Successful interviews aren’t just about having the right answers. They are about asking the right questions. As an interviewer, being asked good questions keeps me energised, engaged and interested in the person I am meeting. When I hear a question, I think about my answer, and I also anticipate what might have motivated someone to ask that and what it says about them — is their question insightful and considered, or could they have perhaps done more to prepare?
What do your questions say about you?
The candidates I recommend we hire are those who clearly show me that they want to be here; they are as engaged and committed to the interview process as I am. Often, it isn’t about being the smartest or most qualified applicant, though that can, of course, be a plus. Instead, it’s all about attitude and willingness to learn.
My single biggest piece of advice? Don’t forget to make the interview work for you. Remember, it’s your window to sell yourself and to gather as much information as you can, so that you can make a smart career decision based on what you hear.
My recommendation is to prepare for at least five questions and ask at least three during the interview. Here are some sample questions that will showcase that you have come prepared and help you learn about the company and interviewer:
1. What are you most passionate about in your job? What do you most enjoy about working here?
You might get a ‘flat’ or vanilla canned response — if you do, that says a lot. If you hear a passionate response that truly aligns with your own values e.g.: the company’s attitude towards diversity and inclusion or the company’s commitment to employees and respect for the individual, take it as a sign that you’re onto a good thing.
2. What is the single biggest challenge facing the company/department today?
Good question, but the interviewer may want to keep their cards close to their chest on this one. Take a punt at what the challenge might be, based on the research you have done into the company and the competitive landscape.
3. What skills and experiences would make an ideal candidate? Or, What do you think are the most important qualities for someone to excel in this role?
Ask this — and be prepared to have this question re-directed at you. You’ve obviously given your suitability to the role some thought, so here’s your first opportunity to shine.
4. What does success look like here?
A responsible and very smart open question that covers a lot of ground. You’re inadvertently asking about how employees are treated, internal processes and future opportunities for promotion. The answer to this will tell you a lot.
5. What is the company’s approach to failure?
While it may seem to be a dangerous question, every company has had to deal with things not going its way at some point. The answer to this will tell you a lot about the company culture. Those in ‘steady state’ businesses may react like they have something to hide. Listen for positive responses — anecdotes about transformation, agility and flexibility.
6. What’s your management style?
A key question. You’ll have gone into the interview asking yourself whether your working style is a good fit with your potential future employer and colleagues. Listen for a sense of this person’s working style and see if it aligns with yours.
7. What are your expectations of this role?
For insight into what will be expected of you, ask this. A variation on a theme here is ‘What would you like to see from this role in the first 30, 60, 90 days?’. Or be bolder and ask ‘What would you like to see from me in the first 30, 60, 90 days?’ — I’m likely to take it as proactive, not presumptuous.
8. How does this role fit within the organization’s broader strategy?
Brilliant. Let’s get down to business. A good back-up question if you haven’t got much out of the response to the previous question.
9. How do I compare with the other candidates you’ve interviewed for this role?
You may not get much back, but it’s a brave question that acknowledges that no interview is a one-horse race. And if it is, you’re either brilliant or it’s a red flag!
10. Who do you consider your top competitor, and why?
A good opportunity to showcase the competitive research you've done. Be prepared to give your answer and have a discussion on the wider trends in the industry.
Bonus Question: What are the next steps?
Don’t just walk away at the end of it all or accept a generic ‘we’ll be in touch’. Try to get a sense of what the next steps are — who you might hear from and when.
Harriet Green is the General Manager, IBM Watson Internet of Things, Customer Engagement & Education. The Harvard Business School grad splits her time between London and New York.