Do you know the answers to these questions? Some of them you may start hearing more often as the balance of power continues to tilt toward employees. Others, you’ll never hear from a candidate’s mouth. Still, asking yourself these questions — and finding out or exploring the answers — can give you a deeper understanding of your company.
- Questions for Headhunters and Recruiters
- Questions for HR
- Questions for Hiring Managers
- High-level Probing Questions
- Questions That Are Defensive
- Questions Designed to Get Feedback
- Questions Designed to Close the Deal
- Questions Stars May Ask
Questions for Headhunters and Recruiters
How did you find me?
Is this a retainer or contingency assignment?
Are you dealing with the client’s HR people, or do you have direct contact with the hiring manager?
How long has the client been with you?
How many candidates have you placed with this client?
When will I find out the name of the principal or client company?
May I have a written job description?
Where is the position located?
Where is the company headquartered?
To whom does the position report?
Can you tell me about this executive’s management style?
Why is the position open?
What happened to the person who previously held this position?
Is this a new position?
How long has the position been open?
How long have you been working on the assignment?
What does the position pay?
Are there any pay or compensation constraints that I should take into consideration?
What can you tell me about the person who will be interviewing me?
What is his or her position, title, management style?
Who will make the final hiring decision?
After you present my resume, when can I expect to hear from you regarding the status of this position?
Can you describe, specifically, how the company navigates/balances work? and personal-life issues?
What might I do that would violate the culture of the company during my interview?
Questions for HR
Why do you enjoy working for this company?
What attracted you to this organization?
Can you describe the work environment here?
How do you describe the philosophy of the company or organization?
What do you consider to be the organization’s strengths and weaknesses?
Can you tell me more about my day-to-day responsibilities?
How soon are you looking to fill this position?
How do my skills compare with those of the other candidates you have interviewed?
I have really enjoyed meeting with you and your team, and I am very interested in the opportunity. I feel my skills and experience would be a good match for this position. What is the next step in your interview process?
Before I leave, is there anything else you need to know concerning my ability to do this job?
In your opinion, what is the most important contribution that this company expects from its employees?
Is there a structured career path at the company?
What are my prospects for advancement? If I do a good job, what is a logical next step?
Assuming I was hired and performed well for a period of time, what additional opportunities might this job lead to?
Do the most successful people in the company tend to come from one area of the company, such as sales or engineering, or do they rise from a cross section of functional areas?
I know that for the position for which I am interviewing, the company decided to recruit from outside the organization. How do you decide between recruiting from within and going outside?
How does this position relate to the bottom line?
What advice would you give to someone in my position?
What major problems are we facing right now in this department or position?
Can you give me a formal, written description of the position? I’m interested in reviewing in detail the major activities involved and what results are expected.
Does this job usually lead to other positions in the company? Which ones?
Can you please tell me a little bit about the people with whom I’ll be working most closely?
As I understand the position, the title as ________, the duties are _______, and the department is called ________. I would report directly to __________. Is that right?
Can you talk about the company’s commitment to equal opportunity and diversity?
Who are the company’s stars, and how was their status determined?
How are executives addressed by their subordinates?
What can you tell me about the prevailing management style?
If you hired me, what would be my first assignment?
Does the company have a mission statement? May I see it?
Questions for Hiring Managers
Could you explain the company’s organizational structure?
What is the organization’s plan for the next five years, and how does this department or division fit in?
What specific skills from the person you hire would make your life easier?
Will we be expanding or bringing on new products or new services that I should be aware of?
What are some of the problems that keep you up at night?
What are some of the skills and abilities you see as necessary for someone to succeed in this job?
What would be a surprising but positive thing the new person could do in first 90 days?
What challenges might I encounter if I take on this position?
How does upper management perceive this part of the organization?
What are your major concerns that need to be immediately addressed in this job?
What do you see as the most important opportunities for improvement in the area I hope to join?
What are the attributes of the job that you’d like to see improved?
What are the organization’s three most important goals?
What is your company’s policy on attending seminars, workshops, and other training opportunities?
How do you see this position impacting the achievement of those goals?
What is the budget this department operates with?
What attracted you to working for this organization?
What committees and task forces will I be expected to participate in?
What have you liked most about working here?
How will my leadership responsibilities and performance be measured? By whom?
What are the day-to-day responsibilities I’ll be assigned?
Are there any weaknesses in the department that you are particularly looking to improve?
What are the department’s goals, and how do they align with the company’s mission?
What are the company’s strengths and weaknesses compared with the competition? (name one or two companies)
How does the reporting structure work here? What are the preferred means of communication?
What goals or objectives need to be achieved in the next six months?
Can you give me an ideal of the typical day and workload and the special demands the job has?
This a new position. What are the forces that suggested the need for this position?
What areas of the job would you like to see improvement in with regard to the person who was most recently performing these duties?
From all I can see, I’d really like to work here, and I believe I can add considerable value to the company. What’s the next step in the selection process?
How does this position contribute to the company’s goals, productivity, or profits?
What is currently the most pressing business issue or problem for the company or department?
Would you describe for me the actions of a person who previously achieved success in this position?
Would you describe for me the action of a person who previously performed poorly in this position?
How would you describe your own management style?
What are the most important traits you look for in a subordinate?
How do you like your subordinates to communicate with you?
What personal qualities or characteristics do you most value?
Could you describe to me your typical management style and the type of employee who works well with you?
Corporate culture is very important, but it’s usually hard to define until one violates it. What is one thing an employee might do here that would be perceived as a violation of the company’s culture?
How would you characterize the organization? What are its principal values? What are its greatest challenges?
How would you describe the experience of working here?
If I were to be employed here, what one piece of wisdom would you want me to incorporate into my work life?
What are a couple of misconceptions people have about the company?
Work-life balance is an issue of retention as well as productivity. Can you talk about your own view of how to navigate the tensions between getting work done and encouraging healthy lives outside the office?
How does the company support and promote personal and professional growth?
What types of people seem to excel here?
Every company contends with office politics. It’s a fact of life because politics is about people working together. Can you give me some exams of how politics plays out in this company?
What have I yet to learn about this company and opportunity that I still need to know?
I’m delighted to know that teamwork is highly regarded. But evaluating performance of teams can be difficult. How does the company evaluate team performance? For example, does it employ 360-degree feedback programs?
What are the organization’s primary financial objectives and performance measures?
What operating guidelines or metrics are used to monitor the planning process and the results?
To what extent are those objectives uniform across all product lines?
How does the company balance short-term performance versus long-term success?
What kinds of formal strategic planning systems, if any, are in place?
Can you describe the nature of the planning process and how decisions concerning the budgeting process are made?
Can you identify the key corporate participants in the planning process?
How often and in what form does the company report its results internally to its employees?
In the recent past, how has the company acknowledged and rewarded outstanding performance?
What are the repercussions of having a significant variance to the operating plan?
Are budgeting decisions typically made at corporate headquarters, or are the decisions made in a more decentralized fashion?
I’m glad to hear that I will be part of a team. Let me ask about reward structures for teams. Does the company have a formal team-based compensation process?
Is the company more of an early adapter of technology, a first mover, or is it content to first let other companies work the bugs out and then implement a more mature version of the technology?
How does the company contribute to thought leadership in its market?
How advanced is the company’s commitment to knowledge management?
I was pleased to hear you describe the company’s branding strategy. How does branding fit into the overall marketing mix?
How does this position contribute to the company’s goals, productivity, or profits?
According to (name source), your principal competitor, Brand X, is the best-selling product in the space. What does Brand X do better than your product?
Business Week magazine ranks the company second (or whatever) in its industry. Does this position represent a change from where it was a few years ago?
How accessible is the CEO (name him or her) to people at my level of the organization?
Does the CEO (name him or her) publish his or her email address?
I understand that the CEO is really approachable. Are there ground rules for approaching him or her?
Staff development is mentioned in your annual report as a measure on which executives are evaluated. What kinds of training experiences might I expect?
Is the department a profit center?
Can you please tell me about the people who will look to me for supervision?
Would I encounter any coworker or staff person who’s proved to be a problem in the past?
What happened to the person who previously held this job?
The incumbent was dismissed? How could the problems have been avoided?
The incumbent was promoted? I’m delighted to hear it. Would it be possible for me to talk to him or her?
What is the company customer-service philosophy?
Could you tell me about a time when the team/company went out of its way to provide knock-your-socks-off service?
The best companies rely on rich customer data to fuel personalized content and services. How is the company doing in personalizing its offerings?
How empowered are employees? How much of the company’s money can your people (including the ones with single-digit pay grades) spend on their own recognizance to satisfy a customer or address a work-process issue?
How often would I come into direct contact with real, living, breathing, paying customers?
What are the success factors that will tell you if the decision to bring me on board was the right one?
To make our working relationship successful — something we both want — we’ll need to be sure we have good chemistry together. How might we determine this, and then what action would you see us engage in to build that relationship?
If you and I were developing some sort of philosophical difference, how would you want to go about resolving it?
Other Probing Questions — often for high-level assignments
Could you please describe the management team to me?
Does the company have a Net-use policy?
Will I receive my assignments from IT or from the business unit?
Do developers have little contact with the business unit or significant contact?
Can you show or sketch me an organizational chart?
If for any reason you were unable to function as CEO, how would you like to see the company managed?
To whom does the chief information or technology officer report?
How would you describe the degree to which you want your heirs to have strategic or operational influence in the company until one of them is ready to assume the role of COO or CEO?
What are you hoping to accomplish, and what will be my role in those plans?
May I see a job description? What are the most important responsibilities of the job?
How much time should be devoted to each area of responsibility?
What is my spending/budget authority?
What initial projects would I be tackling?
What are the biggest technical challenges ahead for this department/ company?
Presuming that I’m successful on this assignment, where else might I be of service to the company?
Traditionally, companies have used IT to reduce bottom-line costs. But I am excited about the use of IT to advance top-line opportunities such as creating new products and identifying new markets. Can you talk about how IT is used in this company to create top-line value?
What structured strategies for software testing have you found effective here?
Does the company use an IT steering committee?
If you put all the salespeople in a line from your best to the merely acceptable performer, what are the earnings of the 50th percentile? The 25th? The 75th?
Can you describe the performance of the sales team?
What is the commission structure, and what is my earning potential in 1,3,5, or 10 years?
What percentage of salespeople attain objectives?
What percentage of the current people are above and below their set goals?
Questions That Are Defensive — designed to protect the employee
I understand the company has experienced layoffs within the last two years. Can you review the reasons why they were necessary?
How were the layoffs handled in terms of notification, severance, outplacement services, etc.?
What rewards have you found effective in recognizing and rewarding exceptional work?
Are there formal metrics in place for measuring and rewarding performance over time?
How effectively has the company communicated its top three business goals?
I am a hard worker, and like to be around hard-working people. Am I going to be comfortable with the level of effort I find here?
Is the company’s training strategy linked to the company’s core business objectives?
How does your firm handle recognition for a job well done?
When was the last time you rewarded a subordinate for his or her efforts? What token of appreciation did you offer?
How does the firm recognize and learn from a brave attempt that didn’t turn out quite as expected?
If I were a spectacular success in this position after six months, what would I have accomplished?
How much freedom would I have in determining my objectives and deadlines?
How long has this position existed in the organization? Has its scope changed recently?
Do you foresee this job involving significant amounts of overtime or work on weekends?
What are the greatest challenges I will face in this position in furthering the agenda of the organization?
Are my tasks limited to my job description, or will I be performing duties outside the described job scope?
Questions Designed to Get Feedback
How do you like me so far?
Do you have any concerns about my ability to do the job and fit in?
Is there anything standing in the way of us coming to an agreement?
Do you have any concerns about my experience, education, skills?
How do I compare with the other candidates you have interviewed?
Describe your ideal candidate. What do my qualifications lack compared to those of the theoretical ideal candidate?
I’m ready to make a decision based on the information I have. Is there anything else I can elaborate on so that you would have a better understanding of my qualifications and suitability for this position?
Are there any areas in which you feel I fall short of your requirements?
Can you give me any feedback that would make me more attractive to the company in the future or that I could benefit from next time?
Is there anything else you need from me to have a complete picture of my qualifications?
Questions Designed to Close the Deal
Is there anything personally or professionally that you believe would prevent my being a solid contributor in this role?
Your search is over. You will not find anyone else more qualified to do this job than I. If I were you, I’d cancel all the other interviews and make me an offer.
I’m not going to keep it a secret. I really want this job, and I know I will be fantastic in it.
Until I hear from you again, what particular aspects of the job and this interview should I be considering?
I know I can meet the demands of the position and would make an outstanding contribution. Can I have the offer?
What will be your recommendation to the hiring committee?
I’m ready to make a decision based on the information I have. Is there anything else you need to make me an offer?
I am very interested in this job, and I know your endorsement is key to my receiving an offer. May I have your endorsement?
It sounds to me as if we have a great fit here. What do you think?
It has been an interesting and fruitful discussion. l would very much like to take it to the next step.
Questions Stars May Ask
What’s the gross profit margin of the division I will be working in? What percentage of the total profit from the company does it generate? Is it increasing or decreasing?
What’s your company’s “killer application”? What percentage of the market share does it have? Will I be working on it?
Can you give me some examples of the best and worst aspects of the company’s culture?
What makes this company a great place to work? What outside evidence (rankings or awards) do you have to prove this is a great place to work? What is the company going to do in the next year to make it better?
What would I see if I stood outside the front door at five o’clock? Would people be smiling? Staying late or leaving early? Would everyone be taking work home?
Lots of your competitors have great products and people programs. What is the deciding factor that makes this opportunity superior? Are you able to say any things that you will do to make this a great experience for me if I accept the position?
Can you show me that the company has a diverse workforce and that it is tolerant of individual differences? Does it have affinity groups or similar programs that I might find beneficial? Is there a dress code? Can you give me an example of any “outrageous conduct” this firm tolerates the competitors would not?
Does your company offer any “wow!” benefits? Does it pay for advanced degrees? Does it offer paid sabbaticals? On-site child care? Relocation packages? Mentor programs? How are these superior to those of your competitors? What about job sharing? Flex-time arrangements? Telecommuting? Workout facilities?
When top performers leave the company, why do they leave and where do they usually go?
When was the last significant layoff? What criteria were used to select those to stay?
Does the company have a program to significantly reward individuals who develop patents/great products? Is there a program to help individuals “start” their own firms or subsidiary? Will I be required to fill out noncompete agreements?
How many approvals would it take (and how long) to get a new $110,000 project idea of mine approved? What percentage of employee-initiated projects in this job were approved last year?
How many days will it take for you (and the company) to make a hiring decision for this position?
Who are the “coolest” people on my team? What makes them cool? Can I meet them? Who is the best and worst performer on the team, and what was the difference in their total compensation last year? Sell me on this team and the individuals on it that I get to work with. What makes my closest coworkers fun great people to work with?
What is your “learning plan” for me for my first six months? What competencies do you propose I will develop that I don’t currently have?
Which individual in the department can I learn the most from? What can he or she teach me? Can I meet that person? Does the company have a specific program to advance my career?
Could I miss a day without your advance permission? What percentage of the people in this position telecommute? Has anyone in the group been allowed to take a month off (unpaid) to fulfill a personal interest?
Give me some examples of the decisions I could make in this job without any approvals. Can you show me the degree of autonomy and control I have in this position?
How many hours a week do you expect the average person on your team to work? How many hours does the average person in fact work? Are there work-life programs in place to promote a healthy work-life balance?
How will my performance be evaluated? What are the top criteria you use? What percentage of my compensation is based on my performance? Is their a process where the employees get to assess their supervisor? If I do a great/bad job in the first 90 days, how, specifically, will you let me know? What are the steps you would take to help me improve? How do you discipline team members?
What is the first assignment you intend to give me? Where does that assignment rank on the departmental priorities? What makes this assignment a great opportunity?
How many hours of your time can I expect to get each week for the first six months on the job? How often will we have scheduled meetings?
If I were frustrated about my job, what specific steps would you take to help me overcome that frustration? How about if you were frustrated with me? Can you show me examples of what you have done for others in your group in the past year to overcome any frustration?
What are the “wows!” of this job? What are the worst parts? And what will you do to maximize the former and minimize the latter? If I asked the incumbent what stinks about the job, what would he or she say? Can I talk to him or her?
What will make my physical work environment a fun and stimulating place to spend time?
What inputs do employees get in departmental decisions? In hiring and assessing coworkers?
Could I get a chance to see the team in action? Can I sit in on a team meeting? Shadow someone for a day?
What are the biggest problems facing this department in the next six months and in one year? What key competencies have you identified that I will need to develop in the next six months to be successful?
What do you see in me? What are my strongest assets and possible weaknesses? Do you have any concerns that I need to clear up in order to be the top candidate? What is the likelihood — maybe in percentage terms — that I’ll get an offer?
From 201 Best Questions to Ask on Your Interview, by John Kador. Copyright 2002 by John Kador. Reprinted with permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.