Questioning the Questioner

What do you think is the purpose of asking questions at job interviews?

The common view appears to be that it is a way of showing you are a better, cleverer or more motivated candidate than others.  There’s plenty of advice around about how you can and should impress the interviewer with smartly asked questions.  I’m sure there are enough recruiters and hiring managers out there who are impressed but personally it doesn’t sit comfortably.  I couldn’t ask questions with this intention because it would feel inauthentic, even manipulative.

Nonetheless asking questions are a natural part of the dialogue and helps to build the relationship between you and the interviewer.  It’s also necessary for you to be able to decide if you want to pursue the opportunity.  In short, it’s a good idea to ask questions during the interview, but please do it for the right reasons, not to look clever.

That means asking the question because you genuinely want to know the answer.

There are two motivations for asking questions in interviews:

  1. to help you to decide if the role or organisation is right for you
  2. to enable the organisation to know everything they need to know about you.

For the first category there may be any number of questions you have.  Your questions will arise out of gaps between what you are looking for from your next role and the information that has been provided about this particular role.  It’s not unusual for most, if not all, of these questions to be answered during the course of the interview without your having to ask them and this situation is a common cause for concern – “They answered all my questions and I felt stupid because I had to tell them I had none when they invited me to ask them anything”.

Fine if that’s the case but there is always at least one question you can ask: category 2, and there’s one other from category 1 that you can ask that probably won’t have been covered in the interview.

It has to do with your performance in the first few months of joining the organisation.  What success in the role looks like over time is crucial for you.  You’re likely to be on some kind of probation period.  How will you know if you are performing well enough to get through that probation period successfully?  You need to ask something like:

“If I’m offered this role, what will success for me look like after 3/6/12 months? What will you be looking for me to have achieved in that time?”

This will get them thinking about expectations and will tell you what you need  to achieve.  If you don’t think what they tell you is realistic it will help you to decide either to withdraw from the process, or to enter into a conversation with them about what you feel is achievable.

Moreover, and this is where NLP experts get excited, by phrasing the question in that way you are placing a image in the interviewers head of you succeeding in the job.  This can be influential in the recruitment decision-making process, particularly if they’ve not given much consideration to the matter (so perhaps I am advocating a bit of manipulation?)

You have to judge the situation when deciding if you are going to ask questions during the meeting as the opportunity arises, or wait until the end when you may or may not be invited to ask questions.  If the conversation is informal then it would seem appropriate to ask as you go along, and mop up with any outstanding questions at the end.  If it is more formal you will usually be given your chance at the end, but if you are not, do ask if there is time for you to ask questions.  If there isn’t then ask when it would be possible to do so.

Now, category 2.

I said there’s always one question you can ask, the purpose of which is to make sure they have been given every opportunity find out all they need to know about you, and it’s this:

“Is there anything we haven’t covered that you’d like to know about me, or are there any areas we have discussed that you’d like to know more about?”

Oh, and one last thing.  Never ask about the salary.

If you are currently or thinking about a new job and would like to excel at interviews why not attend my next  half-day workshop on Interview Preparation skills.  It takes place on March 29th in the Barbican, London.  Full details and registration here.

I’m also running a workshop on Networking for Job Search on March 8th in London.  Details here.

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