The Best and Worst Questions to Ask During a First-round Interview

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Molly Richter (Questrom ’10) is a Senior Officer for Development Staffing at Partners HealthCare. We caught up with her to solicit her expertise and get advice on how to excel during a first-round interview. Here’s what she had to say:

After starting my career in staffing, I was surprised to discover that some of my “go to” questions as a candidate now make me cringe as a recruiter. During an initial interview, it’s important to make the best impression. Certain questions that are important to ask before accepting an offer can be off-putting during your first conversation.

In my experience, I have found that these are the best and worst questions to ask during a first-round interview…

Worst questions to ask during a first-round interview:

What opportunities are there for advancement?

  • What the interviewer hears: “I’m using this job as a stepping stone and will expect to be promoted ASAP.”
  • Better question: “How do you support the professional development of your staff?”

How attractive is the benefits package?

  • It’s ok to ask about compensation in the first conversation, but benefits should be reviewed once an offer has been extended, but before you accept.

What is the annual review process like?

  • What the interviewer hears: “I received poor performance evaluations and I’m concerned about that happening again in this company.”
  • Better question: “How do you define success for this role?”

Can I work from home?

  • This one is tricky. It’s sort of like the Prisoner’s Dilemma. You could ask about this upfront, get a “yes” and all is good. OR you could be told “no”, and be eliminated. In general, if the job description doesn’t explicitly state that remote work is an option, assume that it’s not. Would you still be interested in the job?

What does a typical day look like for someone in this role?

  • What the interviewer hears: “I don’t understand what this job is and I need you to explain it to me like I’m a child.”
  • Better question: Ask about the priorities of this position, and that will help you understand how they spend their time.

Best questions to ask during a first-round interview:

What do you think will be the biggest challenge for someone coming into this position?

  • This indicates a candidate is a problem solver and they like to think ahead. This is also a more professional way to ask “Why didn’t the last person work out and what can I do to avoid making the same mistakes?”

How would you define success for this role after the first 6 months?

  • This is about determining priorities and understanding how the position will be evaluated. This is an interesting question to ask of each person you meet with because they will likely have different answers based on how they interact with this position.

What is going to be the top priority for the person coming into this position?

  • What the interviewer hears: What is the number one thing I should focus on when I start this job so that I can make sure to make a good impression? Also, what is the main thing I should research and think about in advance of a second-round interview?

How would you describe the culture of this company?

  • Culture is so important and you can’t presume to know what it is before you’ve worked there. Pay close attention to the adjectives used to describe the work environment. If you’re talking to a recruiter or HR, they have a bit of an outsider’s perspective, which will be good to have in addition to how the team views themselves.

What do you love about your job?

  • People love to talk about themselves. This gets the interviewer talking about themselves, which makes them feel happy, so they leave the interview feeling good – and that transfers to feeling good about you. It’s a great question to end on, so you can leave on a high note.

Good luck out there!

Looking for more tips from Molly? Check out the full-length on-demand webinar, “Insider’s Perspective: Career Transition Advice from a Recruiter”.

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