One of the most important aspects of interviewing to find, then land, a job you both want and will succeed in comes down to the questions you ask as the candidate. Now, why is this so critical? Great question.
Asking the interviewer questions is the only time you are 100% in the driver’s seat. It’s your opportunity to figure out if you really want this job, and then make an even stronger case that you’re the best candidate for the role.
[bctt tweet="You're in the driver's seat when you're asking questions at an #interview, says @jvaudreuil" username="StartupInst"]
The last two classes I taught at Startup Institute asked for my perspective on this, as both a hiring manager and someone who has had to go through a handful of job searches in my career.
I’ve spent nearly a decade as a hiring manager for sales and business development roles. I’m a huge fan of assessing how good a candidate is based on a number of factors, and the questions the candidate asks my team and I are near the top of that list. Getting asked smart and thoughtful questions has swayed my opinion a few times.[bctt tweet="The questions a candidate asks in an #interview are one of the top things I evaluate on—@jvaudreuil" username="StartupInst"]
You see, as a hiring manager I want to get to know you. I want to know what makes you tick, why you want my job, and whether or not you’re mentally ready to start a sales career. Generic questions do you just as much harm as generic answers. Hiring managers don’t want cookie-cutter—we want strong professionals who stand out.
How do you know whether or not you should ask a particular question in the first place? Here’s the easy way to know whether or not you should ask a question—ask yourself: Could I find this information by doing an hour’s worth of research?
The Best Questions to Ask An Interviewer:
When you ask basic questions about the company’s products, culture, upper management, or growth plans, all you’re doing is showing the hiring manager you didn’t prepare as well as you should have. You should know enough about every single one of those topics that you could personally give your opinion on them. If you can’t state why you believe the company’s product is helpful, why you think they have a great executive team, or what their history of funding and overall growth looks like, how are you going to have a meaningful conversation when you meet the team?
The hiring team wants to have a meaningful conversation with you, and they expect you want to have the same kind of dialogue. Make sure you know the names of everyone you will be speaking with before you talk to them. Look each person up on LinkedIn. Do some research on the history of the company. See if they’ve been in the news lately.
If you show up and immediately establish yourself as someone who already understands their universe, it makes the hiring team feel far more at ease about you as a candidate.
Once you’ve done your research, come up with a list of topics you want to learn more about.
Let me put on my candidate hat for this part. There are a few of the interview questions I ask employers to learn more about a company:
What does success look like?
First, what does success look like? If I’m going to take a job, I need to know what success is and figure out whether or not I think I can reach that goal.
To figure out what will be expected of me initially, I’d ask what the ramp period is (typically, 90 days or six months) and then ask, “If I took this role, what would you expect me to achieve during ramp to determine whether or not I was a great hire?”
Take this question a step further if you want to understand how well this company hires, trains, and onboard their team. Ask, “What percentage of your team successfully ramps up?” and “What percentage of the department is hitting their quota consistently?” These questions are crucial because, if you take the job, those are your odds of being successful. The ideal situation to look for is a minimum 75% success rate ramping new hires and at least half the department consistently hitting quota.[bctt tweet="B4 taking a job, know what #success is + figure out if you can reach that #goal, says @jvaudreuil" username="StartupInst"]
Why is this role open?
I often want to know why this role is open, so I’ll ask that directly. Then I’ll dig in some more with, “What are the one to two core challenges you’re facing that you expect the person in this role to successfully take care of?” If you ask this for a business development rep (BDR) or account executive (AE) role, you’re going to find out where reps have struggled in the past. Keep this in mind, because if you’d struggle with the same thing you might want to look somewhere else.
If I were interviewing for an AE seat with a high commission split I’d ask, “What did your top performer’s W2 look like last year? What about your middle-of-the-pack reps? What did your worst rep make last year? What’s the difference between your worst and the average rep, and the average rep and your best?”
Asking these questions you will help you paint a picture of how successful this organization is, which will directly impact how successful you’re likely to be.
You’ll learn more about the company’s ability to hire, train, motivate, retain, and set appropriate goals by asking this set of questions than by asking directly about each of these areas. Trust me, an employer will defend how they operate. They can’t easily hide their results and expectations.[bctt tweet="An employer can defend how they operate, but they can't hide their results, says @jvaudreuil" username="StartupInst"]
If there are other areas you’d like to learn more about, write them down heading into an interview and make sure you ask them if they’re not covered.
How to Ask Questions During an Interview:
Before you ask these questions, consider how you phrase them. Many of these questions will be deeper than surface level questions and you want to establish that you did your homework. You need to show the interviewer you’re different.
When you ask any question it gives you an opportunity to respond briefly with a reason why you’re the person they’re looking for. [bctt tweet="Any Q you ask is an opp to show you're the right candidate, says @jvaudreuil #interview" username="StartupInst"]
If you show you’ve done your homework, it’s even more powerful.
Say you want to understand more about their specific criteria for a BDR. I’d ask, “Besides having a good phone presence and being persistent, what are the top two to three things you’re looking for in a BDR?”
Framing the question in this way that shows you’ve done your homework—lead with what you know and then ask your question. In this instance, I led with two things I know every inside sales leader is looking for. The hiring manager might not give me a different answer than if I had simply asked the question, and that’s fine. I set myself apart by adding what I learned before coming in for the interview.
The Secret to Interviewing
I’m going to let you in on a little secret as to why all these little things are so important when you’re interviewing:
The goal of an interview isn’t to determine who the best candidate is—it’s to determine who the least risky candidate is.
You could clearly have the most talent, the best experience, and the perfect answer to every question. If the hiring team thinks you’re not motivated, interested, and excited enough about this position, then it’s unlikely they’ll offer you the role. Asking smart questions is one of the best ways to make sure you show the hiring team what you’re made of. It’s one thing to say you want a job, and it’s another to prove it by your actions.[bctt tweet="It's one thing to say you want a job, it's another to prove it w/ your actions, says @jvaudreuil #interview" username="StartupInst"]
For more resources on interviewing for sales jobs, I’ve put together the Guide to Finding and Landing Your Perfect Sales Job, which you can check out here.
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