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What to ask and what not to ask in an interview
16 December 2015
So picture the scene. You’ve applied for your dream job. You’ve got to interview stage and things are going quite well when the interviewer suddenly says “I think that’s all the questions from me, what questions do you want to ask?”
If your response is to say “I don’t have any at this point” or “None, I think you’ve covered everything”, then bang, you probably just blew it.
For the interviewer, letting an interviewee take the lead is very revealing. This section of the interview is as important in helping them evaluate you as what came before. The hiring manager is specifically looking for someone they can build a rapport and relationship with, who is a good conversationalist and influencer.
But in any job interview, the candidate who asks nothing is at the least missing an opportunity and at worst, deciding “no questions, thank you” could be terminal. So now we’ve established you have to ask questions, which should you ask and which should you definitely not?
Always ask questions
Keep an eye on the time. If it feels like there’s only time for one question (you’ll always be able to tell), fine, but ask it. If there’s time for more, ask more, but three or four max.
It’s best not to have your questions pre-written on a page in front of you. If you must, then don’t just read them out, it looks and sounds robotic and it’s like a physical, tangible, disconnect with what’s just been going on in the interview.
Show spontaneity; ask a question that relates to something the interviewer told you, something that you’re genuinely interested to hear the answer to. These will demonstrate you’ve been listening:
- I was interested to hear your point about X trend, do you think that will continue?
- It was exciting to hear that the department’s growing, what do you put that down to?
- You said the previous person in the job struggled to make an impact. Can I ask what the specific challenges are?
Avoid the obvious
Don’t ask about things you should already know, that could be answered later or where the answer is obvious. Such questions are pointless, a missed opportunity to ask something better and could irritate the interviewer:
Question:What skills are you looking for?
Answer:All the things that I just tested in this interview, didn’t you notice?
Question:What hours will I have to work?
Answer:By the sounds of it, more than you’ll be happy to do!
Question:Do you offer training and development?
Answer:You already know the answer to this question!
Ask a question that relates to the interviewer themselves, as a person – engage with them on a personal level:
- What are one or two things that you personally see as the key success factors in this role?
- What do you enjoy most about working in this company?
- What are the key things that you expect from people who are working for you?
Think about closing the deal
Ask a question that gives you a final chance to sell yourself. The most punchy but diplomatic would be “Have I done enough to convince you to hire me?” – the directness of that frightens a lot of people (on both sides of the table), so it’s risky, but it could be A-OK if you say it with a smile on your face, if you have a good rapport with the interviewer and particularly if you’re interviewing for a sales job.
Softer versions would be:
- Are there any parts of the interview that I can revisit to convince you I’m right for this job?
- Do you have any reservations about me that I can address at this stage?
- Are there things I could work on to help my chance of getting to the next interview?
The point to questions like this is to give you a chance to try and give a (short) final attempt to reassure/convince the interviewer. They may of course dodge it, but no matter, it is good to try and close the deal and it shows you want it.
If after all that, you think you would like to get this job – tell the interviewer that: I’m excited by this opportunity, I think my understanding of what you’re looking for is x, y and z and I believe I have those skills and experience in abundance and I really hope your decision goes in my favour.
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When the moment comes in an interview to ask questions of your interviewer, make sure you do and follow this advice:
- Be spontaneous – It’s best not to have your questions pre-written in front of you
- Avoid the obvious – Don’t ask about things you should already know
- Engage – Ask questions that relate to the interviewer themselves, as a person
- Close the deal – Ask a question that gives you a final chance to sell yourself
- Finish strong – If the role excites you and you believe you’re a great fit for it, let the interviewer know