If you're going on a job interview, you've probably spent time preparing to answer questions, not ask them.
But play your cards right, and you can use a job interview to learn more about a company's operations, policies and culture by posing a few carefully selected queries when the time is right.
A recruiter or hiring manager normally will give you an opening near the end of an interview by asking "Is there anything about the company you'd like to know?" or "What else can I tell you?"
Don't blow it by by sitting there like a stone -- lack of curiosity about the company could make an interviewer wonder how serious you are about the job and kill any chance of getting a call back. Having a few smart questions at the ready shows you've done your homework and are interested in the position.
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On the flip side, don't pepper the interviewer with everything you could possibly want to know. Two or three questions is plenty. If a recruiter or other interviewer likes you enough to invite you back for a second interview, you'll have another chance to find out more, says Jonscott Turco, New York market vice president with outplacement and coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. "The key to remember is the person interviewing you is likely going to pass you along in the hiring process if they believe you can gel with the company's existing work force and overall mission," Turco says.
If you're invited to ask questions, don't use the opportunity to drone on about yourself, Turco says. "This is especially true of job seekers over 40. The temptation is to run through the extensive experiences we have accumulated through our career thus far. This is not the way to go," he says.
To get the most from an interview, here are a handful of savvy questions that Turco and other career experts suggest asking. (Be sure to read all the way to the end to find out the No. 1 question they suggest you avoid at all costs.)
Amazing as it sounds, job seekers often forget to ask about the key elements that make a particular job unique, challenging or important, says Kathy Caprino, a career coach in Wilton, Conn.
Use this question to find out about the daily ins and outs of a position rather than asking "What hours am I expected to work?" -- which could raise red flags that you're not 100 percent committed, Caprino says.
Asking point blank why a position is open could put an interviewer on the spot. Instead, inquire about the company's plans or about goals in the division you're applying to, Turco says. "It doesn't put the interviewer in a defensive place trying to explain why someone left or was let go," he says. It can also give you information that you can use to weave your applicable skills into the conversation, he says.
What the interviewer shares about their experience can be very telling. "If they pause dramatically, perhaps you hit a nerve and they are asking themselves this for the first time. As a potential employee, that is a pretty big red flag," Turco says. "I've even heard of situations where the interviewer says, 'I really don't know why I am still here.' That's your clue to move on to a different company." Conversely, if the interviewer has had a positive experience, this person could share important clues about the company and its culture. In either case, the key is to listen -- but not add anything. "There is no follow-up necessary regardless of what they say," Turco says.
Hearing how the interviewer describes the company's corporate culture can give you information you can use to determine whether it's a good fit for your personality or preferred work style.
The point of asking this question is to show the interviewer you've investigated the company well enough to be up to speed on what's happening in their field, says Keith Feinberg, New York director of permanent placement services for Robert Half International. "It demonstrates you want to work in that industry for that company" enough to have done your homework, Feinberg says.
If you're interviewing for a job as part of a career change, get a reality check from someone who can offer insights about what would make you a better prospect, says Paula Gregorowicz, a Philadelphia area business and career coach. Likewise, ask about activities, training or other preparations that conventional wisdom says you need for the job or field, but that in reality aren't necessary, Gregorowicz says.
The No. 1 question to avoid at all costs: There is one question career advisors say job seekers should not bring up during a first interview: "What is the salary for this position?" At this early stage in the hiring process, discussion of compensation is premature. "That needs to be discussed as a negotiation after you've made it as a top candidate," Caprino says.
Read more: Comebacks for Tricky Job Interview Questions