Inquiring minds


You heard about the job, sent in your resume, and scored an interview. Your interview outfit is neat and clean and you arrive with enough time to hang up your coat and take a bathroom break.

So far so good. But now the hard part begins.

The interviewer will start asking questions about your qualifications, your experience in the industry or profession, your reasons for wanting to work at the XYZ company. You answer as best you can, fully and honestly, and then it’s your turn to ask the questions.

Don’t ask

So what do you ask and, equally important, what don’t you ask? Oh, you thought you didn’t need to ask questions?

Yes you do. Philip Blackford, vice-president, executive services, at Right Management Consultants in Toronto, says it’s just not acceptable for a job seeker not to have a question or two ready for an interviewer. It should be focused on the company not the interviewee, Blackford says, and he counsels that it should be a question that clarifies something about the company or the would-be employee’s job. Failing that, he continues, the standard fallback is to ask the interviewer a question about his or her experience working for XYZ Inc.

Nurjehan Bharmal, an employment counsellor at Times Change Women’s Employment Service, echoes Blackford’s suggestion about clarifying questions. If there’s something about a job the interviewee hasn’t understood or wants amplified, then she says ask away.

“The main duties, how much responsibility there is, how are evaluations done, how is feedback given,” are some of the subjects to ask questions about, Bharmal says. “Then they can also ask about things like where they (will) work, their physical space. They could also ask why is the position vacant. If there have been too many people who were in that position and left (it), the job seeker will want to explore what is happening.”

Graeme Simpson, co-ordinator of the Human Resources post-graduate program at Humber College, says asking questions about a company’s business demonstrates to the interviewer that the job seeker has done his or her homework and is serious about getting hired. Questions could be about a recent corporate acquisition, Simpson says, or growth within the industry. And, he says, it’s not unusual for job seekers to ask for a quick tour of where they hope to work.


Manjeet Dhiman, a senior manager at ACCES, agrees with Simpson. She says interviewees want to show an interest in the job and the company. The type of questions they ask should reflect that; for example, what does the company doing the hiring look for in an employee.

One thing they don’t look for, all agree, is a potential hire who immediately asks about pay, benefits, statutory holidays, and so on. Amanda Burt, a job skills specialist at the YMCA in Toronto, says don’t ask — under any circumstances — when a job’s benefits kick in or what the sick day entitlement is. Dhiman agrees, although she does point out that when it comes to pay and benefits it’s how the question is framed rather than those subjects themselves that can cause trouble. Simpson admits “pay is a tough question” and Blackford says there’s an adage in the interview business that goes, “He who mentions money first, loses.”

Our experts agree it’s best to have two or three thoughtful questions that steer clear of compensation, and a follow-up thank-you letter won’t hurt either. After all, says Bharmal, if there’s still something else a job seeker wants to ask or have clarified, that’s a great time to do it.

Quick Tips

– All job interviewees should ask two or three questions.

– Keep the questions focused on the company and its business.

– Questions about a job usually come at the end of the interview not during it.

– Steer clear of asking about money and benefits until you’ve been offered the job.