5 Questions You Should Ask in an Interview to Show You Mean Business

And we don’t mean "how many holidays do I get?"

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Words by Lisa Hughes
January 20th, 2017

That Awkward Moment When… a job interviewer asks if you have any questions and your mind goes completely blank. We’ve all been there, but that doesn’t exactly quell the sinking ‘OMG, kill my jobless ass now’ feeling, does it?

Wrapping up a job interview with a friendly ‘any questions?’ is really just a formality, a nicer way of signalling that your ‘I’m really great! Totally not begging for a job here’ session is over, without just pointing you to the nearest exit.

Formality or not, that final ‘have you got any questions for us?’ is also your moment to shine, to show you know the company inside-out and to wipe the floor with the competition. No pressure, guys.

Career coaches say that interviews are as much an opportunity for you to quiz the potential employer as it is for them to find out your life story. Even though we know you’ve applied for 20 jobs this week and just want a job that’ll feed your Zara addiction, you want to show them that you’re interested in this particular company and not just any job that pays hard cash.

To help you fill up any awkward interview silences, here are 5 questions to ask in a job interview.

1. What’s the best thing about working here?

This innocent-sounding question is an easy way to suss out company culture. You could go one step further and follow the advice of Marshall Durr on Medium who swears by a more personal “I was wondering what your best moment so far at [Company Name] was?” According to Durr, this simple question gets the interviewer to open up – maybe even shed the odd tear – and never fails to give an insight into company life, as well as creating a bit of memorable bonhomie between you both.

2. Do you offer any opportunities to upskill, further education or training on the job?

By asking about future development, you’re showing that you are hungry to learn more, that you will evolve in the role and won’t become another cog in the machine. If this question seems to bamboozle your interviewer or they reply with a tepid ‘you might get to attend a course at some point’ that might be a sign that it’s a career cul de sac, not a stepping stone to greatness.

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3. Who previously held this position and where did he or she move on to?

Your ideal answer to this would be along the lines of “Amy was headhunted to succeed Anna Wintour at Vogue after doing this job. Can you believe it?!” but you could also find out that the last three employees barely lasted 6 months. Hello there, alarm bells! If the answer is in fact ‘no one – this is a brand new role’ this is your cue to ask about why the job was created and the key things you’d be expected to achieve. Another way to phrase this is ‘What have previous employees achieved in this position?’ and ask to hear about projects he/she worked on. As well as displaying your keen interest in the work, this is also a way for you to see whether the job at hand is the challenge you’re looking for.

4. Do your homework and use it wisely (without sounding like a stalker).

Research the company before the interview to the point where you practically have a PhD in it and ask a question relevant to your role but also shows you know where they’re at. For example, “I see you are about to launch a new menswear line. How is my role involved in this?” Ask about possible merger talks, exciting new launches, how they attract new business, whether you’ll interact with the hotly tipped new CEO, mention a letter you read in The Irish Times that was penned by the company’s founder. Use what you’ve learned as a springboard for an intelligent question about where the company is headed – and how their expectations of you will feed into this. It’s easy to say you know the company but to beat the competition you need to show it.

5. When can I start?

Add a winning smile and you’re gold. Unless you’ve had a nightmare interview – we’re talking Spud’s interview in Trainspotting here – this somewhat cheeky question exudes an enthusiasm to get cracking. Even if you don’t get the job, no one will ever knock you for Anne Hathaway-style enthusiasm. Also, it’s always essential to establish what their decision-making process is like so you’re not agonising by the phone for the next 6 weeks.

What not to ask…

Generally, it’s not a good idea to ask about pay or benefits (AKA the stuff you really want to know) as this can make it seem like you only care about what the company can do for you, rather than what you’ll bring to the job. Save the nitty gritty questions for the job offer.

Now, go slay that interview!