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Questions to Ask During a Job Interview

Published November 9, 2010 6:05 PM by Glen McDaniel

There are many articles written about what one legally ask a prospective employee during an interview and also how to structure questions to get the most useful answers. However an interview is a two way street and as a candidate you should be sure to ask questions as well. How else can you tell if this new relationship will truly be a match?

First, do your homework by searching the Internet, and talking to past and present employees if possible. That should provide a background as well as indicate areas that need clarification. Not asking questions sends the message that you are not prepared, not really interested in the job and are not a thoughtful person. That might not be true, but that's the general interpretation..

Always prepare questions to ask. Based on how the interview progresses or the dominance of the interviewer, you might forget to ask a crucial question, so write your key questions down ahead of time. It is perfectly OK to pull out a list of questions.  In fact, demonstrating that very level of organization might even gain you brownie points.  It's a little known secret that your prospective employer will judge you on the questions you ask.

How many questions to ask? There's no set number.  It really depends on what you need to know. However, it's highly unlikely that you would enter an interview without at least three to five questions on your mind. You may in fact have 20 questions on your mind, but there may not be sufficient time alloted to cover that many questions. Prioritize your questions based on the interview situation. Is this the first interview? Ask for the information that matters most early. Is this the second interview? By now you should know the basics, so ask more probing questions. Is this an all-day interview during which you are meeting with different groups and individuals? Ask questions that fit the roles of those individuals and groups (and ask one same question of all in order to compare responses).

Do not ask questions to which you know (or should know)  the answer Asking redundant questions would simply reveal that you did not prepare for the interview, or that you were not listening to information already provided are annoying and seen as a waste of the interviewer's time.

Never ask about salary and benefits issues until those subjects are raised by the employer.

Good questions are open-ended, and thus cannot be answered with a "yes" or "no." To get the most bang for your buck ask open-ended questions that require explanation and elaboration.

Better questions are behavioral: they ask how things are done or have happened in the past, because current and past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. This is a device used by interviewers but can also be used by job candidates. "How do you ensure new CAP standards are addressed and the staff is aware of changes?"  is much better than "Do you make sure new CAP standards are addressed?"

Examples of ways to ask essentially the same question:

Example 1:

Not good: Does your organization value its employees? Aside from being answerable with a "yes" or "no," it almost sounds antagonistic, because a "no" answer is clearly a negative.

Good: How will your organization show it values me as an employee?

Better: What are things your organization has done recently to show how it values its employees?

Example 2:

Average: How long has this position been open?

Better: Why is there a vacancy at this time?

To get even more information: Describe your ideal candidate for this position and what priority areas would you like to see him/her address?

Remember, your questions must show your own thought process and areas of interest.  Examples of questions I have used include the following.

What are the organization's  strengths and weaknesses compared to its competition?

How does upper management view the role and importance of this department and this position?

What is the organization's plan for the next five years, and how does this department fit into that plan?

Could you explain your organizational structure?

What do you most enjoy about your work with this organization / company / department?

How will my leadership responsibilities and performance be measured? By whom?

What are the day-to-day responsibilities of this job?

What particular computer equipment and software do you use?

Could you describe your company's management style and the type of employee who fits well with it?

What are some of the skills and abilities necessary for someone to succeed in this job?

The very last questions that I usually ask at the end of the interview is something like, "What is the next step in the process: when might I expect to hear from you?" And/or  "If I think of additional questions would it be OK to  call you? " This can be stated differently based on the job  and degree of responsibility. But most employers actually  value this level of interest and engagement

One last thing: it always helps to follow up an interview with a thank you note or email to key decision makers. In my many years of interviewing candidates, that simple gesture always carries extra weight in my decision making process.

4 comments

Angela:

Since the roles and responsibilities expected of a staff MLS and a supervisor are different, then the interviews would be different and the questions asked by employer/candidate might be different.

There would still be some similarities, though. The basic need of an employer is to meet some goal or solve some problem: staff the lab 24/7, generate accurate results,  manage increased volume of testing, control costs, reduce turnover etc. The prospective employee's job is to convince the employer that he/she can help with resolving that dilemma, whatever it is.

Even when employers ask behavioral questions (how have you...,? have you ever had to...? tell me about a time when..) it is their way of predicting what the candidate MIGHT do in the future. In the same way when a candidate talks about past achievements their goal shoudl be to convince the employer that they will perform just as  well in the future.

Past achievements are only valuable to the degree that they portend future success and value for the employer.

Glen McDaniel November 11, 2010 1:26 PM
Atlanta GA

I am a supervisor right now and have applied for many jobs over my career. I find that supervisors and techs probably need to interview differently. Some people interview for a supervisor positiona and tell you everything they did as a tech.  During my last  interview which I didnt get the job the lady interviewing me wanted to know what instruments I had used like 5 years ago. Who cares?

Angela B MT (ASCP) November 10, 2010 8:42 PM
Atlanta GA

Tom

It took me a while to realize that many candidates actually did not recognize the value of asking questions at an interview. In "old school" job interviews the prospective employer is in charge and controls the entire process. But if you think about it, interviews are actually like dating-both parties have to be comfortable and get their interests addressed if the relationship is to proceed.

Generally, a good interviewer will ask "Do you have any questions for me?" That's when you whip out your list and go for it. Even if that offer is not made it's OK to say, " I have some questions, if you don't mind." Trust me, no interviewer is going to say "No".

I touched on team interviews slightly in the blog. The main suggestion is not to look at them like you are being interrogated. It's an opportunity to see the organization from several perspectives.

Ask questions depending on their role in the organization and how they would interact with you if you got the job. You'd ask the CEO  different questions than you would a department director, than you would somone who'd be a peer.

Also if you interview with several people at the same level (e.g. several prospective colleagues) ask some of them the same question. You might ask each one, "What is the most stressful/satisfying part of your job." Pay attention to trends or common threads. If everyone says , "We don't feel we have the tools to do a good job,"  " or "We really feel supported by the director" then you can be pretty sure you are getting an accurate preview.

Glen McDaniel November 10, 2010 12:01 PM

I have only recently learned it's OK to ask questions. I used to think the interviewer would count that against you. At what point in the interview is it OK to ask questions. What about team interviews?

Tom K MT (AMT) November 10, 2010 11:18 AM
Carlsbad CA

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