Want to Set Yourself Apart During An Interview? Here Are the Best Questions To Ask

Every candidate knows their first interview with a prospective employer is make or break. Whether you’ll receive a second interview hinges almost entirely on the outcome of this initial meeting. That’s why the top candidates put on their sharpest interview attire and show up a few minutes early to make a great first impression.

But even though a professional demeanor is important, the content of the interview is what counts. Anyone can come in and rattle off their past achievements, but candidates who come prepared with thoughtful questions are the ones who truly stand out.

The Importance of Respecting People’s Time

When BVOH Finance & Accounting Search works with candidates, we schedule a preparation call ahead of the first in-person interview. We help them organize a list of questions to ask at different points throughout the process. When decision-makers at a company schedule interviews, they’re taking time away from other priorities. They expect the people they meet to be familiar with the job, to understand the company’s mission, and to be able to articulate why they want this position.

“Anyone can come in and rattle off their past achievements, but candidates who come prepared with thoughtful questions are the ones who truly stand out.”

If you come prepared with well thought-out questions that deepen the discussion, you’ll make a far greater impression than if you simply show up and expect them to lead the conversation. This indicates an interest in their perspective as well as respect for their time. It also shows that you’re giving the opportunity deep, serious consideration.

The Best Questions for Candidates to Ask During An Interview

Here are some questions to ask of key people in the organization, as well as key points to highlight in the conversation.

Questions to Ask the Hiring Manager…

  • What are the top two or three skills needed to succeed in this role?
  • What are the technical and soft skills common to people who have done well in this role in the past?
  • What is the company culture?
  • What do you like about working here?
Asking these questions shows that you’re not just interested in the specifics of the position but that you’re looking at all the different elements that determine whether you’re a fit for the company.

Questions to Ask the CFO…

Instead of asking about job specifics, focus on the bigger picture in conversations with the CFO. They’re looking for someone who will fit into the company’s long-term plans and who can grow with the organization, potentially rotating into other roles. Emphasize your interest in finding not just the right position but the right company for the next phase of your career.  

Ask questions such as:
  • What are your top priorities for the finance and accounting group over the next 12 months?
  • What are the potential career paths at the company for someone in this position?
  • What are the key traits in people that you’ve hired that have been successful in your group?
A few topics to note in the conversation include:
  • Any promotions or rotations you did at your previous company
  • Your intent to stay at your next company for 5+ years
  • Any gaps in your résumé or short-term positions with past employers

Questions to Ask the CEO…

The CEO wants to know that you understand the company’s business model, products, and competitors. Demonstrate your knowledge of the organization by commenting on how they earn money and asking questions about their ongoing business strategies and upcoming initiatives.
  • What is your vision for the company over the next 3-5 years?
  • What is your top priority in the next 12 months for the company.
  • What are the biggest challenges the company will face in the coming year?

Questions to Ask the Business Partner…

Depending on the position you’re interviewing for, the relevant business partner might be the head of marketing, head of research and development, or the general manager of a business unit. Similar to the CEO, they want to know that you understand what they do and that you have experience supporting departments like theirs. Key points to note may include:
  • Specific challenges business partners at your previous company faced
  • How you helped them address those challenges
  • If you haven’t worked with their type of department before, give examples that correlate to their priorities

Questions to Ask Your Peers…

Peers are often interviewing with an eye to cultural fit rather than technical credentials. They’re wondering what you’d be like to work with as a colleague. Are you overly aggressive or competitive? Are you self-directed or do you require considerable guidance? Are you collaborative or do you prefer to work alone? Here are some questions to make the most of these conversations:
  • What is the culture like in this department and the broader company?
  • Do people get along well in the department?
  • What personality traits seem to do well here?

Questions to Ask Your Subordinates…

Oftentimes, companies will have you meet with staff members who would be reporting to you if you were offered the job. The hiring manager or HR might prep them with questions to ask you, or they might expect more of a “getting to know you” session than an interview.

“Thoughtful, high-value interviews help you determine whether an opportunity is truly right for you – and if it is, those questions may tip the hiring scales in your favor.”

Unfortunately, these meetings tend to fall flat, so being prepared for these conversations is especially helpful. This is a great opportunity to build rapport through questions such as:
  • What type of management style works best for you?
  • What are you looking for in a future manager?
  • What do you want to get out of the next phase of your career?
How would you like a future manager to help you achieve those goals? These questions show that you’re interested in people’s development and that you’ll be sensitive to their needs and ambitions. That’s far more inspiring than if you signal you’ll simply go along with the status quo regardless of their current circumstances.

Questions to Ask HR/Talent Acquisition…

The HR and talent acquisition teams are great resources on the company culture as well. They may be able to offer specifics on different professional development programs and can answer questions about various corporate policies.
  • Does the company regularly hold team building events, town halls or community service events?
  • What are the top reasons that employees say they stay with the company
  • What are the available options related to supporting continuing education and training?
You can also ask HR about any benefits programs the company offers. Don’t lead with this, as you don’t want to appear as though you’re solely concerned with compensation, but feel free to inquire about any benefits packages they offer as you gain more information about the organization.

Final Thoughts

Strategic questions and conversation points benefit both you and prospective employers. Yes, they help you make a good impression but they also give you a more well-rounded view of the company. Thoughtful, high-value interviews help you determine whether an opportunity is truly right for you – and if it is, those questions may tip the hiring scales in your favor.

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