Ask Questions of the Hiring Manager and the Interview Team

In an interview, you have an opportunity to ask questions. Good interviewers will ask What Questions Do You Have For Me?

What questions do you ask? It depends where you are in the interview process.

First, ask about culture. As a candidate, these are ideal questions to ask in a first-round interview. You may not be able to come right out and ask, “What’s okay to talk about? How do you treat people? What do you reward?” but you can ask these kinds of questions of a manager to learn about culture:

  1. “Give me an example of the some most recent times you promoted from within. What did the people do that made them promotable?” You, as a candidate, listen for perseverance or heroic behavior, or something else.
  2. “Do you have team meetings? What happens at them?” and, “Does senior management hold all-hands meetings? What happens there?” I have some very funny stories about when I was manager and one of my best developers had trouble keeping his mouth shut at all-hands company meetings. He wanted to know how we were going to make money. He thought it was a great question. Management thought he was out to embarrass them. Nope. He did want to know how the company would make money. It was not okay to talk about that topic.
  3. You can ask, especially if the organization professes to be agile, “Tell me how good you are at sustaining ‘sustainable pace’ for the most recent three iterations/releases.” Feel free to vary that question, depending on where they are in the current release. “Do you have hardening sprints?” might be a good question. If they are doing release trains, I would ask about how they do on the last couple of  iterations of the train.  If they are not agile, I would ask about “crunch time.” You want to know about how the organization treats the technical staff.

You don’t just want to ask a manager about culture, though. You want to ask the technical people on the team, too. You might ask these questions of a technical person, to see what you can discuss, how people are treated, and what’s rewarded:

  1. “How often do you work closely with someone else?” (You want to establish that there is a pattern of close working relationships on the team.)
  2. “When you work closely with someone else, how do you bat around ideas, how do you get feedback?” (Those might be two questions. Ask if there are architects and what the other person’s position is.)
  3. “If you have a suggestion for improvement, how and when do you raise it?”
  4. “What was the best recognition you ever received?”

Even if your interviewer doesn’t ask you if you have questions, make sure you do. Use your interviewing time to ask questions. Remember, interviewing is a two-way street. Don’t let that time go to waste. Ask about cultural fit.

When you interview, do you have other suggestions? What questions have you used?

About Johanna Rothman

I help managers and leaders do reasonable things that work.
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4 Responses to Ask Questions of the Hiring Manager and the Interview Team

  1. Andy Lester says:

    “What do you like best about working here?”

    “How is your department perceived in the organization? Is there friction between this department and others?”

    Also, make sure that it’s clear that you brought questions to ask, even if they were addressed in the interview. Otherwise, you look unprepared.

    Interviewer: “Do you have any questions for me?”

    You: “No.” (BAD BAD BAD)

    Instead, recap your questions.

    You: “(Looking at your paper) You talked about the database infrastructure, and you mentioned the opportunities for professional growth, specifically tuition reimbursement. I was going to ask about tech that each developer gets on his or her desk, but Susan was telling me about that when I met her. Those are the big things I wanted to ask about, thanks.”

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  4. “How much time do you spend in meetings?”
    This opens up a conversation about daily schedule, how the meetings are run, and how formal the culture is – the ratio of scheduled meetings to hallway conversations.

    “What happens if somebody makes a serious error – introduces a complicated bug, breaks a production build, etc?”
    It usually brings forward stories of what has happened, who stayed late to chase down the problem, about the monkey awarded to the person doing the breakage, and it’s all good stuff. Sometimes people get really uncomfortable with that question. I get worried. [Once a director told me "I bite". That was it, I could not get out of there fast enough.]

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