Quite possibly the most overlooked aspect of the interview process is having prepared questions. We get so hyped up on being ready to talk about how great we are and how we are the best person for the job. But, we forget that the interview is a two way street. You want to make sure that this job is actually something you are interested. You want to make sure this company is as good as they say they are. You want to make sure you like the person you are interviewing – after all, if you get hired, it’s very likely that you will be working with them in capacity. AND, you want to use those questions as a another way to convey that you are the right person for the job.
So, you might be asking yourself a question – what types of questions should you ask?
Now, you probably don’t want to be sassy like Kelly. However, you do want to show you are asking informative questions and don’t give off the vibe that you will do anything for the job.
I remember early on in my career when I was medically disqualified from the Naval Aviation pipeline, I went to a career conference for Service Academy graduates just in case I didn’t get picked up by another community within the Navy (fortunately, I did; my story is here if interested). While I was there, I stopped by the Sears booth. They invited me to a lunch they were having that day to learn more about the types of roles they had available for transitioning officers. I heard “free lunch,” so I went.
I honestly don’t remember anything from that lunch except the grilling that occurred. And by grilling, I mean candidates grilling the Sears people about why they should work there. I remember that specifically because it reminded me that the interview really is a two way street. And not every company is great, but they will all tell you they are. It was even more harsh than I expected because the guy hosting the lunch was a Naval Academy graduate himself. So he was getting harpooned by fellow graduates, as well as graduates from other academies, all veterans themselves.
In retrospect, I suppose I shouldn’t have been too surprised. If you haven’t read the news for the past decade or two, Sears is in serious trouble. And in all honesty, even if the Navy had given me the boot at that time, I wasn’t legitimately interested in managing a Sears distribution center in Ocala, FL. No offense if you’re from Ocala, just not my cup of tea.
Anyway, the point here is you need to be well researched on the company you are interviewing with. And you need to be prepared with questions to make sure you’re happy with your understanding of the role.
Now, let’s say you already know the company is great, and you’re super stoked about the role. No question about it. You don’t need to ask questions to make sure it’s something you want.
That was my situation when I interviewed at Capital One. Capital One is routinely highly ranked in the top best companies to work for, the benefits are great, I knew the types of people they were hiring were really top talent. I didn’t need them to answer those questions for me. So, I pivoted my questions to the team I was interviewing for (Fraud) and the people interviewing me specifically. Ultimately, these were informative Q+A’s, but also, these questions were a way of me showing the interviewer that I was interested and had done my research. I wasn’t just showing up to the interview, hoping to get through it. I was asking about the types of problems they were working on, reading articles about different types of fraud and how the industry was attempting to tackle those problems.
Now, I’m not sure if that ultimately mattered or not. But, what I do know is, I got the job.
When preparing for interviews, I recommend having 3 questions, at least. If you have more prepared, that’s great. But, have at least 3. You should have one of each:
- About the Company
- About the Role
- About the Interviewer
With the company, I have two general recommendations. First, if the company is public, this is great. You can look up their financials and see how they are performing. Now, you don’t need to be a financial expert to understand their financials at all. But, it means that people who do corporate finance for a living write articles about how the company is doing. That is what you read. Generally, the numbers don’t lie, and you won’t see too much varying opinions on a company from a financial perspective. The only time you will for sure see varying opinions is in tech and the startup space. Other than that, you should be able to get an idea of how their current performance is and how things look for the future.
Secondly, just google the company and see what’s going on with them in the news. Are there any controversies? Did an executive recently get fired? Or resign? Are workers protesting? Did they recently get ranked highly on some top 10 list? See what’s interesting to you and write it down. Don’t be afraid to have a question about bad news. After all, you want to make sure that bad news isn’t something that could affect your future at the company.
The second question should be about the role. Now, more than likely you won’t know a whole lot about the role early on in the process. But, it’s fine to keep it general. And try to leverage what you are able to discover using google. For example, when I interviewed at Capital One, I knew I was interviewing for a business analyst role on the Fraud team, but that was it. I didn’t know I would ultimately be working on synthetic identity fraud. So, I did as much research as I could on fraud in the financial services industry, specific credit cards. I found there were plenty of articles talking about the most common trends in fraud as well as what new startups were trying out to combat fraud.
In my interview, I asked questions about if Capital One was seeing the trending types of fraud and what were they doing about it, how did analysts approach these problems, and were there any trends unique to Capital One.
No one expected me to be a fraud expert, that wasn’t why they were interviewing me. But, in 10-15 minutes of research I was able to learn enough about fraud to ask a few questions that showed the topic was interesting to me and I had a very broad, general idea of industry trends.
The third question should be geared towards the interviewer. In Part 1 of this series, I discussed how LinkedIn creeping is totally acceptable and not “creepy”. Now is the time to do some creeping and see what you can learn about the people you will be interviewing with. If you don’t know their names, reach out to the HR recruiter or other POC you have been coordinating interviews with. If they know who you are interviewing with, they will be happy to tell you.
Not everyone you interview with will have a LinkedIn profile, and if they do, it may not necessarily be up to date. But, that’s not a bad thing. Maybe they’ve been with the company for 20 years and haven’t had a need to keep it up to date. That’s a good sign. Maybe all they have is where they went to undergrad, but perhaps you went there too. Or are from the same area.
The point is look for any interesting info you can garner. And if it’s something you have in common or a personal connection, even better. Remember, anyway to personally connect with the interviewer is always a bonus because a significant aspect of the interview is if they like you. And finding a personal connection significant improves your odds of them liking you.
Don’t feel restricted to keep your questions to only 3. This is by no means any sort of requirement, this is just what as worked for me in the past and a structured way to make sure you’re preparing for the interview with the right mindset.
There were interviews where I only had 3 questions, and others were I had 15. The point is, show your interest, and show through the questions you ask, that you’re the best candidate.
Keep in mind, that you may get to the interview, and never get to ask a question! That’s totally fine, that may mean that the conversation was flowing so well that you didn’t have an opportunity. And if the conversation flows in a more personal direction and you’re having a great dialogue with the interviewers, don’t awkwardly cut it off to “make sure you get your 3 questions in.” It’s 100% fine if you don’t get to your questions.
The point of this topic is that typically, towards the end of the interview, the interviewer will ask if you have any questions for them. And that’s an opportunity to again, prove you are the right person for the role by asking informed, perhaps even probing, questions. It’s another way to show you are the right person for the job.
One last note I want to throw in here – do not awkwardly read off the questions from your notepad or phone. That’s the opposite of genuine interest. If you can’t remember one of your questions it’s fine, forget about it. The point of these questions is to show interest, and if you can’t remember the question, reading it off of a notepad can show that you weren’t interested enough to remember.
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