Jason really wanted the job, and had spent a lot of time preparing for the interview. He thought about possible interview questions he'd be asked, and practiced his responses. He researched the company, and felt he had a good grasp of what they did. He also read through the job description several times to make sure he understood the different responsibilities of the position. "I think I'm ready," he thought, "to answer anything they throw at me."
While Jason's preparation was much more thorough than that of many job seekers, he had overlooked a key aspect of interview preparation. While he had done a good job getting ready to answer questions, he had neglected to think through which questions he wanted to ask in the interview. Jason, therefore, was only half-prepared for this important interview.
A good interview is a two-way conversation, with each person both asking and answering questions. Often times, the interviewer expects to do most of the asking, and may wait until the end of the time to inquire if you have any questions. To make the most of an interview, however, it is to your advantage to ask some questions early in the session.
The Best Question to Ask
As Jason prepared for his interview, one question kept popping up in his mind, "I wonder what they're really looking for in this position?" What Jason didn't realize was that he could actually ask that question of his interviewer, and that knowing the answer to the question would greatly increase his chances of being hired. While there are several types of questions that are helpful to ask during an interview, probably none is more important than one asking the interviewer to "lay the cards on the table" in terms of which qualifications are most important to those making the hiring decision.
The "job requirements" of a job posting may list the type of education, years of work experience, etc. that the company thinks are needed to do the job. The requirements list, however, seldom reveals what the hiring manager is really looking for; that is, what he or she thinks is essential to doing the job well. It is to your advantage, therefore, to ask for this information early on so that you have the rest of the interview to demonstrate how you have those vital traits, skills and experiences.
Here are some variations of this key question:
- "What qualifications are most important to you in the person you hire for this position?" (Job Search Mastery Workbook, Kevin & Kay Marie Brennfleck)
- "Could you please tell me in your own words what you are looking for in this position?" (Guerilla Tactics in the Job Market, Tom Jackson)
- "What are the skills and attributes you value most for someone being hired for this position?" ("The Best Questions to Ask in the Interview," Kate Lorenz, CareerBuilder.com Editor)
Have the answer to this question is like getting the answers to an exam while you're in the midst of taking it. The difference here, of course, is that this isn't "cheating"; rather, it makes you a great interviewee. Obtaining this information at the front of the interview also makes you a likely candidate to become the company new employee!
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