Publishing Trendsetter is a production of Market Partners International and Publishing Trends.

The Question of Questions: Book-Job Boot Camp, Week 4 Day 4

One “insider” tip I hear and read over and over (making it not so “insider”, if you ask me) is to make sure that at the end of an interview, when asked, “So, do you have any questions for us?” that you should never say “No.” For many interviewers, not taking the opportunity to turn the tables and ask questions of your own means an instant line through your name on their candidate list.

But the problem with this kind of advice is that it makes it sound more important to just ask anything than to actually ask something intelligent–and to absorb the answer that you’re given.

If the interview is the most stressful part of a job search, then asking questions is probably the most stressful part of the interview. But, put in perspective, it doesn’t have to be all that difficult.

The perspective: you know very little about this job or this company, no matter how skillful a Googler you are. Therefore there’s plenty to ask about. The only real questions to master are the ones for yourself that’ll help narrow down the questions that really matter to you.

» A good rule of thumb is to have one question about the company and one about the prospective job.

»Try going in with one question and plan on developing the other from what transpires in the interview. (Demonstrating both your forethought and responsiveness to immediate situations!)

Before the interview, ask yourself if you know…
  • Where the publisher sells most of its books?
  • What their position and plans are in regards to ebooks?
  • What qualities they’ve appreciated most in people who last held this position?
  • Why this position has opened?
  • What positions previous holders of this job have gone on to?
  • Who my immediate supervisor would be, and whom else that person supervises?
  • How they characterize the spirit of the office environment?
  • Who my peers will be, if any, and how I will be expected to interact with them?
  • What this department/company’s goals for itself are for the next 2-3 years?
  • The major changes in this department/company in the past 2-3 years
Coming up with questions during the interview is admittedly more “of the moment” and situation-specific, but it’s a great way to get yourself listening really deeply and working with the ideas as they’re presented.
It might be easiest to think of questions about
  • Things about the job that sound most exciting
  • Things about the job that sound most overwhelming/challenging (not to say that you should be exhibiting terror—just that you probably have more thoughts, ergo questions, on this topic)
  • Things the interviewer does or doesn’t say about his/her own experience with the company
  • Other people mentioned whose roles/relation to this job aren’t fully clear
Like I said at the outset, this part is hard, and impossible to prepare for completely. But it’s great practice for tuning into other people and offering a response that is truly your own and truly complimentary to what’s already been said or done by someone else. That, my friends, is a life skill par excellence.


  1. Katy says:

    I always ask what the interviewers like best about working for the company – it gives a really useful insight into the sort of work environment it is and what they don’t say can be as informative as what they do.

    • This is such smart and practical advice, Katy–and thanks for the caveat of listening for the topics they skirt around in their answers. It might be something you’ll especially want to know about the company–not necessarily a bad aspect at all, perhaps just more noteworthy for whatever reason. Hope you have more savvy this great to share down the road!

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