Questions to Ask in One-on-One Interviews

What do you think are the most difficult aspects of the job I'm interviewing for?

Be ready to hear something that you did not hear from the hiring authority. If you do, you may have to alter the way you sell yourself to this person. If you hear relatively the same thing you heard from the hiring authority, then you can present your features, advantages, and benefits to this person, assuring him that you can deal with the job.

What has been the most difficult challenge in finding the right candidate?

See if this is consistent with the hiring authority's answer. Listen well. Again, you may need to alter your presentation of yourself.

How many candidates have you interviewed?

Good to know the number. See if it jives with what the hiring authority told you. If the hiring authority told you there were three candidates and this person tells you there are five or six, you will want to follow up by asking, "Well, (hiring authority) stated there were only three. How has it changed?" Then shut up and listen. You have asked a rather uncomfortable question for this person. You're saying, "Wait a minute. Was I not told the truth?" You demonstrate courage.

Is there anything in my background or experience that needs to be clarified?

As in previous interviews, people will act like they know what you are talking about, then, later on, not be sure. This gives the person the opportunity to ask for clarification if it is needed.

I understand that the company is considering a merger (acquisition, buyout, etc.). How do you think it will affect the company?

If there is a glaring "elephant in the room" type of issue that is going on with the company, like a merger, buyout, downsizing, etc., that you feel it is appropriate to ask about, now is the time to do it. This is a real balancing act. You have to decide what is best to do. On the one hand, you don't want to bring up difficult issues for the company you are interviewing with. But on the other hand, you don't want to appear stupid by not acknowledging an issue like this and asking about it.

So, my suggestion is that if the issue is common knowledge in the company and has been brought up in the interviewing cycle as something that might impact the company and therefore your job, you might ask. If it is a sensitive issue like a class action lawsuit, or bad publicity, though, don't touch it.

Don't ask, "How will the merger (or buyout or downsizing, etc.) affect this job?" It is too obvious that you are more concerned about yourself. Whatever the event is, if it is going to impact you and the opportunity, you will hear it then. Keep in mind that if there are any serious problems like this that you will really need to know about before you take the job, if offered, you can ask them at the time of the offer. In fact, as you will see, that is when you are going to really qualify the opportunity and ask every question you ever needed to know.

Too often, candidates ask hard qualifying questions too early in the interview process and make bad judgments about an opportunity because they don't wait until they are "at the altar" ready to get hired. I have seen numerous impending events that would appear to be "bad" actually work well for a candidate. I recently placed a regional manager who was concerned about my client company's pending merger. Whereas all of the other candidates were scared off by it, he took the job with a written agreement that, if the merger took place, his 50,000 shares of stock that came with the offer (to be given him over four years) would be immediately vested. So, he got a good job, and if the company merged, he'd get a very good "bonus."

Based on our interview, do you have any concerns about my ability to do the job?

This will be a personal view of your experience and background. If you hear "Yes," then you need to ask, "What are the concerns?" Find out what the concerns are and be prepared to sell yourself. Write them down in a businesslike manner, then counter them.

If you hear "No" then you need to ask, "Are you going to recommend to (hiring authority) that he or she should hire me?" This is the kind of bold question most candidates don't have the guts to ask. You are going to know exactly where you stand when you ask this question.

If you get confirmation that you'll be recommended to the hiring authority, then you need to say, "Great, I will call him or her today to arrange a time we can get together and hammer out the details." This doesn't mean you are going to get the job by any means. What it usually means is that this interviewing authority can live with your getting the job. It is one more small step to getting an offer. Exactly what you want!

If, though, you hear, "Well, it isn't really my decision. I just give a 'go or no go' opinion. It is (hiring authority's) decision," then it is absolutely a must that you say, "Look, Mr. or Ms._, I wouldn't be talking to you if your opinion wasn't really important. Mr. or Ms. (hiring authority) thinks very highly of you. Are you going to support my candidacy and tell (hiring authority) to hire me?" This is bold and takes courage, but you might as well know now what this person thinks of you. Best case, she tells you she will tell the hiring authority to hire you. If she hesitates and goes back to her first statement, you should probably assume that you aren't the number one candidate in the eyes of this person. It doesn't mean that you won't get the job. It does mean that you don't have a strong endorsement from this person. You may not be totally out, but you aren't a sure bet either.

What is the next step in this process?

This question is useless unless you have asked the two or three questions above. Many candidates ask this as though it were a "closing" question. As far as closing goes, though, it is very, very weak. But if you have asked the other hard questions, this becomes an informational one.

You might become surprised at the answer to this. Don't be surprised if you hear that there are two or three more steps in the process that you weren't expecting. Surprises like, "Well, we are in our 'quiet period' before going public," or, "I'm getting a new boss, and we don't want to hire anyone until he gets into the job," might come out, but at least you'll have a better picture of where things stand.

There may be other pertinent questions specific to the company or the job that you may want to ask this interviewing authority. Just remember to keep them in the realm of "selling yourself questions, rather than "qualifying questions."

You can take all the information you get in all of these kinds of interviews and ask everything you need to in the final interviews. Remember, get to the altar first, then you can qualify as much as you want before you say, "I do."

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