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Be Prepared to Ask Your Own Interview Questions

Transitioning from a military career to a civilian one can be tough, especially because of the interview process. After all, the military simply told you what job you would have and you didn't have to interview to get it. Once you have entered the "World of Interviews," keep these tips in mind.

You dressed professionally and delivered thoughtful, concise answers to your interviewer's questions. You've conducted yourself like a pro, and the interview is moving more like an engaging conversation than an interrogation. Things are looking good. The interview is winding down, and the last question from your potential boss is, "So, do you have any questions for me?"

The correct answer to this, always, is "Yes," followed by sincere questions that demonstrate you have researched the company and you've been listening to the interviewer. If you don't ask questions – or if you ask bland questions that you could come up with after 5 minutes on an internet search engine – you've told your potential employer that you either are not very interested in the job beyond a pay check or you are not very industrious.

The kinds of questions you ask are important indicators of your self-sufficiency, investigative problem solving, and attention to detail – all of which are big selling points for your abilities as an employee.   Below are some tips to help you show off your key features and close the deal

There's no magic number of questions you should ask or set topics you should ask about. Generally speaking, you want to demonstrate your ability to think independently and intelligently, and you want show that you're the kind of person people want to work with.

Keep salary and benefit queries for the offer negotiation, but ask the kinds of questions you really want to know the answers to. Be cordial and genuinely curious.

Try to go into the interview with three to five questions prepared, based on the interview scenario. For example: If this is the first interview, it is appropriate to ask questions about the company, goals, organization and vision. If it's your second or third interview, asking those kinds of questions probably tells the hiring manager that you didn't pay attention at your first interview, and you're not interested enough to research on  your own. By the second interview and beyond, you should know the basics and ask more probing questions.  

TIP: During your interview, it's acceptable to jot down things you want to ask questions about at the end of the session. This may feel awkward, but as long as you're not obnoxious or intrusive about it, it will serve two purposes. First, it demonstrates your engagement and curiosity. Second, it helps you ask relevant, timely questions.

If you're in an all-day session of interviews with different people or groups, be sure to ask questions that are appropriate to their role within the organization. If you aren't clear on their areas of responsibility, ask. Think of yourself as a field researcher and gather as much information as you can.

Cite your sources. For example: "An article on the website noted that members of your company presented a white paper at XYZ association conference. Is this an association that your employees are encouraged to join? Are there any others? Are there particular conferences that the company has a regular presence at?"

Know the lingo, or at least be familiar with it, and don't pretend to know something you don't. There's a certain amount of "tribal knowledge" that comes from being part of an industry for a period of time. The acronyms used in the military are not the same alphabet soup that is thrown around in telecom, or higher education, or manufacturing. Various not-for-profit organizations refer to themselves as either agencies or organizations but not companies; and vice versa. You will appear more prepared if you use appropriate terminology as used by the specific organization, but if you haven't been in the industry before, err on the side of caution.

If some of your questions were answered during the course of the interview, tell them what questions you had, and recap what you learned. Thank them for the information and ask for any clarification if you need it. Don't end the session with a glib "You've answered all my questions already," because that sends a message to the interviewer that you are not interested in learning anything new.  

Do not waste the employer's time with questions that are clearly answered on the company web site or literature they have already provided. This unveils that you were not prepared for the interview. There are plenty of good lists of questions on the internet to help you get started, and you should also keep in mind:

  • Your questions should go beyond routine detail. Focus on expectations, priorities, strategy, immediate and long term needs. 
  • Always conduct background research to understand as much as possible first.
  • Avoid interrupting the interviewer. However, if the interview is not flowing smoothly, asking a thoughtful, appropriate question can help get it back on track.
  • Keep the flow of information going by asking open-ended questions 
  • Make sure your questions are relevant to the job and organization and do not appear to be challenging or combative. This will create discomfort and have an adverse impact on building good rapport.

Asking well-researched questions during your interview makes a lasting positive impression. A little preparation, combined with active listening, can help you position yourself as an interested, resourceful, capable candidate.  

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