In the October 22, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader tries to keep everybody happy in the job interview:

I was wondering what to say when asked, “Do you have any questions?” when you’re seeing many different people from the same company during a day’s interviews. Most of the questions I have could be addressed by any of the interviewers.

I’ve tried coming up with as many questions as possible and asking one per person, or just asking the same questions over and over and pretending to be fascinated when I hear the same explanation the sixth time. But I’m not sure which one is right. I either seem like I don’t have many questions, or I’ll seem insincere if the interviewers compare notes.

Nick’s Reply

any-questionsYour questions about the work might all be the same, but if you frame the questions to allow each interviewer to discuss his or her perspective about the work, you will learn a lot, and your questions will not seem gratuitous.

If you want to send an interviewer (or all eight of them) into rapturous mental contractions, you need ask only one question:

“I’m curious. What brought you here, to this job?”

People love to talk about themselves. When you encourage them to do that, they will feel closer to you and they will be more likely to judge you as a “better candidate” because you let them talk about themselves.

Does that sound a bit glib? It’s not, if you really want the answer.

“I’m curious. What have been the greatest challenges you’ve faced in your own job?”

People love to talk about their successes. Help them do that, and you will learn a great deal. The more they talk, the more they will perceive you as being interested in their work. And that raises their estimation of you.

These suggestions stem from one of the fun facts from the world of psychology: When someone shows an interest in us, we tend to like them.

I’m not trying to teach you tricks; just a simple interpersonal skill. The key, I believe, is to ask intelligent questions that keep the interview focused on the work. Lots of intelligent questions about the work start out as questions about the interviewer. Take advantage of that.

What do you ask employers during job interviews? While ability to do the work should be an employer’s #1 concern, likeability ranks high as a reason employers make a hire.

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  1. I generally have three sources of questions for the end of an interview:

    1. Questions I’ve prepared beforehand. In the OP’s case, where she’s meeting with multiple people, research each of them beforehand and try to come up with questions tailored to their responsibilities. And repeating questions is not necessarily a bad thing; you could even say, “I asked ___ this question, and I’m curious to hear your take on it.”

    2. Questions that occur to me in the course of the interview. The degree of difficulty is higher, but if you can pull it off these are the best kinds of questions to ask, because it shows that you can synthesize information on the fly. So if they mention that sales are up this year, ask, “What factors do you think have led to the increase in sales?” This approach also puts you in the right mindset for an interview. Too many people treat interviews like practicing in a batting cage. First you step up to the plate and they fire a bunch of questions at you while you try to make contact, and then you switch places and fire a few questions at them. But interviews should be much more about having a conversation.

    3. No matter how well you prepare and/or listen, there may come times where you simply draw a blank, or the question you were planning on asking has already been addressed. In those cases, I always fall back on the approach Nick recommends above: ask the interviewer about his or her self. Find out how they ended up at the company, what they like most about working there, what their management style is like, etc. These topics rarely come up earlier in the interview, so they should almost always be available as a fallback.

  2. Let’s say it’s a year from now and it’s time for you to review my work. I haven’t just done a good job; I’ve done the best job of anyone you’ve hired for this role.

    What would I have accomplished during this year that would cause you to write such a review?

    It gives an idea of the hiring manager’s expectations plus conveys a message that you aren’t shooting for average performance.

  3. Candidates should be thinking about their questions from the very beginning of the process. There may be things in the job description that need clarification. There may be questions on the application that really can’t be answered without more information. For example the application may ask ‘Are you willing to travel?’ I’m going to say yes of course, but in the interview I’m going to ask something like ‘I noticed a question on your application regarding travel. Can you tell me about the travel requirements of the position?’ While you are researching the company and interviewers, always have in the back of your mind, is there anything here that prompts a question. Having good questions to ask is one of the main things that that separates one candidate from another.

  4. I agree with Nick’s questions. I think asking the same or similar question to each interviewer is wise to see what their response is and compare. At the end, I think it’s critical to answer that usual wrap up question of “So do you have any other questions?” or the like with “Yes, just one last question. Is there anything about my skills, experiences, qualifications or background that might cause you concern?” It’s your one chance to see how you stand. It also gives the interviewer a chance to express exactly what might concern him/her whether it’s over/under qualified or any number of other concerns. When give the answer, I recommend the ARTS method. A — Acknowledge the objection – “I thought you might be concerned about that… and frankly, if I were in your position, I’d be asking the same question.”

    R — Redirect the person’s concern – “What positive qualities are you looking for in the ideal candidate that prompted you to bring this up?”

    T — Test to be sure you’ve removed their concern – “If I could show that I could contribute quickly… even when it comes to learning a great deal of new information… would that help?” Something that directly address a solution to the concern.

    S — Use a SOAR story to make your point – “I’d like to tell you a story that relates very closely to your problem.”
    ( SOAR or STAR stories are your success stories.)

  5. If this is the person who will be your new boss and/or someone higher up the food chain:

    “Why should I considering making a career investment to work for you? What would former colleagues or subordinates tell me about your management style?”

    Note that I didn’t ask about current colleagues or subordinates. The past is prologue and often much more objective. :)

    Some won’t like it (the sensitive, insecure and domineering personality types) but it places focus, as Nick et al have noted, back on the interviewer’s work/career. Besides, do you want to work for someone who doesn’t analyze how others perceive them? If I were interviewing someone, I would welcome the opportunity to respond to such queries.

    You are evaluating him/her as much as the converse. No doubt it will stand out since so few delve into such a thing in an interview out of fear. If you are going to be making a career investment, and our bosses often make/break our progression, you need to know more than LinkedIn recommendations/endorsements.

  6. “But interviews should be much more about having a conversation.”

    If every candidate walked into an interview with only that thought in mind, interviews would be a lot more fun and productive.

  7. 1 – What was it about my resume that interested you and prompted you to schedule this interview?
    2 – Is there anything you have seen in the other people on the shortlist that you have not seen in me?

  8. If you talk to a manager particularly a sr Mgr who’s running the show, ask the vision question
    What are they trying to accomplish? or get accomplished. If they can’t answer that you’ll be working for someone with no agenda, no drive. someone babysitting a function. and that’s what you’ll be doing.
    The answer can be blue sky or pragmatic, but if you get a feeling they’re really trying to get something done better, create something, process, product or technology, that is a clue you may have an opportunity to also do something better etc, make a mark, learn something.
    If opportune once you know this, ask others what they think the boss’s vision is…their view.. you’ll find out how well glued together that team is.

  9. “What keeps you here?” or variations thereof?

    Very telling IMO

  10. Similar to Philip’s first question, my favorite is “you’ve seen my resume/portfolio/demo reel and had a chance to talk to me, what is your greatest concern about my being able to excel in this job?” In my most ideal situation (where I was hired for my dream job), the interviewer was a bit surprised by the question but gave me their candid opinion. This gave me the opportunity to break down their concern and resistance to hiring me. I was able to provide some case studies where I overcame the situations that concerned the person.

  11. I always ask this question if it is the hiring leader:

    “What is one thing you do or that you ask of your team that may drive them nuts?”

    If they are offended then I don’t want to work for them anyway.

  12. @Dean: That’s a good one – never heard it before. And I agree with your policy.

  13. I go in a similar direction as Dean…I ask a question about the company culture. Something like “What was the most difficult part of transitioning from your prior company to this one?” or if the interview was more conversational I might ask what they believe is the companies biggest quirk. My question usually gets a smirk and a very honest answer.