7 Questions Only the Smartest Job Candidates Ask

BY Jeff Haden – Inc.com

You’ve interviewed potential employees. I have too: Over the years I interviewed well over a thousand candidates for job openings. (Don’t ask.)

And I’m willing to bet the part of the job interview when you ask the candidate, “Do you have any questions for me?” almost always seemed like a waste of time.

Why? When they ask questions, most people don’t actually care about your answers; they just hope to make themselves look good by asking “smart” questions. To them, what they ask is more important than how you answer.

But a few people actually care. The best candidates ask questions they want you to answer because in effect they’re interviewing your company and evaluating whether they really want to work for you. (After all, the best candidates almost always have options.)

What kinds of questions do the best candidates ask? Here are seven.

1. “What do you expect me to accomplish in the first 90 days?”

Great candidates want to hit the ground running. They don’t want to spend weeks or months “getting to know the organization.” They don’t want to spend huge chunks of time in orientation, in training, or in the futile pursuit of getting their feet wet.

They want to make a difference — and they want to make that difference right now.

2. “If you were to rank them, what are the top three traits your top performers have in common?”

Great candidates also want to be great employees. They know every organization is different — and so are the key qualities of top performers in those organizations.

Maybe your top performers work longer hours. Maybe creativity is more important than methodology. Maybe constantly landing new customers in new markets is more important than building long-term customer relationships. Maybe the key is a willingness to spend the same amount of time educating an entry-level customer as helping an enthusiast who wants high-end equipment.

Great candidates want to know, because 1) they want to know if they will fit in, and 2) if they do fit in, they want to know how they can be a top performer.

3. “What really drives results in this job?”

Employees are investments, and you expect every employee to generate a positive return on his or her salary. (Otherwise why do you have them on the payroll?)

In every job some activities make a bigger difference than others. You need your HR team to fill job openings, but what you really want is for them to find the right candidates, because that results in higher retention rates, lower training costs, and better overall productivity.

You need your service techs to perform effective repairs, but what you really want is for those techs to identify ways to solve problems and provide other benefits — in short, to build customers relationships and even generate additional sales.

Great candidates want to know what truly makes a difference and drives results, because they know helping the company succeed means they will succeed as well.

4. “What are the company’s highest priority goals this year, and how would my role contribute?”

Is the job the candidate will fill important? Does that job matter?

Great candidates want a job with meaning, with a larger purpose — and they want to work with people who approach their jobs the same way.

Otherwise a job is just a job.

5. “What percentage of employees was brought in by current employees?”

Employees who love their jobs naturally recommend their company to their friends and peers. The same is true for people in leadership positions — people naturally try to bring on board talented people they previously worked with. They’ve built relationships, developed trust, and shown a level of competence that made someone go out of their way to follow them to a new organization.

And all of that speaks incredibly well to the quality of the workplace and the culture.

6. “What do employees do in their spare time?”

Happy employees 1) like what they do, and 2) like the people they work with.

Granted, this is a tough question to answer. Unless your company is really small, all you can do is speak in generalities. (Or you can pick out a few people and describe what they do outside of work — and if you can’t even do that, you don’t know your employees nearly well enough.)

Great candidates want to be sure of having a reasonable chance of fitting in on a personal level as well as a professional level because cultural fit is extremely important to them.

7. “What do you plan to do if…?”

Every business faces a major challenge: technological changes, competitors entering the market, shifting economic trends. There’s rarely one of Warren Buffett’s moats protecting a small business.

So while some candidates may see your company as a steppingstone, they still hope for growth and advancement. If they do eventually leave, they want it to be on their terms, not because you were forced out of business.

Say I’m interviewing for a position at your ski shop. Another store is opening less than a mile away: How do you plan to deal with the competition? Or you run a poultry farm (a huge industry in my area): What will you do to deal with rising feed costs?

Great candidates don’t just want to know what you think; they want to know what you plan to do — and how they will fit into those plans.


Jeff Haden is a ghostwriter, speaker, LinkedIn Influencer, and contributing editor for Inc. He learned much of what he knows about business and technology working his way up to managing a 250-employee book plant; everything else he picks up as a ghostwriter for innovators and business leaders. He’s written more than 50 nonfiction books, including six Amazon Business and Investing No. 1’s, along with hundreds of articles and reports. And he’s collected four years of tips and advice in his book TransForm: Dramatically Improve Your Career, Business, Relationships, and Life … One Simple Step at a Time. @jeff_haden