Answering and asking questions are both key elements of job interviews and allow you to showcase what you have to offer. Here are some strategies to help you do your best and obtain valuable information:
When interviewing, the key word is relevance. You always want to respond to questions in the most relevant way. Don’t tell your life story if the person asks about your background. Instead, mention only those experiences, skills and other qualifications that apply to the job or organization.
You also want to be concrete and concise when replying. Share specifics about things you have done and relate those to how you can contribute to the organization. Whenever possible, demonstrate your knowledge of the organization by noting similarities between your background and the job or employer.
Don’t answer questions in a negative fashion, such as saying something bad about your current job, supervisor or organization. If you don’t have experience in a specific area, don’t be defensive or apologize. Remember, you’re being interviewed, so you have enough of what the employer wants. Instead, talk about how you’re a fast learner and give an example of how you developed a new skill or knowledge base quickly in the past. Or offer ideas of how you would tackle the challenge.
Make sure to do your research so you’re prepared for any salary-related questions. “The biggest struggle with candidates is them knowing their own value,” says Shanne Malilay, Director of Talent Acquisition with Jackson Family Wines in Santa Rosa, California. He notes that early salary questions aren’t meant to lock a candidate in, but rather check about realistic expectations. “I’m not going to take you down the path if we’re not in the same ballpark.” But save any salary negotiation for when you have an offer.
Ask questions to show serious interest and initiative. You also gain critical information about the job, organization, supervisor and colleagues by asking questions, as well as demonstrate your knowledge of the organization. “You want to ask questions that convey a targeted approach—specific to the position and the company,” says Malilay. Of course, you shouldn’t ask a question that’s obvious or for which an answer can be found on the organization’s website.
Here is an initial list of useful questions to ask:
- What are the most important characteristics someone in this position should have?
- What do you expect from your staff?
- What is your management style?
- How do you like people to disagree with you?
- How would you characterize the management philosophy of this department/organization?
- What are the current strengths and weaknesses of the staff who would report to me?
- How has this organization changed and where does it expect to go?
- What is the top priority of the person who accepts this job? How will she or he be evaluated in 6-12 months?
- Why are you hiring for this position?
- What are the next steps in this selection process?
- What is the timeline for hiring?
- When can I expect to hear from you?
Just as students do in classes, taking notes during the interview can be helpful for many reasons. It can help you remember what was said when you evaluate the opportunity more objectively later. Notes also provide specific information to incorporate into personalized thank you letters. Just make sure your notes are brief and you maintain eye contact throughout the interview.
Having a notepad with you is helpful for other reasons. You can have your questions written down so you remember them. You can also have a small list in the corner of the page of the points you want to make about your background, which will be the key relevant skills, experiences and accomplishments you want to share.
One final note: Don’t forget to smile. Let your natural enthusiasm for the opportunity shine through and show you are someone people want to work with. By incorporating these strategies, you will be well prepared and give your best interview yet.
Jennifer L Blanck, DTM is a member of Skyline Toastmasters in Denver, Colorado, and a regular contributor to the Toastmaster magazine.