So many people are concerned with making a good impression during a job interview that they forget it's a two-way street. You're there not only to market yourself but to find out if the job and the company are a good fit for you. You should use the interview to ask questions for yourself.
People sometimes mistake that suggestion, however, and think that probing questions about the company include "How much time will I get for lunch?" or "How many vacation days will I get per year?" While important to your choice in the long run, the answers to those questions will not get to the meat of the issue — whether the company is a good fit for you. Those types of questions also may give the interviewer a bad impression, so it's best to save them until the point when you're offered the job.
So what type of questions should you be asking? Here are a few:What's an average day like here? The question may prompt the interviewer to go into great detail about the day-to-day workings of the company, which is great information to have. But even if the answer is, "There's no such thing as an average day here," it's useful information. If you like to know what you will be doing day in and day out and like the comfort of ritual, then you already have a hint that the environment might not be best for you. How would you describe the culture here? The interviewer may answer that it's pretty laid-back or it's all business, or there's a good mixture of gender and cultures. Of course, he may also lie through his teeth. But if you're any good at reading people, even that might be valuable. What qualities are you looking for in the person who fills this position? You're looking for answers like "Someone who is good with details" or "Someone who can communicate technical issues to end-users," etc. If the answer is "Someone who doesn't mind doing without lunch on a regular basis or being on call every day of his life," then you have some solid information on which to base your decision about the job. If the question prompts the answer, "Good hair and a winning smile," get up and leave.
Final note: Don't precede these questions with qualifiers. In other words, don't say, "I'm a person who likes to be busy all the time. What's an average day like here?" If you ask that way, you're just giving the interviewer clues as to the answer you want to hear, which may not be the real truth. You want your questions to point to the company at which you're interviewing and that don't reflect on you or your personal opinions. That's the best way to get objective answers.
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Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.