Turning the Tables – Questions for Job Seekers to Ask During an Interview

You have identified your dream job. Now all you have to do is get it. Fortunately, your resume and portfolio look promising and your interview is scheduled. You know you have the right mix of skills and experience, and will be a great fit for the company. How can you convince the hiring manager and company leaders that you are the right person for the job? How can you use the interview process to set yourself apart from all the other talented people vying for the position? Surprisingly, it isn’t just how you answer the questions posed to you during the interview, but often your fate may be measured by the questions you ask.

The Interview Process

The interview process is the gateway to any new company. It provides an opportunity for hiring managers to meet candidates face-to-face and delve into their qualifications, vision, and challenges. It is also the time for candidates to learn more about the position and organization, and hopefully, make a positive impression. There comes a time during every interview when the interviewer asks, “Do you have any questions for me?” This can be one of the most critical points of the process. How you respond to this query can mean the difference between getting hired, moving on, or getting shut out.

Use Your Past as an Indicator

Asking the right questions is important because it can help you make a better decision about the job. It might look good on paper, but is it the best role for you? In order to determine these answers, you should create a matrix about yourself. Start by looking at your past positions. What worked? What didn’t? Why? What were the responsibilities that excited you? What did you dread? How did you work most successfully — in a team or autonomously? What gave you the greatest sense of accomplishment? What did you like about the work environment? How did you fit into the culture?

By answering these questions, you can uncover those qualities that are truly important to you. Once you know this information, you can build better questions to ask during the interview.

Do Your Research

By asking thoughtful, insightful questions, you can also make a better impression. Before your interview, find out as much as possible about the organization. Use search engines like Google, the company’s website, social media, and online data services, such as ZoomInfo to gather information. Don’t just focus on basic statistics. Dig deeper. Through these online services, you can discover more about the company’s history, financials (if it is a publicly-held company), product lines, competition, customers, leaders, and challenges.

Also, research the company in business and trade media and tap into your own network for more personal information. Review your LinkedIn contacts to see if you are connected to an employee at the company. If not, see if one of your connections can introduce you to someone. By speaking to an “insider,” you can get a better idea of workplace politics, work teams, and culture.

Ask the Right Questions

Once you have your questions, come up with a strategy for asking them. It is acceptable to write them down. If you get sidetracked during the interview, it can help you stay focused.

There are certain types of questions that you want to avoid, including

  • Yes or no questions (“Are you publicly traded?”).
  • Questions that can be found on the company’s website (“Who is the CEO?”).
  • Anything too bland or simple (“How many people work here?”).
  • Questions about vacation time, hours, flexible work arrangements, or benefits. This is important information but can be discussed once you are further in the interview process.

Instead, frame your questions to learn more about the job, and showcase your talent and initiative. Do ask about:

  • How they define success. (“Are there common characteristics identified in your top performers?”)
  • The qualities they are looking for in their hire. (“What are the most important skills for this position?”)
  • Their business issues. (“What are your biggest challenges?” What makes you better than the competition?”)
  • The big picture. (“How do you see the organization evolving in the next five years?”)
  • The position. (“Why is this position open?”) You can learn if the company is growing if it’s a new position or someone was promoted. If a person was let go, a logical follow-up question would be, “What skills was the other person lacking?”)
  • What you would tackle first should you be hired. ("What are the most pressing projects on tap for this role?")
  • Feedback. (“Based on what you know about me, do you have any reservations?”) This will give you a chance to address any issues that may have arisen during the interview.
  • The status of the search. (“What are your next steps in the hiring process?”)

By asking insightful questions you can better determine if this position and company are the right move for you. You can also demonstrate that you are knowledgeable, motivated, intelligent, and business-savvy. By asking the right questions, you will hopefully hear the most important question of all, “When can you start?”

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