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Questions To Ask and Avoid In A Job Interview

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Article Summary: Anyone can anticipate common interview questions and craft what they think are impressive answers ahead of time. But candidates who ask insightful, incisive questions prove they’re thinkers and connectors.


“If you talk to recruiters and executives who are actively hiring, they will tell you that there are three types of questions they get: no questions, bad questions, and—very rarely—memorable questions,” says Andrew Sobel, author (along with coauthor Jerold Panas) of Power Questions: Build Relationships, Win New Business, and Influence Others (Wiley, February 2012, ISBN: 978-11181196-3-1, $22.95). “And the candidates who ask the memorable ones are often the ones they make offers to.

“A recruiter for a well-known, fast-growing technology company told me, ‘You’d be surprised how many job candidates have absolutely no questions for me at all, or they ask dumb or boring questions like ‘So what do you do?’” he adds. “By asking questions—not just any questions but memorable, thought-provoking ones—you come across as a cut above the average candidate.”

It makes sense. After all, anyone can anticipate common interview questions and craft what they think are impressive answers ahead of time. But candidates who ask insightful, incisive questions prove they’re thinkers and connectors.

“You can tell people all day long how qualified you are, how talented you are, and what a tremendous asset to the company you would be,” says Sobel. “But no statement is ever as impactful as a well-timed, well-executed question. In all situations, power questions help us connect and engage with others in meaningful ways.”

You want a recruiter or executive who interviews you to tell a colleague afterwards, “I had a great conversation with that candidate. He had really thought a lot about our business.” That’s what gets you the callback, explains Sobel. And good questions are the way you create a thought-provoking, value-added conversation.

First, avoid these types of questions in a job interview:

Informational questions: Don’t take up a manager’s time asking, “How much vacation will I get?” Get the basic information you need before you go in for an interview.

Closed-ended questions: If someone can give a “yes” or “no” answer, it diminishes your prospects for having a good conversation.

“Me” questions: An executive is interested in how you will add value to her organization and whether or not you’re a good fit. Skip questions like “I skydive every Saturday—so will I ever be asked to work weekends?”

That said, here are the kinds of questions you should be asking in a job interview:

1. Credibility-building questions: “As I think back to my experience in managing large sales forces, I’ve found there are typically three barriers to breakthrough sales performance: coordination of the sales function with marketing and manufacturing, customer selection, and product quality. In your case, do you think any of these factors are holding back your sales growth? What do you believe are your own greatest opportunities for increasing sales effectiveness?”

2. “Why?” questions: “Why did you close down your parts business rather than try to find a buyer for it?” or “Why did you decide to move from a functional to a product-based organization structure?”

3. Personal understanding questions: “I understand you joined the organization five years ago. With all the growth you’ve had, how do you find the experience of working here now compared to when you started?”

4. Passion questions: “What do you love most about working here?”

5. Value-added advice questions: “Have you considered creating an online platform for your top account executives, so that they can share success stories and collaborate better around key client opportunities? We implemented such a concept a year ago, and it’s been very successful.”

6. Future-oriented questions: “You’ve achieved large increases in productivity over the last three years. Where do you believe future operational improvements will come from?”

7. Aspiration questions: “As you look ahead to the next couple of years, what are the potential growth areas that people are most excited about in the company?”

8. Organizational culture questions: “What are the most common reasons why new hires don’t work out here?” or “What kinds of people really thrive in your organization?”

9. Decision-making questions: “If you were to arrive at two final candidates with equal experience and skills, how would you choose one over the other?”

10. Company strengths-and-weaknesses questions: “Why do people come to work for you rather than a competitor? And why do you think they stay?”

In general, says Sobel, good questions prove you’ve done your homework. They show you’re not just concerned about yourself but that you’ve given some thought to the future of the company. They allow you to demonstrate your knowledge without sounding arrogant. And they greatly improve your chances that the interviewer will like you—and we tend to hire those we like!

“If you want to be noticed by recruiters, don’t talk more,” he summarizes. “Instead, ask better questions. You’ll soon find yourself answering the best question of all: How soon can you start?”

About the Authors:
 Andrew Sobel, co-author of Power Questions: Build Relationships, Win New Business, and Influence Other, is the most widely published author in the world on client loyalty and the capabilities required to build trusted business relationships. His first book, the bestselling Clients for Life, defined an entire genre of business literature about client loyalty. In addition to Power Questions, his other books include Making Rain and the award-winning All for One: 10 Strategies for Building Trusted Client Partnerships.

For 30 years, Andrew has worked as both a consultant to senior management and as an executive educator and coach. His clients have included leading corporations such as Citigroup, Xerox, and Cognizant; as well as professional service firms such as Ernst & Young, Booz Allen Hamilton, Towers Watson, and many others. His articles and work have been featured in a variety of publications such as the New York Times, Business Week, and the Harvard Business Review. Andrew is a graduate of Middlebury College and earned his MBA at Dartmouth’s Tuck School.

Andrew is an acclaimed keynote speaker who delivers idea-rich, high-energy speeches and seminars at major conferences and events. His topics include Developing Clients for Life; Creating a Rainmaking Organization; Collaborating to Grow Revenue; The Beatles Principles; and Power Questions That Win New Business. He can be reached at http://andrewsobel.com.

Jerry Panas is executive partner of Jerold Panas, Linzy & Partners, one of the world’s most highly regarded firms in the field of fundraising services and financial resource development. His firm has served over 2,500 client-institutions since its founding in 1968. Jerry’s clients comprise many of the foremost not-for-profit institutions in the world. They include every major university, museum, and healthcare center in the United States. Internationally, Jerry has advised organizations as diverse as the University of Oxford, The American Hospital in Paris, and Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos in Mexico, the largest orphanage in the world.

Jerry is the author of 13 popular books, including Power Questions and the all-time bestsellers Asking and Mega Gifts. He is founder and chairman of the board of the Institute for Charitable Giving, one of the most significant providers of training in philanthropy.

Because of the prominence of the firm and the impact of Jerry’s writing, few have had a greater influence in the history of the profession. He is a favorite speaker at conferences and workshops across the nation and internationally. He can be reached at http://panaslinzy.com.

About the Book: Power Questions: Build Relationships, Win New Business, and Influence Others (Wiley, February 2012, ISBN: 978-11181196-3-1, $22.95) is available at bookstores nationwide and all major online booksellers.

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