Questions to Ask at the End of an Interview

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You’re nearing the end of a grueling hour with a panel of interviewers at your Dream Company.  You think it’s gone pretty well, and you seem to have handled their toughest questions pretty well.  Then, the lead interviewer asks you one last thing.  ”Do you have any questions for us?”

You know how important it is to get this right.  Ask a stupid question, and your chances of getting hired will plummet.  Try to get too smart, too cute or too complicated, and you’re sunk.  Even more importantly, research in the field of neuroscience tells us that humans are biased to value the first and the last items in a sequence more than anything in the middle.  So your last comments will carry roughly as much weight as, oh, let’s say the entire last half hour you’ve been talking.  What do you say?

Here are a few do’s and don’t to making the most of your opportunity:

  1. Don’t ask about what an average day on the job is like.  Have you not done a job like this before?  Did you fail to prepare for the interview?  Asking this question gives the impression you really don’t know what the job is about.  Not a good idea.  As a hiring manager, I’ve heard this question far too often, and it always reflects negatively on the candidate.
  2. Don’t ask about compensation.  Especially in a first round interview, this comes across as presumptuous.  Are you simply assuming you’re one of the top candidates?  Shouldn’t you be focused on asking questions that help you convince them you’re the best candidate?  As a broad rule, the best time to discuss compensation is after the employer offers you the job.  Occasionally, top candidates can get away with discussing this in general terms at the end of a final round interview, but even if that’s your situation you should proceed with caution.
  3. Don’t ask what the interviewer likes most about working for the company.  While this might give you a general clue about company culture and organizational strengths, it’s also possible that you’ve completely wasted your time.  We all have individual preferences, and what the interviewer appreciates may not match with your tastes at all.  Your interviewer may well wonder whether you’re so easily influenced that you’ll simply take his or her word for it.
  4. Do ask about high level priorities.  My favorite question is “how would you define a big win in this position?”  Ask what the hiring manager thinks is the most important qualification for the role.  What must the worker do in the first 90 days on the job to be seen as a top performer?  These are all great questions that can lead to unique insight about how to position yourself as the best candidate.
  5. Do find out about your competition.  Ask what the interviewer expects to be the hardest qualification to meet.  What important skills or abilities are the hardest to find in a pool of candidates for this sort of job?  What questions do you, the interviewer, have about my ability to do this job better than anyone else in the candidate pool?  You’ll learn valuable information about how you rate, and can use that to your advantage.

Once you’ve followed these rules, asked the right question, and heard back from your interviewer, take a minute to respond by highlighting your qualifications.  If an interviewer tells you that the hardest qualification to find in a candidate is a mix of technical skills and political savvy, spend 30 seconds describing one lesson you learned about corporate politics on your last job.  Then comment that you’ve learned a lot about that subject and can see how important that would be.

Taking these steps will virtually guarantee you end your interview well, and boost your chances of being the top candidate at the end of the day.  Are there other questions you like to ask?  What have you done in the past to leave a positive final impression on your interviewer?  Take a minute to post your comments below.