Art of the Interview: Any Questions?

At the end of an interview, you’ll be asked, “Do you have any questions for us?” If you’ve read up on interviewing, you’ll know you should have some questions prepared. And if you’ve looked for advice about what to ask, you’ll get some common suggestions: What does it take to be successful in this job? What’s the company or department culture like here? What’s the biggest challenge you’re facing?

But there are few problems here. Common advice leads to common behavior; follow it and you risk sounding like a cliché. Questions more specific to the organization—that can only be posed to them in particular—avoid that problem. Specific questions also reflect better on you, because they require more research and careful thinking on your part.

Before asking a question—even a specific one—first ask yourself: do you really care what the answer is?

If not, keep looking for something you actually would like to know (as long as it’s not a self-interested question about salary and benefits; that’s one common piece of advice to follow). Also, if you already know you want the job, it’s good to say so! “Well, I already know that I want this job, so I don’t have any questions to help me decide that. But there is this one thing I’m wondering about….”

Finally, while everyone will tell you to ask some questions, few will indicate how many. I recommend two, at most. Asking a bunch of questions as a way to show interest will only try the patience of the interviewer, who asked if you have any questions mostly as a polite formality. What they really want is for the interview to wrap up so they can get on with their day.

This is especially true for first-round phone interviews (a ‘phone screen’). For these I recommend keeping it short and simple: “There are a lot of questions I could ask, but I’m happy to save those for later. Right now, I’d just like you to know that I’m really interested in the position, so I’m curious about the next steps you have planned for this process.”

If you keep these issues in mind, you’ll increase your chances of leaving a positive impression on your interviewers.

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