No matter where or how many times you interview for a new job,
the same thing happens every time -- the hiring manager turns to
you and asks "Do you have any questions?" If you want the job, you
should have a long list ready to go.
What you ask during an interview is essential. Now is not the time
for asking about benefits; instead you should be asking questions
that can help sell yourself.
Your thoughtful questions will show that you're interested in the
company and have done your homework -- both desirable traits to
organizations. You also need to ask questions to determine whether
the organization is the right fit for your career goals and personal
So what should you ask? Here are some ideas:
1. Start with the "secret recipe" question, says Larry Stunkel,
author of "From Here to There" and founder of the outplacement firm
Lawrence and Allen.
- WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR IN A SUCCESSFUL CANDIDATE?
The answer to this question will tell "what the company is looking
for and you know what to say" in highlighting your skills during
the interview, Stunkel says.
For example, if a manager says he's looking for an applicant with
five years in accounting, an appropriate response could be: "At
the last two jobs, I've had experience working at two large accounting
firms, handling major accounts." Then fill in you're your job accomplishments
that match what the interviewer just told you.
You're aiming to reinforce what the company is looking for, he
says. You can continue to formulate your answers during the rest
of the interview to fit the organization's requirements.
2. Ask questions to assess more about the job.
"From the candidate's perspective, they want to find out if it's
the right company for them. Is it a good fit from culture and career
growth standpoint," says Jane Walton, operations director for the
Human Resources Department of HNTB Companies, infrastructure firms
known and respected for work in transportation, bridges, aviation,
architecture and urban design and planning.
You also want to determine if there are opportunities for you to
grow with the company and be promoted. Ask questions to find that
- WHERE IS THE GREATEST ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT?
- WHAT IS MOST PRESSING IN THE NEXT TWO TO THREE MONTHS?
- IN WHAT WAYS WERE YOU PLEASED WITH THE LAST PERSON?
- WHY IS THIS JOB OPEN?
- WHY DID THE PERSON IN THE POSITION LEAVE THE JOB?
- WHERE CAN A PERSON WHO IS SUCCESSFUL GO?
Take the answers to your questions and relate those to your past
experience. You're essentially listening to their problem, and giving
an answer that says what you fit the solutions, says Carole Martin,
an interview coach and author of "Boost Your Interview IQ."
3. Find out about the company's culture and morale.
Martin stresses the best way to determine the culture and morale
is to really listen. Read between the lines and find out if this
culture will fit your values and create an atmosphere conducive
to your work style.
- WHAT IS YOUR MANAGEMENT STYLE?
- WHAT'S THE BEST THING ABOUT WORKING FOR THIS COMPANY?
- WHAT IS MORALE LIKE AT THE COMPANY?
- HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE COMPANY CULTURE?
- TELL ME THE BEST THING ABOUT WORKING FOR YOUR BOSS.
Remember that you should be taking these responses and then relating
them to yourself, your work experience and accomplishments.
But be careful not to make it just about you. Think along the
lines of what you can bring the company, Walton says. It's not just
about what the company can do for you.
4. Show that you've done your homework by asking questions that
reflect knowledge of the company and industry.
"With the Internet, there's no excuse not to know something about
the organization," Walton says.
Find information on the company mission statement, growth reports,
earnings and other statements. Use this to formulate questions.
Interviewers want to have an intelligent conversation about the
industry, and all the information you can find before entering the
interview will give you a boost.
- WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES FACING YOUR COMPANY AND INDUSTRY?
- I SEE FROM DOING RESEARCH ON THE INDUSTRY THAT XYZ. DO YOU
SEE YOURSELF GROWING WITH THIS TREND?
- WHAT IS THE COMPANY'S GROWTH PLAN FOR THE NEXT FIVE YEARS?
- I READ RECENTLY THAT XYZ. HOW DOES THIS RELATE TO YOUR ORGANIZATION?
- I NOTICE ON YOUR WEB SITE THAT THE COMPANY MISSION STATES
These questions will give you the chance to be proactive about
the position -- rather than becoming just another job applicant
who is looking for a job, Walton says.
5. Close the interview and sell yourself.
This is the last chance to stress your accomplishments in the interview.
If the interviewer expresses any doubts about your experience, come
back with an example of how you've handled a similar situation and
reinforce how your experience matches this. You can even use volunteer
Stress that you have a proven track record and re-emphasize the
five points that most relate to the position, Martin says.
- DO YOU HAVE ANY DOUBTS I CAN DO THE JOB?
- WHAT QUESTIONS HAVEN'T I ASKED?
- IS THERE ANY ADDITIONAL INFORMATION I CAN PROVIDE TO CONVINCE
YOU I'M RIGHT FOR THE JOB?
- WHEN MAY I EXPECT TO HEAR FROM YOU AND WHEN MAY I FOLLOW
Get specifics about when to follow up. This is a great way to get
an idea of the hiring timeline -- and it creates an opportunity
to follow up instead of pestering the interviewer, Stunkel says.
And remember, the interview is just as much about you finding out
about the company as it is them learning about your skills.
(Questions taken from Stunkel, Martin and Walton.)
Elizabeth McKinley is a freelance journalist who writes about
careers and workplace issues. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org