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What brilliant interview questions should you ask employers?

Impress a Potential Employer In an Interview With These 3 Unexpected Yet Brilliant Questions


Although most candidates fear off-beat interview questions… they help interviewers better understand how candidates think and help assess for cultural fit… Here are three nontraditional questions that you should ask before signing on the dotted line:

1. How important is the company mission statement?

interview questionsWhen we don’t understand our company’s greater purpose, we view work as an item on a to-do list–a means to an end — and don’t feel motivated.

2. What are the best-run meetings here?

If your interviewer is able to describe meetings that have a clear sense of purpose… it’s a sign of a healthy meeting culture and that meetings serve a greater purpose than as a time sink.

3. Can you describe your relationship with the custodial staff here?

Asking your interview to describe his/her relationship with custodial staff can be a powerful and subtle means by which to assess overall levels of organizational justice.


Nick’s take

The problem with these “brilliant” interview questions is that they are indirect and too clever. They don’t get to the truth you need to judge an employer. I like Inc.’s #2 question, but I think the best questions you can ask in job interviews are about the work, the people, and the money.

  1. What’s the problem or challenge you’d like me to tackle if you hire me? I’ll show you how I’ll do it.
  2. Can I meet people upstream and downstream from this job, so I can see the quality of their work and cooperation?
  3. So, what’s the pay like? (Ask early. Save time.)

I like questions that prove you can do the work and help you decide whether you want the job — or further discussions.

What’s your take?

  • How do you rate the Inc. interview questions?
  • What are the dumbest questions that have been recommended to you?
  • What are the best questions you ask employers during your interviews?



: :

  1. Right now, I am burned out on job interviews as I do initial market research to start a business. Even so, there will be all kinds of interviews and all kinds of people, and we can talk about generalizations, but a job interview is unpredictable since it involves unpredictable people.

    1. For jobs I have been offered (whether or not I accepted), the decision has usually happened quickly.
    2. If an offer was forthcoming but the final offer needs to be written, the manager would keep me informed (I got weekly calls until the offer was formally extended in my current role).
    3. I find the number of people I talk to and the number of times I go to an interview to be inversely proportional to my chances of getting the job.
    4. I can tell when I am just adding to the numbers and not a serious candidate: when the interviewer does not know anything about me. Also, these are interviews where they often ask questions I can’t answer.
    5. One company went so far to be really clever about continuing to ask me question after question – they were not going to stop until I stumped. I stopped all interviews with that company.

    Note to self: Next time someone has to look at my resume, I will leave.

    • Maybe some interviewers believe it is a game show, such as ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire, instead of an interview.

      • @Borne: That’s an apt comparison.

        • Perhaps especially if the job applicant, such as Kevin, has already decided to ‘walk away’, he could try a bit of humour on a question he can’t answer and say: “Can I phone a friend?”:)

    • “3. I find the number of people I talk to and the number of times I go to an interview to be inversely proportional to my chances of getting the job.”

      You’ve noticed this too, huh?

      I think the number is around 4, for me anyways.

  2. The problem with Inc’s clever interview questions is that they’re just as precious as similar questions interviewers use on applicants. These attempt to extrapolate conclusions from limited information, like The Riddler hoping for a smug “gotcha” moment that may just be the consequence of being surprised, an off-the-cuff answer that hadn’t been thought through. “You don’t knoooow about the janitor who comes in after hours, do you? No further questions, your honor.”

    A favorite question of mine is, “Tell me about the company culture.” Because X=X, I want to know what the company culture is like before I commit to spending time there.

    I also sometimes clarify their needs. “The discussion we’ve had sounds more like you’re looking for a web developer” or “It looks like you’re looking for someone who’s been administering that platform as a sole job description in a previous position.” Because, again, X=X. As someone selling my skills and experience I want to cut through the formal job description babble to understand their hopes and expectations.

    • @Phil: This morning I did a workshop for a group of professionals. I explained to them that managers are woefully bad at figuring out whether a candidate is the right candidate. “You have to step in and explain it to them, because they won’t figure it out.” Ditto about helping them clarify their own needs — they’re usually not very good at that, either. The job hunter who’s in control is in control. X=X.

  3. Slightly off topic, but relevant: the interview and hiring process is an excellent preview of a company’s culture and communication. If things are straightforward and organized, it’s a good sign. If things are chaotic and unorganized, with poor communication, it’s not likely to get any better when you actually work there. So pay close attention to what they do and say, and also to what you have to keep asking about.

  4. Shamelessly self-promoting my own series of “penetrating questions” – as published by Neil Patrick on his blog.

    Eight great job interview questions for applicants

    There are several “warning signs” about a company culture. One, to me, is an overabundance of officially-hung motivational posters.

    If people, as individuals, take inspiration from them, great. IMHO though, if a company spends money on these things, especially in large numbers, what that tells me – and please feel free to contest my take – that they are so concerned about morale, attitude, etc., that they think cutesy sayings with a nice picture will actually make a difference. Which also tells me the general level of contempt for the average worker in thinking this will work.

    • @David Hunt: I really like “What is a typical day like for one of the group?”

      Another angle on this: “Can I come hang out with your group for a few hours to see how I’d fit into your typical day?” Suggest that only if you’re seriously interested after your interview. This is also a trojan horse – if your visit goes well, the team will advocate for you over other candidates.

  5. I thought you weren’t supposed to ask about pay on the first interview. Are you suggesting a new approach to blow off this old “rule”?

    • Absolutely! Who do you think came up with the advice to not ask about pay?? HR-wonks-cum-career-coaches! This “rule” is totally self-serving to HR! In what other business do we not bring up money until the transaction is almost done? Do you order dinner at a nice restaurant without knowing what it’s going to cost? There is a deft, polite, but firm way to put the money question on the table in any kind of transaction — and it’s the prudent thing to do. I discuss this at length here:

  6. I’m in favor of asking questions which disrupt the pervasive mindset that candidates are somehow subordinate to the interviewer. Interviewing is a two-way street, not an audition. These questions certainly aren’t for the timid job hunter:

    4. What is the worst hiring decision you’ve ever made, and what did you learn from it? (A bad manager will be affronted by the query and attempt to convince you that he/she has never made a bad hire – and if that’s the case, duck, because their head is about to pop due to an inflated ego, or they probably haven’t been a hiring manager for very long. A good manager will answer candidly, even if they gloss over some of the sordid details. If this person might be your future boss, a lot will be revealed by how he/she reacts to this question.)

    5. When was the last time you performed a work-related task yourself that you could’ve delegated to someone else, and why? (This question attempts to probe at how the interviewer feels about job responsibilities, titles and managerial hierarchies. I prefer working with people who embrace the mindset that no job is beneath them, so if I sense that a hiring manager is afraid to get their hands dirty once in a while, it’s typically a big red flag for me.)

    6. If I were interviewing with a competitor of this company, what’s the single most important differentiating factor you’d want me take away to use in my decision-making process? (It’s typically assumed that you are interviewing with competitors. By the time an interviewer asks you “So, do you have any questions for me?” you’ve hopefully been selling your ability to – in Nick’s parlance – profitably do the job, so now it’s time for the employer to do some selling of the company. If he/she gives you multiple answers, reiterate the question, emphasizing “single most important.”)

    • @Garp: Great questions! Most managers would be offended, I’m afraid, because they’ve been programmed to treat job interviews as “I’m in charge and you’re the supplicant.” Good managers will recognize a candidate who will probably make a good promotion to management in the future.

      (5.) is especially good because it also reveals whether the manager CAN do the work — which further reveals whether they are qualified to manage those that do.

      • As I have said before, there are two companies where someone angrily informed me, “We are interviewing you – you are not interviewing us.”

        Fortunately I did not get either job.

      • So true – Q 5 is very important. I would never work under a boss, which does not understand the nuts and bolts of the job, in my case petroleum geology. I am very lucky in my current job, that the CEO is a petroleum geologist himself, and he still does some technical work.

        Just beware, the technical background is not enough. I have previously worked for a company, where both the CEO and the exploration manager had the right educational background, but had spent most of their time in management positions, and had too big egos to understand that they did not understand everything.

        I have also had a manager once, who was a geologist herself, but also a micro-manager and with mood swings. How I could have discovered that in the interview, would be an interesting question.

    • A few years ago I asked a low level HR interviewer basic company questions that she could not answer, ie: benefits, hours, position responsibilities, etc. When I received a rejection letter a week later, I wrote back describing the interview and said I would not want to work with clueless management.

  7. Nic you mention “Can I meet people upstream and downstream from this job, so I can see the quality of their work and cooperation?”

    I also ask about the vertical teams that the position would interact with. Up and down is fine but in most cases there are those that run parallel that will (some would say could, but I have never found it NOT to apply) impact your ability to do your job.

    I also like @Garps number 5 because I have had managers that chastised my work but when pushed for a better alternative could not even explain the issue.