As a candidate, what are some of the questions you can and should ask a potential employer and/or its representatives, including recruiters?
That’s a pretty wide-open question, and it’s fair to say that the answer varies a lot based on what you know about the employer, where you are in the employment pipeline, how comfortable you are with asking tough questions, what kind of company it is, and more other factors than I care to count. You’ll have to make the final decision on which questions you want to ask an employer yourself, but I can suggest some broad areas for discussion and specific questions within those broad areas that might be worth asking some employers some of the time.
It may be possible to get this kind of information from public sources, like the company website. If the company’s identity isn’t cloaked, you’re probably better off doing your own research here rather than coming off as someone who hasn’t even bothered to learn about the company. There may still be elements from this list of question that warrant asking further questions.
- What is the total number of offices? Employees? Countries in which the organization operates?
- Can you outline the organizational structure of the company?
- How long has the company been around?
- Can you give me a quick summary of the company history?
- Who are your primary competitors?
- What are some of the challenges currently facing the company?
- What are some of the bigger goals for the company over the next [six months|year|two years]?
- How has the company changed recently? How do you see the company evolving in the next [six months|year|two years]?
- How has the company grown (revenues, employees, profit, etc) over the last [six months|year|two years|five years]?
If the company is public, you can get access to some of this information. If it’s venture-backed, you may be able to find reference to the capital they’ve received. Not everyone is comfortable asking some of these kinds of questions:
- Are you a profitable company currently? Have you been for the last [six months|year|two years]? Do you expect to be within [six months|a year|two years]?
- What’s your profit model? (This is usually more useful if you understand a little about the industry they’re in.)
- How is the company funded? (from revenue; venture capital or other investment; government grants)?
- What’s the revenue for this year? How does that compare to the past few years?
- What’s the company’s current burn rate? What’s the burn rate projected for the next years?
- If the burn rate is higher than revenue — how long will the company’s funding last at the current/projected burn rate?
- How many paying clients do you have? How much revenue do you get from a client?
- Has the company had to make any layoffs? Are there any layoffs anticipated?
- Who are the shareholders / investors? Is there a board, and who are the boardmembers?
Your Role / Team
Many postings talk about the role, but leave out useful information about the team, where that role fits in the organization, the work, etc.
- What would my role be?
- Why is this position open? (Employee departure, new role, etc.) Why can’t it be filled through internal promotion?
- What would I be working on?
- To whom would I be reporting, and who would be reporting to me?
- Would I be working as part of a team? What’s the size and composition of the team? Are they located together, or distributed?
- Would I be a member of the team, a senior member of the team, a team lead, or managing the team?
- Who else is on the team? Tell me about them? Can I meet with the team?
- How does this role/team fit within the organization as a whole? What other teams/positions does this team/role interact with closely?
- What are the challenges facing the person who takes this position?
- What would be my short-term, medium-term and long-term goals?
- How would I be managed, assessed?
- How would my career progress starting with this role at this organization?
- How will my role change as the company grows?
Some companies have HR microsites that talk about culture, but they focus on things like values where you want to know specifics:
- What’s employee turnover like within the [company|team]?
- Could you describe to me [your|the manager's|the company's] typical management style and the type of employee that works well with [you|the manager|the company]?
- How do [you|the company] keep your employees motivated?
- How [do you|does the company] ensure that employees skills stay current and seek to improve those skills?
- What are the company’s policies with regard to training, conferences? How would that work for someone in my role?
- Ho [do you|does the company] make sure that company goals are carried through to individual action?
Many positions give vague answers about compensation — it’s your job to get specific, at least when you’re past the initial ‘getting to know the role’ phase:
- What are your salary expectations for this role?
- What would be the vacation allotment for this role?
- Are there any company policies around timing and compensation that I should know about? (Summer hours, closed between christmas and new years, flex time, bonusetc.)
- What benefits do you offer beyond salary and vacation?
- Are bonuses common? What’s an average bonus as a percent of salary?
- Are there any benefits related to training and skill improvements?
This is mostly relevant if you’re going for a software job, of course:
- How many people are in the software development portion of the organization?
- What roles do you have in development, and approximately how many? (developers, qa, database analysts, management, architects, product owners, product managers, operations staff, build managers, etc.)
- Are there staffmembers dedicated to:
- Test automation
- Building and releasing?
- Managing servers and networks?
- What tools are in place?
- Do you use source control? Which? Why?
- Do you have an issue-tracking system? Which? Why? Do you track defects or defects and features?
- Do you have some kind of task/team tracking system (e.g. ScrumWorks)? Which? Why?
- Do you perform automated builds? Using what? Why did you choose that?
- Do you perform automated testing? Who does it? Using what? Why did you choose that?
- Do you perform nightly builds or continuous integration? How does it work? What do you use? Why?
- Do you do any kind of code analysis, coverage tools, etc.? Using what? Why?
- Describe the overall software development process and practices.
- How does a feature go from concept to production?
- How do you know you are building the right product/features?
- How do you decide when to fix a bug?
- Do you refactor? When, and how do you decide?
- How do you resolve technical debt?
- How do you mitigate risks?
- How do you scale?
- How do you schedule releases? Work within releases?
- How do you do task assignment?
- How often do you release the software to a production environment?
- How often does all the code of all the team members get integrated?
- How do you manage parallel development streams, branching and merging?
- How do you address issues as they’re discovered? in production software?
- How do developers come to understand the features/tasks they are building? How do they know when they’re done? How are their results validated/accepted?
- How is the team organized? (Feature teams? Function teams? QA and Dev?)
- Do you practice:
- Test-driven development? What does that mean for you?
- Continuous integration? What does that mean for you?
- Pair programming? How often?
- What’s your technology stack — platforms, languages, OS, database, libraries, frameworks
- What’s the working environment like?
- What’s the recruitment process like? How do you select employees? How has that been working?
- What do you like best about [your job|the project|the company]?
- What do you find unusual about this company?
Although I’ll take credit for many of these questions, I’ve developed this list with the input of some others, in particular Javier Sandino added a lot to early versions of this list, and I believe this has some of Sean Miller’s feedback as well.