30 Smarter Questions You Can Ask the Interviewer (and Why) | Life Into Tech by Bessy Tam

30 Smarter Questions You Can Ask the Interviewer (and Why)

Published on 12 July 2019 by Bessy Tam | Filed in Interview & Informational Chats

Interviewing is like playing a friendly game of tennis.

You get served the ball by your friendly opponent hoping that you can return it back well. 

What does it mean to hit a great response back?


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  1. The Recruiter/HR Manager actually enjoys the game
  2. The Recruiter/HR Manager can actually play the ball back
  3. The question or answer you're hitting back is intriguing and has material he/she can react back to

Imagine if the hiring manager or recruiter is "carrying the weight" of the game, hitting a great ball to you, giving you a great entry point to answer, but you're only able to "receive it" and not respond back with substance. 

Wouldn't that be boring to the hiring manager? Wouldn't that create a disproportionate weight on you just "answering questions" vs making it more conversational?

Why People Fail At Tech Interviews and What to Do

That's why it's important for you to ask quality questions - to be able to actively play a friendly game of tennis. To show curiosity and hold a 50/50 relationship and a 50/50-weighted conversation. 

Previously, I talked about how curiosity is the #1 reason  people fail at tech interviews. I know this because I've interviewed dozens of candidates in my job at Google. And I also know this because I've truly tested my methodologies personally as well, which got me 100% interview to offer ratios for tech jobs.

You can show curiosity by:

  • Doing your homework - research about the role, the company, and the interviewer that you will meet with
  • Actively listening  - lean in during your interview on the edge of your seat and plant your feet firmly on the ground. Don't slump back on your chair, it just makes you look uninterested.
  • Taking notes - remember what the interviewer says and write down notes. Not only will it show the interviewer you're truly interested in what they're saying, you can also write down the 'keywords" that they say so that you connect your answers back to what they said.
  • Asking the right questions - you'll usually have time to ask questions at the end. You can also ask questions after you answer one of the interview questions if you see that there's an opportunity.

Don't Let This Small Thing Undermine Your Chances

The challenge is, if you don't do any of the above, especially  asking great questions, the interviewer might think you're not that interested or not prepared.

Questions like - "How are the benefits at Facebook?" just won't cut it.

That was actually the worst question I've ever gotten as an interviewer and I immediately decided I didn't want her.

It just shows you're not strategic in your ways of working. In my mind as an interviewer, I wonder - how does this translate to his/her work in the workplace? Are they just a data monkey and just does what they're told? Or are they proactive and curious?

It also infers that you don't care about solving the company or team's problems  (which is why a person is hired anyway).. You only care about getting a job.

When in the Interview Prep Process do you prep your questions?

Now that you know why it's important, when are you supposed to prep your questions?

When I prep my students for interviews these questions can be written down after we have a full 25 to 30-page prep doc done. 

This 30-page prep doc includes information about:

  • Who we're meeting
  • Interesting traits of those people for talking points
  • Information about the company, role, and culture that we need to keep in mind
  • 25+ interview questions and answers that can predict 99% of what the interviewer asks - I call this the "Plug and Play" approach
  • and lastly questions we want to ask for each interviewer.

If you want to learn more about the 5 Most Common Questions that Tech Interviews ask and How to Answer them, subscribe below. This is ONE section out of my 7-day FREE Email Course if you're interested.


7 Smarter Strategies to Make You Stand Out Against Competitors

The key is to think through your strategy:

  1. What are the most important 2-3 things you need to learn about this role in order for you to make an educated decision about this role? You usually only have 30 minutes with an interviewer. 
  2. How can you distribute the 1-2 things you need to learn among different people you'll be interviewing with? You'll typically have 3 to 4 interviews that are back-to-back for tech with different managers, people in that role, one HR/Recruiter, and maybe one person who sits outside of that hiring team but works closely with the role.
  3. Who is it that you're talking to and who can best answer that question? Eg. Don't ask questions about the day-to-day responsibilities of the role you're going for to the VP or senior manager of the team. 
  4. Make sure questions are open-ended like "How.." "Why.." "Can you tell me more about...". That's how you keep the tennis game going instead of a "yes or no" question.
  5. Say "Out of Curiosity.." or give a short reasoning before you ask a question if you feel the question is too abrupt or interrogating. The last thing you want is for the interviewer to not be able to answer a question or think you're too aggressive. Giving a reasoning can help soften your approach.
  6. Use follow-up questions - Don't go through a laundry list of quesitons for an interviewer. Those only provide surface level answers. Instead, ask follow-ups like :"You mentioned XYZ. Would you mind elaborating more about that?" or "Tell me more about.." or "Why do you say that?"
  7. Use follow-up answers - Don't just let the interviewer answer your question and let the ball drop (literally and figuratively!). Write down the key points that the interviewer said and match those back to your experiences. For example if you're asking them about traits of an ideal candidate for the role and they mentioned they wanted "someone with experiences influencing both A-level and C-Suite clients." After you've asked follow-up questions and gotten more depth (about 1 to 2 minutes), you can then respond back "that's interesting, because I've had experiences influencing both A-level and C-Suite clients too!" Then you proceed to tell your example or story by using the STAR Method.

In the end, you want to ask questions because it shows that you're curious and also because you want to make the best educated decision about a job. Job descriptions only tell you <5% of what a job entails. 

The last thing you want is to join a company in a job that isn't what you expected (very common), thus waste your own time as well as the company/team's time, and need to look for a job again.

What you want is a job or company that you can work in for 4 to 5 years, to be able to grow you career and learn.

The 30 Smarter Questions You Can Ask An Interviewer

  1. How does the success of this role ladder up to your role?
  2. Can you tell me what a typical day looks like in this role?
  3. What does an ideal candidate look like for you?
  4. If you were working with a [Title of Role], what's one advice you would tell him/her to succeed?
  5. What does success look like for a [Title of Role] ?
  6. How do [Title of Role] often fail in the company? 
  7. What's the #1 Challenge the team/business/company is facing?
  8. What's the biggest opportunity the team/business/company foresees in the next 2 to 3 years?
  9. How do you think the culture of this team or company is different from other tech companies?
  10. What do you like best about working for this company?
  11. Out of all the candidates you've interviewed or seen in the system, what's one thing that makes me stand out and one thing that I may lack or need improvement on?
  12. What are the next steps in the process and is there any information you would need from me to help you make a better decision?
  13. What are your goals for the next  half-year and how does this role contribute to those?
  14. Given what you know about me, is there anything missing in my portfolio or experiences that may hinder my opportunity to move forward as a candidate?
  15. Do you have any feedback for me?
  16. I know you've worked at XYZ company before, how has your experiences in this company differ and what prompted you to make the jump?
  17. I know you've worked as a XYZ role before, how has your experiences in this role differ and what prompted you to make the jump?
  18. I know you've worked in XYZ country before in the same company, how has your experiences here differ and what prompted you to make the jump?
  19. Tell me about a great  [Title of Role] you've worked with, what made working with him/her amazing?
  20. What is the structure of the team like and how do the different roles ladder up to the wider goal?
  21. What is the typical career path for someone in this role?
  22. What does the first 30-60-90 days look like in this role?
  23. Given how rapidly the industry is changing, what are one or two things you wish you knew or had skillsets for when you first started in your role?
  24. Out of curiosity, why did the previous person who filled this role leave?
  25. Since you've been in different teams in the same role, how is this team different from others?
  26. I know this team/company/role/office is new - what prompted this creation and what are the expectations for success for this team/company/role in the next few years?
  27. Who do you work with on a day to day basis and how does your role ladder to their successes?
  28. How do you foresee your role as well as this role change in the next few years?
  29. I read about XYZ news, how has this impacted your role, the business, and the wider company?
  30. How has this role changed in the past 5 years?

Tell me, which of the smarter questions did you ask in your tech interview and what was the result?


About the Author

Bessy Tam is a career coach who helps busy professionals get into their dream non-tech job in tech. She’s helped dozens of clients get interviews and offers from companies such as Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Lyft, Amazon, Babbel, & More. She currently works at Google in Chicago.

  • Caitlin Clarke says:

    I loved reading this article written by a former classmate. It is not easy transitioning from being a graduate to attaining work in your chosen field, but this article provides some helpful insight into nailing the interview stage of things and standing out from conpetitors with questions that are both unique and reflective of the sort of employe that employers are looking to hire.

    • Bessy Tam says:

      Thank you Caitlin!! Super helpful

      It’s definitely not easy so it’s helpful to be able to standout against the crowd and ask questions that are valuable to both you and the interviewer

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