Maybe you're a new graduate, or maybe you're returning to the workforce. Perhaps, you are relocating with a spouse forced to follow opportunity in our challenging economy. Whatever the case, you're job hunting and facing the prospect of that all-important interview.
You may dress the part, bring a list of references and practice answering questions an employer may ask. But don't neglect the most important part: interviewing the employer.
Put simply, during an interview, you're not only selling, you're buying. You'll need to be sure the employer and organization are worth your time and talent. To do that, you'll need to understand what can go wrong, what to look for, and what to ask.
Why Wasn't I Hired?
If you already have performance anxiety about the interview process, it may seem like jumping the gun to worry about grilling a prospective employer. People aren't hired just because they don't ask questions about the job.
But an employer is unlikely to tell you why you didn't get the job. Reasons for this may include fear of being sued for perceived discrimination, avoiding an angry confrontation, or they simply don't have time to give constructive criticism.1
Avoidance of legal liability may prevent an employer from being truthful when giving an answer. According to one executive, if you hear the word "no," there is little point in listening further.2
In a recent CareerBuilder survey, nearly half of employers say not asking questions cost the candidate the job. Applicants will otherwise frequently make it obvious that they don't want to be hired, as suggested in Table 1.
|TABLE 1: TEN REASONS WHY YOU WON'T GET HIRED3
||Do this instead
|lying on a résumé
||Explain areas of concern in your cover letter.
|trashing a current or previous employer
||Find a way to be positive about a negative situations.
|lack of long-term potential
||Show that you want to be and grow with the organization.
||Be careful what you post on sites like Facebook.
|lack of knowledge
||Do your homework about the job you're applying for; the more, the better.
|you act bored, cocky, disinterested
||Avoid talking too much about yourself.
|too much talk about money
||Don't mention it before they do.
||Give specific examples of what you have done to show what you can do.
|lack of experience
||Concrete examples will show how you can hit the ground running.
While these seem like sensible reasons not to hire a candidate, they may not immediately be obvious to you as the applicant.
For example, if the interviewer asks, "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?" and you answer, "I'd like to make better stock market investments," that sends a red flag that you aren't interested in the job. It's better to ask what kind of qualities the employer is looking for in a candidate and what kind of growth they expect to see.
In addition to the suggestions in Table 1 to avoid these common pitfalls, a few job interview tips are listed in Table 2.
|TABLE 2: JOB INTERVIEW TIPS8
|Phase of the Interview Process
• research--visit the company Web site, talk to employees
• practice in front of a mirror
• dress to impress (conservative, dark clothes are safe)
||jot notes during the interview to ask questions
||send a thank you note, reminding the employer of points made during the interview
|Table/Courtesy Employment Guide
Employers Expect Questions
Those parts of the interview you might prepare for--dressing the part, arriving on time, answering questions about yourself--are focused on what the employer wants.
But when an employer gets to the part of the interview in which he or she asks, "Do you have any questions?" it's time to turn the tables. What you ask and how you ask it, reveal what kind of information you're looking for in considering the job. The worst thing you can do is not ask anything.
One job interview Web site cautions not asking questions of the interviewer gives the impression that you aren't interested or won't ask questions once hired. Many recruiters expect applicants to ask questions. Thoughtful questions--that is, not of the "how many vacation days a year do I get?" variety--show that you are an active participant in the process.4
How to Ask
How do you decide what to ask? If what you ask may give you the job or not asking anything cost you the job, you need to be prepared.
An interviewer asks if you have any questions for a reason. He or she wants to know how interested you are and what you are looking for in the position, or may have a specific question in mind that will make a difference.
One site lists questions applicants may ask recruiters, managers and human resource professionals.5 The interviewer needs to be prepared to answer them.
You may always ask, "Is this a good point to ask you some questions that I have about the position?" Specific, open-ended questions help give an impression that you are interested in making a decision and not just waiting passively for a response after the interview.
Here are starting tips when considering questions:
- Avoid interrupting the interviewer. Wait to be asked if you have questions or for a point where you can ask.
- Ask open-ended questions. Asking questions that require a "yes" or "no" response provide minimal information.
- Only ask questions related to the job, department, management or organization.
- Ask questions the interviewer is likely to know the answer to.6
It's OK to have a prepared list of questions, from memory or from notes jotted during the interview. But you have to ask.
What to Ask
To ask the right questions, you'll need to know what you value ahead of the interview. It's possible that you might only be concerned with a paycheck and the employer only concerned with a warm body, but few of us are so lucky. It won't hurt to do a little soul-searching to decide what your perfect job will be.
The Career Builder Web site points out key drivers of job satisfaction listed in Table 3.7 Be honest with yourself about what you most value. Is it relationships with coworkers? Autonomy to make decisions? Or do you want to be part of a transformational, progressive team?
|TABLE 3: TOP FIVE THINGS TO CONSIDER IN A JOB7
||managers, peers, subordinates
||location/commute, hours, weekends, amount of work (and overtime)
|kind of work
||autonomy, tasks, teamwork, growth opportunities
||values (what drives decision making), leadership, vitality
||base pay, incentive pay
Make a list of what motivates you in deciding where to work, ranking items in order of importance. Perhaps, financial worries are an immediate concern but not the most important reason to stay in a job more than 6 months. Considering a variety of motivators will help you decide what to ask.
Finally, sample questions to ask and avoid are listed in Table 4. Don't be afraid to ask to speak to other employees if a healthy work environment is most important.
|TABLE 4: INTERVIEW QUESTIONS9
|Questions to Ask
||Questions to Avoid
• Is this a new position? If not, what did the previous employee go on to do?
• What is the company's management style?
• What is the typical work week? Is overtime expected?
• What are the prospects for growth and advancement?
• How does one advance in the company?
• If I am extended a job offer, how soon would you like me to start?
• What can I tell you about my qualifications?
• When can I expect to hear from you?
• Are there any other questions I can answer for you?
• What does this company do? (Do your research ahead of time!)
• If I get the job when can I take time off for vacation? (Wait until you get the offer to mention prior commitments)
• Can I change my schedule if I get the job? (If you need to figure out the logistics of getting to work don't mention it now)
• Did I get the job? (Don't be impatient. They'll let you know.)
What you ask and how you ask it will reveal what motivates you in deciding to seek and accept a particular job. It tells an employer what's important to you, which can make you stand out from other candidates. Asking the right questions will not just help you get the job, but the right job.
Scott Warner is laboratory manager, Penobscot Valley Hospital, Lincoln, ME.
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3. Beyondjob. Why aren't you getting hired? Available at: http://blog.beyondjob.com/2010/02/why-arent-you-getting-hired-top-10-reasons. Last accessed Nov. 9, 2010.
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