Woman listening to a podcast on interview tips - Hays careers advice

Podcast 5: Questions you should ask during a job interview

Not sure  which questions to ask during your interview? Listen to our podcast to find out.

Podcast notes:

  • Why is it important for candidates to ask questions during their interview?

The questions show a lot more about the person being interviewed than some of the answers. It can show some proactivity and level of interest. It’s a way to demonstrate the homework you have done before the interview.

Asking the right questions also gives you a lot of information to be able to make the decision if you eventually get an offer from that company.

  • Can you elaborate on the questions candidates definitely shouldn’t ask?

The questions you shouldn’t be asking are the hygienic questions that are based on your rights or very passive questions. You shouldn’t be asking questions such as ‘How many days holiday do I get?’ or ‘Do I ever have to work late?’ Anything that sounds negative or passive, or thinking about the rights of the worker rather than the opportunities are not particularly positive points.

Follow these steps to show your interviewer that you really want the job.

  • Do you advise candidates to prepare a list of questions beforehand or can the candidate also ask questions that spring to mind during an interview, or both?

I think the answer is both. It’s obviously very important to do your homework beforehand and think about what you need to know from this company to compare with other job opportunities that you might have at that time and also to demonstrate that you have investigated the company, the role and you know what you’re talking about.

I’d always advise people to come prepared with a list of questions because the kind of person that companies want to hire is about preparation, organisation and thinking in advance. Demonstrating those abilities is very important. It is also a way for you to feel organised and in control during an interview rather than your mind going blank when suddenly you want to ask questions but you don’t know what questions to ask.

I think that far too few people are prepared to get a pen and paper out during the interview. I think it shows great level of organisation and confidence if you’re sitting and taking notes during an interview of anything useful or interesting that the other person is saying to you so you can take it all in afterwards.

Interviews are a two way conversation. For both interviewer and interviewee it’s a much more enjoyable and useful experience if there’s a two way dialogue happening.

Read more: 10 ways to build a rapport with your interviewer

  • Is it okay to ask if there’s a scope for career progression in the role or does it seem too presumptuous?

Feeling confident as opposed to presumptuous is a really important element. Being able to visualise yourself in the role and show that you want to grow with the company is important. However there are other elements that you need to consider, these are your tone of voice, your engagement, your smile, and the way you’re asking the question.

You don’t want to ask a direct question such as ‘When will I get promoted?’ that will obviously be seen as negative. Ask questions which would see you thinking about future success and commitment to the company for the long term. You could ask ‘What would timescales be for future development?’ or ‘Which are the career paths that this can lead to at some stage in the future?’ so that you communicate to the interviewer that you’re interested in the future, you are interested in growing and learning but it’s not that you won’t be focusing on doing the initial job very well in the short term.

Ask these questions to tell if the organisation is the right fit for you.

  • Is it okay to ask about the predecessor in the role, such as their skills and experience and why they decided to leave that role?

Yeah I think that’s very important. The person doing the interview won’t want to criticise the person who has been in the role previously but it’s obviously a real indicator of whether this is the right job for you if you can understand how the role has been done in the past and what were the keys to successes or failures in the past.

Think about your tone of voice and your questioning technique. You can ask open questions such as ‘What were the successes of the person who has been doing the role until now?’ or ‘How this vacancy appeared?’ This will allow you to be diplomatic and polite whilst understand the environment in which you’ll be stepping in to. Companies will appreciate your interest in visualising how to do the job well.

Read more: How to use your EQ to ace that job interview

  • What sort of questions would you recommend candidates ask to understand whether or not if this company is the right cultural fit for them?

A very open question is the key here. Ask such questions as ‘How do employees feel in this company?’, ‘Are there defined values in the organisation?’

Ask how it feels working in the company, what do people most enjoy about working in this environment.

Learn how to focus your interview on fit.

  • What questions can a candidate ask to paint a realistic picture of what the role entails?

Companies are looking for job seekers who really want to not just get the job but get the job and do it well. There’s a feeling sometimes amongst job seekers that the difficult part is receiving a job offer and starting in the company and I think companies see it in a different way, for companies see the first day as the easy one and what happens from there is the most interesting and difficult part.

Job seekers who aren’t just thinking ‘how can I get this job?’ but, ‘how can I do it well ?’ – that’s where there’s a real differentiation. In your interview, talk about how to be successful in the role, who are the stakeholders, how can you measure the success, understand the expectations of the company to then show a confidence that you will do the job well.

Read more: Four doubts your interviewer has about you – and how to address them.

  • Would you recommend asking questions about the interviewer themselves? If so, what type of questions are appropriate?

If the interview is going well it is good to develop further rapport with the interviewer. Ask open and polite questions, for example ‘Out of interest, how did you join the company?’ or ‘What’s your experience as someone who is working here?’

This gives the opportunity to the interviewer to talk about themselves, to be enthusiastic. If they are not enthusiastic that’s a good point for consideration when the job is offered.

Find out what other warning sounds you should look out for during your interview.

  • If the candidate only has time to ask one question, what should that question be and why?

If there is only one question, I think it should still be focused on the success in the role. I’d ask a question such as ‘How will we know after the first year that I have achieved everything possible in this job?’ This groups together various areas such as a confidence without being over confident, talking about the measurements of the success as well as the objectives.

  • If the next steps in the recruitment process haven’t been explained, should the candidate ask when they should hear from the interviewer?

Yes, I think it’s a question that is expected from the interviewee. I don’t think it’s the most important element of the conversation but it’s important to be able to plan afterwards, especially if you’re in various processes at that time.

It doesn’t need to be asked nervously, just smile and ask ‘What are the next steps please?’, or, ‘When will we be able to speak again?’

Read more: The best and worst things to do following your interview.

  • How many questions would you recommend a candidate asks?

I’d certainly have between 3 to 5 questions prepared in advance but then if the conversations are lengthy and a lot of your pre-prepared questions have been answered during the interview, then obviously the number could be reduced.

It’s useful to be able to ask questions during the conversation. The main time for questions  is normally at the end of the interview but  by asking questions during the conversation you can make your interview interactive and useful.

Read more: 15 questions to ask your interviewer.

  • Is it okay to interject during the interview to ask questions?

It is absolutely okay to interject during the conversation but it’s really important you do it right. I would encourage all job seekers to practice this beforehand. For example, if you are a very enthusiastic person and a question comes to your head during an interview, you need to train yourself to wait until the interviewer has finished saying what they are saying first, you cannot be interrupting people in an interview.

  • Finally, what is the best piece of careers advice you could give?

My best piece of advice would be to try everything. Notice everything about every job that you do. I think it’s really useful to be working in different environments, try different things, notice what you’re good at, notice what you like and then gradually move your career onwards.

Having a great professional career and enjoying the world of work is a journey, it’s not a leap of faith or a step into dark. We shouldn’t be sitting there, hoping that our ideal job will suddenly appear. It’s about incremental improvements.

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Christopher joined Hays in 1996, he started at Hays as a consultant before assuming his current role. He previously worked for the group in the UK and Portugal, opening the Lisbon, Barcelona and Valencia offices before assuming his Managing Director’s role.

Christopher studied in L’école Superieure des sciences commerciales d’Angers and also in Ashridge Bussiness School, an Executive development course. Two years ago he completed a business program at the International Institute for Management Development.

Hays has been operating in Spain since 2001, and currently has offices in Madrid, Cataluña, Levante, País Vasco and Andalucía, all of them managed by Chris.