One of the most important interview questions many interviewees fail to answer correctly

One of the most important interview questions many interviewees fail to answer correctly

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"Are there any questions left we can answer?"

-> Your interviewer

"No, not right now, thank you."

-> You

Have you ever encountered this situation in a (tech) interview and responded like above? I'm sorry, but you've given away an awesome opportunity to make a lasting impression.

Don't worry. Interview processes are a science for themselves. There are so many "techniques" interviewers try to use to determine whether you are the perfect or at least the right person for the job that you cannot learn them all in a lifetime. At least not as long as you don't work in HR.

Gladly, there is a right way to handle this question, and this article will show you how.


Foreword

I've been on both sides of the interview table for a few years now.

I've interviewed for positions, and I've interviewed quite a few awesome engineers.

I can only give you my perspective and opinion. It does not necessarily need to be fitting each situation.


Why this question is an opportunity

Although there is a shortage of software developers right and left, many companies still want to make sure they hire the right people. Even the best engineers may not be the best fit for a company and its culture.

A question like "Are there any questions left we can answer?" is both an offer from your interviewer and an indicator for them.

An interview is always two-sided. The offer enables you to gather more information so YOU can actually find out whether the company fits you. You decide to spend your time at this company and to create value for them. And you will usually be paid pretty well to do your job, but even the highest salary in the world doesn't make up for a company or a culture you don't like. Whatever there may be left in your head, make sure to ask and get a clear answer. You want as much information as possible to make a good decision. Who likes to regret the choice they made after a week or a month at a new job? I'd say not too many people.

The indicator part is important for the company you interview at. They also need to make a decision. And they want to see whether you are the right hire. Have you paid close attention to the interview? Are you interested in the company and the job at all? Based on your questions, interviewers can pretty easily perceive how interested you really are. An interviewer's job is to hire people who really want to work for the company. Candidates who already show a lot of interest have a high chance of becoming motivated employees later. The hope is that those employees will do their best for the company. Those employees might bring great ideas and collaborate with others well.

Some interviewers expect you to ask at least one to two questions. Others don't expect you to do so but give you plus points if you ask a few. I'd usually expect interviewers to anticipate at least one to two questions they can answer.


Which questions to ask

The questions you could ask can be divided into two rough categories.

  1. Real questions
  2. Strategic questions

Real questions

Those are the most important ones. You ask them because you want to get a certain answer.

The answers given to those questions help you decide whether this company is the right one for you and whether you really want to work there.

Real questions can be further divided into two sub-categories:

  1. Context-based questions
  2. Context-less questions

Context-based questions

These questions arise from the context of the interview. Your interviewer(s) talked about something but didn't cover something you would have been highly interested in.

A typical context-based question pattern goes like this:

"You have mentioned something in this interview. I have a question regarding this."

This shows:

  1. You paid attention to the interview
  2. You want to know more because you are interested
An Example

"When we talked about your development process, you told me that you usually expect code reviews to be taken seriously because they are an important part of your QA process. Does this mean that they are more important than feature development?"

Context-less questions

These are questions that you would love to ask because you are very interested in a specific topic regarding the job or the company. During your interview, however, you didn't get the chance to talk about this topic. These questions are not triggered through the interview (thus context-less) but would still give you valuable answers, which in return help you to decide whether this company and job is the right one for you.

A typical context-less question pattern goes like this:

"I'd really like to know something. Can you tell me about this?"

This shows:

  1. You are interested
  2. You care for something specifically
An Example

"How important are code reviews for you? How highly do you value them? And how important are they relative to daily bug fixing and feature development?"

Strategic questions

These questions should be your last resort. You throw them in because you want to ask something, at least. They can still give you valuable insights, but they are also often cliché and might be something interviewers hear regularly.

Honestly speaking, you should avoid having to ask strategic questions as much as possible. You need to make them up and sometimes become pretty creative not to sound like you already prepared them before your interview.

Some examples of strategic questions:

  1. "Are there any other income streams for your company other than the project work you do? Do you have core software that you license out?"
  2. "How many other teams do you have at your company, and with how many of them will I interact daily? How interlinked is the team I interview for with the others?"

How to come up with good questions

There is actually an (imho) pretty simple hack that helps you to ask good questions at the end of an interview:

Bring a notebook and a pen, pay attention, take notes!

It might sound a little strange to sit at the interview table and take notes as an interviewee, but actually, it isn't. At least one of your interviewers (if they are well organized) will also have a pen and paper there or an electronic device with which they take notes. Why shouldn't you do the same?

It gives you something you can read through later, after your interview, when you need to decide whether you want to continue the process or even take an offer. And throughout the whole interview, you can already mark points in your notes that you didn't cover deep enough. When your interviewer asks you if you have any further questions, you can quickly go through your notes and form a question based on those marks.


Conclusion and recap

Often, inconspicuous questions like "Any further questions?" can make a huge difference in interviews. They can give you the edge over another candidate and help you make a lasting impression.

Especially the question covered here is a pretty simple way for you to get plus points if you approach the whole interview in the right way. And this one also serves YOU very well. It gives you the chance to get as much information as possible. In the end, this information can help you decide whether the company is the right fit for you. Because you should never forget: Interviews are two-sided.

To quickly recap what we covered:

  1. Bring a pen and a notebook
  2. Pay close attention to the interview
  3. Take notes
  4. Mark points you'd like to get more information on
  5. At the end of your interview, when asked whether you have any further questions, ask as many real questions as possible
  6. Only pick strategic questions if you can't come up with real questions

Before You Leave

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