Questions to Ask the Interviewer

You know the interview is coming to an end when the interviewer asks “Do you have any questions for me?”

Assume you are being asked a sincere question; while it may or may not be a simple formality, it is another chance to increase the likelihood of your being asked to join the next step of the selection process.  As in, “I liked him/her.  Let’s ask him/her to come back.”

I’ve been asked some really challenging and intricate questions, all of which I tried to answer.  Sometimes, the candidate’s question was intended to make the candidate look really smart and in-the-know.  Sometimes, first round candidates refer to a list of detailed questions brought to the interview, all with proprietary and off-limits answers.  Sometimes, early stage candidates really want to know if they can have three weeks off this August for Cousin Heather’s wedding in Ireland.

You have a lot of choices here.  Let me give you some guidance.

1.  Don’t compose and then ask a question you think will make you look good, whatever you think “good” is.  The result will be that you won’t listen to the answer, and an interviewer can see in your eyes that you are not listening.  That reveals that it wasn’t a real question, and that you aren’t all that authentic.

2.  Don’t ask technical questions of nontechnical people.  It can make them feel challenged, and not in a good way.

3.  All questions about compensation, benefits (including vacation and other time off), perquisites, career paths, and required hours of work and travel should be saved until you are the selected candidate with an offer letter in your hand.

4.  Don’t ask questions about proprietary matters.  It makes you look naive.

5.  Don’t read the annual report and then fabricate general or specific questions about the contents. (Unless you are interviewing for the CFO or Treasurer job, and the headhunter suggests that it’s best if you pose the question directly.)

6.  Don’t work from a written list, although a quick note to yourself that allows you to refrain from interrupting an interviewer is okay.  Written lists look more painstaking than is necessary, and a bit overprepared.

7.  Don’t throw hardballs.

The general rule is that the first two interviews are for the benefit of the employer, and the last two are more than likely your own chance to evaluate.  If that holds true, you are freer to ask more questions if you are still in the running after two interviews.  At that point, you should be evaluating your own interest in and ability to do the job, though, not the size of the compensation package or the availability of the first week in July for your trip to St. Pete.  Your questions can cover scope of the job, resources available (including staff, time, budget, information, etc.).   Departmental goals, company culture, traditions:  all good subjects if they haven’t already been covered.

Remember that the best interview is a good conversation, and proceed accordingly.

1.  You can and should ask the interviewer about himself or herself, how long he/she’s worked there, why he/she joined, what he/she likes best about the company, industry, or work.

2.  You can and should ask about the decision-making process, how many steps there are, where they are in the process, and when they expect to have the job filled.

3.  You can ask how they chose you for an interview and what they like about your background.  Once this question has been answered, you can’t let the answer hang in the air, though, you have to at least state your belief that you are a good fit for the company or what you like about the prospect of working for this particular company.  It’s a question that has to have reciprocity for closure.  You must choose each other.

And, you may use the answers to the above suggested questions to inform the content of your thank you letter.  Drawing comparisons between you and their needs is a time-honored strategy, but hard to accomplish if you haven’t asked questions that will lead you to a good letter.

Your questions are more likely to be remembered than many of your answers will be, simply because the interviewer is paying more attention to you in this part of the interview; you have more control in this phase, so use your power wisely and strategically.  Make a friend, be relaxed, smile, lean forward, thank the interviewer.

Above all, be spontaneous, authentic, and friendly.  Your main job at all times is to stay in the running–decisions aren’t made until the end of the process, and lots of things can happen between any given moment and the last minute.

Next blog:  Who’s who in the process?

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