By Patrick Mullane
Job interviews are stressful events. Even if the interviewer tries to put you at ease, you know you’re being evaluated. But many who throw themselves into prospecting for a new job forget it’s a two-way street: Not only is the company evaluating you, but you’re also evaluating the company. At some point in the discussion, they’ll turn the floor over to you and ask, “Do you have any questions for me?”
In my 30-year career, I’ve learned this is a critical moment that many interviewees flub. Candidates forget that when they’re given control of the discussion, it’s an opportunity to do two very important things. First, it’s a chance to learn something genuinely useful about the firm you might be joining. Second, you get to show that you’re thoughtful and conscientious. Both are hugely important as you look to make a change. Don’t waste the opportunity.
Here are three questions candidates typically ask, and their better alternatives—to help you achieve the two-pronged goal of impressing and learning in a job interview.
Common Question #1: “Can you tell me about the culture here?”
Better Question: “Can you think of a time when the company’s culture made you excited to work here or helped you during a challenging time?”
It’s easy for an interviewer to answer the first question with platitudes you’d expect from somebody representing their company. You can already guess what the answers will be. “It’s collaborative.” “We like to work hard and have fun.” “It’s inclusive and supportive.”
The second version, on the other hand, gets to the intersection of employee and culture. Since that’s the intersection you’ll live in if you get the job, it’s important to understand how you’ll fit with that culture. Imagine how much more you’d learn if you asked the better question and got an answer like this: “I had an unexpected death in the family and my peers proactively contacted me, not just to offer condolences, but to assure me they’d cover for me while I was out.” Wouldn’t that answer help you instantly understand what the culture is like?