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Job interviews can be some of the most consuming, stressful 45-60 minutes of your life. Just when you've successfully given your 'tell me about yourself' pitch and answered your role-specific questions with grace, the power shifts to you when the interviewer asks, "Do you have any questions for me?"
I've often wondered if there was a definitive answer (or, in this case, question) for this. What queries are a productive use of both the interviewer's and interviewee's time? Is the invitation just a formality? And what questions should I avoid asking so I don't give the interviewer a bad impression of me?
I reached out to HR professionals to learn more about how to best handle this classic end-of-interview question, and now I present to you the five golden questions that you should ask any hiring manager and three that you may want to avoid.
Why your interview questions matter
Before we get into what questions to ask, it's important to understand why it's important to ask one. As cliche as it sounds, a job interview is a two-way process that both you and the company are choosing to invest in. So, take the opportunity to ask at least one question that helps you determine whether the company is the right fit for you.
"[An interview] is the company looking to determine whether or not the candidate is the right candidate for the job, but it's also for the candidate to ensure that they can be successful at that company," says Dr. Janet Lenaghan, Dean of Frank G. Zarb School of Business at Hofstra University.
Five questions you should ask in an interview
1. What do you like most about the culture?
Transitioning from being interviewed to becoming the interviewee can be awkward, but asking a more reflective question can be a great way to ease into the shift in dynamics while helping you learn more about arguably one of the most important aspects of the company: culture.
Valerie Rector, VP of Human Resources at Ping Identity, suggests starting by asking, "What do you like most about the work culture? What's most unique about it?"
"Even though it's a bit of a softball, it's still a great question that keeps the conversation flowing while telling what's special about the company's leadership style," says Rector.
2. What current industry changes are having the biggest impact on your team?
It's important to ask questions, but make sure that you're not asking ones that can easily be answered with a quick scan through the company's website or social platforms. Instead, show the interviewer that you're not just invested in the specific position but know enough to ask about the industry as a whole.
According to Dr. Lenaghan, it's important to do an "environmental scan'' to understand what's happening in the industry and what's on the horizon. What implications do these broader changes have on your potential role and work processes?
3. Why did you join this company?
This question may sound basic, but it's another great way to build an emotional connection between the two parties. It can also open up opportunities to further connect with the interviewer. For example, you may share similar interests and motives for wanting to work at the company.
Rector recommends asking, "Why did you join XYZ company?" or "How have you grown since being in your position?" Your interviewer's account of their journey may make you think of something you hadn't considered before.
4. What does success look like in this role?
Accepting a job offer only concludes the interview process, but being successful in the role should be your ultimate goal; it's also the employer's ultimate hope. To show your interviewer your initiative, ask what success looks like.
"I think that's just a great lens to start from, whether you're the hiring manager, or the prospective candidate, to really understand what accomplishments will get me an 'Outstanding' on my performance review," says Rector.
Asking these questions may seem presumptuous on the surface, but they exhibit confidence and drive. Also, it's good to have an outline of expectations before you go further in the process or accept the position.
"It makes the candidate look good, because hey, they want to succeed," Rector adds.
5. What's the team dynamic?
Even if you believe the role and overarching culture are great fits, it's important to get some insight as to how your team operates.
"What can they expect from the company? What can they expect from the culture is very, very important, as well. How has the team worked together? How are the players? What are their meetings like? What is the expectation? That's all very important," says Sue Swan, Chief of People at Summus Global.
"I always think it's a little bit of a red flag when you're asking about things like time off, and you don't even have the job," says Rector. It is important, however, to make sure that you won't be overworked. So instead, ask, "What does the work-life balance look like?" This question is not only phrased better but is an opportunity to learn more about the company culture, too.
2. Anything that can easily be found on the company's website
Asking something that can readily be found on the company website can give the interviewer the impression that you're not serious about the company or that you're unprepared.
"Ensure that your questions are ones that you couldn't have answered by doing your own research," says Lenaghan.
If the company website has a mission statement, for example, don't ask what the company stands for or what the company most values. Instead, you could ask how the company upholds its values, while mentioning specific ones, to show that you did your research and you're interested in learning more.
3. For initial screenings: What's my compensation?
Whether on its website, initial job listing, or discussed during the later course of the interview, most companies will make an effort to disclose pay scale and benefits -- now more than ever.
While asking about pay rates and benefits is important and fair, there is in fact a "best time" to inquire about it some more. In your first screening, however, focus on questions that show you're passionate about the role, and not just there for the money.
"We really want to focus on what the role is, and not necessarily the compensation piece and the PTO, at least in meeting one," Rector says. Of course, if you find yourself wanting more clarification as you move forward in the interview process, ask questions rooted in curiosity. And understand if the hiring manager may need time post-interview to get you the right information.
"[Compensation questions] aren't bad questions to ask, but it's the approach on how their questions are phrased. Sometimes we have to take time, come back, and clarify what we offer and make sure that applicants understand the response," Swan says.