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What is the most important question you should ask in the interview?

By Howard J. Cattie, Jr., Founder and Head Coach, CareerOyster

Question Marks

When I asked many job seekers which questions are most important in the interview, there are many answers which come out such as:
  • Why is this position open?
  • Is this a new position or a replacement?
  • What are you looking for in this position?
  • What are the long-term potentials of the position?
  • What are the next steps in the process?
  • What would you like someone to start?
Books suggest hundreds of questions to ask during the interview about the company, the future of the department, etc. But I don't often see, and rarely hear from job seekers, a question that seeks direct feedback of how you are doing in real time. I find it to be surprising that most candidates told me that they never thought of asking it. Most candidates interpret good conversation or politeness as an endorsement or a favorable vote. They prefer to assume that everything went great and then wait at home hoping for the next steps in the process. When no one calls or returns their calls, and time drags on, they then begin to second guess about how they interviewed or what they said or perhaps the agenda of the manager. Stories and excuses begin to form in order to rationalize why they are not going forward in the process. It is a very frustrating experience.
So as I coach candidates how the close of interview properly using a four question technique, its this second question that surprises them. It's based on the sales awareness that you must ask the tough questions in order to see where you stand. A “no” or a “concern” can be your best friend because it gives you a chance to address it while you are there. Since an interview is a selling situation, finding out any issues is the best thing you can do at the end of the interview. Once you know them, you can probe for clarification, address the issue, outweigh the weakness or clarify a previous comment.
So the Question to ask is:
“Mr. manager is there anything I said today or anything in my background that would prevent you from recommending me for this position? If there is, could I at least have a chance to talk about it while I’m here today?”
Candidates have relayed to me that this question has often surfaced misconceptions and/or opportunities to address weaknesses with more information. If the manager is hiding an answer from you it will be obvious from his facial expressions or hesitation. If it looks good, the answer will be quick and positive. If there is a concern, they often will bring it up and say something like “we were thinking of looking for someone little more like this” or “I'm not sure I see you a proper fit for the job in this area”. This will require you to probe deeper to understand the real issue.
Now you have a chance to summarize your appropriate background and try to outweigh or resolve such a weakness rather than going home and being put into the reject pile with no explanation of where you fell short.  Many times during the interview you may be emphasizing one point of your background and strengths at the expense of another and inadvertently left a negative answer or weakness. Asking this question gives you a chance to recover and to really assess how well you're doing in this interview.
Asking this important question shows maturity and the ability to communicate even when the topic could be negative or uncomfortable. So always ask this important question with courage. A direct answer is your friend.  A positive answer and a quick response confirms you may have interviewed well and you are qualified.  Other answers will help you refine your interview technique. In all cases you come out a winner in understanding what your status is for this particular job opportunity and you can proceed to close or strategize for the next appropriate step with this knowledge. Good luck and good interviewing.
Howard Cattie is Head Coach of CareerOyster, an innovative online career coaching firm. CareerOyster helps job seekers learn powerful, effective resume writing and winning job interview skills through products such as ResumeCoach and InterviewCoach. To get started, and to get your free video career advice and job search tips newsletter, visit http://careeroyster.com.