by Clay Barrett
Seth was just finishing an excellent interview. He had aced every question the panel threw at him. Questions ranged from how he had dealt with difficult customers to his management style; he even gave specific examples of how he had handled issues in the past.
The last question came up. It seemed to Seth more like a formality in contrast to the difficult questions he had already answered; yet this question could have been one of his most powerful allies in landing this position. That question was, “Do you have any questions for me?”
Unfortunately for Seth, his best answer was “No, you’ve pretty much covered all I need to know.” He missed a great opportunity to make himself stand out from the rest.
This final, standard question is often asked of applicants by both HR and hiring managers. Most of the time, managers expect to be asked about salary, benefits, or other perks. Although these are important issues, the candidate should never bring them up by in a first interview.
In a job market where you may be among five other stellar candidates, it is essential to use every opportunity to make a lasting impression — and one way to do so is by asking questions at the interview. Here’s how to do it.
Impress the interviewer with some questions suggested below. This approach accomplishes four main purposes:
- To discover specific needs of the hiring manager that you can address and meet.
- To establish an impression of you as extremely interested in the position and truly curious about the company and the opportunities available.
- To learn about the corporate culture and the company as a whole, including company values, ethics, and the way personnel are managed.
- To uncover and discuss any concerns the hiring manager has about your candidacy.
First, the company obviously has a need; otherwise, the hiring manager would not be interviewing candidates for an open position. Learn to look beyond the job title and what you think that role should entail. Find out what specific problems are plaguing the company and tell how you have handled similar problems in the past. For example you could ask:
- “In six months, what would the successful candidate have accomplished?”
- “What is the most important and pressing problem for the new hire to tackle?”
- “What would you like done differently by the next person who fills this job?”
Each of these questions will reveal an issue or problem within the company that will affect your everyday work. If you can establish yourself as someone who has already seen and tackled similar problems, your perceived value will skyrocket.
Second, companies are looking for energetic and enthusiastic employees who are excited about the company and the opportunities they present. These candidates are viewed as more likely to stay with the company in the long run. In the current job market many people may have a skillset similar to yours. Your interest and enthusiasm about the company may be the deciding factor on an offer. Some questions to express this interest could include:
- “I noted on the company Website that your firm’s mission is ————-. How do you see the successful candidate contributing to that mission?”
- “What are the company’s goals, both short and long term?”
- “How does this department affect the company’s profit?”
Listen to the responses. Research the company extensively before the interview so that you can intelligently discuss its products and services. Remember, not always does the most qualified candidate get the job. Sometimes it goes to the most enthusiastic.
Third, one of the most important things to remember in any interview is that you are interviewing the employer just as much as the employer is interviewing you. Asking the right questions could keep you out of the next Enron. It could also reveal to you a company that truly values its human capital and genuinely wants to contribute to an employee’s success. To discern corporate culture and company values you could ask:
- “What is the company’s code of ethics and how is it communicated to employees?”
- “How would you describe the company culture and personality?”
- “How are risk taking and creativity rewarded?”
- “How does the company recognize outstanding employees?”
- “What do you value about this company, and why do you enjoy working here?”
Hiring managers who work for a company that values its employees will readily have answers to the above questions. Uncertainty about the answers, or discomfort could indicate a problem. Probe deeper to determine the issues by conducting targeted research on the company or by speaking directly with employees, if possible.
Fourth and finally, thank the interviewer for his or her time, express your interest and determine the next steps in the hiring process. This is an excellent time to address any concerns or hesitations your interviewer may have. Some questions that might be beneficial are:
- “Do you have concerns or hesitations based on anything we have discussed regarding my candidacy that I could address for you before I go?”
- “What is the next step in the process?”
- “I am very excited about this position and feel that it would be a great fit. What would it take to close the deal on this position today?”
Final Thoughts on Job Interviewing Success
In a job market flooded with qualified candidates you must take every opportunity to make yourself memorable and increase your perceived value in an interview. Find out what matters most to the hiring manager. When invited to ask questions, ASK THEM! But make those questions count. Show your interest in the company and establish yourself as a proactive thinker ready to find out what the tough challenges are and to tackle them. Just as important as giving the right answers in an interview is … asking the right questions.
Editor’s note: You can find even more questions you can ask by going to Questions You Can Ask at the Interview.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
A Technical Recruiter for JSfirm, Clay Barrett specializes in the aviation/aerospace industry. With a background in career management and career counseling, Barrett has written a number of articles on career-search topics.
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