Six Critical Questions to Ask Before Your Interview

This is the fourth article is a series to help new college graduates. Congrats!

Regardless of how many speeches, presentations, evaluations or even interviews you have successfully completed, interviews for that first real job seem much more intimidating.

Moving forward to this step is a significant accomplishment. If the company has a solid recruiting process, you are one of no more than five top candidates, narrowed down from possibly 30, 50, 100 or more depending on the role. You should have already passed a phone screen and/or an initial assessment. Your odds are pretty good to get an offer if you take the time to prepare!

But hold on, let’s not gloss over the “ifs” because they are big ones.

1.) If the company has a solid recruiting process. Very few do. Most put up a smoke screen of metrics and numbers to excuse poor practices and lack of results. A competent hiring leader partnered with a strategic recruiter should be able to conduct in-person interviews 1-5 candidates and fill the job. Every time.

Why doesn’t that happen? It occurs because leadership doesn’t value talent. Or they do, but they have not built a culture that does.

When jobs go unfilled, the core of the problem is not branding. It is the consequences of not valuing people. So, when you do everything you were told and never hear from a company again, or get rejected for not being a culture fit, because the company has changed the job, or no reason at all, it probably wasn’t you.

2.) If you have taken the time to prepare. There is no excuse for not doing so. Not one.

Even if you do not get the job, you are getting an opportunity to learn. Take it. Give 110%. Learn.

Here are the key questions to ask before an in-person interview:

What is the dress code for the company and how should I dress as a candidate?

The truth is you should always dress up unless they give a reason (like all interview candidates are invited to go down the office slide, the interviews will be outside, the plan is to walk to lunch, you will get to try out the company gym, etc.) Then you should dress appropriately, but always notch it up from what they tell you.

May I have a list of the interviewers and their names & titles?

Don’t rely on LinkedIn for accuracy. Some people don’t update their profiles for years, and you will be confused and misinformed. They should have no issue providing this to you in advance. Then you do research, hopefully finding something in common and finding enough information to prepare questions appropriate to the interviewer.

What is the interview style used?

Regardless of what they say, prepare for behavioral-based questions. That is, structure your answers to describe a situation, your behavior, and the result. Not everyone on the interview team is going to be a skilled interviewer. They may not ask questions that allow you to show your qualifications, and they may not know how to ask follow-up questions. It’s up to you to get your message across.

You also need to know if the interviews will be 1:1, group, panel, or a mix. Why? With a series of 1:1 interviewers, you need to stand up and introduce yourself each time, like you just got there! You need to prepare to have the same enthusiasm being asked identical questions (like tell me about yourself) with the fourth interviewer just as you did with the first. And your answers need to be consistent, but not the same. When all four interviewers compare notes to find out you used the same Situation, Behavior and Outcome in each interview, you won’t get an offer. Likewise, if you give conflicting answers to why you left your last job, etc., it’s a red flag.

If there are a few people in the room, you need to make eye contact and acknowledge everyone. That means asking each one a specific and relevant question when appropriate.

With a panel, the challenge is to stand out as a person, not just a candidate. It can feel like a firing squad – question after question. Instead of being able to tailor your answers to an audience like in a 1:1, you must try to give answers that everyone can understand. This may mean that you provide a few different levels to your answers or a few examples for each question. While trying to impress the manager, you still need to relate to peers.

Is there anything I need to know about directions to the company and/or parking?

A company should provide you with precise directions. If they do not, check their main phone number for recorded directions and the company website as well. Then, even if you find them, make sure you clarify: Is parking free? Is there visitor parking? Is it a lot or a garage with several levels? Will GPS lead you to the wrong place? And then, after that, take a test drive before your interview and make sure you go to the parking deck, not just the building. Typically, in downtown/urban areas a GPS will not be accurate. You may lose the signal or end up at the front of the building with no place to park. You can’t assume that you won’t have to walk outside (and it may be pouring rain). Some parking decks can add 15-20 minutes to your drive time, and you need to know this in advance.

How long will the interviews last?

Like many things in the job search process, this seems basic. But it’s not. Sometimes companies will not include times in the interview schedule. Why? Because if you are doing poorly, they don’t want to waste their time. Interviews may be very short, and they may escort you out before you are on to what is happening! Another sleight of hand is putting the senior-level employees with another interviewer and/or at the end of the process. If the evaluators give positive feedback, the leader will spend more time with you. If not, they most likely won’t show or will stay for a few minutes to be polite. At a company that held managers accountable for recruiting, I had ONE hiring manager out of hundreds miss an interview, and that was for a funeral. At a company that didn’t, senior employees, including C-Suite, regularly didn’t show or had to be tracked down and kept interviewers waiting. Seriously, think twice about companies in the former category!

How many other candidates will the company be interviewing for this role? When will the interviews be completed?

Knowing this upfront will help to set your expectations as far as time frame and provides valuable information about the company. Again, they should have narrowed a slate of candidates to no more than five finalists who are interviewing for the job. The interviews and decision process should take no more than two weeks for an entry-level position. Ideally, written offers should go out within two days of the last interview. While legitimate circumstances can prolong the process, it’s more likely for it to be an internal issue that should be a red flag for you!

Now you have the information to begin preparing! Read the company webpage, look at the Glassdoor comments, Google it. You should know the basics of the company size, headquarters locations, if there are other offices, the culture, the mission, the brands, the industry, and if they are public or private. Use LinkedIn to check out the profiles of the interview team. Look for professional organizations, people, hobbies, volunteer interests, etc. that you may have in common.

There is no set amount of time to study, but you need enough information to form insightful questions that both show your knowledge and help you to evaluate the opportunity. This will allow you to steer the interview to be more conversational.

Coaching can help you prepare for your interviews! Learn how to research the job, the company and the interviewers, and how to generate a list of insightful questions that will help you evaluate the company and the opportunity while selling yourself!

Up next: The 8 Buckets to Categorize All Interview Questions


About the Author

Amy Cooney is a Recruiter, Career Coach, Talent Consultant, and CEO of AC Talent Consulting. With over 10 years of recruiting experience, she knows talent. Because Amy believes in people first, she listens to both clients and candidates to become a trusted partner. As a Career Coach, she helps people of all levels accelerate their careers through the Accelerate You! custom coaching program, resume writing, and group sessions. Amy also provides consulting and training to corporate talent acquisition departments in the areas of recruitment strategy, process improvement and operations, and employer branding. She is available for public speaking, seminars and facilitating career-related events.

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