Knowing how to ask the right questions in an interview can make the difference between getting a call back and having your application tossed in the recycle bin.
But what makes a great question? How do you demonstrate enthusiasm for the job and knowledge about the company without sounding like every other candidate?
It’s a subject Pandora founder and seasoned interviewer Tim Westergren tackles in his latest post on LinkedIn. Westergren argues that a candidate’s questions “are the most revealing part of an interview,” yet it’s the one part of the process most people — applicants and interviewers alike — overlook.
“Most questions from candidates are very generic,” Westergren writes, and they often have obvious answers that don’t tell the interviewer anything about your actual investment in the job. While most of Westergren’s suggestions are well-known to job seekers — demonstrate interest in the company, show an interest in the position, communicate intelligence — he drills down to these three unconventional ways you can impress an interviewer who’s heard it all before:
1. Make sure your question passes the Google test. If you can figure out the answer by doing a little bit of research, it shows your interviewer you haven’t tried very hard to get acquainted with the company. Dig into the news and figure out who its big investors are, or read up on a current initiative that you would be working on if hired.
2. Don’t ask anything a casual observer might ask at a cocktail party. Here’s where Westergren’s emphasis on specific detail comes into play. “What’s the transition been like with the new CEO?” is a mediocre question, he writes. On the other hand, “I noticed you took nine months to find a new CEO, and you picked someone who has been a VC for the last five years. I’m curious about the criteria you used. Why did it take so long?” is a great question, he says.
3. Don’t wait until the end of the interview to ask. Once you have two to three killer questions, “ask them early enough in the conversation to give you time to show off your work,” Westergren suggests. If you can talk all day about their recent IPO, don’t undermine yourself by cramming the conversation into the last five minutes. It’ll be a more interesting and, importantly, memorable experience for both you and your interviewer.
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