You've worked hard to get an interview, and now it feels like everything is on the line. What's the best approach to ensure a great interview? Based on my experience working with professionals with varied backgrounds and experience, I'd have to stay that figuring out what to ask on the interview is where many people get stuck. They know they should ask something, but what? During most (if not all) interviews, you will be asked "Do you have any questions?" and I say respond with a confident "Absolutely!"
Smart candidates know that they are also interviewing the company to figure out whether it's going to be a good move for them too. I hate hearing from clients "If I had known "X," I would never have taken the job." Do your homework up front and you'll lessen the risk of making a poor decision.
I'm assuming you've done your pre-interviewing homework: researching the company's strategic direction, vision/mission, latest press/public relations articles, and preparing killer, highly illustrative answers to the common interview questions. Now you're ready to ask some compelling questions of your own.
Here are some of my favorite questions that have come out of my years of coaching professionals through the interview process:
In your experience, what do you feel makes someone successful in this position?
Especially if you've found out that the last person in the position only lasted a short time or was promoted -- this will tell you a lot about management styles and the organization's culture.
Can you describe your management style?
Ask your potential colleagues to describe the management style of your new boss too. What kinds of people seem to succeed at this company or in this department? Do you like working with driven, ambitious people, or do you prefer a more relaxed and supportive environment? Look for clues in the answers here.
What do you like best about working here?
Use the responses as a great tool to compare/contrast their answers and your experience to determine what rings true for you. Don't buy the hype – ask follow-up questions too.
What changes do you anticipate in the next year or so?
Is there a merger in the future, or changes in the industry? Are there other significant management shifts in store? Be on the lookout for opportunities and red flags. "Know thyself" too -- if you're not one who enjoys change, you might not to work for a company that's undergoing significant reorganization.
What would you like to be able to say about this position one year from now?
This might reveal their true expectations, good and bad. What are the top five challenges/opportunities that you see this position facing during the first year? How does their answer fit with what else they've shared? Do you get the sense that there might be unrealistic expectations? Or, if it's a new position, is it being created to solve a particular problem? Ask follow-up questions here.
What is the typical career path of this position?
In other words, where do people go when they move on or leave? Look for clues as to opportunities for advancement, or if this would be an opportunity to gain experience to meet a long-term career goal.
How will the hiring decision be made?
Don't be afraid to ask! This should help you gauge the timeline as well as get a glimpse into the process they use to make decisions -- e.g. by consensus or by committee.
Above all, listen carefully to the answers. Jot down key words or phrases. Ask follow-up questions that flow and make sense.