Interviewing the Hiring Manager: Four Questions You Should Ask

By Thursday, November 15, 2012 5 Permalink 21

Interviewing is a 2-way street.

I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but you’d be surprised how many candidates struggle with asking valuable questions. They get to the interview and when it’s turned over to them, they go with a lame question like “Tell me more about the company,” or “What type of books do you read?”

Tell you more? Haven’t you done your research? Didn’t YOU apply for this job? Be more specific or deal with my awkward silence and tilted head.

What types of books do I read? What if I said vampire erotica? Where would you go from there? I’ll tell you what: any type of book I read is not gonna help you get this job or build a relationship. You should’ve done that for the last 30 minutes.

When you get the chance to ask the interviewer (or hiring manager for this post) questions, the purpose isn’t to wow them. It’s to ask about areas that are important to you. Should they be wowed by what’s important to you, great. Otherwise, your questions should tell you more about the company’s plans for growth, opportunities to move upward or laterally, what it’ll be like to work for that boss or on that team, and so on. There are a ton of questions you could ask, but for today I just wanna share four of my favorites:

There’s the job description and the actual job. Can you tell me where most of my time would be spent if I was selected for this role?

As someone that writes job descriptions, I can tell you there’s always a bunch of stuff in there we’d like you to have. The truth is the majority of your time will be spent in a couple areas or on a couple responsibilities. One of those responsibilities may be to “scramble your ass off from 9-6 to fulfill every random urgent request,” which means the job may be like 70% transactional and 30% long-term projects. You may not know that just from looking at the description. With this approach, you’re also acknowledging you’ve reviewed the entire description, but would like to know the focus points. If you realize you didn’t cover something earlier in the interview, you may have a moment to clarify or you can include it in your thank you/follow up.

Can you give me a couple examples of projects that have been delegated to the person in this role in the past?

This is a good follow-up to the first question. If they believe past performance is an indicator of future success, then past projects are an indicator of future work.

What three words or phrases do you think previous employees or direct reports would use to describe you? (And why?)

I find this question to be on par with “What’s your philosophy on people management?”. I like this one more because it’s fun and they won’t be able to give you a canned response that doesn’t reflect how they actually manage. This isn’t to say that hiring managers lie in interviews, but I think you’ll get less practiced and subsequently more honest answers.

Can you give me an example or two of how you’ve developed your staff? Could be bringing subpar performers up, or getting great performers prepared for the next step in their career.

If these last two questions made you nervous, grow a pair and take control of your future. You’re not gonna lose the job because you asked tough questions. However, you may lose your sanity because you didn’t and ended up working with a maniac tyrant who doesn’t care about your development.  It’s important to know how your future boss will interact with you during the highs and lows. And again, past performance is an indicator of future success (or struggle).

Keep these questions in your bank. You’ll need ’em one day. Don’t worry. You won’t crash.


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  • How about, “How did this position become available?”

    I’ve had hiring managers slip and give all sorts of useful information while answering that. Some have said the position has a lot of turn over (i.e. We hired someone two years ago and they left after six months, then the next person just wasn’t a good fit.) But I’ve also had the manager tell me the person was promoted, got married, had a baby, etc.

    • Rich

      That’s a good one. I approve this message!

      I try to flush that out as soon as possible. It’s also a good segue into some of the others.

  • Lorraine

    I wish I had the opportunity to read this before I went on my interview a few weeks ago! Definitely useful information, thanks Rich.

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    written article. I will make sure to bookmark it and come back to read more
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  • Dawn

    “If these last two questions made you nervous, grow a pair and take control of your future.”

    I had to laugh at myself on this because its the exact feeling (nervous) I had reading the last two questions. I never would have thought that you could ask questions like that. It makes perfect sense!

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