The best questions to ask an interviewer

A job interview may be your best chance to highlight why you're a strong candidate for an opening, but the most successful interviews tend to be more like conversations than sales pitches. Hiring managers need to know how you can benefit the company, but they also want firsthand evidence of your communication skills and your genuine interest in the position.

By taking time before your interview to consider the best questions to ask, you stand a better chance of not only coming across as an engaged professional, but also getting all the information you need to determine whether the opportunity is the right one for you.

Below are several essential pieces of information you can collect from the interview, assuming you ask the right questions.

Career advancement opportunities

A straightforward question may be the best way to broach this subject. For example, you might ask, "What's the expected career path for the person who takes this job?" or, "What kinds of career development programs do you have in place?"

Following up with a more specific question or two can yield even more insight. For instance, you might ask, "Who held this position previously, and where is that person now?" Whether you learn that the person has advanced within the company, moved on to a position at a new firm or left the organization under unfavorable circumstances, you've gathered valuable clues about both the employer and the role.

The corporate culture

If you're like most job candidates, you'd love to know how well you'll mesh with your manager and co-workers, and whether your own style will clash with the company's. You can gain a partial sense of the corporate culture during your visits to the office by observing how employees interact. To supplement those impressions, a forthright question such as, "How would you describe the corporate culture?" may suffice.

But you may gain deeper insight — and engage your interviewer more directly — by asking a more personal question, such as, "What attracted you to the firm, and why have you stayed here?" Questions about behavior can also help you fill out your mental portrait of the workplace: for example, "How often do employees work late hours?"

How interesting the work will be

By asking about the specific projects and problems a typical day on the job will entail, you demonstrate your interest in finding an opportunity that stimulates you. Asking, "How would you describe a typical day for this position?" is a good way to start developing a feel for the day-to-day realities of the work.

If you're concerned the job may involve too little of the work that interests you the most, consider a follow-up question, such as, "About how much of my time would be spent working with VB.Net development?" Keep in mind, however, that your interviewer may respond by asking whether this percentage suits you.

The company's stability and financial condition

Given recent economic conditions, hiring managers understand that candidates are concerned about a potential employer's stability and financial outlook. Don't hesitate to ask questions such as, "What are the company's priorities or plans for the future?" or, "How has the company performed in the aftermath of past downturns?" Doing so suggests that you're interested in a long-term engagement with the firm.

If you ask the right questions of the interviewer, you can also accomplish two other important goals:

  • Show the hiring manager that you know your stuff. Asking detailed, up-to-date questions about the potential employer can demonstrate that you've spent time researching the challenges facing the company. Examples of such questions might include, "What technical hurdles has the IT team faced since you consolidated several local branches?" or, "How has the company's call center volume been affected by the launch of the new line of service?"
  • Reaffirm your interest in the position. Assuming you're still interested in the position after speaking to the hiring manager, your final goal during the interview should be to show that you're even more excited about the opportunity than when you submitted your résumé. "What are the next steps in the hiring process?" and, "When can I expect to hear from you next?" are simple questions that express your ongoing interest.

Hiring managers interview plenty of applicants who appear eager to receive a job offer — any job offer. By asking the right questions, you distinguish yourself as a candidate who's interested in a mutually beneficial working relationship. Such candidates aren't only more likely to become long-term assets to the company — they're also more likely to ask the kinds of questions that lead to future innovation.

Dave Willmer is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals for initiatives ranging from e-business development and multiplatform systems integration to network security and technical support. The company has more than 100 locations worldwide and offers online job search services at www.rht.com. For additional career advice, follow us on Twitter at twitter.com/roberthalftech.

This story, "The best questions to ask an interviewer" was originally published by Computerworld.

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