From The Star newspaper of 22 May 2012, an excellent article by Roshan Thiran. Job seekers would do well to heed the advice here.
Ask and you shall receive; turn the tables at interviews by asking smart questions
Yippee! You’ve finally landed an interview for your dream job at your dream workplace. You’ve done everything humanly possible to prepare for the big interview updated resume, researched the company, dry-cleaned your lucky interview clothes, spent hours online “googling” interview tips and even practised the entire interview with your mother.
At the interview, you sit confidently facing your interviewer, exchange pleasantries, and answer everything thrown at you confidently. And then it happens! The interviewer asks you “do you have any questions for me?” And you blankly stare back, look perplexed but answer “NO” and muster a smile. And the interviewer smiles back and thus ends the interview. You think you aced the interview but you don’t get the job.
Why didn’t I get the role?
Our ability to answer questions impressively in an interview is just a small part of the hiring equation. Our research on HR leaders also points to another important element in an interview process often neglected: How you ask questions!
Research indicates that questions posed by interviewees can be equally important in establishing a positive first impression. Your questions help interviewers assess the quality of your thought process and discerning skills, creating an impression that you are a proactive, intelligent and confident person.
Conversations, not interrogations
Most of us subscribe to the belief that the hiring manager should be asking the questions, but we can have a lot of influence in the outcome of the interview by changing the session from an interrogation into a dialogue. And you can only do that through the confident questions you ask.
In the past ten years, I have interviewed more than a thousand candidates from entry-level graduates to senior leaders and I find that the best interviews are lively back-and-forth discussions rather than one-way interrogations. The folks that generally get hired are the conversations that are most engaging and thoughtful.
By posing a few poignant questions of your own during the interview, you will showcase your ability to think on your feet, analyse information and respond to changing situations appropriately. Asking the right questions will also allow you to get a better sense of work at the company. Most importantly, if you ask questions correctly, it reinforces in the mind of your interviewer that you are not “desperate” to land a job and may have other choices, forcing them to do “sell” and convince you to take the role.
What are the right questions?
While it is good to know that you should also ask questions during an interview, the main issue will be: what questions should you ask?
I recall many occasions when I was asked in an aggressive manner how much pay was being offered within ten minutes of the interview. Others asked about payments for overtime work. Questions about salary and payment early in the interview process reinforce your motivation and in this case, it showcases your primary motivation is money and not growth, development or learning. Never discuss money issues. It will be brought up later.
Prepare questions in advance. But the best interviews are when candidates ask questions throughout the course of the interview. I find the best way to have interactive discussions is to be observant while you wait for your turn to be interviewed. Look around. Observe the posters, walls and interactions between people in the office. You may be able to pick up good material for interesting questions.
Here are some tips and techniques that will help you craft the right questions in your next interview.
- Involve the interviewer
Don’t focus your questions solely on the role you are interviewing for. Involve the interviewer and personalise questions by asking the interviewer about their own experiences with the company. Interviewers love to speak. By involving them, they get emotionally involved and it is hard for them to not like you. During my first job interview while in the US, I asked my interviewer about his most memorable experience recently with the company. He spoke about watching a soccer game at the 1994 World Cup with the CEO. I quickly brought up that I played soccer for my university and we began a conversation on soccer, which went on for 45 minutes. I enjoyed the “interview” and apparently so did the interviewer. A few hours later, after finishing a number of other interviewers I noticed many folks were crying after coming out of the room of the interviewer who spent 45 minutes talking soccer with me. I soon realised that he was a mean and nasty interviewer who grilled candidates till they tear. But my fun soccer conversation derailed him from grilling me and instead he engaged conversationally with me. I got the job too!
- Focus on key issues
Listen well and take the information that the interviewer is sharing with you and use it to raise more complex queries which showcase your deeper understanding of the issues at hand. Questions that begin with words such as “how” or “why” are usually better at going deeper. If you are not good at formulating questions on the spot, prepare beforehand.
- Don’t waste time
Don’t ask questions to which the answers are apparent or easily obtainable with a little pre-interview research. I hate people asking about things which can easily be googled. Ask questions that will make the interviewer see how thoughtful and creative you are, not how lazy or unprepared you are.
- Don’t interview your interviewer
Do not submit your interviewer to another interview. This is not an interrogation, for either the interviewer or yourself. Remember, your goal is to make the interview a conversation be positive and allow interaction from both sides. And if the interviewer keeps looking at her watch or is bored, you may be asking too many questions.
- Finish by asking for next steps
Your last question should focus on next steps in the hiring process. Ask about time-lines. Ask if there is any supplementary information required from you. Leaving the interview with a clear direction of what actions need to be taken always works to your advantage.
What questions to ask
The questions you ask should be sincere and genuine as experienced interviewers can easily see through your act. Here are my top 10 questions that you can ask during the interview:
1. What are opportunities to grow my career at your organisation? – this question emphasises your determination to grow over the long term.
2. You mentioned there will be a lot of customer interactions/research/etc in this role. How does this relate to the key objectives of this role? this question serves two purposes as it demonstrates your listening skills and showcases how you try to link every part of the role to key KPIs.
3. What are some of your most memorable experiences at this company this question enables you to involve the interviewer and begin conversations.
4. What are the most enjoyable and the least enjoyable parts of the role? another great conversation starter.
5. Can you please tell me how the role relates to the overall structure/purpose/objective of the organisation? this question draws attention to yourdesire to know where you would fit in and how your contribution would affect the rest of the organisation.
6. How would you describe the work culture here? another good question to begin a conversation on work culture and how you can thrive in this new culture
7. In what way is performance measured and reviewed? this question gives the impression that you understand the value of commitment, reliability and returns.
8. What are the most important issues that you think your organisation will face? this showcases your interest not just in the job but in the organisation..
9. You have recently initiated a new service/product/project; how will this benefit the organisation? this questions shows you have done some research, thinking, and are now eager to hear their analysis.
10. Do you have any doubts about whether I am suited to this position? this question suggests you are open to constructive criticism and willing to learn from others, and it gives you a chance to address any weaknesses the interviewer may think you have.
So, ask questions. Remember, answers alone won’t get you the role.
Roshan Thiran is CEO of Leaderonomics, a social enterprise. Roshan questions why people don’t ask more questions. Questions change the world. Not answers. All great breakthroughs came from someone asking questions.