Deep Dive Questions - Ask Something Memorable

"So, do you have any questions for us?"

After being asked why you want the job, where you see yourself in 5 years, or what your ultimate career goal is, you get the most open-ended of all open-ended questions. If you are going on a formal job interview you need to prepare some questions. If you are grabbing coffee with someone you want to learn from, you may devote even more thought to this challenge.

What questions should I ask?

There are LOTS of articles which offer solid interview advice, and the questions they advise are worth considering.

Here are a few typical questions often suggested for the moment in a job interview when "it's the candidate's turn" to gather information:

  • What would success look like for the person in this role?

  • How did this position become vacant?

  • What's the best way a person in this role can help the company be successful this year?

  • What are the top 3 priorities the person in this role should tackle the first month?

Those are great questions to ask, and I am sure there are many more that would be appropriate as well. But they could be asked of anyone at any organization. Because they are generic, they lack one key feature. They lack the secret ingredient that makes that brief opening invitation, "do you have any questions for us?" the most important part of the job interview. This is the part of the interview where you can really shine if you do one thing well.

Demonstrate that you did your homework.

I'm not talking about cruising the company's website for 5 minutes in the waiting room while you sweat. I'm not even talking about checking your hiring manager out on LinkedIn. I'm talking in-depth research, the kind you used to do before writing an 8-page paper in college.

What would that look like? Here's an example, from a field I'm familiar with and passionate about: higher education.

Suppose you are applying to work in the admissions office of a private, 4-year institution. You've read their admissions website, followed them on Twitter, checked out their staff on LinkedIn, and you've got a pretty good feel for the culture of the school, the value they bring to the sector, and how they differentiate their value in the marketplace.

Dive into a challenge.

The next step is to take a deep dive into a challenge they face. Find a thorny issue that these staff grapple with that speaks to your values or your unique experiences, an issue that you can truthfully say is important to you. (Google the sector along with the phrase "most pressing problem" or "biggest issue" or "difficult challenge today" to see what pops up.) 

Let's say you find an issue that resonates with you. In this example I might choose affirmative action policies in college admissions. You've heard people talk about this issue and you know it's one that is still being debated. However, you don't yet have a firm grasp on the nuances involved and you aren't sure what stance the institution has (if any).

Read, reflect, and take notes.

Read what has been written in the media about the issue, both nationally and locally. When you come across a name in an article who is cited as an expert in the area, look that person up to learn more about their background. Do they have a blog or book where they expound on their opinions? If you find a well-respected organization focused on raising awareness of this issue, research whether that organization has ever engaged with someone at the institution where you are interviewing.

Reflect on what you've read, using empathic reflective learning by putting yourself in the shoes of several different stakeholders. How can this challenge also be viewed as an opportunity by the institution? Have leaders of the institution shown values that align with yours, either completely or partially? What are the ethics or moral dilemmas that a leader in this field would face?

Take notes. Organize your thoughts into a coherent narrative. Was there a dilemma you reflected on that you might formulate into a question? Tighten up your preamble to only a sentence or two before posing the question you have constructed.

As an example, on the issue of affirmative action policies in college admissions, you might say something like:

“I’ve read about the recent court decisions affecting college admissions. While I’m encouraged to see colleges like this one adopt a holistic approach to reviewing applications, I know that having a diverse community of peers is critical to the student experience. How well does this institution balance the racial diversity of an entering class with other factors such as leadership experience, community service, and academic talent?”

This question demonstrates that you've researched an issue facing the field, you've taken the time to learn what the institution's stance is on the issue, and you have a grasp of the dilemma they are grappling with. In short, you've done your homework! You will make a memorable impression on the interviewer, and you'll also get insight into how the institution handles the issue you presented.

Working with a career coach is a great way to prepare a deep dive question for an interview. Would you like to explore the possibility of working with me as your coach? I'd be happy to set up a free 30-minute phone call. Sign up for an appointment using this calendar, and let's talk!