Job Interviews Are Two-Way Streets: How to Ask Your Questions, TooWork

Job Interviews Are Two-Way Streets: How to Ask Your Questions, Too

Alan Henry , Gawker Media

Job Interviews Are Two-Way Streets: How to Ask Your Questions, Too

Job interviews are two-way streets. Unfortunately, most of us spend the entire thing just answering questions. Remember, it's your best opportunity to make sure you're not walking into a minefield if you get an offer. Here's how to take control and make sure your side of the street actually gets some traffic.

It's easy to get nervous if you're prepping for an interview. Every tip and article suggests that you have to land every question right, prep for what you may be asked, and make sure your body language sends the right signals. Just thinking about it can be nerve-wracking. It's easy to forget that a job interview goes both ways: it's not just for your employer to examine you, but for you to find out if this job is a good fit for you. Just as the hiring manager will go off and decide if you're the candidate for their opening, you need to be able to decide if that company, that manager, or that team is the one you want to spend 40+ hours every week with for the next several years of your life. Here are some real-world ways to prep, and to use that limited time in your interview wisely.

Prepare, but Only Enough to Build Your Confidence

Job Interviews Are Two-Way Streets: How to Ask Your Questions, Too

You probably know that you should prepare for a job interview by thinking about the questions you'll be asked . That goes double for interviews with skill-based components, like coding or trade jobs where you'll have to prove some of your knowledge. It's good to prepare, and you should definitely come with a few stories to tell that really show off your experience and skills. Once you have that down though, stop practicing.

Seriously. Don't go overboard trying to come up with a canned answer for every possible question you might get. As with most things in life, you'll be more successful if you're confident without being arrogant. Remind yourself that your resume and skills drew this company's attention for a reason. Think about how proud you are of your accomplishments-whether it's your college degree, trade certifications, your work history, or the good work you've done up to this point in your career. Remember, the company you're interviewing with is interested in you too, and that counts for a lot. Bring that confidence with you to your interview. Feeling like an active, empowered part of the conversation in your interview puts you in a power position. You'll be willing to interrupt and ask for clarification, interject with a story, ask questions, and in general, be an active participant.

This attitude doesn't come easily, and while it's natural for some, for others it's painstakingly difficult to nail down. If you have trouble, try a mock interview with a friend . It's also important to read your interviewer (or interviewers) and their reactions to your confidence or your humility, and adjust accordingly. What you and your friends perceive as confident may be arrogant to someone else. You need to be able to adapt. Pay attention to body language and non-verbal cues, and you'll know when to loosen the reins and let your interviewer take control, and when you can step in and steer the conversation yourself.

Take Every Opportunity to Converse, Not Just Answer Questions

Job Interviews Are Two-Way Streets: How to Ask Your Questions, Too

One of the most important, but often overlooked interview tips is the simplest: Make sure your job interview is a conversation, not an interrogation. Whenever you're asked a question, answer, but take the opportunity to ask about the job, or about why you might think they're asking. For example, if someone's asking you about your proficiency with SQL, answer them directly and clearly, but follow up with "are you guys a big SQL shop, or do you use other database software too?" Doing this answers the question, of course, but it also expresses an interest in the company and the things they (and presumably you would) do. Not only does this make you look good, it also gives you some valuable information you can use to decide if this is a place you want to work.

Get Rich Slowly has some great examples of questions you can ask in conversation. For example, when you hear things like "schedules are flexible" (a good time to ask "how is that handled or approved? does anyone on this team have a flex schedule?") or "there's some occasional travel" (a good time to ask "where was the last place someone had to go? how long did they stay in the field?") The more you manage to make your job interview a give and take of useful information, the more rapport you'll have with your interviewer, the more likely you'll leave a good impression, and the more informed you'll be when you leave. You'll be both confident that you left a good impression and answered their questions well, but you'll also really, truly understand what will be expected of you at work. That's important to The more you converse, the more the conversation naturally turns to when you start, as opposed to if you get the job. You probably know that feeling: your conversation consists of things like "these are the people you'll be working with" and "this is what you'll be doing" instead of "this is our team" and "this is what we do." It's always a good sign that you've made a great impression, and you're fitting in well with your interviewer.

Ask Questions Whenever You Can Instead of Waiting Until "Do You Have Questions for Me?"

Job Interviews Are Two-Way Streets: How to Ask Your Questions, Too

In the same vein, the best interviews-the ones you know you landed after you walk out-leave you confident and informed. You should leave knowing what the hiring manager wants, what the team is like, and ideally what your workday would be like and the tools you'd use to do your job. Don't wait until the last few minutes, when you're about to be ushered out and you get the courtesy "So, do you have any questions for me?" to get that clarity. If you've been trying your best and don't get answers, or never have the opportunity to get your questions answered, this job may not be for you. Sometimes second interviews or follow-up calls give you the opportunity to get more questions answered, but if you didn't have the chance (or the interviewer didn't have the information or desire) to get your own questions answered, this probably isn't the place you want to work.

Don't Get Hung Up on the "Right Way" or "Secret Techniques:" Everyone's Heard them All Before

Job Interviews Are Two-Way Streets: How to Ask Your Questions, Too

Finally, in the same vein as trying to answer questions like "What's your greatest weakness" with answers like "I'm a perfectionist," (which by the way everyone's wise to, so don't try ) don't fall for "secret interview tips" or "tricks to nail your interview." They're a dime a dozen, and while I'm sure we've shared a few here and there too, the truth is there's no universal method to "nail" an interview. Don't clutter your mind with too many "tricks," and don't obsess over the "right" answers to every question. Instead, go in looking forward to a good conversation. Do enough research in advance that you have something to talk about and don't ask obvious questions, and be ready for the occasional oddball question, but don't obsess over articles full of "X crazy interview questions you won't believe" or "Y secrets that can kill an interview."

In fact, the only real "secret" to "nailing" an interview is to make sure it's a great conversation between all parties. Even that may not be enough to get you a job offer. It may not convince you that this is a place you want to work. Some of the best, most informative, and most fun interviews I've been on wound up being places I actually decided not to work. Don't get caught up in the carrot-and-stick mindset that an interview means you have to take a bad job because you get an offer, or that you can't get another interview. After all, if you have to be a completely different person or rely on tricks to do well in an interview, you probably won't be happy when you get the job and suddenly have to start being yourself.


When people say a job interview should be a two-way street, they mean it-but you have to make sure you actually get into the driver's seat and take control of the conversation. Don't be arrogant, of course, but be confident. You have a big decision to make, too. Finally, don't let yourself leave a job interview hoping that everything went well without knowing if it did-like the interview was a thing that just happened to you rather than a thing you actively participated in . If you feel that way after an interview, the job may not be for you anyway.

Title illustration by Brian Hagen . Additional photos by Chris and Karen Highland , Heinrich-Boll-Stiftung , Mats Lindh , and Alex Wellerstein .

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