When it comes to job interviews, we all know coming prepared is key to making a great impression. But the questions you ask during your interview are just as important as the answers you give — because asking the right questions can tell you if the role and the company culture are the right fit for you.
Asking the culture question plainly (“So, what’s the company culture like here?”) isn’t likely to get you a very nuanced answer. Adam Grant, the organizational psychologist, Wharton professor, and New York Times bestselling author of Give and Take and Originals, gave a great example of how to frame the question differently: “Ask people to tell you a story about something that happened at their organization but wouldn’t elsewhere,” he wrote.
For more ideas, we asked members of the Thrive Global community to share their best tried-and-tested interview questions to discover if a job and company is right for you.
“In the last week at work, what made you feel challenged and what made you smile?”
“Ask questions that invite meaningful conversation and insightful, genuine responses. This will help you tell if the company or job aligns with your goals and values. Here are three of my favorites:
—Shea Ki, interview coach, Ashburn, VA
“What are the five skills I’ll use most here?”
“Job descriptions don’t always give us a true understanding of the job, so asking a question that could help us align our chosen skill set with the position is a great starting point. Our ‘chosen skill set’ is not necessarily all we’re good at, but rather, skills we want to spend the most time on in our next position. Here’s the question: ‘What are the five skills I will use most often in this position?’”
—Sharon Wilson, learning experience consultant, Hainesville, IL
“How have your company values played out?”
“I think these three questions are worth asking:
1. ‘Could you share some stories and/or examples of how the company values have played out with your employees and customers?’
2. ‘What level of support and professional growth is available in the position I applied for?’
3. ‘How does the organisation give back to their employees and the community, financially and otherwise?’”
—Shivani Bhagi, career success and leadership coach, London, UK
“What are the highlights and lowlights of your last staff survey?”
“I’ve started to frame questions around culture by asking, ‘Describe your culture in three words,’ and ‘What were the highlights and lowlights of your last staff survey?’”
—Alison Stokes, corporate communications, London, UK
“How are problems surfaced and solved here?”
“When I have a job interview, the first thing I do is conduct my own in-depth research of the company, which helps me know what to ask. Outside of the standard questions about the job description, pay, benefits, vacation, etc., I’d also like to know about these topics:
Depending on what the organization is about, I’ll ask more intimate questions about the process or services provided. I’ve posed these questions in the past, and each time, the dialogue made the interviewer feel like I knew more about their company than they did.”
—Craig Dubecki, singer, speaker, author, life coach, Ontario, Canada
“How much autonomous innovation is allowed and expected?”
“I always ask about the level of autonomous innovation allowed and expected. As a creative thinker, I’m constantly coming up with new ideas for content, different channels to explore, and new systems to improve efficiency. My favorite roles have been in jobs where I’m allowed to propose a project and work on it independently, as long as it doesn’t interfere with my primary duties. If the company has rigid rules of operation, I know I won’t excel there.”
—Alexis Anthony, marketing manager, Washington, D.C.
“What two things make you love coming to work?”
“I always suggest asking interviewers to tell you the two things that make them love coming to work each day. An interviewer will tell you the usual, HR-approved points about the company, but knowing their ‘why’ will give you a real example of what’s positive about the company. It also usually opens a door of conversation about common ground/interests, and the interviewer will remember you because you asked about them.”
—Tina Leigh McDonald, leadership facilitator and youth career coach, Milton Keynes, UK
“How does this company demonstrate commitment to employee well-being?”
“I think your company should know you as both an employee and a person. I recently read a statistic saying that the average American will spend a staggering 90,000+ hours at work in their lifetime. Sadly, I wasn’t shocked. Our careers play a substantial role in professional, social, and personal development. Work fuels your relationships, adventures, and experiences with disposable income and contributes to your future with discretionary income. My advice is to make sure your company gets to know you as a person first so that they’re mindful of how you spend your time outside of work, and what you’re planning for your future. I always ask, ‘How does this company demonstrate their commitment to employee well-being?’ and follow up with, “Can you describe this company’s unique definition of work-life balance?’ This will help you understand how the company can fit into your life — not just one chapter of your career.”
—Melissa Muncy, content marketing, San Francisco, CA
“What problem is your team trying to solve?”
“Here’s a great question to ask a hiring manager in order to trigger open-ended dialogue: ‘What problem is your team and/or company trying to solve?’ This helps you picture the potential impact you can make, but also help you take the pulse of the the team. When I look back at my key career pivots, asking this specific question has always helped me gain perspective on how I could contribute, relate my experiences to what the team could benefit from, and be of value to others. There’s a reason why we all do what we do, so it’s important to find fulfillment in values, purpose, and objectives. The best work happens when people come together, hustle, and work towards solving problems they deeply care about.”
—Vinutha Narayan, senior global program manager, San Francisco, CA
“How does good work get recognized and rewarded?”
“Step One is to decide what ‘the right fit’ means to you — for me, it’s always three-fold:
Ask the manager and the team about their leadership style, how they make sure the team delivers their best work, and how members encourage each other to do well. For flexibility, ask the team about how they manage personal commitments that have to be done during work hours, with work deadlines. For career growth, ask them how good work gets recognized and rewarded.”
—NR, business development, Purchase, NY
“Tell me about someone who came to the company and succeeded quickly.”
“When you ask questions during a job interview, the employer has to sell the role to you. Therefore, you should ask many open-ended questions. Here are my favorites:
—Milena Rangelov, civil engineer and researcher, Washington, D.C.