4 interview questions that are actually OK to ask (because the answers matter)

Author Richard Moy for The Muse

If you prepare for interviews as thoroughly as I think you do, you’ve probably got a (long) list of questions to ask. But you probably also worry about which ones are actually OK to bring up — and which could cost you the job.

Yes, when I was a recruiter, people would most definitely address off-putting topics, but I also found that some people avoided perfectly normally inquiries out of fear of seeming rude.

So, to empower you to get the answers you need, here are a few questions that are perfectly fine to say out loud.

1. Is this a new position, or are you looking to backfill the role?

Here’s the thing — not only is it perfectly OK to ask, most hiring managers will be open to sharing the details, even if it makes them uncomfortable. Why should you bring it up? If it’s a new role, that’s a good sign the company is in a growth period (which is great). If the gig became available because someone moved on, it’s also OK to ask follow-up questions about why that person’s no longer in the position. And if you’re not comfortable with the answers (or learn the last five people have quit within one year), it’s also OK to take a pass if an offer comes through.

2. What are the expectations for this role — and how regularly are employees evaluated?

You’re probably asking the first half of this already, which is great. However, you probably hesitate in asking the second half because you don’t want to get ahead of yourself. You should though, because one of the worst feelings is not knowing if your manager’s pleased with your performance (which, unfortunately, is still relatively common in the workplace).

So, in addition to getting an inside scoop on the expectations for the role, take the opportunity to find out if the company has regular review periods to discuss performance and compensation.Some companies formalize the process, and others prioritize regular feedback throughout the year. Whatever the case may be, don’t be shy about bringing it up.

3. What opportunities do employees have for professional growth?

You should avoid going into too much detail about the things you’d like to do in the future.

It might seem scary to ask about professional growth when you don’t even have the job yet. And sure, it’s important to be careful about how far ahead you look. However, most people won’t be offended if you inquire about how other employees at the company have enhanced their skills and even moved into other positions within the organization.

In fact, this question shows them you’re interested in being there for a long time, which is always a plus in the eyes of anyone looking to make a major hiring decision. While you should avoid going into too much detail about the things you’d like to do in the future (no need to discuss your eventual plans to run your own company), don’t be afraid to ask about professional growth opportunities.

4. What made you excited about joining the company?

When a company gets to the point where it wants to hire you, hiring managers will try selling the position. Hard. However, if you want a little more information about what makes the organization a great place to work, feel free to ask your interviewer about what made him jump from his previous job to this one.

Sure, this answer might be a bit manicured, but it will provide you with more context for how he feels about the company. Knowing someone’s thought process for switching jobs will not only help you make a decision (“Oh, I’m looking to be on the same track as him!”), but also see if he’s happy working there. If his answer seems too contrived, that’s valuable information for you to chew on.

This process is tough, and it’s understandable if you feel like any misstep could cost you a dream job. However, it’s also logical for you to have these kinds of questions. While you of course shouldn’t shoot off anything about compensation or vacation days early on in the process, you should feel OK bringing the above examples up.

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