At the end of every job interview, you’ll encounter the inevitable question, “Do you have any questions for me?”
While it’s an oh-so-predictable event, many job candidates aren’t prepared to shine when they reach this final test in the interview. Failing to ask any questions or asking the wrong questions can send the wrong signals.
Stephanie Daniel, senior vice president of career management company Keystone Associates, spoke with us about her thoughts on how job interviewees can take control of their next job interview by asking the right questions. Read on for her thoughts on what to ask and which questions to avoid when it’s your turn to interrogate.
Asking the Right Questions
When the interviewer gives you the opportunity to ask your own questions, be prepared. Daniel recommends that interviewees prepare five to seven questions, with the expectation that there will probably only be time to ask just three. “Keep in mind that some of the questions you might have prepared will be answered during the course of the interview, so it’s always a smart idea to have back-ups,” says Daniel.
“Too many job seekers respond to this standard interview question with the standard ‘safe’ responses,” says Daniel. “‘Will I be hearing from you or should I contact you?’ or ‘Why is this position open?’ In this very competitive job market, job candidates cannot afford to ask safe questions. Candidates must show that they are the best candidate by demonstrating that they are looking out for the needs and interests of the interviewer.”
So, what types of questions should you ask? Daniel suggests considering a few of the following:
- Is there a work issue that keeps you up at night and, given what you know about my background, how do you think I could help?
“Here’s your opportunity to demonstrate a genuine interest in the day-to-day challenges your future manager is facing, Daniel explains. “By asking this question, the interviewer will start to envision you as an employee and will give you some initial thoughts on how you might help solve their most pressing problems.”
- What is the most gratifying aspect of the work you do for XYZ company? What’s your best advice to someone starting out at this company?
“Asking the interviewer about the most gratifying aspect of the work she or he does helps you better understand what drives them,” Daniel explains. “Drivers include things like making the best product on the market, helping others, making money, curing an illness or creating a hot, new technology, etc. Ask yourself how the interviewer’s drivers align with your own. The answer to the ‘best advice’ question yields valuable insights on what behaviors lead to a successful transition into the company. It gives you clues on what you can do to put your best forward in your potential new role vis-à-vis building new relationships, gaining product knowledge, and avoiding potential pitfalls.”
- Could you describe your ideal candidate for this job? Why are these qualities important to you?
“The ideal qualifications were probably outlined in the job posting,” says Daniel. “But many of these postings are not actually written by the hiring manager. Here’s your chance to directly ask the interviewer what he views as the most important qualities of the successful candidate and why.”
- I’m sure you have a number of goals you’d like to achieve in the coming year. Do you have a particular one that is top priority?
“This question allows you to turn your attention to the interviewer and his most important priorities,” says Daniel. “Is there a particular goal the interviewer has talked about that lines up well with some of your current experiences? If so, let the interviewer know how you can contribute.”
Other great questions may revolve around key drivers for employees, what characterizes top performers at the company and whether the interviewer would like to know anything more about the interviewee’s background, says Daniel.
Avoiding Questions with Negative Connotations
To avoid making a bad impression at your interview, Daniel suggests thinking about the connotations behind each of the questions that you’re asking before you ask them. Here are three questions that tend to leave a bad taste in interviewers’ mouths, she says:
- Could you tell me about your work/life balance policy?
“A valid question, yes, but if you ask it too soon, it might appear that you are more concerned about the work schedule than you are about the actual work,” says Daniel.
- Is there a possibility I could work remotely?
“Telecommuting can be a positive thing for both the job seeker and the company, but your timing in asking this question is critical,” Daniel explains. “If asked too soon, it will convey a lack of enthusiasm for getting to know the team and work environment. Demonstrate your interest in the role and potential contributions to the company before inquiring about telecommuting/flex-time, etc.”
- How long do people typically stay in this position before they move on the next role?
“A desire to grow in the organization is admirable,” says Daniel. “But if you’re asking this question early on in the interview process, the interviewer may question your genuine interest in the position you’ve applied for. Frame the question in a way that demonstrates both your long-term commitment to the company and your professional growth.”
Preparing and Managing Time
Once you’ve chosen which questions you’d like to ask, you can either memorize them or write them down. Daniel advises:
“It is not unprofessional to bring a list of questions on paper. If you choose to write them down, make sure you bring them in a presentable notebook or folder, not on a crinkled, loose-leaf sheet of paper. Presentation is very important. That said, make a conscious effort to remember the questions so that you don’t have to rely on your notes. Opening a notebook can be somewhat distracting, and what’s even worse is reading the questions verbatim without making eye contact with the interviewer.”
Once you’ve finished asking all that you’d like to ask, it’s important to close an interview on a good notes, says Daniel. “Rather than fretting about running out of questions, take the left-over time to thank your interviewer and let him or her know how much you’re interested in the position. Cite specifics about why and briefly reiterate a key point about your background that relates to the position. This is called the ‘close,’ and it’s a critical phase of the interview.”