The one interview question to get right

When it comes to job interviews, preparation is key. But it’s not always easy for prospective employees to show interviewers who they are, and how well they’ve done their homework. The best chance comes when you’re asked the inevitable – but tricky – open-ended question: “What questions do you have?”

This is an interviewer’s chance to find out how much research you’ve done, how self-absorbed you are, and where your priorities lie.

There are good and bad ways to respond. If you want to mess up what might have been an otherwise successful interview, be sure to ask one of the following:

1. “What will my salary be?” — followed by the even worse, “And how often do you give raises?

2. “What are your policies regarding vacation, time off, and breaks?”

3. “Can you tell me about your healthcare plan? Will my spouse be covered?”

The first questions reflect a “what’s in it for me?” attitude. The second two are the types of questions more appropriate for human resources than for your valuable time with a decision-maker. There’s plenty of time to learn about these issues if an offer is made.

So instead of asking questions about you, try asking a few about the place to which you may be devoting a great deal of your future time and energy:

1. “How can new employees become familiar with, and begin to contribute to, the culture you’ve developed here?

2. “What’s the most important way that your company differentiates itself from competitors?” (Focus the question on the particular industry you’re in, showing that you’re knowledgeable about the company and its sector.)

3. “What are a few of the most important challenges that the industry is facing, and how is your company going to approach them?

4. “What might I do to add the greatest value to the business?” — followed by, “What kinds of things can I do to prepare myself for the job?”

These questions reveal three important things: that you know the company has a unique culture; that you understand that a successful business is ultimately about offering something unique to the market, and that you’re already imagining yourself as part of a winning team.

If such an open-ended question scares you, don’t let it. If you’re ready, you can transform a challenge into an opportunity, and either get the job offer or get called back for a second interview — where your interviewers will remember how prepared you were for the toughest question of all.


Adapted from a post on LinkedIn by Joel Peterson. See upcoming posts from Joel in your LinkedIn news feed