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.
A company is only as good as the people it keeps and they will ultimately determine its success. In my mind, that makes recruitment the single most important business decision you will ever make and yet I regularly see firms leaving the entire process down to human interpretation.
As an interviewer, your goal is to match the candidate’s ambition, personality, and experience to the requirements of the job and business. The key is being able to tell the great people from the great talkers.
Every interviewer goes into a meeting with the best intentions, hoping to find the ideal person, but, in my experience, the most common mistakes are made when there is a lack of structure and consistency in the process.
One way to avoid this is to plan interviews so all candidates receive the same questions. Eliminating the likelihood of the conversation straying too far from the agenda is a proven way to increase reliability and compare candidates evenly. This will help you to be more accurate in your prediction of future job success.
When interviewing, the best candidates will be well prepared and trying to make a good impression. With their guard up, it’s your job to get under their skin and find out what they’re like.
Build a strong rapport from the start. If candidates trust you, they’ll relax and that will make it easier for you to dig into the detail of their answers and flow into topics they haven’t previously rehearsed.
This not only helps you to get a feel for their communication skills, but it uncovers potentially unseen aspects of their personality and behaviour, which is crucial to making sure they are the right fit for your business.
Try opening with a request for their personal and professional goals; and how they see the role fitting in with these.
Ask them to tell you about a situation that has brought out the best in them; giving examples and sharing the experience they feel makes them ideal for your company. Other behavioural questions could be: What attracted you to this role? What are your motivations? What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Whatever you opt for, make sure you ask for details within the answers, as this is the best way to separate people who like to embellish the truth. Liars don’t like to get into specifics as they know they are more likely to get caught out. People telling the truth will be happy to drill deep as they are answering the questions honestly.
Once you’re happy that someone can do the job, move into uncharted waters. Ask about any mistakes they’ve made. This is a great test of self-awareness and will show the scope of which someone is willing to take ownership of their actions; and whether they learn from their errors.
I like to ask who the smartest person they know is (and why). By getting people to explain this you’ll not only find out about their networks, but also the values and personality traits they aspire towards.
Find out what it is that gets them out of bed on a weekend. People’s passions outside of work are critical to fitting in well to any team environment.
Are they entrepreneurial? Examples of innovative ideas they’ve put into practice will help you measure whether they’re a self-starter, commercially-minded, or have a healthy attitude towards calculated risk.
Of course, these are just a few examples to try and help you, but whatever you discuss, don’t forget that interviews are a chance to find out more for both parties. While you aim to work out what makes someone tick, they will most likely be doing the same to you, so make sure you give a good impression of your business.
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