I will level with you: I started out thinking I was going to give you a list of "answers" -- i.e. a cheat sheet of real, tried-and-true questions that will impress the interviewer at the end of your next job interview. You know: the part where the hiring manager asks you if you have any questions for him. After talking to various executive IT recruiters, however, it turns out asking the right questions can't be simplified into a mere list of examples. This is largely because, at the senior levels, the high-quality questions to ask are specific to the particular vacancy in question. Instead of a cheat sheet, a few important qualities of good questions emerged.
You know, I truly didn't know I'd have to mention this, but according to Amrop Battalia Winston's Bruce Walton, Mike Corey of Spencer Stuart, and Jarvis-Walker's Kristen Lamoreaux, I do: For the love of heaven, do not ask what the compensation is. Never mind that when the interviewer said, "Do you have any questions for me?" she wasn't inviting you to ask, "What's in it for me?" The question itself is so junior-varsity, it tells the interviewer that the candidate is also JV. Notes Walton: "If [the candidate] is good, they're thinking about the career implications of their next move, not how much money they'll make."
Corey agrees, adding that the question also raises a red flag about the candidate's commitment to any given role. "If that's the first question out of their mouth," he says, "they're looking for the highest bidder, and the employer should be aware that there could be retention issues." This is a headhunter from Spencer Stuart, one of the top retained-search firms, and he gets that question!
Just don't ask that question, and let's hope I never have to say it again.
"Good" is in the details
Everyone knows you better have some insightful, substantive questions prepared for this part of the job interview. Those who actually get it right, however -- well, it's not everyone. Corey estimates about 15 percent of the time candidates successfully navigate this portion of the meeting. Here's a tip: don't make the interviewer tell you something anyone can look up. You're supposed to know that already. Assuming you did your homework, feel free to use publicly available company information as a point of departure for more detailed questions about the business. Questions that delve deeper into the business tell Corey at least two things about the candidate: that this person is detail-oriented, and that she's interested and genuinely engaged with application process.
Speaking of genuine, these questions come more easily if you indeed are genuinely interested. If you are, then as you prepare for your interview, your questions should come naturally. "Questions should be authentic," notes Lamoreaux. Moreover, she adds, this isn't the time to be shy: "Ask for the inside information you want. This is your chance to interview the interviewer."
Coming full circle
While the questions you ask help them evaluate you as a candidate, this isn't an exam; don't just recite questions. Your questions should have some kind of progression and ultimately circle back to the position you're discussing. For example, advises Lamoreaux, don't ask three unrelated questions (no matter how intelligent). You'd want the first question to trigger the second, then use the third question to connect to the job.
When all is said and done, she says, all your questions should really address the two real questions: "How does the position impact IT?" and "How does it impact the company's bottom line?"