3 questions you need to ask at any job interview

Photo courtesy of Faramarz Hashemi

My friend Lauren contacted me this morning, very excited. She’s got a promising interview this afternoon, so I offered her my time-tested magic interview questions. And then I thought I might as well share this with everyone.

Anytime I interview, I always bring along a list of questions to ask the interviewer. These are mostly based on my research of the job, the company, and the industry, but there are three that are always there, no matter what. They are the questions that get you hired.

1. The Vision Question.

The first question should be asked after your interviewer has explained the company and position to you. You’ll first ask about expectations for the position, job responsibilities, etc… Then as it seems that the topic has been covered, you pop out this power-question:

“What does success look like?”

This moves the topic from codified language about nitty-gritty to what really matters to your interviewer. Note that the wording matters: We’re asking about their vision of success… which relates to their motivation, what they’re dreaming about, what they hope for. If they understand the question, they’ll tell you what their greatest desire is. If you listen well, and you can show that you share that vision, that you’re excited about it too, then you’ve connected on the most crucial level: The interviewer know that you will be working on their dream. They now want you in the position, badly.

If they don’t understand the question, you can give them hints: “What does success look like? … Is it the team on the cover of Wired magazine? A billion-dollar IPO in 6 months? Competitor X closing their doors? The CEO making our division her top priority?”

2. The Team Question.

You need to ask about your future boss, of course. “Who will I be reporting to, what’s their position, what’s their top goal?” But beyond that, and more importantly, you need to ask about the team you’ll be working with:

“Who’s on the team, what are they like, what are their goals?”

Ask for names and write them down. Be curious about them. Ask if you could possibly be introduced after the interview (but don’t say “on the way out”, ever!)

This is vital, because it’s also one of the primary concerns of your interviewer: Will you fit with the people who are already there? They desperately hope you will, and by asking this question, you show that you share that hope. By wanting to meet them, or at least know their names and personalities, you make it clear that you take very seriously the responsibility of working well with the team. You’ll clearly be an easier hire.

3. The Commitment Question.

This one closes the deal, and makes sure that you never leave an interview without a very good chance to be hired. It’s a dead simple question, but it goes very far:

“Is there anything you’ve heard today, or haven’t heard, that makes you doubt that I would be a fit for the position and the team?”

This question wins the interview. Because at this point, you’re in one of two scenarios:

  1. The interviewer isn’t comfortable with you: You’ve missed the mark on some questions, they weren’t convinced about something you said, or there’s a problem with your personality… They may just have a vague feeling of unease about you. They’re a nice and polite person, and don’t want confrontation, so they’re keeping those reservations to themselves so as not to hurt your ego. But that doesn’t help you.
  2. The interviewer is comfortable with you, likes your answers, thinks you may be a fit. They may even be pretty excited about you. But they’ve just met you, and they’re not sure, so they’re damping at least the expression of their enthusiasm. They’re not allowing themselves to decide yet. That doesn’t help you.

If you’re in case #1, asking the question gives them a comfortable place to tell you about that nagging thought or feeling, or tell you about the answer you screwed up. And they will feel great, just by having been able to spill their guts. They’re no longer holding secret thoughts from you, so they’ll be more likely to trust you.

Then you address their concerns. You acknowledge them, you fix your answers, you tell stories that illustrate your points. And then you ask the question again, and rinse and repeat, until you reach case #2: They do not have a doubt that you’re a fit.

The point of asking the question in case #2 is that it makes them answer: “No, everything sounds good.” Having said that, they’ve committed themselves. They’re less likely to come up later, after the interview, with reasons why you’re not a fit. They’ve made up their mind, and by voicing it, sealed their opinion of you.

You can leave satisfied that you’ve aced the interview. You’ve also demonstrated that you know how to listen, tease out people’s true concerns, needs, and goals, and address them effectively. These are vital skills in any business, and demonstrating them at the interview can help you win the job over those who may be just as or more qualified for it. Given the choice between you, a problem-solving, team-conscious, vision-focused candidate and anyone else without that attitude, the choice is compellingly in your favor.

If you use these questions on your next interview, please do let me know how it went.

And good luck to Lauren on that job interview! Knock’em dead!

2 thoughts on “3 questions you need to ask at any job interview

  1. I *really* like the third question, and agree with your rationale for it.

  2. The best advice I’ve read in quite a while.