Cheerful interviewer shaking hand of an interviewee during a job

When people go in for an interview, their main focus is usually on how they will answer the employer’s questions. Often, they don’t realize that the questions that they ask in return will set them apart from other candidates. This is often an overlooked part of the interview process. People are focused on talking about themselves. It’s a part of human nature, and people like to do it. It makes us feel good to talk about our best moments.

Think about it, if it makes you feel good to talk about yourself and your accomplishments, don’t you think it would make the interviewers feel good to do the same? After all, they are just people too! And, if you leave them feeling good after your interview, what are the chances that they would want to continue the dialogue as your employers? Pretty good!

While the bulk of the interview focuses on getting to know the candidate, the questions you ask your prospective employers also tell them a lot about you.

I spent seven years working for Procter & Gamble. This is the global company that gave me the most interview experience, and I never even had to look outside of the corporation. You see, P&G is so large, each new position within the company warrants a new interview. You can stay with P&G your entire life, and interview every few years as you move up your career path. Your competition is both internal and external. Since P&G also pays for relocation, people from all over the world compete for the coveted spots. I interviewed, and successfully obtained, several positions on P&G’s Wal-Mart Team, Pet Care Team, and Pharmaceutical Team. I then landed a job with Colgate Palmolive when I jumped ship because P&G sold their pharmaceutical division. I attribute this interview success, in part, to my previous career accomplishments. But, I also believe that I stood out because I asked the right questions.

After all, an interview is just a sales call with you as the product up for grabs. Most sales people understand that asking a customer questions is a much better way to convince them. So, here are 10 gems to ask your future employer to sell yourself.

1) Before we begin, I just have one question for you. If you could write me a wish list of the positive traits or abilities of your top candidate, what would they look like?

Most interviews run like this: interviewers ask questions; interviewee answers; interviewers give interviewee a chance to ask questions as they wrap up. I often surprised my interviewers by changing up the format. This is a question that you must ask early! There is a strategy to this. When they answer your question, mentally make note of everything that they list. They are giving you their ideal candidate! You may even want to write their wish list down if you are worried you will forget it.

Then, allow the interview to progresses with their questions, and answer every question subtlety highlighting how their desired traits describe you and your work. Weave their own words into your sales pitch as you answer them. Then, as you wrap up the interview, you can use their own words to close them, as you will see at the end of my article. Save the following questions for the end of the interview when they ask if you have any questions for them.

2) How do you see me impacting your _____ (insert researched fact about the company.)

Other than how you conduct yourself in the interview and your resume, no one thing impresses employers more than a candidate that takes the time to do an in-depth analysis on their company. If you bring up a topic that most candidates wouldn’t know about because you did your homework, and ask follow up questions showing the depth of your knowledge in this area, you will get their attention. In this day and age, everyone can use Google. Those who don’t take the time to show that they have invested in researching the company don’t warrant the investment of a hire letter in return.

3) What does success look like for you in this position?

All disappointments are caused by unmet expectations. Avoiding this scenario often involves simply asking your employers for clear objectives, and then meeting them. When you ask them what they expect success to look like, you show them that you are someone who seeks to understand their viewpoint so that you can meet their goals.

4) What does a typical day look like for this role?

If their previous answer gave you the big picture, or touchdown play, now bring them down to a more micro level of the day-to-day duties of blocking and tackling. Show them you want to understand more about every facet of this role, even the more monotonous moments.

5) What is your dream for your company, and how do you see your new employee adding to this vision?

Just like you like to talk about your hopes and dreams, so do your employers. Hopefully, you are interviewing with people who are passionate about what they do. Give them a chance to dream with you. This also shows them that you are a forward thinker who wants to understand the big picture, and not just someone who thinks about what they need to do for their next paycheck.

6) I noticed you recently _______. (Give them another researched fact about something positive their company accomplished: new product launch, new rankings on best places to work, new ideas or concept that is changing the business.) Can you tell me what else sets your company apart from everyone else in the industry?

People always love to be reminded of what they have done well. What makes them proud? Give them a chance to talk about it and about how they stand out from the rest of the competition. This question also reminds them that you did your homework.

7) What is your company culture like?

While you may not work for a global giant that is bigger than some countries, every company has a prevailing culture. Your employers want someone who fits into this culture and doesn’t step on toes. Asking about the cultural dos and don’ts will help assure them that you work well with others by understanding the underlying mindsets before taking action.

8) Do you have any concerns, either from this interview or from my resume, that would make you uncomfortable with me as an ideal candidate for this position?

Many people don’t ask this. They don’t want to bring up anything negative or make the interview uncomfortable. I understand that an interview can be stressful, and conversations like this may add to this anxiety. However, I would much rather address these concerns while I still have the opportunity to defend myself! It could be something that is an easy misunderstanding that is simple to clear up. Or, if it is a deeper shortcoming, you can at least address this openly. Don’t be defensive or emotional, but just give your best case to help them overcome their objection.

9) When we first started our meeting, I asked you what traits your dream candidate would possess. You said that you wanted someone who ______ (repeat their own words back to them). Have I made you comfortable with my ability to demonstrate those qualities?

While we don’t often use closed questions in sales, this is one of those times. You are closing them on you. You simply want a “Yes” or “No.” If they say “Yes,” then congratulations! You just used their own words to sell them. In fact, if you are really bold and the personalities of the people and temperature of in the room is light, you can even ask, “Well then, when do I start?” with just a bit of humor. I actually did this for a sales interview, after we had been laughing about a few other things so I knew they had a sense of humor, and I landed the position.

However, I don’t recommend this approach for everyone. It is a hard close that may make some interviewers uncomfortable. They may not have the final say anyway. And, even if they do, they most likely will want to talk it over with others before making it official. Simply say, “Great!” and continue to the final question.

If they say “No,” ask them to clarify what area you failed to fully explain your qualifications. Then, further address this obstacle until they are satisfied.

10) What are the next steps in this process?

This question helps you determine what to expect from them and also asks them to commit a time frame to you. After all, you want a decision either way. This question politely asks them to give you a commitment of when you can expect to hear back with the outcome. This keeps you from being forgotten in their pool of prospects.

However, if you sold yourself well, gave them strong content, highlighted your best accomplishments, and asked the right questions, being easily forgotten shouldn’t be a concern anyway!

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