Last month I spoke about questions to avoid asking in an interview. One of the most neglected aspects of interview success, this month, I’m exploring the questions that will give you the upper hand and help you stand out from the crowd.
When it comes to the end of an interview, the best approach is to ask four or five thoughtful questions that demonstrate you are serious about the role, have done your homework, and are someone who is proactive and will add value to the team.
While it is important to keep your eye on the clock, so you don’t overrun, you need to take the opportunity to impress with a series of smart, considerate, and well-researched questions or comments.
When pre-planning, it pays to consider your motivations. Whether it’s the company culture, professional development, or their approach to sustainability, the answers you get should help you to decide if the job and organisation are a good fit for you.
Learn more about the people interviewing you:
- Why did you decide to work for the organisation?
- What is your favourite part about working here?
- What excites you about the future of this company?
- What do you believe is necessary to succeed at the company?
- What are some of the company’s recent accomplishments?
Find out all you can about the role, making sure questions cover new ground:
- What are the first projects I’ll be working on?
- What are the most challenging aspects of this job?
- Are there any functions not mentioned in the job description?
- Do you expect any change to the role in the future?
- What training can I expect in my first week?
Look for a company culture that aligns with your values:
- Are there ambitious growth plans for the next few years?
- How has the company changed over recent years?
- How would you describe the culture of the office?
- Does the business help staff achieve a healthy work-life balance?
- Is there any volunteering or charitable service opportunities?
Training and development should be tied to personal career goals:
- How will my performance be measured?
- What do you hope I will achieve in the six months here?
- Is there support for professional development in this role?
- Does the role have a planned path for future advancement?
- When I have settled into the role, what opportunities are there for career growth?
The people you work with will have a big impact on your success and happiness:
- Can you tell me about the team I’ll be part of?
- What other departments will I work closely with?
- What are your biggest concerns about the team right now?
- How does the team contribute to the overall success of the business?
- Does anyone on the team get together outside of work?
An interview is a two-way process. With the knowledge gained in preparation, you should be ready to ask a selection of questions that not only interest you but show you are aware of the challenges and opportunities you will face in the new role.
The further along in the hiring process you are, the more crucial this becomes. Try to match the questions to the people you are speaking with and pitch the level accordingly.
Ultimately, businesses want to work with candidates who go above and beyond the basic requirements. By asking questions that show you fit that description, not only will you impress the interviewer, but it can also mean the difference between being offered the job and not.
When helping somebody to find a new job, I offer market and salary advice and support them with everything from their CV content to their interview technique, and contract negotiations.
Throughout the process, many factors can affect the success of a job search, but it is during the interview that both parties genuinely discover if the chemistry is right.
The best interviews are always a two-way affair where both sides are not only selling themselves but also deciding whether they think there is a future together.
From an applicant’s point of view, in my experience, it is the people who are prepared, have done the research, and are keen to make a good impression that comes out on top so, even if you’re not yet passionate about the business in question, you need to show you are.
Assuming all goes well, at the end of your interview you will be asked whether you have any questions for the interviewer. Never decline. By opting not to ask a question, the final impression you leave will be that you either weren’t engaged in the conversation or you haven’t done your homework and aren’t interested in the business.
It pays to think of questions beforehand, however, be careful what you say, as there are some questions you cannot afford to ask, including:
Something Google could answer.
A common mistake people make when trying to show a curious mind is asking more about what the company does, who the competition is, or what clients the firm works with. Any questions you could have conceivably discovered the answer to already need to be avoided. Before an interview, it is your job to learn as much as possible about the company and the last thing you want to do is to come across as being unprepared.
Anything salary or benefits related.
The terms of employment are yet to be discussed so, while you may think questions like “What would my starting salary be?”, “How often would I get paid?”, “When is the next performance review?”, “Would I get healthcare benefits?” show the employer that you are keen, the reality is that they only serve to make you look focused on the wrong things.
Questions starting with the word “Why”.
People are predisposed to take a defensive position when faced with a question beginning with “Why”. Instead, try to rephrase your queries to be less confrontational i.e., rather than “Why did the company do …”, try “What is your opinion on …”.
What happened to the person before me?
Knowing what happened to the previous person in a job is important but, as tempting as it may be, this is information your recruitment consultant should be able to supply and not something you need to ask. Hopefully, it will be offered during the interview but, if not, it is best to steer clear of the topic and pick it up with your consultant, as you don’t want to give the impression that you have concerns about the opportunity.
Do you monitor internet usage, work emails, or social media?
While a valid concern, this is something best left unsaid. Often, it gives the impression you have something to hide and, on a similar note, in the lead-up to an interview, it is also wise to review your social media accounts to make sure there is nothing critical of your current employer or any posts that could be conceived negatively when viewed out of context.
While most recruiters agree that “Thank you, but I don’t have any questions” is the worst possible response when the tables of an interview are turned, your goal is to build on the rapport you have created and ask a few smart and thoughtful questions that not only show you have been paying attention during the conversation, but you have done your homework.
Inspiration can arise from anywhere. It could be a place you visit, someone you meet or, more recently for me, a movie I watched.
Hopefully, Top Gun: Maverick needs no introduction but, without wanting to highlight my age too clearly, it is a famous quote from the 1986 film that led me to think about how “the need for speed” is vital if you want to become the best Navy fighter pilot in the US, but it is equally important in the (slightly less glamourous) world of recruitment.
And, while it is not a death-defying mission into the unknown, presently, competition to attract talent is as fierce as I can recall in over 20 years of practising recruitment in the North East.
Businesses’ intention to bring new people in has soared well above pre-pandemic levels and continues to head skyward, but the severe shortage of quality candidates brings a serious challenge, even if you have a wide network of people at your fingertips.
A sentiment supported by the CIPD’s most recent Labour Market Report, spring’s most popular response to hiring difficulties was to raise starting salaries. An obvious but short-term fix, the approach comes with a warning as there is a limit on how far you can go before negatively affecting the morale of your existing team.
Encouragingly, the firms I am advising are also looking at other approaches to tackle the challenges. Upskilling the existing workforce, more flexible methods of operating, and a focus on improving job quality are ways used to influence decision-making but, from a recruiter’s perspective, the speed you engage and take decisions often correlates directly with the rate of success.
You see, generally speaking, the best person for a role is unlikely to be actively looking for new openings in the job market. The perfect people always have options, and it is often only through existing relationships that they can be enticed to explore a new opportunity.
Now, more than ever, the relationship between business and recruitment consultants is key. If you can find the right partner, it will allow you to exploit their market knowledge, access their network, and capitalise on their expertise, reputation, and ability to generate interest in your vacancy in the right circles. From your side, you need to be comfortable trusting the advice you receive, as you may need to be flexible on the final solution, which is not always as bad as it sounds.
Once you choose to engage in a candidate-driven market, you need to be prepared to give time to the process and make fast decisions. As recruiters, we realise you are busy and that hiring is often an addition to your core responsibilities, but the more time and importance you place on the process, the better long-term results you will see.
When an impressive candidate’s curiosity is piqued, it is important to move through the stages of recruitment with speed, not haste. This might require breaking the rules a little to streamline more traditional, drawn-out recruitment processes and protocols but, right now, slow hiring means only the average will remain in your race and making fast decisions reflects a dynamic corporate culture that will endear the best talent to you even more.
So, if you like someone and want to stay ahead of your competitors, my advice is to “feel the need for speed”. Act fast and invite them in for an interview and, if it goes well, don’t delay in making them an offer. After all, your company is only as good as the people it employs.
Almost one in every five workers (18%) believe they are “extremely likely” to change their employer within the next 12 months.
According to a survey of more than 2,000 people from various industries, 32% also acknowledged they were “moderately” or “slightly likely” to make a switch, suggesting half of UK employees are actively considering their future.
That is a sobering thought for business leaders at a time when we are witnessing a growing number of new job opportunities together with chronic skills shortages and a lack of candidates with relevant experience.
It is a dangerous mix and one that has been driving fierce competition and applying pressure to the labour market to the point where accomplished people regularly receive multiple job offers and, in a bid to influence their decision, remarkably high starting salaries.
The paradox of an unavoidable market consequence is, however, that in return for continued dedication, existing team members are subject to soaring inflation and cost of living increases that comfortably outstrip their salary growth. So, can we blame them for being tempted by the opportunity to make more money elsewhere in a similar role?
In many ways, a move appears to have no risks, but I would offer a note of caution to anyone whose main motivation for change is an “increase in pay”.
While salary will always influence, in my experience, it will not always help you make the right decision. Other factors should be considered, factors that if ignored may mean you miss something worth a lot more than money.
REMEMBER WHY YOU WANTED TO CHANGE.
When faced with a dilemma, take yourself back to the original reasons you began your job search. Amongst the flattery of an offer, these reasons can be overlooked but remain critical to being happy now and in future.
WHAT IS THE IMPACT ON YOUR CAREER?
Before any move, take a step back and think carefully about the big picture. The decision you make will influence your direction of travel and your ability to progress in the future. The best way to do this is to forget about the salary and base your choice on the role, company, and potential for development.
CALCULATE THE REAL FINANCIAL IMPACT.
If you are fortunate enough to have multiple job offers, keep in mind your current salary, and calculate the impact any financial increase will bring after tax and over 12 months. Often, the difference is not as large as it seems and may help with your decision.
WILL YOU RECEIVE TRAINING AND SUPPORT?
To keep evolving you need to keep your skills fresh, but this does not necessarily mean a study support package – although that will factor into your decision-making. Think about day-to-day training. Is there mentor support available? Will your role develop new skills that move you closer to your end goal? And does the company have the resources to support that?
HOW FLEXIBLE IS THE ROLE?
A healthy work-life balance is important and being able to work from home or mix your time between home and the office may be a priority for you. Whatever you prefer, make sure the company matches your favoured working pattern and expectations.
DO YOUR VALUES MATCH?
A pay rise may lure you in but to stay engaged you need to be enthusiastic about the company’s vision and purpose, and how your role fits into that. Ask yourself whether you are interested in what the organisation does, whether you align with its purpose, or are simply being tempted by the money.
Ultimately, the choice is yours but whatever you decide, you will be spending a lot of time in this organisation. If you are unhappy, it will have a significant impact on your work and general wellbeing, so be sure you are moving to a place that satisfies the reasons you wanted to move in the long term.
At this time of the year, the most common question we get asked is whether we can support people with independent salary advice.
To be truthful, this is almost always on the minds of people looking for a new job but in February and March, as part of the annual planning cycle, the tables turn, and employers become very keen to understand how competitive they are.
While we would never breach the confidentiality of our clients and candidates, with over 20 years of experience working with public practices across the Northeast, we have the privilege of gaining extensive insight into average salaries across all levels of the industry. It’s this broader picture that enables us to help firms determine whether or not they are paying the market rate.
Echoing our experience, the most recent KPMG and REC report on jobs found that easing pandemic restrictions have improved market confidence and given rise to a historically sharp uplift in recruitment activity.
With a scarcity of candidates, the knock-on effect is more upward pressure on starting rates of pay, which is now increasing at the third-fastest pace since records began, behind only October and November of last year.
Couple this with sky-high household bills and rocketing inflation and it’s easy to see why having an understanding of where your company’s offer sits amongst your competitive set has never been so important. You simply cannot afford to get this wrong.
Specifically in the North-East, while we continue to see employees re-evaluating their work-life balance in the wake of Covid, there has also been a distinct rise in people searching for new roles purely for monetary reasons.
In a recent poll of business owners, 30% are planning no salary inflation rise for their teams this year, in contrast to 63% offering more than the standard 2%. However, with starting salaries rising between 10 and 15%, whether people are feeling underpaid and undervalued, want to work permanently from home, or have seen friends receive multiple job offers and move on to do the same role for more, people who are feeling the pinch are getting tired of it.
What to consider
Right now, a standard inflationary increase applied to everyone in the business at the start of the new fiscal year is a good start, but it is only good enough if your salaries are on, or ahead of, the market rate.
When speaking to our clients, we encourage them to set aside time to review salaries quarterly. While it may sound like overkill, the market is changing at such speed, it will be time well spent.
In the world of accountancy, while professional qualifications have a benefit to your business, often practical experience is more valuable so, please, never base salaries on professional qualifications alone.
Of course, not everyone gets blinded by money. Each candidate is unique and there are more factors to consider but, if you are recruiting and think the person is right for you, we would urge you to offer your best salary first. This is not the time to scrimp and save and you don’t want to be the one that falls at the last hurdle.
Regarding your existing team, making sure they know you value them is critical. When reviewing their salary, try asking yourself what life would be like if they were gone. Would they be easy to replace? Are they worth the top end of your salary range? If the answers are no and yes, it’s probably a good time to up the ante as it’s a competitive market out there.
The good news for business is that rising salaries won’t keep increasing exponentially. And, when they do plateau, being in line with the market rate will make it much easier to not only recruit but is far less likely to upset anyone when a new team member joins on a higher salary.
The job market has endured a lot of upheaval in the past two years but, for now, it is being firmly driven by candidate availability.
In the world of accountancy, there are far more opportunities in Public Practice than people who are looking for a new challenge.
It is fabulous news for ambitious, skilled professionals who can present themselves well. They have a pick of fantastic positions, and a new job offer is never far away, but this can also become a slightly double-edged sword.
After 20 years working in the North East recruitment market, right now, when a good candidate reaches out to me and is sure they want to move, quite often I can help them to secure a job offer within a matter of days. And for many, this is far too fast.
From the time they decided to start looking to when they receive the offer, they haven’t had the time to feel like they have explored their options properly and, while I would only put them forward for something I think fits with what it is they said they wanted, moving jobs is a big decision and they need to be sure the offer is the right one for them.
When speaking to people about this, I always ask them to consider several different elements before making their decision:
1. Firstly, take a moment to make sure you have enough information to be able to make a choice. Have you researched the company thoroughly? Did you ask all of the questions you wanted to at the interview? Once a role has been offered, don’t be afraid to ask for further information. You could even arrange to go into the office for a tour so you can get a feel for the place and culture. At this stage, you are in the driving seat, so do whatever it takes to give you the peace of mind you need.
2. Be honest with yourself and discuss any doubts you have, however small they seem, with the business, your recruiter, or family and friends.
3. Once you have an offer, go back to your original reasons for leaving your current role. Consider carefully whether you are satisfied that the new job and business is going to meet your objectives.
4. It is very easy to get carried away with the financials. A great offer may sway your decision making, but try to remember that salaries can change, especially if you are in the right company and doing a good job.
5. Think about the long-term. Do you want progression and if so, is there a path in place for you? What is it that you ultimately want to achieve, and how will having this experience on your CV influence your options in three to five years?
6. Try not to be too influenced by emotions. You must put yourself at the centre of the decision-making process and think practically, as the impact of your happiness at work has an enormous bearing on so much of your life.
7. We all have the best of intentions when it comes to work-life balance but will the new role give you the balance you want? If not, do the benefits outweigh the sacrifice?
8. A little compromise can sometimes be okay, providing that it aligns with your bigger picture and goals. This is particularly useful to remember if you are considering a number of different offers at once.
Above all else, a new career move should excite you. That’s why I would also say don’t be afraid to listen to your gut a little too. You know yourself better than anyone so, if it feels right deep down, and the rational analysis checks out, then it’s time to make the change.