No matter the industry, the precise role or even your age, job interviews are a stressful experience for just about anyone. We all want to present ourselves as the best candidate by showcasing our knowledge, impressing the people who might be our future bosses, and in some cases even acing a skills test or two. But according to Angela Zhang, a software developer who has been on both sides of the boardroom table in job interviews, there is one ingredient that is often missing from otherwise promising candidates: good follow-up questions.
"When I was a bright-eyed senior at MIT interviewing for my first full-time job, the part of the interview process I dreaded wasn't the algorithm design or the complexity analysis," she wrote. "It was the moment at the end of each hour-long interview when my interviewer would ask me: 'Are there any questions I can answer for you about the company?'"
This part of an interview might be seen as a formality or simply routine, but it serves many more purposes. As hard as it can be to put into practice when nerves get the best of you, job interviews should not be a one-sided conversation. Giving the candidate a chance to ask questions allows them to understand if the position and company are truly a good fit. It's also yet another way for job-seekers to impress whoever they are speaking with and show off the depth of research they should have already conducted.
If you're preparing for your next interview as a professional in the IT industry, there are a few specific things to consider when crafting your follow-up questions. Still, most of the same advice given to any job candidate still applies.
How to craft better interview questions
It's almost easier to provide a few general rules on what not to ask in a job interview, or how to at least prepare a few questions that will most effectively convey your interest in the employer. According to The Balance, follow-up interview questions should generally follow these guidelines:
- Avoid asking "me" questions. Interview questions should demonstrate how you can help the company, not the other way around.
- Be sure your questions focus on multiple different topics and could be answered by more than one person in the room. At the same time, keep each question as brief and to-the-point as possible, avoiding complicated questions with many parts.
- If you think of a question that could be answered with a simple "yes" or "no," you can probably skip it or at least reformulate it to gain deeper insight into a company.
Tech-focused question examples
Zhang, the software developer cited earlier, provided a few examples of follow-up interview questions that she felt were most effective and insightful after years of experience interviewing at tech companies. A few of these included:
"Tell me about a project you worked on recently."
This question is good only if you can provide more context or get more specific in the answers you are expecting. Many IT jobs are project-focused, which means they are often structured similarly and managed on tight deadlines and well-defined job roles. Ask about a recent project completed by someone in the room and how the process moved along. Try to get more information on how progress was evaluated or the changes that needed to be made along the way. You might even ask what could be done differently in future projects to achieve a better outcome.
"How has the company helped you achieve your career goals?"
Professional development is a major part of most full-time jobs in any industry, but it pans out quite differently from one company to another. This question should provide more details on what you might expect to gain from a position at the company in terms of new skills, certifications and other major learning achievements. On the other hand, if the response to this question is mixed or vague, it could be a clue that the company does not have an effective professional development system in place.
"What defines your company culture?"
If you do end up getting the job for which you are interviewing, you can expect to spend a great deal of time there. Asking about the culture of the company is important for assessing how you will fit into your new role. Zhang suggested asking how the company's culture differed from that of other tech companies, which could open up more specific lines of questioning. You might also consider asking about flexible work arrangements or how often coworkers meet in their free time to get a better sense of the company's culture.
The possibilities for what you could ask in a job interview are essentially unlimited. What really matters is that you ask the questions you think are most important, and that you do so with confidence.