Interview-Acing Questions to Ask a Prospective Employer

Congratulations! Your resume got plucked from the candidate pool, you passed the phone screen, and now you’re on your way to a real job interview. You’ve tailored your portfolio and elevator pitch for the opportunity; now what are you going to ask when your interviewer says, “What questions do you have for me?”

This portion of the interview shouldn’t be an afterthought: It’s a vital way for you to showcase your merits, demonstrate you’ve been engaged in your job search, and assess this company for potential deal breakers. These suggestions will help you find out more about the job and give you the opportunity to show why you’re the best fit.

“What are the qualifications the ideal candidate should bring to the job?”

The earlier you can ask this question, the better, as it gives you a checklist of skills and attributes for you to talk up for the duration of the interview. For example, if your interviewer responds with qualities like “enthusiasm” and “staying up to date on everything that’s happening in digital,” then you may want to mention all those UX workshops you just took or anything else that shows you’ve got what they want.

“What are the things you love most about coming to work here?”

This question serves two purposes. First, it lets the interviewer paint a picture of the company culture and what you can expect on the job. More importantly, this question is actually a sneaky trick that can help you make an even more favorable impression: By asking them to talk about the things that give them joy, you’re inviting them to relive that joy, even if it’s just for moment or two, and then share it. The takeaway is that your interviewer is going to look back on your conversation, and think, “I got a really good feeling about that person!”

“How does this position influence the company’s success?”

Advertising and marketing are not career paths where you talk about a 5- or 10-year plan; instead, you should let your potential employer know you’re already thinking about ways you can make an impact. And no matter if you’re interviewing for the role of a junior art director at a 500-person agency, it shows that you take the position seriously.

“What’s a typical workweek like around here?”

As a rule, ask open-ended questions that let an interviewer answer expansively — the longer your interviewer talks, the better your chances of creating a rapport and making a favorable impression.

This question can also reveal more of the employer’s needs, which gives you another chance to sell yourself. For example, when I asked this at an interview with an agency with automotive and financial clients, the creative director told me that I would spend what he felt was a ridiculous amount of time in legal review meetings, trying to interpret feedback from their clients’ regulatory boards. I let him know that I had also worked with clients in highly regulated industries, and that I found that tag-teaming these meeting with someone from account and a proofreader was a great way to make sure the entire team was on the same page, and save time in the long run. No matter who you’re interviewing with, keep your ears open for opportunities to demonstrate how you can bring value to the company, beyond what’s listed on your resume.

“I know that [some golden nugget that you, the candidate, has unearthed through smart research] has happened; what does that mean for the company?”

You’ve probably guessed that this is your chance to show that you’ve done your homework. Avoid talking about negative things like account losses or layoffs; instead, consider asking about how a new executive hire might influence the creative philosophy and output, or more general industry questions about emerging technologies or practices. If you can, bring it back around to something you can contribute to the company.

“How do I stack up compared to other candidates you’re considering?”

Consider asking this question only if the interview has gone well and you’ve built a legitimate rapport. Your interviewer might tell you something like, “We think your book is one of the best we’ve seen, but we’ve talked to a couple of other candidates who have more automotive experience.” You may be able to counter their concerns, but if not, you can at least play to your strengths.

You probably won’t have time to go through all these questions, but before your interview, pick out two or three that will let you shine. During your interview, keep “reading the room” and thinking about how you can stack the deck in your favor.

Other guidelines to consider:

  • Avoid yes/no questions — the longer you can keep your interviewer talking, the better.
  • Never, ever ask about salary or benefits during the first interview.
  • Likewise, even if you have an upcoming vacation planned that you’d need to schedule around, wait until it looks like you’re a serious contender to bring it up.
  • Ask about a variety of different subjects.
  • Check sites like Glassdoor to see what interview candidates and employees say about the company, but never ask a question like, “What are you doing to boost morale after the layoffs?” Try to keep the interview focused on the positive.

These suggestions are a good start, but nothing can replace doing your homework ahead of time and doing the little things, like printing out a few resumes to take with you (pro tip: double-check that it’s the same resume you sent to the prospective employer, and refamiliarize yourself with it). Now, take a few deep breaths … you got this!

Looking for more interviewing tips?

Check out our Interview Resource Guide.

Lisa is a Creative Circle candidate and seasoned advertising copywriter who lives in Los Angeles. Her background includes both in-house and agency work on Fortune 500 and global accounts in the consumer and healthcare/pharmaceutical fields. She excels at words, fashion, and cats. If you want to work with Lisa, contact Creative Circle Los Angeles.