The Most Important Interview Question You’ll Ask

Landing a job interview is no easy task. After potentially months of navigating job boards, spending hours on cover letters and resume revisions, liaising with hiring professionals, and prepping for interview day, you might be slightly (and understandably) fatigued.

However, now begins the most important step in the process: the interview. This meeting may be brief, and perhaps even virtual, but it can unlock doors for your career if handled properly.

The opportunity to ask questions of the interviewer is one of the most important aspects of any interview. This practice is not rude, but rather recommended. Asking insightful questions during the interview discussion can leave a strong impression by showing the interviewer that you are engaged and wholeheartedly interested in the role. It can also open the door for free-flowing, natural discussion, which is an integral part of establishing rapport with the interviewer. After all, from a hiring manager’s perspective, soft skills such as social awareness and communicative ability are a huge consideration when weighing candidates.

So, what exactly should you ask as a candidate? If the interview is wrapping up, and you only have time for a single question. You can still gain huge insights on the company and its people. Keep reading to learn the most important question you can ask during the interview process.

Culture Is Key

Compensation, benefits, and even passion for the work can all be tainted if the culture of a particular workplace is unbearable. After all, we all know at least one professional who has left a role at a “successful” firm due to issues in the workplace.

The value system and atmosphere that govern a workplace can determine 1) whether your experience is a positive or negative one, 2) how long you will stay at the firm, and 3) your mental and physical health during your time there, among many other factors. The culture of your prospective employer is one of the most important aspects of the role you are considering. You should certainly take the opportunity during the interview to gain some insight into the way things work inside the doors of the firm.

Make It Personal

Now that we’ve determined that obtaining information about the company’s culture should be your highest priority, the next step is deciding how best to ask.

You may be tempted to ask questions like “what is the culture of your firm like?” or “what values are important to your firm?”

These are not necessarily bad ways to frame the question. However, you run the risk of receiving canned responses. Employers imprint cookie-cutter responses on the interviewer’s mind from corporate training modules and internal videos circulated by management. This will not give you the honest, personal picture you want. You could just as easily navigate to the company website and likely find the same buzzwords.

Instead, opt for a culture-focused question that opens the door for the interviewer to relate their personal experience with the culture and speak about how the corporate culture is internalized by its people.

The Question

Here it is: “What makes people stay at this company?

This simple question not only implies an interest in the values that govern personal interactions and workflows, but has a distinctly personal touch. When the interviewer hears this, they will instinctively ask this same question of themselves. They’ll think, “as a current employee of this company, what has made me stay?”

Asking will help you get unadulterated inside information from an individual who is currently living out the answer to the question. With one simple ask, you will likely get a clear picture of how the power structures and collaboration work at the company. Most importantly, your discussion will likely blossom into additional spin-off followups.

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Written By:

Melissa Houghtalen

Melissa is a Placement Director for Engineering & Operations, and Information Technology. She focuses on both entry to executive level engineering and operations placements, as well as entry to executive level information technology placements in the Rochester region. She joined the company in 2017 as a Payroll & Recruiting Coordinator before moving to the Engineering & Operations team as a Recruiting Specialist in 2019. Since, Melissa has transitioned to a Placement Director position and has started the inception of the Information Technology division in AP in 2022. Melissa is a 2016 graduate of Nazareth College with her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology.

Contact Melissa