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What Questions Should You Ask the Interviewer?

The Right Way to Ask Questions at an Interview

No matter what kind of interview you're attending, at some point, normally near the end, you'll be asked, "Do you have any questions? "When the interviewer asks this, it sounds as if you're being given an opportunity to clarify any details not yet covered - and indeed you are.

However, the interviewer is still gathering information, as the questions you ask will also provide more insight into your approach and way of thinking. As you'll still be under scrutiny, it's important that you handle your chance to ask questions in the right way.

In other words, you need to treat this part of the interview as seriously as you treat the rest of it. It's important that you prepare your questions beforehand and that you are careful about the way you ask them during this and any other part of the interview.

This means identifying what you want to know, deciding how you're going to shape the question, thinking about the impression you'll make when you ask the question, and considering where your question might lead.

What Do You Want to Know?

You may have many questions coming into your head while preparing for the interview, but there's a strong chance that you won't remember them when you need to. If this happens, you'll feel a bit foolish when you've nothing to ask, while the interviewer may think that you've not given the job you're being interviewed for much thought at all.

It's vital that you are prepared. Not only do you want to create the right impression during the interview, but you should take the opportunity to learn as much about the job and employer as possible. It's no use thinking of the questions once you've left the room, as it's then too late.

Questions don't always need to be concerned with the daily responsibilities of the job. One good question that is rarely answered during the course of an interview is: "Assuming that I can successfully meet the challenges of this role within the first 2-3 years, what other opportunities would you envision being open to me?"

Research the Employer

Before the interview (and before you even apply), you should research the vacancy and the organisation itself. An application pack may contain some background information and you'll probably take a good look at the organisation's website. Read about the organisational structure, the departments, mission statements and current activities.

Next, look beyond the 'official' information to find out what others are saying about the organisation. Read newspaper and journal reports. Visit libraries, especially academic libraries, for more print publications and their online archives.

Take note of opposing viewpoints even if you're not going to mention them in the interview. This is your chance to understand the environment this employer operates in - read up on competitors and sister organisations. See what the commonalities and differences are.

Avoid addressing only the most obvious points you come across, as you'll only sound dull and plodding. Even if you aren't terribly interested in the questions you're asking, make a point of knowing what you're talking and asking about.

From this background information, you can start to draft some questions. Never challenge the interviewer, but be prepared to include some of the information you've found in your questions. This will show that you've done your research and are capable of independent, analytical thought.

For example, "I've been reading about your current plans for developing the market for [product]. How would this bear upon my goals in the first 6 months of employment?" This question encourages the interviewer to be specific about their expectations, while showing that you have done your research and are forward looking. It also draws out whether there is a specific project or work area that they might have lined up for you, even if they haven't mentioned that so far.

Draw up Your List of Questions

Start with the more questions that concern the job itself. For instance, questions such as ''Where does this post sit within the organisational structure?". This may have been answered in the application pack or during the interview. But if not, then it would be perfectly acceptable if you were to ask this during the course of the interview.

Other questions are useful if areas haven't been covered during the interview. For example, "Can you tell me about the opportunities available for undertaking training and further professional development?" Questions such as this show that you are motivated and ready to continue learning, while providing you with valuable insight into how the employer treats its staff.

Revise Your List

Once you've got your list of questions, be prepared to drop some of them. There's no need to ask a prepared question if that topic gets covered in the interview anyway. You'll only create the impression that you've not been paying attention or that you're unable to review your position as you go along. Neither is a good professional quality.

If you do ask something that's already been covered in the interview, you also risk irritating the interviewer. They'll think that you're wasting their time. Likewise, if you ask a question that's very clearly answered on their corporate website, they'll decide that you've not done any research at all or that you didn't take in what you read.

Make sure you know your questions well enough to drop some without forgetting the others. You can also adapt questions, responding to information that's emerged during the interview. Only do this if you're very capable of thinking on your feet, so make sure you're not getting out of your depth.

How Many Questions to Ask

It's worth being prepared to ask between three and five questions, while being ready to settle for three or even two. It just depends on how the interview has gone and how the interviewer replies to your first questions.

Don't produce a list from your pocket - doing so is likely to alarm the interviewer, who will suspect a long and protracted conclusion to the meeting.

If you get the distinct feeling that the interviewer has lost interest and is marking time until you get up and leave, then recognise that the questions may be a formality - don't give up, but just ask a couple of straightforward questions.

If the interviewer is still leaning towards you with an interested expression and launches into a lengthy response to your first question (some do like to talk), then you may only have time for a couple of questions.

Prioritise your questions from the list, according to the focus of the interview. If this is the first of two interviews, ask the questions that are most important and which will create the strongest impression in your favour. Don't go into too much depth, but leave the more probing questions for the second interview, should you receive one.

Shape Your Questions

In the case of a full day group interview or assessment centre, you can divide your questions up, as there's no need to wait until the end. Look at the format for the day and fit questions to different segments, with some for individual managers, others for group exercises, and so on.

Depending on who you're talking to, you can shape your questions with different language or format. For instance, you can use more corporate language when talking to a company manager, or the terminology of the public sector when with representatives from local government or funding bodies. Language shows that you understand the important distinctions of different sectors.

You can use open-ended questions in order to elicit information in a subtle way. Closed questions can only be answered 'yes' or 'no'. Open-ended questions typically begin with words such as 'how', 'what' or 'why', or (more eloquently) "Please can you tell me…" and need to be answered at greater length.

For example, this is a closed question: "Is a lot of travelling involved in this job?", whereas this is open: "Please can you tell me more about the need to visit different offices in this role?"

A Final Question

Never leave the interview room without knowing what happens next. It's important that you know what is going to happen during the selection, if you haven't already been told. For example: "Please can you tell me how you are going to proceed with making this appointment after the interviews?"

If they are unable to say, then you might wish to weigh this answer alongside the others you've elicited through your questions. By this stage, you will hopefully have enough information to decide whether you want to accept the job, should you be offered it.

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