Distinguish yourself: 10 questions to impress your interviewer

By Dawn Wotapka

During a job interview, candidates typically answer plenty of questions. But, invariably, the tables get turned and the job seeker gets to do the asking. Instead of dreading this pivot, consider it a crucial time to distinguish yourself, to help determine if the role fits you, and to dive deeper into the all-important organizational culture.

"Always have some questions ready to ask, as recruiters and hiring managers love when candidates have queries," said Jim Sullivan, founder and CEO of JCSI, a Massachusetts-based recruiting company.

Career experts can provide valuable insight about what — and what not — to ask when it is your turn to interview the interviewer. Here are 10 suggested questions:

I read that your organization [insert fact here]. Can you tell me more? Asking something like this demonstrates that you've done your research. It shows "that you know a snippet of information about the company but are eager to learn more," Sullivan said.

What are your expectations for this position? Candidates need to know exactly what the potential employer is looking for. From the interviewer's answer, "you'll get an idea if you feel like you can achieve this goal," said Edith Hamilton, a former CFO who founded NEXT New Growth, a coaching company. "Knowing expectations and sharing similar goals to the company will help you get things in order if you fill the position."

Where do you see the organization in a few years in terms of growth? (Or a similar, appropriate open-ended question) By asking something that doesn't have a right or wrong answer, "you can identify some common challenges," Sullivan said, and you can provide the interviewer possible solutions to those challenges, offering you a chance to shine. This also allows you to glean insight into whether you'd enjoy working for the organization, Sullivan noted.

How would you describe the work environment? Asking the interviewer for their personal experience with the workplace can often elicit a more in-depth and real-world answer than just asking, "What is the company culture?" said Jon Hill, chairman and CEO of The Energists, which places financial professionals in energy roles globally. "That question is likely to get you a near-verbatim reading of the stated culture and policy, rather than the firsthand account from someone who works within it," he said. 

What is the biggest challenge facing your department/team/organization today? This question can be used to show you're interested in the employer and its current challenges. "It also allows you to find out what the other person values and what they think will make a big impact," said Kimberley Tyler-Smith, head of strategy for Resume Worded, an AI-enabled career platform.

What is the typical career path for someone in this role? "This shows that you're interested, not just in a job, but in a career with this company," Hill said. "It is also a good way to find out about potential advancement opportunities without it seeming like you only see the role in question as a steppingstone." 

What are some projects that you are working on right now that I could help you with? The answer may allow you an opportunity to further highlight your skills and what you can bring to the role. "Ideally, they say something you have experience with, and this will start a conversation and you can tell them how you are qualified and can jump right in," said Anna Papalia, CEO of Shift Profile, a Philadelphia-based company that teaches hiring managers and job seekers how to interview better.

Was there anything done by the previous holder of this position that you really enjoyed and hope continues? When an employee leaves a role, the hiring manager loses the qualities that made that individual an asset. "Use the success of the previous employee and build off of it," Hamilton said. "The hiring manager wants every new hire to be just a little bit better than the previous one."

Was there anything with the job's previous structure that didn't work well? When you take on a new role, you get a chance to make your mark. Knowing what worked and what didn't provides crucial insight to help you "avoid any mistakes that were made in the past," Hamilton said.

How would you describe your leadership style? Leadership styles vary, and it's best to know what you'd be in for. Some bosses are very nurturing, while others are strictly business. "Certain employees work best with specific leaders," Hamilton said. "It's best to know upfront about how a leader works and what they prefer from their employees."

While these questions will help you shine during the process, avoid asking anything that can easily be learned about the organization, because that would make it appear that you didn't read up for the interview, Hill said. Also, don't ask about time off, health benefits, and salary until later in the process. "Asking about vacations before you've even landed the job can send the impression you don't really want to work and can make the interviewer concerned that you won't be available when they need you," he said.

Instead, use the time to showcase your skills and talents as you learn more about the job and the company, Papalia said. "An interview is a two-way street," she said. "You also want to interview them."

Dawn Wotapka is a freelance writer based in Georgia. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.

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