Job Search Tip of the Week #48 (2017)


Do you have any questions for me?

It’s oftentimes one of the last questions an interviewer will ask you, and yet one of the most important. It’s your opportunity not only to learn more about what you’ll be getting yourself into, but also to stand out amongst other candidates.

The questions you ask will differentiate you from the other job candidates, just as much – if not more so – than the answers you’ve already given. However, a caveat to note is that they can also do in a negative way, too; for example, any of these seven questions, says HR professional and staffing expert Scott Singer, could stop your interview cold.

So, what should you ask?

Don’t ask questions just to ask them.

Of course, you want to show that you’re excited about the job opportunity. But it doesn’t help you if you’re asking questions that can be answered from the company’s website or a quick Google search – it just shows your lack of interview preparation.

The best questions to ask are the ones inspired by something stated previously, because they show that you’re actively listening to and engaged with your interviewer. “You mentioned earlier that…” and “From what you’ve been saying, it sounds like…” are great ways you can lead into questions that you thought of during the course of conversation.

Just be sure not to ask your interviewer to simply regurgitate information they’ve already addressed, as it gives the impression that you don’t pay close attention and may need to be closely supervised – and no one wants to hire a Homer Simpson. Instead, make it clear that you wish to confirm your understanding about something, expand on a point you found interesting, or seek further clarification (“You mentioned/Going back to…is that right/can you tell me more about that?”).

Well, what don’t you know yet?

Remember, the interview process is a two-way street: it’s an opportunity not only for the company to determine whether they want to hire you, but also for you to decide whether you want to work for them. The questions you ask should allow you to obtain more information beyond what can be found online, and to get a better sense of what will be expected of you if you’re hired for the position – not to mention, give you the opportunity to reiterate why you’re the best candidate for the role!

Ask questions about:

  • The job: Why is this position available? What challenges did the previous person in this position face? What’s a typical day look like? How much time is spent building new products and extensions, versus maintaining existing features? What’s the roadmap for growth within the company? What impact does this position have on the company? What is expected of someone in this position, and how is success measured?
  • The product and/or service: What is the process from conception to launch like? How does the product continue to evolve, and how important is user feedback to this process? Does the company utilize cross-functional teams? (Especially if it’s a consumer-facing product, make sure you tried it out beforehand and then lead your question off with “When I was using the product, I noticed that…”)
  • The company: How would you describe the culture? What do you like/what frustrates you the most about working here? You’ve been with the company for X number of years – what keeps you coming back every day? What would you change about the work environment, and what is being done to improve it? How are decisions made at the company, on a business level and on the product/engineering side? Knowing that the company’s values are X and Y, how are those priorities reflected in the day-to-day?
  • The industry: What makes this company different from its competitors X and Y? What are the biggest challenges that the company’s facing? What’s the company’s vision for this coming year? I read a recent press release that said that the company has…how is that changing the company’s strategy and direction/disrupting the industry?
  • The hiring process: Who else will I have the opportunity to meet with, and how do the responsibilities of this position impact their day-to-day? What’s the timeline for making a hiring decision? When and how is the best way I can follow up with you? What’s the onboarding process like?

And use your best judgment.

It’s more or less unanimous among career experts that you never inquire about the specifics for salary and benefits, unless you’re asked during the final interview about your compensation expectations or you’re officially reached the offer stage.

“‘What’s in it for me?’ questions can be interpreted as self-centered and sign of your lack of interest in the job,’ notes Carole Martin, contributing writer for employment site Monster.

Besides that and Singer’s seven questions you should never ask your potential employer, all other topics are pretty much fair game. That being said however, there is one question whose impact on your candidacy is dependent upon how it’s perceived by your interviewer: Who is the ideal candidate for this position, and how do I compare?

While this question shows that you are open to feedback, it can also remind the interviewer of your shortcomings and all the reasons why you’re not the person for the job. How you frame information can completely change the impression you make. So instead of asking this question, demonstrate realistic confidence – show you’re self-aware and keep it positive. Acknowledge how you’re underqualified if it comes up, and explain how you compensate for it and/or are working to improve. For example: “I know I don’t have a formal computer science education, but I’ve gotten great mentorship and have had internships with companies X, Y, and Z. I’m also taking night classes towards a degree. I’m sure you’ll find my hands-on experience at these various companies to be an asset to the team.”

All in all, just be mindful of who you’re talking to, and what you’re asking and when. To be safe, “Who is the ideal candidate for this position, and how do I compare?” is definitely a good question to ask if you’ve already gotten rejected from a job because it’ll help you learn where you need to improve.

Know when enough is enough.

You don’t want to ask nothing, but you don’t want to turn your interview into an interrogation either. Amy Hoover, president of Talent Zoo, a career site for marketing and advertising, design, and creative professionals, suggests asking a minimum of two questions, and having four prepared in advance of your interview.

Feel free to bring in and reference a list of questions you’ve prepared, and to take notes – just don’t bury your face in your paper and rattle them off. It’s a conversation, so make plenty of eye contact, and finish with a firm handshake!

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