Interviewing and putting yourself out there is mentally challenging. There is nothing like the pressure of an interview to bring on the feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy. But amongst all these feelings it is important to remember that the interview process is two way, where it is just as critical that the prospective employer is a good fit for you as you are for them.

Why is it so important? By way of explanation, let me tell you about one particular experience I have had. Early on in my career, I learned the hard way about not asking the right questions before accepting a job. I ended up working for a company where all the focus was on numbers and quotas. This would not have been so bad, except that the management was extremely focused and the morale amongst colleagues was very poor as they would frequently and publically shout at employees to ‘encourage’ them to do better.

Needless to say, this culture did not get anywhere near the best out of me. In fact, my morale dropped rapidly and my perception of my self-worth plummeted. I was in a situation where I needed to leave In order to get my confidence back. Eventually, I did manage to leave, but it involved having to move back with parents and start all over to figure out my path forward. I was starting at the beginning all over again, something that I am thankful for having done, but would want to avoid taking that step again.

Some years later, I would put my lesson to test. I had applied for a position at a company which I was excited to join from a name recognition perspective (I.e. I thought that having this company on my resume would give me kudos), but through online research was concerned about the potential culture. By asking well thought out questions during the interview I was able to establish that this was not the right move for me. I declined the opportunity, as it was not a great fit for me, and would not have gotten the best out of me. I am glad I did, because I found job at an employer that has an amazing culture and suits me down to the ground.

My point is that not taking the chance to really test if a prospective employer is the right fit for you, can seriously set you back. So take you opportunity to ask questions at the interview which help you gain insight into the type of place you might be working at, and whether it is likely a good fit for you. After all, the aim is surely to be in a job with an employer that will help bring the best out of you.

So what questions could you ask? There are three questions which are always at the top of my list when I start interviewing for a job. Each one will give insight into something slightly different about the employer you are interviewing with. Here they are:

  1. What challenges has your team faced in the last year? What are your team’s goals for the next year? These questions will help you identify the types of things that the employer or team you may be joining are struggling with or focused on achieving. This is great information because it not only gives you insight into what the likely projects or focus for the role will be, it also helps you assess whether and where you can add real value. Further, when writing thank you letters and during future interviews, you can make sure to start talking about your strengths and experience in these areas making it much easier for the decisions makers to imagine you in the role and adding the value they need.
  2. What character traits do people demonstrate that succeed in this role and company? This will give you great insight into the true traits and personalities which succeed at the employer. It will help you see how to be successful at the prospective employer, and if these things align with what you want.
  3. What are your favorite things about working at this company? This is a good question to get insight into the culture of the employer you are about to join, and the types of people who work there already. For example, if people over several rounds of interviews give answers around work / life balance being positive, then you can be sure (assuming online research also backs this up), that the employer is respectful of this balance and that this is a good place for parents (and their families). Equally if fast promotion and chance to learn is your priority, then they might respond with answers like, it is a flat organization, they have great training and education resources or that there is always lots of opportunities to expand beyond the role you are in.

With these three questions, you can gain critical insights into your prospective employer, so that you maximize your chance or making a move which will get the best out of you. Further, interviewers are expecting you to ask questions, and even marking you by the questions that you do ask. I know that when I have interviewed people, if they do not ask questions or do not ask well thought out probing questions (like the ones above), then I question their application.

So next time you interview, ask questions that help you test if the prospective employer is right for you.