8 Smart Questions to Ask in a Job Interview, According to Career Experts
By Emilia Benton
Job interviews can be nerve-wracking, but like most things in life, showing up prepared makes a huge difference. “Prepared” includes knowing what questions to ask in a job interview—not just getting ready to field your interviewer’s questions to you.
While yes, the company is interviewing you and you should be prepared to answer some common interview questions, you’re also interviewing them. You want to make sure the job is a fit for you, after all. Plus, asking questions shows you’re engaged and interested—which hiring managers are looking for. The best questions to ask in a job interview can vary by the level you’re at in your career path, but for the most part, you really can’t ask too many questions, says Mandi Woodruff-Santos, a career and wealth-building expert in the New York City area and co-host of the Brown Ambition podcast. (Within reason, of course—so making sure the questions weren’t already answered during the interview, that you don’t blow way past the allotted interview time, all of those good things.)
“The interview process is kind of like a first date, and as long as you ask questions in a respectful manner, I really don’t think you’ll lose any points,” Woodruff-Santos tells SELF. “For me, what hurts more is when people don’t ask enough questions.” A perceived lack of interest can make a hiring manager think you’re not serious about the job, or that you’re just trying to get a competing offer to use as leverage at your current job. Neither is likely to get you hired.
Showing up prepared with some relevant interview questions is a simple and worthwhile tactic to help you nail down the best job opportunity for yourself. Read on for some of the most important questions to ask in a job interview on your hunt for your next role.
1. What sort of career growth opportunities do you see for someone in this role?
According to Woodruff-Santos, this question is important to ask in order to ensure you don’t end up in a stagnant role, especially if you see yourself wanting to grow both within the company and in your industry.
“Transparency is really important and telling people exactly what’s expected for them to get to the next level helps with retention,” she says. “You can tell them, ‘I’m really excited to join your company at this level and can see myself staying here for several years, but what sort of career opportunities do you see for someone in my role?’”
You should also ask why a position is open to find out if someone got promoted or even resigned, says Vicki Salemi, a career expert and former corporate recruiter based in the New York City area. This can give you some insight into whether your role has room for upward mobility.
2. How does this company measure performance and determine salary increases?
Similarly, you should ask how a company measures performance so that you know the key performance indicators you should look out for, Woodruff-Santos says. Some companies have quarterly reviews while others do biannually and some just do once a year, and it’s worthwhile to know how often you’ll have an opportunity to discuss your growth and progress.
Many companies no longer rely on annual performance reviews to measure performance and also have metrics for salary increases, Salemi adds.
“Ask how annual salary increases are determined and when,” Salemi tells SELF. “If you start a position in November and salaries are adjusted every January 1 for the new fiscal year, then you are probably starting during the annual salary review process and likely won’t get an increase until the following January, so it’s key to ask about timing.”
3. What’s the salary budget for this role?
When to ask about compensation can be a tricky path to tread. While it might feel too brusque to ask upfront, it can sometimes save a lot of time for everyone involved.
“As a job seeker, you don’t want to [spend time] going on several rounds of interviews only to find out at the end that the pay is below your expectations,” Salemi says. “Interviewers also don’t want to pour time and energy to fall head over heels for you only to find out they’re not on the same page with salary at the end of the process.”
If you’ve been given a range that fits your requirements, then it’s appropriate to wait to discuss exact pay until after you’ve received an offer, when you’re hammering out the details to negotiate a salary If you have no ballpark whatsoever, asking upfront for at least a range can be helpful so that no one wastes their time.
4. Does your company track diversity and pay equity among different races or gender groups?
Woodruff-Santos recommends saving this question for your first official interview, whether it’s with the hiring manager or with someone from human resources, rather than a screening phone call with a recruiter. As a career expert who is especially passionate about advocating for women of color, this is one of her favorite questions to ask.
“At this stage in my career, where I’m coming in at a senior level, I feel like I can be more direct without having any social penalties in an interview process than someone who’s entry-level,” Woodruff-Santos says. But if you’re interviewing for an entry- or mid-level role and are feeling nervous about broaching this topic (or if you’re senior-level and still nervous), she suggests expressing how excited you are about not only the role itself, then noting that you’re looking for opportunities specifically at a company that values diversity in various ways. After that, you can ask about the company’s demographic breakdowns and what they do to support workers of different identities. According to Woodruff-Santos, that information speaks volumes about the company as a whole.
So does the hiring manager or HR representative’s response. If they act defensive, refuse to answer, or change the subject, that’s a sign that they likely are not transparent with employees, Salemi says. It can also tell you a lot about how they treat issues of diversity and equity as a whole, Woodruff-Santos adds.
“However, if they listen to your question with empathy and provide you with an answer that seems honest and forthcoming, then that’s a very good sign about the culture,” Salemi says.
5. Can you tell me about the benefits package and any other company perks?
These simple questions are fair game to ask HR from the get-go, Woodruff-Santos says. It’s best to save them for HR rather than the hiring manager because they’ll know the ins and outs of how things like the retirement plan works, and oftentimes, they might have a handbook that outlines what’s offered.
Knowing the entire benefits package—including salary, retirement account options and employer contributions, health insurance, and any other perks such as a fitness reimbursement—will help you get the full picture and make it easier to figure out if it’s the right fit for you. Salemi recommends taking a close look at health insurance options—specifically, what your out-of-pocket expenses could be on the offered plans. It’s helpful to have that info if you’re comparing offers from two different companies and are trying to figure out which is more financially desirable.
6. What is your position on remote working?
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the workplace landscape in many ways, and for a lot of industries, some level of remote working is here to stay. That’s good news for many people, whether it’s because they need flexibility around family life or want to pursue a career in an industry that’s normally concentrated in another city or state. If a flexible working arrangement is important to you, you’ll want to ask about the policy during the interview process.
“A lot of jobs are putting whether a job will be remote or required to be in-person right in the job description because it’s a way to screen candidates,” Woodruff-Santos says. But a lot of employers may not mention it, despite being open to a remote candidate. So, ask. If you’re a parent and feel comfortable sharing that in the interview process, Woodruff-Santos suggests asking something along the lines of, “Are there a lot of working parents at your company? If so, how does your company support them?” This can be a way into talking about flexible scheduling in general (beyond just remote or not).
Similarly, ask if there’s a certain schedule you need to adhere to. This might be even more important if the job is remote and your office is located in a different time zone, Woodruff-Santos notes.
7. Is there a policy on outside employment?
Side hustles are more ubiquitous than ever these days. According to Woodruff-Santos, this is an area where you have to use your best judgment. If your side hustle or business could potentially compete with your day job, you might be required to disclose that, she says.
Even if your side business is completely unrelated to your day job, if there’s a certain time of day you need to focus on it, you should be upfront about it to ensure your potential boss is flexible with you using that time.
If you do bring it up, it’s important to also make it clear that you’re determined to provide the same level of great work for the company that you would otherwise. “You have to try to do that carefully because you don’t want to give the impression that you are not fully committed to the job,” Woodruff-Santos says. “But I think the pandemic has changed the way Americans work and earn money, and forward-thinking hiring managers shouldn’t be intimidated by an employee who has other stuff going on.”
8. Can I have some time to review your offer?
Once you’ve made it to the final stage of the interview process and have received an offer, don’t be too hasty in accepting it immediately, Woodruff-Santos says. “If you don’t really talk about salary in an interview and then they say you’re their preferred candidate and extend an offer, that’s not the end, but rather the beginning of the negotiation,” she says.
“From there, I think it’s really important to ask for time to review their offer and then ask for a phone call and then counter-offer or have a discussion about the compensation,” Woodruff-Santos says. “If you’ve gotten to that stage already, they clearly want to work with you, and it will take a lot of trouble for them to go back to the drawing board and find another candidate.”
It can be easy to let imposter syndrome get the best of you and nudge you to say yes immediately, so remember that the company wants you and you deserve time to fully analyze the offer and make sure you’re getting what you deserve.