Although countless books on how to interview effectively focus on how to best answer the most frequently asked questions, our experience underscores that asking smart questions is even more important to interviewing success. Nearly all interviewers carefully review job descriptions, determine how their skills and experience best fit the company’s stated needs, and tailor their answers accordingly. So how do you distinguish yourself from the competition in order to advance through the process and ultimately get chosen for the job? Our advice is to thoroughly research the company and network to individuals who know the business, have worked there, or even work there now to develop sharp questions that relate directly to the company in general (its strengths, obstacles, market position, competition, financial statements, etc.) and the position you are seeking (key challenges, opportunities, impact on the business.)
Asking smart questions sets you apart from other candidates and gives you a critical edge in the selection process for several reasons. Great questions reveal your understanding of their business and depth of interest in the job opportunity. At age 50 or over, you should have a greater grasp of the key drivers impacting the company’s performance, both positively and negatively than younger candidates. Use your experience to your advantage. Also, the interviewer’s answers will likely provide you with excellent openings to further describe how you can be of help. Finally, you can ask questions that relate directly to the goals you will be expected to achieve during the first year which will help you better explain the concrete steps and approach you will use to reach them.
In summary, we have found that smart questions are often more important than good answers during the interview process because they help distinguish you from other candidates by revealing that you have a better understanding of the business and the approaches necessary to make an immediate and positive impact.
Tip #1: Ask your local Library Business Reference librarian to help you research the company with whom you are interviewing. If public, you can develop many good questions by reviewing the company’s financial information (P&L, balance sheet, cash flow statement) in their annual report, Standard & Poor’s reports, or stock offering memorandums. For private companies, ask your librarian for assistance researching data from selected reference books and Internet sources.
Tip #2: Network to individuals familiar with the person you are interviewing to learn about their management style and personality. Are they open and transparent about the company, or close mouthed and wary about disclosing company information? Do they welcome unsolicited ideas? Are they objective and realistic about the company’s challenges and opportunities? Answers to these due diligence questions will better prepare you to frame your interview questions in a way that will impress the interviewer.
Follower Question: When is the best time for me to ask the questions I have prepared?
Answer: Don’t wait until the end after you have responded to all the questions asked of you. Intersperse your questions during the interview because the answers you receive will often increase your understanding of the company and what will be expected of you. This in turn will help you to provide better responses to subsequent questions.
Just as differentiating yourself during interviews is critical, this is also a common practice of successful executives who distinguish themselves, every day. Here’s an interesting HBR article with insights on the ways executives can set themselves apart. The Former CEO of Ogilvy & Mather on Personal Branding >>