Smart Interview Questions for Candidates

You've covered all the bases so far... your CV has got you an interview... you've done your research and rehearsed what you'll say to the obvious questions you're likely to be asked... You got to the interview on time, and you're performing like a star (You may already have read Top Ten "DUMB" Interview Tips) then the interviewer asks if you have any questions for them.......


Dull silence...

You waffle something about all the key areas have been covered and you're happy.

Sorry -  you are now instantly transported to the nasty scene of a horrible TRAIN CRASH!!

train crashHaving great questions can make all the difference to interview success and failure. If you have none, it looks like you've not prepared. And if you have one, and it's about salary, you appear like you're just interested in you.

Don't let this happen. Be ready:

Start by asking questions about customers (especially for a customer facing role):

This makes you appear interested in what customers think and need. You could ask:

  • "I'd like to understand more about how your customers tend to respond to their products/service experience?"
  • "Could you tell me what product features/service standards mark you out as being different from your competitors?"
  • "I'd like to understand what you'd like me to do to improve service?"
  • "What are your communication channels to customers, and where does this role fit in the scheme of things?"

Get my drift? Show an interest in what motivates customer loyalty. It's a sign to the interviewer you're interested in more than you.

Next, ask questions about the organisation:

This underlines that you're still not interested in you...

  • "Tell me about the organisation structure" (You'd be surprised how often this is never raised by interviewer or interviewee)
  • "Tell me how the company has changed in recent years to competitive pressure/the online world/new manufacture techniques/etc"
  • "I'd like to know how you think the organisation might change in the next few years?"
  • "What is the organisations biggest challenge right now?"

There are squillions of questions you could ask, so ask SOME.

If you're being interviewed for a senior role at a limited company, then have a dig around their balance sheet. Ask some questions. Sometimes organisations will try to 'sell' the role and not reveal some of the challenges - not sure why as it's 'challenges' that excite outstanding candidates. Make sure you know what you're walking into, and also show you have done some homework.

Now - ask the KILLER QUESTION:

This question is intended to bring real focus and can be used by any candidate being interviewed for any role, so ask:

  • "Thanks for going through everything with me, but just so I'm crystal clear, from your perspective, what's the single thing that's most important about this role?"

This allows you the scope to restate how your skills and experience can be used to address this key point. As it's towards the end of the interview, it should allow you to summarise the benefits of your candidacy and leave that fresh and lodged in the interviewers brain at the point they're most likely to remember it.

Finally, you can now ask questions about you:

These usually spin around pay and rations. Many candidates are coy about upsetting interviewers by asking these questions, but to my mind they are important and will usually demonstrate you're a professional. Just a couple of pointers:

Don't ask "What's the pay mate?" but more likely "I'd like to understand more about the package?". This is simply more businesslike and enables a conversation that goes beyond fixed salary alone.

Do ask about the pension (401K for my US readers). The company contribution levels can vary quite widely, as can the pension plans, so understanding them will help you see the broader view and grasp the full value of the job to you now and in the future.

In Summary

Organisation will often have to make tough choices about who to appoint. In my experience as a headhunter, more than once it's gone to the person with the best questions as they can reveal more about the candidate asking them, than the interviewer answering them. And more than once, the person I thought would get the offer didn't because their questions were just feeble.

Candidate questions are the most undervalued and unprepared part of the interview process. They are an opportunity to make you stand out in a crowd.



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