The art of asking questions at an interview when you’re the candidate

Meg Burton


Congratulations, you’ve got an interview! Now the hard work really starts.

As a candidate it’s worth remembering that there’s a part of the interview during which you’re in control of the questions. It’s normally at the end (after the hard work is over!) and you need to make the most of the opportunity. Remember that you’re still being judged, even when you’re the one asking the questions. You should have up to six questions prepared and bank on having time to ask around three.

Is there such a thing as a wrong question?

Absolutely. This is a fairly short opportunity for you to show off a bit of your research about the company, but also to seek information about what’s important to you. Don’t waste it asking how many days holiday you will get as this is likely to be non-negotiable and will only become relevant if you’re offered the job. Salary and benefits fall into this category too.

So how do you decide which questions to ask?

Deciding what to ask should come fairly easily if you’ve done your homework. Before any interview you should have:

Spent time thinking about your values and what you’re looking for in a company – not a job. This could cover simple things like flexible working and location, but is likely to also include more sophisticated measures like culture and perhaps CSR activity

Researched the company – see my other blog posted yesterday on deciding whether a company is the right one for you

Identified topics you want to explore to help you decide whether you will really enjoy the job and what you will be doing, and whether you’d like to work there

Common questions

Regardless of what specific information you want to seek, there are some simple questions you might always want to ask. These could include:
What’s the structure of the team?

Who are the major stakeholders for the role?

What does a typical day/week in the role look like?

How is performance monitored and evaluated?

Killer questions

I’ve been asked some super questions in my time working in corporate HR teams. My favourite was a young person who asked me what were my top three reasons for joining the company, and whether it lived up to my expectations. This was a great way to uncover information about the culture of the organisation and the motivation of its employees.

Other questions should show your research and interest in the business, for example:

I’ve noticed your company values are prominent on your website and social media; can you tell me how these are lived across the organisation?

I’ve noticed that you’ve recently won a new contract/an award (insert information from your research here). Can you tell me a bit more about that please?

There’s a section on CSR on your website. How do employees get involved?

As well as listening to the content of the answers, you should be watching the eye contact and body language of the interviewer to see what you can glean. Did any of the questions make them uncomfortable? Did the answers come easily? Were they able to give you specific examples, or were they a little sketchy on the detail?

What to do with the information

If you discover something you really don’t like during the answers to your questions, think about what you’ve learned and, if necessary, discuss with your recruitment contact why this means you’re not keen on working for that company.

Make a note of what you’ve learned so you can remind yourself the next time you are researching a company. It may influence your decision on whether or not to apply for a job.

Meg Burton is a career coach specialising in helping people land their dream job. See more at

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