Whenever I am coaching somebody through the interview process, toward the end there’s one question I always ask them. That one question stumps most people. Of those that it doesn’t stump, a good portion of the remainder fail the test. That question is, “Have you thought about what question(s) you are going to ask during the interview?”

The majority of the people I talk to have not even put an ounce of thought into this, much less have the best question to ask. They either tell me they have not thought about it, or I can tell they have not thought about it and just don’t want to admit that they have not. How can I tell? They give me questions such as:

  • When would I start?
  • How much does this position pay?
  • What are the hours like?

Unless you are trying not to get hired, NEVER ask any of those questions. They give the impression that you do not care about the job or the employer, just the money and yourself. If you are going to ask generic questions they should look something more like these:

  • What was it that made past employees successful in this role?
  • What is the most exciting part of this job?
  • What is it that makes you want to come to this job every day?

So what should you ask? I recommend some questions with some thought behind them. Some questions that show you have done your homework and know something about the company, what they do, and the job itself. This will show your potential employer initiative and drive. A few sample questions could include:

  • Do your designers us Adobe InDesign or Quark XPress?
  • What safety protocols do you have in place to prevent injury while performing this job?
    • Note: For this one I would indicate a specific activity from the job description.

There is one question that you should always ask in my opinion. I have often asked ONLY this question. That question is, “In your opinion, what are the three most important qualities that an individual must possess to be successful in this role?” Yes this does fall back on a more generic question, however in this case that is okay because it is going to provide you with gold!

Make sure you have paper and when your interviewer begins to answer this question, write down EVERYTHING that they say. You are going to use this information when you write your thank you letter. The thank you letter itself is a topic for another article so without going into too much detail the letter should have three paragraphs. It should begin with an opening that shows your excitement, end with a closing paragraph that thanks them for the opportunity and have middle paragraph that utilizes the information from the question you asked during your interview.

This middle paragraph is very straightforward. It should say something along the lines of, “During the interview, I asked you what three qualities an individual must possess to be successful in this role. You told me…” and list out their specific words. You now have the opportunity to address each of these qualities and put into words using specific examples, ways in which you’ve personally utilized those qualities to success for previous employer’s or volunteer organizations. Remember the examples should be short and sweet but most importantly they should be specific and quantitative whenever possible.

That’s the big secret. I know. One simple question. Not that mind blowing. However the way in which you uniquely utilize the information is what makes this so effective. It shows you listened, and it gives you an opportunity to provide data showing that you can perform in a manner that they require. That is especially important if those particular qualities didn’t come out at some point during the interview itself.

I do however feel like I have cheated you by providing you with something so simple, so I have a bonus piece of advice for you.

One Question You Should Never Ask During An Interview

Let’s talk about one question that I get asked time and time again when I am interviewing that I feel should never be asked. That is, “What concerns do you have about me in this role,” or some other variation of this question. Unless you are applying for an internal position and the interviewer knows you well, this is not a good question to ask for several reasons, and the worst part is so many books and web sites recommend asking it. I wonder to myself if the people that write these books and articles actually ever interview people themselves.

First, and most obviously, if I am interviewing you, that means I’ve just met you. I really know nothing about you other than what I’ve learned in the last hour or so. I don’t have the information needed to accurately answer the question. That puts me in an awkward position which makes my uncomfortable. You don’t want to make the interviewer uncomfortable. They are going to remember you, but they are going to remember you are the one that made them feel awkward. Finally, I am going to feel obligated to give you an answer, but that answer is not going to be useful for you because since I don’t know enough about you I’m just going to come up with some generic information, or worse yet, just tell you that I have no concerns.

Are you experienced in the art of interviewing either as the interviewee or interviewer? If so what questions do you like to ask or what questions asked of you do you feel are most effective? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.