Turning the Tables in the Interview

You’ve sat through most of the interview and have answered all the recruiter’s questions. You know you’ve made a good impression because you prepared for the interview and your answers were articulate and decisive. You’ve come across as a very bright, capable candidate when the recruiter asks something you didn’t anticipate: “Do you have any questions?”

If you don’t have any questions prepared and you try to cover your mistake by asking a spur-of-the-moment question, chances are you will damage your chances for a successful interview. Some recruiters refuse to hire people who don’t ask intelligent questions. Don’t ask questions just for the sake of asking questions—make sure it is information that you need.

Prepare Questions in Advance

You should have a list of questions prepared for this crucial part of the interview. Every question you ask should demonstrate your interest and confirm your knowledge of the organization.

You should read publications in the field. You can get information about new products or policies by surfing the employer’s Web site or by reading general magazines or trade publications. It is appropriate to address some of your questions to what you have read. Ask about new products, how research and development is structured at the company, management strategies at the company, how the company has changed, and potential product growth.

Some of the publications providing a wealth of information are Fortune, Forbes, BusinessWeek and The Wall Street Journal.

Questions Not to Ask Not only should you know what questions to ask during the interview, but it is important to know what questions not to ask. You don’t want to alienate the recruiter by putting him or her on the defensive. The following areas should generally be avoided:

  1. Avoid asking questions that are answered in the company’s annual report or employment brochure. Recruiters are familiar enough with their own information to recognize when you haven’t done your homework. If some information in the annual report isn’t clear to you, by all means ask for clarification.
  2. Don’t bring up salary or benefits in the initial interview. The majority of companies recruiting are very competitive and will offer approximately similar salaries and benefits. The recruiter may choose to bring up the information, but you should not initiate the topic.
  3. Avoid asking any personal questions or questions that will put the recruiter on the defensive. This includes questions such as the interviewer’s educational background, marital status, past work experience and so on.
  4. Don’t ask questions that have already been answered during the interview. If you have prepared a list of questions and some of them have been addressed during the interview, do not repeat them unless you need clarification.

Questions You Should Ask Now that you know what you shouldn’t ask during the interview, determine what questions you should ask.

  1. Ask specific questions about the position. You need to know what duties will be required of the person in the position to see if there is a fit between your interests and qualifications and the job you seek.
  2. Try to find out as much as possible about qualities and skills the recruiter is looking for in job candidates. Once you determine the necessary qualities, you can then explain to the recruiter how your background and capabilities relate to those qualities.
  3. Ask questions concerning advancement and promotion paths available. Every company is different and most advancement policies are unique. Try to find out what the possible promotion path is to see if it fits your career goals. You may also want to ask about periodic performance evaluations.
  4. It is appropriate to ask specific questions about the company’s training program if this information is not covered in company literature.
  5. Ask questions about location and travel required. If you have limitations, this is the time to find out what is expected in the position.

Some Final Advice The key to a successful interview is good communication and rapport with the recruiter. One of the fastest ways to damage this kind of relationship is by exhibiting ignorance about the company and asking inappropriate questions.

Listed below are questions you might ask during the interview. (Used with permission from Career Planning Today, C. Randall Powell.)

  • How much travel is normally expected?
  • Can I progress at my own pace or is it structured?
  • How much contact and exposure to management is there?
  • Is it possible to move through the training program faster?
  • About how many individuals go through your training program each year?
  • How much freedom is given and discipline required of new people?
  • How often are performance reviews given?
  • How much decision-making authority is given after one year?
  • How much input does the new person have on geographical location?
  • What is the average age of top management?
  • What is the average time it takes to get to _______ level in the career path?