Author: Tim Westergren
January is the time of year when lots of folks are looking for jobs. So in that spirit…
Having conducted hundreds of interviews, for all level of positions, I’ve found that there is one part of an interview that has consistently been the most reliable for me in terms of evaluating and distinguishing candidates. It is also a part of interviewing that is systematically overlooked by job-seekers, and that is the quality of the questions asked by the candidate.
Most questions from candidates are very generic. They sound more like the obvious questions that even a casual observer of the company would ask at a cocktail party: “Where do you see the company in 5 years?” Or, “what do you think of fill-in-the-blank-widely-reported-competitor?” Interviewers themselves even under-emphasize candidate questions. Typically, they raise it at the tail end of the interview: “Any questions for us?” – posed almost like a rhetorical line suggesting that “no, you’ve actually really covered the things I wanted to know” is the appropriate reply.
I believe candidates’ questions are the most revealing part of an interview – and I always solicit them early. Great questions demonstrate intellect, depth of knowledge about the company, or even sincerity of interest in the job. Great questions reveal insights. Sometimes a question simply shows how much time you’ve spent preparing for the interview – that works too. Great questions send a message, and they will set you apart. Believe me.
In this time of New Year’s resolutions, resolve to never come to an interview without 2-3 killer questions prepared. As a rule of thumb, don’t ask anything you couldn’t have answered yourself with some research on your own. And make sure you ask them early enough in the conversation to give you time to show off your work.
Here’s the difference between a forgettable question and a great question (this is a real example): “What’s the transition been like with the new CEO?” Mediocre question.
“I noticed you took 9 months to find a new CEO, and you picked someone who has been a VC for the last 5 years. I’m curious about the criteria you used. Why did it take so long?” Great question.