I recently gave a talk at a university in the Orlando area about starting IT (information technology) careers to IT students. One of the topics I touched on was the fact that you should always have questions to ask.
As an interviewer, I like when candidates ask me questions. It shows they are interested in learning more about the position, the company and me. At the end of an interview, assuming I have the time, I will ask the candidate if they have any questions.
If they answer that they don’t, I’m left with a feeling of emptiness in a sense. I think: What a missed opportunity!
If I have the time, I let them know that they should have asked questions.
You have an opportunity to shine if you ask thoughtful questions. A couple of well-thought open-ended questions can make the difference, especially if you are in close competition with other candidates.
So what are some questions you can ask?
Ask a specific question about the company or product you will be working on that you found on the internet.
For example, if in the job description, you see a project name, say “Panda” for example. Google “Panda” and the company name to see if you get any hits. It could be there has been an article or blog post written recently. You can refer to something you read in the article and ask a question about it. For example: In a recent article, I read that project Panda is expected to be able to solve many of your clients headaches once it goes live. What do you think will be the critical factors to deliver the project on schedule with all of the necessary features?
If in the response you hear that they will need skill X and you have skill X, take note. Listen to the complete answer and mention your experience. For example: I can understand that skill X is hard to find. Luckily in a previous position, I was able to use skill X to deliver the project at the time.
The key is to do your research beforehand and be prepared to ask specific questions related to what you have read.
Another combination of questions I like to ask starts with: Would I be reporting to you?
If the answer is yes, then ask: How would you describe your leadership style?
If they answer no, then ask if they know the hiring manager and what their leadership style is?
The purpose of the leadership question is to get a better idea of who you will be working for. You want to understand their thought process a little and begin to understand how they could be as a manager.
Of course, they will try to present themselves in the best light. However, if something they say doesn’t sound right, ask for clarification. If it still doesn’t sound right, take note for future reference when you are evaluating whether you really want the job or not.
For example, you like the type of work you do but you know yourself and in order to do your best, you need guidance and like to be assigned tasks and checked on regularly to stay on track. You ask your potential hiring manager the “describe your leadership style” question. She says that she is laid back and relaxed and let’s people do what they need to do without micromanaging.
This can be a potential problem. You may want to ask a follow up question. For example: I know I am someone who needs guidance on occasion and likes to ask questions. How do you think I would fit within your team?
This particular example follow up question could be a double edged sword because you are exposing a potential weakness, but if you are self-aware and know how you work, it will help you. Depending on the manager’s answer, it could save trouble down the line because in this case, you like more structure and the manager is unstructured.
One more question to ask is: What are some characteristics of the ideal candidate for this position? (And if you like, how do you think I compare to the ideal candidate?)
With this question, you want to find out what the hiring manager’s thoughts are on the ideal candidate and how they match up to your skills. If there is a characteristic that you have that you failed to mention during the main portion of the interview, then take note and listen to their full response for other tidbits. Once they have finished, highlight past experiences where you demonstrated the sought after characteristics.
You can then go onto the next part of the question, how you compare to the ideal candidate. If the manager is frank and constructive, they will likely provide valuable feedback to you especially if you don’t fit the ideal mold. Listen carefully and work on those areas. Address misunderstandings, if there are any.
Here are some bonus questions:
- Is the role you are being interviewed for a new role or are you replacing a person? If the latter, ask why the last person left.
- What does a typical day at work look like?
- You have a well-performing employee whose performance for some reason starts dropping. What do you do?
The key to all of the questions above is to do your research beforehand. Ask thoughtful questions that highlight the homework you have done.
Do this and you are sure to make a positive impact on your interview.
So what other questions have you used effectively in interviews as a candidate?
Don't be shellfish...