At some point in the interview process, someone inevitably smiles at you and says,  “I am sure you must have some questions for us?” Most candidates hate this part of the interview, regard it as being very difficult to do at the end of a tiring, stressful process and trot out one or two trite little questions that utterly fail to impress the interviewers. And that last point is the key – if you have intelligent, well-researched questions to ask, you have yet another chance to impress the powers-that-be and distinguish yourself from the herd. The three most common mistakes I see in reponse to this question are:
  • Having no questions at all to ask, either due to amnesia, fatigue, lack of preparation or because they answered any concerns you had as the interview progressed.
  • Asking needy, self-serving questions about salary, benefits, working hours, training, holidays, etc.
  • Asking clichéd questions.
Wouldn’t this be a great world if insecurity and desperation made us more attractive? If “needy” were a turn-on? [Albert Brooks in Broadcast News]

What does a clichéd question look like in its natural habitat? Well, I have just come across yet another piece on this topic in the ‘Advice for Job-Hunters’ section of yet another jobsite. The questions they suggest asking are:
  • Do you have any concerns, now that the interview is coming to an end, as to my ability to do this job?
  • Are there any concerns I need to expand upon in order to become your first choice for this job?
  • What is the next stage in the selection process?
I would not recommend asking any of these questions if you want to be taken seriously by any, even semi-skilled, interviewer and I would guess that the person who wrote these has little or no experience in conducting selection interviews. Allow me to give you a peek as to what is going through the head of a tired interviewer when you trot out rubbish like the above:
  • “Do I have any concerns about your ability to do this job? Well, let me put it this way; if I haven’t drilled down on your basic ability to that extent, it is either because (a) you patently don’t have the skills, knowledge or experience to fulfil the role at the level I require here or (b) I just don’t like you. Either way, do you think there’s any chance that I’m going to tell you that now, so you can get into a whole huffy, defensive piece about how you’d be perfect for the job? Get real dude …”
  • “Do I have any concerns that I want you to expand upon? Lord no! I want you gone. Now. (see above)”
  • “The next stage is the next stage. It will happen when it happens and when we decide it’s going to happen. At that point, we will communicate our intentions to you, so please don’t waste my time with this kind of nonsense.”
The first two clichéd questions are sales-y, ‘trial close’ questions. That approach can work when you are seeking to identify if someone has any worry about buying your uberwidget, but it does not work when you are selling yourself. If you are applying for a Sales, Marketing or Biz Dev role, you might want to ask a question of this nature – particularly if you get the feeling that the interviewer is ‘Old School’, but I would preface it by saying:
“I was always trained to asked for the business when I was coming to the end of a meeting, so let me ask – am I in the frame for this job? Is there anything I need to offer reassurance or more evidence on? Because this looks like a great company and I’d really like to be your preferred candidate for the role.” 
That will probably elicit a smile from any seasoned Salesperson, but the way the questions above are framed, they are likely to do nothing other than irritate the interviewer.

So what should you ask? The starting point, as always, is to look at it from their perspective – why do interviewers ask this question of all candidates? It would be understandable if they just asked it of those they were seriously thinking about hiring, but they don’t – everyone gets asked this one. So clearly, it tells the interviewer(s) more about you which can help them in the weeding-out/selection process. What, then, does it tell them?

  • Baldly and simply, it signifies that the back-and-forth part of the interview is over.
  • It allows them to cross-check your answers as to why you want to work for the organisation (usually asked very early in the interview).
  • It helps to identify, or confirm, self-serving candidates who are looking to join the organisation, extract as much training and good experience as they can out of it for their CV, and then quickly jump ship.
  • Likewise ill-prepared candidates. This question helps the interviewer to assess the level and quality of your preparation for the interview – very important these days. If you won’t work hard in preparing for interview on your own behalf (and here, we again make the not unreasonable assumption that you do actually care about yourself), what chance is there that you will prepare well for an important element of the job on their behalf? This is an obvious question. You know they are going to ask it. What do you mean you don’t have some decent questions ready to ask? You obviously don’t care whether or not you get the job – what else are they going to think?
  • If you are being interviewed for a mid-ranking or senior position, the questions that you ask enable the interviewers to assess your professional mindset. Are you a general or a foot-soldier, do you have management potential? In other words, are you a player?
We’ll build some sample probes to ask in Part 2; in the meantime here’s a noted Career Advice Guru* discussing this subject in a useful back-and-forth 3 minute podcast.

* I love that word “Guru,” I really do. It always reminds me of Peter Drucker’s wonderful observation: “I have been saying for many years that people use the word ‘guru’ only because ‘charlatan’ is too long to fit into a headline.” The word ‘Guru’ has the dubious advantage of being both shorter and easier to spell …