Developing Your Career

Developing Your Career

Smart Questions: Winning the Tie-Breaker Interview

By Steve Harrison on September 24, 2013

As part of any interview, the time will come for you to ask questions. While most interviewers solicit questions as the interview draws to a close, why not take advantage of opportunities to ask questions and engage in “strategic small-talk” while walking down the hallway, in between interviews, or over lunch?

Questions to ask? Observe the surroundings.  Take a look at the literature and displays in the company’s lobby. Is it a formal or casual environment? Open cubicles or closed office doors? What messages are revealed on wall posters? Is there a lot of bustle or is it quiet? These observations will give you clues into the company’s culture and how it talks about itself that you can use as foundations for your questions.

Although it goes without saying that keen visual awareness is an important ingredient of strategic small-talk, the foundation for these conversations lie online – starting with the company website and extending to other social media channels, such as LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Facebook and Twitter. Prior to the interview, review the organization’s mission, products, scope of services, geographic footprint, and financials. Hear what others are saying about the company, particularly customer feedback. Then explore the larger picture – the issues that consume leaders in all organizations today – and develop a few targeted questions such as:

  • Globalization: “I notice you’re venturing recently outside the U.S. Is this a growth priority for you?”
  • Innovation: “Seems like innovation is a priority for many organizations. Is this a leadership agenda item here, and if so, how do you foster creativity here?”
  • Ethics/Compliance: “Your website gives emphasis to your organization’s values, and to your commitment to corporate social responsibility. How do you bring these to everyday life in your culture?”
  • Customer Service: “I see on your social media channels that customer service is a real priority. What’s your approach to customer satisfaction and how do you measure it?”
  • Career Opportunity: “How does your organization approach talent management”?

You may also want to raise a question about career opportunities. Still, your “Where can I go from here?” question must be positioned so that you don’t appear overly focused on the next job, rather than the position at hand. A strategic approach to this question will focus on the organization’s approach to talent management, including training and development, coaching, performance management and growth opportunities. The question then becomes, “How does your organization approach talent management?”

Through your questions, the interviewer will draw certain conclusions about your interest in the company, the position and having a career with the organization. In a buyer’s job market, your curiosity and your eagerness to add value to the organization could be the deciding factors.

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Steve is co-founder and Chairman of Lee Hecht Harrison and former chief ethics and compliance officer of Adecco Group. He is a long-time management and corporate culture innovator and author of “The Manager’s Book of Decencies: How Small Gestures Can Build Great Companies.” This is the third in a four-part series from Steve addressing the art of interviewing.

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