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Your Interview Questions – Timing and Audience are Everything

Most interviewers will tell you they appreciate candidates coming to a job interview well-prepared with thoughtful and insightful questions. But when you ask your questions, and to whom you address them are as important as the questions themselves. Follow these tips to time your questions wisely, and show your potential employer that you are the right candidate for the job.

Timing is Everything
You want to make sure you ask appropriate, well-timed questions. During the first round of interviews your focus as a candidate should be on selling yourself. It’s your job to convey interest and excitement for the role and your questions should scream that message.  Taking on a new job is one of the biggest decisions in your life; you have the right to ask almost any question you want. But asking about flex hours, vacation, benefits or telecommuting at this stage is off-putting and inappropriate, and can take you out of contention for the job. All first-round interview questions should be based around the company, the people and the role itself.

Be Smart
When researching the company you are interviewing with, along with the people you’ll be meeting, be sure to prepare questions that cannot be easily answered through the company’s website, by your recruiter or through any social media outlets. Coming in with these kinds of simple, flat questions shows a lack of interest, preparation and even strategic thinking. Instead of asking how many employees work for the company, or when the company was founded, conduct thorough research of the company, its competitors, its offerings and employees; along the way, intelligent questions will develop organically like what are your biggest obstacles or strategy for growth.

Be Nimble
In addition to the questions you prepare ahead of time, questions will come to mind during the interview. For instance, a conversation about the company’s technical environment could bring to mind related technology questions. It’s fine to jot down your thoughts as you are talking, and ask those new questions during the interview. Along those same lines, questions you prepared ahead of time may be answered through the normal course of conversation. Clearly it’s a miss to ask those questions if they were already addressed. Prepare enough questions ahead of time to avoid this situation, or make sure you are agile and can come up with new, relevant questions along the way.

Walk in Your Interviewer’s Shoes
There is a job that is not being done and the company needs someone who can jump in and help. Your interviewer may be stressed and eager to get the right person in the role fast. By understanding your interviewer’s mindset, you can think about your questions from her perspective. What will you ask that will show her you are eager and excited to help? Something like, “Seeing as I am a fast learner and self-directed, how long do you think it will take me to be up-and-running and ready to support the company in this role?” While it’s important to talk about career advancement, for example, asking that up front to someone who is in desperate need to fill a role is not going to go over well. Instead, leave the hiring manager feeling like you are more interested in the company’s needs than your own.

Know your Audience
While it may not be in your best interest to ask your potential new manager about certain aspects of the job, you can appropriately vet some of your questions with a potential peer. A question like, “What is your typical day or week like” for example, can help you understand the time demands of the job without coming across as being afraid of long hours. Asking these kinds of questions to peers can give you a good perspective on “work-life” at a specific company without putting your candidacy in jeopardy.

Use your Recruiter
Recruiters know that thoroughly prepping candidates for interviews is good for candidates and employers. Questions related to flexible hours, benefits or vacations are details your recruiter should be familiar with before presenting the opportunity to you, and she is an ideal resource for getting you the information you need. Your recruiter can also help ensure your questions are appropriate – for all of the reasons mentioned earlier – and that your tone is conveying interest, enthusiasm and excitement – not concern, arrogance or disinterest. Since it’s not only what you say, but how you say it that speaks volumes about you, your recruiter can give you constructive feedback so you will come across as a well-prepared, enthusiastic and qualified candidate. And by letting your recruiter know to whom you are going to address the questions and at what stage of the interview, together you can plan so your timing and audience are just right.

Remember that asking questions is another opportunity to show your potential employer you are the best person for the job. Be thoughtful in not only what questions you ask, but when and how you ask them, and to whom you address them.

Photo Credit: Outre Monde