THE Question You MUST Get Right in the Interview!

critical job interview questionsBy Skip Freeman


As discussed in a previous blog (Winning the Face-to-Face Interview by "leading the Witness"), in an interview you actually have much more power than you might think. Still, during the course of the typical job interview, either on the telephone or face-to-face, you can expect to be asked a series of "standard" questions and it is critical that you answer them in the "right" way.

Here are just a few examples of those types of questions I'm talking about:

  • "Tell me about yourself."
  • "What do you know about our company?"
  • "Tell me about a time when. . . ."
  • "What are your strengths and weaknesses?"
  • "Why would you want to work for our company?"

And, of course, you should anticipate the perennial "gotcha!" questions, such as...

  • "Tell me about your current (or former) boss."
  • The "salary" questions: "What is your current salary?" "What salary would it take to hire you?" "What salary are you expecting?"
  • "Why are you considering leaving your current employer?"

(To learn more about the best way not to answer such questions, see Powerfully Branding Yourself to Lose the Job Interview or refer to "Headhunter" Hiring Secrets.)

As important as these types of questions are, though, there is one KEY question that trumps them all, and it's a question that you absolutely, positively must answer correctly if you are to brand yourself as the candidate of choice in today's brutally competitive economic environment! Here is that question:

"What questions do YOU have?"

Sounds rather harmless, rather innocuous, doesn't it? Almost sounds like a "softball" question. Make no mistake about it, though, this is THE key question, usually asked as the interview winds down, that, in today's tight job market, you must answer correctly! Let me explain the reasoning behind this.

All too often, the job candidate perceives this question (incorrectly) as indeed being just a "softball" question and all too often will give an answer like this:

"I honestly don't have any questions. You've been very thorough in providing me information about the job and the company."

Or...

"Actually, all of my questions have been answered up to this point."

I understand, and usually, the hiring manager understands as well, that answers such as these are primarily intended to flatter the hiring manager and strongly imply that he or she has done such a tremendous job during the interview that virtually all questions have been answered for the candidate. Philosophically, such reasoning may be sound but, in fact, such answers strongly work against the candidate. They brand the candidate as someone who, apparently, is lacking in a.) intellectual curiosity; and/or b.) strategic thinking ability.


How a 'superstar' might answer the question

While there is no one "right" answer to the "What questions do YOU have?" question, let me give you an example of how a "super star" might answer it:

"Mr./Ms. Hiring Manager, let's say for a moment that I am your candidate of choice. It is one year from today and you are conducting my performance review. What is it that I would have had to have done and accomplished in order for you to say, 'I made a good hire?'"

(By the way, we coach all of our recruiting firm's candidates to ask this key question. It's also just one of the many "secrets" we use from "Headhunter" Hiring Secrets to coach candidates.)

Let's dissect this question in detail and see why it is considered an excellent way to answer the "What questions do YOU have?" question:

". . . let's say for a moment that I am your candidate of choice . . ."

In sales we call this the "assumptive" close. You are putting the decision-maker in the role of actually using your product (and in this case it is you!).

". . . It is one year from today . . ."

Here, of course, you are planting the idea that you are indeed a performer and that you will be around for at least a year. This provides the manager the safety (or at least the feeling of safety) that he or she needs to know that you probably won't quit on them after, say, two or three months.

". . . What is it that I would have had to have done and accomplished . . ."

With this element of your question you are asking the hiring manager to lay out expectations and tell you what you need to know in order to do a good job. Obviously, this shows that you are apparently dedicated to doing a good job.

". . . in order for you to say, 'I made a good hire?'"

In this part of your question you are reinforcing the idea that you not only will get the job done but you will also do the job in an exemplary manner!

Just how powerful can such an answer be for a candidate? Very powerful! Here is what a hiring manager told me recently after our candidate gave this very answer to the "What questions do YOU have for me?" question:

"Skip, you won't believe the question your candidate asked. (and he repeated the question above) I have never heard a candidate ask such an insightful question. I am going to hire him based upon that question alone!"

Going into the interview, you need to be armed with at least five questions of this quality and caliber. Here is one more for your consideration. This comes from my friend and colleague David Perry, co-author of the perennially international best-selling Guerrilla Marketing for Job Hunters 3.0:

"Mr./Ms. Hiring Manager, three of your competitors are ABC, XYZ and QRS. What is it that they do that keeps you awake at night?"

There are many reasons why this question is quite powerful. First, it shows that you have done your due diligence before the interview because you demonstrate that you know some of the key players in the company's market. Second, it also demonstrates your acute awareness of today's highly competitive economic environment. And finally, it clearly demonstrates empathy for the hiring manager and his/her company. (And, as an added bonus to you, the candidate, based upon the hiring manager's answer to your question, it can also show you how the hiring manager thinks and what the company is doing to remain competitive in the marketplace.)

Now, after working with literally thousands of candidates for nearly a decade, I know what some of you who are reading this blog may be thinking: "Oh, Skip, you're just 'splitting hairs.' This is just a 'tempest in a teapot.'" You would, however, be quite wrong. Let me relate to you what a hiring manager said to me just last week.

"Skip," he said, "I no longer ask questions during an interview. I conduct the entire interview based upon the questions the candidate asks me. The questions they ask show me what they have done to prepare, what they know about our company and how they think when they are on the job."

Here is what another hiring manager who had just conducted a telephone interview with one of our candidates had to say:

"I was about ready to invite (the candidate) in for a face-to-face interview," he said, "and then he blew it based upon the questions he asked me at the end of the interview."

The questions that "killed" this candidate's chances?

  • "What sales contests do you have?"
  • "What is the average time it takes to get promoted?"

The hiring manager went on to say, "These questions were questions I would expect from someone right out of college, not from a ten-year professional."

It is, of course, crucial, particularly in today's extremely tight job market, that anything you say during an interview focuses primarily on what you can do for the hiring manager and his/her company-not on what they can do for you. Both of the questions asked by this particular candidate did not adhere to that principle. Rather, the questions were tinged with hues of short-sightedness, were principally self-centered and self-serving and lacked the depth of intellectual thinking ability that hiring managers today look for-and demand!

One of the "rules" of the "hiring game" today is that anyone hired in this down economy must be able to unmistakably brand themselves as being able to have an immediate impact in the job. They must also be branded as being enthusiastic and must clearly be branded as representing the safest (not a risk) hiring choice. The questions you ask in response to the "What questions do YOU have for me?" question are prime indicators of how closely you meet (or fail to meet) these criteria. They are also a prime indicator of how you think and where your "head" is in regard to the value you can deliver to an organization.

So, when you are asked the "What questions do YOU have for me?" question, make sure you "get it right!" Your answer to the question can, and usually does, spell the difference between a successful candidacy and a failed candidacy.

NOTE: There is one more important step you can take to properly arm yourself with the answer to the "What questions do YOU have for me?" question. If you would like to know what it is, "Link In" with me at http://www.linkedin.com/in/skipfreeman. In the invitation, state, "David Perry's competitor question," and I will respond with additional information that will put another powerful "headhunter" secret in your job hunting arsenal.

Skip Freeman is the author of "Headhunter" Hiring Secrets: The Rules of the Hiring Game Have Changed . . . Forever! and is the President and Chief Executive Officer of The HTW Group (Hire to Win), an Atlanta, GA, Metropolitan Area Executive Search Firm. Specializing in the placement of sales, engineering, manufacturing and R&D professionals, he has developed powerful techniques that help companies hire the best and help the best get hired.



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IrvingNYPR

my former employers at a property manegement company just smoked pot all day, so i never took them seriously. i left and started my own business. i make good money and don't have to answer any stupid questions from 1980's college graduates.

September 23 2011 at 5:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ALEX

I would not want to work for a leader who is so caught up with his competitors that it keeps him awake at night. On my old job my boss asked us "what keeps you up at night?" and I said, "nothing job related." He pressed me and said, "what do you worry about" and I said, "nothing job related. Why are you so concerned something is worrying me? Is something worrying you?"

I eventually took a promotion so I guess it didn't do too much damage to my career... the fact is, anyone in HR (like I was) knows these questions are going to be asked and can prepare for them. Nothing wrong with that, but I agree if you don't know anything about the company you should - take time to at least look at its web site!

September 23 2011 at 5:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
billv0164

A question that should've been asked at my last employer (of ONE employee) was: "Why are you taking on responsibilities that were NOT given to you?" This person (who is STILL at the SAME employer) was never disciplined or even fired. He briefed other employees on surveys that this market research firm was doing and: 1. he was NOT briefed on them (and, thus knew NOTHING about them) and 2. he had NO permission to brief anyone else on them. Try coming up with an answer to THAT.

September 23 2011 at 3:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
s5cat2dog

Ok....so...answering the questions 'correctly' means only one thing....that they have read this article.

September 23 2011 at 2:48 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Lynne

We gave psychological tests at one company I worked for to see who was a good fit for our team. The person the test pointed to immediately used the benefits from the first day of hire to get a bunch of medical stuff done, was out sick all the time and then stole a book of airline tickets we had purchased for our agents and quit. Sometimes you need to go with your gut. Slick answers are not key to a person's work ethic. And they are dishonest. If that is who they want to hire, the company is not for me.

September 23 2011 at 2:11 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
rrickarr

This is a load of nonsense. And, one of the reasons America is so unproductive is because bosses are hiring idiots and basing their decisions on these stupid "pat" answers. How could you possibly base a hire on these stupid questions. In my field of work we also have recruiting people who tell us how to play the game--only to show up and find the employer has not even read your material and does not even know who you are!!!! It seems that qualifications are the least important thing. Many employers have this fancy idea about "feeling." When I was a kid growing up in a rural town--an employer could feel you out pretty well and was always willing to "cultivate" you. Today most hiring people have no intuitive skill and worse, they have these stupid HR departments run by people who don't actually do the job you are interviewing for, so they cannot read your resume properly anyway!

September 23 2011 at 1:34 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
jonclong

Wow, a lot of the comments on this article shows a lot of bitterness! Over the last 35 years I've interviewed a lot of people for positions. An employer wants to try to find the person who will be successful in that position, with the additional interest of having that person be capable of moving up in the organization. Someone who is "just looking for a job" probably is not the best candidate, as they will move on as soon as someone else offers them $.25 per hour more. A person putting the effort into researchiing the company they are applying for has a better chance of actually wanting to work there, being the better candidate.
Scripted questions make it much easier to defend the interviewer from EEO or other government agency inquiries when an unsucessful applicant doesn't get the job. A good interviewer knows they are allowed to "expand" on BFOQ information offered by the interviewee.
I would also throw in one legal question that has no correct answer, just to see what the individual's thought process was under pressure.
To those who complain why an interviewer asks what their desired salary range is, There are always budget restrictions and the level of what a company feels a particular position is worth. If a person wants way more than a company is willing to pay to fill a position, why waste everyone's time if the two positions aren't even close? This question also helps and interviewer judge how well the person being interviewed can accurately value their training and experience in the market place. Don't downplay what the "entry" position pays vs. what you can do. At one point in my life I went from a $10/hour part time position to $130,000 per year in 10 years. (Looking back, if I had paid better attention to the management structure and goals of the organization, I wouldn't have wasted my time.)
The best advice I can give to an interviewee is: 1) Do research the company and position. 2) Make sure it is something you not only feel you can do but excell at (not just "I have to apply or I lose my unemployment benefits") 3) Short term lack in salary can be offset by future advancement opportunity. 4) If you are not successful in getting the job, call the interviewer back and ask them what the successful candidate had that you lacked. If nothing else, it will show the interviewer that you really want to work for that company and that you are willing to improve to get the job. 5) If you don't get the job, don't take it personal. If it is a company you want to work for, and a job you really want to do, another opening will come up soon. Good luck!

September 22 2011 at 10:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jonclong's comment
wufinz

jonclong-spoken like an hr groupie. Why do you ask what salary someone expects? If McD's is hiring a counter person and an interviewee says they expect 90K/year, it is clear they are nuts. If you put the salary range in your ad, that tells people what to expect. However, I have seen salary ranges for a particular position listed as 40-116K/year. C'mon. Be real. I expect the GOING salary or that position in that location. An admin a in NYC will get more than one in Podunk, Arkansas. If you think people sound bitter, maybe it is because they don;t suffer fools. Call them back and ask why you didn't get the job? Like someone will tell you the truth? A0There are legal ramifications to what they can and cannot say B) what i you weren't hired because the boss's nephew was or because you were Jewish? Like someone will tell you that?

September 23 2011 at 4:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
chefslb

This 1 question is irrelevant.. Most of the time you do not even get to who would be your supervisor.. So this QUESTION will go nowhere.. They have no idea what the expectations will be for the job.. The people who are interviewing you are HR people, they are clueless about the position and what you will need to accomplish.. I have many times asked SIMPLE questions to do with the job, and the HR person could not answer it.. She told me if I got to the second phase I could ask that question.. So you have to get through them first. And most of the time, you do not make it to the next phase just because the HR person did not like you.. It doesn't matter if you have the skill set from hell, and can more than do the job.. They did not like you, so now you cannot pass go, and must go directly to unemployed jail.

September 22 2011 at 10:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Steve

The Bible tells us; "The fear of man bringeth a snare. But whoso putteth his trust in the Lord, shall be safe."

The most important question is not in the job interview, but in life.

And that question is; "What will you do with Jesus? Neutral you cannot be. One day your heart will be asking, "what will He do with me?"

Remember the Job Interviewer will also stand before Almighty God and give an account. Not only that, but he or she will bend the knee, and confess with their tongue, that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

It is written.

September 22 2011 at 9:35 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
CinCydude61

I just despise this garbage. It is evident companies do not want to hire honest people. You can NOT honestly answer the questions they pose and expect to be hired. If you say ""The reason I'm leaving my current position is that my boss is an obnoxious ogre and I haven't had a raise in 5 years", while honest, you won't be hired. And then the hiring companies are shocked when they end up with dishonest employees. DUH! The American Corporate Model is SO wrong it's unbelievable. And look at what all these high priced consultants have given us. 9% unemployment, stagnant wages, longer hours than ever, and no job satisfaction. You know, call me crazy, but I think something isn't working.

September 22 2011 at 8:54 PM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to CinCydude61's comment
wufinz

CinCy
Right on! My boss was a backstabbing petty tyrant who fired anyone she thought might want her job. All of her weird insecurities were piled on her subordinates. Some of her rants were incomprehensible. I used to drive to work each day thinking, "what new hell is this psycho going to put us through today?" I think we should all start telling the truth at interviews, otherwise, they might as well just hand us a script at the door. I was on a hiring committee once. We had a set of questions we had to ask each candidate. We could NOT stray from the scripted questions (it would not be fair, they said). It did NOT account for asking follow up questions when someone gave an interesting response. I guess thinking outside the box is a sin. Those ads that ask for creative, independent people who take the initiative is code for locating iconoclasts so they can hire them and force them to follow the herd, beat any creativity out of them. How many places have I worked for that asked for "crackerjack creative folk" and then had the same comapany say (to a new idea) "we don't do things that way here"

September 22 2011 at 9:05 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

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