Work + Growth

Interviewing the Interviewer

  • When you’re interviewing for a position, you’re also deciding if the employer is right for you
  • Avoid questions about things you can easily find out about by doing your own research
  • Ask questions that give you an opportunity to demonstrate how you can use your skills to contribute to solutions

Congratulations! You’ve landed an interview at your dream firm.

You have a sharp interview suit picked out, you’re armed with glowing letters of reference, and you have your elevator pitch ready. You’ve practiced your answers to the tough questions your interviewers are going to ask you, but what about the questions you’re going to ask them? Coming to an interview prepared with questions shows that you are a person who wants to be part of a company, not just someone seeking a job to serve your own purposes. Asking questions can also help make an interview feel more like a conversation and a little less like an interrogation. Besides helping to make a good impression, asking questions helps inform you about the job, the company, your prospective colleagues, clients, managers, even your future. A job interview isn’t just a prospective employer deciding if you’re right for them, it’s you deciding if they’re right for you. If you’re not quite sure what types of things you should focus on, we can help.

DON’T ask about salary, benefits, hours required, etc. in an initial job interview. Let the interviewer share that information with you. Focusing on these things can come across as either combative or over-eager, depending on your tone and wording. Now is the time for you to get to know each other and determine if you’re a good match. An interview can be a lot like a blind date—do you really want a second date with the person who says, during that first coffee, “So, are you looking to get married? How many kids do you want to have?” That would come off desperate and make you look like you’re not willing to put in more than the bare minimum of work while expecting top rewards.

DO your research. It’s important to ask questions that you can’t easily find the answers to yourself. You don’t want to ask the hiring manager “How many people are in the practice group?” if that’s on the firm website, or “Will I get to try cases?” if the job makes that information clear. Instead, ask about details that can both help you become more educated about the position and give you the opportunity to address how your skills and experience might be applicable. “How do you see someone coming into this position spending their first 100 days?” lets you get an idea about the firm’s expectations of you, while “What challenges do you see the firm facing in the next five years?” gives you the opportunity to demonstrate how you can be part of the solution, while flipping the “Where do you see yourself in five years?” question on its head a little.

DO show interest in the other person’s experience. Can you think of a time when someone asked about your experiences in order to get a better handle on the day-to-day vibe of your employer, and what you said?

A job interview isn’t just about seeing whether you have the skills to complete the required tasks, it’s about seeing what kind of colleague you’ll be and how you will fit in at the company. But remember to keep the questions positive. Asking “What’s the worst thing about working here?” is needlessly negative, while “What’s your favorite thing about working here?” or “What’s been the most surprising thing about your job?” or “What kind of cases are you currently working on?” gives you some insight into the company culture and shows interest in your prospective co-worker. This can be an especially good strategy if you’re meeting with an associate or junior partner who is still in the competitive zone. You want to impress the company seniors, but bond with the company juniors—to an extent, of course. It’s still a job interview, so be sure to remain on your best behavior and not get too informal and familiar.

DO ask about hierarchy and autonomy, but DON’T make it sound like you don’t want to follow instructions or that you believe certain tasks are beneath you. Questions like “Who will be supervising this position?” and “What percentage of the work is independent versus working directly with others?” or “Are you looking for the person in this position to take initiative in problem solving?” show that you want to learn about the expectations of the job and how you can serve the company without making a prospective boss think that you just want to do your own thing. Asking about hierarchy also demonstrates an interest in the organization’s management structure, especially if there are offices in multiple locations. If there’s an office that serves as headquarters, for example, how much does that office oversee other branches? Who is going to be giving you feedback on your work—and what kind of feedback structure can you expect? Questions along the lines of “Where would you say your primary need is right now?” and “How can someone in this position help the company achieve short- and long-term goals?” show that you’re a team player and willing to take instruction, while also demonstrating an ability to work independently without having someone hold your hand.

DO demonstrate that you have a long-term interest in the company. This can be a little tricky. You don’t want to say something like “When can I expect to get a promotion?” but it’s always good to express an interest in growth. One way to do this is to ask about opportunities to learn and expand your skill set. Those might be questions such as “What makes someone successful in this role?” or “What kind of training do associates receive?” If there’s no information on the firm website or other published materials about a shadow or mentorship program, you might ask about opportunities to collaborate with, and learn from, company seniors. One way to phrase this could be “What is the firm’s approach to mentoring?”

Ultimately, you want to ask questions that demonstrate you are well-researched, interested in the company and your prospective colleagues, and have the desire for growth but the humility to work for it. Remember, it’s all about figuring out whether this is a good match on both sides. You’re not just the seller, you’re also the buyer. This is a great opportunity to educate yourself on your potential investment.