How to respond to the interview question "what question do you have for me?"

Understanding expectations is key during an interview and after you get the job

Summary: every interviewer will want you to ask them a question - so prepare. Consider “If after 12 months I failed, where did we go wrong?”.  This question is just as valuable when you aren’t looking for a new job as it’s critical to proactively align expectations with your key stakeholders.

“What questions do you have for me?” Nearly every interviewer will ask you this question, but you probably spend the least time preparing for it.  Yet it offers you the greatest opportunity to make a positive impression.  Nearly all candidates, when I ask this question, reply with the following:

  • “What’s it like to work here?”

  • “Tell me about the culture”

  • “Describe the role you are hiring in more detail”

  • “What’s the vision for the product?”

  • “What are the prospects for the company in upcoming years?”

  • “Why did you join this company?”

These are all perfectly acceptable questions.  But in nearly all cases, you won’t gain much from the answers.  Your interviewer will easily forget a generic question.  But since interviews usually end with this question, you have an opportunity to ask a thoughtful question, leave a lasting impression, and learn something to help you make your decision. 

I see interviewing as a two-way street. Good candidates will have several choices for their next job. So it’s your responsibility to learn as much as you can during the interview process about the work, people and company.  But though you have many questions about your next employer, don’t barrage your interviewers with a bunch of up front up interrogations.  In the end, you work for the company so be patient with your questions until they give you an opening to ask.  But before you take an offer, find time with the hiring manager to get your questions answered.

I divide my questions between role, team and company. Ideally, you’d plug these three inputs into your career framework and Voila––the output to join is a clear and clean decision. This article will focus on questions to help you learn more about your role.

For your upcoming role, you need to fully understand year 1 expectations.  You can phrase this directly like “What does success look like in the first 12 months”, but you can get better answers when you start with “If after 12 months I failed, where did we go wrong?”.

The top reason why someone is a poor fit in a company is that they fail to meet expectations of their manager, their organization and the company. It could be due to incompetence.  But all too often it’s because expectations are not understood - or they are misaligned.  In an interview (or a feedback session with a key stakeholder) this phrasing allows me to tie expectations, past failure modes from previous hires, and strengths and weaknesses they see from the interview process or my work to date.

If you ask this question to everyone in your interview panel (or your current stakeholders), especially your skip-level managers, you will probably get slightly (or wildly) different answers. Do two things now: (a) ensure you can exceed these, i.e. have the skills, want to solve the problem, and have the support; and (b) shine a light on the differences to your hiring manager.

Let’s assume you’ve pulled these expectations and are now in a conversation with your hiring manager.  You might have the job, but your goal is to accurately assess the role, start to set clear expectations, and build excitement you can leverage in your title and compensation negotiation.  Consider the following notes:

  • Repeat back expectations: “I understand that you are hiring me to lead [X] and in the first year, you indicated I have to nail the following [Y] things to succeed.  Does this sound right?”

  • Align expectations: “Interestingly, in my discussions with my other stakeholders, a few new things surfaced.  [These] expectations matches yours, but they added [these others] as important. How should I think about these differences?”

  • Reinforce your strengths and role fit: “From this list, I am quite confident I can tackle [these] expectations.  I’ve solved [A] in the past, feel like [B] are my superpowers.”

  • Signal where you need to show vulnerability, test how your manager can help, and adjust expectations if needed: “On [these other] expectations, I’ll need support and perhaps a bit more clarity.  I’m not looking for a tactical plan today, more align on the help you think I’ll need, how we would partner up to solve this, and resources that might be available especially as I’m new to the role.”

Who would you hire? The candidate who asks “tell me about the role?” or the one who organizes expectations?  And as mentioned, even if you aren’t interviewing, this is a great exercise to work through in your current role.  Matching expectations is critical - and this template is just as effective to return to periodically even after you have the job.

P.S. For a great list of other questions you should consider asking, please see this First Round Article where I contributed.

(Photo byChristina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash)