Don't be speechless when the tables are turned on you during a job interview.
Most of us prepare to answer questions when we go to an interview. We bone up on the organization. We think through our resumes. We find books or Web sites with tips about frequently asked questions.
But what about asking questions? Toward the end of most interviews, the interviewer asks if there's anything you'd like to know. Often, people say something like "No, not really. I think you've covered most of the questions I had." If that's what you say, you're passing up an opportunity to make points about your interest in the job, your personality and the way you'd fit into the organization. You're also missing a chance to get a better idea of whether you want to work there.
You might get your turn to ask questions before the interview's end. Let those doing the interviewing set the tone. If they're using a conversational approach, it's fine to politely ask questions that arise during the discussion. Prepare by thinking of several questions that you could ask. You may not get to ask them all, and what you hear at the interview may prompt others. Having some in mind will help you ask the right sort of questions.
There's no concrete formula, but here are some basic guidelines.
- Don't ask about salary, vacations or benefits. Demonstrate your interest in the organization and the work. Show what you can do for the organization. If you're offered the job, then you can ask what the organization will do for you.
- Don't ask confrontational, critical questions. Be polite.
- Don't ask questions that sound as though you don't know what the organization does.
- Don't ask about things that you could easily verify on the company's Web site or in its publications.
- Do ask questions that show you've done your homework. You don't need to know minute details, but you should know the basics. It's all right to mention that you noticed something on the Web site and ask an in-depth question about it.
- Do ask open-ended questions that stimulate conversation. Ask specific questions about what the organization has done and is planning rather than generic, hypothetical questions.
- Do use company and industry terminology.
All right -- you know you should prepare some questions. You know the basics. For some examples of good questions, keep reading.
What Would My Typical Day Look Like?
It's good to phrase questions in a way that places yourself within the organization. Ask "we" questions rather than just "you" questions. Doing so makes you seem truly interested in the job. It also subtly makes you seem more a potential part of things, not just an outsider. Of course, your questions should also help you learn more about the job for which you're interviewing. An interview works both ways; you and the organization should be learning about each other.
A good way to accomplish both of these goals is to ask this question: "Can you tell me something about what my typical day (or week) at work would be like?"
That's not the only "put yourself in this picture" sort of question you can ask. Find another one on the next page.
What Would I Work On?
You want to show interest in what the organization is doing. You want to demonstrate that you're eager to be a part of what's going on. You want the interviewer to begin to envision you as part of the team. And you really want to know more about what you'd be doing if you're hired. So a good question is, "What projects (or assignments) would I likely be involved in during my first few months on the job?" If your research -- or what's been said in the interview -- has made you aware of a specific project that interests you, you might ask if there's any chance that you'd be involved in that.
Keep reading for more helpful questions.
Why Are You Filling This Position Now?
It's not unreasonable to want to know why the company is hiring for this job. One way to find out is to ask, "Is this a new position?" If the answer is yes, that opens the way for more questions and discussion. You'll want to know why the position is being created. Does it involve a new initiative? Is an existing position being duplicated or divided? Who has defined the job and its responsibilities? How will success be measured, if there's no precedent?
A "no" answer also raises more questions. Why did the previous person in the job leave? How long do people typically stay in this job? Are there usually chances for advancement?
Some other good questions also tend to raise more questions. Read on.
Who's the Boss?
Asking the simple question "To whom will I report if I get this job?" can generate a lot of information. Sometimes, one of the people conducting the interview will be the actual supervisor, but that's not always the case. Starting a discussion about who will be your boss can lead naturally to talking about the organization's structure and corporate culture. You'll want to know to whom your boss would report, and whether you're likely to interact with people above your direct supervisor and with those in other departments. Such questions can also help you find out how the company handles probationary periods and performance reviews. You can also move naturally into discussions about whether you'll supervise anyone and who your close coworkers will be.
Read on for more questions that can help you learn while putting your best foot forward.
Where Is The Company Going?
Most of the questions you ask should serve the dual purpose of expanding your knowledge about the job and showing the interviewers that you're really interested and qualified. It's a good idea to inquire about the organization's plans for the future.
A general way to phrase the question would be: "Are any important changes, new programs or initiatives in the works?"If your research suggests it, you might ask a more specific question about an expansion or merger, for example, or changes to deal with the unpredictable economy. Such questions let interviewers know that you're interested in the organization for the long haul and that you want to be a part of its future.
Read on for some suggestions of questions that might make the interviewer open up -- and make him or her feel friendly toward you, too.
How Did You Get Started?
Here's a question that should spark a good conversation: "How did you start working at this organization, and what has your career path been like?"
Most people like to talk about themselves. This question should please the interviewer and make the conversation go smoothly. It also should provide a natural, interesting way for you to learn more about how the organization's structure works and about possibilities for advancement. The answers you get to this question also should provide clues to what the interviewer values and tell you more about what the company looks for when it hires. Such clues can be useful when you follow up the interview with a thank-you letter and if you're called back for a second interview.
Read on for more productive questions.
What's It Really Like?
Here's a good, open-ended question to ask: "What do you find is the best thing about working here, and what's the biggest challenge?"
This question is another one designed to get the interviewer talking. You're showing that you value the interviewer's insight and opinion. You are showing that you understand that even the best organizations will have their problems, and you are suggesting that you aren't afraid of a challenge. If the interviewer responds candidly, you also might learn a lot of information that you won't necessarily find on the organization's Web site or in its annual report.
Read on for some questions that get to the heart of what you care about.
What Do I Need to Make it Here?
When you get a chance to ask questions during a job interview, use the opportunity wisely. You want to show that you've done your homework. You want to convince the interviewer that you're interested in the organization and the job. You also want to learn as much as you can, for two reasons. One is that you want to know if the job, if offered, is really what you want. The other is that you may be able to use the information you gain to your advantage in the hiring process.
A good way to get some of this information is to ask: "What skills, education and abilities do I need to succeed at this job?" The answer to this question should help you know what to emphasize in a thank-you letter and in any follow-up interview. You can emphasize your strengths. If you find that you're lacking in some qualification, you might address that lack directly and suggest a way you could overcome it.
Read on for a variation on this question that might yield even more information.
Who's the Ideal Candidate for This Position?
Often, asking similar questions in different ways can make an interview fruitful. In your quest to position yourself well during a job interview, you could ask: "Could you describe the ideal candidate for this position?" Sure, that's another way of asking about the skills and qualifications for the job. But it's also a question that might help you -- without sounding stilted -- get the interviewer to tell you a lot about the organization's values and corporate culture. In addition to learning more about the company, you'll also pick up some good points to stress in later communications and interviews with those doing the hiring.
Lots of question can be useful, but when you get right down to it, there's usually one big question in the mind of someone who's interviewing for a job. Read on to find out how to -- almost -- ask that one.
Will You Hire Me? Please?
It's not good form to come right out and ask those people interviewing you for a job opening whether they're going to hire you. You want to be a little more subtle than that. But there are questions you can ask that will give you some insight as to what to expect next. Start by stating that you're very interested in the job. Then ask, "When do you think you will be making your decision about this job?" Or "What will be your next step in the hiring process?" If you're brave and don't mind being disappointed, you can ask at the end of an interview: "Do you think you'll be calling me back for a second interview?" If the answer to that question is no, asking "Why not?" might enable you to correct any wrong impression the interviewers might have. At worst, the answer might teach you something that will be useful when you interview for a job somewhere else.
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