The right questions to ask
For most of the job interview, your focus will be on answering questions. However, eventually, you’ll have your turn to ask questions, and it’s in your best interest to make them good ones.
Ask the right questions and you will
- Glean valuable information to guide your future interview answers
- Demonstrate your interest in the opportunity
- Show that you were professional enough to do your research
- Communicate your work values
- Gather data to inform your ultimate decision to accept or reject the job offer
That means your questions should be thoughtful and show you’ve done your homework.
You should be prepared to ask at least two questions in each job interview. You should also come up with a few extras in case your planned questions are answered before you get a chance to ask them.
For each role, you’re sure to have natural questions based on the job description. Often, though, my coaching clients have struggled to come up with smart questions. They worry about how to word their queries and what questions to avoid.
Good questions to ask in an interview
This is one of my favorites because it works on multiple levels.
To help with this challenge and save you some time, here are several questions you can use or adapt for your own purposes. To see my full list of ten go-to questions, check out my book Job Interviewing For Dummies.
Which qualities are most important for a person to excel in this position?
First, with this question, you’re showing that you’re someone who’s driven to excel. You don’t want to just get hired — you want to be a superstar.
Next, it’s a helpful way to gather information beyond the job description and the usual list of requirements. You’re asking the interviewer to focus on the most important aspects and share some details about why they’re critical. This can bring out a lot of useful context about what the job involves and what success looks like to the interviewer.
For this reason, it’s also a question you can ask of any interviewer. You can even ask this same question of multiple people and gain different insights.
What are your company’s (or department’s or team’s) top priorities right now?
This question shows that you care about the top priorities and truly want to understand how you can help.
You can also tailor this question. You can ask about top priorities for the company overall, for the department, for the team, for the initiative, or for the role alone.
Asking this question shows that you take initiative and think critically. It also shows genuine enthusiasm for learning more about the job and a true interest in the interviewer’s perspective on critical upcoming tasks and how you might contribute.
What do you personally like most about working here?
With this question, you show that you’re imagining yourself as part of the team and you’re eager to learn more about the culture and work environment.
By framing it this way, you focus on your interviewer’s personal perspective. This strategy shows respect for their point of view, which can help you build rapport.
Asking for a personal opinion also helps you move past the standard rhetoric of “This place is awesome!” You’re more likely to hear details about what it’s really like to work on the team.
Can you tell me about a typical day on the job?
This question is a bit more general, but if the interviewer hasn’t shared much information about the role, asking this one can help you uncover the insights you need.
You want to know as much as possible about what the job entails so that you can tailor your stories and lead with your greatest hits.
Asking this question is also a good way to translate a long, generalized list of job requirements (the typical job description, in other words) into a true understanding of how the job plays out from day to day.
When the interviewer states that Excel is critical, for example, is it because you have to update a simple spreadsheet every week or because they expect you to spend every waking hour creating pivot tables and advanced financial models? These details can help you determine whether you’d find the job fulfilling.
How to negotiate a job offer
Picture it: You interviewed like a champ, you stood out from the competition, and you landed the job offer. Congratulations!
But wait. Your work isn’t done yet. Now you must ensure that you set yourself up for success by negotiating the best compensation and employment terms possible.
Many applicants simply accept the first offer for fear of jeopardizing it. This approach often leaves money and perks on the table.
Think of it this way: Now you finally have some real power. They want to hire you. They selected you over all the other candidates. You have some leverage to ask for what you want.
Early in the interview process, both you and the employer will likely try to determine if there’s a general match in terms of compensation. Ideally, they will disclose a salary range that is in line with what you’re seeking. This increases the odds that the offer, when it comes, will at least be in the right ballpark.
Determining when to negotiate
There’s always a chance that the initial offer will exceed your expectations and you can skip negotiation and go straight to celebration.
However, most employers leave some room for negotiation when making their first offer.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself before deciding to negotiate:
- Is the offer fair? If you’ve done your research, you will know how the offer compares to the market rate for the position and for your experience and qualifications.
- Does the offer excite you? Beyond basic fairness, the ideal offer would be one that makes you feel you are truly valued and demonstrates that the company would be a great long-term home for you.
- Does there seem to be room to negotiate? Sometimes the company is expecting you to negotiate and has already built in room to increase the offer if you ask for it. In other cases, the company has very firm salary bands and there may not be a budget to go higher. It’s hard to know for sure, but you may be able to pick up some clues during the interview process.
Considering a counteroffer
If you’ve done your research, you’ll know if that initial offer is generous or stingy. If the number seems less than competitive, you should feel free to counter.
However, before you respond, you need to clarify what you want and what’s most important for you at this stage in your career.
If the offer is so low that it makes you seriously question whether to accept it, you don’t have much to lose by trying to negotiate.
If you’re relatively happy with the offer but would be thrilled if it were just a little higher, it probably makes sense to see if they have some flexibility.
If the offer is already very generous, you may want to question whether it’s worth it to push for more.
Other factors to take into consideration here:
- Have you had previous conversations about salary range? If the company has already talked about budget limitations or a range lower than you’d like, you can anticipate a more challenging negotiation.
- How much do they seem to love you? If they really want you, they will be more motivated to make you happy.
- What’s your bottom line? If you have other options and are willing to walk away, you have more leverage. If you really want the job, even if it’s at a lower-than-ideal, you need to be more careful.
Asking for more
If you decide to counter, you must approach the conversation with some diplomacy. After all, you want to get the best possible offer you can get without jeopardizing a “good enough” offer.
First, make it clear that you are delighted to receive an offer and very interested in the position. Express gratitude and establish a friendly basis for the counteroffer.
If you were caught by surprise, it’s okay to ask for a little time to consider the offer. You could say something like, “I’m very excited about the offer, but I’d like a little time to consider the details before making a final decision.”
Then, take a few deep breaths and consider what your counteroffer should be. What number would make you feel 100% happy to accept the offer, keeping in mind the realistic market rate for the position in your location?
Try countering with a number slightly above what would make you happy. The most likely response is that they will reply with an offer higher than the initial number, but lower than what you asked for. From there, the end game is bartering until you reach a number both sides can live with.
Get it in writing!
Once you’ve reached an agreement and accepted the offer, make sure you receive a written offer letter that includes all of the details that were negotiated.
Until you have the offer in writing, it’s just talk. That means you should keep your other options open. Don’t cancel other interviews or announce your new job to everybody you know.
However, once you have the offer in writing and your start date scheduled, it’s time to celebrate! Congratulations on your new job and your excellent interviewing skills.