Over the last couple of years, we have regularly examined what are the most frequently asked questions that a Hiring Manager or Recruiter may ask a Job Seeker during an interview. What we have yet to fully explore is what questions you, as the Job Seeker, should be asking during the course of this conversation.

In this edition, let’s examine one of the simplest, most basic questions that you can ask: “Why is the Position Open?”


Why Should You Ask It?

• Provide Insight Into Turnover – It is doubtful that the Hiring Manager will give you the “real dirt” regarding why the position is open. It would probably be inappropriate if he or she did, depending on why the incumbent left the organization. It could be a real “red flag” if the reason is very specific to the incumbent, it is best kept confidential in this situation (you wouldn’t want an employer speaking openly about you). You may, however, receive enough insight to generally gauge the reason and give yourself a sense of the culture, especially if you hear an answer that is very important to you, such as balance. If the Hiring Manager speaks of the intensity of the workload and balance is a top priority to you, then a match is unlikely.

• Gauge the Potential for Advancement – If the incumbent was promoted, that may be a sign that the company values internal movement in the organization. If you receive this as an answer, you may want to probe a little regarding the previous person. It may help you in determining what skills or traits this person possessed that made them so valuable to the company. Obtaining more information may also provide you with a sense of your future path and whether this recent promotion will provide a roadblock for you, especially if you are hoping for a promotion in a relatively short period of time.

• Determine Growth – If the position is newly created, that can be a great sign of growth, especially in our current economy. This may give you a sense of relief especially if you are leaving a current position. In this situation, I would suggest digging a little deeper into the reasons for the growth and position creation. There is a school of thought that if the job already exists, then that is proof that it is needed. The rationale is that a newly created position may be more of a trial or a whim, subject to elimination if the experiment shows it is not needed.

• Potential for Own Imprint – If the position is newly created, then whomever lands this role has the ability to carve out their own imprint. They will not have to deal with the “baggage” of the previous person. If that person was a superstar then you would have giant shoes to fill and may always be compared unfavorably to this person. If the person, however, was not successful, then you may have to dig yourself out of whatever mess he or she created.


Examples Of How It Can Be Asked?

• “What Happened to the Last Person Who Held This Job?” You may want to follow-up with a question that asks how many have held this job over the last 5 years. Obviously, the more people in the position, the more potential volatility there has been and might be in the future.   If you find out that the last person was promoted, you may want to follow-up by inquiring into how long that person was with the company. This will provide you some sense of the pacing of internal promotions within the organization.

• “Is This a New Position?” This will provide information regarding whether there was an incumbent. Asking the question in this way may provide a nice opening into the discussion instead of being as direct as the first example. It allows you to enter in a positive way, assuming the position is new. It is a matter of style and your sense of what approach to take with the Interviewer. If you find out the position is new, then I would suggest a follow-up question regarding the timetable for filling the position. Sometimes, when a position is new, the position is not an immediate need and the company is doing future interviewing.

• “What Skills Are You Missing That You Need to Hire Someone?” This method of inquiry takes the approach of what you can do for the company. It can then lead to you asking some follow-up questions regarding the specific reasons it is open, if that is not obvious in the Hiring Manager’s answer.


The time provided to you by the Interviewer for questions is a vital time for a Job Seeker to gain information/insight. Come prepared with the 3-4 questions you most want to ask, along with an additional 2-3 questions that could be asked, depending upon the pacing of the interview. You will gain knowledge while displaying your interest in the position and the company.

As always, best of luck in your job search.

The following has been prepared for the general information of RochesterJobs readers. It is not meant to provide advice with respect to any specific legal or policy matter and should not be acted upon without verification by the reader.

Joe Stein
WNY Human Resources Professional

Feel free to contact Joe Stein regarding questions or comments at:
Joe Stein


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