The Ultimate Way to Ask Questions in Your Next Interview

Mark's picture

A great interview will feel like a conversation and will flow back and forth well, helping the interviewer to feel comfortable that they will work well with the person being interviewed.  As a candidate for a new position, preparing questions in advance and writing them down to bring them with you will help them to come out naturally since they will be top of mind, and it will help you as a candidate to balance the talking and listening close to a 50/50 split.  If you find you’re talking too much, you can shut up and ask a question to get the interviewer talking.  If you’re listening too much, you can ask the interviewer what other experience you can share that would help to ensure you will be capable of doing the job. 

The most effective questions are those that focus on the future and your success in the new position.  Forward-thinking questions, such as “What do you see happening to the structure of this team/this company in the next few years?” and “What would be expected of me in my first 90 days here on the job that would make me an exceptional new employee?” show that you are the type of person who plans for the future.  They also have the added benefit of inviting the interviewer to imagine you already in the job, which can be a very positive visual for your candidacy. 

Prepare all of your questions for the interview in the Tell-then-Ask format to avoid asking bald questions without a lead-in that can position you strongly in the mind of the interviewer and help the interviewer to understand the context of the question.  The Tell-then-Ask format simply invites you as the candidate to take advantage of another opportunity to brag about yourself while you have the floor and to Tell a little about yourself before Asking your questions.  This is easiest to explain with an example of a very common question many candidates have: “What kind of training will I receive?”  It is important when joining a new company to know you will ll have the support and training to be successful, but this question has some negative connotations for the interviewer.  Training a new employee is a drain on the team’s resources in the short term and managers will only choose to make that training investment in the right person.  Add to that the risk that the interviewer is the kind of person who would rather just hire someone who can hit the ground running and this is a risky question—but if you could hit the ground running in your new job and handle all the tasks without some training then it wouldn’t be that great stretch opportunity that will move your career forward!  To ask this question in a way that furthers the strength of your candidacy, but gets you the information you need to make a decision, use the Tell-then-Ask format.  When preparing to ask this question, recall a time when you were successfully trained and articulate it in the Problem-Action-Result format I wrote about in my previous article on writing a great resume, and then ask your question.  It might sound something like this:

 “At my previous position, after the introductory training, I was provided with a mentor who I could ask questions.  Knowing who to go to—and that it was part of their responsibility—helped me to feel comfortable and get up to speed quickly.  With that guidance I was able in just my first month there to identify a cost overrun issue that might have been missed because I learned the system we used so quickly. [elaborate on the results]  I even received a note of recognition from my manager for my personnel file.  What can I expect for training coming in the door here?” 

This kind of framing to your questions will help reiterate your skills and the results you’ve brought to your employers in the past and alleviate concerns about the investment required to bring you up to speed in your new stretch position.  Get creative with the Tell and you’ll find that each question you Ask can be an opportunity to sell yourself just a little bit more.  Make sure to prepare the Tell part of your questions in advance, write them down, and bring them with you to the interview.  Don’t just wing it and hope to remember in the heat of the interview!  Good luck at your next interview!

...because who you work with matters.