Finding Fit: Asking Interviewers Your Own Questions

A LinkedIn post on interviewing got my attention, in part because of its premise. The author suggests that there are some standard questions to ask during an interview, but he argues that additional questions will help you can stand out from your competitors.

I believe in finding the right fit between employer and employee or contractor, so I’m a big fan of asking questions of the hiring manager during an interview. But I’m not convinced that asking your interviewer particular questions is your best way of being memorable. Being skilled, seeming at ease, answering honestly, and not making any dreadful mistakes will make you memorable enough.

Doug Zanger argues that one interesting question to engage your interviewer and discern her leadership strengths is to ask “Why should I run through a brick wall for you?” Sure, it’s cutesy and could get attention. But I would never hire someone who asked this. Why? Because they’re offering to do something stupid just because I ask. No matter where on the independent-thinking-to-blind-adherence spectrum a hiring manager wants, nobody wants an employee to do something stupid just because they’re asked. Zanger’s question would suggest not that you want a strong leader for a boss but that you’re looking for an excuse to be an idiot. Not a good sign in an interview.

Zanger’s second question is a lot more useful, in that it asks how the hiring manager handles surprises. It’s a great question. Using a baseball metaphor like “curveball” is rather cliché, but whatever words you use, get a good sense of how flexible and adaptable your future company and bosses are. Good idea. Asking which leaders your interviewer respects is also solid advice. Finding out from whence employers draw inspiration and style is an ideal way to see if you’re a fit for their approach.

I’m most impressed with the thinking behind the next questions Zanger proposes: What happens to your management style when you’re exhausted, and how do you make sure the team works at peak levels? He rightly points out that it’s useful to see how a boss handles stress and how the company ensures that its staff recharge.

Keep in mind that you always need to ask questions that will determine whether the project or job are a fit for you. Read this article at Forbes.com about why it’s important to ask questions in your interview. Prepare well by researching the company, role, and culture so you don’t ask questions that reveal your lack of preparedness. And when given the chance, ask:

  • What are the top priorities for this position over the next three months?
  • What are some qualities that make successful collaborators on this team? (Alternately, “What are some qualities that make successful managers in this company?”)
  • What would success look like in this position? How would I wow you in this role?
  • What are you next steps for filling this role?

Hopefully, the next step will be an offer letter. Good luck!

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