We’ve all been there: you thought the interview went well and were expecting to hear good news. The interview ends and the interviewer asks if you have any questions. You don’t want to waste his/her time, but now they probably think that you feel uninterested or are not creative enough to come up with a question on the spot
Jennifer McGarr, director of professional development at the University of Missouri School of Law, said it is a big mistake not to ask any questions when interviewing a job applicant. “If you don’t ask questions,” she says, “you come across as not being very interested in the position, or you seem like the kind of person who just doesn’t have a lot of intellectual curiosity or doesn’t know or care very much about the details of the place that you’re supposedly wanting to work. We just recently interviewed someone for a job here, and she didn’t ask any questions. If you’re about to work with people, why wouldn’t you seize that opportunity to ask questions? To me, it’s just a wasted opportunity.”
Caroline Radaj, our recent UW-Madison graduate, likes to use her question time to highlight important pieces of information that she feels are getting lost in the interview. “I ask about the hiring timeline and what they seek in a candidate, Radaj, 23, says. “That way, if you think you fit something they mention and you weren’t given the opportunity to talk about that part, you can.”
Radaj shares that asking questions is another opportunity to promote yourself
“There are ways you can use that time when you ask interview questions so you can score points in your favor for getting that job,” McGarr says. “You can bring up anything you wanted to come out during the interview that didn’t come out. So if you wanted to have the chance to talk about a judicial clerkship you did over the summer, and they didn’t ask you about it at all, under the guise of asking a question, you can say, ‘When I did my judicial clerkship last summer, I noticed some situation in a case we reviewed. Is that something you’ve experienced in your practice area?’”
It’s important for the interviewer to be interested in the candidate during the interview. One way of doing this might be by framing questions in a way that highlights relevant experience while demonstrating your knowledge of the company.
Using shared connections to make an impression is also possible. If you are familiar with the schools your interviewer attended, for example, it would be good to chat about them and see if you have any interests or memories in common.
McGarr urges his students to rewrite questions in a way that will make the interviewer feel like it was a question designed specifically for her.
“For a while I had a bunch of students during mock interviews asking, ‘What do you have on your desk right now?’ You can still ask a question about what the current projects the interviewer is working on without having that canned, ‘I read this in a book’ feel to it,” McGarr says.
Questions like that, in my opinion, don’t really seem to be specific to me or genuine. A good approach would be to find out a little about your interviewer and then ask them about their current project. This will usually help you get a better understanding of things.
“You’ve impressed him because he feels like you’re asking specifically about him,” McGarr says. “It’s shows you’ve researched the company, the interviewer, and are genuinely interested in him or her. It’s the same exact question as what’s on your desk right now, but it doesn’t sound like a stock question made for anyone.”
What Not to Ask
It’s not a good idea to ask about salary or perks during the job interview.
“One piece of feedback I’ve had recently from employers is that everybody knows this current job market is tough,” McGarr said. “In general, it’s a bad idea to ask about how many hours you have to work, how much you’re going to get paid, how much vacation time you’re going to get, or how much maternity leave they offer. To the employer, it sounds like before you’ve even been offered the job you’re asking for time off or more money.”
McGarr believes it is better to wait for the interviewer to mention it. At that point, if you’ve been offered a position, then bring up the issue.
An interview is a time when you have to demonstrate that you know what’s going on in the company, so ask your interviewer about it. There are ways of being safe with questioning: you can ask about what the workplace environment is like and how people are allocated their tasks. If you can find the answers to your questions easily online, you don’t need to ask them. “Then you just look lazy,” she says. “You want the questions to demonstrate that you’ve read the stuff on the website, but then you’ve thought, ‘Hmmm, that raises more questions for me.’”
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