How to Ask Quality Questions During an Interview

JMOs who ask quality questions during an interview demonstrate curiosity and intelligence, as well as interest in and knowledge of the position, company and industry.  Asking questions is just as important as answering them in order to have a successful interview, yet some JMO candidates struggle with asking questions that would engage a recruiter and demonstrate strong interest in the opportunity.  Following the steps outlined below will help any JMO candidate ask high quality questions during an interview.

Take time to research the company by reading the job description, annual reports, analyst reports and the web site.  When doing this research, highlight information that interests you along with what you would like to know more about.  Read the information for what it tells you AND what it does not tell you.  Your questions will come from the information that is not provided.  For example, if a job description explains you will lead Six Sigma projects to improve quality, that does not tell you what specific quality issues you may be focusing on.  You could ask the question, “I see that I will lead Six Sigma projects to improve quality.  Can you describe some of the quality areas that are currently the emphasis at the plant?”  As you conduct your research, write down questions as you go so you do not have to go back and re-read the information.

Ask open ended questions.  Open ended questions, like the one in the above paragraph, require the recruiter to give a thorough explanation.  This will provide you with in-depth information and allow you to ask follow on questions.  A close ended question requires only a few words to answer, and little explanation.  An example of a close ended question is, “How many Six Sigma projects will I lead at one time?”  A recruiter could simply give a one word answer.  A better question would be, “Describe the Six Sigma project life cycle and will the project cycle support managing more than 1 project at a time?”

In initial interviews, keep questions focused on the position and nature of the work.  I have found the best questions focus on the open position because that is the recruiter’s major concern at that point and time.  The recruiter is thinking, “Are you interested?  Do you understand the position?  Can you do this work?”  If you are asking about the industry and company, you may not be in the same line of thought as the recruiter.  If the recruiter leads the interview to other subject areas, you certainly may then ask questions on those topics.  To be safe, however, start with questions on the position for which you are interviewing.

Ask positive questions rather than negative ones.  You may be tempted to ask negative questions, such as, “Why did company profits go down last year?”  You will make a much better impression if you phrase your question positively.  A positive question would be, “I am sure a company as successful as yours is taking significant steps to improve upon last year’s performance.  Can you explain to me some of those initiatives and the impact they are having?”

Do not ask self serving questions.  That is actually what prompted me to write this blog post.  Last week, a candidate in the June Conference follow up process, asked a recruiter, “Can you tell me more about the career progression after this position?”  What this question implies is, “I am not interested in producing results in the job that you are presenting to me.  I want to know more about when you will promote me and what will come next.”  That is exactly the way the recruiter interpreted the question when he ruled the June candidate out.  This question may be asked, but it is much better held until after an offer is in hand for evaluation.  Until you have the offer, “be a giver.”

When the recruiter answers a question, listen to the answer.  A common mistake is to start formulating your next question instead of listening to the answer and building another question on the recruiter’s answer.  A recruiter will quickly pick up on this poor interpersonal skill and likely end the interview.  The best questions are those that are built naturally on a recruiter’s answers.

Be prepared to ask questions at the beginning, during, and end of the interview.  The best time to pose questions during an interview depends on the recruiter’s interviewing style, so you must be ready at any time.  For this reason, I recommend preparing 3 to 4 questions before you go into an interview just in case you are put on the spot early or need to rely on them at the end.  You may not use them , but it is better to be prepared than to be caught off guard.

Practice asking questions before you interview.  You can easily practice the steps above by accessing  job descriptions on-line and developing questions.  After you write out your questions, evaluate them against the criteria above.  Just as it is important to prepare to deliver powerful interview answers,  in order to have a successful interview you must also prepare to ask quality questions that demonstrate interest .

Joel Junker