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The View asked career expert Mauri Schwartz to answer questions from job seekers.

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Q: There’s lots of advice about how to prepare answers to questions you’ll be asked in an interview, but I have difficulty thinking of questions to ask the interviewer.  I’ve heard this is really important, but I can’t seem to think of anything when the time comes.  Can you help?

A: I believe that interviewers learn as much about you from the questions you ask as from the answers you give to their queries.  It’s crucial that you have intelligent, well thought out questions to ask.  Never say “no” to “do you have any questions for me?”

Your questions should indicate that you understand the role, and are knowledgeable about the organization.  Picture yourself in the job; what would you want to know.  I like organizational questions:  “Can you please tell me about your organization; how many employees are there and what are their roles?”  You’re asking for a verbal org chart.  “What would you say are the strengths of your team?  What’s working well?  Where are the weaknesses, areas where you can use some help?”  Depending on the answers, this could be a good time to explain how you may be able to assist with those functions.  “What other departments does your team interact with, and how is that going?”

Another excellent way to convey what you know about the organization is to preface your question with something you’ve learned from your research.  “I understand that name-of-company has made a number of acquisitions in the past year. How have these impacted your team?  From what I understand, your leading competitors are X and Y, but that you’re gaining market share. What would you say is your competitive edge?”

There are some questions that you shouldn’t ask, specifically something negative like, “I’ve noticed that name-of-company’s stock has been declining steadily.  What’s wrong?”  If you’ve received an offer or getting close to it, you can do more due diligence prior to making a decision.  

I advise my clients not to ask about company culture, for which I’ve receive a lot of pushback.  In response I ask them what it is they really want to know.  Companies like Google, that have distinct cultures they’re proud of, have made it well known and/or will offer it to you without your asking.  Are you wondering about benefits and perks, such as a game room and catered meals?  Do you want to know if working long hours is regularly expected?  Neither of these are questions you should ask in an interview. It’s important how the interviewer will interpret your question.  There’s too great a chance there’ll be a miscommunication.  

Learn the culture by doing research, both online and talking with people who work or have worked there.  Even better, make it a point to pay attention to what’s going on in the office when you’re on site.  Ask the people you meet what they like/don’t like about working there.

Overall, you should stick with questions that relate to the job and the company.  By so doing you’ll come across intelligent and thoughtful.  Good luck!

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