The right questions, at the right time, in the right way. -An interviewee’s guide to questioning.

Believe it or not, asking questions at the end of an interview can be just as important as the interview itself.

Sarah Shamash, Senior Marketing and Communications Recruiter at Change Recruitment, gives her insights into the best way to approach this (often daunting) aspect of the interview process so that you can ensure you leave a lasting - and most importantly, positive - impression.  

Setting the scene

Picture the scenario: you are nearing the end of the interview and you’re feeling good. Everything has gone pretty well so far. You have developed a rapport with the interviewer; answered all questions succinctly; provided relevant examples and feel confident you have given a strong account of your skills and abilities. Then, the interviewer asks...

“Do you have any questions?”

After an intense interview, demanding sharp focus and intelligent, well-thought out responses, it is all too easy to wrap up the meeting with some run-of-the-mill, cliché questions. Or, worse still, leave without asking anything at all.

However, this is your time to shine and differentiate yourself from the crowd!

By asking the right questions in the right way, at the right time, you will not only demonstrate that you have done your homework on the business and role itself, confirming your commitment to the process, it can also ensure that you become instantly memorable to the interviewer and ultimately, increase your chances of advancing to the next stage.  

Questions to ask at a first stage interview

The stage you are at in the interview process should determine the type of question to ask. At the first stage interview, this is your opportunity to impress, to get the interviewer to really buy into you, to not only show that you are capable to do the role but also have a real interest in the opportunity and the business. You need to be prepared and ask appropriate questions to ensure you secure that second stage interview.

You want to convey that you’ve done your research into the company, impress with your knowledge on the business and show you have a real passion for the role. It is also worth bearing in mind that every time you have the opportunity to speak at an interview, it should be relevant and add value to the conversation. Use this “question time” as an opportunity to turn mediocre, standard-issue questions into robust and well-formed ones, which actually make your interviewer think as well.

For example:

1.) Instead of asking “What are the most important values to this role?”, try:

“I’m aware that the values of the company are X and Y. What do you feel will be the most important values in this role specifically?”

2.) Rather than ask “What are the challenges of the role?”, turn this into:

The job description mentioned the role required someone who could respond easily to challenges. What do you feel would be the main challenges in this position?”

3.) You want to demonstrate what you have done in terms of research, so show it! Ask something like:

Having looked at the market, I can see the competitors out there are A, B & C… who do you consider to be your main competitor?”

4.) Show that you are keen to be the best:

Thinking about a real star employee who has worked for you, what attributes did they demonstrate to ensure they succeeded in this company?”

5.) Use a question to show that you align to their values:

“I had noticed from your website that you focus considerably on CSR and training and developing employees - these are all areas I would find very rewarding in a company. What do you feel is the biggest reward in working for this company?”

Essentially, in asking 3 or 4 of the right questions, you want to demonstrate how you can benefit the employer and not the other way around. This isn’t the opportunity to be asking about salary, hours, holidays or benefits (there is a time and a place to negotiate on these points but an initial interview situation is not the right forum). “Question time” is a chance to become the star candidate in the interview process. Well-considered questions can demonstrate confidence, develop rapport with the interviewer and, ultimately, progress you to the final stages of an interview.  

Second stage interview questions - how they differ.

The second stage interview is where you need to fact find. This is a crucial opportunity to find out more about the wider business; the culture of the company; what would success look like in the role and how success will be measured. At the second stage interview, you need to be making sure the fit of this new opportunity and wider business is going to match up with the expectations and goals you have for your future career.

The questions you should be asking are looking to build a bigger picture of what the role will entail; what the team you will be working in are like; what the company culture is, essentially helping you to decide whether this is the right move for you.

Asking questions such as:

Can you tell me more about the wider team and key stakeholders I would be liaising with?”

“How would the company measure success within this role?”

“What do you feel are the most important qualities to display in order to really excel in this company?”

“Can you tell me a positive story which demonstrates the culture of the business?”

“What do you see as being the biggest opportunities/challenges for this role / team / business?”

“What areas of the culture within the business do you enjoy?”

“What has been a real career high for you within this company?”

“What approach is taken in regards to working style within the team? Is it collaborative or do employees tend to work more independently?”

“What are the most important responsibilities this role will look to accomplish in the first 90 days?”

By the end of the second interview, you should feel as though, if offered the position, you have all the information to hand in order to make an informed choice as to whether this is both the right opportunity as well as a good fit.  

Some final top interview question tips to consider:

Ask about a variety of topics, don’t focus in on one area and ask too many similar themed questions

Don’t ask questions you could find out yourself by doing a quick Google search

Ask open questions which instigate a broader conversation

Never get too personal and ask about specific people or ask too much about your interviewer

Make sure your questions aren’t overly complex, you want to keep your interviewer on-side and not frustrate them

Know when to stop asking questions.  Your interviewer will have taken time out of their busy schedule, so be sure to read the dynamic and know when to wrap up

If you feel you may struggle to remember which three or four questions you want to ask, have them jotted down in a notebook, and refer to them at the end of the interview

So there you have it - how to ask the right questions, in the right way at the right point in the interview process.

If you have an insightful question to add to the mix, or further feedback - feel free to share in the comments!