A typical interview involves two things: a time for the employer to ask questions of the candidate and a time for the candidate to ask questions of the employer. We focus too much time and energy preparing for the first half of the interview, but I think we’re underestimating the importance of the second half.
Let’s start with what questions NOT to ask.
- Fluffy questions. These are the typical questions that anyone with a pulse can ask. “What do you love most about your job?” “What are you looking for in a candidate?” “What are your favorite campus traditions?” Here’s why these questions are a turn-off: If you had done your research, you would know the answers to these questions. There are few things more disappointing than a candidate who hasn’t cared enough to use Google.
- Personal questions. It’s important to ask questions that would help you understand the potential compatibility with your future coworkers; however, be careful which questions you ask along the way. For example, it’s alright to ask about team dynamics, supervision style, and institutional fit. However, asking about someone’s marital status, children, or religion is over the line and can be offensive. This sounds like common sense, but you’d be surprised how often it happens.
- What’s-in-it-for-me questions. Ultimately, we are all interested in the pay and benefits. However, employers are looking for passionate, hard-working team players and that won’t be the message you are giving if your questions are mostly self-serving. It’s all about timing too. For example, asking about vacation days after a phone interview could translate into: “How often can I not work?” At the end of an on-campus interview, it sounds more like the candidate is truly considering the position and weighing the benefits. Pay and benefits will most likely be discussed towards the end of the on-campus interview. If it’s not, it’s okay for you to ask about them. However, I would be apprehensive about a university that doesn’t share pay or benefits information by the end of the on-campus interview. To me, that sounds like a financial red flag.
- Vague questions. Ask questions that employers should be able to answer in a few sentences. Vague questions like: “What expectations do you have of Residence Hall Directors?” or “What does a typical year look like for a Residence Hall Director?” is like unnecessary homework to an employer. What we’re thinking: Did you even read the job description? Some more specific questions you could ask would be: “What are your on-call expectations of Residence Hall Directors?” and “What are the busiest times of year for Residence Hall Directors?”
- Show-stealing questions. Have you ever had a candidate ask you a question, then they steal the show with an obviously pre-planned answer? For example, a candidate asks, “What accomplishment are you most proud of?” Employer answers, then the candidate says, “What I’m most proud of is _________.” Sometimes, the candidate even one-ups the employer with their answer! As an employer, we feel used. During this time, you’re supposed to be the pitcher, however, you just made the employer pitch you a home run. Poor sportsmanship if you ask me.
- Immediate feedback questions. If you’d like feedback on your interview, ask the employer after a hiring decision has been made. Don’t ask questions that request immediate feedback such as, “Is there anything about me that makes you think I might not be the best candidate?” or “Is there anything I can improve on?” I know you want to show that you are good at taking feedback and interested in bettering yourself, but these questions do not achieve that effect. They just make us feel awkward.
Now, let’s switch to the questions I love: the hard-hitting questions, the thoughtful questions, the questions that show that you care about making a wise employment decision.
- I can see why this is a great place to work because of ______, _______, and ______, but what keeps you here?
- What would you say are the top three personality traits needed in this position?
- What improvements would you like to see in this department and what could the person in this position do to make that happen?
- What has been a source of frustration for your staff recently?
- How do you measure success in your initiatives?
- How do you support the professional development of your staff?
- Can you give me some specific examples of how you have supported the work/life balance of staff?
- What words would you use to describe the staff team dynamics?
- What plans or initiatives are you currently working on to enhance the department’s future?
- Why is this position vacant?
Those are my two cents. Don’t take my words as absolute truth because everyone has different experiences and expectations about the job search. So, let’s get some additional perspectives in the comments!
What questions do you find annoying? What questions do you find attractive?