The job application process is like a job in itself. Writing and tailoring your CV, perfecting covering letters with the right amount of salesmanship and flattery, are time consuming enough, but that’s the mere prelude to face-to-face interviews and any aptitude tests that get thrown at you whilst you’re there. All the companies interviewing you expect a rounded knowledge of them and their sector, and you know there may be some patches on your CV where they are going to want convincing explanation; all the while you may be juggling several applications at once if you are trying to get your foot in the door of the job market for the first time.
Nobody said it was going to be easy, but neither should the interview process be the vice that crushes your hopes either. Interviews should be two-way to some extent, and that should be both during the interview and in that final interrogation from the interviewer as they lower their glasses and shuffle their papers: “So before you go, do have any questions for me?”
It’s that last question that particular affects candidates, although it’s expected in any interview process these days. Why is this? Well mostly it constitutes that final impression you give of yourself before you leave, and it could reveal a lot about who you are and your motivation for wanting this position in the company. You don’t want to say “no, thanks for the interview, bye” to this question, since it looks like you have no initiative or hunger for the role, unless the interview has been particularly conversational in tone and you both really have run out of things to discuss. The question you really want to ask – “how did I do?” – you know is definitely off the cards, as is getting on your knees and pleading for a position in the company.
So then what? If you came pre-prepared with some questions here and they were already answered, then that part of the interview falls flat on its face. And if you do have some questions about pertinent topics that you want to ask, then what is appropriate to say here? Should you be talking about pay and hours and the working environment – does that make you sound like a mature professional with several job options on the table, or a hot headed employee who might be a nightmare to work with?
Some people think they don’t need any help with this, especially those that consider themselves as having excellent rapport or conversational skills. However, I can say that in the job interview process, don’t take anything for granted as you are under their microscope. I believe that you cannot underprepare for that side of the process where you are expected to take the floor.
The most trusted methodology is to have some stock lines of inquiry up your sleeve that you can roll out, should anything more specific you had in mind have already been addressed. Those lines of inquiry are easy to remember in the heat of the interview room, can be used in any interview situation and can be threaded into the topic of the interview as it goes along or kept until the end as appropriate. And these lines of inquiry serve the right balance of being able to fill up this section of the interview with meaningful conversation that gives the impression that you have a good synergy with the organisation, without digging into any personal motivations for wanting the job.
Questions to ask an interviewer
So without further ado, let’s look at some of these strategies and why they are useful to employ:
Find out what a typical day might look like
A lot of interviewers don’t hear this question and many interviews and job advertisements curiously don’t touch on it. Yet it is a very pragmatic question to ask, plus one that can tell you a lot more about whether you are going to like the company and its culture. You may find the skills that they are probing in the interview only constitute a small part of the job as a whole.
Find out what your induction and early months in the company will look like
I bet 90% of the time the interviewer won’t really know this for sure, but they probably know enough to spill the beans on what the general induction process and performance review looks like for the company, and it’s a very sensible and good question in any case.
Find out about the company’s broad plans for the future and where you can help
It is likely that you are being brought into the company to fill the shoes of somebody who has left, or because extra capacity is required on a team. However where does that fit the bigger picture? What is the company striving for next, and where is this industry heading? Are there challenges or opportunities to leverage? This question is powerful because it could potentially address extra skills you have that can help them get to where they want to be. But even if not it demonstrates that you recognise how your contribution will serve the greater good and how your role could evolve, and hints at an interest in pursuing a long career there with the intention to rise up the ranks.
You get the sense that people enjoy working here, find out why they think this is
I like this question because it basically means “why do you choose to work here?” without sounding so abrupt, and is very revealing about the interviewer’s personal thoughts on the place. It is both meaningful yet is strongly positive about your views in the company without resorting to outright flattery.
Find out what is coming next in the interview process
This is always the last thing discussed, and you may as well initiate that topic as one of your questions. It can be most valuable to know what the next stage is as early as possible, as sometimes companies really race through the interview process and want you back the next day. Just having the luxury of a few extra hours to mull over what might be coming next could make the difference in terms of valuable preparation time.
And let’s just leave it at that for now. Interviews are demanding and require a lot of focus on knowing your CV inside out, brushing up on the skills you know they want, having the flavour for their line of work, and going the extra mile in your physical appearance and manners. There’s no need to memorise pages of possible questions, when just having a couple of the 5 broad topics above spring to mind when you are in the hot seat can bring up at least something worthwhile that hasn’t been covered so far in the interview.
For further interview advice
The questions at the end are a small corner of the interview process, and of course there is a lot of room for manoeuvre before you even get to that part of it…
…we are talking the questions YOU are likely to get asked! The questions you pose to the interviewer are merely the icing on the cake.
Some questions interviewers ask are quite nasty without meaning to be, but nonetheless they have to be asked. We’re talking those sticky moments where parts of your CV are challenged, or where a point arises where your competence or dedication are questioned. You need a good strategy to answer these to deflect any underhanded accusations without digging yourself into any more holes, instead bringing forth a positive response that any interviewer would deem as perfectly reasonable.
Other questions are tough without meaning to be because they are indefinably broad. How do you answer off the bat a question like “so, tell me about yourself”, giving a full and complete response but also without giving away too much, and yet sounding realistic and genuine?
Also, some interviewers are experts in their field but don’t necessarily make for great interviewers, and may be just as nervous as you are when meeting new people. If your conversational patter can help put them at ease, imagine how much favour that will give you in the selection process.
In order to get yourself primed up on the great many classic interview questions and scenarios, including those that stump even the most promising of candidates, I would strongly recommend setting aside some time to study good interview technique, in particular nailing areas such as the above.
One particularly famous and renowned book that can help you can be downloaded here, packed full of meaningful tips and sample answers to difficult questions that can turn an adequate interview an exceptional one.
Hope you find this useful and wishing you the very best for your career!