Interview: How not to Suck when asked “Do You Have any Questions”

6a0133f30ae399970b014e88179ee5970d-piTowards the end of interviews it is the norm for the interviewer to ask “Do you have any questions?”. The common response from candidates is a “ No, not right now” or something to that effect.

Per-se there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with that answer. It seems to be polite, courteous and modest. All good traits to display.

But think about it, why wouldn’t you have any questions?.

You will spend a chunk of your waking time at this place if things work out. Would’nt it be good to have complete clarity on what you will be doing, how you will be doing and maybe even why?

It is an opportunity. Take it.

So, lets get into the details of the Why, What and How to respond to the query “ Do you have any questions”

Lets start with Why?

Why you should have questions to Ask? The benefits are multiple, and the three most important ones are –

  1. These questions help to build clarity on your role, the company, and your boss.Interview is a 2 way process. As you are being interviewed you have an opportunity to evaluate the company environment, and the work. These questions will help you do just and put you in a position to take a more informed decision.
  2. Building rapport with the interviewer is a major objective for any candidate. Rapport happens with engaging conversations and the right questions asked sincerely are the lubricants to ensure a smooth conversation.
  3. The third point is a by-product. Relevant questions will mark you out as a well-prepared and keen candidate, who has done his homework.

Those are the 3 key reasons as to why you should use the opportunity to Ask. Now lets move on to the what?.

What to Ask?

Once there is clarity about the objective of asking questions – deciding on what to ask becomes simple. These questions fall into 3 broad categories

  • Role related.
    • Ask questions to get clarity about the role in case there are areas that you feel have not been thoroughly covered in the earlier part of interview. Sample questions could be –
      • Can you share more about the day to day responsibilities of the position?
      • If I am hired, what would be expected of me in the first 90 days? ..
  • Culture related.
    • We spend a majority of our waking hours at work. You are more likely to enjoy your time at the workplace if you fit into the workculture. You are likely to develop better relationships and be more productive at work. A few sample questions are –
    • Can you share your thoughts about the company culture?
    • What is the culture like?
    • What do you enjoy most about working here?
  • Boss/hiring manager related
    • These would be questions relating to your prospective Boss’s working style, how does he prefer his reports whether email or face to face, or phone. How often does he prefer being reported to. Is he a micromanager or a hands-off chief . A straightforward question to ask would be –
    • How would you describe your working style?

And as he responds you could ask questions to probe further.

These are just a few sample questions to ask, they are not an exhaustive list. You will find enough resources on line which provide such lists. The thing is that with a clear understanding of why you are asking – the what to Ask becomes easy. Infact the best questions come to you as you answer the questions the interviewer asks. So when a question pops up, jot it down in a pad to ask at the end.

What not to Ask?

Just like there are questions that are good to ask, there are also questions to avoid asking. This would be –

  • Question relating to Personal topics, family or last working assignment.
  • Queries about happy hours, non- work activities, lunch and vacation times.
  • Salary is a topic which is best left to the interviewer to bring up.
  • Filler questions. Avoid asking questions for which you can get the response by Googling.
  • Lastly avoid too many questions. And what is too many? If the interviewer is getting restless or is subtly giving indications of the interview being, take the hint. At best 2-3 well thought out questions should be good enough.

That brings us to the How?.

How to Ask?

Let the questions be open ended. For example you could phrase the questions as .. “Can you tell me about …?, “How would you describe ….?. Framing the question in such a manner makes it easier to probe further, thus opening up the conversation. Avoid yes and no questions.

Further, open ended questions set you up for follow up questions. Based on the interviewers response these help you to dig deeper. Follow-up questions give us greater insight, letting us form a clear opinion.

A key aspect about asking questions is waiting for response. A thing to remember is that it is not just about asking questions it is about building conversations. Let the interviewer take his time in responding. Don’t interject or try to fill in the silence in anyway. Get comfortable with silences. And don’t interrupt when the interviewer is speaking. For one it interrupts his train of thought and the other it is disrespectful. Not quite your objective.  deer-in-headlights

Moral of the story is when asked “Do you have any Questions” – don’t be like a dear caught in the headlights. Be prepared with a list and ask 2 to 3 relevant questions. Art of the Ask is in engaging the other person in this case the interviewer. It is about building rapport and getting clarity.

Prakash Francis is a Talent Acquisition expert based in Bangalore.

Interview Question:What is your greatest Weakness?

I have come to learn there is a virtuous cycle to transparency and a very vicious cycle of obfuscation.

Jeff Weiner (CEO Linkedin) 

The question “what is your greatest weakness” continues to be one that stresses and stumps candidates. Sort of putting them between the devil and the deep blue sea. On the one hand you do not want to appear insincere, on the other you are not in a position to highlight something that could be red flag for the interviewer.Strengths and Weaknesses - Internal Part of a SWOT Analysis

You might wonder why ask such a question – and make candidates uncomfortable?

The reason is simple. It is to find out how aware you are about your weaknesses and strengths. Further, it gives an indication about how open you might be to receive some constructive feedback. This question in a way helps in developing clarity about your fit for the role.

There are multiple ways to handle this question and the online sources have a number of them listed out. But most of the listed advice is cute to say the least. One often quoted suggestion is to turn a strength into a weakness – I am a perfectionist. The problem is that the interviewer is likely to have read the same blogs, and he is going to know where you are coming from. This kind of response makes you appear evasive, and raises a red flag on your honesty.

Instead consider scenario shared below. Note how this candidate tackles the question in an open, transparent manner.

Interviewer: Ravi, can you tell us about your greatest weakness?

Ravi(candidate) : Sir, I assume you mean with respect to the job I am interviewing for.  

Interviewer: Yes, You are right.

Ravi: I feel I need to work on my organizing ability and productivity. Let me explain. I have a good record at my work so far. I have consistently achieved or surpassed the numbers and have been commended for the same. I have excellent ability to approach and persuade prospects and clients. I am good at asking questions and am good at follow-up. But where I fall short is in not being completely organised. I can be better at managing my time and in organizing myself in a manner that I my productivity improves and I am able to achieve much more. 

Interviewer: Mr. Ravi, does that mean you are saying that you are not productive enough.

Ravi: No that is not what I am saying. What I am saying is that with my existing skills I am good on the job considering my overall performance – but I can do a lot more. But to move ahead in my career –I need to work on my ability to organize myself, so that I can handle greater responsibilities with ease.

Interviewer: If you are good on the job and that is shown by your performance results that means it is your strength. We would like to see an example of your failing.

Ravi: I see where you are getting at. But thing is that I do not like to fail so I try to anticipate such situations and prepare myself accordingly. Based on self evaluation I realize that – if I do not work on my skills of organizing I will have challenges while taking up greater responsibilities and work loads. Hence I am preparing myself accordingly – by reading books on the topic and enrolling for courses.

I hope I have answered to your satisfaction , I would appreciate if you could share your thoughts on areas that I could improve upon.

This is one way to handle the question. Have a frank discussion about your weaknesses.Inability to stay organized is a weakness – yet it is a weakness a number of candidates struggle with especially in the early years. The other thing is that the candidate is open about how he is tackling the situation and his keenness to improve himself.

This answer displays

  1. the candidates thought clarity,
  2. Self awareness
  3. Willingness to work on himself.

All attributes of a positive, career focused candidate.

The writer is a Talent Acquisition Expert based in Bangalore.

 

 

Interviews:Five steps to an effective close.

This is not the END
This is not even the beginning of the END!
If anything, it is the END of the Beginning!
Winston Churchill

INTERVIEW CLOSE

Endings are important whether to a War or to a novel. Great endings lead to great New beginnings so, It makes sense to make them memorable.The same goes for Interviews too.

But, when it comes to closing interviews, candidates too often end in a jiffy with a smile and thank you. Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t propose that they stop being gracious to the interviewer or for that matter stop smiling. No! of course not. But, there is room to do a lot more than that.

This is a key moment of Interviewer “Face Time”. Why would you want to waste it?.

Ask any Toastmaster, he will tell you the importance of a great opening and a great close. That’s because the audience remembers what came first and what came last, they forget the rest.  As an interviewee you can take advantage of this human frailty to leave an impact on your audience ( the interviewer) by crafting a memorable close.

How can you do that?

Here is a simple Five step process to close any interview with impact.

Step-1. Summarize. Provide the interviewer with a synopsis of your experience. Recap, re-state, recount why you feel you are the best fit for the job. For example – “As an experienced finance professional having worked extensively on international taxation, I have proven ability in building and leading teams and developing effective solutions for tax automation. As such I hold a sincere interest in joining your team”. Highlight how your skills and experience fit with the job reqs and work environment.

Step-2. Express Interest. Continuing with the last point re-express interest in the job. Emphasize by stating how exciting the position sounds and how you look forward to work with the team. Demonstrate knowledge about the company products and services and focus on its positive reputation. Leave the interviewer with the impression that you this company is your FIRST CHOICE.

Step-3.Concerns. Now to tackle the unspoken anxieties of the interviewer. Silent concerns are a hurdle standing in way of you getting the job. Here is an example of easing an interviewers concern by proactively bringing up the topic – If I were in your place I might wonder as to why I would leave, own house and family and move to a different location. I would like to clarify the reasons for this move …. This clears the air and creates room for a healthy discussion which other-wise might remain a nagging thought in the interviewers mind.

The above three steps will set you up for a classy ending to your interview. The next two will pave the way for a smooth transition to a post interview phase.

askStep-4.Ground work. After the interview you would want to be in a position to call up and speak with the interviewers. This requires some ground work. Ask by when you can expect a response and if it is okay for you to follow up in-case you do not hear from them. You don’t need their permission to ask but having the permission makes your job easier. Helps in overcoming any inhibitions that you may feel when the time comes to follow up. Further ask what the next step is going to be, are the shortlisted candidates going to be called for another round, what would be the time frame? Will there be multiple rounds? Keep these questions ready.

Step-5.Names and a Thankyou. You have got the permission to followup, how will you do so if you have not managed to get their contacts. So, get the names of all the people whom you have met, who interviewed you and their contact information. Send them an individual thank you note. There are innumerable resources online which will help you in crafting a professional thankyou mail.

Following this five step process will help you stand out in the eyes of your interviewer. Always give a great amount of attention to each one of the steps above for every interview you attend. Your interviewers will appreciate your preparation and professionalism and surely want to have you in their team. And yes, don’t forget to shine your “close up” smile to bring the proceeds to an effective close.

Prakash Francis is a Talent Acquisition expert based in Bangalore.

 

What was your contribution?

What can be your contribution?

What is the contribution of a wicket Keeper in a cricket team? He prevents the ball from trickling past to the boundary. He keeps the batsmen in check by being ready to stump – thereby preventing the batsman from being prolific in his scoring. These are just a couple of contributions of a wicket keeper during a game. CONTRIBUTION

So what is/was your contribution in your job. Did you get a new client. The lone client in a difficult market. Did you solve a tough accounting problem that the company was facing. You need not have accomplished anything all alone. Nothing happens all alone in the industry. In fact if you say that you accomplished something alone then that might raise a red flag.

Think about all these contributions while you were at work. Get them on your resume and create a contribution statement. Your contribution statement can even be a promise as to what specific contribution you could make in the job you are applying for. This can be created based on the job specs.

Be creative. Try this out. I do not come cross such proactive statements in resumes. Try something different.

Having a resume objective is fine. But it can get too general. A little groundwork can help you structure your resume to the specific job you are applying for.

The curious case of the utter uselessness of interviews

On April 8th Jason Dana an Assistant professor of Yale came up with a provocative write up on NY Times titled – “ The utter Uselessness of Interviews”. His argument kicked up a fair bit of dust.

If you read the post right till the very end you realize that his title was misleading. It should have been ” The utter uselessness of Un-structured interviews”. In the post he argues for Structured Interviews as against unstructured interviews. But you realize this only at the very end , only in the second last para.

I read the post assuming that the argument was about the uselessness of interviews. But in a climactic twist the last scene revealed that the villain was actually the hero. Everything was right with interviewing(villain turned hero) – solution was to conduct a certain kind of interview( structured).

Then why this Title?

Misprint?

Cannot be – not on NY Times.

Possibly Mr Dana wanted to have some fun at our expense. Send us on a small wild goose hunt and maybe get some readership.

Life can get to be boring, at times.

 

What is a Structured Interview?

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Job Interview

In a structured job interview all the candidates are asked the same set of questions in the same order. This ensures that they are assessed on the same parameters, translating to a fair and objective assessment.

The flipside to this style of interviewing is that they may not elicit much information from the candidates.

Unstructured interviews on the other hand are conversations that follow promising lines of inquiry as they appear. You get to know more a lot more about the candidate this way, but it makes comparing the candidates difficult.

Which is the best bath? Depending upon the requirement it could be a either or neither. In my opinion the best path would probably the middle path. No i am not referring to the path showed by the Great Gautam Buddh.

middle-path-sign

What i mean is, stay flexible in your line of questioning – but have a core set of questions common for all the interviewees. By preparing these core questions in advance – you can be assured that all key points are covered.  While, the unstructured element of the interview opens the door to productive areas of enquiry which you may not have anticipated.

 

 

The grateful candidate

“I need money. Can you lend me 1000 Rs?” a man asked Mulla Nasruddin.

“I won’t give you. Be grateful for that!”

Angrily the friend replied , “that you don’t want to lend the money I can rather understand. But asking me to be grateful for that is downright disgraceful.”

“My dear friend, ” answered the Mulla , ” You asked me for money, I could have said,  Come Tomorrow”. Tomorrow I could have said ” I am sorry , iam not ready to give you yet, come the day after”. If you came the day after i could have said “come at the end of the week.” This way i could have held you off till the end of time, or atleast until someone else gave you the money.

But, you would not have found anyone else to give the money because all your hopes would have been with me, and you would have been counting on me to get the money. So in all honesty i am telling you I am not going to give you the money so that you can look for it elsewhere and make your fortune there. I have saved you so much time and effort, So be grateful to me.

The recruiter and candidate relationship is similar to that story.

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The candidate comes looking for a job and the recruiter in his attempt to be polite raises the candidates hopes. Finally all the hedging tactics don’t help as the recruiter does’nt have a suitable job and he starts ignoring the candidate calls and mails. This results in mental agony for the candidate and utter waste of time. After a few weeks or months the candidate finally realizes that nothing is going to happen and decides to heap insults on the recruiter.

Who is to blame? the recruiter, off course.

Instead of hedging, if the recruiter had told in all honesty that he cannot provide the job and asked the candidate to focus his efforts elsewhere, the candidate would have been saved the agony.

But, would the candidate have been grateful?

No way!