Questions

The One Question to Ask at Interviews

THE ONE QUESTION
Written by Jonathan Burston

When you get to the point in the interview and the interviewer says, ‘Do you have any questions?’, what do you say?

  • Do you look at your list of well-prepared questions ready to dive in and ask away?
  • Do you ask the first thing that comes into your head? After all you’re good at asking questions?
  • Or do you say, ‘I don’t have any questions?’

Whatever you do, I hope it isn’t the last question. You’d be surprised just how many candidates say that they don’t have any questions!

I find it bizarre.

It might be nerves. It might be that they don’t like the interviewer. It might be that they don’t like the company or the role – and just want the interview to end as quickly as possible.

But!

The important thing is to leave with the interviewer thinking that you’re a decent person – regardless of whether you’re right the role. Better to be remembered positively. After all it doesn’t cost you anything.

Anyway, rant over.

The One Question

The purpose of this article is to look at the one question that you should ask an interviewer. It’s a question that will help you gain a real picture, a true insight, into the company.

So what is this one question? It is:

‘Why do you like working here and what do you enjoy most about the role?’

Okay, I know, before you write and tell me, yes it’s two questions. But they work so well together I think of them as one.

Why ask this question?

The reason why this works is that you’re asking, the interviewer, their personal opinion. An opinion about how they see things in the company and not what the company wants you to believe. It’s a question that most interviewers don’t expect.

So what next?

1. Watch

It’s at that moment, when you ask the question, that you need to watch the interviewer. Watch their body language.

  • Does it alter in anyway from how they were previously?
  • Do they need time to think of an answer?
  • Do they repeat the question?

So watch what they do.

I sat across from Phil. I’d spent over an hour in the interview with him. He now asked ‘do you have any questions, Jonathan?’ I said I did. I asked, ‘Why do you like working here, Phil and what do you enjoy most about the role?’

I watched what happened next. He said ‘good question’, often used as a delaying tactic to give you brain the chance to think.

He sat back crossed his arms and looked away from me. In fact at the same time he crossed his legs. Something didn’t seem quite right, but I didn’t say anything. I just watched and waited for his answer…

2. Listen

The second point is to actively listen to what they are saying. And then ask yourself?

  • Do you believe them?
  • Are the words they are using matching their body language?
  • Are they open and expressive or closed and defensive?

After a few moments, longer than I anticipated, Phil answered. He said, ‘It’s a great company with a great culture. It’s very open and non-hierarchical and we can make decisions quickly. We’re quite entrepreneurial, which I love. What do I enjoy the most, I enjoy the people. There are some bright people here and it’s intellectual stimulating.’

I nodded as he was answering to show that I was listening actively to his answer. 

 3. Matching

What do their answers tell you about the company and them? Does it reinforce your opinion of them or is there something you’re not so sure about.

I sat there watching and listening. Something didn’t feel quite right. I couldn’t put my finger on it. He had crossed his arms again when he mentioned ‘making decisions quickly and entrepreneurial’. Why, I wondered?…

4. Dig Deeper

Finally, ask them a further question based on what they’ve said. This is your turn to dig deeper and get that personal insight into the business. It’ll help you decide whether this is the right company for you or not.

So I probed a little deeper. I asked, ‘Tell me more about the entrepreneurial spirit and how the business makes decisions quickly’.

Well that was like a watershed moment. Phil hadn’t expected me to ask a further question about this and it caught him off guard. He started to ‘waffle’, which was odd. He then said that the business was going through a management change. That meant that the culture was changing to becoming more micro-managed. This wasn’t what he had said earlier! 

I started to wonder whether the role and the company were right for me.

In the end I never took the job. It didn’t feel right and that came down to asking the one question.

The one question is such a powerful question because it allows you to learn so much in a soft unguarded way. It’ll help you clarify what you see, hear and think about a company, the role and the people. It’ll give you a true, personal view of what that company is really like.

So next time you can ask an interviewer a question, try this one out.

PS. Oh by the way, if you have more than one interviewer, ask everyone the same question. And listen to all the answers! Do they have consistencies or are there differences in opinions? If in doubt keep digging deeper. After all, this is your career.

If you’d like to know what other questions you can ask an interview, read:
11 Questions to Ask the Interviewer

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About the author

Jonathan Burston