The “1-2 Punch” to Close Out Your Interview Strong
Part 2 of "The Art of Preparing Thoughtful Questions to Ask Your Interviewer" Subseries
By Brian Sullivan
Unless an interview runs way over on time, there will usually be a period at the end when the interviewer will ask the interviewee “What questions do you have for me?”, or some variation of that. Most jobseekers, especially those more junior in their careers, may have one or two they’ve come up with as the interview has gone on, but most of those are just clarifications of earlier things the interviewer said. Some might even say “No, I don’t think I have any questions at this time”. Nothing wrong with either approach, but they also aren’t as impactful as they could be. Depending how competitive this particular search is, you’ll definitely want to make an impact and lasting impression.
In Part 1 of the “The Art of Preparing Thoughtful Questions to Ask Your Interviewer”, we explored the oft-missed opportunity of preparing not only answers to the interviewer’s potential questions, but also questions to ask them. Questions can help you gain new information about the job or the organization; they can highlight the research you’ve done about them; they can tee-up additional talking points you want to share about yourself; and they can help illustrate certain traits about yourself in real-time like adaptability, personability, and problem solving. If you missed it, go back and check out our post on How to End an Interview Like a Pro.
Today, the R&W Group Blog will share the two questions to ask at the end of every interview. Like a boxer has his/her trusted combinations of jabs and hooks, these two questions act as a 1-2 punch to close out the interview, leaving your interviewer with an impression that you are thoughtful and considerate of others, and also professional and driven by outcomes.
You Mentioned Two Questions to Always Ask – What Are Those?
The two questions I recommend asking at the end of (almost) any interview are:
What do you enjoy most about working here?
Thank you for speaking with me today. I’m very interested in this position. What can I expect from here in terms of possible next steps?
Let’s tackle the first question first. Asking an interviewer what they like about their employer offers TONS of crucial information. It provides insight on unknown aspects of the position, it helps illustrate some of the organization’s DNA, and, if their answer strikes a chord, it gives you an opportunity to relate to their shared sentiment.
As we’ve discussed in the past, there is nothing wrong with passively listening to the answer of a question, and then thanking the interviewer for the information. However, the way to get to that next level and become a Heavyweight Champion of Interviewing is by actively listening and continuing the discussion in response to their answer. If they answer that they enjoy the people they work with, for example, talk about how important you feel it is for an organization to hire good people. If they answer that it’s a work-hard/ play-hard environment, expand the discussion with past jobs you enjoyed that recognized employees for going above-and-beyond. If they say they love the ability to constantly work with cutting-edge technology, share a story about a time when you used technology in an innovative way. Whatever the answer is, if it resonates with you, be passionate with them about it. If it doesn’t, and you can’t think of any way to relate their answer to your experience, just thank them and say something like “that is a really great perspective to hear.” Pro tip: either way, whenever an interviewer shares something personal or sentimental, thank them for it, and be genuine in that recognition. It’s a little thing that carries a lot of positive weight, often tipping the scales in your favor.
Speaking of which, unlike any of the other interview questions, this one also helps foster an emotional bond between the interviewer, the interview itself and, by proxy, you. It’s likely they have met with several applicants to discuss this position, have heard multiple lists of impressive career accomplishments, and have reviewed many resumes of other people equally as qualified as you, and all of that can sometimes run together and become murky. If you’re asking about their input about the company though, you’ve asked them to approach the interview differently, and for them to pitch the organization to you through the lens of fulfillment and enjoyment.
Science has shown that our minds better remember something that we have an emotional response to or connection with. You might hear the same song 100 times and never learn the lyrics, but if there is a song that reminds you of a specific time and place in your life, even if you don’t hear it for years, you’ll never forget the words or the tune. The principle is the same here – create rapport, and you become more memorable as a candidate.
Is Asking About Next Steps Too Forward?
As to the second question, I cannot tell you the number of times candidates have had outstanding interviews, they’ve called me elated to debrief about their success and, when I ask about what the timeframe for next steps might look like… you can almost hear a pin drop before they respond, “Well, gee Brian, I hadn’t thought to ask about that…”.
Some people do flat-out forget to ask, but others don’t know if that comes across as too pushy or presumptive. My advice is 1) thank them first, 2) reiterate your interest in the position, and 3) just ask what the next steps might be. The answer to the question can be helpful when it comes to setting expectations with in the process, no doubt. If we’re told they’ll be in touch in a week with updates, we know that not hearing back tomorrow isn’t the end of the world. Likewise, if we’re told to expect an update in a week, and it’s been over two weeks, it might be worth a follow-up by you or your recruiter to see if there are any new developments.
While we’re on the subject of recruiters, if a recruiter or staffing agency is the one who initially connected you to this opportunity, the interviewer might answer this question with some variation of “we’ll be in touch with your recruiter to provide our feedback.” That is totally fine, and nothing to stress over. In that instance, saying something like “That sounds good. I’m excited to hear from [recruiter]. Thank you.” It’s safe to assume your recruiter will have some notion of the interview format for this particular organization, but it still doesn’t hurt to ask the interviewer this question, especially if it possibly leads to specifics about timeframes, names of additional stakeholders, or other information related to your candidacy. Using the previous example, when I debrief with a candidate about their recent interview, I normally know what the next steps should be for my candidates in most conventional cases but, since every interview is different, there is always a chance for slight alterations to that process; any intel regarding those specifics can help both me and the candidate more accurately anticipate the potential chain of events.
Asking this question also provides a secondary bonus: establishing yourself as someone with follow-through. In sales, if a discussion doesn’t end definitively with a close, setting up a follow-up is critical. In an interview, this is basically the same concept. We don’t want to leave those things up to chance, so asking for the likely upcoming chain of events helps offer some certainty, which is good for you, but also good for the interviewer, because they see your engagement in progressing through the application process.
Something Small, But Powerful
As a sidenote, it’s basically a given to express appreciation for the opportunity to speak with a prospective employer about an open job they’re working on filling, and we now know it’s okay to ask for clarification on possible next steps, but verbalizing our interest in the position seems silly, right? I mean, we’re either on the phone, on a video conference, or in-person meeting with a hiring manager; we’ve updated our resume; we’ve completed their application, finished skills assessments, and submitted writing samples. How would it be unclear to anyone that we aren’t interested in this job?
The answer is that interviewers are people and, just like you, are not mind-readers. I’ve heard from many candidates and employers alike who connected for an interview, both parties felt it went well but, when the dust settled, an offer was made to someone else because the hiring manager “wasn’t sure if the candidate was interested.” Seriously. So, by saying something like “Thank you for speaking with me today. I’m very interested in this position. What can I expect from here in terms of possible next steps?”, you are establishing your gratitude, you are confirming your excitement about the role, and you’re wrapping up this meeting with a realistic expectation in mind of what’s next.
Any Instances Not to Ask Either of These Questions?
In most situations, no – I would always ask these two questions. However, if after having the interview, you aren’t interested in pursuing the role, you should still be gracious for the opportunity, but you don’t necessarily need to go the extra mile with these questions. Similarly, if you get the sense that they are very much not interested in you, asking when you might hear back might make you appear aloof and unobservant.
Beyond those rare and incredibly obvious scenarios though, it can’t hurt you or your chances to ask about why the interviewer likes their employer, or what you can potentially expect moving forward in the process. If you feel you could use additional guidance in navigating interview prep though, please feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Looking forward to hearing from you!