The How, What and When of Asking Questions in Interviews

Interview. Panic. (Some) preparation. More panic. Cross fingers.

Sound familiar?

Whilst that errant ‘chimp’ inside you may conjure up all types of crazy interview ‘worst case’ scenarios – the reality is that your interviewer is very unlikely to shine a spotlight in your eyes and bombard you with hundreds of impossible to answer questions. Of course if they do, you may want to ask if it’s a place you’d really like to work – but that’s a topic for another blog!

During the 14 years I’ve spent in recruitment I have been extremely privileged to work with 100s of candidates; interviewing them personally, preparing them for interview, and training my team to do the same. We’ve explored improving  interview style from the perspective of the interviewer, but I wanted to tackle the subject from the candidate’s point of view and specifically look at how, what and when you can use questions to your advantage when interviewing.

In my opinion, the best interviews are two-way conversations; in fact your interviewer is actually likely to think NEGATIVELY if you do not ask any questions. They may feel it shows a lack of interest and perhaps confidence. After all, this is your prime opportunity to find out if that dream role (sold to you by a recruiter) is actually all its cracked up to be! Use this time wisely.

What to ask?

You decide! It’s your interview, your career, your questions. Why ask ‘standard’ questions from a book that aren’t important to you? If you’re unaware of the role particulars and what will be required of you, take some time out to think about what’s important to you over and above the basics (pay, hours etc).

If you’re struggling then I’d think about questions that are likely to lead to a wider conversation – like asking:

  • How would you describe the company culture?
  • Why did you choose to join this company (you may be surprised by the answer)?
  • Why do you see this role as being critical to the business?

At the end of the interview, one question I would always recommend you ask is, now they have met you, whether the interviewer has any reservations about your suitability for the role. This question’s now asked more commonly than ever which, whilst a good thing, does mean they may be ready for you! Therefore you are most likely to get a better answer if you ask a better question. A suggestion you may want to play around with could be something like this:

“Thanks for taking the time out to meet me; I’ve really enjoyed hearing more about the business. It was particularly useful to [hear about the reasons you joined] (insert your chosen highlight to retain a feeling of sincerity). Are there any examples I gave that perhaps didn’t answer your question or that I can expand upon in more detail?”

A simple follow on to this may be to dig a bit deeper if you feel you have built good rapport with the interviewer (trust your intuition as to whether you can probe a bit further and ask if they may look to progress your application).

One caveat on this section – and that is DO NOT feel like you need to ask LOTS of questions. Keep it super relevant and make the most of your opportunity to ask your key questions.

When to ask

The most natural time to ask questions would most obviously appear to be the end of an interview (and usually prompted by the interviewer). Actually, it’s far more effective to ask questions as part of the natural conversation (without being robotic!). Again remember the two-way conversation piece. Much like if you were meeting a friend for a drink you would ask continual questions if discussing something that interested you. Being ultra ‘stiff’ and over-professional in an interview is not always the best course of action.

How to ask

It is infinitely better to ask questions with a leading sentence. For example, rather than bluntly asking ‘how much will I be paid’ (which can sound a bit confrontational and totally self-interested), phrase it more like “I note from your careers site that you place a lot of emphasis on the wellbeing and happiness of your workforce which is really important to me. Could you give me some further detail around what that looks like in terms of benefits and salary package?”.

It always helps soften a question (especially a ‘hard to ask’ question) if you give a short pre-amble which also shows you’ve bothered to do some research of your own.

Finally DON’T read from a massive page of questions. Whilst it’s good that you prepared, it can appear disingenuous and almost as if you’ve simply copied down the best questions from some well known interview books because you thought you should. Be brave! Go forearmed but trust yourself that you will know the right questions to ask in the interview situation.

Good luck! I hope the above gives you the confidence to be the best you can, be yourself and get the most you can from your interview. Remember, they were once on your side of the desk!


Mark Barnicoat

Written by , Managing Director

Mark is the Co-founder of Oasis HR and, as Managing Director, responsible for all day-to-day operations and strategically realising the over-arching vision. A Law Graduate with over 17 years experience in the recruitment space, Mark has a passion for people & personal development and is a trained NLP Master Practitioner. Outside of work Mark enjoys sports and adrenaline activities and (kids permitting) enjoys downhill Mountain Biking, Snowboarding and anything with an engine! Mark is also a Licensed FA coach and committed member of his son's Football club. Positive, honest, focused, hard working and family orientated Mark has been instrumental in creating a recognisable, well regarded and respected name in the HR world; an achievement recognised through multiple award successes.

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