Eight years into a supposed economic recovery, but it’s still tough to land a job – especially a good one. That means you need to be doubly prepared for the few job interviews you can get. One of the biggest fears people have when it comes to job interviews is being forced to give answers to a battery of uncomfortable questions.
That?s a perfectly natural concern – you never want to give answers that will cause you to be disqualified for the job. But there?s a way to avoid that. There are tough job interview questions you need to ask that can change both the nature and the outcome of the exchange between you and the interviewer.
Don?t be afraid to go on the offensive and ask tough job interview questions
The best way to handle any job interview is by taking control of it yourself. That means instead of being the interviewee, you become the interviewer. This isn?t as difficult as it sounds either. Most human resources people are not all that good at conducting deep interviews. And most managers do it only reluctantly. After all, it?s generally not a major part of their jobs and many never master it.
You can take advantage of those interviewer weaknesses by taking over the interview and asking most of the questions. This can seem aggressive on the surface, but in reality you may be making the interviewer?s job easier. In fact, it can make you the best interview they?ve had all month.
Asking questions is also the best way to avoid having to answer tough questions yourself. Have a list of questions that will be sufficient to fill an hour long interview, and the interviewer may even forget to ask you any serious questions.
And if they do ask questions that are getting a little tough, you can pull out one of your questions and use it to redirect the flow.
Asking the right questions will demonstrate your knowledge of the job
One of the qualities they?ll be considering is the job candidate?s ability to handle questions under fire. If you prove that you?re capable of handling such an exchange, you?ll also improve your candidacy – even if they didn’t get a chance to ask you many questions. All they?ll take away is that you kept them actively engaged for the entire interview, and that will make you look strong.
In your list of questions you?ll want to include several that will confirm your understanding of the position. In order to come up with these questions, you?ll have to do some research on the company, on the industry, and on the specific position you?re applying for. You?ll want to ask in-depth questions that will show that you know what you?re talking about ? even though you?re framing it in the form of a series of questions.
Most people can tell whether or not you know what you?re talking about simply by the questions you ask! Intelligent questions indicate an intelligent applicant. Your specific questions should show that you are that kind of candidate they want to hire. If you can ask enough of these questions, and in sufficient depth, the interviewer may come away completely convinced of your abilities even though you never actually answered many questions.
Questions you don?t want to ask
If you are going to ask intelligent questions, you must consciously stay away from frivolous ones. The worst kind of questions you can ask in a job interview are the ones about benefits, such as paid time off or the company?s pension plan. Those are dust collector questions that can give your interviewer the impression that you are only interested in a paycheck.
Keep the questions you ask relevant to the job at hand, and save the lighter stuff for later, like when an offer is made.
Bring a list of all-purpose tough questions
We already discussed having job-related questions, but there are some general questions you can and should ask that will further help you to control the interview. Here are a few you should ask.
Why did the last person in this job leave? One of the reasons that you want to ask tough questions is to determine if you even want the job. This is one of the best questions to ask in that direction. You want to know if that person was either fired or quit on their own. In either case, you want to know what the reason was. If the interviewer avoids the question, or gives a weak answer, it could be a tip off to you that there are problems that they don?t want to discuss. This is also an excellent question to pull out at any time during the interview that you?re feeling a little off-balance.
What are the biggest challenges the company (or department) face? Listen carefully to the answer to this question. This will not only tell you what kind of problems you may be stepping into, but it will also give you some idea as to how well the company?s handling it. This is an excellent time to demonstrate your abilities by making some suggestions as to what might be done to deal with those challenges. This single question opens up a whole new exchange of questions and answers that will give you the chance to further demonstrate your abilities.
What is the rate of employee turnover? This is excellent question to ask in an uncomfortable moment. If the answer to this question is anything less than positive, your interviewer will probably be on the defensive. This is another chance for you to see if you really want the job. Too much turnover is never good no matter what the circumstances. It could indicate either you will be a short-timer, or that you?ll be working in a department filled with workers who are essentially no better than temporary.
How is the company dealing with Industry Problem X? Not only do all companies have problems, but so do entire industries. You can learn what this problem is by doing some research on the industry, which should impress your interviewer.
This question will accomplish two things:
- It will give you a chance demonstrate your knowledge of the problem, and
- It will give you insight as to how the employer is approaching it.
You may find that your solutions and their?s are not compatible. Interview over! Or you may find that you can actually make an immediate contribution.? Employers are looking for problem solvers as much as anything else, and this question could establish you as one. Proposing intelligent or reasonable work-arounds can move your candidacy forward.
Describe the best job that could be done in this position. This is a loaded question, and that’s precisely why you need to ask it. You?re asking the interviewer to describe the perfect person for this job, and this will reveal plenty.
You can tell for example, if the employer is looking to hire a person who will do the job of two or three people. You can even tell if the job is even doable. Based on their answers, you may decide it?s just not the right job for you. Or the response may give you a chance to highlight a skill that you have that will fit perfectly in the position.
If you?ve never asked these types of questions on a job interview it can be a bit of an adjustment. But it?s a necessary step nonetheless. Tough questions indicate your confidence in your self,? your knowledge of the industry, and your ability to do the job. They also give the interviewer a sense of comfort with your ability. And they always come in handy to get you out of a tight spot.
Try it on the next interview and see if you get better results.
What is your style in a job interview? Do you concentrate on answering questions, or do you try to take control of the interview?
Excellent post. A great reminder for all that the interview should be not only an opportunity for the employer to decide if they want to hire you, but also an opportunity for you to decide if you want to work for that employer.
Yes, we go in hoping they’ll want us, but we should always give equal effort to deciding if we want to work for them. Tough questions will help with that.
Ask tough questions and whenever possible, make sure they lead back to how you can help them in their current challenges. For example: What are the toughest challenges your team is facing now? Do you think that using this method, which helped me with company xyz’s problems would help? You have to be pretty quick on your feet but if you can tie solutions that you can bring to the table to challenges they are facing I can assure you that you will be well remembered when they are considering the list of candidates for the position.
Excellent point Jose. Or if you can’t think of anything to offer at the interview, include a thought or two in a follow up letter. I think that will have more impact than the standard “thank you” note!
I really like these. Back when I used to hire people I would absolutely hate when they started asking about vacations and scheduling off the bat so you’re spot on there. Thankfully I was never asked any of your hard questions but I will definitely keep them in mind if I end up seeking a new job.
Good article. You are right, asking good questions does help the person on the other side of the table. I have hired many people, and over the years have perfected my interview style.
I don’t think that having a candidate asking the “hard questions” is at all off-putting. I would want to have someone who thinks on his/her own and can solve problems on my team.
Hi Kyle – Thanks for weighing in with a perspective from the other side of the interview desk! I’ve often thought that when you start asking questions about benefits and time off you come off as frivolous. I much prefer asking deeper questions. They get to the root of what you’ll be doing every day on the job, and that’s what you really need to know. The other stuff is just details that can be worked out later if you agree on the main things.
Hi Joanne – Another view from the hiring side – thank you! I think the problem with candidates is often that they so want the job that they’re afraid to ask any questions that they think might offend the interviewer. But that just makes the candidate look timid, and like a “light-hitter”. I’ve always found that when I ask tough questions, the interviewer becomes more relaxed, perhaps because the interview is no longer a one-sided affair. Of course, if the interviewer seems nervous at the questions, you have reason to suspect that you may not want the job. But that’s important to learn too.
As long as you don’t have an “attitude” while asking questions, you should do okay. Problem is trying to put your best foot forward. Some of us are great on job but weak in verbal presentation. But having a list of what you would like explained about job shows your interest and knowledge of job conditions.
So true Maria – a lot of us aren’t very good at verbal presentations. As a writer I’m much better at the written word than I am with the spoken word. But I did learn to fake it for job interviews! There’s a certain degree of acting that takes place on all job interviews, so you do have to step up in that regard. Think about it – the interviewer over-sells the job, and the interviewee over-sells her own qualifications. I always found that if I asked tough questions, and spoke directly to the interviewer, that I didn’t need to over-sell myself. In a real way, it made me more comfortable on job interviews.
Again Kevin, please put dates on your content so I can tell if I’m responding to a recent article or one that’s several years old.
When I interview for a job, I like to take control by asking exactly the kinds of questions you have suggested. I use my experience on the hiring side to ask open ended questions like “describe the best job that could be done in this position”. That gets the interviewer talking and feeling like they are in control, but really I’m directing the conversation. Inevitably they mention problems they’ve had and I can jump in with my own stories to show how I can solve their problems. This kind of conversational interview is almost relaxing, as opposed to interviewing with junior people who only know how to ask irrelevant “textbook questions”.
Unfortunately, it can backfire. In the culture of my current employer, interviewers are expected to follow a “script” dictated by the hiring manager. Less experienced managers (i.e. most of them) prepare lists of questions taken from textbooks. When the interviewers gather afterwards, they are expected to report a “score”. A candidate who asks his own questions, will have an incomplete score, as opposed to one who meekly answered the questions.
And that’s when the excuse making starts, as the interviewers need to CYA for not following “the process”. All manner of bizarre claims come out, and good candidates are lost. And no one really cares.
Hi Larry – We’ve made a management decision to omit date so that the articles have a longer “shelf-life”. Anyway, I’m surprised at what you’re saying about HR people not “scoring” candidate who ask questions. I don’t think I’d like to work at such a place. They may be looking for drones, not people.
Kevin, HR doesn’t get involved in hiring decisions. It is entirely up to the hiring managers, and the process they all follow requires that each candidate answer the same batch of canned questions. And if an interviewer doesn’t ask his assigned batch of questions, he has to CYA. Well he doesn’t “have to” CYA, he could show some initiative himself. But unfortunately the majority of the technical community in this company are natives of India, and conformity is more of a requirement than in a more American culture. If that makes any sense.