The Interview Reversal

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Posted by The Editors on June 16, 2011
The Interview Reversal

Many candidates focus on answering hard questions in an interview, but the most promising candidates come prepared to ask them, too.

If you don't ask questions, your interviewer may take it as a sign that you either "are not that interested in the job, or just aren't prepared," says Rosanne Lurie, licensed career counselor. This is not the impression you want to leave with your interviewer-so be sure to have some questions ready to ask at the end of the interview, if they haven't come up already in the course of the interview.

How do you know what's a good question to ask?

You should have some idea from your background research what kinds of questions would be appropriate to ask about the position and the organization to determine whether they're a good fit for you and your career plans. Ideally, well-thought-out, insightful questions should help you land the position. A good question does this in three ways.

First, the question should reveal your knowledge of the industry and/or company. The time you spent reading news stories, trade publications, and annual reports enables you to ask a well-informed question like, "I know you recently merged with Company X, and mergers often place demands on the communications department on multiple fronts-developing a new corporate identity, bridging two corporate cultures, fielding media requests. What do you see as the greatest burden on the communications team as a result of the merger, and how do you think I could be of the greatest help to the team in this area?"

Second, a good question shows that you've been paying close attention to your interviewer. It's fine if a few of your questions are a little generic-odds are, your interviewer asked you some generic questions, too. But if you take a few notes during the interview, you can refer to comments your interviewer made to personalize your questions. Instead of asking, "What personal attributes do you think will be most helpful in this position?" use your notes to tailor your question as follows: "You mentioned that excelling in this position takes perseverance and grace under pressure. What other personal attributes do you think would be especially useful in this job?"

And third, it establishes a personal connection. If you spend the entire interview talking about yourself and the job, it won't be the kind of bonding experience that would stand out in an interviewer's mind. Besides, most people like to talk about themselves-so provide an opening for your interviewer to reveal personal insights by asking, "How did you start working with this organization? What keeps you here and interested in your job?"

Questions about turnover, expected working hours, and stress levels can be difficult to broach, but if you can ask them sensitively you'll find out whether this is a place you really want to work-and show that you know your worth and want to be part of an organization that values its employees. "Timing is important for these delicate questions," notes career counselor Rosanne Lurie. "Wait to pose them until later in the interview if you're feeling confident, or hold off until a second or third interview."

When you do broach the subject, says Lurie, make sure your tone is casual and conversational. If you've developed rapport with your interviewer, you can ask personal questions like, "Is this a good place to work? What is it like here?" "There should be no anxiety or confrontational make-or-break tone to your question," says career counselor Rosanne Lurie. "Instead of asking a direct and potentially awkward question about why the last person left the position, ask what changes came about that created this position." 

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