October 22, 2014 - Comments Off on The Importance of Asking Intelligent Questions

The Importance of Asking Intelligent Questions

Years ago in London I ran a team of recruitment consultants. The business was growing quickly and we had a regular turnover of recruiters in and out of the business. It was a part of my role to interview potential hires.

One day I came out of a meeting and ran into the MD in the hallway. She asked me about the candidate I’d just met.

‘Great.’ I said. ‘Interesting guy, good experience.’

‘OK.’ said my boss. ‘What questions did he ask you at the end?’

I had to think hard about this. I realised he hadn’t asked me anything at all.

‘None?’ said the MD, her eyes widening. ‘Leave him out of the process. If he doesn’t want to know anything about us, he can’t be that interested.’ And that, the MD being a decisive character, was the end of that.

You might think that seems a little harsh, but on reflection, it seems about right to me. You’d never build a social relationship with someone who only talks about themselves and never asks you how you are, would you?

An interview process is a two-way conversation. The employer is assessing the candidates suitability for the business and, across the table, the candidate should be asking questions to find out if this is the right move for them.

So far, so obvious. What kind of questions should you be asking?

I tell people I’m helping to think about three types of questions before heading into an interview.

1. Questions about the role
2. Questions about the firm/employer/organisation/team
3. Questions about the interviewer

Questions about the role
I’m not talking about the obvious things here like ‘What will I be doing?’ ‘Who will I be reporting to?’ Try to think about more interesting angles than that. What will be the most challenging aspect of this role? What do you expect this person to achieve in the first 6 months? Ask about the personalities of the team you may end up working with.

People I work with are adults. I try not to insult them by telling them not to ask about how fantastic the comp package is, how amazing the Christmas party is…so I won’t patronise you either. Suffice to say that these questions are there for you to find out about your potential employer, not to find out what’s in it for you. That comes later.

Questions about the firm

You’re going to research this company and its industry before the interview, aren’t you? Utilise what you learn from news articles, the company website and any other sources you can find to ask some intelligent questions about the business. Where do they see growth coming from? A competitor has just acquired another competitor – how does this affect their outlook?

The interviewer likes talking about themselves as much as anyone else. You’d be surprised to learn how many people I give this advice to and how very, very few use it. I can say this with some certainty, because when people do ask these kinds of questions, clients mention it in their feedback and always in a positive way.

Questions about the interviewer

Not everyone is comfortable or confident enough to ask the interviewer questions about themselves. But, much like the idea behind questions about the firm, people like to talk about themselves. Asking the interviewer how long they have been with the firm or why they like working there will help you build rapport and perhaps even help you stand out from the crowd.

One final point. Unless you have nerves of steel and the memory of an elephant, I would suggest writing down your questions before you go into the interview. You may think it will look silly opening up a list of questions during the meeting, but to the person across the desk, it will appear to be the actions of someone organised and interested in the role and company.

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