The one question you should ask your interviewer

Two employees shaking hands and smiling

We’re all used to the idea of being questioned at a job interview – after all, the interviewer needs to ask questions to assess your skills, competencies and fit for the role they’re recruiting for. But in truth, the interviewer shouldn’t be the only one asking questions in your next job interview.
In fact, if you’ve prepared well enough, you should have some smart, well-considered questions of your own to ask, which will help you to determine whether this role is right for you. Also, by asking the right questions, the interviewer will see you as a strong candidate who is genuinely interested in the job. Failing to ask any questions could give the interviewer the impression that you’re passive, uninterested and just want to get out of the building as quickly as possible after the interview.

If you’re only going to ask one question at your next interview, ask this one

We’ve written a lot in the past about the various questions that you could ask your interviewer. For instance, you could ask what a typical day in the job looks like, or what the interviewer’s background is, and whether they enjoy working at the company. You could also enquire as to whether this role is a new one, and what kind of learning and development opportunities are available.

These are all strong questions to ask. However, there’s one interview question that will help you to especially stand out, while making it so much easier for the interviewer to visualise you in the role.

That question is: “What does success look like in this job?”. It’s a question that demonstrates not only your interest in the role, but also your high level of motivation to succeed and your desire to achieve the required results.

Asking your prospective employer how they would define ‘success’ in the role is so important, because if you don’t know what success looks like in any job that you take on, how can you be sure that you will be a success – from the perspective of both you and your employer? Are there tangible goals for you to achieve, complete with key performance indicators (KPIs), so that both you and your organisation can get the results you want from your time together? How, and how frequently, will such KPIs be measured? Are there certain things that this employer will expect you to achieve within the first three months, or the first year?

Crucially, asking this question paints a picture in the interviewer’s mind of you successfully adding value to their organisation, thereby making them feel more secure in their belief that you’re the right person for the job.

The interviewer’s answer to this question can help you to decide if this is the right role for you

Another great reason to ask this question is the fact that what the interviewer says in response could be invaluable for determining whether this job and organisation are right for you. 

  • Does the interviewer give a vague response? Do they talk in generalities – for example, that they want you to help drive the success of the team – instead of referring to definite and measurable goals and benchmarks? This could suggest that the organisation hasn’t fully thought through the objectives of the role. And if they haven’t done that, how can they measure and reward success? This can be an especially common problem when the role is new.
  • However, vagueness isn’t always a bad thing. Whether it’s a brand-new role or not, if the organisation seems unsure about what success would really look like in this job, this might signal that there would be a lot of scope to mould the role around yourself. The opportunity to set your own success parameters, with no predecessor to live up to or pre-existing benchmarks to satisfy, could be appealing. In that case, you may be interested in our previous article about how to boost your chances of success when a role is new.
  • Or maybe you would prefer your employer to have clearer expectations of you? If so, you will want to see evidence of this when you ask the interviewer what success in this role will look like. When you know exactly what you need to work towards to be seen as a valued asset to the organisation, you will have clearer goals to aspire to, as you look to achieve future promotions and career progression. This might be more reassuring for you in the long term than simply hoping your employer will see you as having been successful in your job, on the basis of no real pre-set expectations at all.
  • How your potential boss answers this question could also give you a clue of their focus. If they say, for instance, that your success in this role is of direct relevance to a key strategic priority of the business – such as market share – this indicates that they have a strategic mindset and see how the role relates to the bigger picture. This could be hugely motivating for you if you want to feel like a major influence in your employer’s success, rather than just a ‘cog in the machine’.

This question can also be a great starting point for further questions

One of the other great things about asking this question is that it forces the interviewer to get specific and talk about any of a wide range of things that may not have been addressed elsewhere in the interview or on their company website – such as how quickly they expect you to reach certain goals, how they expect you to achieve those goals, and who they expect you to work with to achieve them.

The answer that they give you could therefore reveal a lot about such vital aspects of the job as how employees are treated, the all-round company culture, the organisation’s internal processes and future opportunities for promotion.

And of course, you can also use it as a platform to ask further follow-up questions if there’s anything you want the interviewer to be more specific about – for example, “How often will my performance be reviewed?” or “What training is available to help me to be successful in this role as quickly as possible?”

With just one question, you can learn so much more about your next boss

When asking your questions, it’s important to be considered. You don’t want to ask too many questions, especially when they’re about things that you would be expected to already know as a result of your pre-interview research and preparation, or where the relevant details may have already emerged over the course of the interview.

You should therefore only ask those questions that you know will position you positively – and as far as such questions go, you really can’t hope to do much better than “What does success look like in this job?” It’s a short and relatively unassuming question that can help to reveal so much.

About this author

Jane McNeill, joined Hays in 1987 as a trainee recruitment consultant in London and is now Managing Director of Hays NSW and WA.

After two years with Hays Jane began managing her own office and quickly took on larger and more diversified teams of people and responsibility for a region in the UK.

In 2001 Jane arrived in Perth , Western Australia and shortly after took over as State Director for WA. After six years of significant business growth she was appointed to the Hays Australia & New Zealand management board in 2007.

In 2012 Jane moved to Sydney and now oversees Hays’ operations in New South Wales with board responsibility for Western Australia.

Jane has an MA in Psychology from Edinburgh University.

Follow Jane on LinkedIn

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