Your turn — asking the right interview questions for you

You’re anticipating an interview for your dream job. You’ve done your homework — researched the organization’s website, searched the blogosphere for commentary, and tapped your network for the inside story. You’ve practiced telling your stories in a problem/solution format in anticipation of behavioral interview questions that probe details of your past experience to better predict your success.

But there’s still one really important item on your preparation checklist: coming up the “right” questions to ask your prospective employer. Typically, you’ll have at most 5 or 10 minutes to address your questions, so you want to ask the ones that really count. So what are the right questions? OK, that’s a trick question. The truth is, there is no one-size-fits-all list of questions for every interview scenario. The only right answer is to ask the questions that if given the opportunity will help you decide whether this job is really the one for you.

Here are some guidelines to help get you started:

Think about behavioral interviewing in reverse. Just as an employer asking you to list your strengths is less helpful than asking you a question that demonstrates them, asking a prospective employer a general question such as “what is your culture?” will likely result in a pretty general, superficial response. If you want to understand the culture, why not take a page from your interviewer’s book and ask about, say, a time when the company went through a very stressful period and how they handled it?

Interested in whether the company promotes from within? Instead of asking the question in a yes/no format, you might ask for examples of people who came up through the ranks in the department where you are interviewing. What is the interviewer’s own history there? Remember, you don’t want to come across as an interrogator. You want to demonstrate healthy, completely appropriate curiosity.

Show you’ve done your homework but be wary of asking “showboat” questions that won’t really add to your own decision-making process. For example, if your role will have an international focus or you are interested longer term in an international assignment, you might learn a lot by asking your interviewers to expand on the website description of their presence in Tokyo or Sydney. But if this is not a focus of either the role or your longer-term interests, you probably don’t want to use one of your precious question opportunities there.

Strike a balance between questions that show you have done a thorough research job and those that reflect your true interests. Not only will you come across as more engaged and sincere — because you will be! — but you will also come away with knowledge that will inform your career search. Besides, employers can usually detect formulaic questions, the ones that sound like “I’m asking this because I’m supposed to,” a mile away.

Any questions?

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