When you’re in the running the long-distance race of a job search and jumping over rejection letters like those ridiculous, neon-striped, waist-high hurdles they plunk in Olympian running lanes, an invitation to a job interview feels like a godsend. You’ve spent hours each day pumping out cover letters and resumes, and finally, an email arrives in your inbox that doesn’t begins with “Unfortunately, due to the volume of candidates…” The clouds part, harps thrum with song, and the angels cry. ‘BOUT TIME, UNIVERSE.
You prep ruthlessly — reading as much about the company’s mission, vision, current projects, and daily activity as you can squeeze into your schedule. You pick out an appropriately professional outfit. You look up slightly-silly but helpful breathing exercises that will “ground you in the moment.” You talk to yourself in the mirror (ahem…more than usual, that is. Don’t worry, we’re all cray-cray when we think no one can overhear us). Most of all, you envision how you’ll begin the interview. How you’ll make that first impression. How you’ll answer that first question.
Getting hung up on the front-end of the interview process is understandable. The overwhelming brunt of interview advice pushes you in that direction: First Impressions Are Everything. The reality is, however, that the final minutes of an interview are equally (if not more) key to leaving your interviewer with a well-rounded, confident, enthusiastic, engaged impression. Think of it like a hit song on the radio: there’s a catchy loop in the intro that pulls you in and keeps you from changing the channel, sure, but the thing that makes you say “wow, I want to hear that again…I wonder if it’s on Spotify?” is that the song went beyond the opening hook: it built to a satisfying finish.
When I began to teach theater classes, I spent a lot of time thinking about how to finish my sessions on an inclusive, engaged note that left my students feeling listened to, taken care of, and genuinely excited for the next lesson (instead of just shooed out the door with a “well, we’re at time, see you next week!”). The answer: follow-up questions. I realized I needed to check in and make sure that the exercises I’d led them through were 1) Making sense to them on a technical level, 2) Feeding their personal artistic goals, and 3) Delivering to their expectation of me as a teacher. I mention this realization because I think the same three things apply to finishing interviews. You need to ask follow-up questions to establish whether or not your interviewer understands 1) How your experience, skill set, and interests qualify you for the job, 2) How you’ll feed the company, and 3) How you’ll deliver above and beyond what the company expects of its employees.
So, how do you do that? Investopedia posted an article last week, “4 Essential Questions To Ask At The End Of A Job Interview,” that defines the four crucial follow-up questions you should be asking after you’ve made that much-vaunted first impression and are aiming to “close strong.” Here they are:
1. Do you have any doubts about my qualifications or experience level that I can address for you?
Plucking up the courage to ask this question takes iron-clad ovaries, for sure. But if your hirer seems hesitant or incredulous that you’re up to the job, it’s important to acknowledge that and give yourself the opportunity to address their skepticism directly, with a detailed explanation of how you’d approach certain tasks, or how your experience level is sufficient to rock your job duties. Just be careful with wording (don’t go with the accusatory tack of “why don’t you believe in me?!?”) and timing (if the interviewer doesn’t seem doubtful of your ability, then don’t introduce the word “doubt” into the conversation; use the phrase “anything I can clarify about my qualifications and experience” instead).
2. What can I do to exceed your expectations of me as an employee?
Hirers often spend the majority of interviews explaining the duties of the job, and then asking you how you’d tackle that duty. The interviewer offers an indication of expectation (“you need to communicate daily with our clients over the phone”), and you offer a way you’d meet that expectation (“I developed solid phone etiquette at my last job, where I dealt with client calls every day”). Up the ante. That is: ask the interviewer to pitch you an above-and-beyond scenario (“you would grow the client base by making cold calls to new offices”) and showcase your enthusiasm and work ethic by talking about how you would fulfill their highest (instead of bare-minimum) expectations.
3. What are your long-term goals for the company, and how I can help achieve them
The secret truth is that interviewers dread the hiring process as much as interviewees do. When they’re going through the painstaking process of reviewing applications, hirers want to make sure that they choose an employee who’ll stick around, so they don’t have to repeat the time-consuming candidate review all over again, a few months or a year later. This question proves that you’re not just looking to score a yearlong job and use it as a stepping-stone to bigger things; it shows that you’re as interested in growing the company as the management is, and you’re both committed to and excited about being in it for the long haul. This is an especially important question to ask if you’re just graduating from college (younger employees tend to stay at a job for a shorter period of time; distinguish yourself from the stereotype).
4. What are you excited to come into work for, every day?
Role-reversal is a powerful, healthy communication tool. This question opens up the floor to managers and allows them the chance to explain why they care so much about the work they’ve been discussing for the entire interview. It also gives you a chance to pick their brain, respond to their level of enthusiasm, and solidify their sense of common ground (“we both love taking leadership responsibilities when working on a new project”). If you give your interviewer the chance to open up genuinely and explain their personal values, it’ll make it that much easier for you to open up about your professional and personal excitement, too.
Image via Picjumbo