An interview is a two-way street.
(A polite street, with traffic rules.) Ask questions. The employer should, and will typically, provide an opportunity for you to ask questions at or near the end of the interview.
Always prepare questions to ask.
Having no questions prepared sends the message that you have no independent thought process, or are ill-prepared, or are not bright, or some combination.
Employers make judgments about you based on the questions you ask.
Have you done your research on the organization? (If yes, good.) Are you asking rather dull questions that you could find in a web search, but about which you have no interest? (Not good.) Are you asking about salary? (Bad sign.) Are your questions intelligent and thoughtful and cordial? (Very good.)
How many questions to ask:
There’s no set number. It’s not a formula. It really depends on what you need to know. However, it’s highly unlikely that you would enter an interview without at least three to five questions on your mind and prepared to articulate. You may in fact have 20 questions on your mind, but there may not be sufficient time alloted to cover that many questions. Prioritize your questions based on the interview situation. Is this the first interview? Ask for the information that matters most early. Is this the second interview? By now you should know the basics, so ask more probing questions. Is this an all-day interview during which you are meeting with different groups and individuals? Ask questions that fit the roles of those individuals and groups (and ask one same question of all in order to compare responses!).
Show you’ve done your homework. Example: “I read on the company / organization / agency website that employees have recently done presentations at XX conference. Is that a typical opportunity in the job for which I am interviewing? Are there specific professional organizations employees have been encouraged to join?”
Know the nature of the organization and appropriate terminology. Not all employing organizations are “companies.” For example governmental agencies and not-for-profit organizations are not accurately referred to as companies. Most educational institutions are not for-profit (although some are), and may call themselves schools, colleges, universities, institutions, etc. Some for-profit organizations may call themselves firms or businesses or agencies. You will appear more prepared if you use appropriate terminology as used by the specific organization.
Some of your questions may be answered during the course of the interview, before you are offered the opportunity to ask. If so, you can simply state something to the effect that you were interested in
knowing about …, but that was addressed during the interview (and express appreciation for the thorough information you were given). You could ask for additional clarification if applicable.
Do not ask questions that are clearly answered on the employer’s web site and/or in any literature provided by the employer to you in advance. This would simply reveal that you did not prepare for the interview, and you are wasting the employer’s time by asking these questions.
Never ask about salary and benefits issues until those subjects are raised by the employer.
Just as with questions asked by the interviewer to the candidate:
Good questions are open-ended, and thus cannot be answered with a “yes” or “no.”
Better questions are behavioral: they ask how things are done or have happened in the past, because current and past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior.
The least useful questions are hypothetical, such as “what would you do if…?” The better way to get a useful answer is to ask “what have you done when….?” However, hypothetical questions can make sense if asking about something a person or organization has never experienced; the answer would at least exhibit the thought process.
Examples of ways to ask essentially the same question:
Not good: Does your organization value its employees? (Aside from being answerable with a “yes” or “no,” it almost sounds antagonistic, because a “no” answer is clearly a negative.)
Good: How will your organization show it values its employees?
Better: What are things your organization has done recently to show how it values its employees?
Fair: Are you planning to open an office in Spokane?
Good: What are the plans for opening an office in Spokane?
Better: I read a news story about the possible opening of an office in Spokane. Knowing that a news article does not always capture the full story, I wondered what factors are under consideration for this decision. (Notice this isn’t technically a question, but a series of statements show your interest that invites conversation.)
If you are having trouble developing questions, consider the following samples as food for thought to help you consider your own questions. However, don’t ask a question if you are not truly interested in the answer; it will be obvious to the employer.
Your questions must show your own thought process.
What is your organization’s policy on transfers to other cities?