It’s an inevitable moment during any job interview, when the person who’s been firing questions at you for the last 45 minutes turns the tables by asking, “Do you have any questions for me?” That signals you are almost at the end of this interview round—but not quite, because what you say next is important. In other words, don’t try and fake it. Here is where you really can and should shine based on all the work you’ve done researching your prospective employer.
“Given all of the information you should get before the interview, you don’t want to ask about the history of the company or its strategic focus or how many employees work there,” recruiter Richard Lipstein of Boyden Global Executive Search in New York tells eFinancialCareers.
Don’t even think about discussing compensation and perks at this time. Pay and benefits should almost always be discussed after two or more interviews—when the employer brings it up. Nor do you want to spoil things with rookie questions about vacation time and other employee perks. Remember, what you’re after at this stage of the game is an offer, not a job.
You want to show your interest in doing the job well. Thus, much of your line of questioning should focus squarely on the details of the position you’re after, says Lipstein.
You could ask, “Is this a new position or am I replacing someone?” If the latter, you can inquire about the strengths and weaknesses of the person who had the job last. Don’t chime in with criticisms of your own. Stay professional, and explain that you’re eager to learn what kinds of skills and traits are most sought after this time around.
You might ask for the interviewer’s perspective on the culture of the firm, and perhaps even what a typical day is like, but in financial services that last question will be harder to answer since “Wall Street is not about certainty,” says Lipstein.
Besides asking about yourself and your potential role within the organization, you’ll also want to learn more about how the firm you’re considering is fielding industrywide challenges.
If you’re interviewing with one of the big banks, go ahead and ask about how the institution sees the Dodd-Frank rules impacting their business once that legislation is completely defined, advises Doug Rickart, division director with Robert Half Financial Services Group in Minneapolis.
It’s almost always a good idea to research major deals the bank has been involved with over the past several months and ask something like, “What did you do to set yourself apart to be the lead on that transaction?” This will demonstrate to the hiring manager that you’ve done some serious research on the firm and what it’s involved in at the moment. This is a good specific question to ask. More generally, you can inquire about the bank’s goals for the year ahead, given the regulatory and economic environment.
Also, you’ll want to prepare a separate set of questions for the human resources people, who probably won’t be as familiar with the technical aspects of the business as hiring managers. Rickart says job candidates frequently dismiss the role of the HR department. Don’t make that mistake: The HR staff really does carry a lot of weight in terms of hiring decisions, he says, observing that hiring managers will generally look to HR to learn how well a job candidate is likely to fit the culture of the firm.
“Maybe HR will not know all of the technical requirements of the position,” says Rickart, but you can certainly ask someone in HR about the company’s strategy in terms of social media or general positioning in the marketplace.
Again, until the company begins negotiations with you, “You don’t want to talk about salary, bonus or benefits” with HR, lest the hiring manager get the idea you are only in this for the money, says Rickart.
Some of the ideas above were echoed in a recent New York Times piece by small business owner Jay Goltz, who said in an article about how to get a job in a tough market: “Ask questions, especially when interviewers ask if you have any questions. If you don’t, you look unengaged, afraid or uninterested. And make them good questions about what you’ll be doing on the job. Don’t ask how much vacation time you get. The primary goal of the questions you ask is to get the job, not to decide if you want the job.”