But here are some questions most job seekers don't feel comfortable asking—even though they'd love to know the answers:
1. How secure is this job? No one wants to leave a secure job for one that's in danger of disappearing. If the new company is having financial troubles, new hires could be on the top of the list if layoffs happen—but all too often, employers don't warn prospective hires that this might come.
2. What do your employees think of you? Managers have an enormous impact on workers' day-to-day quality of life at work. Yet it's often hard to tell in an interview if a manager is going to turn out to be unreasonable, or a wimp who can't get things done, or a jerk, or even outright abusive.
3. Can I really use those benefits? Some companies offer generous vacation time on paper, but not in practice. If you can never get your time off approved and your manager frowns on taking vacations, it won't matter how much paid time off you're supposedly earning.
4. Why do most people really leave jobs here? In some offices, it's a poorly kept secret that turnover is high because the company won't give raises or offer opportunities for promotion, or simply because the management makes employees' lives miserable. But as a job seeker, it can be impossible to tell this from the outside.
5. How do people get along here? Few people want to work for a company where co-workers pass the day in icy silence (or worse, open hostility). And on the other side of the spectrum, most people don't want to work for a company where they'll be expected to attend nightly happy hours and participate in forced bonding either.
6. How often do you give raises? A proposed starting salary might seem generously high—but if it will be years before that number is revisited, it might suddenly be a lot less appealing. A good starting salary could turn into a below-market thorn in your side in a few years. Speaking of which…
7. How do you ensure your salaries are competitive with the market? Responsible companies take steps to make sure that their salaries won't be a reason for good people to leave. They benchmark their salaries against competitors and even proactively adjust employees' pay if they spot a discrepancy with the market.
8. When is the last time you fired someone? Most people know how frustrating it is to have a co-worker who the company obviously should have fired but who instead was allowed to languish on. Just as good workers want to work for a company that will reward great performance, they also want to work for a company that will get rid of people if they deserve to be fired.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results, and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.