The giant list of questions to ask employers

Do you get sytmied when you're asked if you have any questions in an inteview? Have we got a list for you.

In May of 2021 I was working at 18F in a term-limited role, so I was actively interviewing. As I interviewed I realized that companies always asked me if I had any questions for them, and more often than not I completely froze and couldn't think of any questions at all in that moment. Not a great look.

So I started compiling good questions. But the recovering journalist inside me knows: with any interview, a good question alone isn't enough. You need to understand why you're asking the question and what you hope to learn from it. So as I compiled the questions, I added notes on scenarios in which it might be a useful question and signals -- both good and bad -- to watch for.

Over time it's grown to be a pretty large collection I've kept on Github. It will remain there, but I'm also embedding it here as a convenience.

Questions for potential employers

This is a big collection of questions I've gathered over the years that have proven to be useful when interviewing, including why you might want to ask the question. Remember, in any interview you're trying to get to know the company and the people you might be working with as much as they're trying to get to know you. Maybe more.

There are a lot of questions here. Some are just simple nuts-and-bolts questions. Some are only appropriate for certain types of companies. Some might help after you've already got a whiff of an org smell. You'll never ask all of these -- there's no time! But usually, after you've read the role description and had a phone screen, you should have a pretty good idea of which questions you want to highlight and ask.

I've broken them out by subject matter, with some notes on things to look for.

If you'd like more questions for director-and-above positions, Jacob Kaplan-Moss has a great list.

Table of contents

Getting started

What is the onboarding process like?
Do they have one? How well-defined is it? Do they have a "buddy system" or some other mechanisms to help you get ramped up, or do they just let you sink or swim?

In the first 60 to 90 days of employment, what would be my most urgent priorities?
This is helpful for getting past the position description to the real expectations of the work. Plus the first 90 days are critical.

What are the key accomplishments you’d like to see in this role over the next year?
What is the one thing I absolutely must get right the first year?

This one extends on the previous question, looking longer term. This helps you get a sense of what your success criteria would be as well as how well the employer has defined the role. This one can also help get a better sense of the real priorities, which may differ from what the role description indicated. If they don't have clear answers to either of these questions, the role is probably poorly defined and not set up for success.

What does success look like for your customers for someone in this role?
A good question to help get a sense of how user-focused the organization is.


What type of people are successful here? What type of people are not?
Alternate: What characteristics do the people who are most celebrated have in common with each other? Conversely, what are the characteristics that are common to the promising people you hired, but who then flamed out and failed or left? Pay close attention to this one. You can potentially pick up a lot of red flags about what type of culture they really have versus what kind of culture they want you to think they have. The phrase "culture fit" itself can be a warning sign of homogenous, non-inclusive, bro-grammer culture.

How do you determine if someone is a poor fit for the company?
Same as above, they may tell you more than they mean to about what they value (and what they don't).

If an employee does something harmful that isn't a fireable offense, how do you handle that?
What steps do you take to create a culture of accountability?

They should have a plan for this. If they don't, any number of toxic-but-not-fireable behaviors are probably not being addressed.

Is there any sort of institutionalized way of dealing with plateauing or preventing burnout?
You should hear something about rotation of duties or location, sabbaticals, etc. In other words, a real plan for avoiding burnout, not empty platitudes. Follow-up: Is it possible to take sabbaticals or unpaid vacation?

How does internal communication work? How does the company communicate with itself, and is that effective?
This can be a really telling question. Are company communications scattered? Leaked out? Top down? How does it work? Does it work?

Are there catered suppers?
This may sound like a nice perk, but you may want to learn more about why it's necessary. In a properly functioning organization with normal 8-5 or 9-5 hours, you should be home for supper. In crunch times it's nice when the organization brings in some decent food, but does the org find itself in crunch times all the time? If so, why?

What is your turnover rate?
How many people were hired last year and how many left? Over the past 2-3 years? What is the average time that people stay at the company? Attrition is one of the strongest tells that a culture is bad. If more than 30% of the company left in the past year, that's a real problem. What is the company doing about it?

How are disagreements solved? What happens when personalities clash?
You're looking for a real, equitable and fair plan here, not a handwave-y answer.

Given everything you like about the company culture, what's the flip side? What failure modes do you think your culture creates? Are those potential failure modes or have you seen them happen? How do you try to guard against them?
Even great cultural choices have downsides. If the person who's answering you has been in the company for a while and can't give you a good answer, either they're unwilling to give you bad news about the company, or they're not very thoughtful about the culture and its failure modes.

Work/life balance

How many hours a week does senior management work?
Do they put in 80-hour weeks? If so, run away.

How much vacation do people get?
If there's "unlimited" vacation, how much vacation do people normally take? What is the expectation for "excessive" vacation? There is always a number.

What holidays are observed?
Some companies do not observe federal and state holidays. For parents, this can be a real problem since schools usually do. If so, you may have to use a vacation day for your child's holiday.

Does this position require travel? How often?
This should have been in the job post, but if it wasn't, ask about it and think about how it fits with your lifestlye and commitments. Some folks are fine being road warriors, but if you've got kids or other commitments at home, it can be difficult.

Would I need to be on call? How often?
Another nuts-and-bolts question, but on-call rotations can be tough. While you're asking, consider asking of being on-call comes with extra compensation.

How many hours do people work in an average week? What time do people normally leave work? What time do they normally start? Do people work on the weekend? Seriously, if the job can't be done in 40 hours, more or less, something is probably wrong.

Do people check in when they're on vacation?
They shouldn't, and they shouldn't be expected to. Take the vacation.

What kinds of tasks are routinely demanded of by management beyond the original job description?
This can be a bit confrontational, or can sound like you want to do nothing more than what's explicitly in the job description. Be careful with it. Still, it can be useful if you're concerned you may be asked to walk your manager's dog or something weird.

What is the rhythm to the work?
Is there a time that's “all hands on deck” and everyone pulls all-nighters, or is it pretty consistent throughout the year?

How often are there emergencies or times when people have to work extra hours?
For most orgs, the number of emergencies and unplanned extra hours should be near zero. Generally speaking, emergencies indicate either faulty DevOps or faulty management. There are times and places where extra hours should be expected -- if you're involved in taxes in the U.S. in any way, you know April is busy, for example -- so it's worthwhile to differentiate planned extra hours from unplanned.

Are the company’s managers inclined to call employees at home with questions or comments?
If so, that could be an indicator of poor boundaries or a poor work-life balance. Or it could just be a busy boss trying to catch up with you. Use your judgement and ask follow-up questions if you're concerned.


Walk me through the process of expensing a $[price] [item]
Choose an item and price -- that could be a $50 book or something larger, it doesn't matter. What you're looking for here is a process that sounds reasonable and navigable for the price and item you chose.

How many layers of company managers or executives does one have to go through to get approval for a new idea?
The more layers, the more difficult and time consuming it will be. Well-defined process can mitigate the difficulty, but it is still a good indicator of overall bureaucracy and speed.

What is the policy on alternate work schedules?
Is variability okay, or is everyone expected to be on the same schedule? In modern orgs, especially distributed orgs, asking everyone to punch the clock at the same time is backwards, at best.

What is your remote work policy?
Why is that your remote work policy?

What is the company’s policy on work/life balance?
How does that work out in practice?

Is it easy to move to other divisions or offices?
Warning: the interviewer could infer that you are a difficult teammate and like to jump around.

What information is shared with the employees in terms of revenue, costs, operating metrics, etc?
Is this an “open book” shop, or do they play it closer to the vest? How is information shared? How do you get access to the information you need to be successful?

Does the company require a prospective employee to sign a non-compete contract? If so, could you explain in a few words how restrictive it is.
Is it negotiable?

Diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, and ethics

Tell me about a situation where someone raised a concern about DE&I or ethics?
How was it handled? If not, have there really not been any? Is management listening?

Tell me about the organization leadership demographics. What specifically are you doing to drive greater diversity in management?
Bad orgs don’t know or get defensive; good orgs are open and transparent; the best orgs share what they’re doing to improve. Follow-up: What benefits do you expect from increasing diversity among leadership?

Tell me about your effort to attract a diverse pool of candidates.
What metrics are they currently using to track DE&I in hiring?

Tell me about your efforts to retain a diverse group of employees.
This is a particularly useful question. Lots of companies try to recruit diverse candidates and then don't do much at all after that to keep them. Again, what are the metrics they're using to track this?

Tell me about a time when a challenge or suggestion from an under-represented group was acted on in their favor?
How long ago was that?

How transparent is your salary and compensation data?
Not long ago, most orgs did not share salary and compensation info at all. State salary transparency laws have been changing that, but the information can still be vague or misleading. The best orgs will understand why salary transparency is valuable.

Am I the only one [in the demographic or under-represented group I identify as a member of]?
If so, how do you plan to do to ensure that I am welcome, included and equal?

Incorrect answers include blinking in confusion, saying "everything's fine and we don't see why we'd have to do anything in particular", and "you're not the only one; we have a [person] in a $other_role!" Follow-up: Where do you anticipate challenges?

Do you have a standard insurance package that covers trans health care?
Even if you yourself might not use the insurance package, this still gives you good insight into their commitment to inclusion.

Do you offer paternity leave, or just maternity leave?
If they only offer maternity leave it can say a lot about the roles they expect women to play.

Most/all of my interviewers were men. Can I speak to someone else on the team to hear more about their own experience?
Does the team lacks diverse perspectives?

Understanding the company and team

How are your teams structured? What is the management structure like?
Pay particular attention if you have any questions about reporting or power structures. Get clarity.

What’s the biggest challenge the team has gone through in the last year? Does the team currently feel optimistic about what's next?
Useful for getting a sense of team morale and working conditions.

Is this a new role?
If so, follow up with more questions about how the company plans to get buy-in for this new role and support the people in it. This can be useful to understand how well-defined the position is and if it's a position set up for success. If it is not a new role, see if you can learn more about why the person left. Best case is they were promoted up, meaning this role can lead to similar opportunities for you. Follow-ups:

How does the organization reward employees?
Is it a star system / team-oriented / equity-based / bonus-based / golf-clap-based? Does it reward individual performance? Team performance? Is the reward tangible and real? How does the company demonstrate to an employee that they are an asset to the company? Follow-ups:

What has you most worried?
What keeps you up at night? A competitor? Something else?

What’s one thing that’s key to this company’s success that somebody from outside the company wouldn’t know about?
Can help you set priorities as you onboard.

What do you wish you had known when you joined this company?
Can tell you a lot about the culture or challenges.

What would you say are the company’s strengths?
Alternately, what would you say are the company’s weaknesses? It can be illuminating to flip these traditional interview questions back on the company.

What is the company’s current strategy for generating new business? What is the company’s strategy for maintaining existing business?
This speaks to the viability of the business model and is particularly useful for start-ups/scale-ups.

Are you profitable? if not, how does this affect what you can do? What's your planned timeline for becoming profitable?
Again, particularly useful for startups. Don't ask a publicly traded company this. It will just show you didn't do any research on readily available information.

How do you make money?
Again, mostly for startups, but can they explain the business model in a way that makes sense?

Are company financials transparent throughout the company?
What about salaries? (see the DE&I section). This is another question that you probably don't want to ask a publicly traded company, because the financials should be public record. If you're curious, you should probably have already checked.

How much are you planning to hire in the next year?
If it's a large number, ask the follow-up: How do you plan to hire and onboard that many people?

How does the company usually solve problems: through committee, group meetings, individual meetings or management only?
Are they consensus-driven? Top-down? How well is that working for them?

How are important decisions made and communicated?
How many people are directly or indirectly involved in creative decisions? Are they dictated top down? Are ideas from anyone welcomed? If so, in what scope/context?

How does sales / operations / technology / marketing / finance work around here?
Groups other than the one you’re interviewing for -- the interviewer should have familiarity with those groups, and should (hopefully) speak well of them.


Do managers regularly hold 1:1s?
What about skip levels? What sort of topics are discussed?

Who would I directly report to?
In some cases, this question can help you get a better sense of the org chart and where you'd be on it. It can also be a clue on whether the org is hiring you for a specific team, or just putting you in a pool of new hires to be farmed out as needed.

What’s your (or my future boss’) leadership style?
Is that style aligned with what you're looking for in a manager?

How do you know if people are comfortable giving you candid feedback? How do you fix it if they’re not?
Does your future manager value feedback and want to know what's not working? Hopefully, this is something they've thought about.

How do you nurture psychological safety in your team? The best organizations have probably spent considerable time thinking meaningfully about how they foster psychological safety on their teams and can readily articulate actions they've taken. Plenty of good organizations may not have thought about it in those terms -- they may lack the vocabulary -- but when prompted can still articulate what they've done. However, if get a blank stare or dismissiveness, even after prompting, that can indicate a toxic or hostile environment.

Doing the work

How does work get assigned?

How often do inexperienced people get to work directly with more experienced people?
And how so? Pairing, or something else? How does it work?

How do you balance support and feature development?

Tell me about your cross-functional teams
Do they have dedicated designers? Product owners? QA? Technical writer? Dev manager? How cross-functional teams are built tells you a lot about what the company values enough to put on the team.

How often do you have meetings? Are there scheduled/standing meetings? How much time should I expect to be in meetings
Remember, though, that for some positions (especially senior positions) meetings are a core component of the job.

When something goes wrong, how do you handle it?

What kind of tools are provided by management to help an me do my job? (machinery, computers, office supplies, etc.)?
How often is this equipment updated?

Career development

Are employees encouraged to go speak at conferences?
Do you cover travel to conferences?

Does your company support continuing education?
If so, how (and how much?)

In what other ways do you support career development?

Does the company routinely provide training, either internal or external, for new technologies such as software updates or best practices?

Does the company allow employees to pursue their own training path
To what extent?

When was the last time you promoted someone on your team? How did it happen?
How are they likely to handle it when you want a promotion?

Tell me about a time you supported a direct report leaving your team or company for the benefit of their own growth?
A supportive manager cares about your goals, not gluing you to your seat. The very best managers realize when it's time to move you up, even if that means moving you out.

Performance evaluation

How is performance evaluated?
What criteria does the company use for performance reviews? On what cycle? Are these criteria documented? If not, how do you ensure fair and equitable performance reviews?

How often can I expect job performance to be reviewed by management?

Are raises based solely on job performance reviews? If not, what else is a factor?

Do you stack-rank employees? Can you tell me how your stack ranking process works?
Most times, this should be a big red flag. "Stack ranking" usually means the company smooshes everyone into a bell curve, and the people who find themselves at the wrong end of the bell curve are now "underperformers" no matter how great they may be. In other words, stack ranking companies may say "we only hire the best" but then they'll treat at least half of their employees as under-performers, by design. Note that there are companies that employ some other sorting methods they may call "stack ranking", so it's important to be sure you're working from the same definition.

Can you tell me about a time when you've had to let someone go?


If this is an exempt (salaried) position how much overtime do you assume I would put in without compensation?

If this is an exempt (salaried) position, am I required to track all my time?
If so, how? And if it's not hourly, why?

What is the salary you expect to pay for this position?

Is there a company/employee bonus structure and if so, how does it work?

How often do you offer above asking?
Can you speak with someone who got such an offer?

For engineering orgs

What's the process for code review? How do you think about code correctness?
Bonus points if they can point to documented guidelines for behavior in code reviews.

How do you make sure that all code is understood by more than one person?

How do you find bugs in your team's code?
Testing? Something else?

What happens when you find a serious bug in production code?
If they say this doesn't happen, that's a warning sign.

Who is responsible for doing deployment? How often do you deploy?

Is there a written roadmap all developers can see?
How far into the future does it extend? How closely is it followed?

How/when do developers talk to non-developers?
How cross-functional are the teams? Is it easy to talk to the people who will be using your product?

What's your approach to technical debt?

Do you contribute to open source projects?
Which projects? Which teams work on open source? Do you work mostly in the community or do you have a private fork?

Can I see some code the team I'm interviewing for has written?
From an open-source project, for example.

Things to look for in real life

With many thanks to all who have contributed to this list