Job interviews are a two-way street and, when done right, should be a conversation between the candidate and the interviewer. “You are interviewing and auditioning them for the job, too,” says
senior executive director at Robert Half, an HR consulting company. This kind of exchange is only possible if you have researched the employer and prepared thoughtful questions to understand how you can immediately provide value. Not only will you leave the interview better informed, but you also will have impressed the interviewer with your deep interest in the role and demonstrated your suitability for it.
- 1 Ask questions early on in the interview.
- 2 Ask questions that help you understand the role and how to succeed in it.
- 3 Use your questions to find out who you will be working for and with.
- 4 Build a rapport with the interviewer.
- 5 Now that you have the intel, make your final pitch.
- 6 Questions you shouldn’t ask.
- 7 What to read next
Ask questions early on in the interview.
Be proactive with your questions about the job and what the employer is looking for in a candidate and ask these throughout the interview, weaving them into the conversation.
Ask questions that help you understand the role and how to succeed in it.
Aim to feel confident and comfortable enough that you could start the job tomorrow. “How do you measure success for someone in this role?” is a good question to get to that point, says Daniel Santos, the chief executive officer of career-counseling service Prepory. By understanding what an employer’s ideal candidate would achieve, you can present your past accomplishments in a relevant way. The answer also shows how you will be evaluated if you are offered and accept the job.
Why is the position open? Another key question is why there is an opening, says Mr. McDonald. Did the last person in the role get promoted? If so, this is your chance to find out what led to their promotion and to set yourself up for similar success. If your predecessor was underperforming, perhaps you can learn how to avoid the same mistakes, says Mr. McDonald. If the role is new and part of a company expansion, you could ask about what led to the decision to expand that department to get a better understanding of the employer’s goals.
More questions about the job:
- What are some of the day-to-day responsibilities of this job? Get a concrete sense of what the job actually is and whether you would want to do it.
- What needs to be immediately addressed by the person you hire? The answer to this question will highlight what the pace will be when you first start and will give you an opportunity to follow up by explaining how you would meet those needs.
- What are your expectations for this role during the first month, three months, six months, a year? What does success look like? Identify what the employer expects from you, so that when you begin, you can keep track of, meet or exceed the benchmarks for the role. You can share examples of similar achievements from your previous job experience.
- What do you think are some of the biggest challenges for someone in this role? Get a full picture of any unpleasant aspects of the job, so you are not surprised once you start.
- What is the typical career path for someone in this role? This shows the interviewer your interest in growing with the organization and gives you an understanding of how the employer invests in its staff.
Use your questions to find out who you will be working for and with.
Conduct research on the employer—for example, by reviewing its website, social media channels and any articles written about it—to ensure that questions you ask are relevant and provide insights you wouldn’t be able to glean from Google alone.
Ask about challenges the employer has faced. If a company has recently launched a new product, for example, ask about the challenges it faced in the process. This shows that you have done your homework. Based on the answer, you could also give an example of a time you overcame similar obstacles in previous positions to demonstrate how you could provide value in the role.
Find out about the culture. One aspect of a company that is hard to grasp through research is its culture. You can take a close look at a company’s website, read its mission statement and pay attention to any sponsorships, endorsements or causes it supports, but asking the interviewer directly will give you the most insight.
Another way to learn about the culture is by paying close attention to the little details. “How are you greeted by people in the hallway? What is the tone, what is the tenor that you’re picking up from the organization?” says Mr. McDonald. The clues that you gather in communications before, during and after the interview will help you get a feel for the culture, so that you can decide whether the company is the place for you. If you like what you see and hear, describe why you are a great fit. “It gives the interviewee the opportunity to talk about why they love that type of company culture, why they love that work environment, and how they would thrive in that work environment,” says Mr. Santos.
More questions about the employer:
- How would you describe the culture of the organization? This is a straightforward way of getting an answer to the culture question and gives you the opening to talk about why and how you would thrive in that kind of environment.
- How can I help move that culture forward in my job? Understand how your prospective team or department connects to the rest of the organization.
- Can you tell me more about the team I will be working with, and how it works with the wider organization? This will give you a better picture of the different positions and people you will be working with day to day, allowing you to gauge how you might fit in with them.
Build a rapport with the interviewer.
No matter who you are interviewing with, it is important to foster a relationship with them. You might be working with them someday, and even if not, their opinion of you will likely be considered when the employer decides whether to hire you. While you can ask generic questions, such as how long they have worked at the company, a better approach is to focus on individuals.
“The thing you don’t want to do is ask a question only to look smart,” says Sam Owens, founder of SamsCareerTalk.com. “The interviewer will likely see through that immediately and you won’t look smart.” He recommends asking “genuine questions,” that the interviewer is uniquely qualified to answer and that matter to you. That way, you are more likely to have a memorable conversation.
Questions about the interviewer:
- What do you like most about working for this employer? Their answer will indicate what they value most and what working at the company is like.
- How has your role evolved since you joined the company? Get a sense of their stature within the company as well as opportunities for career development.
- If you could give someone one piece of advice about working here, what would it be? This shows you respect their input and may help you make the transition to the position smoother if it works out.
Now that you have the intel, make your final pitch.
“End the interview on a high note by giving yourself one more opportunity to go back again and reinforce why you can make a difference in that particular job,” says Tessa White, a career navigation adviser and founder of The Job Doctor. A smart way to do this is to ask what needs to be completed in the next three to six months that would make the biggest difference to the department, and to the job, says Ms. White. After listening to the answer, describe how you would get it done.
Questions to play up your strengths:
- What needs to be completed in the next few months that would make the biggest difference to the department, and to this job? Finish the interview strong by detailing how you would help meet the goals to make that difference.
- What would take this department to the next level within the company? Based on the answer, point back to results you have achieved in previous positions and how that experience would help you contribute to the department’s success.
- What do you hope to see this department achieve in the next five years? After hearing their ideas, don’t hesitate to share some of your own.
Reiterate these points when you send your thank-you email after the interview. That is also your chance to confirm next steps.
Questions you shouldn’t ask.
- What is the salary? As well as the interview may be going, experts say you should not be the first to bring up pay. Your main goal right now is to make the employer want you as the candidate most of all.
- What are the employee benefits? It is usually appropriate to wait until you have been offered a role to negotiate or ask about benefits, unless the employer brings it up first.
- What are the next steps in the process? This low-energy question is not the best way to end your interview. Save it for your thank-you email.
- What does the company do? This shows you haven’t done your research.
What to read next
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