You've been so focused on the examples of a time you handled a challenging coworker, that you draw a blank when your interviewer finally asks:
"So, do you have any questions for us?"
Don't get caught empty handed again.
"A surprising number of candidates don't have many questions at all, or simply use the time to try to further pitch themselves for the job," writes Alison Green at The Cut. "To me, this is crazy — after all, this is a job that you're considering spending 40 or more hours at a week, a job that might have a huge impact on your career and your quality of life for years to come. You should have questions!"
Some candidates might be unsure what to ask or are afraid certain questions will leave the wrong impression. You don't want to ask, for example, what the company does (do your homework!) and you might not come straight out and ask when people clock out for the day. But if sane weekend and evening hours are vital to your happiness and wellbeing, you do want to find a way to get the information you need. A well-crafted and thoughtful question can get you information that hasn't been proffered in the job description or in the interview itself. Here are some starting points.
"Can you describe a typical day or week in the job?"
The job description mentions a mix of administrative work, as well as strategy and research — but what's the breakdown? Will you be spending most of your time booking conference rooms? Does "some travel" mean you'll be gone half of every month, so there goes book club?
If your interviewer dodges this with, "Oh, every day is different!" Green suggests having a follow-up handy. "Try asking, 'Can you tell me what the last month looked like for the person in the job currently? What took up most of their time?'"
"What are you hoping this person will accomplish in their first six months and in their first year?"
This question takes the standard "What does success look like in this role, and how is it measured?" question and drills down into even more specifics. It will also give you an opportunity to learn about important projects and goals you might not have learned about otherwise.
"What do you see as the most challenging aspect of this job?"
Is there a heavy workload and a tiny team? Does a small budget make the execution of large-scale events next-to-impossible? Is there a maze of hierarchical red tape to getting anything done in the company?
Depending on your interviewer's transparency, you may have to be a bit of a sleuth on this one. If they're not very forthcoming, listen to how they answer the question. Even signs of discomfort and evasion can be critical red flags that can signal further research you may want to do on your own through your professional network.
"What's your favorite part about working at the company?"
You have before you a real live employee. What do they like about working here? "The paycheck," and an awkward laugh is a red flag — and that's essential information. But if they get excited talking about the camaraderie, the mission, the creativity, or the flexibility, that's all important vital information to note, too.
"Thinking back to people you've seen do this work previously, what differentiated the ones who were good from the ones who were really great at it?"
"A job candidate asked me this question years ago, and it might be the strongest question I've ever been asked in an interview," Green said. "The thing about this question is that it goes straight to the heart of what the hiring manager is looking for."
The answer to this question gives you specific insight into how to exceed in the role. If success in the job requires consistent weekends or a continuous hamster wheel of PowerPoint presentations, you can think about whether that sounds like a match for what you're looking for and excited to bring to a role.
"How long did the previous person in the role hold the position? What has turnover in the role generally been like?"
If no one has stayed in the job very long, this could be a red flag of any number of problems: a hellish manager, crazy expectations, or a lack of mentorship or advancement. If you hear there's been a pattern of people leaving quickly, it's worth asking, "Do you have a sense of what has led to the high turnover?"
"What, if anything, in my background, gives you pause?"
It sounds bold, but Roberta Matuson, President of Matuson Consulting, says this is pretty much the one must ask question job seekers should ask in an interview. "By asking this question, you'll be able to overcome any objections the interviewer might have before you leave the room," she told The Ladders. "And if you're smart, you can find a way to combat any preconceived notions by addressing them in a follow up note."
"What are the next steps in this process?"
This is an important logistics question that will give you a much-needed sense of a timeline. "If they haven't already shared this information, it's important to ask about their timeline so you're aware of when you could be notified of a second interview, or a potential offer," University of Richmond Career Advisor Anna Young said.
What to ask yourself
Remember: This isn't just about landing a job. It's about landing a job that's right for you. Another way to approach questions in an interview is to think about what's most important to you and making sure you get a sense of that from reviews on Glassdoor and your professional network, in addition to the interviews. To know whether a job is right for you, though, you have to know yourself. That means not only asking about success in the role to them but asking yourself: What does success look and feel like to me?
Shannon Breuer, president at Wiley Group, suggests thinking about work-life balance and corporate culture (is it casual? formal?). Do you thrive in a startup environment or in an old family-owned business? What kind of management style brings out the best in you? What corporate values inspire and motivate you and align with your own values?
"When you imagine going to work at the job every day, what are the things that will most impact whether you're happy with the work, with the culture, with the manager?" says Green.
This is a place where you could potentially spend the majority of your waking hours for years of your life. Remember the wise words of Annie Dillard: "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives."