Interviews always result in a number of cliches, but one of the most common is that question near the end:
“Do you have any questions for me?”
It’s a trick question. The interviewer is hoping to learn about you from what you ask, just as much as you’re hoping to learn by asking them. That’s not a bad thing: Every piece of information in an interview — questions, answers, the office/conference room, what kind of drinks they offer and how many, the titles of the people who interview you — is an opportunity for both parties to learn about each other.
So, what both shows you off and provides you with information?
- Ask a follow up question about something you discussed earlier. For example, if you were asked about red-black trees, inquire how the company uses them and why they chose them over an AVL tree. This tells the interviewer you were listening. It also helps you better understand his or her technical chops, and if the question was applicable or just a “do you have a CS degree” filter.
- Ask about career paths… carefully. Ask how people move around the company. If you’re interested in management, go ahead and ask about it. If you’re interested in staying technical, ask if there’s a non-management technical career track. You won’t get a full picture, but you can at least figure out if there’s a defined process or if things are free-flowing. But be careful. There are wrong ways to ask this question, so avoid the ones that seem like you don’t want the position, such as, “How long before I can be promoted?” or “What’s after this job?” Instead, ask in ways that show you want the job and that you want to be at the company for a while. For example, “Tell me about the career track here.”
- Ask about their process. If the company says they’re an agile team, ask for details. Things that sound the same at a very high level often aren’t when you dig in. Process is a place where companies tend to “tweak,” and its processes will define a lot of how you go about doing your job. It’s best to ask up front.
- Ask about something that bugged you at your last job. It’s often the little things that add up. Pick a small thing that bugged you. For example, maybe you really didn’t like that stand-ups involved people sitting down. Ask about it. Just remember: When you ask, don’t badmouth your old employer, or even say why you’re asking.
- Ask the same question of every interviewer. The variety of answers you get will be interesting. Your interviewers (who’ll probably talk to each other about you) will know you did it, and probably respect your double-checking skills.
What’s your favorite question to ask during interview? Tell me in the comments below.