I’ve got a bit of a problem when it comes to job interviews. I go in with confidence and I usually interview well until the very end when the manager asks me if I have any questions and then I just freeze. I begin to panic and search for a question, but I don’t want ask something silly so I just end up saying something along the lines of “No I think you’ve covered everything.” I can’t help but feel that I’ve failed some sort of test, even if I nailed the interview up until that point.
Ouch. I’ve got to be honest – more often than not, a blunder like this can certainly cost you a job. There’s more than likely a candidate who interviewed just as well (or slightly worse/better) who asked a poignant question that impressed the hiring managers.
The interviewer doesn’t ask that question to be polite—they are trying to gauge your interest, and see how informed you are about the opportunity. It’s not uncommon to have freeze up, but you have to be able to push past this crucial moment. You have to anticipate the question and be prepared for it.
That part is easier than you think. Preparation often just means a little research, so take the time to Google the company and check out their website: learn as much about the business as possible, determine if you’re interviewing at the headquarters or at a branch office, get on LinkedIn and see if you can find the manger’s profile. This tiny bit of research, which will ultimately only take you 30 minutes or say, will pay off in the interview.
Try to look at this bit of research as homework: If you do it, you’ll be in a better positon to pass the test. Ideally this means you will get the job too. If it seems tedious, it will at the very least spark a genuine curiosity. If you find out you’re working at a smaller branch of a bigger company, it might pique your interest and inspire you to ask a question at the end of your interview such as this:
“I was checking out the company website and I noticed that the headquarters are in Chicago—do the branches interact much or are they more independently functioning?”
Okay, so this question is not going to win you any awards, but that’s not the point. This question immediately tells the manager that A) you’ve done your research and B) you’re interested in the office culture. You’re interested enough to take the time to do the research and you care enough to ask.
If the “homework” doesn’t help you come up with some questions for the interview, then change gears and think about the actual job. What are your main concerns? Write them down. Here are some of the most common ones.
What does a typical day look like for someone in this position?
What are the biggest challenges that someone in this position has faced in the past?
How will I be trained? Do you do performance reviews?
What expectations would you have for a successful candidate after 12 months?
See? Not so hard, is it? Now keep going! Use this opportunity to learn a little about what obstacles you might face ahead. No company is perfect, and there are always going to be things you don’t like in a job. It helps to have a feel for where some of those “red flags” might be. Now, don’t come right out and say, “What sucks most about working here?” Not a good idea, I promise. Try these:
What is the company culture like?
Can you tell me about the team I’ll be working with?
Where is the last person who held this job moving on to?
Where have successful employees previously in this position progressed to?
What are the career paths in this department/company?
After some preliminary questions, if you have time, you can move on to questions the serve a multi-functional purpose. What you do want to do is remove the interviewer’s doubts about you as a candidate while simultaneously seeking information. This is not as complicated as it sounds. Here are questions you can ask to do exactly that:
What are the skills and experiences you feel are most important in the right candidate?
What attributes does someone need to have in order to be successful in this position?
What types of skills is the team missing that you’re looking to fill with a new hire?
Is there anything that concerns you about my background being a fit for this role?
Again, the questions convey to the interviewer that you genuinely want to know what it takes to succeed, and the interviewer’s responses tell you how you can work to show you’re the right fit. Win-win, right?
Finally, here are a few wrap up questions that are information-seeking but continue to convey your interest:
What are the next steps in the interview process?
Is there anything else I can provide you with that would be helpful?
Having a few questions written down prior to the interview shows you’re prepared as well. If these questions are answered during the interview, take notes. It shows you’re paying attention and conveys a high level of interest in the job. And, if you wind up with an exceptionally thorough interviewer who answers all of your questions, you still need to ask a follow up! It’s ok if you take a few second and address the fact that the interviewer covered most of your immediate concerns. But if you’ve prepared beforehand and listened carefully during the interview, drafting a follow up question on the fly shouldn’t be too difficult.
It’s common to feel a little befuddled when you’re supposed to ask questions, especially if it’s been a long interview already. However, with a little preparation, homework, and help from a notebook, you can ask some good questions and learn a little in the process.