As discussed in a previous blog (Winning the Face-to-Face Interview by “leading the Witness“), in an interview you actually have much more power than you might think. Still, during the course of the typical job interview, either on the telephone or face-to-face, you can expect to be asked a series of “standard” questions and it is critical that you answer them in the “right” way. Here are just a few examples of those types of questions I’m talking about:

  • “Tell me about yourself.”
  • “What do you know about our company?”
  • “Tell me about a time when. . . .”
  • “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”
  • “Why would you want to work for our company?”

And, of course, you should anticipate the perennial “gotcha!” questions, such as . . .

  • “Tell me about your current (or former) boss.”
  • The “salary” questions: “What is your current salary?” “What salary would it take to hire you?” “What salary are you expecting?”
  • “Why are you considering leaving your current employer?”

(To learn more about the best way not to answer such questions, see Powerfully Branding Yourself to Lose the Job Interview or refer to “Headhunter” Hiring Secrets.)

As important as these types of questions are, though, there is one KEY question that trumps them all, and it’s a question that you absolutely, positively must answer correctly if you are to brand yourself as the candidate of choice in today’s brutally competitive economic environment! Here is that question:

“What questions do YOU have?”

Sounds rather harmless, rather innocuous, doesn’t it? Almost sounds like a “softball” question. Make no mistake about it, though, this is THE key question, usually asked as the interview winds down, that, in today’s tight job market, you must answer correctly! Let me explain the reasoning behind this.

All too often, the job candidate perceives this question (incorrectly) as indeed being just a “softball” question and all too often will give an answer like this:

“I honestly don’t have any questions. You’ve been very thorough in providing me information about the job and the company.”

Or . . .

“Actually, all of my questions have been answered up to this point.”

I understand, and usually, the hiring manager understands as well, that answers such as these are primarily intended to flatter the hiring manager and strongly imply that he or she has done such a tremendous job during the interview that virtually all questions have been answered for the candidate. Philosophically, such reasoning may be sound but, in fact, such answers strongly work against the candidate. They brand the candidate as someone who, apparently, is lacking in a.) intellectual curiosity; and/or b.) strategic thinking ability.

How a ‘superstar’ might answer the question

While there is no one “right” answer to the “What questions do YOU have?” question, let me give you an example of how a “super star” might answer it:

“Mr./Ms. Hiring Manager, let’s say for a moment that I am your candidate of choice. It is one year from today and you are conducting my performance review. What is it that I would have had to have done and accomplished in order for you to say, ‘I made a good hire?’”

(By the way, we coach all of our recruiting firm’s candidates to ask this key question. It’s also just one of the many “secrets” we use from “Headhunter” Hiring Secrets to coach candidates.)

Let’s dissect this question in detail and see why it is considered an excellent way to answer the “What questions do YOU have?” question:

“. . . let’s say for a moment that I am your candidate of choice . . .”

In sales we call this the “assumptive” close. You are putting the decision-maker in the role of actually using your product (and in this case it is you!).

“. . . It is one year from today . . .”

Here, of course, you are planting the idea that you are indeed a performer and that you will be around for at least a year. This provides the manager the safety (or at least the feeling of safety) that he or she needs to know that you probably won’t quit on them after, say, two or three months.

“. . . What is it that I would have had to have done and accomplished . . .”

With this element of your question you are asking the hiring manager to lay out expectations and tell you what you need to know in order to do a good job. Obviously, this shows that you are apparently dedicated to doing a good job.

“. . . in order for you to say, ‘I made a good hire?’”

In this part of your question you are reinforcing the idea that you not only will get the job done but you will also do the job in an exemplary manner!

Just how powerful can such an answer be for a candidate? Very powerful! Here is what a hiring manager told me recently after our candidate gave this very answer to the “What questions do YOU have for me?” question:

“Skip, you won’t believe the question your candidate asked. (and he repeated the question above) I have never heard a candidate ask such an insightful question. I am going to hire him based upon that question alone!”

Going into the interview, you need to be armed with at least five questions of this quality and caliber. Here is one more for your consideration. This comes from my friend and colleague David Perry, co-author of the perennially international best-selling Guerrilla Marketing for Job Hunters 3.0:

“Mr./Ms. Hiring Manager, three of your competitors are ABC, XYZ and QRS. What is it that they do that keeps you awake at night?”

There are many reasons why this question is quite powerful. First, it shows that you have done your due diligence before the interview because you demonstrate that you know some of the key players in the company’s market. Second, it also demonstrates your acute awareness of today’s highly competitive economic environment. And finally, it clearly demonstrates empathy for the hiring manager and his/her company. (And, as an added bonus to you, the candidate, based upon the hiring manager’s answer to your question, it can also show you how the hiring manager thinks and what the company is doing to remain competitive in the marketplace.)

Now, after working with literally thousands of candidates for nearly a decade, I know what some of you who are reading this blog may be thinking: “Oh, Skip, you’re just ‘splitting hairs.’ This is just a ‘tempest in a teapot.’” You would, however, be quite wrong. Let me relate to you what a hiring manager said to me just last week.

“Skip,” he said, “I no longer ask questions during an interview. I conduct the entire interview based upon the questions the candidate asks me. The questions they ask show me what they have done to prepare, what they know about our company and how they think when they are on the job.”

Here is what another hiring manager who had just conducted a telephone interview with one of our candidates had to say:

“I was about ready to invite (the candidate) in for a face-to-face interview,” he said, “and then he blew it based upon the questions he asked me at the end of the interview.”

The questions that “killed” this candidate’s chances?

  • “What sales contests do you have?”
  • “What is the average time it takes to get promoted?”

The hiring manager went on to say, “These questions were questions I would expect from someone right out of college, not from a ten-year professional.”

It is, of course, crucial, particularly in today’s extremely tight job market, that anything you say during an interview focuses primarily on what you can do for the hiring manager and his/her company—not on what they can do for you. Both of the questions asked by this particular candidate did not adhere to that principle. Rather, the questions were tinged with hues of short-sightedness, were principally self-centered and self-serving and lacked the depth of intellectual thinking ability that hiring managers today look for—and demand!

One of the “rules” of the “hiring game” today is that anyone hired in this down economy must be able to unmistakably brand themselves as being able to have an immediate impact in the job. They must also be branded as being enthusiastic and must clearly be branded as representing the safest (not a risk) hiring choice. The questions you ask in response to the “What questions do YOU have for me?” question are prime indicators of how closely you meet (or fail to meet) these criteria. They are also a prime indicator of how you think and where your “head” is in regard to the value you can deliver to an organization.

So, when you are asked the “What questions do YOU have for me?” question, make sure you “get it right!” Your answer to the question can, and usually does, spell the difference between a successful candidacy and a failed candidacy.

Author: Skip Freeman is the author of “Headhunter” Hiring Secrets: The Rules of the Hiring Game Have Changed . . . Forever! and is the President and Chief Executive Officer of The HTW Group (Hire to Win), an Atlanta, GA, Metropolitan Area Executive Search Firm. Specializing in the placement of sales, engineering, manufacturing and R&D professionals, he has developed powerful techniques that help companies hire the best and help the best get hired.