Do your homework. More than 75 percent of your success in any job interview is determined before the interview even begins. Take time to learn about the company so you can ask good questions. Study its mission and values. Connect with people who work there. Find out more about specific industries and organizations by attending career fairs and professional association events and conferences.
Consult multiple sources. Comb through the company’s Web site. Consult other sources, such as Glassdoor.com, a site that aggregates third-party comments about specific jobs and organizations. Use LinkedIn and Facebook to find connections to the organization, and follow the organization’s Twitter feed for inspiration on what questions to ask.
Practice. You don’t want to sound too scripted or rehearsed in the actual interview, but you also don’t want to stumble over your words. Run your anticipated questions by a spouse, friend or learning partner to be sure they convey the message you are trying to present.
Have your questions ready. Write down three to five well-researched questions and carry them with you. Having them at the ready will show that you spent time to prepare.
Show off with smart questions. Ask questions that demonstrate your knowledge of the company and what value you’ll add. For example: “I’ve noticed that your growth is up 30 percent — what steps are you taking to maintain that growth and how can someone like myself help you get there or exceed that?” Also, ask questions that align with your personal interests. For instance if you’re interested in developing as a leader you could ask questions about programs and initiatives that the company may have to develop and grow high potential talent.
Ask questions that allow you to learn about the interviewer. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned, recruiters (and individuals in general) enjoy talking about themselves and their experiences in the workplace.
Be flexible. Be prepared to think on your feet. Adapt at least one question based on how the interview develops. Ask questions that add to the conversation.
All that said, I am firm believer that asking no questions is better than asking bad questions.
What not to do
Don’t oversell yourself. Be careful to avoid being too assertive. Your actions, responses and questions throughout the interview should demonstrate your strengths and assets. You shouldn’t need to say “I’m a great team player;” rather, demonstrate that collaboration is something you value by asking a question that reveals this strength: “Can you tell me how people deal with conflict and how they work through that in your organization?”
Don’t focus on the ladder. Never ask how quickly you’ll be able to get promoted, move up or change paths in an organization. This shows you’re not committed to the job for which you’re being interviewed, but rather you’re focused on your own mobility.
Don’t make it all about you. Self-serving questions are just that. Interviewers want to see what value you’ll add to their organization. Don’t focus on “what’s in it for me.” For example, don’t ask what training you’ll receive. Instead, say “I’ve done my research and know you invest in your people. How do you develop your team and how are you able to engage and retain top talent?”
Don’t go there. This may go without saying, but just as politics and religion are dinner party no-nos, don’t ask questions that delve into potentially sensitive topics within the organization. Keep your questions neutral.
Don’t interrupt. Save your questions for the end of the interview, when asked. Most interviews follow a structured format for all candidates.
Above all, never miss the opportunity to ask questions at the end of the interview. I’ve seen candidates do an outstanding job throughout an interview, but then bomb their closing. With a bit of preparation, you can ask memorable, concise questions that help you land the job.
Jeffrey Kudisch is managing director of the Office of Career Services at the Robert H. Smith School of Business and a faculty expert in leadership, negotiations and human capital management. He has a PhD in industrial and organizational psychology and he co-founded Personnel Assessment Systems, a human resource consulting firm specializing in executive assessment and leadership development.