"Every beginning is a consequence — every beginning ends something."
   — Paul Valéry

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Questions, Questions, Questions…

Many job seekers focus on the answers they need to deliver, but the questions you ask can be just as crucial to your chances of success —if not more so.

For example, one of our members, Jacques, went into an interview prepared with a list of questions for the interviewer. The hiring manager ushered him into his office, sat back in his chair, looked him over, and abruptly asked, “Do you have any questions?”

Jacques whipped out his list of printed questions and away they went. His list contained a few favorites that he always asked, plus others tailored just for this interview and company. The interview was deemed a success.

As for the questions, you can ask open-ended questions or closed questions. Examples…

Closed question: What time am I expected to be at work?

Open-ended question: Can you tell me a little about what the workday is like here at Crab Apple, Inc.?

The former will give you a definite answer, but not much more. The latter gives the interviewer a chance to provide more information, and, hopefully, a way for you to build on their answer.

Key point: Your questions should not only be designed to elicit information, but also to generate an active conversation between all the people at the interview.

Just the other day, another member of our group, Dustin, went to a small company where the key players, who weren’t particularly schooled in interviewing, gathered for a four on one interview. After about 15 minutes of desultory conversation, they asked him whether he had any questions, whereupon he whipped out two pages of questions and away they went. (The party had begun!)

Here are some of the questions that members suggested along with the reasoning behind their usage:

Q. Why did you bring me in today?

Great way to find out what it is they liked about you and, even more vitally, what they are looking for in a candidate. Another way to elicit a similar response is:

Q. What was it about my resume that you liked?

This might be even better because it allows you both to talk about the resume, a third party to the conversation, as it were, rather than to force early judgments of your candidacy.

Q. In six months, how will you know if you’ve chosen the right person for the job?

This gets to the real reason they are hiring. Job descriptions are too often unfocused and without clearly stated priorities. A laundry list of what they’d like, but not of what they — and the hiring manager — really need. A variation of this query is:

Q. What metrics will be used to judge my performance?

This is a great question to pose to a manager whom you think is factually oriented, someone with the classic business mentality of: “If it is not measured, it’s not manageable; and if it’s not managed, then who cares?”

Here’s a question that may get to the core of the business problems of the hiring manager – something you’ll need to know to present your accomplishments in terms that will convince them that you are the right person for the job:

Q. What keeps you up at night?

Simple, straightforward and to the point. As long as the interviewer didn’t just read the John Cheever short story, The Swimmer, and is out trying to replicate the suburban hero who swims in neighbors’ pools at night!

Oh, and at any point that you’ve been asked and then answered a question, feel free to follow up with:

Q. “Did that answer your question?”

Not only does this make sure that you understand what they are looking for, but it also allows you to be brief and to drill down only if they invite you to.

For a good question on the culture of the company:

Q. How are decisions made in the company? Top down; bottom up? Are they made collaboratively or by fiat?

The answer to this question should be taken with a grain of salt, but as long as your b.s. meter is working, you should get some valuable intel.

Near the end of the interview:

Q. Is there anything that you see or sense that would prevent us from moving forward with the process?

Or something along these lines so you can elicit and then answer — on the spot — any objections the interviewer may have. Then…

Q. What are the next steps? What’s the timeframe here? When can I get back to you to find out how things are progressing?

And, finally, don’t forget to ask for the order!

Q. I’m really interested in this job; when can I start? !!!

Enough already for today! For a great book on questions, read 301 Best Questions to Ask on Your Interview, Second Edition, by John Kador.

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