June 2018

Asking Better Questions: Interviewing the Interviewer

By Paula Gluzman

Assistant Director, Employer Outreach & Communications, University of San Diego School of Law

In today’s legal market, most entry-level lawyers switch employers within their first three years of practice, and most will likely change jobs several times during their career. As a result, new professionals will experience more job interviews in their careers, and thus will be provided with more opportunities to master the anticipated end-of-interview question: “Do you have any questions for me?”  

I speak with many lawyers who conduct interviews on behalf of their employers and one aspect of the interview that gets the most comments is the interviewee’s questions. The questions you ask at the end of an interview can either help you shine or can make you fall short compared to other candidates. They not only provide you with important information about the employer and position, but they also convey telling information about you and your fit for the job. So, use the interview process to your advantage! Do your research and know what you are looking for in your potential new job so that you can prepare better end-of-interview questions. Here are just a few examples:

1. Common Question: “Where do you see the employer in five years (or 10 years)?”
Better Question: “What do you think will be the greatest opportunities for the employer in the coming five-to-10 years, and what do you see as the biggest challenges?

It warrants asking about an employer’s future, but this question can be seen as overused and generic. The more precise your questions can be about aspects of the employer that are particularly interesting to you, the better. Also, by specifically asking for predictions about future opportunities and challenges, you hone in on what an interviewer thinks are the employer’s current strengths and weaknesses. Such information can help you determine whether your professional goals and strengths are compatible, or not.

2. Common Question: “Tell me about the employer’s culture.”
Better Question: “Regarding this employer’s culture, what brought you here, and what keeps you here now?”

This question is a common one, and rightfully so. Work environment or culture is arguably one of the more important aspects of determining the compatibility of a new employer. You likely researched the employer online for the particulars, but employer culture is harder to gauge. I have heard from many employers, however, that the “employer culture” question is difficult to answer without sounding forced or filled with obvious adjectives such as “collegial and welcoming.”  By asking the better question of why the interviewer decided to work there and what keeps them there, you can gain personal insight and perspective on the nuanced positive aspects of the employer’s environment.

3. Common Question: “How quickly do lawyers qualify for a raise or promotion?”
Better Question: “What is the typical career path or opportunity for professional advancement at this employer?”

While compensation and prospects to grow financially are top factors when evaluating a job opportunity, asking about them in an interview is not encouraged. It gives the impression that money is a priority over the many other things that employers may offer. It can also come across as self-serving. By asking about professional advancement and what career path opportunities are afforded to the employer’s lawyers, you are not only learning how raises and promotions work, but you are also indirectly showing ambition and strong work ethic as well as a sense of long-term commitment and loyalty to the employer.

4. Common Question: “Is there anything about my candidacy for this position that is cause for concern or would disqualify me?  
Better Question: “What are the most important skills or qualities that the employer is looking for in their ideal candidate?

I see this question recommended often, and always with the caveat that it is a risky question to ask. As you can imagine, it is an awkward question to answer that catches an interviewer off guard. By framing the question positively about an ideal candidate, you allow yourself to reiterate and emphasize your own strengths for the position. This question tends to also provide valuable information you will not find in the job posting or employer website, such as a window into the employer’s work environment, its employee expectations, and other possible intra-office politics that could be brewing under the radar.

There are many great questions that interviewees can ask to both learn more about the prospective employer and to convey their candidacy and potential to excel in the new position. By preparing effectively for interviews, and taking the time to craft better questions, you are ensuring that your next professional opportunity is the right fit for you.