Make an impression, ask the right questions

“Always ask questions” is one of the standard pieces of advice given to people going to a job interview. But thinking of questions to ask that will help your cause can be easier said than done.

There are two reasons to ask questions in a job interview: to make the interviewer want to hire you, and to get information for yourself about the interviewer and the job.

“If a person doesn’t ask any questions, my first thought is that they are not interested, and my second thought is, ‘How much is this person going to contribute?'” said Dennis B. Boykin, director of software development at the Army After Next project, a study program in Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

One way to show your interest in the job is to ask questions that show you have done some research about the company.

“I’m amazed at how few people in today’s technological environment go and hit our Web site to see what our organization is all about,” said Mark Moerdler, senior vice-president of MDY Advanced Technologies, a network integrator in Fair Lawn, N.J. Moerdler suggests researching enough that you can ask about specific products the company is using.

It’s also a good idea to ask questions that will tell you what the interviewer wants.

Penny Jobin, recruiting manager at Alta Software, in Reston, Va., said very few applicants ask her what she is looking for in a new employee. Those who do are better able to tailor their answers.

John White, manager of enterprise computing at Cluett-Peabody, a clothing manufacturer in Atlanta, said he likes candidates who ask why the position they are interviewing for exists.

“It gives the applicant an opportunity to sell themselves and say, ‘I can help you,'” White explains. “I had a guy who asked what the list [of job duties] was and he said, ‘I’ve done that and that. I can help you.'”

Of course, there are some questions that you should not bring up, at least not early in the interviewing process. “How much money can I make?” is perhaps the primary example.

“If economics is the first question out of someone’s mouth, it seems like they are just jumping ship because of money,” Moerdler said.

Of course, it’s important to find out about money at some point, but there are ways to get information without giving a bad impression.

Brenda Peterson, a counseling intern at the Career Action Center in Cupertino, Calif., suggests asking how often performance is reviewed. This can give you some idea of how often you would be considered for a raise without asking directly about money.

Another area to approach with caution is questions about a company’s culture. “If people ask right off the bat about working conditions, that makes me think they won’t fit in,” Boykin said. “You should be careful about how you word your questions about the environment.”

But Tony Berger, applications development manager at Weyerhaeuser in Federal Way, Wash., said he likes questions about the atmosphere or culture.

Jobin said the phrasing of the question is key. For example, someone once asked her, “Why would I want to work for such a small company?”

She suggests rephrasing the question in a more positive way, such as, “What are the benefits of working for a small company?”

The fact that different interviewers may react differently to the same question underscores the importance of learning something about your interviewer. General research about the company can help with this. But Boykin said it is often hard to find out a lot about your interviewer beforehand.

“Look at the person’s desk to get an idea of who you’re interviewing with,” Boykin said.

Then tailor your queries to impress the interviewer and get your questions answered.

Marken is a freelance writer based in Berkeley, Calif.