Tough Job Interview Questions You Should Ask
Show interest and confidence by bringing up these topics with your future employer
En español | Much of what makes a great job interview is intuitive. It's chemistry between two people. When it comes to that point in the interview when you're asked if you have any questions, you have a final chance to make a lasting impression.
Obvious questions might make it seem like you aren't that interested. Simple ones make it appear you have not done your research. The key is to have the confidence to ask a few tough but not disrespectful questions. Here are nine to consider.
See also: 5 answers to tough interview questions
1. "Why did you choose this company?"
It's a two-way street. Yes, you're there to sell yourself, but they're selling the job, too.
The answer will help you define "the organization's strengths and weaknesses with this insider's perspective," says Michael Erwin, a senior career adviser at CareerBuilder.
If this person would be your boss, and you feel at ease, you might ask: What's your management style? What challenges make you excited to come to work each day? What do you like the most about working here? These kinds of questions let somebody see that you're genuinely attracted to the job and can help you determine whether the company is a good fit for you.
2. "How would I exceed your expectations on a short-term basis, say, in the first 30 to 60 days on the job?"
Such a question lets your interviewer know that you want to be effective from day one, says career coach Julie Shifman, founder of Act Three. It suggests initiative and preparation, which are critical in the employer's hiring decision. The answer should give you "more in-depth knowledge about the tasks and challenges you'll be facing in your first couple of months," Shifman says.
3. "What qualities do your very best employees have in common?"
The answer will tell you what the employer values in its top performers, Shifman says. "Is it that they are always available? Is it their ability to solve problems creatively? The answer will give you a pretty good idea of what you need to do to succeed in this organization. Do you have what it takes? Are you willing to give what it takes?"
4. "Is there anything about myself, my skills or my background that you would like me to clarify?"
A forward question, but bottom line, this is how you find out if your interviewer has any concerns about your ability to do the job. This gives you a chance to sell yourself and emphasize what you do well, or expand upon something mentioned in your résumé.
5. "Are there opportunities for professional training or further education, particularly to keep up with new technology?"
According to Dan Schawbel, author of Promote Yourself, boomers say development opportunities are the most important thing when considering working for a company. This is confirmed by the findings of a recent survey conducted by Kronos and WorkplaceTrends.com, a research service for HR professionals founded by Schawbel.
If you're 50 or older, such a question could go a long way in allaying any concerns about you being an older worker who may be set in your ways and behind the curve when it comes to technology. "This is a forward-thinking question that leaves the interviewer with the impression that you're willing to grow," says career coach Laura Schlafly.
6. "Does the company encourage entrepreneurial-type projects?"
An increasing number of companies large and small are offering workers the freedom, flexibility and resources to work like an entrepreneur. The buzzword for it is "intrapreneurship." An employer or manager who creates a work environment that encourages and supports entrepreneurial culture, and opportunities for work on projects outside your direct responsibility, can make a huge difference in your happiness at work.
7. "What types of mentoring programs do you offer?"
You might go a step further and add that you enjoy mentoring younger workers, and that you've also benefited from pairing up with a younger worker who reverse-mentors you — offering help with technology, social media and so on.
"Drop this one into the category of questions that demonstrate you're not hiding your age or trying to present yourself as 20 years younger," Schlafly says.
But it goes deeper. This shows you're hip to the underlying perception of intergenerational tension in the workplace. It also demonstrates your willingness to work with younger coworkers. And it shows that you are comfortable reporting to a boss who may be younger than you.
8. "Is full time the only option, or would you consider a contract or consulting arrangement?"
"Most of the 50-plus crowd I have worked with want to work less and make more," says career consultant Maggie Mistal. "By taking on projects or aspects of projects that play to their core genius, people can increase their hourly rate and avoid taking on job responsibilities they don't really want."
9. "What's the salary range for this position?"
This is the proverbial elephant in the room. You want to know what the job really pays and find out about benefits such as health insurance, child care, vacation and a 401(k) or other retirement plan. It seems impolite to bring this up in the initial interview, but if you have the chutzpah, this question can work to your advantage.
You probably don't need to go for the whole ball of wax, but getting a sense of the pay is key for most of us. Preface it by saying that the reason you're intrigued by the job, of course, does not revolve around money, but you would be interested in knowing what the range might be.
Chances are, there will be a pause, but you will probably get a ballpark answer. And then it's up to you to acknowledge it, while holding on to your poker face. This is not a time to make any verbal or nonverbal sign that it's copacetic. You want to save negotiating for when a formal offer is on the table.
On the flip side, if the interviewer refuses to answer, that says something about the company's guarded style that might not sit well with you in the long run. In truth, this kind of information should not be a mystery at this stage of your career. Your best move, however, is simply to reply smoothly, without missing a beat, that you'll look forward to learning more details when the interviewer is free to share them in your next discussion.
Go for a firm handshake, look your interviewer straight in the eyes with a warm smile, and offer genuine thanks for his or her time.
Finally, remember to write a thank-you note to everyone you interviewed with that day. I personally like a handwritten one, but an email works if you shoot it off within 24 hours. In many cases, the immediacy is welcomed and effective. It's not wrong to do both, particularly if there's additional material you'd like to share with the interviewer, or if there were any questions you stumbled on or didn't answer well before you left. Use your correspondence to wrap up and leave a positive impression.
Kerry Hannon, AARP's jobs expert, is an award-winning author and nationally recognized authority on career transitions and retirement. Her latest book is Getting the Job You Want After 50 for Dummies. She has also written Love Your Job: The New Rules for Career Happiness and Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy…and Pays the Bills. Hannon has spent more than 25 years covering all aspects of personal finance for national media outlets. Find more from Kerry at Kerryhannon.com.
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