After months of searching, you’ve finally landed an interview for the job of your dreams. You’ve chosen your wardrobe, Googled the company so you can intelligently discuss the issues, and thought through questions you may be asked. That’s all fine, says Andrew Sobel. But if you haven’t brushed up on the questions you want to ask the interviewer, you’re missing a key part of your preparation—the part that may win you the job.
“If you talk to recruiters and executives who are actively hiring, they will tell you that there are three types of questions they get: no questions, bad questions, and—very rarely—memorable questions,” says Sobel, author (along with coauthor Jerold Panas) of Power Questions: Build Relationships, Win New Business, and Influence Others (Wiley, February 2012, ISBN: 978-11181196-3-1, $22.95). “And the candidates who ask the memorable ones are often the ones they make offers to.
“A recruiter for a well-known, fast-growing technology company told me, ‘You’d be surprised how many job candidates have absolutely no questions for me at all, or they ask dumb or boring questions like ‘So what do you do?’” he adds. “By asking questions—not just any questions but memorable, thought-provoking ones—you come across as a cut above the average candidate.”
It makes sense. After all, anyone can anticipate common interview questions and craft what they think are impressive answers ahead of time. But candidates who ask insightful, incisive questions prove they’re thinkers and connectors.
“You can tell people all day long how qualified you are, how talented you are, and what a tremendous asset to the company you would be,” says Sobel. “But no statement is ever as impactful as a well-timed, well-executed question. In all situations, power questions help us connect and engage with others in meaningful ways.”
You want a recruiter or executive who interviews you to tell a colleague afterwards, “I had a great conversation with that candidate. He had really thought a lot about our business.” That’s what gets you the callback, explains Sobel. And good questions are the way you create a thought-provoking, value-added conversation.
First, avoid these types of questions in a job interview:
Informational questions: Don’t take up a manager’s time asking, “How much vacation will I get?” Get the basic information you need before you go in for an interview.
Closed-ended questions: If someone can give a “yes” or “no” answer, it diminishes your prospects for having a good conversation.
“Me” questions: An executive is interested in how you will add value to her organization and whether or not you’re a good fit. Skip questions like “I skydive every Saturday—so will I ever be asked to work weekends?”
That said, here are the kinds of questions you should be asking in a job interview:
1. Credibility-building questions: “As I think back to my experience in managing large sales forces, I’ve found there are typically three barriers to breakthrough sales performance: coordination of the sales function with marketing and manufacturing, customer selection, and product quality. In your case, do you think any of these factors are holding back your sales growth? What do you believe are your own greatest opportunities for increasing sales effectiveness?”
2. “Why?” questions: “Why did you close down your parts business rather than try to find a buyer for it?” or “Why did you decide to move from a functional to a product-based organization structure?”
3. Personal understanding questions: “I understand you joined the organization five years ago. With all the growth you’ve had, how do you find the experience of working here now compared to when you started?”
4. Passion questions: “What do you love most about working here?”
5. Value-added advice questions: “Have you considered creating an online platform for your top account executives, so that they can share success stories and collaborate better around key client opportunities? We implemented such a concept a year ago, and it’s been very successful.”
6. Future-oriented questions: “You’ve achieved large increases in productivity over the last three years. Where do you believe future operational improvements will come from?”
7. Aspiration questions: “As you look ahead to the next couple of years, what are the potential growth areas that people are most excited about in the company?”
8. Organizational culture questions: “What are the most common reasons why new hires don’t work out here?” or “What kinds of people really thrive in your organization?”
9. Decision-making questions: “If you were to arrive at two final candidates with equal experience and skills, how would you choose one over the other?”
10. Company strengths-and-weaknesses questions: “Why do people come to work for you rather than a competitor? And why do you think they stay?”
In general, says Sobel, good questions prove you’ve done your homework. They show you’re not just concerned about yourself but that you’ve given some thought to the future of the company. They allow you to demonstrate your knowledge without sounding arrogant. And they greatly improve your chances that the interviewer will like you—and we tend to hire those we like!
“If you want to be noticed by recruiters, don’t talk more,” he summarizes. “Instead, ask better questions. You’ll soon find yourself answering the best question of all: How soon can you start?”