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Sarah Katz
Sarah Katz

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Interviewing Your Interviewer: How To Know What Questions To Ask At An Interview

Over the course of my job search, I've come to know that most interviews end with the same (terrifying) question - "do you have any questions for me/us?"

At first, this seems like a simple question. The interviewer just wants to know if there's anything they can clarify for you. But this question is so much more than that - most interviewers want you to ask questions, and not just about what you discussed. They want to know that you're interested in learning more about the company - and they often want to see that you did enough research to know what to ask. And if you don't have any questions to ask, interviewers may count that as a point against you.

But this is also an opportunity. It's a chance to figure out if the company would be a good fit for you. Do they check certain boxes on your checklist? Is the reason the interviewer didn't mention a particular type of work you want to do because they don't do that or because it just never came up? How does the company culture support your needs? What "holes" does the team need to fill (and do those holes fit with your skillset)?

It can be tough to be put on the spot and asked to ask questions, but if you prepare some questions in advance, this portion of the interview can very useful. You just need to know what questions to ask, which is where I always struggle. To help me with that, I decided to spend some time thinking about what kinds of questions I should be asking in my next interview. This is certainly not a comprehensive list of all questions that someone could ask or topics to address, but hopefully it will help guide me (and others) through the process of figuring out what questions are most important to find the right fit.

About The Job

  • Tech Stack - Generally by the later part of an interview I know what the company's tech stack is, either from the job description, my company research, or my interviewer giving me an overview of the company. If, for some reason, there are parts of the tech stack that they haven't told me about, I always try to ask - even if I wouldn't be working with the whole stack, I'm still interested to know what it is.
  • Division of Work - If I'm interviewing for a full stack developer/engineer role, I like to ask how much of the focus is front end vs back end. My primary area of interest is front end (although I like having the ability to jump into the back end sometimes), so this helps me figure out if the role could be a fit for me (if it's 90% backend and only a little front end, it's probably not going to keep me interested). If I'm interviewing for a solutions engineer or similar customer-facing role, I want to know how much time is spent interacting with the customer and how much is coding - I'm happy to interact with the customers somewhat (which is a change from my first job search, when I wanted to get as far away from customers as I could), but I want most of my day to be centered around writing the code that the customer needs.
  • Why This Position Is Available - Did someone get promoted out of this position? Leave the company? Or is this a new position that they're creating, either because of an increased work load or because they're starting to do something they've never done before? There are a lot of things that can be learned from asking this question, including growth at the company (if the person is promoted or if they're bringing on new people due to increased work), or what kind of support system you may have (if there's someone there who has done this job before).

About The Logistics/Scheduling

  • Remote/Onsite - An ideal position for me would be one where I'm working in the office, but have the option to take the occasional remote day if I need it. I'd be okay with a position where I'm expected to be in the office all day and can't work remotely at all. But I'm not interested in a remote-only position or a remote-only company, so if I don't already know if there's a desk waiting for me in the office, this is something I have to ask. If you're someone who prefers to work remotely, this is a very important question to ask, because not all companies are set up for that, and you don't want to waste your time interviewing with a company that can't support remote work.
  • Travel - This surprises people (just because of my life situation), but I'm not really interested in travelling for work. It sounds like fun, but I'd probably have a hard time finding food I can eat (beyond PB&J) or finding safe running routes. I'm not against the idea of travelling once in a while, but I don't want it to be a regular part of my job.
  • Working Hours - While I typically plan to be in the office 9:30 AM - 5:30 PM most days (with some adjusted hours during the winter when I have to leave early on Fridays), I like the idea of flexible hours, because that way if my life schedule could potentially affect my work schedule, then it's okay if I come in earlier to leave earlier or come in later to leave later. I wouldn't necessarily see set hours as a red flag, but all other things being equal, I'd choose a job with flexible hours over one with set hours.
  • Working Outside Of Work - I don't want a job where I'm expected to work outside of the office (unless I'm taking a work from home day, of course). While I'm certainly willing to occasionally bring my laptop home and do a little work at night when I have a lot that needs to be done, I want it to be my decision, not the company's expectation. An absolutely ideal situation would be one where, if I don't have enough hours in the office to do my work and can't/don't want to work on it at home, I can go to my manager and explain that and my manager will attempt to lighten my load if possible (which, granted, is not always possible, especially at smaller companies that may not have enough available people to take on more work).

About The Company

  • What They Do - Hopefully between my company research and what the interviewer tells me, I should already have an overview of what the company does. I don't necessarily need to know every tiny little detail, but if I have any questions about the company and how their mission might relate to my job, I might ask about that.
  • How Are They Successful - This is especially relevant for startups, but can apply to any company. I have a little experience in the nonprofit sector, and I've learned from there that I really want to work for a company that doesn't have to worry about making payroll every month. This can be a hard question to ask (which is why I actually rarely ask it), but it's important for me to know that the company is financially solvent and will be able to pay me (and stay in business long enough for me to do my job).
  • How Do They Want To Grow - It's hard for a company to stay in business by maintaining the status quo. It's important to me that I work for a company that is looking towards its future and knows how they will continue to increase the value of their product (whether that means adding more value for their existing customers or bringing in new customers). I've also found that companies that have a vision for the growth of the company are eager to bring on employees who want to grow with the company, which aligns with my career goals.

About The Culture

  • What Team Activities They Love - I want to work for a company that does team activities. Ultimately, I'm there to do work, learn stuff, help the company help their customers, and make money (can't ignore that one), but I also enjoy doing fun stuff with awesome people, so I want to know what fun things the team does. I also want there to be a variety - I'm not a board game person, so I wouldn't want to work somewhere where board games is the only activity (although I am a beer person and I still wouldn't want to work somewhere where beer was the only activity), but I'd be totally happy with a company that does board game night and baseball outings. Basically, I'm looking for a company where the team activities vary to ensure that there's something for everyone.
  • Is The Culture Forced - I don't usually ask in these exact words, but I do try to get a sense of whether the team outings and company culture events are "attendance required/strongly suggested" or if people can come and go as they please. As much as I want to work for a company that does fun team activities, I also want the option of not participating in these activities if I have other plans or if I'm not interested - I want a company that has team events because they know people want to spend time together, not to force them to spend time together.
  • "Out Of Nowhere" Questions - These are the questions I ask that seem really out of left field, but I like to see what the answers tell me about the company. For example, I recently asked a group of interviewers what their favorite non-work Slack channels are, which I asked to try to get a sense of what (if anything) people talk about at work other than work. Another question I like to ask is what my interviewer likes most about the company - basically, I want to get them to give me some insight into life at the company outside of the day-to-day responsibilities.

About The Office

Just a note on this section - I rarely ask most of these questions because I get most of the answers if I'm brought in for an onsite. But these are considerations that I have, so I wanted to list them, especially because I might ask if I don't see enough of the office during my onsite.

  • Do Teams Sit Together? - This is the one question that I do sometimes ask (although not always in this exact wording). While communicating via email and Slack is great, sometimes I find it's easier for me to go over to a co-worker's desk to chat, so I want to know if I will be sitting near the people I'd be interacting with and how easy it will be for us to collaborate.
  • Floor Plan - Are there cubicles? Tables? Offices? Couches? Most of the companies I've seen have either cubicles long tables of workstations. My preference is definitely the tables (I don't love the walled-in nature of cubicles), but I'm not super picky about this.
  • Kitchen/Food - While I'm not interested in whether or not the company provides catered lunches (because most likely they don't provide food I can eat), I am interested in whether they provide other things in the kitchen, like snacks and coffee. I'm a big coffee drinker (more for the taste than the caffeine), and during the summer a big cold brew drinker, so having hot coffee and cold brew available in the kitchen can be a big money and time saver for me. I tend to bring my own snacks, but if the company stocks snacks that I can eat (and enjoy), it saves me from having to bring my own snacks, which saves me money, cabinet space (because I don't have to store snacks at my apartment), and time (because I'm not spending time packing snacks in the morning).

About The Bigger Picture

  • How Can This Position/Employee Grow - This is a fairly standard question, but can also be an important one. I don't want to spend the rest of my life doing the same thing every day in the same position (for the same amount of money), so I want to know if the company has a vision for how someone in this position can grow and what that growth looks like.
  • Mentorship - This is connected to the above. Would I be expected to forge my own path or would someone be there to help guide me? I'm not always the best at advocating for myself, so having someone to help me be sure I'm on the right path can be very helpful.
  • Management Style - Are managers very hands-on or do they take a more hands-off "I'm available but won't come to you" type of approach? These different styles work best for different people, and based on my recent experience, I think I am someone who will do better in a position where my manager is very involved and seeks out opportunities to check in on how I'm doing.

It's also important to pay attention to what your interviewer says and see if there's anything that raises questions. For example, if the interviewer asks a lot of questions about your experience with testing frameworks, you may want to ask if they practice test-driven development or about their test coverage. This both makes you sound knowledgeable about best practices and gives you an idea of if the coding environment may be right for you.

You should also have "answers" for every question you ask, because your interviewer may realize that what you're asking is important and try to ask more questions to determine if the fit is right in this area. For example, if you're asking about management styles at the company, you should also be able to articulate what management styles help you to do your best work, and if you're interviewing for a management-level position, you should be able to talk about your management style and how it has brought you success in the past.

Any google search will give you a list of "must ask" questions for your interviewer. These questions can be a great starting point (in case the list above didn't help you), but understand that just because a website says it's a must-ask question, that doesn't mean you have to ask it. If the questions on that list aren't relevant to the position you're interviewing for and you don't think the answers will help you decide whther or not to take the job should it be offered to you, it's okay to prioritize non-traditional questions. While you want to come out of the interview having given your interviewer(s) the knowledge that you're the best candidate for the job, it's also important for you to find out if the job is right for you, and one of the best ways to do that is by asking the questions that matter to you.

Top comments (3)

martincarles profile image
Martin Carles

Thank you, great article. I've noticed that interviewers are not commonly asked that many questions.
Asking the right questions to people, and sometimes not having an answer because they just don't know is also way to gain more control of the interview process, it gives you more power. An interview is a 2-way process, from my point of view, I'm interviewing the company to see if we would work together.

ashleemboyer profile image
Ashlee (she/her)

Great post! I totally wish I had something like before my first job. If I may add, knowing your “dealbreakers” for interview questions is also important. After my first work experience, my largest dealbreaker for a new job was being able to work on accessibility. I brought it up several times during over all of my interviews so I could gauge on my own how people responded to it.

sarahscode profile image
Sarah Katz

Yes! That's a great point! If there's something that's a dealbreaker for you, it absolutely should be asked during the interview process so that you can see if the company feels the same way you do about the things that matter most to you.