Three Types of Questions That Will Help You Nail Your Next Interview

Experienced talent acquisition specialist, Ned Darrell, shares insights into the three types of questions that will greatly improve the outcome of your next interview. 

By Ned Darrell | February 15, 2024

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Over the course of my career, I’ve been in countless meetings to decide which candidates move forward in the interview/offer process, and which candidates are let go. The most common reason a candidate doesn’t move forward in the interview process is that there are other candidates in the process who have experience that is better aligned with the job opening. Plenty of these candidates could do the job just fine, but there are safer candidates to pick from. There really is nothing a candidate can do to change their experience. It’s not a knock on their experience, and for some, those previous jobs can be life-changing, but in that moment, the alignment isn’t there.

Some people bomb the interview. They typically know it when it happens too. Maybe they didn’t prepare adequately, maybe in their heart of hearts they don’t really want the job, or maybe they didn’t connect with the interviewer.

But in a field of fairly equal candidates, the best way to stand out is to ask plenty of high-quality questions. Every time you interview, you should come prepared with a list of at least 10 questions written down. Some of these questions will be asked and answered organically throughout the interview, but at the end, when the interviewer asks, “Do you have any questions?” You want to make sure you’re prepared. 

I view questions as falling into one of three tiers. It is appropriate to ask questions from all three tiers, but in my experience, questions in tier three move the needle the most but are rarely asked.

Tier 1 Questions

The first tier of questions I classify as, “what’s in it for me” type of questions. Examples include, pay, PTO, insurance, schedule, and an overview of roles and responsibilities. While these questions focus mostly on what you will get out of the job, this is information that you need to come away with from an interview. If the interviewer doesn’t ask about salary, you need to ask to make sure your expectations are in line with the company’s salary range. If they didn’t make it clear what your role and responsibilities would be, ask, so you know if the position is aligned with your goals. These questions give you important insight into the role and the company, but probably won’t change the interviewer’s opinion of you for better or worse. 

It’s essential to recognize these questions as foundational. They are not just about assessing what you will gain from the position but also about gauging the company’s values and priorities. For instance, asking about PTO and work-life balance policies can offer insight into how much the company values employee well-being and flexibility. Similarly, inquiring about roles and responsibilities not only clarifies your potential daily tasks but also allows you to understand how your role fits into the larger objectives of the team and company. These questions, therefore, serve a dual purpose: they provide critical information for your decision-making and subtly assess the company’s culture and values.

Tier 2 Questions

The second tier of questions are generic, high-quality questions, that illicit thought from the interviewer. These are questions that could be asked for any number of roles at any number of companies. Examples include, “What does success look like at 90, 120, 180 days?” or “Is there anything about my background that would give you pause before moving me forward in the interview process, because I would love the opportunity to address that now?” or “What skills and personality characteristics do you think are most important for succeeding in this role?” They’re good questions to ask, but you probably won’t be the first person to ask these exact questions.

When delving deeper into Tier 2 questions, it’s crucial to use them as a bridge between your qualifications and the company’s expectations. These questions should be framed in a way that not only seeks information but also demonstrates your capability and readiness to meet those expectations. For example, when asking about what success looks like in the role, follow up by relating your past experiences to those success metrics. This approach turns a standard question into a strategic conversation about your fit for the role. It shows the interviewer that you’re not just collecting information but are actively evaluating how you can contribute to the company’s success from day one.

Tier 3 Questions

The third tier of questions demonstrate a solid understanding of the company, industry, and competitive landscape, and ask questions that peel back the layers of the onion. They start at a place of understanding, and ask strategic questions. These questions probably can’t be asked in two different interviews, unless the companies are really similar. Examples could include discussing a company’s product roadmap, to see if they are planning to address a known need in their market or discussing a company’s value proposition compared to their competitors, and why this company’s value prop will win.  

With Tier 3 questions, the goal is to deepen the conversation beyond the surface level. These questions should reflect a thoughtful analysis of the company’s position within its industry and its future direction. For instance, after asking about the company’s product roadmap, you might explore how the company’s innovation strategy differentiates it from competitors. This shows that you’re thinking critically about how you can contribute to the company’s strategic goals. It’s about demonstrating your ability to engage in the company’s long-term vision and challenges, thereby positioning yourself as a valuable strategic asset.

You don’t need seven or eight Tier 3 questions; just a couple, but they demonstrate to the interviewer important characteristics that every hiring manager wants. First, you did your research and know about the company and the industry, which demonstrates an interest in the position, and a professional, self-starter mindset. Second, that you are able to think strategically, anticipate challenges, and evaluate solutions.