It’s something that gets asked by almost every hiring manager at the tail end of almost any job interview: “Do you have any questions for me?” Shrug it off or shake your head, and you risk looking like you haven’t done your homework or you’re not interested in the position, says Vicki Salemi, career expert and author of Big Career in the Big City. But what you ask is just as important as the fact that you piped up. “I encourage people to write down their questions ahead of time, because you’re going to be talking to a lot of people with a million things running through your mind,” she says. “Being able to look at a list helps you stay calm without scrambling to ask something impressive.” She suggests one of these:
1. WHY DO YOU LIKE WORKING HERE—ASIDE FROM THE PEOPLE?
That second part is important, says Salemi, because “the first reaction everyone has it so say people, but that doesn’t really tell you much.” When you take away their ability to default to great coworkers, you get more insightful responses. “Benefits” might signal that the pay is great, but the work is boring. “Flexibility” might tell you that micromanagement won’t be a major problem. And if someone really struggles to think of something, well, that might be a red flag all its own.
2. IF I WANT TO BE RATED EXCELLENT ON MY PERFORMANCE REVIEW AT YEAR END, WHAT WILL IT TAKE TO GET THERE?
“This is my all-time favorite question, because it shows them that you’re ambitious and you strive for excellence,” says Salemi. But the question can also give you great insight into what it takes to excel in the job—not just land the job offer. “I always remind candidates that you’re interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing you,” she says. Do they have a clearly articulated vision of what this role entails? Do the expectations seem reasonable enough? Challenging enough? Does the picture of an ace worker actually jibe with your skill set and interests?
3. HOW WILL I BE TRAINED?
Here’s another question that makes it easy to sniff out how disorganized or chaotic things are behind the scenes. Can the hiring manager describe a carefully mapped out training program? Are there mentors? Or does he default to “on-the-ground learning” and leave it at that? “You want to know the boss has put some thought into what happens after you get the new job,” says Salemi. “Even at an executive level, you might not get explicit training, but there’s going to be some structure in place to get ramped up on the inner workings of the organization.”
4. HOW DO YOU SEE THIS DEPARTMENT EVOLVING OVER THE NEXT FEW YEARS?
Here’s a sneaky way to ask about advancement opportunities without asking how quickly you’ll get promoted. Maybe the company’s in a period of rapid expansion, maybe there’s a big technology project on the horizon that will upend how things are structured, or maybe the department has been totally steady for as long as they can remember. All of that is great intel that you won’t get if you stay mum. “The biggest red flag is if they don’t seem to have any vision for the future,” says Salemi. That might be because they’re too busy scrambling to stay afloat in the near term to think big picture—rarely a sign of good career opportunities.