I have chosen to begin this post with the four interview questions job seekers need to ask because too many job seekers do not realize that a job interview is a two-way street. You have the right to ask questions. If the employer does not provide the opportunity, or if they are not forthcoming with their answers, don’t work for them. They don’t care about their employees and they are trying to hide something. Accepting an offer from them would be a mistake.
So what are the three questions you should ask?
First, research is the key and you always want to show (not tell) the interviewers that you prepare well for meetings. You also want to differentiate yourself from your competition. You can do that by the quality of your questions. For example, go to the company’s Twitter account. See who they are following. It does not matter who is following them, anyone can follow anyone they want. If you don’t want someone following you, all you can do is block them. So see who they are following. Choose one, and ask why:
I see that you are following the British Embassy in Washington. That surprised me. Why are you following them? Are you planning on expanding operations into the UK and the EU?
Odds are, they won’t know. And that’s fine. If they know, then you’ll have a conversation and they’ll know that you prepare well for meetings. If they don’t know, they’ll tell you and later they will ask someone in the know about it. That person will be impressed with your research skills and will probably want to meet you (at least that is what has happened to some of my career counseling clients!).
The whole idea is to raise the level of your questions far above those of your competition. Another question that will get you there is:
I looked at the LinkedIn profiles of persons who have held this position in the past. I noticed that they listed their job responsibilities as A, B, C, D and E. In the job description you shared with me C and D are gone and F, G and H have been added. Why?
Again, you have shown them your research skills. But in this case you are not doing what most job seekers do, ask, What are the short- and long-term goals of the job? You are raising the level of the discussion.
Another way to do that is not to ask, Why is the position available? That sounds gossipy. It’s none of your business. What is your business, and what you should ask is, What did the last person who held the job do that you want to see continued and what do you want to see done differently? No gossip; just facts.
That question can lead to a very important discussion, because the answer may be that it is a new position. You do not want to accept a new position without knowing why the position was created, if the person who will be supervising you wants to supervise you, and if everyone is in agreement about the budget. I once accepted a new position. I was paid by one department but actually worked for a different department. I quit after about six months; the position was never refilled. Learn from my mistakes! My supervisor did not want to supervise me; she did not want my salary coming out of her budget; and she probably did not like the idea that I was taking up physical space in her section of the company!
Lastly, ask each person you meet, If I were to get this job, how would I be able to make your life easier? Write down their answers. Then, when you send a thank-you e-mail, you can reiterate what they told you. A good thank-you e-mail can make up for a poor interview, while a bad thank-you e-mail can destroy what had been a good interview. The e-mail will be personal, not a “form letter,” and everyone will know that you listened, that you heard what they said, and that you understood.
So much for the questions you ask. What about the questions you are ask?
Number One on the hit parade is, Why do you want to work here? Everyone usually uses this as an opportunity to praise. No employer in their right mind is going to be impressed by empty flattery. Provide substantive reasons:
I looked at the LinkedIn profiles of your employees. I saw that many of them have been with you for a long time and that you promote from within. That’s the type of company I want to work for.
That answer is especially good for “older workers.” Employers may be worried that they are looking to work for only a few more years and then retire. By answering the way I suggest, in addition to being substantive, you are dispelling their concerns about longevity.
I saw in the local papers and on-line that many of your directors and managers, not to mention executives, have received community service awards. I want to work for a company that is civic minded.
That’s a way to compliment without it sounding like empty flattery.
The next question may be, What are your weaknesses?
The real question they are asking is, Are you self-aware? If you don’t know your weaknesses then there is a problem. We all have weaknesses. It’s part of being human. If you are not aware of your weaknesses then you are not confronting them. That’s bad. That will cost you a job offer.
The way to answer the question is to give a real weakness, emphasis on “real.” “I stay at the office too long,” is not a “real” weakness. That sounds like you are trying to tell the employer/interviewer your strengths or what you think they want to hear. In fact, it’s a bad answer for another reason: It sends the message that you are no good with time management, which is a real weakness. So, in this case, this is what you should say:
I am lousy with time management. When I start work on a project I lose track of time. This could mean I’m staying late which is not something anyone wants. So what I do is, I set the alarm on my phone for, let’s say, 4:00 PM. When it goes off I know I have an hour left to finish what is important to finish that day and to prepare a To Do list for the next day.
In other words, you acknowledge the weakness and explain how you overcome it. That way, you do not end the answer on a negative but rather a positive. Never end any question on a negative.
Finally, you may be asked how you accomplished a task or completed a project. Whatever your answer, the interviewer may ask critical follow-up questions or even interrupt you: Why did you do it that way and not this way? It could very well be that they actually do things the same exact way you do/did them. What they really are checking is how you react to criticism (and rudeness!). So, whatever you do, don’t become defensive. Consider what they say as though it is a suggestion, not a criticism, and show them that you are open-minded and willing to do things their way
Good luck interviewing!