Job interviews usually close with the same five words: "Do you have any questions?" It may sound benign, but for a job applicant, it can feel like the moment of truth.
By this point, the employer has read your cover letter and resume, corresponded with you by e-mail and phone to learn more about you and has probably just finished lecturing you on the company and the position. It's been a long process of showing your worth, and when they ask this final question, it may feel like it's the last real opportunity to prove yourself to a potential employer before they decide if you are, in fact, the one.
But according to several career experts we spoke with, job candidates should never feel pressured to make up questions.
"The biggest problem when asking questions during a job interview is that if the question isn't something you genuinely need to know, it can be way worse than not asking anything at all," said Penelope Trunk, a popular business blogger and CEO of the Brazen Careerist, a career management site. "Once you make it to the job interview, you've already passed the skills test, so it's all about personality. And nobody becomes likeable by asking disingenuous questions."
Trunk urges job applicants to change the way they think about the interview process. Rather than waiting until prompted to ask questions in the final moments of the interview, it's crucial to take the initiative to get your questions out during the course of the conversation.
"Don't wait til the end if you have questions you want answered. It screams, 'I'm not a self-starter,'" she said. "As soon as it's time for you to talk in the interview, start asking questions and engage with the person interviewing you."
As Trunk and other experts point out, when the interviewer asks if you have any questions, it's generally a formality, but a formality that may hurt you if you don't take advantage of it.
"You absolutely must ask at least two questions. Staying silent shows you haven't done enough homework to know what to ask," said Alexandra Levit, a career expert and author of "New Job, New You: A Guide to Reinventing Yourself in a Bright New Career."
Keep in mind that just because you are encouraged to ask questions doesn't necessarily mean you should ask a thousand of them.
"Your job is not to ask questions or to interview the interviewers, so I wouldn't ask too many questions," said John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an outplacement consulting firm.
We've rounded up the six best questions to ask in your next job interview, as suggested by our panel of experts, which can help you get a better idea of whether the position is right for you and perhaps even impress the interviewer in the process.
What do you really enjoy about working here?
When you step into an interview, it's important to remember that the person conducting the interview isn't just there to intimidate you; he or she is also your window into the company. And with this question, you can tactfully get a better sense of how the interviewer -- and perhaps employees in general -- feel about the company you may one day call home.
"The answer to this question as well as the tone of the answer will provide critical insights as to how happy and supported employees feel at the organization," Levit said.
If you want to take this question one step further, Tory Johnson, founder of WomenForHire.com, suggests rewording it to ask what one thing the interviewer would change about the company if he or she could. "This is a way of asking, 'What's wrong with this place?' without being so direct," she said.
What are your goals for the company in the next year?
Much of the interview itself will likely be devoted to the specifics of your position and your qualifications for it, so it's a good idea to break out of that pattern when possible to get a sense of the big picture.
According to Levit, this particular question can give you a better sense of "how your position fits into the company as a whole, and more broadly, about whether the company is a good place to work."
What skills do I need to have most to help the team?
Trunk emphasizes that the best questions one can ask are the ones that show you care about teamwork, bottom line results and know how to manage yourself in a group. With this particular question, you accomplish all of those points and can get better a sense of what will be expected of you once you start working.
If I were hired, what would you like to see me achieve in my first three to six months on the job?
As with the previous question, this one will help you get a better sense of how you'll be judged in your new career.
"It's important to understand expectations from the get-go," Levit said. "This is especially true if you are being hired for a management position."
Why is this position vacant?
It may sound like an off-putting question at first blush, but according to Johnson, it's essential.
"It's important to know whether the position is vacant because someone was promoted from within, or the job is newly created because of growth or if it's a vacant because of high turnover," she said. "Don't wait until getting hired to discover you're the sixth person in three months to occupy the seat."
Indeed, this question could lead to others and prove to be the most profitable exchange you have in the interview.
"Many times a position is vacant because the previous person wasn't right for the job. You'll want to explore why through follow-up questions like, 'If you could have changed something about that person, what would it have been?' This line of questioning will absolutely make you more memorable to the interviewer," she said.
Do you have any reservations in hiring me?
If all your questions have been answered, Trunk recommends ending the interview with this powerful line.
"Just have some self-confidence and say, 'No, I don't have any questions, but I've learned a lot here and I know this is a great job for me. Do you have any reservations in hiring me?'" she said. "It forces the hiring manager to tell you what reservations they do have, and gives you an opportunity to combat them."
What Not to Ask
For all the questions you should ask during an interview, there are many more that you should generally avoid asking.
"Don't ask them questions about what you want out of the job -- money, advancement opportunities -- it just comes off as selfish," said Challenger, the consulting firm CEO. Likewise, Trunk recommends holding off on asking about vacation days and salaries.
"These are kiss-of-death questions," she says. "Save them for after you actually get the job offer."