From time to time, I have people ask me for advice on how to kill their job interview.
One thing I never get asked is: “What questions should I ask the interviewer?”
But here’s the thing: In my experience, the questions you ask the interviewer are just as important, if not more so, than the ones they ask you.
The right questions can not only impress your interviewer and show them you’re serious about the job, but they can also get you the vital information you need to make the right decision. Remember: This is a two-way street, and the job interview is also a chance for you to get to know the role and determine if it’s the right fit.
When I was first looking for jobs, I used to ask just any old questions to make sure I was meeting this requirement in job interviews. But after working with a few bad seeds, I take those questions very seriously, because I never want to work for a bad boss or in a bad culture ever again.
You should follow my lead, because your boss and internal culture have a massive effect on your happiness, even when you’re not at work.
In this post, I share all the most pertinent questions to ask that will help you make sure the company and role you’re interviewing for is actually right for you.
Before you start: Who is interviewing you?
Before you can decide what some good questions to ask an interviewer are, you need to be sure you have a good understanding of whom you’ll be speaking with during the interview. Hopefully, your interviewer will tell you ahead of time, but if not, you can politely ask to get more intel.
Once you know who will be in the room (or on the Zoom interview), you can tailor your questions. In general, there will be three types of people you might meet in an interview:
Your future manager. This is the most common scenario, and many of the questions on this list are relevant. But if you’re meeting with someone who may be your manager in the future, you know you can focus on things like your roles and responsibilities.
Your future colleagues. Sometimes jobs give you a chance to meet people who will be on your team or on the same level as you once you start. Good interview questions for these folks can be about their day-to-day jobs or company culture.
Leadership in the organization. Perhaps the CEO or other members of the company’s upper echelons will be in the interview. If so, ask questions about the company’s history and overall mission, and how you will fit into the big picture if you take the role.
Let’s break this down a bit more and get into some good questions to ask in an interview with each group.
Good questions to ask in an interview with a manager
1. What did you do before this?
This question sounds innocent enough, but it can give you a lot of juicy information about the potential job. For starters, you can figure out how long your manager has been at the company—if they’re a new hire themselves, that might be a bad sign that the company struggles with retention. (Though in some cases, it just may be a sign of fast growth.)
The other insight you can glean from this question is how much they know about how to do your job (or how much they think they know about how to do your job).
If they don’t have experience in this role (e.g., a non-technical engineering manager), then it’ll likely be harder to communicate and sell them on why you should use a specific tool or method, for instance.
2. How did you become a manager?
You want to understand why your prospective boss is a manager in the first place.
Were they promoted into the position? If so, what was the journey like for them to get there? Did they come from somewhere else? What past experiences helped them get the role they have today?
You can also use this question to find out what growth opportunities there may be for you in the future. If it seems like people are frequently promoted into upper-level positions from within, then that may indicate you’ll be able to grow in this position as well.
3. What is your team’s biggest challenge currently?
If they say their biggest challenge is “hiring,” push back with: “What’s your second biggest challenge?” The first is a weak answer.
This is another good question to ask an interviewer to make sure there’s a level of awareness within the company. No business is perfect, so if you’re met with blank stares, it’s not a good sign.
Their answers will depend on:
- The manager’s awareness of the problem.
- The manager’s willingness to be honest.
- The seriousness of the problems on the team.
It might be good to ask this question to coworkers, too, to see if there’s a disconnect—another sign of dysfunction.
4. How will you measure performance for this role?
First, I’m trying to see how hands-on they’re going to be (i.e., how much trust and autonomy they’ll give me).
If they have very specific KPIs, with no reason for picking these metrics, I’m leery, and I begin to lose interest.
If they are looking for this person to make a recommendation for their KPIs, I like that answer the most. I believe KPIs should be mutually agreed upon, not forced down someone’s throat. I want to know if they think something is a bad KPI and if they have a compelling reason(s) why X would be better.
Last but not least, I’m interested in how performance is tied to raises and/or bonuses. That’s why I like to agree to specific, high-impact KPIs that I’m pretty confident I can deliver on in a specific time frame so I increase my paycheck.
5. How will I get feedback about my performance?
Candid, respectful feedback accelerates your career, because it’s pushing your skills (hard or soft) to the next level. That’s why this is such a good question to ask in an interview—it will ensure they have a feedback structure in place.
When assessing their response to this question, you want to be sure that feedback comes regularly, not just in a single performance review at the end of the year. You also want to make sure that it’s scheduled—ad hoc feedback isn’t useful, especially when you’re new at your job.
Another good, more specific version of this question could be: Can you tell me about a time you helped someone improve their performance?
6. What happens when I meet goals/KPIs?
The way you word this question will depend on the interviewer’s previous answers and the size of the company.
If it’s a startup question, I’d ask the question I listed above, because it’s easier to negotiate competitive, stretch goals and what you get when you reach each one. The faster you meet them, the faster you get a raise.
A more corporate company will most likely tie annual performance reviews to annual pay raises, which are only scheduled once or a few times a year. In that case, ask: Do you do annual salary increases?
Your wages should be adjusted to match your contribution and progress, and it should be reviewed at least once a year.
Here are some good questions that managers shouldn’t be afraid to tackle:
- How do you budget for raises?
- What was last year’s median raise on your team (in percent)?
- How much salary increase could I expect one year from now? Best case, worst case?
Good questions to ask in an interview with coworkers
Note: Customize these questions further based on the team you’ll be on and what the prospective role will be doing.
1. How do you decide what to work on each day?
This is a simple question that can give you a lot of information. In their answers, your potential colleagues will give you insights into the specific tasks they are working on, and how they prioritize their work.
This will also give you a glimpse into what the management style is like. Ideally, your colleagues will demonstrate that they have control over their workload and how they like to work. But listen carefully for hints that they’re being micromanaged—this is a big red flag.
2. What tools do you use regularly?
This answer will obviously be different for every industry, but it’s an important question to ask. You’ll be spending a massive amount of time in different software and apps to do your job, so make sure you actually enjoy using them (or are at least interested in learning).
If you have a tool preference, keep this in mind. Will you be miserable every day if you’re forced to use a buggy, custom-built CMS as opposed to WordPress? Or do you really not care?
A few years ago, I was interviewing for a marketing position at a small startup, and I let this one slide when I shouldn’t have.
The team was run by engineers, so everything was custom-built—even the email marketing system and the CMS. I knew this before going in, and it didn’t turn out well.
They didn’t see a problem with their tech stack, and I was miserable every day because I couldn’t effectively do my job without proper marketing tools.
If they mention a tool you’re not familiar with, Google it, sign up for a free trial, and ask the interviewer how they like using it.
Good tools = good team. A team’s toolbox can tell you things like how much the team knows about its industry and how much leadership values the team.
3. How do you collaborate at work?
Everyone has their own preferred methods of communication. Some of us are die-hard email fans, while others prefer instant-messaging apps like Slack—and others just want to chat face to face.
Though you may be willing to compromise on how you communicate and collaborate with your employees, asking this question will not only tell you what channels you’ll be using, but also what some of the expectations are around working hours.
In particular, I like to know if they have specific hours they typically work and what times they’re required to be online and available.
Are you expected to respond to messages in a certain amount of time? How late is too late?
- How would you describe the work environment here?
- Is the work typically collaborative or more independent?
4. What do you like about working here?
A long silent pause is a bad response here.
- “It pays the bills.”
- “It’s easy.”
- “There isn’t a lot of pressure to deliver.”
Instead, you want to hear answers like…
- “I enjoy what I do.”
- “I have fun at work.”
- “I love working with smart, driven, open-minded people.”
- “The company values [your department/what you do].”
Every team member doesn’t need to gush over the company, but you definitely want more good answers than bad.
Side note: Glassdoor could also help demystify this question for you as well.
5. How do you measure your progress in this job?
To be successful in your role, you’ll need to have clear benchmarks from day one. This question will help you figure out what those are, so you can gauge whether they’re realistic or not.
If no one on the team is measuring their progress, they’re not improving, which will mean you won’t be improving either. Or if they don’t seem to place value on measuring stuff in the first place, it’s usually a sign of laziness or ineptitude, both of which are negative. It’s pretty hard to change cultures like this, in my experience at least.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, if the interviewer has a good answer to this question, it’s a great sign that they’re a high-caliber team.
A good follow-up question is: “Why are you measuring X?”
If the answer is bloated and vague, be leery. They should have a good reason for why they’re measuring what they are, and if they don’t, you might be in for a rude awakening when it comes time to start work.
Metrics should always yield actionable insights.
- What is the overarching success metric for the entire company?
- What is your source of truth? (i.e., Google Analytics, Facebook, Intercom, etc.)
6. What teams do you collaborate with the most?
The bigger the company, the more cross-collaboration.
If you haven’t worked at a big company before, then you’ll likely be weirded out by how many people must buy into what you want to do, even when those people aren’t experts in what you do.
For example, as a marketer, I often work with the product team, the engineering team, and the design team, to name a few.
In the answers to this question, make sure that the responses make sense. In your experience, did they list the teams you would expect to be working with? Or does it sound more like teams are siloed, and collaboration is stifled?
- Which team/leader has the most influence on decisions usually?
- Which team do you like working with the best? Why?
- Which team do you work with the least often? Why?
Questions for leadership
1. Is the company profitable?
I hate to burst any bubbles here, but there are a lot of “unicorns” that aren’t profitable. They just have an obscene valuation. Valuation and profitability are not the same things.
It’s not a good idea to take a job at a company that’s not planning for long-term success. Usually, company culture suffers the closer they get to closing their doors, and ultimately, you’ll be left without a job.
If they’re not profitable, what’s the plan for becoming profitable? Or do they not care and want a well-funded exit or IPO in the future?
A more important question is: What’s your runway? How long could the company operate before raising more capital?
If they’re a SaaS company, a great question to also ask is: What is your churn rate? This tells you how fast people are deleting their subscriptions.
A high churn rate is not good. It means people are deleting their accounts at high rates, usually because the product sucks.
2. How would you describe the company culture?
You’re looking for answers that tell you how the company operates and what it values most.
It might be helpful to get the coworker interviewers to answer this question as well, to see if there are any discrepancies.
Sometimes leadership is out of touch with how things work for their employees. Or they just talk the talk and don’t walk the walk, so pay attention to very different answers from employees and leadership here.
Side note: A lot of companies have culture decks today. Google “[company name] culture deck” or “[company name] internal culture.” Or just visit their “about” page, or scroll to the footer and look for pages like “mission,” “values,” or “culture.”
The company values should not only match your own, but they should also be in the same order of importance, only if you want to steer clear of conflicts, of course.
3. Why did you start/join this company?
Is there a greater purpose for working here? Is there a meaningful story?
I care more about their demeanor than their specific answer here.
I can get excited about pretty much anything if you have a good story and are compellingly passionate about why you are doing something and why I should be doing it too.
With passionate people, you’ll usually just “feel” this amazing energy. They make you feel really excited about solving an interesting problem that affects a lot of people.
4. Tell me about your reporting structure
It would be ideal to see an org chart here if you haven’t already, but if not, you can at least get an idea of the company structure by asking this question.
First, if you haven’t met your manager directly by this point, you may want to ask if you’ll have a chance to meet with them before deciding on the role.
Beyond that, listen carefully for signs of micromanaging in their answer. Is everyone expected to report directly to the CEO? If so, the boss may have control issues and cause major bottlenecks that will be a huge pain when you start working.
Interviews are a two-way street
Not asking *good* questions in a job interview makes you look desperate.
Jobs are mutually beneficial relationships. Start treating them as such.
Know what you’re worth, what you want, your values (prioritized), and who you want work with on the reg. This will help inform your decision once you get the answers to the above questions.
Looking for even more advice on how to nail an interview? We’ve got you covered. Here are a few more resources to check out: