Rethink the Typical Questions You're Supposed to Ask in an Interview

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By Hannah Morgan

Asking questions during an interview shows your interest in the company and the job, sets you apart from the crowd of applicants and gives you information that will help you make the right decision.

It's vital that you ask questions during the interview to assess all aspects of the opportunity, but asking textbook questions won't cut it. You know how you feel about answering the standard questions like "tell me about yourself" or "what is your greatest weakness." Don't use the equivalent interviewee questions.While there is technically nothing wrong with asking the questions below, the answers you receive may be generic or not provide the depth of insight you want. To help the interviewer deliver the information you are looking for, prompt them to tell a story. Just as you have been coached to provide your answers in the STAR format (Situation, Task, Action and Results), you want to ask questions to help your interviewer provide stories and concrete examples.

The other potential danger is asking too many questions about the aspects of the job that only benefit you. You don't want the interviewer to think you are only after a paycheck and perks.

Remember: The interview is a conversation, not an interrogation. In order to get the best answers, you have to ask the right questions. Avoid asking vague questions that generate hot-air answers, and watch out for coming across as needy or greedy. Rethink these questions:

How would you describe the company culture?

This question can be difficult for some interviewers to answer. There isn't a list somewhere of company-culture descriptions. What do you really want to know about the culture? Direct the interviewer to answer this question by first identifying what aspects of the culture are important to you.

For example, if participating in community activities is important, ask the interviewer to tell you about the last time the company participated in community volunteer projects. If you prefer to work remotely, ask: "Have you found that allowing your team to work remotely has helped or hindered performance?" If working a flex schedule is important, you can ask: "Tell me how your top employees schedule their day".

What professional development opportunities exist?

While this question isn't wrong, it could send the wrong message. You don't want to seem like you are taking the job solely because of the development opportunities. A better way to get the information is to ask: "What types of professional development do you offer your team? And how has it helped them?"

Asking the question this way shows you aren't just pursuing training to improve yourself. Training and development is expensive, and companies often fear losing employees after investing in developing their skills. You show your sensitivity to this concern by wording the question differently.

What's the typical career path for this position?

This is another question that may alarm your interviewer. Before you inquire about the future opportunities for a job you are interviewing for, be sure to first thoroughly evaluate the requirements and responsibilities of the role. Then, in order to understand where people move on to after this role, ask the question this way: "When people have been successful in this role, where do they typically move to within the company?"

Tell me about your onboarding process.

Instead of asking the question this way, use words that show your interest in the company. Subtle adaptations can make a world of difference in how the interviewer perceives you. To understand what training the company provides for new employees, try asking the question this way: "When did you last add someone to your team? What did the new hire do to make sure he or she came up to speed quickly? Did you offer any type of onboarding?

This series of questions does eventually end with the onboarding question. When you ask the question in this way, you can learn about how the hiring manager supports his or her team and the expectations of a new hire.

And a final reminder. Don't wait until the end of the interview to refer to your list of questions. Asking questions throughout the interview converts it into a conversation, and that helps build rapport.

Hannah Morgan writes and speaks on career topics and job search trends on her blog Career Sherpa. She is the author of "The Infographic Resume" and co-author of "Social Networking for Business Success."
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