How to Ace the Most Important Question in a Job Interview

When you’re interviewing for a potential job, you’re at the mercy of the interviewer. He is the one leading the conversation. Your job is to respond to his leading and (hopefully) make a good impression.

However, there is a time in most interviews when you are given the floor. And this is where you can shine.

You gain some measure of control in the interview process when you are asked:

“So, what questions do you have for me?

This is your moment. This is the time when — regardless of what has come before — you can show your mettle. If you ask great questions, it can mean landing the job. Make a misstep here and you could walk away empty-handed.

Here are some tips on how you can make the most of this pivotal time in your next interview.

Uncovering the Pain the Employer Feels

Before we dive into questions you should ask, we need to answer an important question: When an employer asks, “What questions do you have for me?” what is she seeking? What is she hoping to hear from you?

The employer wants to know that your primary desire is to help her achieve her goals.

As odd as it might sound, an interview is not primarily about you. It is primarily about the needs of the employer. As I have written previously, an employer desperately hopes you are the right person for the job. They have work that needs to be done and they hope you are the one who can do it.

Ask the right questions at this point and you demonstrate that you are the perfect person for the job.

Your goal in this critical part of the interview is to:

  1. Uncover the need the employer has.
  2. Discover the pain the employer feels as a result of this need going unmet.
  3. Offer ideas on how you can legitimately alleviate the pain by pointing to ways in which you have solved a similar problem in the past.

Do this well and you have a great shot at landing the job (and getting paid well to boot!).

A Sample Conversation Between You and an Employer

Rather than offer a general list of questions for a nebulous position, let me present a specific scenario. Let’s say you’re applying for a sales position at a company that sells office furniture to businesses in your city. Let’s also assume that you’ve never sold office furniture before but that you do have experience selling home electronics at a big box store.

Here is how a conversation might go. Notice the followup questions asked in response to answers given by the prospective employer:

Employer:  So, what questions do you have for me?

You: Is the position you’re looking to fill a position that was vacated by a previous employee or are you expanding your sales staff?

Employer: We’re filling a vacancy. The previous salesperson didn’t work out.

You: May I ask why the previous salesperson left or was let go?

Employer: He was let go for not hitting sales goals.

You:  I see. Without revealing any confidential information, can you tell me what kept him from succeeding?

Employer:  He didn’t bring in enough business from new accounts. He handled existing accounts pretty well, but he missed new business goals fairly regularly.

You: From that I assume that bringing in new business is pretty important here.

Employer: Absolutely. It’s our life blood.

You: Why is that?

Employer:  This market is very competitive. We will grow by small percentages if all we do is up-sell existing accounts. New business is the key to double-digit growth.

You: Can you describe for me what your best salespeople do that other less successful salespeople don’t?

Employer: Sure. Our top salesperson makes 4 new business calls per day…every day. He closes about 10% of those calls. That means he brings in 2 new clients on average every week. That’s good selling.

You: Sounds amazing. May I ask what the average new business account is worth?

Employer: It’s typically $40,000 the first year and another $10,000 the following year. After that, it’s just a few thousand dollars per year.

You: So, if my math is correct, each new account is worth $50-60,000 over the lifetime of the account, yes?

Employer: That’s right. You’re good.

You: Thank you. And if this top salesperson is bringing in 2 new accounts per week then that’s $80-$120,000 in new business each and every week. That’s over five million dollars each year just in new business alone. Impressive.

Employer: Yes it is. Do you think you can do something similar?

You: (Smiling) That’s the big question, isn’t it? Let me start by saying I have never sold office furniture. So, I would need training. I assume you provide that?

Employer: Of course.

You: In all honesty, I believe I could be very successful here. Here’s why. Most of the other sellers in the electronics store I work at currently sit back and wait for customers to come to them. I do things a bit differently. If I don’t immediately sell a customer, I try to get their permission to call them if an item they’re interested in ever goes on sale. Most say, ‘Sure.’ So, I ask them for their cell phone number. I jot this down on a note card along with their name and the product they’re looking at. Then, every time we have a sale, I compare the sale items with the products listed on each of the note cards. I spend the first hour of each day calling people. This kind of system has helped me become the top salesperson in the store…for two years running. So, yes, I think I could be very successful for you.

Obviously, you would tailor your questions to the job you’re seeking. The key is to make the employer’s needs your first concern. Listen closely to his answers and then ask relevant followup questions.

A Couple of Suggestions on What Not to Ask in a First Interview

Here are a two types of questions I would avoid asking in a first interview.

Don’t immediately ask questions about compensation. You should never be afraid or ashamed to ask about compensation and benefits. But there are good times and bad times to do so. If you inquire about compensation right out of the gate then you have subtly communicated that your primary concern is what you will get from the job rather than what value you can bring to the organization. It’s best to save this question for later. Wait until you have instilled a deep desire in the employer to hire you. You will have much better leverage to negotiate a strong salary.

Don’t ask any question that can be answered with a little research on the company’s website. If you ask, “Can you tell me a little about your company?” then the interviewer knows you haven’t done your research. Instead, ask well-informed, intelligent questions based on sound knowledge. Do your research in advance.

The late, great Zig Ziglar famously said, “You can have anything in life you want if you just help enough other people get in life what they want.”

That is great life advice, not just career advice. It means you’re living your life in service to others.

In your next interview, make it your first desire is to help the employer achieve what he desires most. It’s the best way to make a lasting impression.

It’s also the key to getting paid what you deserve.

Questions: What questions have you asked a prospective employer that helped you land the job? If you’re an employer, what do you hope to hear when you ask, “What questions do you have for me?” Leave a tip in the comments below.

Author: Greg Lhamon

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