If companies want to find the top talent, applicants need to be in the driver’s seat.
I’m not a fan of traditional job interviews. You know what I’m talking about — the ones where the candidate plays defense the entire time, anticipating questions and rattling off answers.
What bugs me about this interview style is that you barely get to know the candidate. Anyone can train to give answers to boilerplate questions. As the interviewer, I’m much more impressed when an interviewee asks thoughtful questions and challenges me to provide information. I’m also looking to see how a candidate can improvise and facilitate an authentic conversation.
Here’s what I recommend to any job candidate who’s looking to stand out in the interview process. These have become my best practices, whether I’m the interviewer, the interviewee or pitching my services to businesses.
For the Hiring Manager
As a hiring manager, create a safe space for your candidate to ask questions. You’re looking for the ideal candidate but it’s just as important that they qualify (or disqualify) you as a potential employer. You’re not the only one who gets to decide the potential fit.
I make my intentions clear at the beginning of an interview and let the candidate know my goal is to learn about them as a person. I also tell them I’m eager to hear what questions they have for me.
As a business owner, I care most about a candidate’s soft skills. The hard (or technical) skills are important, but employees can learn those on the job. A person’s soft skills — self-awareness, communication, emotional intelligence — tell me who they really are.
The best way to evaluate these skills is through asking open-ended questions that challenge the interviewee to communicate with careful consideration. When I start an interview the first thing I do is ask the candidate small-talk questions to loosen them up and allow them freedom to express themself: How was your weekend? What’s exciting in your world?
Then I ask the candidate what questions they have for me. I want to know if they’ve done their homework. You can tell a lot about someone based on the questions they ask you.
Here are some examples of questions I enjoy hearing from candidates:
What’s it like to work with people all around the world?
How is the company retaining positive culture through mostly digital collaboration?
What are the two, five and 10-year goals for the company?
I noticed on your website [anything]… can you tell me more about that?
On the flipside, here are some examples of questions I don’t enjoy hearing as much:
What’s the vacation policy?
What’s the offer?
Can I take some time off before I start?
I want to encourage all candidates to be confident, but questions that presume employment and get into compensation and benefits too quickly tend to make it difficult to connect. That said, you can certainly find a more tactful way to approach some of these questions (or ascertain the answers) through genuine conversation.
Related reading link: https://builtin.com/job-interview/questions-to-ask-in-an-interview
For the Candidate
Your mindset is everything. You’re not simply a candidate. You’re the talent. You’re the asset. I think it’s really valuable to repeat this to yourself as a mantra heading into an interview:
I’m the talent. They need me. Working here is my choice.
You may walk into an interview with a hiring manager firing questions your way. That’s fine. Take them in stride. But be prepared with a loaded pack of questions for the inevitable: Do you have any questions for me?
Well, yes in fact I do. We may be here a while longer.
We hit on some of the questions above that I enjoy hearing from candidates. Here are some more challenging questions I think are valuable to ask in an interview that prove you’re a thoughtful person, while also telling the interviewer about what’s important to you:
What’s the company’s position on work/life balance?
What’s the performance review process?
Has the company lost talent recently? If so, why?
Was someone in this role before? If so, what lessons can you share to help me succeed in this role?
It’s important you ask these questions in a thoughtful way and demonstrate your confidence that a thorough understanding of company culture and values will afford greater chances of successful collaboration. While the questions may be challenging, these are important ones to ask. If your interviewer is prepared to answer these questions, that should inspire confidence the company is a solid place for professional growth.
Asking a lot of questions can demonstrate your confidence and self worth. If the person you’re interviewing with doesn’t seem to appreciate it or gets thrown off by tough questions, well maybe that tells you everything you need to know.
This article originally appeared on BuiltIn.com.