Questions to ask in an Interview

The interview is wrapping up, you’ve (hopefully) dazzled them with your thorough knowledge of your subject matter. Maybe cracked an appropriate joke or two and built up a nice rapport with the interviewer, this has been going great, right? Now we’re in the last little bit and we’re down to the last leg. Here comes the dreaded last mile of the interview “Do you have any questions for me?”

This is one of those things that is autism adjacent, but can really help anybody. While autistic individuals are more likely to not understand this entire song and dance, it’s definitely a challenging experience for anybody out there.

I used to really hate this section of the interview when I was younger. It seemed so silly and pointless. I read your job posting, I generally have a high enough IQ to read between the lines of a job posting to understand what a day to day role in this position will look like (especially as a young adult when most of my jobs were retail or barista related, are you serious?). I don’t have any burning desire or strong opinions on companies so long as you keep up your end of the bargain, why am I supposed to really have questions for you?

Honestly, I don’t really know if my lack of questions here ever necessarily cost me a position, but over the years I have come up with a few good ones that I have gotten good responses from, both in the way of hearing hiring managers say “Oh, that’s a good one, let me think about it” and also because they help me continue to interview the company to decide if it is some place I’d really like to work.

I have read so many different versions of questions to ask in an interview and honestly hate most of them. They sound so trivial and cliche. “What’s the day to day look like in this position?” Well, it’s a chat help desk position, so you sit at the desk and wait for a chat to come in, then you ask the person what’s going on, and solve their issue or escalate.. etc. It just seems kind of absurd to ask that question for a wide variety of positions out there, I’d honestly expect that most people can use critical thinking skills to extrapolate the day to day expectations of the position if they have done something similar before.

So here’s a list of some questions that I feel aren’t quite as cliche and obvious and might actually be somewhat useful while not taking up a whole heap of time at the end of an interview. There will usually only be time for one or two at the end of an interview, so I usually recommend just preparing a few that speak to you personally, or asking any that naturally come up during the interview itself.

“What is your favorite thing about working for {Company}?”

I ask this question to everyone, starting from the recruiter call all the way through any interview I have with the company. As many people as I can get to answer it as I can. Red flag answers to this question is if multiple people answer some variant of “the people I work with”. Not necessarily a hard stop, but it can definitely suggest that the company is generally not a great place to work, if the best thing about working for them is that the coworkers are pretty okay.

Things I generally look for as an answer is a broad array of answers. In a recent bout of interviews I did, I had one person tell me that they liked that they felt like there was a lot of transparency involved and they felt like their opinions were actually listened to by the C suite for development and improvements. Another person I spoke to loved that there were a lot of product changes and that as a result there were so many challenges that would come into play from it. Yet another person I spoke to mentioned that they loved that it was easy to move between a variety of departments in the company because they had so many products so they could switch things up as they felt they needed.

Super different answers that really showcased that the company was meeting a broad variety of needs for different people. If everyone that I ask gives me the exact same answer, I find that worrisome.

“What do you find the most challenging about working for {Company}?”

Similar basic concept as above, honestly. Except it’s a little bit harder for people to effectively sugarcoat issues. This is the one that I’ve had a lot of good feedback from hiring managers about when I ask them it. I think it’s a really good way to get sneak peek into the real company culture without all of the sugar coating they try to sell you on during the interview process.

I have asked a few variants on this question, sometimes its about the current role, sometimes its on the company itself. Red flags will be generally people trying to say that there are no issues whatsoever, because, well, we all know that’s generally not true.

I love the answers that I get for this question. It generally has helped me decide on what kind of roles I want to take. I have had interviewers be very transparent with me that a certain position would be incredibly narrow and would become incredibly boring (and they wouldn’t enjoy doing it) and imply that I likely wouldn’t enjoy doing it for very long. I have had interviewers tell me that the most challenging thing in their environment is that things change so much and that while it can be stressful, they love the challenge and how much it pushes them to grow.

Are there opportunities for professional development?  If so, what do those look like?

I am personally someone always looking for opportunities to learn more and grow new skills, so I love finding companies that are enthusiastic about empowering their employees with the opportunity to develop new skills.

Even better if they aren’t caught in only the old-school versions of “development”. New things like development funds that aren’t tied solely to tuition reimbursement (e.g. can be used for classes that aren’t solely provided by universities/colleges, online classes, books, boot camps, etc). Companies that provide stuff like PluralSight and LinkedIn Learning. Opportunities to shadow and mentor with other departments are also fantastic opportunities.

Basically you want to hear that the company is willing to invest in employee growth and understands that existing employees are assets that can be developed.

What type of employee tends to succeed here? What qualities are the most important for doing well and advancing?

This one is just kind of an idea to help you know if you are the kind of employee that would be able to succeed at the company. It will also help to see if they give you a super general answer or if they seem to give you a pretty well tailored answer that sounds like they are describing some specific individuals that were recently promoted.

I think it can be helpful to kind of hear what kind of qualities a team likes and views as successful. It’s always important to remember that you are interviewing them as much as you are being interviewed. If they aren’t a great fit for you based on any of these answers, it may be wiser to opt out of the company.

Things I personally don’t ask:

I will almost never ask any of the standard stereotypical questions about “anything on my resume you need me to clarify” as, in my experience, this usually gets addressed during the interview process. I’ve had quite a few interviews where they’ve had my resume in front of them and actually said “I see that this is on here and I actually had a few questions about that” so I just didn’t feel like it was worth wasting any air or time on a question that seems to have mostly already been covered.

I have tried the often mentioned “Is there anything that we covered in this interview that perhaps I didn’t answer as well as I could have that I could perhaps clarify for you now” on a few occasions and haven’t ever really had any stellar results from it, so I personally don’t recommend it above any of the questions listed above. It might require a certain personality trait that I don’t exhibit while I’m interviewing.

I have also seen so many recommendations to ask about “when will I hear back” or “what are the next steps” but, in my experience, this is pretty much all covered through a recruiter for pretty much all positions that aren’t retail, so I just don’t waste the time on them at all anymore.

Handling Job Interviews

One of the most common questions I have seen come up with autistic folks is how to handle job interviews. It’s pretty obvious that it’s one that we’d struggle with, we know that first impressions aren’t always things that we excel at. And sometimes we aren’t the best at answering the questions that people are actually asking instead of the question that they asked.

Yeah, I’ve totally bombed some interviews myself. I’ve stimmed so hard in spinning chairs that I’m pretty sure that the interviewer thought I was on drugs. Or showed up massively under dressed because I didn’t realize that the slacks and a polo shirt was absurdly casual for a mall department store women’s clothing section. Despite the fact that my mother used to work in one, I’d somehow never really picked up on the fact that those ladies are usually dressed up pretty damned nice?

Once I found “my” field, I’ve typically done much better. I fit in pretty well in the tech world and I definitely answer questions about my knowledge well enough to make up for the fact that I am always fidgety and questionable in a lot of the skills that everyone is told not to do in interviews because it makes you look awkward and everything else. I also gave up on a lot of the advice giving to neurotypical individuals for job interviews because I can never fake it well enough to make it work for me. I can mask pretty damned well, but I can’t do it super well in a highly anxiety inducing environment, and I’m willing to bet many other autistic individuals also struggle with this as well.

General advice:

  • Make jokes when you can
  • Be honest
  • Ask questions to be sure you understand their questions

To expand that a little bit further and clarify. I deal with stress by trying to make myself laugh, which translates to I usually crack some kind of joke during an interview, which will usually make my interviewer laugh. Everybody likes to laugh, so it kinda warms them up to me. If this isn’t your nature, don’t try to force it, but if it is, this can definitely work in your favor. Don’t try to stifle it just because you think it might not work for you. I’ve definitely made some jokes that your traditional career help office probably wouldn’t recommend in interviews that I’ve landed jobs from (self-deprecating jokes, Big Brother jokes, etc) but it generally works for me. General standard caveats of nothing off color.

Honesty definitely needs a clarification. During a job search, pretty much everyone and their mother’s dog will tell you that you need to embellish your resume and skills in order to land a job. I don’t and I won’t. Embellishment is a waste of mine and everyone else’s time. I do list skills on my resume that I am working on, usually in a section clearly stating that I am learning/in classes for and during interviews, when asked about these skills or what I have done with these skills, I always answer with “I have limited experience in a working environment, however, in my personal lab/in this project at school/etc I did XYZ”.

The worst thing about misunderstanding a question is that you may not even realize that you answered a totally different question and didn’t even answer what was asked and have a grey cloud hovering around you now. I can’t even tell you how many times I have had an HR/initial phone screen wherein I was asked a yes or no question which I answered in the affirmative and had nothing else said and they moved on to the next question and I’d then be black holed and I’d never hear anything again.

I was entirely confused until I saw an internal documentation at a company for a posting that we had with a similar question for the recruiters to ask potential candidates and what to look for and it was looking for examples. A yes or no question. And they were supposed to provide examples. Why ask a yes or no question and then expect a full answer with examples?

It seems obvious in retrospect, but it still kind of blows my mind because a yes or no question has a short answer of yes or no, not “Yes, examples a, b, c” especially in a short screening. So never worry about asking for clarification to be sure that you are actually answering the question that the interviewer is expecting you to answer. No need to sell yourself short because you answered the wrong question.