How much time do you spend coming up with questions that you want to ask the interviewer? Is it something you put a lot of effort into or do you typically ask basic questions like “What’s a typically day like?” or “Do you have a formal mentoring program?” Time after time, recruiters tell me the questions people ask (or sometimes don’t ask) during the interview can be the difference between them and other candidates.
When coming up with your questions, there are two things to keep in mind—audience and quality. Audience is important because you’re typically going to want to gear your questions to the position of the person you’re interviewing with. For example, when speaking with someone in human resources, a lot of your questions will likely be around training and the hiring process. In that case, it’s okay to ask about the mentoring program. If you’re speaking with someone in a senior-level position, most of your questions will be about big picture, strategic initiatives. Meaning, you wouldn’t want to ask a vice president of the company about the number of vacation days you’d get.
Equally as important as your audience is the quality of your questions. Interviewers want to know that you’ve done your homework. Take what you learned from your research on the company and industry, and incorporate that information into your questions. For example, if you are interviewing with a company in the energy sector, you might ask how they’re positioning themselves in the marketplace to end users given the high price of gasoline. Or, if you are speaking with someone in the pharmaceutical industry, you might ask how they continue to grow and innovate given existing and future Medicare and Medicaid regulations.
Of course, you can also use the Q&A portion of the interview as a chance to incorporate things you might have forgotten to mention earlier. It can happen to the best of us: even when we’re over-prepared and on our game, there are always a few things we fail to highlight. Look for opportunities to wrap them into your conversation.
Don’t let the questions you ask hurt your chances of getting an offer. Spend time coming up with ones that show the interviewer that you’ve done your homework and that you understand the business and industry they’re in. And, the same holds true when you’re evaluating interviewees. Although only a small portion of the overall interview process, the quality of the questions they ask can speak volumes.
And don’t waste time asking about a typical day because there’s no such thing.
Shawn Graham is an Associate Director with the MBA Career Management Center at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and author of Courting Your Career: Match Yourself with the Perfect Job (courtingyourcareer.wordpress.com).