The Job Interview: 'Do You Have Any Questions?'

During a job interview, the interviewer's last question is often the most important one. That's when the interviewer invites you to ask questions to clear up any doubts or professional curiosities. "Now, do you have any questions for us?" is the question, the response to which can surprisingly seal your fate.

Always remember that you are at an interview, and are not facing an interrogation. This is not a situation where one person asks all the questions and the other is obliged to give all the answers. An interview is a two-way conversation. It is a professional dialogue in which both sides ask and respond to questions.

For you as an aspiring employee, the interview provides two opportunities. One is to sell yourself to prove your suitability for the job, and secondly it enables you to evaluate the employer, and get information regarding your future service. You may not otherwise be able to get some of this information until you accept the job, at which point it may be too late. So, when you are given a chance to ask questions, the worst thing that you could do is to say that you have nothing to ask. Having no questions to ask indicates your indifference, and creates an impression that perhaps you have not prepared for the interview, and therefore, are not keen to get the job.

Interviewers are often more impressed by the questions you ask than by the answers you give to their questions. In a survey, of the several blunders that candidates make in job interviews (e.g. poor personal appearance, failure to make eye contact, being late for the interview, etc.), the one that recruiters find most unforgivable is the failure to ask questions. By asking informed questions, you not only gain knowledge about your potential employer, but also make a good impression on him or her.

Does it seem counter-intuitive to ask questions at an interview? Many candidates think so. They are wrong. Recruiters do expect the candidates to ask questions. From the questions asked, they assess and form an opinion on whether the candidate is really serious about the job. If you don't ask enough questions, recruiters, who may otherwise be prepared to make you an offer, may not do so because they are not sure that you know what you would be getting into.

Appropriate questions at the right time underscore the fact that you are taking a proactive role in the job selection process, rather than being just a passive participant. An action-oriented attitude, reinforcing your interest in the job, never fails to impress recruiters.

Asking the right questions is an excellent method to demonstrate your professional knowledge. The questions you choose indicate your general level of intelligence and awareness, apart from your professional knowledge of your field. An important point to note is that through your questions and answers, you can control and steer the interview to the path you want it to take, toward your own comfort zone. This also enables you to keep clear of the unknown, potentially disastrous topics that you would rather avoid.

For more senior positions in an organization, it is imperative to ask intelligent questions to demonstrate and highlight your initiative and leadership qualities that senior level positions demand.

It is of vital importance to anticipate, prepare and formulate your questions and answers before the interview. There are certain guidelines for formulating the appropriate questions. The first and foremost step is to gather as much information as you can about your future employers. Make sure that you learn all you can about the organization - the main focus of its business activities, who is who in the organization, its financial status, future plans, etc. You should concentrate particularly on the role and functioning of the department and the position that you would be joining. You are expected to have fairly good background knowledge about the company before walking in for the interview. This research about the organization can help you to formulate questions and prepare pre-conceived intelligent answers for critical questions like, "Why do you want to work for this company?" or "Why do you think that you are suitable for this position?"

You must avoid asking questions that are already known facts or are available on the employer's website. Such questions would imply that you have not prepared for the interview, or worse, that you have a casual attitude. Also, never ask about your salary and other benefits issues until the recruiter raises these subjects.

One of the smartest questions you can ask, once your resume has been discussed, is "Now that we have talked about my qualifications and experience, do you have any concerns about my capabilities regarding this position?" This enables any latent lingering doubts in the minds of the interviewers to be brought out in the open, and it provides an opportunity to the candidate to defend himself satisfactorily against the objections, if any.

Another smart question could be: "What are the three top priority tasks you would first like to see me accomplish?" The question establishes your commitment to action. Remember, "accomplish" is a term very dear to every hiring manager.

The golden guiding principle for your selection of questions should be to maximize your chances of getting the job, and not to just get information. Here are 14 rules for asking better questions:

  1. Ask open-ended questions.
  2. Keep the questions short.
  3. Don't interrupt.
  4. Use inclusive language.
  5. Ask questions that the interviewer can answer comfortably.
  6. Avoid questions that have obvious answers.
  7. Avoid "Why" questions.
  8. Avoid asking questions that call for superlatives.
  9. Avoid leading or loaded questions.
  10. Avoid veiled threats.
  11. Avoid questions that hint of desperation.
  12. Avoid asking questions that focus on what the company can do for you.
  13. Don't ask questions that are irrelevant to the job or the organization.
  14. Relax and smile.

Apart from these, remember that the employer is interested in hiring you, as he has a specific need, and wants to benefit from your services. Logically, questions that convince him of your loyalty, zeal and commitment, and an impression that you have the employer's interest at heart, should provide the ideal breakthrough. Some great questions to ask would be:

  1. What's the organization and structure of my team? Am I going to be a mentor or will I be mentored?
  2. What does the company value the most, and how can my work further these values?
  3. What kinds of processes are in place to help me work collaboratively?
  4. What can I do to homogenize and build team spirit?
  5. Do team members usually eat lunch together, or do they eat at their desks?
  6. What's the most important thing I can do to help within the first 90 days of my employment?
  7. Do you have any concerns about my ability to perform this job?
  8. When top performers leave the company, why do they leave and where do they usually go?
  9. In your opinion, what are my strongest assets and possible weaknesses? Do you have any concerns regarding my suitability that I need to clear up in order to be the top candidate?

Never ever ask any of the following questions which, believe it or not, have actually been asked by candidates at various interviews:

  1. Is it possible for me to get a small loan?
  2. What is it that your company does?
  3. Can I see the break room?
  4. What are the psychiatric benefits offered?
  5. How many warnings does one get before one is fired?
  6. Can you guarantee me that I will still have a job here a year from now?
  7. Would anyone notice if I came in late and left early?
  8. What does this company consider a good absenteeism record?
  9. The job description mentions weekend work. Are you serious?
  10. What is the zodiac sign of the company president?
  11. How do you define sexual harassment? What is the company's stated policy for this?
  12. Will my office be near an ice machine?

Now that you realize the importance of asking appropriate questions, and are cognizant of formulating them in advance to be able to guide and steer the trend and flow of discussion at the interview; go ahead, and get that job.