Three Questions to Surprise and Impress Job Interviewers

Candidates need to prepare good questions for the end of a job interview when they are asked, “Do you have any questions for us?” This is not a time to compliment how thoroughly a search committee described the position or their institution, or worse, to respond by saying, “No, you answered all my questions.”

This is a time to reinforce your interest in the job, to exploit an evaluator’s recency bias by leaving a memorable impression, and to maybe surprise the search committee with an insightful question that they are not expecting.

According to a Zety survey of 500 American employers, the top five questions interviewers expect candidates to ask are about projects they would be working on, skills and experience that interviewers are seeking in a candidate, immediate projects that need to be addressed, and what a typical workday looks like.

These are common questions but you have to be an uncommon candidate if you want to get the job. Not only do you have to stand out from other candidates, you must erase any doubts the search committee has and reinforce that you are the best person to hire.

Waiting until the end of an interview might be too late to ask certain questions, but some are best asked at the end to put a bow on the interview experience for both the candidate and the interviewer.

There are many good questions to ask, but here are three for early, midway, and at the end of your next job interview to help you gain more control, impress and surprise the committee, and ultimately succeed in landing a job:

1) What is something about me or my resume/CV that concerns you?
This might seem like a question that would make interviewers uncomfortable, but it’s a great way to set the tone for the interview. It addresses either the elephant in the room or resolves any uncertainties the search committee had coming into the interview that they might be reluctant to ask right off the bat.

Gaps on your resume or obvious skills or credentials you are lacking are better acknowledged toward the beginning of the interview than at the end, or not discussing them at all. Asking this question signals to the search committee that you are in control. Just make sure you have a convincing story to tell that will subdue any suspicions that you are incapable of succeeding at the job.

“Forming a story can also boost your own motivation and build your confidence to overcome past struggles and move forward in the future,” said Adam Grant, author and organizational psychologist, on his podcast, WorkLife.

A guest on Grant’s show, Aaron Scott, preferred asking this “what-concerns-you-about-me?” question to gain feedback. “Part of what I think is so clever about asking that question is even if it doesn’t get you the job today, you learn something potentially for the next interview,” Grant said.

2) How has (some current event, situation, challenge) impacted your institution and changed what you’re looking for in a candidate?
An interview shouldn’t be a discussion entirely about the candidates’ resume/CV. The institution has problems that need solving, students to serve, and initiatives to pursue. When search committees address these areas, candidates need to be participants in the discussion and not just sitting back listening until they are prompted to talk about themselves again.

Midway through the interview, ask questions about topics interviewers bring up by bringing up information you saw on the institution’s website, or from relevant news and current events affecting the school. Impress or surprise them with how well you prepared for the interview.

This can be revealing especially in the pandemic, and post-pandemic, environment to see how well the institution is adapting to evolving circumstances and how much influence the candidate will have on effecting change. A hiring manager who changes the expectations for a candidate might indicate a forward-thinking institution or department rather than those that are simply waiting for “when things go back to normal in the fall.”

The interviewers might even be surprised upon their own reflection, but they should be impressed by your research, insight, and foresight.

3) Thinking back to people you’ve seen do this work previously, what differentiated the ones who were really great at this job?
Ask search committees to describe the superstar professors or workplace heroes. Alison Green, author of “Ask a Manager” who compiled a top-10 list of candidate questions for New York Magazine’s The CUT, wrote that a variant of this question might be the strongest question a candidate has ever asked her in an interview.

“The thing about this question is that it goes straight to the heart of what the hiring manager is looking for,” Green wrote. “Hiring managers aren’t interviewing candidates in the hopes of finding someone who will do an average job; they’re hoping to find someone who will excel at the job.”

Simply asking this question doesn’t mean you will perform like someone who excels at the job, but if you ask this question, especially at the end of an interview, you will be associated with what the hiring manager wants in a candidate. It enables the search committee to envision an actual person (the ideal candidate) and not an amorphous set of skills on a job description. Asking this question also gives you a chance to segue from their response to something about you that matches or adds to their highest standard.

“It makes you sound like someone who’s at least aiming for that — someone who’s conscientious and driven, and those are huge things in a hiring manager’s eyes,” Green said.

In Conclusion
Asking questions shows that you care deeply about getting the job and doing it well. Don’t wait until the end of a job interview to ask questions, and even if you’re still asked “Do you have any questions for us?” after offering plenty of inquiries, always have a few more ready. Questions won’t get you the job but asking them can remove the questions interviewers have about you.

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