The worst thing you can do is ask, “What is it your company does?” (Hey, it has happened.) The next worst thing you can do is say, “Um, nope, I don’t have any questions.”
You need to ask some questions! Asking questions shows your interest in a company and makes you look smarter (smart people tend to be inquisitive). Asking questions gives interviewers a chance to talk about themselves, a thing most people love. And—this is important—asking questions is a way to find out if you really want to work for these people.
Bottom line: Don’t make the interviewer do all the heavy lifting. Take an active role in the interview process and improve your chances of landing a job.
So what should you ask? Here are 10 suggestions:
1. “Can you describe a typical day for someone in this position?” If your interviewer appears to be nervous or ill at ease, a non-abstract question like this is a good way to get the ball rolling.
2. “Could you talk about the history of this position?” Specifically, what you’re trying to find out is how long the position has existed, how many people have held it, and why it is now available.
3. “What were the major strengths and weaknesses of the last person who held this job?” Or in other words, what kind of act would you have to follow. This is also a chance to find out what happened to your would-be predecessor. How this question is answered will tell you a lot about the dynamics and expectations of this workplace.
4. “What are this position’s biggest challenges?” You’re naturally curious about the downsides of the job. But find out in a way that makes you look confident and unafraid to tackle problems.
5. “In what area could your team use some improvement?” Do you get an honest-sounding answer? This is important. It’s also an opportunity to talk some more about how your skills specifically match this company’s needs.
[See more career advice at the U.S.News Careers site.]
6. “What are the prospects for advancement?” Asking this demonstrates that you have ambition, and makes you look like a big picture person.
7. “How would I be evaluated?” If you want to know an employer’s true priorities, and what is really important about the position under discussion, ask this.
8. “Who are the most successful people in this company and why?” A clever way to get a glimpse of a company’s values/ethos/culture and how the powers-that-be measure success.
9. “Why do you enjoy working at this company?” Okay, it’s a softball question. But the answer, and the tone in which it is given, should tell you a lot. Basically, you are looking to see some sincere enthusiasm here.
10. “Do you have any reservations about me or my ability to perform this job?” It’s a gutsy thing to ask. But consider doing so because it’s a great way to get real-time feedback on you and your interview skills. Asking for criticism not only earns you points for courage, it could result in some very helpful information.
P.S. Do not ask questions that would be easily answered by consulting the company’s website. You will look unprepared, even lazy. You’ll also lose the opportunity to gather some valuable insight about this employer and the job on offer.
Karen Burns is the author of the illustrated career advice book The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use, recently released by Running Press. She blogs at www.karenburnsworkinggirl.com.