Earlier this week I wrote about the importance of researching a prospective employer before beginning the interview process. Not only will this help you to build up your confidence, it is also a strategic move that you can use to refine your pitch for the position.

But while pre-interview research is an important step, it’s not the whole picture. What often happens is that job seekers are so focused on answering interview questions that they forget they are there to ask questions too. What these candidates don’t realise is that the questions they come prepared with can actually help them to stand out among the pool of other applicants.

That said, there are of course “right” questions and “wrong” questions. We’ll focus here on the right ones.

Asking the right questions at an interview is important for three reasons:

  1. It shows you have an interest in the position and the firm.
  2. It confirms your qualifications as a candidate for the position.
  3. When you ask the questions, the table gets turned, literally. You become the interviewer trying to find out if this firm is a place where you want to work.

While there are many good questions that you can ask on an interview, here are ten to get you started.

  1. What kind projects would I typically be working on? Here you are trying to get a sense of the nature of the projects you will be focused on. What is their size and scope, and what are the expected outcomes?
  2. Who would I be working with? There are several facets to this question. First, you will find out which people you will be interacting with and how often. You will also get a taste of the firm’s hierarchy and organisation. Finally, if you listen carefully, you may be able to pick up important information about the work environment, such as how competitive versus collaborative the employees are.
  3. Would my work be focused only on one area or on several areas together? Here you are trying to get an idea of how broad your responsibilities will be and which skill sets will be relied upon and developed. Typically, smaller firms offer more opportunities for employees to juggle several, often disparate responsibilities. Depending on what you are looking for, this can be either exciting or stressful.
  4. Why is this position available? What you want to know is if this is a new position. If it’s not, then why did the previous person leave? If the previous employee was fired for not performing sufficiently or quit, then it could be a red flag to keep in mind.
  5. Is there anything you can tell me about the position that isn’t in the description?(Ok, I know most firms in Architecture and Interior Design don’t have position descriptions to read, however, by now you should know what the role entails). Here you are indirectly getting a sense of the work environment and the expectations that come along with the position.
  6. What defines success at this position? This question directly deals with the on-the-job expectations. It also indirectly hints to your desire to be successful at the firm.
  7. What are the opportunities for growth and development? Does this firm offer continuing education programs, professional training, or mentoring? What are the promotional and leadership paths at the firm, and how are employees chosen to participate? Is equity participation down the track something that the firm offers for star performers?
  8. What do you like most about working here? Pay close attention to how the interviewer answers this question! It’s not just what’s being said over here, but how. Is there any hesitation? How comfortably does the interviewer respond? Either you’ll get a confirmation that the firm is a great place to work, or you’ll walk away with some red flags to consider.
  9. What is in the works for the firm going forward? The answer to the question will give you a good idea of where the employer is headed. Is the firm growing, entering new markets, or taking on any new big projects? Is there a drive to make the firm better?
  10. Where do we go from here?This is a good closing question. You are basically asking what the next step in the hiring process will be, and it also shows that you are still interested in the position.

Bottom line: the best interviews are conversations. It doesn’t matter how formal the setup is. The candidate can almost always turn it around. In the end, both the candidate and the hiring team should walk away with more clarity about whether or not there is a good fit. At the end of the day, that is the goal.