March 01, 2010, 1:25 PM — 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?"