14 key questions you should ask a potential employer

In a job interview, after you’ve fielded queries about how you handle criticism and what kind of tree you’d be, you’ll be prompted to inquire about the company. Don’t come up empty.

You got through a telephone screening, 10 résumé revisions and a lot of anxious moments when you were convinced they were ignoring you.

Now the interviewer across the desk from you just asked, “So, do you have any questions for me?” And you desperately wish you had something to ask.

Remember what interviews are all about. They’re not about you; they’re about your ability to do something for the people interviewing you.

There’s so much else going on in your work, your life and your job search that you can forget to look at the interview from the interviewer’s point of view. He or she has a job, too, and a whole slew of tasks and accomplishments that they have to get done in the near and long term.

So, for professionals in the first 10 years of their career, the questions  below—which focus on the needs, traits and preferences of your future boss/employer—demonstrate that you are genuinely interested in their well-being and in the success of the organization you’re hoping to join.

Remember, the more interest we show in others, the more interest they’re going to have in seeing that you get the job.

With that in mind, here are 14 essential questions for your next interview:

1. What’s the biggest change your team has gone through in the last year? Does your team feel that things are getting better in the economy and for your business?

2. If I get the job, how do I earn a “gold star” on my performance review? What are the key accomplishments you’d like to see in this role over the next year?

3. What’s your (or my future boss’s) leadership style?

4. About which competitor are you most worried?

5. How do sales/operations/technology/marketing/finance work around here? (Focus on groups other than the one you’re interviewing for.)

6. What types of people are successful here? What types are not?

7. What’s one key to this company’s success that somebody outside the company wouldn’t know about?

8. How did you get your start in this industry? Why do you stay?

9. What keeps you up at night? What’s your biggest worry these days?

10. What is your reward system? Is it a star system/team-oriented/equity-based/bonus-based/golf-clap-based? Why is that your reward system? If you could change any one thing about it, what would it be?

11. What information is shared with the employees (revenues, costs, operating metrics)? Is this an “open book” shop, or do you play it close to the vest? How is information shared? How do I access the information I need in order to be successful in this job?

12. What is the rhythm to the work here? Is there a season that’s “all hands on deck” when we’re pulling all-nighters, or is it consistent throughout the year? How about during the week/month? Is it evenly spread throughout the week/month, or are there crunch days?

13. Who are the heroes at your company? What characteristics do the people who are most celebrated have in common? Conversely, what are the characteristics that are common to the promising people you hired, but who flamed out and failed or left?

14. What’s the timeline for making a decision on this position? When should I get back in touch with you?

Good luck with all your interviews. I’m rooting for you.

A version of this article originally appeared on Marc Cenedella’s blog.


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