BiblioPile Press: When your career matters.

Asking good questions may be the answer to getting the job
By Terry Pile
(Updated from I Didn't Know That: Essential advice for finding better jobs and changing careers)


Most savvy job hunters rehearse how they will respond to difficult questions prior to an interview.  Few give much thought to the questions they will ask the employer.  The types of questions a candidate asks during an interview can determine whether an offer is made. For example, if your questions focus on salary, health benefits, vacation time, and sick leave, the employer will assume you only care about what’s in it for you.  Employers want to believe you have chosen their company because you have an interest in their mission as well as the position for which you applied.  Obviously, salary and benefits are important to you, but avoid the urge to ask about them at the first meeting.  Compensation information should be researched prior to the interview, volunteered by the employer or discussed after an offer has been extended. 

Instead, focus your questions on the company, department, employees and job duties. This line of questioning tells the employer that you really care about the work you do and the people you work with.  Intelligent and well researched questions translate into a smart and insightful employee.  They also give you a chance to interview the employer to make sure this job is the right fit.

Determining what the employer is looking for.


Rachel H. was a college student at Western Washington University and a successful summer job seeker.  Her summer jobs included working as a cashier at a busy grocery chain and a front desk clerk for Hilton Hotels.  She said her favorite question to ask employers was, “To be considered successful in a year from now, what would I need to have accomplished.”  Rachel said she asked this question for two reasons.  “The employers’ response often gave me clues to the type of skills and abilities they are looking for.  It also tells me what I need to do to get promoted.”  This is a great question to ask early in the interview process.  It will help you determine which skills to promote and the most appropriate stories to tell.  Be sure to request permission to ask questions during the interview.  Some interviewers don’t want to engage in discussion preferring to save your questions till the end of the meeting.

Assessing the work place environment.

A company culture may be difficult to determine at first glance, but the right questions can reveal important information. Rachel assessed the work place by asking the interviewer, “What do you like best about your job?”  She found the question gave her a better understanding of the work atmosphere.

As a hair stylist candidate, asking about the turnover rate was a priority question for Jamie C.  “A low turnover rate is a good indication that there will be enough work to keep me busy and profitable.  It also indicates employees like working there.  I am the new kid on the block and I’ve been here three years.  One stylist has been here 20.”  Jamie also asked if she could talk to the other stylists prior to accepting the position. “They honored my request, so I knew they had nothing to hide.”

Gauging the work load.

          It isn’t uncommon for employers to try to fill two positions with one employee, but if a job candidate asks about work loads and overtime, they may be perceived as someone who is afraid of hard work.  Donna W. is a clinical lab director.  The fertility clinics she has managed are often open around the clock and on weekends and can be extremely demanding of a manager’s time. Donna said, “One of the questions I like to ask is if they can describe to me a typical work day.  The answer to this question can convey what time employees start and finish their day’s work and give some insight into the type of work load.  If the job entails several tasks, it is also good to know what percentage of their work goes into each task.   Then I can determine if their expectations are realistic or over the top.”

Closing the deal.

As a marketing communications manager at a technology company Tom B. understands that you need to know the objections before you can make a sale.  “I have asked closing questions that are ambitious such as ‘Is there any reason you think I wouldn’t be a good fit for this job?’  I figured I might as well know if I should expect another interview or the objection was one I could overcome on the spot.  One question I always asked was ‘When do you expect to make a decision?’ If they gave a definite date, I knew they were serious.  If they were ambiguous, I figured they were either not serious about me or about filling the position right away.”

Some final tips on interviewing the employer:  have your questions written down on a notepad so you won’t forget them; have more than you will need as many of the questions will be answered in the course of the conversation; ask the interviewer how much time you will have for questions; ask for a business card and permission to get in touch with the interviewer if you have additional questions.  It is a good way to allow you to follow up.