. May I tell you a little more about…..?
Now, this is a sneaky question, but they did ask for questions…. If you have something else to add to your sales pitch that you feel may have been overlooked, ask their permission to end the interview your way and go out with all guns blazing. This question should only be asked if everything else is clear as it is a little bit of a cheeky one.
9. Do you have any lingering doubts about my suitability?
This is a question only for the brave of heart and thick of skin. Every interviewer will leave the room with a doubt or two, so maybe it is best to address them when you are still with them? Make sure that you don’t get defensive about any shortcomings and try to turn negatives into potential positives wherever possible.
10. Why did the previous incumbent leave the role?
Unless the interviewer tells you about the background during the interview, a candidate cannot possibly know why the role is available. There are a whole host of perfectly normal reasons why the role was vacated but listen carefully and check out the interviewer’s body language when they answer. A “difficult boss” will be sure to quickly blame the employee.
11. How do you support your top performers to get even better?
Showing that you appreciate that there is no limit to high-performance is one of the most powerful messages that you can give your future boss. Asking how top performers are supported in their hunt for those crucial marginal gains is a great way of getting a hiring manager to talk about their superior people development track record. Or not.
12. What obstacles will I face in this role?
I would recommend keeping the final few questions positive, but if you sense that you are walking into a tough environment, then this question could be revealing. The hiring manager will likely want to be honest with you as they won’t want someone walking into the role with their eyes closed. Respond positively to whatever they say.
13. Could you share the medium term strategy for the company?
This is a great question as it gets the hiring manager thinking positive thoughts about a future in which you may be in the role. Showing that you are interested in what might be coming down the line in 3-5 years’ time makes it clear that you are in this for the long run. If they are hazy about the strategy maybe they aren’t that engaged themselves?
14. What was your team’s biggest win last year?
Every boss enjoys talking about the achievements of their people. The scale of the “win” will give you an idea of the quality of people you might be working with and how high you should be aiming with your own performance. Making the interviewer think positive thoughts at the end of the interview may well rub off on how they feel about you.
15. Can you tell me more about the team that I may be joining?
With such an open-ended question, what a hiring manager chooses to tell the candidate will be highly revealing. You would hope that a warm smile will cross their lips and they will launch into fulsome praise of their people. If they stick to facts and avoid emotions it will be obvious that they manage their team from afar and do not care as much as they should.
16. I read about this….. Could you tell me more?
The opportunity to ask questions at the end of the interview can give you a chance to ask that nagging question that you were pondering when you did your research on the company. This shows that you are keen as mustard, but make sure that it is a question that the hiring manager will be able to answer. Don’t show them up as incompetent.
17. How do you set yourselves apart from your competitors?
If the company works in a competitive market, this question should really get the blood of any passionate manager boiling. Competitors take away market share and threaten livelihoods – every great manager should have a very clear idea about their employer’s competitive advantage. If the company is losing share, they will struggle to answer this one.
18. How are conflicts and disagreements handled in the team?
Another negative question, but there are certain industries where bruising discussions and misunderstandings are part of daily office life. A boss who cannot manage conflicts in this situation will have a team that is ruled by tribal clans. Everyone hates office politics, so it is important to understand that a boss is strong when things threaten to get out of control.
19. Can I clarify any aspects of my application in more detail?
In terms of bringing the interview to an end, asking whether the interviewer wants to find out anything else about the candidate’s application is a great way of getting them to pause and think of what else they may have missed. No candidate wants a hiring manager to walk out of an interview with regrets that they didn’t ask a certain final question.
20. What are the next steps/timeline for a potential offer?
This is a somewhat empty question as most interviewers will outline the next steps, but if you are in a position that there is a degree of urgency (if you have another offer), then
- Act as if your question will really make a difference to you
- Adjust your questions depending on what you have learned
- Only ask questions with a positive intent (don’t be controversial)
- Stick to the timings of the interview – you can email questions afterwards
- Ask about the specifics of the job if you are curious
- Ask your final question as you are walking out of the room
- Ask obvious questions that you could research yourself
- Ask questions about salary or benefits before any offer
- Be presumptuous and ask when you will be starting in the job
- Say that you don’t have any questions at the end of the interview
- The questions that you choose to ask at the end of the interview will reflect your understanding of what has been discussed and highlight what is important to you.
- Choose the topics of your questions with care and observe the answers critically. What is the interviewer saying and what is left out?
- Avoid questions that can be easily researched on your own time.
- Questions at the end of any interview provide critical insights.