Is it okay to not ask questions at my interview?

Advice from The Sherwins for June 2017

 
Is-it-okay-to-not-ask-questions-at-an-interview

 

Hi Sherwins,

I finally did it! I decided to quit my horrible job! Now I have to find a new one. I’m especially worried about interviewing. The questions are fine, but at the end, I never know what to ask them. Is it okay to not ask any questions?

Thanks,
E in Los Angeles

 

Well, congratulations, E! Quitting a job is hard. But, really, there’s only so many times you can tell yourself, “This is a great learning opportunity!” before it’s just learning to become bitter and frustrated. Time to brush off your résumé, polish your portfolio, remove all those embarrassing photos from Facebook, and starting hitting the submit button. Whoo hoo, inter-view.

You’ve probably already asked the internet for all of those super-hard behavioral interview questions, and you’ve got clever-but-not-too-clever answers. Which weakness of yours can you describe so that it sounds like a strength? How do you look like you actually know what you want five years from now? Is your handwriting good enough to get you through that whiteboard test?

But let’s focus on your specific worry: “Is it okay to not ask any questions?”

No. No, it is not okay.

What are you going to do when that magical moment comes? You, E, are going to ask them a question. And not one from those random HR listicles. The person interviewing you has already seen all of those. Don’t think you’re going to catch them off-guard by asking about their biggest weakness. Even if you did, would it tell you anything useful about the job or the company? Unless by “useful’ you mean that they all read random HR listicles, then no.

And that’s the purpose of these end-of-interview questions, right? To find out things you actually want to know. Things that will be helpful. What is this job really about? If you want to hire me, will I want to work here? What kinds of questions will get you that information? No creative director is going to put down her coffee mug mid-sentence and scream RUN AWAY! RUN AWAY, RIGHT NOW!

Which is why we’ve got the following list of questions for you to consider. Before asking these in an interview, figure out the types of answers you’re looking for. What’s the line between warning and welcome? Odds are, your interviewer won’t have the answers, but how they consider and formulate their responses can tell you a lot.

 

If you’re coming from a workplace where employees were mistreated:

  • How does the company help employees during stressful times?
  • How do you support employees’ mental health needs?
  • How does the company think about the relationship between performance and burnout?

 

If the space looks fun, but you can’t really tell if people are happy:

  • If your office had to get rid of three perks, which ones could you remove and not adversely affect the culture?
  • What’s the role that social media plays in the office?
  • How does the office think about people’s needs for privacy?

 

If you’re making the move into management, or if this is a new role:

  • What gaps will this position be expected to fill, and how will conditions for success be determined?
  • On any given week, what happens here that supports employee learning and education?
  • What’s the decision-making process in this department? (or on this team?)

 

If none of these appeal to you, or none seem quite right, skip directly to this one:

“Tell me about an ethical decision that your <company/department/team> recently made, and how you made it.”

Ethical decisions are made all the time, and they revolve around agreed-upon behaviors. No single person gets to define the ethics of a company. Without people supporting the action on the ground, one person at the top yelling about things is just one person yelling about things. Any company that isn’t willing to discuss issues of ethics (providing a little wiggle room for NDAs, of course) isn’t worth your time. No, really, trust us on this. This isn’t about whether or not you want to work for a company that “does good”; it’s about how a company thinks about its employees when fancy words turn into deadlines.

Any quick tips from us? Sure. Make sure you have a pen. Take time to think about your answers before giving them—standard questions are frequently given a little nuance for you to respond to. Send a thank-you note, or at least a thanks email. Every project in your portfolio should have your role clearly defined. (If you’re a student and you don’t show any work that you did with a team, that’s a problem.)

A good interviewer should never ask “Why should I hire you?” If they do, feel free to say something equally obnoxious like: “A wise man knows that he does not know.” Send a thank-you note to them, too.

Good luck with the job search, E. Let us know how it goes. We’re rooting for you.

Best,
The Sherwins

 

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The fine print: This advice shall be whisked from the Interwebs on June 30, 2017. Send questions to questions (at) askthesherwins (daht) com. All questions become the property of Ask the Sherwins, LLC and may be edited. Our advice shouldn't be construed as a replacement for the appropriate legal or professional counsel.