Career advice: how to ask an end-of-interview question

Senior academics and university administrators offer their top tips on how to ask that awkward question at the end of a job interview

November 17, 2016
Statue of figure with question mark as head
Source: Getty

That tricky moment when interviewers ask smilingly if “you have any questions for us” has tripped up many promising candidates. Here are some dos and don’ts from those who know how to negotiate those final minutes of a job interview.


Peter Brook
Director of human resources, University of Portsmouth

It is important to ask a question that shows that you have thought about the role.

My top tip would be to ask the chair, “What are the biggest challenges you need to see addressed in the first 12 months?” It gives you a final opportunity to respond and show how you would be right for the role.

Alternatively, you could ask “How would you describe the culture and values of the organisation?” or even “Do you want me to clarify any of the answers I have given?”

Avoid asking about pay, office space or car parking; those issues are best sorted out later – you could always ask for a follow-up visit if you are offered the job.


Sandra Heidinger
Director of human resources, University of Strathclyde, and chair of Universities Human Resources

The number one “don’t” when asked if you have any questions is to produce a list of questions and go through them one by one.

The interview panel are aware of the time and are thinking about the start time of the next candidate’s interview. Producing a list of questions might force the panel chair to politely tell you that you can have two questions; a less assertive chair might let you go through them one by one, causing every candidate thereafter to have a delayed start time and making all panel members shudder at how late the interview is running.

Ask one or two questions that show that you’re bright, but don’t try to “outsmart” the panel. Good questions might include what key strategic challenges are facing the university and what the key priorities for the role would be in the first 18 months. In all cases, have your own answers ready in case a panel member turns the question around on you.

Don’t be frightened to say that you have no questions to ask, but turn this into a positive by saying something akin to “I had a number of questions at the start of the interview, but you have answered them”.


Kim Frost
Director of human resources, University of London

If there is something that has come up in the questioning that you genuinely need to clarify, then do.

But don’t go back to one of your answers and try to give a better one at the end; the panel won’t want to know.

Some candidates produce a list of questions and go through them at the end. These lists can kill off a promising interview.

Just tell your interviewers that you’ve enjoyed the discussion and say that if you have any further questions you’re sure there’ll be another time. And watch the panel smile.


Yusra Mouzughi
Deputy vice-chancellor (academic affairs), Muscat University, Oman

"When will you let me know the outcome?” does not count as a question; so if you must ask that, leave it until the very end.

Always have at least one or two questions prepared, demonstrating that you have done your homework and researched the job prospects/projects that the employer is undertaking.

Ask short, sharp questions arising out of the interview; seek clarification on any points you didn’t understand but also ask for an expansion on areas that were of interest to you during the conversation.

Don’t drag it out too much, as the panel often has other interviews or meetings lined up.


Robert MacIntosh
Head of Heriot-Watt University’s School of Social Sciences

You will normally be asked if you have any questions for the panel – it is both polite and a good idea to ask one.

But it is a bad idea to ask more than one. Administrative details, salaries, relocation expenses, research budgets, training and so on are best discussed with your prospective employer at the point at which they have already decided that they want to offer you the job.

A string of demands, thinly disguised as questions at the tail end of an otherwise successful interview, can undo all your good work.

jack.grove@tesglobal.com

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