How to Ask Smart Questions in Interviews

by Natalie Fisher | March 15, 2017

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Women Interviewing at Desk

When preparing for an interview, it's common to spend most of your time focusing on the questions you're likely to be asked, and to think up a couple of decent questions of your own to ask at the end of the interview. While that's understandable, it risks missing the point of the interview process: it's not an exam where a series of correct answers will lead to a "pass" (and a job); it's an opportunity for you and the employer to figure out if you're right for one another.

So let's talk about why the traditional method--they ask, you answer, then you ask your questions at the end--doesn't work very well if you really want the job.

Here are 3 ways to improve how you ask questions in an interview.

1. Don't Ask Questions at the End! Do This Instead.

The structure I outlined above of the normal interview process doesn't give you the chance to find out a lot about what the company is looking for in a "good fit" until the very end of the interview. But, by waiting until the floor is officially yours for questions, you're putting yourself at a disadvantage. Because if you can gain that information up front, you'll be able to use it to shape and inform everything else you say for the rest of the interview.

Say that we flip the standard structure on its head and get at least two important questions in at the very beginning. The answers to just two good questions will speak to why and how you're the ideal candidate for the job.

When I was a hiring manager, a candidate came in with this approach. We started out by asking her questions, and she stopped us and asked, "Would you say that the job is mainly x and y, with a little bit of z? Am I on the right track?"  This led to a far better discussion that went off topic from my standard questions.

The candidate didn't hijack the interview but, right from the start, she instead subtly inserted questions about the job. Her answers were in line with what we discussed, and her responses were useful for what we looking for. She was speaking our language and talking about our day-to-day problems specifically.

After this interview, I threw my script out the window, because I realized that the scripted questions that everyone asks don't carry nearly as much weight as we think they do. The goal of the interview isn't to ask the questions in the right order. It's to get a real feel for the person you're speaking to and ideally get into a rich discussion about how working with them would go.

With this new philosophy in mind, it's easier to come up with great answers and follow-up questions, because you're now in line with what the hiring manager is looking for. It bakes it right into your interview strategy.

Try asking these two questions at the beginning of your next interview, and see how you can quickly switch your approach and position yourself for success:

  1. "What are first three goals for the person who fills this role?"
  2. "What are the biggest challenges to overcome in this role?"

2. Get over the discomfort

Let's be real here: this approach is going against the 'rules' of interviewing. It may feel uncomfortable to boldly ask a question like "Why don't you tell me a bit about the job before we get started?" at the beginning of the interview.

But consider that by using this new approach:

a) You are heightening your chances of success by setting up the interview strategically.

b) You will comes across as more engaged and authentic, because it's harder to sell someone a product if you have no idea what they need or why. It just makes sense to ask up front.

c) Most interviewers likely won't even notice that you're doing anything differently, but rather become engaged in a refreshing conversation, which is better for them and you.

3. What to Say at the End of the Interview Instead

Imagine that you've asked your questions at the beginning, turned the interview into a genuine conversation, but at the end the interviewer still asks the routine: "Do you have any questions for me?"

Now that you've asked most of your questions, you only have one left.

"I feel I have a pretty good understanding of your needs and how I would fit in. I would be excited to work with you. Do you have any reservations or concerns?"

Convincing someone to buy what you're selling is harder when you're unsure what they're looking for than when you know their needs. That is why good salespeople do research and ask lots of questions upfront. Even asking just two questions at the beginning can put you much farther ahead in the game, and set you up for success in a way that most other candidates won't know how to do.

 

Natalie Fisher is an enthusiastic HR Generalist who loves her job. She's been on over 50 interviews and received 48 job offers. Download her Free Guide: How to Nail an Interview You're Unqualified For.

 

Filed Under: Education | Interviewing | Job Search

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