Go ahead, ask!

Successful interviewing is a two-way strategy

“I wanted to know just as much about them as they wanted to know about me,” says Tracy Vinson of her job interview for a social work position with Christian Community Health Center in Chicago, last September. “I wanted to show that I wasn’t just a good listener, but also a good communicator.” The last thing she wanted to do was simply react to a series of questions fired off at her by an interviewer.

Instead, she raised questions of her own, using the opportunity to turn the interview into a two-way conversation.

“I made sure I asked about all of their current programs. In doing so, they got to know me and they realized how sincere I was about being a social worker.” Vinson was offered the job.

Job seekers should in fact use questions to convey an interest in a position, explains Ron Fry, author of 101 Smart Questions to Ask on Your Interview (Career Press; $12.99).

“If an interviewer asks if you have any questions, I don’t care if you’ve been there for seven hours and the interviewer has gone over everything that anyone could possibly imagine,” stresses Fry. “You can’t say no; it shows disinterest.”

It conveys that a job candidate is not bright, offers Deborah Walker, owner of Alpha Advantage, a career coaching company outside Portland, Oregon. Questions can be designed to uncover what Walker calls “hot buttons” — qualities the interviewer deems most important.

“They are going to be questions like ‘What do you see as the most critical need for this position?’” she says. “When [job candidates] ask those kinds of questions early on, they know how to answer questions back.”

Questions can also show a job applicant’s knowledge of the field. A good question might be, “I noted in a recent trade magazine article that that new product is doing very well. Why do you think that is?” suggests Fry.

There are also questions to avoid:

“Don’t ask about money and don’t ask about benefits until they bring it up,” says Walker.

Avoid getting too personal. “I don’t think you want to ask, ‘So what are your hobbies?’ or ‘How many kids do you have?’ or ‘How long have you been married?’” suggests Fry. “That’s none of your business and it serves no purpose whatsoever.

“Any question that gets the interviewer talking and gets you involved in a conversation as opposed to an interview is a good question,” says Fry. “The more comfortable you make the interviewer, the better job you’re doing at literally taking over the interview as opposed to just sitting there, answering questions yourself.”

More than making a good impression, a candidate should also want as much information as possible about a potential job, says Fry. “Even if you’re desperate, you don’t want to put yourself in the situation where you don’t ask about things that are important to you and you wind up taking the job, and three days later you realize it’s completely wrong for you.”

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