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Vital Questions to ask an Interviewer. Bonus Question at the End!

Sam Williams
I've always loved problem solving and found that software development scratches my problem solving itch.
Originally published at medium.freecodecamp.org on ・8 min read

An interview is more than just the company finding out if they want to hire you, its about you finding out if you want to work for them too. You’re probably going to be working there for a few years so you want to make sure that you enjoy that time.

As well as finding out more about working at the company, asking certain questions shows that you are taking things seriously whilst showing off some of your knowledge.

You shouldn’t ask all of these questions at an interview, answer as many as you can from the website and job spec but have a few ready. There’s even a BONUS question at the end which can help you win the job or find out how to win the next one.

I’ve broken each of the questions down into two parts: what you’ll learn (You) and what they’ll learn (Them). Not every question has both sides but a lot of them do.

Office Culture

Culture

What is the culture like at the company?

You — Finding a company with a compatible culture is really important to being happy in a role. They may cover some of the other questions in this section but make sure to note down everything they say. If they mention something that stands out, good or bad, ask more questions about it.

Them — They now know that you care about finding a company where you’ll fit in well. Some candidates will just try to find the offer with the highest pay so knowing you value more than money is great. It also means that if you accept an offer, you’re more likely to be productive and stay at the company as you chose to work in that environment.

How much say do developers have towards the products?

You — Do the product managers define everything and just expect the developers to do it? Are developers incorperated into every stage of the design process, resulting in product designs that are more effective to produce? You want to find out before you are getting really complex feature requests with impossibly short deadlines.

Them — You care about the design process. You want the ability to contribute to the full lifecycle of the products.

What qualities make someone excell at this company?

You — Are you the kind of person who can excell at this company?

Them — You want to excell at the company you work at. An excelent employee has massive value to any company.

Does the company employ Agile or similar practices?

You — Working at a company the practices Agile development is something that is going to become more and more important. Gaining experience now opens up more jobs in the future.

Them — You probably have experience working within an Agile environment.

What is the dress code?

You — Suits every day might be too formal and serious for your tastes, whilst t-shirts, shorts and flip flops might tell you that the company doesn’t take it’s self as seriously. Never decide on a companies culture from the dress code, but it’s often a good indicator.

What learning opportunites are there for developers?

You — You probably don’t want to find yourself in 5 years, doing the exact same things in the exact same place. If they are continually educating their developers it also means that the company will be better able to adapt to the constantly changing tech world.

Them — You want to continue to improve. This is great for them as the better you are, the more value you can provide to the company.

How flexible are the working hours?

You — Some people prefer to work 8–4, some prefer a slower morning starting at 10 or 11. Check if you are able to work flexible hours, if that’s what you like to do.

Do the staff go out at do things together outside of the office?

You — Socialising with the other staff outside of the office is something that some people really like to do. If you’re one of these people, finding a company where this already happens is great.

Them — You want to have you’re coworkers be more than just that. Having a company with employees who all get on well can be great for morale and communication around the office.

Role Specific

What are the day to day responsibilities of this role?

You — What will you be expect to spend most of your time doing? Working on things that are interesting to you is great.

Who will the role report to and can I meet them?

You — Who you report to is very important. It’ll be very different if you report to a non-technical manger compared with a senior developer who sits 3 desks over from you. Meeting them is also great if you can. Ideally you want to get on well with your superior. If you can, ask a few of the other people that report to them what they’re like, you’ll be in their shoes soon.

How many people will I be working with/ work in the office?

You — You may prefer working in a small group in a separate office, you may prefer having a large department all working in an open office space.

Photo by Lukas from Pexels

How will the role performance be measured? What metric will the role performance be measured with?

You — Do they have a metric for performance? Sometimes it might be lines of code written (not great), features built (OK), or value added to the company (better but also very hard to quantify). It might just be based on the opinion of your supervisor (another reason to meet them) which means that you’re interpersonal skills will probably affect your performance score as much as your technical work. This can be a good or bad thing, depending on your personality.

Them — You expect to be measured and know how you’ll be measured. This implies that you’re wanting to perform well, making you more valuable.

What will be expected from this role after 30 days, 90 days and 1 year?

You — Have they got any sort of progression planned for this role or will I be doing the same stuff in a year? This also gives you insight into what the company

Is this a new position or an existing role?

You — If this is a new position, the company is expanding or changing direction. If this is an existing role, someone has left (they quit or were fired). You will be compared against that someone for some time. This can either be great or bad, if you think that you can quickly pick up the role and start performing as well, if not better, than the previous employee then the company are going to think you’re great. But if you think that you’re only going to be OK, you’ll be constantly compared to the old employee. Of course I’m assuming that you are the former.

Is overtime expected in this role?

You — Some overtime is expected at certain roles. You’ll have to weigh this up if you get an offer. If they expect overtime, ask how much they’ve done in the last month, not how much do they expect to do.

Them — They’ll know that you understand that some roles are expected to do overtime. If you negotiate an offer, you are saying that you accept that.

What career path is there for this role?

You — You shouldn’t want to be doing the same thing in 5 years time. What opportunities are there for change and moving up the ladder?

Them — You are looking for a career and want to progress through the company. Home bred senior staff are normally better and cheaper than recruited ones.

Tech Specific

These will change drastically from job to job but here are a few general questions that you can use and modify to match the role you’re applying to.

What is the tech stack that is used at the company?

You — Are you comfortable with all of the tech that the company use (senior positions) or is there opportunity to learn a new language, framework or methodology (Junior and Mid level).

How are the services/products deployed?

You — Are they could based? Self hosted servers? This gives a good indication of whether they’ve adjusted to modern practices.

Them — You think about more than just the code you write. A developer who considers deployment will likely write code that utilises the benefits of this deployment method.

Why was one technology/language/infrastructure chosen over another?

You — What was the decision making process at the start of the project? Can they justify decisions made or do they do things because the person before them did?

Them — You understand about the trade offs that are made between one technology, language or infrastructure and another. Having a ‘bigger picture’ thinking is a very valuable attribute.

General

Who are your biggest competitors?

You — Do the company understand who their competition is? Competition motivates a company to keep/get one step ahead and not relax into mediocrity.

Them — You appreciate that this is a business and therefore has external motivations.

What are the company planning for the next 6 month, 2 years, 5 years?

You — A company that doesn’t have future goals or plans has nothing to aim for. Strong goals shows a company that has a plan, and is therefore more likely to succeed.

Them — You are planning to stay at the company for the long run and understand the benefits of long term planning.

What is the biggest challenge currently facing the company/ department?

You — Can the company identify its own challenges? What kind of things challenge the company? Is this an area where I can help? If they don’t have any challenges then are they trying anything crazy enough?

Them — You focus on solving problems.

How do I compare against other candidates that have interviewed/ applied?

You — What level are the other candidates applying for this job and where can I improve?

What’s the next step?

You — You find out the timeline for the rest of the process. If they say they’ll contact you within a week and you don’t hear anything from them, give them a call. Follow up with them.

BONUS QUESTION

This is a very forward question but can significantly strengthen your chances of an offer or provide you with insight into how you need to improve. Borrowed from Maseena Ziegler.

If you didn’t offer me this job, what would be the reason be?

There are two ways that this can play out. “I can’t really think of any reason why we wouldn’t offer you this job” and “Well, there were one or two things that have let you down”. Both of them are good.

I can’t really think of any reason why we wouldn’t offer you this job

This is obviously the preferred answer. This shows that you’re a really strong candidate and gives the interviewer a nudge. This nudge is because of the way that our brains work, if they can’t think of a reason not to offer you the job, they have to offer you the job.

Follow this up with a questioning “Are you sure?”. It goes against human nature to tell someone that there’s no reason but then to not offer them the job. They may also change their answer to the second option.

Well, there were one or two things that have let you down

This opens a discussion about where the interviewer thinks there are issues. GREAT! You now have an opportunity to convince the interviewer that you don’t have that issue or that it isn’t an important issue.

If they say that you are lacking the commercial experience needed, discuss with them whether they think that the years of experience is a good measure of ability. Describe how varied your experience is and how you’ve continued your personal development outside of work.

If they say that you’re lacking a skill, give examples of when you’ve used it.

If you aren’t able to convince them, then you’ve learnt something. You’ve found an area that you need to work on to get a job like this. If you hadn’t asked this question then you’d have never known.

Thanks for reading through all of these questions. If you found them useful please react and follow me for more content like this.


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