5 questions every candidate should ask in an interview

Working in the Talent Acquisition world I have the chance to talk with a great number of people.  Contrary to popular belief, most of the conversations I will have are NOT with candidates.  Most of my conversations are more networking than finding out if someone is a good fit for a client our firm is working with.

I do have the chance to speak with many candidates and the majority of them are prepared for my call.  I am always telling my candidates and those I work with as a volunteer in career transition that the interview is two-way discussion, a dialogue, where the candidate should be taking the opportunity to interview the firm in a manner similar to how the firm is interviewing them.  Sadly, most candidates do not grasp this, at least they do not early in their career.  I do find that some candidates are very savvy in their approach and I have run across some candidates that can almost take over an interview.  This can sometimes be positive or negative, so if you are a proactive candidate who likes to ask many questions, be sure to read the room and those you are speaking with to make sure you are not overstepping your bounds.

Regardless of the time, place or role, every candidate should be asking questions of firms they are speaking with.  I have prepared a short list of questions that I find are most useful when asked by the candidate.  Asking these questions will show your client that you have done your homework, that you are prepared and aware of not only their needs, but also thinking about your own career.

Let’s look at these five questions:

  1. Why is this role available?  While this may seem somewhat basic in nature, it shows the firm that you realize they are a business.  Roles are not created out of “thin air”.  Either the role is a new role, a combination of other roles, or a replacement for someone who used to work with the firm.  If the role is open due to someone leaving, take care in how you approach this.  Being to pointed might put some firms on the defensive.  To the contrary, asking where the prior holder of the role has gone may shed some insight into whether the firm is the type of firm you want to work for.  You can also learn more about why people leave from sources like or from friends inside the firm or who know the firm.
  2. What career path is available for someone in this role?  By asking this question you can show the client that you understand that every role is a starting point.  I would not ask this first because it might give the appearance that you are only interested in the next opportunity and not the one at hand.  Asking this also will help you gain insight into how the firm may provide both vertical and lateral advancement opportunities.
  3. What key characteristics or skills do successful incumbents in this role possess?  This can be a good way to connect what you do well to what they clients sees as key qualities for a successful team member.  Rather than selling yourself first, always ask this question to learn what the firm values.  You will learn quickly if you are the right fit or if you are fishing in the wrong pond.
  4. What type of person is not successful in your firm?  While this seems to just be the contra version of the previous question, it can also help you understand more about what the firm does or does not value in a candidate.  Pay close attention to not only what is said, but how it is said.  Being able to hear emphasis on certain qualities will be insightful as you continue the interview.
  5. What other roles in your firm might my experience and skills be a fit for?  This is more of a follow up question, but it also shows that you are interested in the firm and not just a specific role.  It would behoove you to know more about the firm and related roles before you ask this, if possible.  By doing so you can show the firm you have done some research above and beyond the norm to understand who they are.  Showing a potential firm that you are interested in being “part of the family” can tip the balance in your favor.

Five simple questions, like these, can make the difference between success and failure.  Candidates need to be aware that they are interviewing the firm just as the firm is interviewing them.  Failure to do so will probably lead to disappointment and lack of engagement on both sides.

Do your homework and ask these questions and others when you have your interview.  I believe by doing so you will learn just where you will be the best fit as you advance your career.