In almost every interview, your turn to ask questions creates a marvelous opportunity, or a big yawn, or somewhere in between.
So while it’s important to prepare your answers for the job interview, it’s also valuable to plan out your questions. Your questions reveal a lot about you – and may help you create a connection with your future boss. So how well-informed and thoughtful are your inquiries? And how well will you weave what you learned in your visit so far into the inquiries you make? What questions will you ask to enhance your bond with your potential boss?
Job candidates who use questions wisely will have an advantage over others, said Stephanie Daniel, vice president of Keystone Associates, a career management and outplacement company. They prepare their questions by researching the interviewer and by knowing the company’s major new products and problems. They will go beyond the most basic and obvious questions and use them to really connect with the interviewer.
“You can’t plan every single question ahead of time,” she said. Some need to flow directly from the content of the interview or from something that stands out as you walk through the cubicles.
Some you need to plan ahead. Here’s a head start with seven questions Daniel recommends:
1. What are your most important goals for the next six months or year?
2. What work issues keep you up at night?
3. What do you anticipate being the major challenges your company / department will face in the next year?
4. What’s the most gratifying aspect of your job? And the most grating?
5. What words of wisdom would you share with someone just starting at this company?
6. Describe your ideal candidate to me. Why are those qualities important to you?
7. Why do you do what you do? What led you into your current career path?
Notice that a lot of the questions are getting a clearer picture of this person and what’s important to her. You also want to know what problems you could help solve. The goals question can be used in just about every situation, Daniel said. And the look inside their work-life can be useful to build rapport. Show an intellectual curiosity and a genuine interest in the employer, she said.
If you have some concerns about the company or culture, phrase your questions in a way that’s neutral and not confrontational. Be careful not to sound like you’re a critic – just express curiosity about their high staff turnover, or their decision not to sponsor your professional or industry association after backing it for a decade.
Avoid questions that turn the spotlight back on you, or invite a closer look at your weaknesses. “One of the questions I’m not crazy about is ‘Do you have any concerns about me?’ It puts the interviewer on the spot, making an awkward moment,” said Daniel. Instead ask: Describe the qualifications of your ideal candidate.
“Use your ability to read people,” she said, and the direction of the interview. “Invariably, you’re not going to use every question you’ve prepared.”
And remember: Great questions can lead to incredible answers, maybe even one that comes with a paycheck attached.
About the Author: Vickie Elmer regularly contributes articles on careers and small business to the Washington Post. She has collected a slew of journalism awards. Her career and workplace articles also have appeared in Fortune, Parents, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, the Financial Times, the Chicago Tribune, Newsday and many more. Elmer is the the co-owner of Mity Nice, a start-up that employs teens to sell Italian ice and sweet treats from a shiny silver cart in Ann Arbor, Mich. An active volunteer, she encourages kindness and creativity and embracing change, and she blogs and tweets under the moniker WorkingKind.