Interviewing for an internship or a job out of college can be nerve wracking. You’ve worked hard to get good grades, have done some work outside of the classroom and it all comes down to this. The interview. Did you know there’s a way to give you an edge that has nothing to do with grades or extracurricular activities? There sure is! And it’s as simple as asking great questions in the interview.
It’s important to remember that in any job interview you must come prepared with questions. Don’t ever let the interviewer be the only one asking questions. This is especially important for college students since you are typically involved in a highly competitive interview process.
You must impress the interviewers.
You are interviewing the company to gauge your interest level just as much as the company is interviewing you to determine if you are a fit.
Preparing for an interview requires the creating of purposeful and well thought out questions that you will ask the interviewer(s). The key is to ask great questions beyond the generic questions that your competition will ask. This is what will set you apart from others.
Basic Advice on Asking Questions in an Interview
Before we dive into the questions themselves, it’s important for you to learn some of the basics of how to properly prepare for and ask questions in an interview.
- Do your homework! Properly preparing for an interview is a must. And in that preparation, you need to be doing some top-notch research on the company you are interviewing with. This research is what will lead to great questions that are far from generic (which most other students will be asking).
- You need to be confident when asking questions. An interview is a two-way street and you have every right to ask questions. If you have never interviewed anyone before, it can feel a bit strange to turn the tables. But, relax, it’s a normal part of the process.
- Next, be sure to actually listen to the interviewer’s response to your questions. Don’t just check the box and have the next question already on the tip of your tongue. Your body language will tip off if you’re actually listening or not. When you nod your head and respond with occasional words of assurance like “I see”, or “Interesting”, you are giving all indications that you are truly listening.
- Take notes. To take listening further, be sure to jot down some notes as the interviewer is responding to your questions. This shows that you are not only listening, but you are gaining value from what they are saying. Don’t go overboard and have your head down taking notes the whole time though. Only write down occasional things that stood out to you in the interviewer’s response.
- Ask follow up questions. For example, let’s say that you ask what the company culture is like. In the interviewer’s response, she says, “it can also be a tough environment at times.” That is a follow up question you should ask in order to probe further into what that means. A statement like that can make or break your interest level. So, just simply ask, “you mentioned that the work environment can be tough at times. What do you mean by that?”
- A good rule of thumb is to ask around 5 questions. But bring a list of ten. Why? So that you can adjust in case some of your questions were already answered during the interview. 5 questions don’t typically take too much time and shows you have done your homework and are engaged. If you fly through 5 questions, it’s okay to ask a couple more.
The following are general questions that interviewers have surely heard before. However, there is no harm in asking these questions. They are asked regularly because they are good questions. I find that these types of questions are good to start with, so you can ease into the more specific questions.
I recommend choosing a couple questions from the following list:
- What aspects about the company do you enjoy?
- What aspects about the company do you find challenging or difficult?
- Please tell me about the culture in the company. How would you define it?
- Has there been any recent challenges with the company recently that you can tell me about?
- Do you feel this company is growing? In what way? If not, why?
- Please tell me about the performance review process. How will I be evaluated?
- Why is this role open?
- From your perspective, what will make a person successful in this role?
- What is the typical career path for this role?
- What is your management style? (if interviewing your potential manager).
Company/Role Specific Questions
The following example questions are what you should be generating from the thorough research you’ve done in your interview preparation. These questions are meant to impress. So, you really want to put some thought into these.
I can’t emphasize how important this is. Great questions from a job candidate has been the tipping point for me many times between making and offer and not.
- Can you tell me more about the spring symposium the company is hosting next year?
- In my research of the company, it almost seems that there is no social media marketing going on. Is this purposeful or something in the works?
- I noticed in last year’s annual report, the company lost revenue in the distribution business. Do you have any insight into why this is?
- The job description said that this position will be a project lead for the digital marketing team. Please tell me more about this.
- The careers page of your website did a great job talking about community outreach and how much employees get involved. How does this program work and how could I get involved?
- I watched a YouTube video on the company page about how the company has always had an “open door” management philosophy. Can you tell me more about what this means?
- There is a lot of competition in this space for your company. What do you feel sets your company apart?
- My research shows that this company is privately held. Do you know if there are any plans for it to go public?
- Do you feel there are any risk factors for this company’s future since the industry it’s in has not grown in the past 5 years?
- In my research, the company values were listed as community, growth and inspiration. How does this department embody these values?
- If you fail to properly prepare for an interview, there’s a very good chance you’ll bomb. You just might get lucky under the right circumstances, but what take that chance? You’re going to college to go into a career. Take interviews very seriously!
- You are interviewing the company as much as they are interviewing you. Stay confident by always keeping this in mind. You have the right to ask questions to make sure it’s the right fit too.
- Don’t be the person that doesn’t listen. If this is a problem area for you, then you must practice your listening skills before the interview. Pay attention to your body language. If you’re not truly listening, it will be obvious. Make sure you are nodding in agreement making good eye contact.
- Be sure to bring a padfolio with you because you need to take notes! As the interview goes along, you should be writing down important points the interviewer(s) have made as well as items you should probe into more.
- Speaking of probing more. You should be asking follow up questions during the interview. Strong interviewers are masters at probing for more details, and you need to adopt this method as well. If they say something that concerns you, don’t hesitate to follow up on that to verify or dismiss your concerns.
- Bring a list of around 10 questions to ask in the interview. You should only ask about 5 though. Any more than that and your pressing your allotted time. The reason you need to prepare 10 questions is if during the interview some of your questions naturally get answered.
It can feel very unnatural in the beginning to ask questions in an interview. And it can be even more intimidating for college students who have little experience interviewing. I’m here to encourage you to come armed with the best possible questions you can come up.
This will certainly impress your interviewers and show that you are taking the process seriously. And, it’s okay if you appear nervous. That’s less important than the fact that you went above and beyond most other students.
If you just put in a little more effort than others while in college, you will set yourself up for success. Interviewing for an internship or your first job out of college is what college is all about. Don’t take this lightly. Go the extra mile and win!
Anthony lives in Indiana with his wife and 3 daughters. His passions (besides his family) in no particular order are making and listening to music that pleases his ears, taking pictures (still & moving), avoiding crowded places and good writing. He also happens to be the Founder of Career Energy.