Two questions you should be asking in an interview

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_SWN1569It seems almost silly, doesn’t it? You’ve just spent 20 min. with this person, and the allotted time for your interview is done. The next candidate is waiting outside the door. And it’s NOW that the interviewer asks “Do you have any questions for me?” What? if I say yes, is the interviewer going to say “Too bad, sucker! You’re out of time!” But, if I say no, is that going to come across like I haven’t prepared? Ok, ok, this prompts a personal story that I’ll share, and then we’ll get to the questions you should be asking in an interview.  

I was still in law school, and had weaseled my way through the networks to have an interview with Exxon Mobile. Yesssss! This position would be outside of their normal recruiting process, and on the fast-track to be inside counsel. They arranged for me to meet with 5 of their decision-makers, all at the same time, which felt something like Shark Tank or standing trial before the Ministry of Magic (Harry Potter fans, you read me?). So of course, I was sweating. Not to worry, I had prepared well for this interview. I answered their questions, trying to make it as conversational and natural as possible. (As if it were possible to feel natural under the circumstances!) Then, it happened. The time of the interview was up, and one of my Sharks asked “What questions do you have for us?” I absolutely froze. HUH??? I had already asked about the job, the people, the location, the expectations, the workload, the potential for growth, and what I could do to prepare myself while still in school. What questions had I not asked about?! My mind was totally blank. “Um…Nothing.” “Nothing?” my Shark asked? He was a little surprised, and they all looked at each other and wrote notes. (Sweat was dripping down my back at this point.) “Well,” said Shark, “I guess that’s all we need to discuss.” (Gulp. See this post on how to make a bad day better).

AAAAaaahhhh! Can you sense the intensity of that moment! Just remembering it makes me sweat again! Ha. Not really. Usually, my interviews are more casual. Often over lunch. Ok, so if I were to give my younger self some advice, this is what I’d say:

Ask about what matters to you.  Does upward mobility matter? (That’s when you could potentially rise in the ranks to higher level positions). Does you care about office space and working conditions? Is it important who your direct boss is? Whether you work with a team? How much travel is involved? What responsibilities you’ll be accountable for? With the Exxon Mobile interview, I did ask lots of questions, but I hadn’t asked about what mattered most, my biggest concern. “What do I need to do to get this job?” or “Will you give me a chance to prove myself?” A little desperate-sounding, perhaps, but it was the honest truth. I didn’t get an offer from EM, and I’m still not sure why. If there was something obvious to the Sharks (like, a few years of work experience) my asking that question could have prompted them to disclose that information. Wouldn’t have helped me get the job, but would have helped me understand why. What matters most to you? Really think this one over. Prepare it. Ask it! Doing so shows your priorities and values, and helps the interviewer understand where you’re coming from. Hopefully, you can craft the interview like a conversation, and ask about what matters most somewhere in the middle portion of the interview.

Ask the closing-continuation question. I’ve now learned that the “Do you have more questions for us?” question, at the end of the interview, is actually a signal for the interviewee to ask one of the following questions:

  • What are the next steps in the interview process?
  • When will you be making your final decision?
  • Should I follow-up or will someone be contacting me?

Assuming you’ve integrated your “what matters most” questions throughout the interview, this is not the time to launch a new round of surface-level questions that will take lots of time to explain and will leave the interviewer wondering why you cared so much about X, Y, Z, to prolong the interview further to seek clarify on it.  (Sigh, speaking from personal experience.) Asking if you have further questions is almost more of a formality as the interviewer walks you to the elevator. The question samples above will have a short answer. And then you’re done. Leave while you’re still in a favorable light. Interviewing…it’s like a little dance, and now you’re done. Bow and go home.


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