Questions to Ask Before the Initial Interview

Most candidates looking for a job don't prepare well for an initial interview. Even though they may practice interviewing techniques, they often overlook preparation for interviews with specific companies or individuals. So, ask yourself these questions:

What do I know about the company I'm speaking with?

I can't tell you the number of candidates I have worked with over the years who knew nothing about the company they were interviewing with. Or, what is worse, they researched the wrong company and showed up being totally uninformed or misinformed. The more you know, the better you will interview. This is especially important the longer you interview. People often start out doing this right, but after they have been looking for a while, they get lazy and a bit depressed and stop doing it.

Have I done my research on the company?

Not just by using the Internet. Talk to clients/customers of the company, its suppliers, its competitors, and some of its present or previous employees. Get a leg up on your competition and think of innovative ways of doing your research.

Do I know anyone in the company?

People often move around in the same business from company to company. If you are interviewing with a competitor, supplier, or any organization that might employ someone you know, or even know of from a second-hand source, you might want to call that person and ask about the company. Don't do this, though, if you are presently employed and don't want to run the risk of your looking for a job being discovered. Unfortunately, people love to gossip. I can't tell you the number of times where one of my employed candidates did this only to find out that it got back to his or her company. Think before you do this!

Have I taken good notes about the company to refer to during the interview?

You look like you know what you are doing when you have made notes about your research.

What do I know about the person I am interviewing with? Is he or she the hiring authority or an intermediary? Did I "Google" all the individuals? What do I know about them personally?

The more you know about the people you will talk to, the better. It may never come up, but it sure is a great "talking point" if you find that the hiring authority went to one of the universities in the South East Conference as you did, and you can break the ice by talking about the school's rivalries. Or, if your MBA is from Columbia and so is his or hers, you automatically have something in common.

Did I get a copy of the job description before the interview?

Job descriptions are often on the company websites. Or, can the specific one be e-mailed to me before I show up? These, more often than not, are ridiculously generic, but it can't hurt to know it. By the way, don't be too taken with the requirements that are posted with the job. These descriptions are usually written by people who have nothing to do with the job function.

What makes this company good—or not so good?

You may not be able to form an answer to this question yet, but it certainly can't hurt to ask yourself as you do your research.

Does this company have any glaring problems that I should know about?

You do need to know about any issues. But, if you find out that it does have problems, that doesn't automatically mean that it isn't a good job or company for you. Besides, if the problems are even remotely known to the public, you won't look good in the interviewing process if you aren't aware of them.

Can I articulate my unique features, advantages, and benefits for this position or the company based on what I know about it?

You better have some idea of what you can do for them that no one else can. "I'm just a great person to be around" doesn't do the trick.

Do I have a list of good questions to ask the interviewer based on the research I have done?

You may not need them all, but you will look intelligent when you do have them.

There are some things you should not ask on an initial interview, especially with the research capabilities offered by the Internet. If you have to ask these questions in the interview, the interviewing authority will know you aren't the sharpest pencil in the box. So, before you go on an interview you should already know:

How large is the company? How large is the department?

What are its major markets?

What is its position in the marketplace or ranking in the industry?

What is its market share?

What are its products or services?

Is it growing? Contracting?

How fast has it been growing (or contracting)?

Questions to Ask When Working with an External Recruiter

An external recruiter can make a tremendous difference in the effectiveness of your interview. Some of us have worked with the same hiring authorities for years. If we have been at our profession for a number of years, we even may have placed the hiring authority we are referring you to. Many times we have a strong personal relationship with them. But even if we don't, it certainly doesn't hurt to ask your recruiter about the interviewing or hiring authority because a recruiter can be an excellent source of information as you research the company.

Here is a list of questions you should ask your recruiter:

How long have you worked with this interviewing or hiring authority? The company?

What does this company want to find in a candidate?

Tell me everything you know about the job: major duties and responsibilities, money, travel, territory, quota... everything!

How long has the company been looking? When does it need to fill the job? What is the interviewing process?

Why is it looking? Is the job a replacement or a promotion? What happened to the last person?

How many other candidates is it looking at? What has it not seen in other candidates that it would like to find?

Does it have any internal candidates? Are you representing any of them? If so, what is my competition like? How do I stack up with them, in your opinion?

What are my strengths relative to the job and the person doing the interviewing?

What are my weaknesses relative to the job and the person doing the interviewing?

What in my background should I emphasize in the interview?

What is the personal background of the hiring authority? How long has he or she been there? What are his or her personal likes or dislikes? Has he or she hired for this position before?

What issues am I going to have to overcome in the interview?

What do I need to do or show interviewers to get beyond the initial interview?

What do I need to do to get the job offer?

An external recruiter may not have all these answers, but you need to ask. You might find out crucial information that could help give you an edge over the competition. The more you know about the job, the interviewer, etc., the better you will do.

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