Questions to Ask When the Interviewer Is the Hiring Authority

Now we are getting somewhere. You are in front of someone with authority. Now the rubber really meets the road, and your ability to ask the right questions at the right time will make all the difference in the world.

Most interviewers start by asking the (dumb) question: "Tell me about yourself." If you do it right, you will come to the right time in the interview for you to start asking questions. See Chapter 5 for more details.

Remember to take notes during the interview. You are going to want to use the answers you get to sell yourself to the immediate hiring authority as well as to the people in the second and third round of interviews.

Begin by asking easy, nonthreatening questions:

How long have you been here?

This is a good question because people like to talk about themselves. It opens rapport. If the answer is something like, "a long time (i.e., five years or more), you are dealing with someone who ought to know the ropes. He has probably done lots of hiring for the company and has everyone's, including his higher up's, confidence and support. So, this person probably has a lot to say about the hiring decision. (Just because a person is a hiring authority, doesn't mean he or she has authority. Lots of hiring managers "screen" possible candidates, and their superiors really make the decisions. You can't assume anything.)

If the person says, "Well, I'm new here, been here six months." That is going to tell you something different than the above situation. Let's face it— a person who has been in the job for six months is just getting her feet on the ground. There is nothing inherently wrong with that. You just need to be aware that she may not know as much about the company as others, and some of your questions may not be able to be answered by this person.

What makes this a good company to work for?

This is another way of complimenting this hiring authority. Most aren't going to say, "Well, it isn't." You will probably get some insights that you will be able to feed back to not only this person, but to others you are interviewing with down the line. If you sense enthusiasm and excitement, you can do the same as you go through the interviewing cycle.

What was your background before you got here?

Again, this leads a person to talk about him- or herself. It also tells you about the person. If the answer is, "Look, sonny, I have no college education. I started out in the warehouse twenty-six years ago and came up the hard way. I know this company inside and out, and these people that want to come in and just change things because they read it in a book or got it in a class drive me crazy," you might want to underplay your brand new MBA from Columbia University. Simply take note of the story. Everyone has a story. The more analogies you can make with your story, the better you will be able to sell yourself.

How long have you been looking for a person?

There is a big difference between just starting to look for someone and "We have been looking for six months." You need to know the situation. It will lead to better questions. A company that has been interviewing for six months either doesn't have any "pain," they are looking for Superwoman (or man), or there are some problems... maybe big ones. Pay attention.

Are there any internal candidates?

You need to know this. There are usually internal candidates. So, why wasn't one hired? I have experienced many hiring situations over the years where external candidates were interviewed to simply satisfy the "Well, we looked outside the company and couldn't find anyone as qualified as the internal candidate we promoted" syndrome. After all your trouble to interview, you just might be the bridesmaid and were from the beginning.

How many candidates have you interviewed?

There is a big difference between "four or five" and "fifteen or sixteen." It isn't uncommon to hear companies say they have interviewed fifteen or sixteen. Some readily admit it and don't care. Some are embarrassed. The answer will lead to some of the next questions. A company that has interviewed fifteen or sixteen people either doesn't know what it wants, doesn't have much "pain," or is incredibly picky or stupid or both. It doesn't mean that you may not be "the one," but don't spend your first paycheck because you probably won't get hired.

What are you looking for that you haven't found in the candidates you have interviewed?

You might get a real sane answer like, "We did make an offer to one candidate, but he took another job." You might also get a less-than-sane answer like, "Well, we just haven't found the right chemistry," or "Well, there are five people who make the decision, and we can't agree on anyone" or "Well, I found three I liked but the boss nixed all of them."

Listen carefully to this answer. You may be treated the same way. I have seen situations, though, where, as in the last answer, the boss just got tired of saying "no" and approved the next candidate that made it to her or him. Also, what someone might say of other candidates, he will say of you. If every other candidate was a "jerk," "incompetent," "a fool," "not good enough," etc., you will likely be in the same category.

The answer to this question also may be the "magic bullet" that if you can prove you possess the right attributes, will win you the job.

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