So What SHOULD Candidates Ask On Interviews?

By Adam Karpiak

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Several years ago, I was having a meeting with a hiring manager at a firm in the city. It was going great...we had really connected, we were telling jokes, etc. It was just a really good conversation. The meeting was winding down and he had asked: "Anything else to add?" Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a statue of Peter Griffin.

Me- "I noticed you have a Peter Griffin statue."

Him- "Who?"

Internal Monologue- "Hmmmm....ok, so obviously not a Family Guy fan. I should probably just move on."

Me- "The statue over there."

Him- "Oh, someone bought that for me."

Internal Monologue- "I should probably just move on."

Me- "Oh I get it! It's because you look like him."

Internal Monologue-

Having a coherent, meaningful conversation is hard enough. But with the pressure of a career involved, successfully interviewing can be darn near impossible. I know what you are thinking- "Interviewing is easy...I'm great with people." Confidence is great, but it will only get you so far. As well as the interview is going, you can just as easily talk yourself right out of the job. Sure, the person interviewing you may be smiling, but you never know if they're just being polite. Official feedback may be- "We really liked you and your thought process, but..." but internal feedback may be-

Interviews, for the most part, are structured and simple enough to prepare for. Anyone can answer specific and factual questions about their experiences and career. It's easy when there is a format and the candidate is led down a path of responses. But there are two key areas that are difficult for candidates. When you get to these "open-ended" portions of the interview, that's where panic can set in. As a recruiter, the two questions I get most (other than How do you sleep at night? and What is it like to not have a soul?) are

How do I answer when I am asked: "Tell me a little about yourself?"
What do I say when I am asked: "Do you have any questions?"
Simple right? In theory, these are very easy questions. But the more you think about it, the easier it is to become confused and disoriented, resulting in a panicked mess of silence. Or worse. You could compare the person you are talking to with an overweight buffoon.

Tell Me A Little About Yourself
Keep in mind, the interviewer isn't asking for your life's story. The key words are "a little." But which part should you share? That time in 4th grade that you totally rocked it at Field Day in the tricycle race? I know I know, it shows determination and coolness under pressure. GRIT. Technically this would be better suited for a LinkedIn video recreation. Mmmmmm, that's some good storytelling.

So what IS the interviewer looking for in this answer? They are really just looking to get to know you, your personality, and what details you find relevant to your own life. They want to know your conversation style. Don't overthink it. The more you can relate it to your career, the better. Keep in mind, they really don't want to know "you" during this initial meeting. They just want to know "work you." The polite, sterile, first impression you. You can dictate the first impression you make. Practice it...don't just wing it. Remember- there are technically no "wrong" ways to answer this question. Ok, maybe that's not true-

 

Keep it short, keep it sweet, and keep it RELEVANT. Some examples-

GOOD - I've lived in this area my whole life. On a personal note, I enjoy reading, fishing and travelling with my family. On a professional note, I've been in recruiting for more than 15 years now and it's a passion of mine. I love staying current on the latest techniques by following X, Y, and Z online.

BAD-

 

 

GOOD- I spend a lot of time in my craft studio. I fancy myself quite the amateur woodcarver. Sometimes its good to get away, enjoy the quiet, and just focus on the best way to create something. I find that it keeps me refreshed for all of life's challenges and keeps the creative juices flowing.

BAD-

 

Also, confidence is great. But you don't want to come off as arrogant. For example-

Interviewer- I just love a good cup of Starbucks. Do you like Starbucks Adam? I love a nice venti soy blonde latte. What's your drink of choice?

Me- I like a large coffee.

Interviewer- You mean venti.

Me-

 

Just keep it simple, basic, and most importantly, safe. Who you are, what you are all about, and why your career is what it is. Don't just rehash your experience and your career....talk about how you the person have evolved in the career and what you get out of it.

Do You Have Any Questions?
The answer is never "no." Never. You want to show interest. You want to show that you are thinking long-term about the role, the company, your career. A "no" shows a limited view of the role. There is zero chance you completely understand everything discussed about the role, the company, etc. When you say "no" it usually means-

  1. I just want this to be over because a) I need to get back to work b) I need to make the train c) My meter has been up for 25 minutes and my car may be getting towed right now.
  2. I can't hold this bodily function in any longer.
  3. I am not a forward-thinking person. I didn't hear anything during the interview worth following up on. I am a person of limited imagination and thinking exhausts me.
  4. I could care less about this particular job. I just want a job. This job would do. Kindly stop talking and offer me this job. I need money.


Questions You Should Ask

  1. Why is this position open?/What happened to the last person in the role?
  2. How does this position contribute to the long-term success of the company?
  3. What is the average length of time someone spends in this role?
  4. What is the growth plan/career track for this role?
  5. Typically, what are the biggest challenges one encounters when starting this role?
  6. Based on our conversation today, what parts of my experience do you envision being the biggest assets in this role?
  7. Based on our conversation today about my experience, do you anticipate any difficulties of my getting up to speed in this role?
  8. What is your estimated timeline for hiring for this role?
  9. If I think of any other relevant questions, would you be offended if I reach out? Do you prefer email or call?


By asking these questions, the candidate is able to:

  • Exhibit an understanding of what the role entails.
  • Understand and demonstrate their experience fits in (and doesn't).
  • Show they understand the macro impact of this role on the company.
  • Show they understand the micro focus of the role as a self-contained job.
  • Have a general idea of when the role will be filled.
  • Obtain a reason/permission to follow up with the hiring manager.


Having all of that info from the hiring manager at the end of the interview allows the candidate to have the best Thank You letter ever. The candidate can reinforce "why" they are a fit for the role. The candidate can address the potential shortcomings the employer has identified. And the best part is, they have some time to think about it to put the best message out there and leave the best impression on the hiring manager. Without asking those questions...when you tell the interviewer "Nah, I'm good. No questions," your follow up letters look more like-

 

Odds are 1) It wasn't awesome and 2) They don't remember.

If you have any questions about anything I discussed in the above article, looking for a job and/or working with a recruiter, just ask! Shoot me an email at [email protected]

 

You can find job postings, as well as loads of content on Karpiak Consulting's Facebook page www.facebook.com/karpiakconsulting Please "like" or follow the page to be kept up to date on all the new content daily. I re-post articles of interest I find online regarding recruiting & public accounting, and I also post emails & messages I get (redacted of course) regarding recruiting that I think are of interest, including stories from candidates about other recruiters doing bad/confusing things. For more about me or my firm, please visit www.karpiakconsulting.com or www.linkedin.com/in/akarpiak. I am always looking to network with good professionals that share my values in recruiting, so shoot me an invite if you agree with me (or at least Follow me). If you're curious about my take on recruiting in social media, or if you want to see me yell at T-Mobile about my phone bill, you can follow me on Twitter @Adam_Karpiak

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