The Art of Reverse Interview Questioning

5 min

We all know how the typical job interviewing process goes. We’ve all experienced it and know the drill. In most cases, after sharing some information about the company and shooting a series of commonplace questions about skills and personality, a recruiter will ask you if you have any questions to them.

And the worst thing you can do at this point is to answer “Nope, sounds like you covered everything”. Firstly, if you have nothing to ask, this is an indicator that you are either not interested or not competent enough. Are you? Secondly, negative reply deprives you of brilliant chances:

  1. Generate the information you need. The standard job interview usually does not give a comprehensive view of the company and the position you are applying for. The pre-written information is usually recited by rote and reveals only the light side of the company. However, at the bottom line, you are the one to take the final decision – to accept or reject a job offer, if it comes. So, to get the real picture and feel the vibe of the company, and make the decision quickly afterwards, dig deeper with the right questions. What is more, recruiters may not be aware of what your priorities are, accentuating on motivation programs and perks in their stories, whereas your primary interest is in on-job education and mentoring. So, do ask. And if the recruiter doesn’t have answers to all your questions, appoint reverse interview with the right person – think one or two levels above the job you want.
  2. Sell yourself. The majority of HR professionals and senior management welcome curiosity from applicants. It shows initiative, motivation, interest and, well, guts. Handling reverse-interview approach will also demonstrate composure and determination – qualities highly valued for any position. This will present you in a positive light to the employer, and if others do not use reverse interviewing, you will set yourself apart from the competition and favourably stand out the crowd. That is the moment when you stop being “just another interviewee” and start being a legitimate job candidate.
  3. To show your expertise additionally. Smart, thoughtful, on-topic questions will show your competence and keen insight into the industry and professional field. You also may go further and demonstrate all the spectrum of soft skills by embedding the right message in the questions. For example, want to show that you are a team player? Ask more about team members and teamwork. Strategic thinking is your strong suit – enquire about the strategic development of the company, product or department.

So, no matter the interview is labelled reverse or not, once the interview flow begins, you need to take responsibility for the process and drift into asking the questions. Do not think that it is a recruiter, the one holding all the cards in the hiring process. No, a job interview is a double-sided process, a two-way street, so use this and interview your employer even more than they interview you. Ideally, your questioning should seamlessly and smoothly integrate into interview conversation flow as dialogue is more illuminating form than an interrogation.

However, it doesn’t mean you need to start blurting out reverse interview questions from the get-go. They should be well-thought-out and prepared, which means formulated in advance as a result of your research of the company and active involvement in the dialogue with an interviewer.

Companies routinely update their websites and blogs and publish materials about their recent activities, successes, values and challenges on Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. So you will not feel the lack of information while preparing.

It also can be a great idea to talk with the current and ex-employees of the company and to find out their opinion about the company. Of course, the answers will be somewhat individual, but I think you will manage to pick the wheat of facts from chaffs of subjectivism.

The rule of thumb for successful reverse interview questions is formulating specific, open questions that show your sincere interest and keep the conversation going.

So, do not ask something that is either obvious or can be easily googled, like who are your major competitors; it will just show your incompetence.

What are great reverse interview questions then?

Definitely, questions will vary, depending on the position and company, but I believe it would be useful for anybody to grill about:

  1. People. The people you are going to work with and for are an essential aspect of the job. With them, you will meet at the coffee spot, solve day-to-day issues and seek support in tackling challenges. They can help you succeed or try to fail you. So, to find out as much as you can about their personalities, by asking something like “Who’s the most cautious in the team — the one who makes sure we stick to the plan?”. Alternatively, if possible, meet some people from the team to make sure you can connect.
  2. Culture. Culture aspect, although neglected at the reverse interviews often, is important, as only in great cultures work great people and build great products. Investigate what their attitude to mistakes, and if they take ownership and welcome accountability.
  3. Processes. Don’t forget to check how agile the company is and how fast teams deliver? Do they take up innovation or slowly get immersed in trivia and bureaucracy? The processes should not be flawless, but well-established enough to enable the team to bring value and empower make decisions.
  4. Impact. Try to understand what kind of impact you can make on the product you are going to work on. Will it be satisfying with both the technical challenges it brings, such as scale, as well as the emotional satisfaction of solving large and complex problems that affect many users.
  5. Self-development. Would they support you getting outside education or activities to broaden your skill set? Will the company send you to courses and conferences and thumb up when you participate in meetups, blogging, mentoring, and more?
  6. Fun. The fun aspect is not about parties and team-building activities. And the demanding environment is exciting to work in, but work should be a place which encourages you to get up in the morning, smile and go to make good things. It should be a place which fills you with satisfaction and respects.

Titles, salary, and location are essential, don’t get me wrong, you should enquire about them as well, but they are not the things that give meaning. And to grasp this, pose reverse interview questions.

So, now it’s your turn!

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