Ask not what your employer can do for you but what you can do for your employer

1 March 2019

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You’ve dry cleaned your best business suit, boned up on the company and you’re ten minutes into the job interview when you experience that familiar, warm feeling of guarded satisfaction as the thought passes through your mind, “this is actually going quite well”.

That, unfortunately, is also the point at which complacency starts to creep into your performance, when you’re still a long way short of the crucial stage in the process. In fact, the most important part is at the very end.

For many people the final question of the interview can seem like an afterthought. As you’re folding away your notes and pulling on your coat, your prospective employer asks you, almost as anaside, "is there anything at all you want to ask us?".

Your research has been so exhaustive, you feel you know everything there is to know about the company and asking something obvious would be an admission of failure. You rack your brains, thinking of something to ask when the realisation dawns that you haven’t prepared for this, perfectly obvious question.

This, coincidentally for many employers, is anything but an afterthought; it's the point in their assessment of candidates when they get to see what their true priorities are.

By answering the question with a “not really”, or, worse, “how long is the probation period?” can make it seem to the interviewer like your interest in the job and the organization itself is not everything it should be.

Those who focus on the terms of their contract, particularly on the benefits such as bonuses, holiday entitlement or pension contributions can  give the impression that they're more interested in what the employer can do for them rather than what they can do for the employer.

The right questions are those that seek information to put you in a position where you're certain this is the right organisation for you professionally.

A good opener is to ask the employer for more detail on role; how long it's existed and how, if any, it has evolved.

The response should help you understand better how you'll fit into the company’s structure, how the role has grown over time and its value within the organisation.

You can then lead the conversation onto wider issues that demonstrate your knowledge of industry trends, letting the interviewer know you’re au fait with the latest developments. It will also help you understand if the role is in line with your career ambitions.

Another positive and relevant question is to ask about your predecessor, their performance and their role within the team.

Responses to this question can help you establish the skillset and experience required for the role and it will also give you an idea, from the interviewer’s appraisal of your predecessor, what expectations there will be of you and what you'll need to achieve to take the role to the next level.

Fitting into the team is an important part of most jobs and using an interview to understand the hierarchy in an organisation can help you develop a harmonious working relationship when you begin.

Another idea is to ask about the structure of the team and its role in the organisation? It might be helpful to know which departments you’ll be liaising with, to give you an understanding of your position and to help you know the organisation’s priorities and processes and of its business expectations.

Asking how your performance will be reviewed and what training opportunities are available will impress a future employer. An organisation that has a pro-active approach is a good indicator of its commitment to the growth and development of its staff.

It also shows that you are open to constructive feedback. Regular training opportunities and availability of resources are crucial for your professional growth, irrespective of what stage you're at in your career.

Asking about the company’s history and growth can be another signal of your commitment. This information may be available online but hearing it from the horse's mouth can make a huge difference.

Finally, it will be helpful for you to ask a current employee what it’s like to work for the company. Staff are an organisation’s biggest brand ambassador, after all.

The interviewer should not lead the entire conversation, it should be a mutually beneficial process. Besides asking the right questions, you should also be an attentive listener giving the interviewer and the process complete importance. If you get the responses that are favourable, you will immediately know you are at right place or else you are not.

 

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