An interview can sometimes feel more like an interrogation than a discussion because you spend most of your time responding to questions. But just as the employer’s trying to size you up, you should be assessing their suitability to be your employer. And there’s only one way to see if the job is a good fit for you: asking all the right questions in the most effective and thoughtful way possible.

What would the ideal candidate be like?

You want to know what the employer's expectations are and how you compare to the ideal candidate. But you should also maintain an air of detachment and confidence. Rather than ask if you're right for the position, ask what qualities the ideal candidate would have. These would point to the day-to-day responsibilities of the job. So, listen for words like 'flexible,' 'committed,' 'experienced,' and 'reliable,' because they indicate very specific qualities and requirements.

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What soft skills does the job/company require?

You may not know much about the company or have a clear picture of what the job entails. Rather than ask and come across as unprepared or presumptuous, you could try to get the answers you’re looking for more elegantly. If you're expected to put in long hours and take over right away, the employer could mention the phrase 'quick learner.' Specific features and traits could also come up, such as 'convincing,' 'easy-going,' or 'friendly.' These would indicate not just the attitude they expect you to have toward your customers, but also toward your colleagues, and the kind of work environment you'd be part of.

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How has this position become available?

You may not always like the answer you get, but this is an important question. How well you’d be received at the company, how quickly you integrate, and how easily you’d make your mark are all things that depend, to some degree, on the circumstances that opened this position up for you. Opening a new branch, coping with increased demand for the products or services they offer, having to cover for someone who's on maternity leave, promoting your predecessor - these are all situations that you should be aware of before you're offered the job.

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How has this position evolved?

This ties in with the question before, but the aim here is different. When you ask this, what you really want to know is if this position comes with clout and authority, if it's stable, and if it has a future in the company. Your employer needs to take you through the growth of the department and the company and show you how the company relies on this job being fulfilled successfully. It will also give you a glimpse of the company's structure, business plan, and mission.

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Who would I be reporting to?

It pays to know in advance the type of performance reporting and accountability practices this company has in place. Knowing how many people and from which departments you report to will help you understand some of the pressures and challenges of the job. The interviewer could even slip in a few important details in their answer. You may be given a brief description of the managers and their working style, examples of times when people have come under fire for not meeting their targets, the days of the week when reports are due, and the type of software that each manager expects you to use.

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What do you like most about this company?

If the interviewer is an experienced manager with a variety of companies under their belt, they’ll be able to tell you not just their favorite part about working for this company, but also what sets this company apart. Camaraderie, opportunity, great pay, flexible hours, and a nurturing environment for creativity are just some of the most sought-after qualities of a successful working environment.

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What remarkable things have people in this position done before?

This is a tricky question and one which can be approached from a variety of angles, but the purpose of asking is to understand how the company defines its standards for a job well done. Your interviewer may describe specific employees who have gone above and beyond the call of duty for the company, and what actions they took that were considered exceptional.

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How do you evaluate and reward success here?

One way to see if this job fits your career path is to ask how the company would assess your performance, and how you'd be rewarded for your achievements. Rather than ask about bonuses and pay raises, let your interviewer find a way to reassure you that your efforts would be rewarded. They may mention team building activities, company retreats, social events, yearly evaluations, etc.

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What’s the timeline for a definitive job offer?

Rather than ask how soon they’d be able to make a decision, ask what the timeline is for an offer. Framing the question this way sounds less like you're trying to rush the company into a decision, and provides an opportunity for them to explain any next steps in the recruitment process.

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What is the one thing this company is most proud of?

It's best to leave on a positive note, so after you've asked all the right questions about the company, turn your attention to the interviewer. It's time to ask them what they think the company's greatest achievement is. They may bring the competition into this or they may choose to focus on concrete industry achievements, rewards, prizes, and acknowledgments. Either way, it will reinforce the interviewer's self-confidence and sense of pride in the company, as well as pave the way for your hiring.

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