Never Leave Without Asking a Question
When practicing mock interviews, it's easy to focus on just preparing answers to behavioral interview questions like “tell me about a time when you…” These do, after all, make up the bulk of most of the interview. But the interview isn’t a one-way street. It’s not an exam. It’s really more of a conversation. A former Google engineer explains it this way:
“My number one tip is don’t think of the interview as an evaluation! Try as best you can to think of the interview as an interaction with colleagues. Imagine this is a real problem and we have to solve it together. As much as you can, treat the situation as a conversation with a colleague.” After hundreds of mock interviews on Carrus.io, I’ve found that people usually don’t put enough thought into what questions they have for the company. When you don’t ask good questions (or god forbid, ask zero questions), this leaves the impression that you’re not excited about the company, didn’t spend enough time preparing, lack curiosity, and you’re not thinking much about the overall interview process.
Asking good questions is crucial at every step of the interview process.
I have seen people get rejected after their interviews for failing to show curiosity and ask good, business-minded questions. However, the recruiter probably won’t tell you flat out that you didn’t ask enough questions. They’re usually too nice to do that. Instead, they’d say something else about your culture fit. At Amazon, they might say you didn’t demonstrate a fit with the “learn and be curious” Leadership Principle. At Google, it would be a sign that you didn’t show enough “Googleyness.” At Microsoft, they might think you lack a growth mindset.
It’s likely that you will have questions pop into your head during the interview, in which case you should take a mental note, ask immediately, or write them down in a notepad. I would recommend preparing at least 10-15 questions for the hiring manager because they are the window into the job itself. We can break down potential questions into a few categories. I’ve provided some standard questions that will open up a conversation for you with Amazon, but you will need to prepare your own questions depending on the position and your individual curiosities.
Top Questions You Should Ask
- What are the three most important leadership principles for this job?
- How do you define success for this position? What metrics are you using to measure my accomplishments?
- What specific tools will I be using on the job?
- What is a typical day like?
- What are the opportunities for advancement and growth in this position?
- Do you have any hesitations about my skills or experience for this job?
- Is this a new or replacement position? If it’s a re-placement, why did the previous person leave?
- How does this service/product fit into the greater picture?
- How do you measure customer service?
- What important initiatives are you working on for the next 6-12 months?
- How does this role contribute to larger company goals?
- How would you describe the team culture?
- Can you tell me about members of the team?
- What are the team's strengths and weaknesses?
- What have been the biggest challenges this year for the team?
- Why did you decide to join Amazon?
- What is your management style and philosophy?
- What is your expectation of me for the first 90 days of the job?
- How do you deliver negative feedback?
- What are your favorite and least favorite things about working here?
Managers don’t like it when you ask them the question “why is this position open?” because they don’t see it as a relevant question to succeeding in the job. That said, it’s important for you to ask the question. From their perspective, this falls under the “HR question” like “How many vacation days do I get?” and “How many people are there in the company?” The hiring manager would rather focus on the future — how you’re going to help them, what skills you’re going to bring and what problems you’re going to solve.
But if they get defensive or nervous then that’s your yellow flag. There are lots of situations where you could be set up for failure and don’t know it until you’re actually in the job. For example, if there’s someone on the team that undermines other people, and people are leaving because of that person, this may not even be evident to the manager! Ideally, you want to ask the recruiter and HR as they’re going to be less sensitive, from my experience. Lastly, a better way to phrase the question more softly would be, “I’m curious about the history of this job opening — is the job open because of the growth of the team and additional headcount, or some other reason?”
The Importance of Asking Commercially-Minded Questions
The biggest red flag for a company is if you ask questions that are not business minded. When you ask something like “what are the vacation allotments and time off?” and “how soon can I start?!” they might answer politely, but inside they are wondering why you chose to ask such a question. Why? Because those are not “business-minded” questions and they are not going to help the company in any way. Your 1st grade teacher probably told you there are no such thing as “stupid questions,” but in interview-world, I hate to break it to you: there are definitely stupid questions.
It’s not that they are stupid, per se, but it’s being mindful of the timing of the questions and who you ask. Don’t worry; you can still ask those questions to HR later. But don’t ask the hiring manager. Over the past few years in recruitment, I’ve found one thing that really sets apart the typical questions asked by most interviewees vs. the superstar questions.
The short answer: commercialism.
Long Answer: The idea of being “commercial” means that you fundamentally understand how a business works. You understand how it makes money, what the levers of the business are, and can make good judgments based on that. It doesn’t matter what your profession is. The money ain’t growing on trees.
It’s understanding the why and the gears in the machine. You can go for months and years working at a company but not really understand how it operates. Commercialism is something that might come naturally to some people — they can smell the money, or they are problem solvers. They need to understand how something works. But for most people commercialism will come with time. It will be facilitated by having worked with a strong manager/leader and taking a proactive approach to constantly improving themselves.
Commercialism includes all of the following:
- An understanding of the end product your business is selling
- Understanding how the company makes money and the costs associated with that
- Knowing who the customers are
- An interest in business and an understanding of the wider environment in which the business operates in
- Understanding what category the business fits in, the overall market, and market trends
Knowing this, we can come up with some great and detailed questions. If you don’t have all of the answers to the five questions above for the company you are interviewing for, then you can start to dive deep. For example, you could ask the following:
- Who are your biggest customers in terms of revenue?
- What is your customer retention rate? What are your customers like and how do you communicate with them?
- How much time do you spend with them?
- How do you measure customer service?
- How is performance measured in the company and in this position? What specific KPI’s (key performance indicators) do you use and are they weekly, monthly, quarterly, biannual, yearly, etc.?
- What is the three-year growth plan? What do you think will be the biggest challenge around this and what specific initiatives and tactics are being implemented to achieve these goals?
- What CRM system do you use to track information? What is your management style/philosophy?
- What is the approval process for making decisions in the company (related to product, sales, marketing etc.)?
- What is your business model? Is your business cyclical?
- What are your biggest revenue streams? Do you see the business model changing?
- What are the biggest weaknesses in your business and what are you doing to address them?
Once you ask some of these questions, you’ll likely get a lot of information from the interviewer. They’ll likely be impressed that you’re getting into the level of granularity. It shows that you have a genuine interest in how the business works and their goals. You can then ask follow up questions, of course. And you have the massive benefit of now understanding the inner-workings of the business. Companies are going to hire you for 1 of 2 reasons, or both
- You can make the company money
- You can save the company money
Keep that in mind when you are asking questions, and it’ll be easier to focus on relevant questions. I hope these tips were helpful, and if you have any questions come join our free community of tech experts here. Good luck in your interview!