Interview questions to ask your future employer

Anyone who’s ever been in a crappy job knows emerges a little more wary and much better prepared for the next one. As interviewing is a two-way street, it’s always a good idea to ask your potential employer a few basic questions before accepting the gig. After all, you need to make sure that the company is as much a fit for you, as you are for them. You are the best judge of how to get the best productivity from yourself, so you need to know that your new environment will be conducive to that.

Obviously there are some pretty basic questions that you should be asking, like what the role is, what it pays and what the culture is like. But here are a few more questions that you may not have considered.

Here are some good questions to ask a future employer (in no particular order).

1. What are the expected working hours? What are the typical working hours?
The minimum hours in your contract and the expected hours may not be the same. If you’ve got a family to get home to, you don’t want to be the only guy walking out the door at 5pm while your boss glares at you for not working back until 7pm like the rest of the team.

2. Do I get admin access to my own machine?
I once had a job heavily involving software development where I didn’t have administrator access to my own machine. This proved challenging. When I asked my next employer this question, he said “yes, of course” and looked at me like I was mad. A good sign.

3. Are there any downloading, workstation installation and internet browsing restrictions? Is online activity monitored?
Being able to download and install things on my workstation, as a software tester/developer, should be a no brainer. I’m more than happy to respect a company’s security policies, but when they prevent me from doing my job and don’t actually contribute towards company security, then I tend to object. I’m not doing anything naughty online that I’m worried about being monitored, but I’d be interested to know if my future employer deems such monitoring to be necessary.

4. Which source control software do you use?
If the answer is “email”, run.

5. What’s your take on personal devices in the workplace? Supported? Unsupported? Outlawed?
In some places it’s useful to have your laptop or iPad around for things like meetings, presentations and testing if one isn’t provided for you.

6. What kind of workstation will I be using? What is the refresh rate?
Nothing’s more depressing than being handed a dinosaur of a machine and falling asleep while waiting for your applications to load. Sometimes fixed by bringing in personal devices (see above).

7. What software development methodology do you use?
Don’t accept any one-word answers without further explanation.

8. Are employees allowed to listen to music while working?
It’s a personal preference, but in my experience most software engineers like to block out the world with headphones in order to focus, myself included. It’s a great trick.

9. How are performance reviews conducted?
I haven’t been burned by this in the past but it’s sure interesting to know.

10. Does your team use continuous integration?
It’s a good indication of how the team works, and a good lead-in to a discussion about how the team operates on a day to day basis.

11. Do I get a permanent desk?
“Hot-desking” seems to be getting pretty popular these days. It might not be your cup of tea. It’s probably also best to check if you get a desk at all. Who knows, maybe your next employer will have you sitting on the floor due to desk restrictions. Nothing would surprise me.

12. What’s the biggest challenge you have faced while working here?
Might as well interview the interviewer. You might get some interesting answers.

13. What test case management system / bug tracking tool / etc do you use?
If the answer to any of this is “Excel” it’s probably a red flag.

14. How often do you deploy to production?
There’s no right answer here, but you’ll probably get an interesting one.

15. What are you hoping to achieve by hiring me? How do you see the candidate contributing to your team?
An excellent question, courtesy of my friend Adam Yuret.

This might seem like a lot of questions, but if you’re considering taking a full-time job that’s a long-term commitment and it’s worth being sure about it. Asking more questions sparks more discussion and that’s a good thing.

10 thoughts on “Interview questions to ask your future employer

  1. duncan nisbet

    Cheers Trish, perfect timing!

    I’ve got a slightly different list for my interview on Tuesday, but this list will definitely add to my interview questions.

    Duncan

  2. Nick

    GREAT article! As someone that interview people regularly, I would love to hear these question or ANY questions! Sometimes the hardest thing to do as an Interviewer is judge a candidate by their resume and the questions you bring with you to the interview. Having a candidate be proactive in asking questions about the job and the company really helps!

    I would suggest that if you’re interviewing with a company and have several hours of interviews scheduled, break this list up among the people you’re interviewing with. It’s ok to ask the same question to different individuals to get their take on the items that are important to you!

  3. Ben Morgan

    If they haven’t covered it i’d also ask where they see the team/company/product in 6months and 2-3 years. I think this gives you a good idea if they have a long term plan or are just reacting to the latest fire.

  4. Dean

    Good list, especially 12 and 15. That said, if any one succeeding or coming into our organisation asked 13 they would get the “Excel” answer (which is actually a step-up from when I first started). Having seen a couple of other ways of managing tests / defects, it’s not necessarily the bottom of the barrel.

  5. Chris Swain

    I think this advice is invaluable. I am now looking for employment but in previous employment have made bad assumptions of what it would be like. The worst testing job I had was in a place where I could not download anything to computer that might be useful for testing. Not having local admin rights to a test machine is a real pain in the backside for testers.
    Well done Trish.

  6. Marton "meza" Meszaros

    The most tricky question is what you must ask if you want to see if the team suites your expectations is:
    – Can I spend a day with my future team before progressing with the process?
    In some cases especially around SF this is perfectly normal and required. It gives you validation to the answers you might have received for your previous questions. Most times these answers are the future the interviewer dreams of. It also helps the team to decide whether you’re a good fit or not.
    I know it might be hard to get positive responses for this outside the valley, but it is sure worth it.

  7. James

    These are awful. The most important thing about a job is the *work*. That it’s interesting, career building and most importantly challenging. Your questions should relate to that. Asking those questions above will demonstrate that you’re inflexible with regards to elements that do not matter: tools, workstations and hours. Even if these things are important to you (they shouldn’t be), you will show yourself as inflexible by asking them. For example, as an interviewer when I hear “what hours do you work” I automatically hear “I want to work as few hours as possible”. Or “what source control do you use” I hear “I will only use x, y or z and am unable to learn new things”. I’m sure you can discover the answer to these question by informally contacting an existing employee outside of the interview – it’s a triviality.

    Demonstrate that you know the company in your questions. Ask about details of turnover, clients, management structure and DETAILS OF THE JOB. This type of question demonstrates that you want to know the company a bit already, they cannot be easily discovered elsewhere and help you understand whether the role is a long-term possibility & whether it fits with what you want in future.

    The best possible questions therefore cannot be listed & generalised as above.

  8. Trish Khoo Post author

    Correct, as it states at the top of the article there are obvious questions you should be asking with regards to the actual job itself, what the culture is like, etc. This is simply a list of additional questions that I’ve found are interesting to know the answers to and may or may not affect your decision, depending on what makes you most productive as an individual.

    Incidentally if you, as an employer are not receptive to potential employees asking about working hours, I would say that it’s an indication that you as an employer are being inflexible if this is a point that you’re not willing to negotiate. If a potential employee has circumstances that impact their working hours, e.g. family commitments, any kind of life outside of work whatsoever, then this is a very important question. For example, new mother who needs to be home on time to see her family every day would understandably not suit a role that requires regular 12 hour days.

    Obviously not all companies can operate this way and legitimately require employees to work overtime on a regular basis. This suits some people perfectly fine. Others, not so much. Either way, it’s good to know what you’re getting into in advance.

    It exactly this kind of inflexible and negative reaction to reasonable questions of interest which to me indicate the kind of working culture to avoid. If an employer can’t hold an honest conversation with an employee about things as simple as tools and working hours, then it sounds like a place that doesn’t have much respect for its employees.

  9. Curtis

    Hi “James,”

    Saying a professional relationship is about nothing more that “the work” is akin to making the claim a romantic relationship is about nothing more than physical compatibility. Is it important, sure. However being physically compatible usually only lasts a short time if that’s all you have to keep you in the relationship. Work is no different. being excited about the technology being used or the product being developed is an excellent start. However working on a great product for a completely incompatible company or team is NOT sustainable or even desirable. Within six to twelve months (depending on your level of passive aggression or masochism) you’ll find yourself nursing resentment and anger while you once again hit the pavement with our resume.

    it’s best to take the time to find a place you feel you fit in and can relax enough to do awesome work. You’ll be happier, healthier, and will generally find yourself doing some amazing things you’ll treasure as a result.

  10. john

    @james this is why I love corporate HR drones so much. You tell us it is all about the work, but then think being present for the requisite number of hours is important, that going home early is lazy, and that seeking better ways of doing things is being a trouble-maker.

    Everyone’s goal should be to go home early. Do the job as effectivley as possible; be efficient; learn new stuff; go home. This is what being a worthwhile member of the team is about.

    If you are lazy, you will just turn up, be present for the required number of hours then go home without learning anything, and without challenging “this is how we work”.

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