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Asking Good Questions Can Win You a New Job

By Joan Lloyd

 
Sandy thought she had the job in the bag. Her background was a perfect match for the job. She had an insider pulling for her and she had a pretty good interview. A week later when she got the "Thanks, but we found someone else" letter, she was devastated. 
 
Jason is a whiz kid. He has more intellectual capital than most people twice his age. Jason's problem is that interviews cause him to shut down. He gets so nervous that he can't think of anything to say. He's lost out on three jobs that were perfect for him and he knows it was the interview process that did him in. 
 
Most people don't like interviewing. They find it intimidating at best and terrifying at its worst. Being judged and evaluated is always difficult but when the consequences are so important, it can send even the most qualified candidates into a panic. 
 
One of the best tricks to interviewing well is to ask good questions. Carefully prepared questions are a powerful, yet subtle way to sell yourself to the interviewer. These questions will not only provide you with the information you need, but can also reveal your perceptiveness, experience and job knowledge. 
 
When you ask questions about the company, job and the people associated with it, you come across as discriminating and careful about where you work. Ninety percent of all applicants don't do any research on the jobs for which they interview. If you are as results-minded as you say you are, then you need to be interested in the company's bottom line. 
 
Ask questions such as: 
  • "How do you think the company's new sales strategy will affect your department?" 
  • "The company must be very pleased with its low turnover rate. How does this affect advancement opportunities?" 
  • " I saw the article in the paper about your merger with ACME. How does this affect the company and your marketing department?" 
 
Be ready with a good mini-story that tells the interviewer how you've had a similar experience or how your skills will help the situation. 
 
The data for questions such as these can be found on the internet, in the Dun & Bradstreet Million Dollar Directory; Poor's Register of Corporations, Directors and Executives; Moody's Industrial Manual; or by calling the company's public relations department and asking for information on the company. 
 
Look for opportunities to ask questions early in the interview, so that the exchange seems more like a two-way conversation. You'll find out valuable information about the job early enough to tailor your examples to fit. Focus on all aspects of the job—reporting relationships, responsibilities, the results they are looking for, and so on. Ask these questions in a way that suggests your talents could help solve problems. You don't want to ask questions in a way that would put the interviewer on the defensive. Start with global questions and then work into more job-specific ones. For example: 
  • "When I was doing some research, I found your company's mission and vision statements. How do they have impact on this department?" 
  • "What does the department want to accomplish in the next year?" 
  • "What are you hoping this person will be able to do for you in this position?" 
  • "Who are the internal and external customers for this person and what results do they expect?" 
  • "What happened to the last person who had this job?" 
  • "How would you characterize your management style?" 
 
Although the interviewer will still ask 80 to 90 percent of all the questions, you will find that asking intelligent questions yourself will make the process feel less like an interrogation and more like a conversation. You will be less nervous and more like a partner in the interview process.