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.

 

 

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!

Employer Branding – the missing peg.

guitarpegWhen you send out your recruitment adverts are you pleased with the response? Do you feel that your vacancy should bring in far more applicants or far better quality applicants.

The problem could lie in your brand perception. A firm with a compelling employer brand will get significantly more responses than one for a company that does not have that level of brand presence.

A remarkable Brand identity can help to Attract and Retain the Best Talent in your company. And it need not cost an arm and a leg. With a basic understanding of social media – brand presence can be created on a Shoe String Budget.

Here’s how –

1.Rev up your profile.

Make it a habit to update your profile on linkedin or Facebook with industry relevant inputs.

2.Motivate your current employees

Your current employees can be your best employer brand ambassadors. Encourage them to share with their network and generate referrals. The options of how and where all to share is enldess and growing every day.

3. Be Social

Make sure you build an active presence on social media. Encourage employees to generate interesting content that can be showcased. Social media is a great platform to showcase employee culture.

4. Write

Share your expertise. Produce content for your company blog, share your opinion on industry events and topics that might be of interest to people in your industry.

What is an employee’s most important need?

Self-fulfillment is the most important parameter for candidates considering a switch.

Gallup the global workplace monitor asked employees to indicate attributes they consider when deciding to change their jobs. 60% of a sample of US based employees ticked as most important –  the ability to do their  the best in the job. According to Gallup it effectively means that employees do their best when their roles are seamlessly integrated with their talent (the natural capacity for excellence), skills (what they can do) and knowledge (what they know).

Maslows-Hierarchy-of-Needs
Employees aspire to Self Fulfillment

It comes as no surprise that employees want to reach their full potential. Self actualization is the mantra – as Maslow stated.

For hiring managers the key takeaway from this survey would be to make it clear to candidates that the company values their strengths and their new role will help them to hone those talents, knowledge & skills.

Prakash Francis helps organisations in hiring , developing and engaging talent. He is based in Bangalore.