Written by: Ahmed Kamal, Ph.D.
I was sending out job application after job application and not hearing anything back.
What was going on?
I was so confused.
I knew that I was qualified for the positions I was sending my resume to, so why was no one contacting me?
(Maybe you have experienced the same feeling?)
I didn’t know what to do.
I didn’t know how to get past the ATS system.
I didn’t know how to get an interview.
It was unclear what I was doing right and what I was doing wrong.
I was not getting any feedback.
How could I improve without getting any feedback?
This changed when I joined the Cheeky Scientist Association and was finally able to get the guidance that I needed.
First, I stopped blindly uploading my resume to job sites.
I started to network.
I changed my LinkedIn profile, and started getting contacted by recruiters every week.
I got a referral.
And then, I got an interview!
It was amazing.
But, I had no idea what to do.
How could I make them want to give me the job after my interview?
What did I need to do to make sure this interview resulted in a job offer?
I dug into the training materials and I prepared myself for the interview.
Not only did I prepare answers to the interview questions I knew they would ask me, but I prepared questions to ask them.
And ultimately, it was these questions that set me apart from the other candidates.
I did research on the company.
I found out as much as I could about the position.
And, during the interview, I knew that I was prepared.
But, I really stood out by asking my own questions.
I showed my dedication by asking questions about the role, the company, and the future.
At the end of the interview, I had a good feeling.
I followed up with each interviewer, tailoring my emails and trying to add value to each of them.
Just a few days later, I received a message from the team leader.
They were in agreement and were ready to welcome me to the team!
I was so excited about the job offer that I started jumping and yelling in the street.
My preparations and asking great questions about the role and company were responsible for my landing the job offer.
I was able to use my interview to show my value — and asking good questions was a big part of that.
How Asking The Right Questions Gives You An Edge In Your Job Search
You must realize that you are not the only one searching for a job.
According to a Gallup survey, 51% of employees are looking for a new opportunity.
And, Glassdoor reported that every corporate job opening attracts approximately 250 applicants.
But, this number is often much higher for companies like Johnson & Johnson, Allergan, and Celgene etc., where they will get thousands of applicants per position.
But, only one applicant will get hired.
How do you become that one applicant?
Well, it starts with a referral.
A referral can land you an interview.
But, once you are in front of the hiring committee, it’s all on you.
How do you stand out from the other candidates?
How do you show your value as a PhD?
You do this by preparing for your interview with the same intensity that you prepared for your thesis defense.
According to Glassdoor, 72% of CEOs are worried about job candidates not having key skills.
Show them you have the right skills.
Show them your commitment.
Prepare answers to common questions and be ready to talk about yourself.
To really stand out, have intelligent questions ready to ask your interviewers.
Turn the table.
Good questions show that you understand the position and the company.
Good questions show that you are truly interested in the industry.
The 7 Most Important Questions You Should Ask During An Interview
Yes, you need to prepare answers to common interview questions before you have an industry interview.
But, this is not all you need to prepare.
You also need to be the interviewer and have questions ready to ask.
Show the interviewers your interest in the company, and that you did your homework by asking them great questions.
Here are 7 questions you can ask at your interview to show your interest in the position and set yourself apart from the other candidates…
1. Who is your ideal candidate?
There is more to what an employer is looking for than what is listed in the job description or the job advertisement.
So, you should ask who their ideal candidate is.
What traits does this ideal candidate have?
This question shows the employer you are interested in what is needed to succeed.
You are already trying to find out how you can be the best candidate and thus the best person for the job.
This question also gives the interviewers the space to tell you what the most important traits for the role are.
Listen carefully as they answer.
Then, when you are summarizing yourself at the end of your interview, make sure that you hit on these key points.
Prove to them that you are their ideal candidate using their own words and logic.
Or, if the ideal candidate that they describe is not you at all, then perhaps this isn’t the right position for you.
This is a concept many PhDs struggle with because they may feel desperate for a job.
But, you deserve (and can find) a position that is right for you.
2. What is the biggest challenge you’re facing and how can I help solve it?
Getting hired is just the beginning.
It’s your performance in the role that really matters to the company.
You may be deep within the job search process with the main goal of getting hired, but during an interview, shift your focus to the future.
Show them that you understand this bigger picture by asking questions that focus on your future success in the role.
Asking a great question, such as the one above, shows the interviewers that you are truly interested in the position.
You are showing them that you are interested in improving the company and that you are solution-focused.
This question will get them talking more.
It’s a great question to shift the focus of the interview from you to them.
And then, just as with the ideal candidate question, you can use what the interviewers say to position yourself as a great candidate.
Perhaps the challenge they are facing requires someone who has great presentation skills, so you should be sure to include that in your final few statements of the interview.
3. Where is this product line going to be in 2 years?
Do not go into an interview without doing research about the company and the department that you are interviewing for.
Learn about their products, their services, their customers, their competitors, their collaborators, and their culture.
To be able to ask questions like, “Where is this product line going to be in 2 years?” you need to know some information about the product.
You need to do some research.
Use their website and social media channels to learn about them.
There is no better way to learn about a company than by talking with people who work there.
Once you have done this research, use it in your interview.
Come up with a few questions, based on what you learned about the company, and have them ready for your interview.
However, make sure that you don’t ask a question that was covered in the interview.
Even if it is one of the questions you prepared, asking it makes it seem like you weren’t paying attention.
Not a good sign.
4. Why is this position open?
Positions open up at companies for a variety of reasons, and understanding why they need someone new can be helpful moving forward in the application process.
Is it a new position?
Was there an internal promotion?
These are both good signs that the company is doing well.
If it was a promotion, you can ask a follow-up question about the person’s new role.
This will allow you to learn about the career trajectory for the position.
Did they move into a role you would like to see yourself in?
Regardless of whether your answer is “yes” or “no”, it will help you learn if this is the right position for you.
However, asking “Why is this position open?” does have the potential to bring about uncomfortable answers.
Be prepared for that possibility and know how to turn the conversation around, if necessary.
For example, maybe the person was fired or maybe they left because of illness.
These can be uncomfortable answers but it is still a great way to show your interest in the role and to learn about the company.
5. What do you enjoy most about working at this company?
During an interview, not only is the employer deciding if you are right for the role, you should also be deciding if the role is right for you.
You are interviewing them.
Asking questions shifts the focus of the interview onto the interviewers.
However, you want the interviewers to have a pleasant time during your interview, so don’t bombard them with aggressive questions.
Instead, ask them good insightful questions or questions that elicit a positive response, such as “What do you enjoy most about working at XYZ company?”
The answer your interviewers give to this question is a great opportunity to learn more about the company.
This question will also help create a more light-hearted atmosphere.
If your interview has felt quite serious or Q&A focused, this question can make it more conversational.
Finding a way to make your interview a conversation is important.
This puts both you and the interviewers at ease and allows them to see you are more of a colleague.
Let the interviewers talk for as long as they want and ask follow-up questions to keep them talking.
6. What would I be working on to start?
Focus on your future success at the company.
Asking “What would I be working on to start?” shows that you have confidence in your abilities and are ready to get started ASAP.
You are asking a question that implies you are already preparing to start, showing your excitement and eagerness in a positive way.
Asking them about the project you might work on shows that you are interested in the goals and actions of the company.
In the response that they give you, you should be able to find out more of what they expect from their new hire.
Use this information to align your skillset with what they want.
Understanding the project that you might take on if hired is also a great way to follow up.
After your interview, do some research about the project they mentioned.
When you send a follow-up thank-you email, ask a good question about the potential project, noting your excitement about said project.
It’s almost like pretending you work for them already.
7. Can I get your contact details to follow up after our interview?
Depending on how your interview was set up, you probably don’t have the contact details for all of the people interviewing you.
One human resources person may have set your interview.
But then, when you get to the interview, it’s a whole group of people (perhaps the team you might work with) interviewing you.
If you don’t have the contact details for each of the people interviewing you, it’s important that you get them.
You can ask for their email so you can follow up.
You can ask for their business card.
Or, you can ask the one human resources contact, who you do have contact information for, for the email addresses for the others.
It’s up to you, and the situation, how you ask.
But, you must get this information so that you can send a personalized follow-up thank-you email to each of your interviewers.
On the topic of thank-yous, if a referral was responsible for helping you get this interview, you also need to send them a thank-you.
It’s easy to just do this at the same time.
Thank them for their efforts in putting you forward and that you are grateful no matter the outcome.
You know that it requires an immense amount of effort to get an interview. As a PhD, you likely had to go outside your comfort zone and network with people in industry. So, now that you have an interview, you’d better not blow it. You need to prepare answers to common questions, but you also need to be prepared to ask your own questions. Ask your interviewers questions such as, “Who is your ideal candidate?” and “What is the biggest challenge the department is facing and will I be in a position to help you solve it?” Ask a question about the research you did on the company, ask why the position is open, what do they enjoy most about working at XYZ company, or if there is a project ready for you to contribute to. Asking good questions will show the interviewers that you are really interested in the position and will give you an edge over the other candidates.
To learn more about why I Didn’t Get A Job Offer Until I Started Asking These 7 Questions In Interviews, including instant access to our exclusive training videos, case studies, industry insider documents, transition plan, and private online network, get on the wait list for the Cheeky Scientist Association.