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Do You Have Any Questions For Me?

How to respond when you’re interviewing for a job

by Brought to you by the ACS Career Navigator
June 2, 2014 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 92, ISSUE 22

Job interviews are stressful. You’re worried about making a good impression, selling your skills and abilities, and not spilling food on yourself. At the same time, you’re trying to learn all about the organization, determine what the job will really be like, and decide if you like your potential future coworkers. However, the last question can be the most stressful—when the interviewer asks if you have any questions. You not only need to have questions prepared, but you should also tailor them to the person you’re speaking with.

Credit: Shutterstock
Good questions can help a job candidate stand out.
Credit: Shutterstock
Good questions can help a job candidate stand out.

WHAT NOT TO SAY. “No, not really,” or “What does your company make?” These are probably the worst things you can say. They indicate a lack of preparation and real interest in the company or the job. Other than giving a bad talk, asking no questions is may be the easiest way to make sure you don’t get an offer.

USEFUL QUESTIONS. “Why is this position open?” The answer to this query will most likely be short but very telling. It could be due to a promotion, a new direction for the company, or something else. Your interviewer probably won’t tell you the previous person quit because the department was dysfunctional. However, you may be able to gain some insight into the goals and future of the department.

“What is the biggest problem I will face in this position?” Phrasing the question this way makes the hiring manager think of you as already in that position. It shows you are involved and planning how best to do the job.

“What do you like best/least about working for this company?” This question will give you some insight into both the culture of the company and the values of the specific person who is answering it. This makes it especially useful to ask of your potential future boss.

“How will I be evaluated?” or “In your opinion, what is valued at this company?” Some companies have a formal review process, others not so much. In some companies technical expertise is rewarded and promoted; in others managerial aptitude is needed to get ahead. This question shows your interest in growing with the company and will help you prioritize your activities once you start work.

“What is the next step?” You should direct a version of this last question to the human resources representative. It shows your continued interest in the process. What you really want to find out is where the company is in the hiring process, where you stand relative to the other candidates, and when a decision will be made. The question shows you’re interested and enthusiastic without making you appear desperate, and the answer will suggest when to follow up with the company.

Preparing for questions you know you will be asked is a great way to manage the stress associated with the job interview process. By formulating insightful, probing questions that show you are excited about working for this company and this role, you will end the interview on a positive note, with every chance of a successful outcome.

Get Involved In The Discussion. The ACS Career Tips column is published the first week of every month in C&EN. Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns in the Career Development section of the ACS Network (



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Dr Steve (June 5, 2014 3:10 PM)
However, if the interviewer is any good they will probably cover all of those items up front.

My fave question: "What can I do to make your life easier?"
Fenton Heirtzler (August 4, 2014 4:03 PM)
Tomorrow, I have a preliminary job interview scheduled by Skype with an alternative energy start-up. There have been a number of such companies which had good science, but were not able to successfully bring a product to market. So they failed, or were bought up by major companies.

So today, I spent some of my time on the internet trying to determine how the company was being financed. Didn't find any current information. Is this a fair question to raise during the interview?
Steve Meyers (August 8, 2014 11:32 AM)
I know this comes after your interview but I think your instincts are correct. Researching and then asking about the long-term prospects of the company is very important and not something that should be avoided. As with any job, you are also taking a risk by accepting a position (as the company is with you) so it is key that you know as much as possible to inform your employment decision. I don't think it needs to be as blunt as “where does your funding come from and how much do you have?” However, questions at the end of the final interview around “what are the long-term growth plans before a product is realized?” and/or “what is the company’s exit strategy?” are very informative for you and will also show the hiring manager that: you did your research, have some entrepreneurial inclinations yourself, and understand how a start-up raises capital.
Lisa Balbes (August 11, 2014 9:19 AM)
I agree with Steve, I think this is a perfectly legitimate question. You could even say that you did research, but were unable to find out how they are funded. Before you take a position there, it would be nice to know how long they can operate with what they have, and what their long-term plans are.

Sorry this is after the fact, and hope the interview went well for you!
meatgrinder (August 20, 2014 1:19 PM)
I must depart. Such fascinating tete-a-tete

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