The Benefits to Asking Questions of the Interviewer

I was talking to a colleague of mine recently who interviews applicants as a major part of his profession, and took the opportunity of asking him about the process. After discussing to what degree cover letters are read, what makes an effective resume etc., we got down to the actual interview which was what we were both motivated to chat about.

During our conversation, one of the most significant things he said to me is that while the answers to the questions he poses are important, of even greater significance are the quality and number of questions the applicant poses to him. One of the most frustrating things apparently, is when he’s leaning toward advancing an applicant to the next stage in the hiring process, and then right near the end of the interview, when asked, the applicant says, “No I have no questions. You’ve pretty much covered everything I wanted to know.”

He stated that while it may be true that some previously unknown information was covered in the discussion leading up to that point, the lack of a single question tells him that either the applicant isn’t very interested in proceeding or hasn’t done the required homework to ask an intelligent question which he takes to be a good indicator of their future minimal effort. In either case, the person is in serious jeopardy of being passed over.

Good questions that address the company’s future direction, speak to current industry-wide issues and challenges, and zero-in on the role of the applicant in addressing those issues are the best he said. Questions about an individual supervisor or the team the person might be assigned to are okay, but given that a person could be transferred, accelerated or promoted could mean a change in supervisor or assignment to a new team. If an applicant is basing a decision on whether to accept the job or not based on the team atmosphere, this could be very immediate vs. long-term thinking.

Another thing that he passed along to me was that many applicants ask a question of him the interviewer, and then instead of a supplementary question or discussion by which the applicant can demonstrate their good fit with the company, the applicant just asks another unrelated question. It’s almost like the answer they received went in one ear and out the other and they just asked the question because they feel they should ask something.

So there’s an important lesson for anyone going to a job interview; after you’ve asked your question, pause slightly, reflect on the answer and then consider an additional question or at least make a statement or two about your ‘fit’ with the information just shared with you.

One last thing that this person commented on was the issue of written questions and taking notes on information provided. You’re probably familiar with the fact that most if not all interviewers in a traditional sit-down office setting, have their questions prepared ahead of time and take some kind of notes during the interview. So why then, he feels, don’t applicants feel free to take notes when the tables are turned and they are asking the questions and getting information?

I’ve heard from some applicants they feel intimidated in the interview and aren’t sure they’d be allowed to take their own notes, as if somehow they feel it would be frowned upon. Maybe some interviewers wouldn’t be impressed if you took 10 minutes to write down the information you’ve been given in answer to their questions, but if you made quick bullet-style notes, and fleshed out the answers immediately after the interview while things are fresh, that would be acceptable.

So what impressed my colleague recently and made one applicant really stand out? Apparently there was a position where the applicants had gone through a preliminary interview, and of those, three were selected for a second interview with people in higher authority. During one of those three interviews, an applicant was asked if they had any questions yet again. The applicant referred back to a comment the original interviewer had made in answer to a question of hers, and probed for more information having done a little digging between interview 1 and 2. It was that research and the subsequent question on a whole other level that made the applicant stand out, and she was offered the position. Why? She was prepared to do the extra research and follow-up on some information she had been given, it showed good listening skills, an ability to pick up new information, initiative to conduct some research and the intelligence to ask additional questions to those in positions to give her the information she was seeking.

Now just in case you think that this kind of behavior is only critical in jobs with large companies and senior positions, my colleague indicated that the same process is true no matter the job. In his network he has many other contacts who, like him, interview candidates for jobs in many sectors and at many different levels. So whether you are being interviewed over a luncheon for a senior position, or you are being interviewed for the gas kiosk at a filling station, have some questions ready that demonstrate your interest and knowledge of the position and company you are applying to.

By Kelly Mitchell, BA
Guest Blogger

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