BY SONYA MELOFF
An interview is a two-way street
(A polite street, with traffic rules.) Ask questions. The employer should, and will typically, provide an opportunity for you to ask questions at or near the end of the interview. Always prepare questions to ask. Having no questions prepared sends the message that you have no independent thought process, or are ill-prepared, or are not bright, or some combination.
Employers make judgments about you based on the questions you ask
Have you done your research on the organization? (If yes, good.) Are you asking rather dull questions that you could find in a web search, but about which you have no interest? (Not good.) Are you asking about salary? (Bad sign.) Are your questions intelligent and thoughtful and cordial? (Very good.)
How many questions to ask
There’s no set number. It’s not a formula. It really depends on what you need to know. However, it’s highly unlikely that you would enter an interview without at least three to five questions on your mind and prepared to articulate. You may in fact have 20 questions on your mind, but there may not be sufficient time alloted to cover that many questions. Prioritize your questions based on the interview situation. Is this the first interview? Ask for the information that matters most early. Is this the second interview? By now you should know the basics, so ask more probing questions. Is this an all-day interview during which you are meeting with different groups and individuals? Ask questions that fit the roles of those individuals and groups (and ask one same question of all in order to compare responses!).
Show you’ve done your homework
Example: “I read on the company / organization / agency website that employees have recently done presentations at XX conference. Is that a typical opportunity in the job for which I am interviewing? Are there specific professional organizations employees have been encouraged to join?”
Know the nature of the organization and appropriate terminology
Not all employing organizations are “companies.” For example governmental agencies and not-for-profit organizations are not accurately referred to as companies. Most educational institutions are not for-profit (although some are), and may call themselves schools, colleges, universities, institutions, etc. Some for-profit organizations may call themselves firms or businesses or agencies. You will appear more prepared if you use appropriate terminology as used by the specific organization.
Some of your questions may be answered during the course of the interview
…before you are offered the opportunity to ask. If so, you can simply state something to the effect that you were interested in knowing about …, but that was addressed during the interview (and express appreciation for the thorough information you were given). You could ask for additional clarification if applicable.
Do not ask questions that are clearly answered on the employer’s website and/or in any literature provided by the employer to you in advance
This would simply reveal that you did not prepare for the interview, and you are wasting the employer’s time by asking these questions.
Never ask about salary and benefits issues until those subjects are raised by the employer.
Good questions are open-ended, and thus cannot be answered with a “yes” or “no.”
Better questions are behavioral
They ask how things are done or have happened in the past, because current and past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior.
The least useful questions are hypothetical, such as “what would you do if…?” The better way to get a useful answer is to ask “what have you done when….?” However, hypothetical questions can make sense if asking about something a person or organization has never experienced; the answer would at least exhibit the thought process.
Examples of ways to ask essentially the same question:
Not good: Does your organization value its employees? (Aside from being answerable with a “yes” or “no,” it almost sounds antagonistic, because a “no” answer is clearly a negative.)
Good: How will your organization show it values its employees?
Better: What are things your organization has done recently to show how it values its employees?
Fair: Are you planning to open an office in Calgary?
Good: What are the plans for opening an office in Calgary?
Better: I read a news story about the possible opening of an office in Calgary. Knowing that a news article does not always capture the full story, I wondered what factors are under consideration for this decision. (Notice this isn’t technically a question, but a series of statements showing your interest and inviting conversation.)
If you are having trouble developing questions, consider the following samples as food for thought to help you consider your own questions. However, don’t ask a question if you are not truly interested in the answer; it will be obvious to the employer.
Your questions must show your own thought process.
- What are the organization’s/company’s strengths and weaknesses compared to its competition?
- How does upper management view the role and importance of this department and this position?
- What is the organization’s plan for the next five years, and how does this department fit in?
- Could you explain your organizational structure?
- What do you most enjoy about your work with this organization / company / agency?
- What are the various ways employees communicate with one another to carry out their work?
- Could you describe your company’s management style and the type of employee who fits well with it?
- What particular CRM do you use?
- How much opportunity is there to see the end result of my efforts?
- How and by whom will my performance be reviewed? Are there specific criteria upon which I would be evaluated? And how frequently is formal and informal review given to new employees?
- How much guidance or assistance is made available to individuals in developing career goals?
- Are there specific professional organizations employees have been encouraged to join?
- How much opportunity will I have for decision-making in my first assignment?
- Can you describe an ideal employee?