The Undercover Interviewer

Posted at 2:38 pm on 05/08/2014
"Do You Have Any Questions for Me?"

Do you have any questions for me?" could be the biggest trap of the professional job interview. That is, when the interviewer turns the tables and offers to answer whatever questions may be on your mind. Don't be fooled. This is not the moment to relax or think that the interviewer is just being polite. In fact it is often the most important part of the interview. This is your chance to show how much homework you've done - or not - about the company. How much insight you have - or don't - about the position you're discussing. And whether or not you are accurately reading the dynamics of the interview.

Do not wait to be surprised when this question comes at you with five or seven minutes left in the interview. Get ready beforehand and use it as the opportunity to differentiate yourself from your competition.
The worst possible answer to this question is, "No, thanks, I think I have everything I need." If you do that the interviewer will write you off, then and there. as someone who isn't hungry, isn't curious about the organization or doesn't care about the interviewer him or herself.

Some examples of good areas to probe and effective questions to ask when given the chance:
  • About the culture - "How would you describe the kinds of people that thrive in the company and those that don't fit in? What does that say about the culture?" Or even more specific, "As I reflect on my two previous organizations, one culture was all about collaboration, teamwork, never using the word 'I' and the other was much more a star system, where it was all about standing out as an individual performer. How does this organization operate on that dimension?"
  • About the position - "What would success look like in the position? If I were to be offered the job and a year from now we were reviewing how it's going, what would I have accomplished for you to say, 'What an amazing year you've had?
  • About the interviewer - "Tell me a little bit about your story. How did you find your way into the company? What have you enjoyed most and what's been most frustrating?" It goes without saying (but it is worth repeating), people love to be asked about themselves. An even better way to ask this question is to have Googled the person you're meeting and framing a question about them with specifics about what they've done, where they went to school, what they may be known for.
  • About the company - "In the most recent earnings call, the CFO said that the company is now projecting flat revenue for the year. Given that the market is growing double digits, shouldn't I be concerned about the strategy not working?" Or "Would it be an accurate interpretation to say that your two most recent acquisitions were made to attract talent. When asking about the company and strategy, assuming you've done your homework it's fine to be challenging - as long as you're not being insulting or personal about it.
As you can see, there are any number of questions to ask when you're given the opportunity in the last part of an interview. Your goal for the interview is for the interviewer to describe you, once you've left as being "very sharp and asking great questions." Asking great questions in an interview is among the most sure-fire ways to get the job.


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