Your article about “What’s the best interview question?” to ask a hiring manager has served me well in many job interviews. Managers have actually complimented me. But that’s one question! What else have you got — questions to ask a hiring manager that will break them out of their “interview haze” and really talk to me, while giving me a chance to stand out?

Nick’s Reply

questions-to-ask-hiring-managerThat’s a really good question for us all! I mean — I’ll bet other readers have excellent, insightful questions to ask hiring managers; questions that really make a manager think while also making the manager realize they’re talking with a candidate who reveals true insight and deep interest in the company.

You made me scratch my head, trying to recall managers who told me they were blown away by a particular candidate who revealed unexpected acumen.

Here are five of the very best questions that no one but the best candidates I’ve known have asked managers, thereby standing apart from their competition.

Questions to ask a hiring manager

1. A year from now…

…how do you hope your company will be better as a result of hiring the person you choose for this job? (Follow-up question: A year from now, how will the person who takes this job change for the better?)

2. What’s the one thing…

…you wish you could quickly figure out about every candidate in an interview?

The next two questions should perhaps be asked prior to the actual interview, perhaps at the end of a phone screen with the manager.

3. What do you wish…

…a candidate for this job would read or study prior to interviewing with you?

4. What concepts are a must…

…for the candidate to understand if they are to succeed at this job? What other concepts are critical, but can be learned on the job?

The next question seems to elicit a knowing grin from managers.

5. What do most candidates…

…routinely say or do in the interview that tells you they’re wrong for a job at this company?

What kinds of questions help you get hired?

Do you agree about the value of these questions? How or what does each question help a hiring manager learn about the candidate? How can these questions help you get hired?

Of course, what we really want is more questions like these from your personal experience! If this turns into a lively discussion and there’s interest, I’ll share a few more highly effective questions in another column.

(I’m sure that thinking about this also brings to mind some of the most over-used, banal questions you’ve turned up in your reading about “what to ask” in a job interview. Feel free to share the clunkers you’ve encountered, too!)

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  1. In my IT days, I used to use variations of “What happened to the last person who had this job?” Most of the time the answer was some variation of “They moved on.” or “They moved up.”

    At one school district interview, the answer was “He committed suicide.” followed by silence. Then a muttered, “He always said this was too much for just one person, and yet here we are.” During the ensuing budget ‘discussion’, I gently closed my portfolio and exited.

    In my freelance contractor role, the lack of an adequate budget is a hard stop to the discussion.

    • @L.T. And a job described by the employer as “too much for just one person” who committed suicide isn’t a bigger hard stop? :-o

  2. What is it that you like about your job here?
    With these follow-ups:
    What did you find surprising?
    What do you think I might find surprising in the next 3-6 months?

    Ask everyone the same question. Look for consistency in answers. Look for internal vs external points of satisfaction, common modes of failure.

    It is basically a variant of “why should I not take this job?”

  3. I have been in the “interviewer chair” and not the “interviewee chair” for most of the past 20 years.

    One response that can basically end my consideration if a candidate is complaining about the management at a previous employer.

    Maybe they really were bad, in which case airing the dirty laundry is a sign of poor judgement.

    Or maybe they faced difficult situations and had to make tough decisions that the candidate did not agree with. In which case, that will surely happen in this job as well.

    Either way, complaining about previous managers during an interview is a HUGE turnoff for me.

    • If someone ask me “why did you leave your last job” (the one before my present job), the true answer would be “I had to get a new job because the company tanked, due to incompetent management”. The company is now only a shadow of itself, and and “everyone” in the industry here know it.

      Or the job before that, the true answer would be that “my boss being a moody micromanager was a significant part of the decision to leave”.

      I agree that whining and complaining is a turnoff, but how would you then talk about such situations, if you cannot, factually and calmly, tell the truth?

      Granted, there will often be two sides of a story, and a candidate not being able to reflect on their own role could be a bad sign, but people leave jobs for many reasons, and we should be able to talk about them.

  4. How would you describe the culture of this organization? Department?
    What department do we have the best/worst relationship with? Why?
    What was the most significant event of the last year? Of the coming year?
    What are the characteristics of people who succeed in this role? Who fail in this role?
    To be considered a successful hire, what will I need to accomplish in 30 days? 60? 90?

    More than anything, I want to see the response to these questions. “I do not know” or “I never thought of that.” is not necessarily a dealbreaker. Thoughtful discussion is an appropriate response. A defensive or irritated response communicates all I need to know.

    Of course the interviewer complaining or trash-talking former employees or other departments is also an important indicator.

    • @Gregory: I think that no matter what the question is, “thoughtful discussion” is always the objective.

  5. In my 20+ years as a recruiter I have developed a list of these questions that I provide to my candidates. Here is a recent one from “Shark Tank” I really liked:

    Is there anything standing in the way of hiring me? Credit: Barb Corcoran, Shark Tank. “ If there was a prior miscommunication, the query generates a chance to clear that up. The ask also puts the hiring company in a position to say what it might object to, creating an opportunity to address an issue right there.”

    Michael J Goldman, Sr Recruiter, Staffing 2000

  6. I like these. I think I’ve asked some variation of them in almost every interview, back to the early days. Now that I’m on the market again, I’ll add one that has only entered the repertoire in the latter half of my career, and only if I’m interested enough:

    When can I speak to your current employees?

  7. A question that I’ve started asking is: How has conflict and failure been handled on your team?

    People make mistakes. We’re human. People get pissed off at each other. We’re also relational creatures. So how were those conflicts and mistakes get dealt with?

    I want to know. Because I’m human.

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