How to ask good questions in an interview


Here’s the structure of an interview: The interviewer asks you a lot of questions about you, figures out what you like, what you’re good at, and customizes as he pitches the company and the job to you.

This structure works fine if you are not all that interested in the job. But if you go into the interview knowing that you want the job, this structure will not benefit you. This is because if you really want the job, you will be trying very hard during the interview to convince the person that you’re a good match. But the structure of the interview doesn’t give you the chance to find out a lot about what they’re looking for in a match, until the very end.

You will get to the end of the interview, and the person will say, “Do you have any questions for me?” The questions that everyone recommends you ask are questions that would help you know what the company is looking for in a new hire: Questions about the goals and philosophies of the company, about the parameters of the position you’re interviewing for, about the expectations for the person they hire.

The answers to these questions would help you to explain why you are the ideal candidate for the job. So why ask these questions at the end? Ask them as close to the beginning as you can.

The first time I saw this in action was when I was interviewing a candidate. I started with, “So, why don’t you tell me a bit about yourself.”

She said, “Well, first why don’t you tell me a bit about the job so that I can tailor my answer to your particular needs right now?”

I was surprised, but it made a lot of sense to me. I told her about the job. And I ended up making her an offer.

So don’t hijack the interview, but try to ask a bit about the position at the begining of the inteview and then you, too, can tailor your answers to the requirements of the job. With this strategy, coming up with questions will be easy because you will naturally want to know what the hiring manager is looking for so you can be that person:

What would the first three goals be for the person who takes this job?

What are the biggest hurdles to overcome in this position?

What type of person do you think will be most successful in this position?

If you ask a variation of these questions toward the beginning of the interview — even if you ask only one or two — you’ll be in a much better position to ace the rest of the interview.

While it is bucking convention to ask questions toward the beginning and not the end, consider that you will look more authentic doing this. After spending the whole interview convincing the person that you are a good fit for the job, why would you ask questions about the job at the end? Presumably, you already talked about why you are a good fit.

So when you get to the end of the interview, and the person says, “Do you have an questions for me?” You can feel free to say, “No, I think I asked enough questions at the beginning of the interview to understand how I will fit in well in this position. I’m very excited about working with you. I think we’re a good match. Do you have any reservations?”

53 replies
  1. Tom
    Tom says:

    Penelope –

    Fantastic post! I agree with asking questions upfront and through the entire interview. It’s a great way to ascertain what the hiring manager wants. It also lessens interviewee stress.


  2. Marsha
    Marsha says:

    I have an interview on Tuesday for a job I really, really want and for which I diligently preparing. I appreciate this post – very timely and sounds like great advice. I’ll definitely be visiting again to read it as the meeting draws closer and I try to quell my rising panic (hey, there’s a great topic for a post- interview panic and how to control it).


  3. Marcelo
    Marcelo says:

    Great post, I really enjoy reading this and the other posts about interviews you wrote because I´m looking for a job in another company and all tips and tricks you mention are very useful. I really appreciate it!

    Marcelo from Argentina, SouthAmerica

  4. Stever
    Stever says:

    I always hate the final question period in an interview — much like you said, it makes no sense to ask about a role in a company you told them you’d be good for.

    I think I’m going to sneak this onto the bulletin board when nobody is looking.

  5. Mary
    Mary says:

    Questions are a actually a great way to relax an interviewer. People who like their jobs and organization really enjoy talking about them. Questions take the interviewer away from any formal interview script, and make it a conversational exchange. Remember, you want to find out if you want to work for this person. A conversation is a much better way to learn this.

    My interviewing experience has shown that many people are clueless about how to conduct an effective interview. (Which isn’t surprising, it’s hard thing to do.) I learned to assume that the interviewer would be bad, and created my own self-interview that I could follow when the interviewer didn’t know how to do it. (Obviously I don’t actually ask myself questions during the interview!) I figure out what my sound bites are and stay on target. It’s like if a politician is asked a question she doesn’t like, she answers it with something that may have little to do with what was asked, but it sounds great and inspiring. My success rate with interviews demonstrates this is a good technique. The interviewer (for non-tech people) usually only wants to know a few things: you’d be easy and great to work with, you’ll do the job and more very well, you have confidence, and you are not a psycho.

    Good luck everyone who’s interviewing!

    * * * * * *

    Mary – thanks for chiming in here.Everyone – Mary is my friend, so I happen to know she is one of those people who always gets a job offer when she interviews. She is great at taking  control of an interview. If you can do that, you end up making the interviewer feel like he is a genius for orchestrating such a good interview. And if you can make someone feel like a genius, they’ll enjoy their time with you more.


  6. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    Here’s another take on asking questions right away and taking charge of the interview…

    A friend once hired someone (right out of school)who came to the interview with a prepared, typed agenda.

    She politely asked initially whether the interviewer had a plan / agenda for the interview. When my friend said no, she then told him she had prepared an agenda and pulled it out and asked in a confident and friendly way if they could use it. He agreed.

    This agenda impressed him. My friend didn’t have much interviewing experience of this type, so I’m sure the agenda helped him too. As I said, she got the job.

    Another funny thing about this interview: this young woman showed up 30 minutes early because she knew a classmate of hers had the prior interview and that he was always late. So, when he didn’t show up on time, she was there, grabbed his interview slot and was able to mention that he’s always late and demonstrate that she had the foresight and initiative to take an appropriate action (showing up early).

    * * * * *


    I love this story. I am a big fan of initiative. I am not sure what I think of the agenda. Not sure how many circumstances it would work in. But my instinct tells me that intiative impresses everyone, even if it’s a little off. A manager can always redirect initiative, but a manager cannot instill initiative.


  7. Jason Warner
    Jason Warner says:

    When I interviewed with Google recently, I recognized that the process with each person was going to be short (short interview time slots) so I realized that it wouldn’t be fruitful to burn time that they could use to evaluate my as a candidate with what are generally cursory questions from me (as the candidate at the beginning of the process). Instead, my response was, “I have a lot of questions but I want to respect your process to evaluate me, and I’m comfortable waiting until a suitable time arrives for me to ask my questions. It might be most efficient to wait, and at the end of the process, if Google decides that I am someone they wish to hire, then I can ask my questions…” By saying I had a lot of questions, it positions as me astute and ‘smart’ (smart people ask lots of questions) which is better than being a pushover and saying that you don’t have any questions.

    This accomplishes many things:

    1.) It shows deference to the company process, which positions you in a humble position during the evaluation process (beginning of the process), before the negotiation starts. This is a good thing.

    2.) It doesn’t allow the company to evaluate you based on what they perceive the quality of your questions are. In reality, a company should do a good job of explaining job scope and job details, and all those components as part of a sophisticated sales cycle with candidates (most companies don’t do this). That said, most interviewers will subjectively rate the quality of a candidate’s questions as part of their evaluation, which isn’t a valid selection criteria most of the time (if you have any question, you should be able to ask it).

    3.) It sets the stage for a stronger negotiation position at the end. If the company says, “yes, we want to hire you…” then you can say, “would it be okay for me to ask my questions” and everyone will remember that you deferred your questions to the end. This is important, as now it puts you (the candidate) in a stronger position of power during the negotiation, because now you are asking the questions, but they’ve already committed that they want to hire you. There is a subtle ‘turning of the tables’ as the candidate begins to interview the company. This can be used to an advantage in negotiation.

    As a recruiting guy on the company side, I want to query candidates for questions throughout the process as part of the pre-closing and objection handling process, so my ultimate offer-hire ratio stays super high and I remain in the driver’s seat during negotiation. Many recruiters miss this.

    * * * * * * * * *

    Jason,You’re such a gem for taking the time to write this. Great information. I read it twice to make sure I didn’t miss anything.


  8. Kathleen DeFilippo
    Kathleen DeFilippo says:

    I love your take on this, Penelope, and I’d even go a step further: A month ago, I interviewed for a new position. I took the same behavioral interview approach I use when I’m interviewing potential candidates, and used it on my potential employer (he wasn’t a terribly skilled interviewer, which made this easier). By describing scenarios and asking him how he’d handled those situations in the past, I was able to get a good picture of his management style and therefore make a determination of whether we’d work well together.

    I won’t be taking the job (although I did get an offer) because we couldn’t come to an agreement on compensation; however, because we established a good rapport, we’ve agreed to stay in touch and take advantage of any future opportunities to collaborate. A definite win-win, in my opinion.

    * * * * * *


    Thanks for sharing this story. Good reminder to everyone that interviewing is about networking. Whether you want the job or not, you’re spending a half-hour with a person getting to know them. So keep them in mind, as Kathleen is, as a future collaborator.


  9. drake
    drake says:

    This last part sounds a little over the top: “I'm very excited about working with you. I think we're a good match.”

    * * * * * *


    That’s why I wrote it. Becuase I thought some people might not know to say this. If you think it, say it. Everyone wants to hire someone who’s totally excited about the job. You make yourself more desireable by telling the hiring manger that you really want the job.


  10. Bettina
    Bettina says:

    Great post! I’ve been on several interviews where there didn’t seem to be any agenda. One interviewer just wanted to ‘get to know me better as a person’ and asked about my hobbies!

    I wonder if Penelope could post some techniques for redirecting an aimless interview towards a self-interview, as Mary had suggested.

    Otherwise, thank you for blogging, Penelope. I’ve been motivating myself by reading your blog these past few months while job hunting, and I’ll be starting a new job Monday. Of course, I’ll be managing my new career through your tips :)

     * * * * *

    Bettina,Thank you for the good topic suggestion. Until I get to that post…. Mary, in this comment string, gives some good advice for redirecting an interview.


  11. Peggy
    Peggy says:

    GREAT post! From my perspective doing HR/Recruiting work, this is one of the most important skills candidates need to learn because the questions you ask in an interview are a representation of what you will be like as an employee. It seems like so many folks are so nervous about what to say about themselves, that they forget to be curious about the job they are applying for! I recently decided not to hire a strong candidate because he didn’t have any questions throughout the interview process. See Eric’s story here:

    * * * * * *

    Hello, Everyone. Look at this comment. One of the most important ways to build your own community, and be part of a larger community, is to comment on blogs and link back to yours. This is a great example of a comment done right.

    It’s tricky to comment and link back to your own blog. You can’t just write, “Nice post. Here’s a link to my post..” Becuase then you are like the porn sites that do comment spam.

    This comment does three things well:

    1. Relates directly to the post. 

    2. Provides a new idea for the discussion.

    3. Links to a new blog for something that really adds value to the point being made.

    I wish all my comments on other peoples’ blogs were as well done as this one.

    Thanks, Peggy.



  12. KG
    KG says:

    I agree with many of the comments posted. It is very important to ask questions. One reason is it shows your interest in the position and the company. Second reason – you learn if this company and/or position is the right fit. It is critical to research the company and its peers so that you can ask questions that permit you to shine. I suggest writing/reviewing your questions to make sure you can properly respond if the interviewer ask similar question(s). Also reviewing questions will help you to think about what you are looking for in a position and/or a company. Lastly, please remember that although you are being interviewed, you need to ask questions to ensure this company and your potential managers compliment your skills and objectives.

  13. Damon
    Damon says:

    I think it is also important to ask questions at the beginning of the interview because these questions give you the opportunity to add to the conversation with additional information about yourself and your qualifications and expertise.

    Some of the easiest questions to ask have to do directly with your potential position with the company. These would include such things as what your major areas of responsibility would be, if you would be supervising a staff and what types of projects would be typical.

    At the same time I think it’s important to make sure that you prepare questions that are not easily answered by looking on the company website. This is a true giveaway that you have not properly prepared for the interview.

  14. akhil
    akhil says:

    ohhh what a million dollar advice—this will definately portray assertiveness—-but i feel it has to be said in a very respectful way–or it may sound rude

    * * * * * *
    Yes, good advice for any conversation – to be respectful.


  15. Jessica Mueller
    Jessica Mueller says:

    A questions I recently asked that got a lot of praise was “What skills do you see missing from potential candidates today?” The interviewer loved the question and I’m still waiting to see if I get the job, but I know at least that part went well. Thanks for the great post! It helped tremendously.

  16. Klaus Suglia
    Klaus Suglia says:

    So here I am going after a position that I didn’t even apply for, but had my resume pushed to the appropriate department and I got 3 telephone interviews. Mind you this is after a 2 year streak of sending in my resume via email and not getting any kind of response, I was beginning to think it was me that was the problem. Well two weeks ago I had two successful phone interviews back to back lasting a half an hour apiece. I was recommended to have a 3rd interview but this was going to be my first face to face with a manager, HR, and the direct supervisor for the position that I was applying for. I started researching the company 3 weeks prior to that and even had a failed interview for a different position in the same company. So I’m researching and researching and digging deep into the technical aspects of the products that would be supported. And then I thought well heck I’ve been to several failed interviews in the last two weeks what can I change in this interview because I really want this potential career. I came across this website and decided to change my interview tactics, and use the advice. One day prior to the interview I get a confirmation email that states they’re changing the interview agenda which started at 6:00PM and would have ended at about 8:00PM with 3 back to back individual interviewers, and now was going to be one panel interview. I have never done good at panel interviews. “Oh great I’m not going to get this position” is immediately what went through my mind.
    10 minutes prior to the interview I show up and I’m almost immediately ushered into the small conference room. It started out with the Manager of the department, who had flown down from Minnesota for the day to give the 3rd interview, asking the question of “So tell us a little bit about yourself and how your knowledge and skills pertain to this position.” To which I stated and asked “Before I get started would you mind if I asked a question?” His response “No I don’t mind, that would be fine.” “Could you tell about the ideal candidate that you’re looking for, so that I could tailor my answers appropriately?” Completely threw him off guard, and he gave me the ideal candidate. While he was giving me the details running through my head was “I don’t meet any of the qualifications.” And to take it a step further something of that nature came out of my mouth after he was done. Oh boy did I have my work cut out for me now. There was about 5 minutes that passed and I’m answering another question. After was done the manager was questioning out loud “…then why are you here?” almost as if the interview was over, then the supervisor stepped in and clarified the job posting and stated that what the job posting included was all 3 engineering levels (IE Tier one, Tier two, Tier three) of the position wrapped into one classified. He start to ask me questions, and clarified my skills, when the supervisor handed off the questioning back to the Manager, he stated “that the answers that you provided rebounded you right back into the interview, and in fact you have already answered most of the questions that I have for you.” I had succeeded in having him redirect his questions into the technical aspect and throwing him for a loop. From going from almost having the interviewing process stopped to jumping right back into it, well let’s just say it’s not an easy task.
    To make a long story short, I was told that I would hear back from them as early as Friday but no later than the beginning of the following week. I kid you not I was home 8 minutes after the interview and 7 minutes later while I was telling my wife how it went I got a call from the Manager stating that they were going to recommend me for hire and they were going top me out in the salary hiring range. He paid me a complement of saying that not only was it the most entertaining interview of the four that he had during the day it was the most productive as well.
    I’m so glad that I came across your website and read your advice and decided to stand out of the crowd. This Worked wonders. Thank you Ms. Trunk.

  17. mims
    mims says:

    I just interviewed for a new job.. I mentioned salary which now I have been told that is the wrong thing to do.. It’s been over 5 years since I went on an interview. I put out a salary and now I feel it was to low… How do I correct this?

  18. blondheretic
    blondheretic says:

    Asking the “Do you have any reservations?” question is the best interview advice I’ve ever read. You get real-time feedback, and you get to look brave by asking for criticism. Thank you – I never have to go home wondering how an interview went again!

  19. Investments
    Investments says:

    It is not a bad idea to ask the people hiring you what they are looking in an employee. Usually someone who is about to hire has an idea of what they want. If you can get them talking you must listen in to what they are describing. After that you can always use what they said when describing yourself.

  20. Michelle
    Michelle says:

    I had an interview yesterday and I WISH I had read this before! This is fantastic advice. Oh well, hopefully I’ll get to use it in the future.

  21. NIKI
    NIKI says:

    This is very helpful but have you got any for teenagers and not for just jobs ive got an interview with my headteacher about becoming the school head girl (prefect). please help… :)

  22. Alan
    Alan says:

    I recently intervviewed for a position I really like and want, however, after they explain position, benefits, there doesnt seem like anything more to ask. I listen and its all explained well enough and the company was explained well enough that I didnt feel I had any questions. I know its always good to ask questions.

  23. Sean
    Sean says:

    Great article thank you for sharing! I think the best questions an interviewee can ask are those that either form a bond with the interviewer (what do you like about your job) or show a solid work ethic (what can I do to improve upon the work the last person in this position did?)

  24. Ningappa.S.H
    Ningappa.S.H says:

    Dear Sir,
    Good Morning everybody,

    When I was a 6-year old kid, one day I went to school with my brother. I started to cry in the afternoon-because I had never gone anywhere without my father. The teacher told my brother not to bring me again to class. This happened 2-3times and hence I never went to school again.
    In my village. I did different kinds of jobs. I gazed goats for 3 years, I worked in the farm for 5 years. I encountered numerous problems because I never went to school.
    Starting from reading the board on the bus, to looking for a particular address. Once I asked my father, “what should I do now? Can I go to school now?” my father said, “who would take you now you are not a child anymore”. I realized I made a mistake in my childhood and that my life was gone now. My life was only to do farming and education would remain a dream forever.
    When foundation for life conducted interviews, in our village, my father told me “this is a golden opportunity for you, go and join”!
    The interview, began at 10:00 O” clock in the morning. I waited until evening. I was the
    Last person, by then the time was 8:00 O” clock. They took my interview in a car. I was very scared to speak to new people
    I could not believe that I was selected for the village BPO project.
    When I first came to Bangalore I was very scared, because I never sat with anybody and I had never spoken with anyone except me to stay in Bangalore without my parents.
    Today, 13 years after I left school, I have completed the training at foundation for life.
    And my life is not the same. As you can see, today I’m speaking in English in front of you –which I never dreamt of.
    I am a completely new person now. I look, think and act so differently. Look forward to helping people in my village become like me.
    I wish to thank all my foundation for life facilitators and everybody who has helped me. Thank you.

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