The Three Questions I’m Asking at Every Interview

3 minute read

This post is a part of a series on job hunting and job interviewing.

From my last couple of jobs, I realized I wasn’t a very good fit for them or they weren’t a great fit for me. It made me start to wonder how to find a job that I knew we’d be more of a match for each other.

For this latest round of job applying, I knew I wanted to do better. I realized that before my interviews end, the interviewers usually ask if I had any questions before we ended our call or meeting. I usually asked about how big the team is or how “agile” they are or whatever. But I realized I could ask some better questions to get more of a feel of how I might fit in.

I came up with three main questions I ask companies now, and I ask them of EVERY person I talk to. I want to talk about them and why I ask them.

  1. “What is your favorite thing about the company?”
    This is a fairly basic question, and results in a lot of the same kinds of answers you might expect. I’ve usually heard answers like their team is fun, or it has free drinks, or they have an arcade. Kind of different answers. I think these are important, but probably not the most important things you need to know. Take note of them though.
  2. “What is something that your team (or department) is struggling with right now?”
    This question tells me A LOT of interesting info. First, if they tell you they don’t struggle with anything, or they try to give some fluff answer, they’re lying, and it makes me wonder what else they’re hiding. You WANT transparency from this question! The good answers I’ve heard include their code base is so big or old that they know they need to work on updating it or fixing it, their company is growing at a rate that makes the work/team/code base hard to sustain, company reorgs mean people shuffle around, and more. These are things you WANT to know about!
  3. “What is your favorite thing about the company culture?”
    This question feels obvious, but I think it leads to some things you might not have thought about. This question really is about the atmosphere you’ll be working in, and not just the code, stack, team configuration, or company perks. Some good answers I’ve heard is people feel safe asking anyone in the company any kind of question, collaboration across teams is a common thing and is very successful, they regularly encourage and pay employees to do community service, if someone doesn’t fit on a team, they work to find them a team that do, and so on. This question becomes MORE important with multiple data points because you can get a feel for how a company is by how much people confirm each other’s answers.

The great thing about asking these three questions is that they don’t take too long for people to answer. I tend to have 5-10 minutes at the end of interviews for this and you can usually get all three in during that time. As you get into more interviews, keep asking these questions. The more information you get about a company, the better you can determine your fit.

One good example was that I had a couple of recommendations for a company I interviewed for. I was a bit skeptical at first, but the more I talked to people (and in the end I talked to probably at least 12 people), the more I confirmed this was exactly the kind of place I wanted to work at. I made it to the very last step and didn’t get a job offer, but because of the answers I got from these questions, the more I realized I would gladly go back and try again, and would probably leave other companies for this one in a heartbeat.

There are a variety of other questions you could ask too, and my friend Jen wrote up a big list of them in a blog post of hers. But I’ve felt due to a more limited time frame, these three seem to be the perfect combination of questions that I can learn the most about the company in the fastest amount of time. I can ask about team sizes and how they structure their code or other things at a later point too.

What other questions have you felt tell you a lot about whether you would want to work somewhere or not?