I recently had a discussion with @benkruger about interviewing and we both expressed the same frustration. Candidates who are being interviewed will do their best to answer your questions. It is a rare event when you find a candidate who asks good questions back. This led me to share the following with Ben:
You learn more about a candidate through the questions they ask, than the answers they give.
It is true and something that no matter what you do as a candidate you must remember. Be prepared to ask good questions.
When to Ask?
So if the success of your interview is determined by the questions you ask, when should you ask them? If you are interviewing with Ben, it will actually be the first thing that you do. I was surprised to learn Ben does this but the more I thought about it, I think it is a great approach. So as a candidate, be prepared from the moment you answer the call or step into the conference room to ask your questions.
If you are not interviewing with Ben, and most of us are not, then I suggest incorporating your questions into your answer. This promotes lively discussion and turns the table on the interview panel. As an example, the other day I was actually being interviewed and within 5 minutes I had them answering my questions which led to more questions from both parties. It was great!
What to Ask?
I can’t provide what to ask for every type of interview because that is impossible. What I can share is there is nothing worse from a hiring manager’s perspective to be all excited about a candidate and here them say:
“I don’t really have any other questions”
That sentence just kills it for me (so don’t use it). My view is you should always ask about the following:
The Company - Make sure you learn everything you need to know about the company, it’s vision and mission and if they are currently successful in fulfilling both. Understand how you can contribute to both.
The Culture - This is probably number one. You can be a great technical fit but if you are not a culture fit you will not be successful.
The Team - Understand the people and makeup of the team you will be joining. Try and meet as many of them as possible to ask them these questions.
The Role - Be sure to confirm your understanding of the role as much as possible. Don’t just blindly accept the job description thinking it is similar to your current role.
The Successes - Learn from the interview panel what they have done successfully and what the wins are. Struggling to share wins is usually not a good sign.
The Failures - Are they going to be transparent enough to let you know where all of the skeletons are buried?
How they Develop - Try and get a good picture of how the company and team operates. Are they agile? Do they pair? Are engineers involved in discover? Tons to be asked here!
How they Operate - Understand what operations look like. How do they handle production support? What involvement in sales will you have?
How they Communicate - Sounds like a throw away question but it is really important. Understanding how people in the company communicate will help you determine if this position is for you.
Of course there are more you can ask but for my money these are the core required questions. If you only get through these you will have learned a lot. I still say try and take it further and get as detailed as possible.
How to Ask?
A difficulty most technical people have is how to ask the questions in the first place? You probably have a hard enough time talking about yourself let alone turning the interview around and asking questions. One technique I use that has worked well is to provide your answer and tack on a question on the end to turn it back on the interviewer. Here is an example from an interview I had where I was the candidate last week:
Question: How many teams do you manage?
Answer: I currently manage X cross functional teams that are made up of Product Managers, Technical Leads, Designers, Engineers and QA. Maybe you can tell me how that compares to how many teams there are here and how they are organized? Who are the members of the team?
Take the Wheel
Remember to always take an interview by the wheel and drive it both ways down the road. Be sure to answer the interview panel’s questions thoroughly and thoughtfully. Concurrently, make sure that you never end up in that dead position of having no good and thoughtful questions to ask. You kill your chances of landing the job if you do!
Kill it by asking great questions!