Veronica Park is an author, journalist and world-traveler of many different past and future vocations. Keep an eye out for her first published novel, which will hopefully be announced soon. In the meantime, you can read about her exploits in the Caribbean and find out her opinion on pretty much everything by following her on Twitter (@VeroniKaboom) and checking out her website.
It’s that moment, the one you’ve been dreading since you managed to make it through the first moment you’d been dreading.
Luckily, the First Dreaded Moment (walking into the job interview) actually went pretty well.
- You made sure to show up on time, professionally dressed, with at least three pristine copies of your resume in hand, and you made direct eye contact and gave the interviewer a firm handshake.
- Your palms weren’t sweating, and you smelled good—but didn’t overpower them with perfume or cologne.
- You sat down across from each other and made sure to keep your body language open (meaning you didn’t cross your arms or turn away) and you leaned forward slightly whenever the interviewer spoke about the views of the company—which you, as a student of career psychology, knew would subconsciously broadcast your interest and engagement with the fate of the company you’re trying to join.
- For every question the interviewer asked, you had a thoughtful and pre-planned (but genuine and personalized) answer, with 1-2 short anecdotal examples of how you’ve applied problem solving and extraordinary poise under pressure.
- You did not fidget or use too many filler words, like “uh…ah…um…like…well…you know….”
- You didn’t nod like a bobble-head when the interviewer spoke, but maintained eye contact and used reflective listening. You even tried to work parts of the interviewer’s questions into your answers.
Right now, you’re feeling pretty good about your chances of getting this job.
“Okay, so that’s about everything I’ve got for you,” the Interviewer says. “What about you? Do you have any questions you’d like to ask me?”
Oh…#@$%. Now what?
You’ve done enough research to know that you’re supposed to say yes, and then ask the interviewer a question. But you were so busy worrying about your hairstyle or how you were going to explain the time you got fired from Disneyland in college that you forgot to prepare a really intelligent-sounding question that was also kind of a subtle brag about how well-researched you are.
Something along the lines of:
“I understand that [name of company] has changed hands recently, whereas previously it was owned and operated by the Miller family since 1927. I’m curious to know what kind of changes [the new owners] are planning to make, and whether their goals differ from the original mission statement.”
*Pause for effect, while your interviewer falls out of his/her chair and then attempts to come up with an answer that sounds as knowledgeable as your question.*
Obviously, a thoroughly-researched question is ALWAYS the best bet. But, if you find yourself in this situation without such a stellar question prepared, here are some blanket alternatives you can use to force your interviewer to think on his/her feet:
“Do you mind if I ask, how long have you been with [name of company]? What made you stay?”
“What would make someone especially successful as a [name of position you’re applying for]?”
“What’s an example of a challenge you’ve recently faced with one of your clients/customers?”
“Where do YOU see [name of company] heading in the next 5-10 years?”
“If I am hired, what kind of impact do you think I could have on the team/department?”
“I’ve been following [name of company] on Twitter and Facebook for a few weeks, and I noticed that you’re implementing a lot of new promotions. Has there been a change in marketing strategy lately?”
“Do you have any concerns about my qualifications you would like me to address?” (This is actually a really great question, since it shows you aren’t afraid to be open about your weaknesses and also gives you a chance to lay those potential concerns to rest. For examples of how to do this, read this US News article on How to Talk About Your Weaknesses in a Job Interview.)
Finally, why is this part even important? Why can’t you just shrug and say “Nope, sounds like you covered everything” or ask “Did I get the job?” Because, in the words of Admiral Ackbar, “It’s a trap!” Hapless interviewees often see this part of the interview as the “light at the end of the tunnel,” or the question that signifies an end to the strictly professional portion and an invitation to relax and get loose, just ask whatever you want, man. DO NOT FALL FOR IT. The interview is NOT over. It’s not over when you give the final handshake, or after you walk out of the office. In fact, your job interview isn’t over until you get the job…or don’t.
So. Let’s pretend that you believe me, and you are now totally gung-ho and willing to do whatever it takes to flip this interview over and take control—thus ending on a proactive and positive note. Why is it so crucial to turn the tables on your interviewer, you ask?
For starters, it’s basically a more elegant and socially acceptable form of the classic playground taunt, “You can dish it out, but CAN you take it?”—seriously, what’s not to love about that? More importantly, though, it shows the interviewer what you’re made of.
I might even go as far as to say the interviewee question is the most important part of an interview, because it’s the only part when you the job seeker are 100% in control. Don’t take that power lightly. Use it to its fullest advantage. Instead of being terrified of suddenly being smack in the middle of the spotlight, use it to SHINE all the more brightly.
Because THAT is the moment when you stop being “just another interviewee” and start being a legitimate job candidate.
*Drops microphone. Moonwalks off metaphorical stage.*