10 Questions Every Job Candidate Should Ask Only In Person

In this blog series, we explore questions you should be asking as a candidate. 

In our last post, we talked about the candidate’s role for setting expectations in early interviews, and we explored the questions candidates should ask at the early stage of an interview process. As a reminder, candidate questions in the early stage should focus primarily on information gathering and make a good first impression.

For this post, we will set the scene for what typically happens in the second stage of interviews, and we’ll suggest questions you might want to ask when interviewing with hiring managers or other key stakeholders. Unlike the last blog, we won’t go into a lengthy explanation for each suggested question, but rather we’ll focus on the profiles of different interviewers at this stage, what they are looking for, and what you can ask to progress your chances of getting an offer.

It’s becoming very common for interview processes to include two and sometimes three rounds of evaluation-based interviews and to include not just the hiring manager but also other key stakeholders at the company, such as peer groups or project teams. These interviews normally take place in person and onsite. Sometimes they happen all at once, or they might be scheduled over the course of a few days.

We are going to assume a basic interview process, with these interviews occurring as the second of a three-step process. Because of this supposition, we are also going to assume there are more interviews or conversations to proceed, and we will save discussions about the final, decision-making interview - such as negotiation - for the next post. 

Your mission at this stage is very simple, however daunting: make a good impression on your future boss and peers. You’ll need to approach this differently, depending on who sits on the other side of the table. Below is a sample of questions you should ask in those different cases.

What to Ask a Hiring Manager or Key Stakeholders

It goes without saying that these interviews are some of the most important in the process. They have the most to gain or lose by making the right choice when filling this role, so they will be the most critical. They will want to know details about your work history, so be prepared to walk through your resume (and don’t forget printed copies!). They are looking to gain as much insight as they can about your dependability, coachability, and any other attribute that ends with the word “ability.” The questions you ask in this stage should be squarely focused on the role. Here is a list of answers you’ll want to get when you walk away:

  1. What about my skills and qualifications stuck out to you?
  2. How is performance evaluated for this position?
  3. What goals do you expect the person in this job to achieve in the first 30, 60, 90 days?
  4. Can you tell me how this job has been performed in the past, and how you would like to see it improved?
  5. What types of skills do you NOT already have on-board that you would like to see filled?

What to Ask Peers

Save your questions about culture and work-life for the peer interviews, which normally happen in groups. These could be people you will get paired up with on projects or people that report to the same person as your hiring manager. It’s possible they have a protective, tribal mentality for their group or organization, and you will want to show them you respect the culture. This is also your opportunity to clear up any confusion you might have about how work is distributed throughout the organization. Here is a sample of questions you can ask:

  1. How does “X” get done here? (Where “X” is a key element of the job).
  2. What do you like best about working here?
  3. Does the company have formal recognition program? Are special occasions celebrated?
  4. Who is the company’s competition? How is the competition talked about and rated here?
  5. If I were starting this job tomorrow, what advice would you give me?

What You Should Not Ask/Do at This Stage

  • DON’T initiate questions about perks, schedule flexibility, professional development, training budgets, etc., but DO listen carefully and take notes on any information that is shared with you about these programs. You will want to ask follow up questions about these allowances in the negotiation stage, we will go over in the next post of this series.
  • DON’T talk poorly about your last or current boss or job. No good can from this, no matter how obviously toxic the circumstances are, or how desperately you may need to distance yourself from a disreputable person/company. The key to this will be how you walk through the “story” of your resume, so…
  • DON’T wing it! Know exactly what you want to convey when talking about your past experiences and future expectations. The story of your career - and how you tell it - is the most important presentation you make for yourself while interviewing. It cannot be underestimated. Write a script for walking through your resume, and rehearse it with a few people you trust.
  • DON’T ask “gotcha” questions or try to catch anyone in their inconsistencies when they talk about the company or the job. Yes, you are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you, but you would not want to leave a bad impression of yourself by turning it into an interrogation. Simply take notes about what sticks out to you, and bring up any lingering concerns you have with your recruiter the next time you talk. They can act as an intermediary and seek more information on your behalf without it affecting your appearance.

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