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4 Critical Questions Job Candidates Need to Ask in an Interview

Preparing for job interviews often means gearing up for difficult questions that can be challenging for even the most seasoned employees to answer. But your role during an interview isn't just to respond to questions. Rather, you should be asking certain key questions that not only show your prospective employer that you've put a lot of thought into the role, but tell you whether the job you're applying for is actually the right one for you. Here are a few key pieces of information you should always aim to uncover.

1. What's the company culture like?

Even if the role you're applying for sounds like your dream job, if the atmosphere you'd be doing it in doesn't align with your preferences or expectations, you could easily wind up unhappy once hired. That's why you'll need to get a good sense of what it's like to work at any given company before accepting an offer. If, for example, you're used to casual attire at work, the idea of having to wear dress pants may not sit well with you. Similarly, if you're used to working in a private office and come to learn that your prospective employer pools all workers together in an open, shared space, you might have trouble functioning in that sort of environment.

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But company culture extends well beyond the physical layout of an office and its dress code. Company culture refers to the way employees are treated and valued, and it also speaks to the expectations set upon them. The company you're applying to might allow workers to show up in jeans, and offer in-office happy hours every Friday. But if employees are expected to otherwise live at the office and be available 24/7, that may not be the optimal situation for you.

2. How's the team dynamic?

Though a company might promote a certain culture, individual teams within that company are likely to have their own way of doing things and interacting. Since these are the people you'll be working with closely day in, day out, you'll need to get a good sense of how your potential team operates before choosing to join it.

So ask about your prospective team's dynamic during the interview process. Find out how many members that team has, what their different responsibilities are, and the extent to which everyone collaborates. You might also ask what steps the team's manager takes to foster a positive environment. All of this information will tell you whether you're likely to fit in.

3. What expectations do you have for this role?

There's a difference between outlining the tasks you'll be responsible for and measuring your personal success relative to those tasks. Even if your interviewer makes the former crystal clear, you'll need to get clarity on the latter to determine your next move.

Say you're applying for a sales position where you'll be cold-calling customers and setting up in-person product demos for the ones that are interested. That's a pretty clear-cut explanation of how you'll be spending your days, but you should also find out how much sales volume your company expects you to generate. If that number sounds unreasonable from the get-go, the job may not be the right one for you.

4. What path might my career take if I accept this position?

Even though you're applying for a specific job based on your current skill set, it's never a bad thing to think about the future and where that job might take you. That's why you'll need to talk about your eventual career path during the interview process. Though it may seem like you're jumping the gun, discussing the future shows that you're not only taking the role seriously, but are looking to build a long-term relationship with your employer rather than jump ship after a year or two. At the same time, you don't want to inadvertently lock yourself into a dead-end job, so find out what opportunities might await you several years down the line.

The next time you're at a job interview and are asked if you have any questions, your answer should be an emphatic "yes." Doing your research beforehand is great, but the best way to get the real scoop on any given company is to talk to the people who work there and see what they have to say.

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