The best way to generate questions for an interview is to research the job and company ahead of time. With the following guide, you can learn:
- Where to find helpful background information on the job and company you’re pursuing.
- How to turn that information into targeted questions that show your interest.
- The various questions you can ask an interviewer to help deepen your discussion.
Research the Opportunity
To thoroughly research the job and company where you’ll interview, consider printing and closely reviewing these items:
- The job posting.
- The “about” page of the company’s website (as well as any parent company).
- Any other relevant pages on the company’s website. These may include the main careers page, which often has good general information on the advantages of working for the company. Relevant pages may also include a recent press release about a new product launch or the home page for the specific team or department where you’d work.
- Recent news articles and announcements about the company. Try searching in Google’s “News” tab, where you can specify a current date range by clicking the “Tools” button.
- Business websites and publications like Bloomberg, Barron’s, Yahoo Finance, Financial Times, and the Wall Street Journal. These websites have individual pages and news updates for many midsize and large companies. (For any publications you don’t subscribe to that have paywalls, you may still be able to access full-text articles via your local library.)
- Value Line reports on recent company mergers and developments. Ask your local library if they offer access to this paid resource.
- General information about the company’s industry, sector, or products if you aren’t already familiar with them. When researching topics online, remember that Wikipedia pages are unverified information, so you shouldn’t rely on them exclusively. But Wikipedia often serves as a great starting point and portal to official outside links and information.
(Sidenote: Also consider reviewing publicly available details about your interviewer, such as their bio on the company’s website or LinkedIn profile.)
As you review information from the above sources, highlight anything unclear to you, sparks your curiosity, or aligns with your work passions. You can then jot down a related question to ask during the interview.
For example, say you’re interviewing for an outside sales job. Through your research, you discover a press release announcing that the company is working on an innovative new product category. But it’s unclear when the product will be officially launched or available to customers. You could therefore ask the following question:
- I was excited to learn your team will be selling the [name] product class soon. Do you have a sense of when your company’s version will be hitting the market?
With research-backed questions like this, you can gain helpful insight into the job opportunity and show you’re actively interested in the company’s efforts.
Inquire About the Company
Through your research, you’re also better positioned to ask about a potential employer’s overall work culture and objectives. This is often a great line of questioning toward the end of the interview. It places the job you’ve been discussing in a wider context and shows that you’re invested in the overall success of an organization. It also allows the interviewer to give you more of their perspective and insights, taking the conversation beyond the scope of detail in the job posting. Consider asking one or more of the following questions:
- How would you describe the company’s work culture?
- Why do people enjoy working here? Why do you personally like working here?
- How does the organization define success and evaluate employee performance?
- What is the company’s core mission, and why? Do certain values or principles inform that mission?
- How does the company define or distinguish itself from its main competitors?
- What is the company’s overall strategy for staff training and professional development?
- How does the organization incorporate ideas and requests from employees at different levels?
- Does the company have a particular method for new product development and project management?
- What is the management team’s leadership approach or philosophy?
- How has the organization evolved during your tenure? What broad changes have you seen?
- Where do you see the company headed in the short and long term? Are there broad change initiatives underway that would affect my position?
If some of the above questions strike you as a bit forward, keep in mind the basic purpose of a job interview: to figure out if you and the hiring company are a good fit. That requires you to answer the company’s questions about your background. But it also requires the company to answer your questions on what it’s like to work there. Only by this two-way understanding can you each make a decision that’s in everyone’s best interest.
Clarify Details About the Job
Your research can also help you generate clarifying questions about the job itself, for example:
- What does a typical workday entail for this position? Is there wide variation or a strong sense of routine?
- What is the biggest or most frequent challenge for this position?
- How is success in the position measured? What performance metrics are most closely evaluated by management?
- Does the workflow tend to fluctuate on an annual or seasonal basis?
- What is the expected or required ratio of time working at the office vs. WFH? (Note: When asking this question, emphasize your flexibility for different work schedules.)
- Whom does the position report to directly and indirectly? What is the expected level of contact or collaboration?
- Is the role more independent or collaborative? If the latter, which team members or departments would I be partnering with most often?
The hiring manager will often explain the role during the interview and will be able to answer most of your job-specific questions during the interview process. Whenever that’s the case, say so. A comment like “I had some questions about the job, but we’ve already covered most of them” is a courteous way to show the interviewer you’ve been listening and that the information they’ve shared has been helpful to you.
Deepen the Job Discussion
The sample questions above can be a quick reference anytime you prepare for an interview. But always view them against your preliminary research and try to frame them accordingly in your conversation with the interviewer. Below are two examples of how you could phrase a question in the context of research you’ve done:
- In looking over your corporate website, I was struck by the detail that you’ve expanded to five new markets in the past three years. Would you say that’s the biggest change in your time with the company so far?
- I saw on the careers page that your company has a quarterly plan for formal staff training and development. Can you tell me more about how this plan works and how it applies to this department’s schedule?
Any question you ask in a job interview is a Yes/No, Who, What, When, Where, Why, or How. Keep in mind that those last two (“Why” and “How”) are the fuel for interesting conversations, while the others usually just provide facts and context.
For example, you could ask the interviewer when and where the company started. But when they answer plainly (“I believe the company was founded in Buffalo in the mid-1970s.”), you may feel like the conversation is at a dead end. A far more interesting way to learn more from and engage with the interviewer is to ask them how the company has grown or evolved or why it’s been successful in its market.
Clarify Next Steps
At the end of the interview, you should also ask any necessary questions to clarify the next steps. Never leave without a clear sense of when and how you’re likely to hear from them next. Questions may include:
- What is the timeframe for the next stage of your hiring process? If I’m selected, would there be another round of interviews?
- Should I plan on hearing from you directly or from someone else once a decision has been made?
- Should I expect to hear by phone or email? (But emphasize that you’re flexible in this regard. Make sure the interviewer has your correct contact information and knows the best times to reach you.)
The Bottom Line
Your best interview questions will always spring from the research you’re able to do about the job and company ahead of time. Even if the interview comes about suddenly or you’re pressed for time, take a few minutes to learn about the hiring company. You’ll be much more likely to have a productive interview that gets you closer to your next job offer.