How to interview your Interviewer (and snag the job).

LIGHTS. CAMERA. ACTION. Every interviewer asks “So, do you have any questions for me?”. And this is your queue to perform without the director’s script. This is your moment to shine and show how thoughtful you are about the company, and why you are the RIGHT FIT for their team, before they ask you to exit, stage left.
WHAT NOT TO ASK. We have all been in this situation before, and we usually say something basic just to keep the conversation going and not make any mistakes, like:
  • “Tell me about the company culture?”
  • “How is the work life balance?”
  • “What do you like about the company?”
Do you want an honest answer to these questions? Then DO NOT ask your interviewer. Would they say, the culture is “bad” and work-life balance does not exist? Obviously not, because the interviewer is biased in that moment and is putting their company in the best light. Secondly, and more importantly, these questions do not separate you from the competition.
Your questions should be as unique as your qualifications.
SO, WHAT SHOULD YOU ASK? Here are 5 topics that will drive a richer conversation and just might help you snag the job. 1.  The interviewers career journey. Let your interviewer talk about their journey, and let them brag about themselves and their career success! People like talking about themselves because it makes them feel good as this scientific study shows.  So, give them the opportunity, and show enthusiasm for specific elements of their journey.  For example, “That’s great that you got the opportunity to lead teams so quickly…that speaks volumes of the company culture.” Look for ways to relate to their story, as this can develop further conversation, and is good material to include on a thank you email after the interview.  Imagine a thank you email that reminds them of the specifics of your conversation, and lets them revel in their accomplishments.  Sounds better than a generic, thank you, right?
“Let your interviewers brag about themselves and their career success”
2.  The future, not the present Ask about where the company is headed and show you are thinking about being part of their future, not just a short term stint. You can demonstrate how thoughtful you are about the company’s opportunity to grow by asking specific questions that you would not ask to just any potential employer. Here are some good thought provoking examples specific to a company:
  • Netflix:  “How are you thinking about virtual reality making its way into the living room?”
  • Wells Fargo:  “Will there be more unbundling of your products given that niche fin-tech startups are dis-aggregating current consumer offerings?”
  • Best Buy:  “What are the highest priority brick and mortar initiatives such as store within a store, express stores etc.?”
3.  The competition. Every company faces competitive pressures and adapts to the environment to effectively compete and win.   Asking deep questions that show you have your own point of view on the industry and what it takes to win, shows you want to win with them and are already thinking about how to achieve that.   Imagine you are interviewing with Statefarm, and you engage in a conversation on how to compete with digital insurers that have lower cost structures and unique marketing campaigns.   This type of question will yield a rich conversation and get you and the interviewer on the same side – trying to beat the competition.
“Have your own point of view on the industry and what it takes to win.”
4.  Their Customers Whether the company is a B2B (serving other companies) or B2C (serving consumers) enterprise, asking about their customers shows you understand the lifeline of the business.  And it yields some very engaging conversations.   If you are a customer or consumer of their products, this is an opportunity to share unique insights from your perspective and demonstrate how your thinking can add value to their company. For example, if you own an iPhone, and are interviewing with Apple, you could talk about whether you view the company as a lifestyle brand or a technology company.  Weaving your personal insights adds authenticity to your conversation. If you are not a customer, but could be, this is an opportunity to share unique insight into how the company might serve customers like you and show your interviewer that you have a pulse on marketing, product, technology, or another functional area that is core to the company’s success. Finally, if you are not part of their addressable base, you should still have a point of view on which customer segments might be underserved or how they can capture more share of wallet with existing customers by doing your research.  Simple google searches like “[Company X] customer segments” are a good starting point.

5.  Counter intuitive insights

Everyone knows the obvious and publicized aspects of a company, but you can separate yourself from the pack by asking about:

  • What has surprised the interviewer during their time at the company?
  • What do they find most intriguing about the company’s future?
  • What is something that may not be obvious to outsiders but is part of the day to day life at the company?

Asking these questions leads to deep problem solving dialogue and instills a feeling that you are already part of the company, as you start to gain insider insight and speak the same lingo as the interviewer.

One of Accela Coach’s clients pursued this line of conversation and discovered a counter intuitive insight in their IT manager interview with Best Buy.  Do you know what the most commonly purchased item is after someone buys a high def TV at Best Buy?  The answer:  Another high def tv on the next store visit!  Customers love it so much they buy another for a different room.

Discovering this insight led to discussion about how to leverage customer predictions to increase share of wallet and get more repeat store visits.

Summary Remember, when asking questions to your interviewer, your objective is to engage in meaningful conversation and demonstrate your fit for the company.  If you get the offer, then you can play “detective” and investigate all the nuances of the company.  The interview is not the best venue for fact gathering, it is where you separate yourself from the competition.