The Best Interview Question

In 30 years of career coaching and job search program design, I’ve found an interview question that I think you should always consider using. This is a question that you ask, not one that you answer. When you use it, you should use it as early in the interview as possible. It will lay the groundwork for success in the rest of the interview.

The short version of the question is, “Please tell me all about this job.” But I’d actually prefer that you use a longer version. This is an open-ended question, one that’s designed to get the Hiring Manager talking. It should provide a general framework for the kind of information you want, but not be too narrowly focused.

Here’s a long version, one that you could shorten if you like:

“Mr. Hiring Manager, I’ve seen the job description for this job and based on what I know so far, the job consists entirely of things that I like to do and can do very well. But this is my first opportunity to talk directly to you about it. Would you be willing to tell me exactly what you will expect from me in this position? I would like to hear how you see the job description, but also your expectations beyond the job description. What’s most important? In this role, what would I need to do to earn your highest rating in my first performance review?”

The more you can get the Hiring Manager to talk in this vein, the better you’ll know how to use the rest of the interview. Your job here is to tell the Hiring Manager why you’re a strong candidate, but you need to use their definition of “strong candidate.” The Hiring Manager’s response gives you an outline for the rest of the interview, so don’t hesitate to ask clarifying questions as he or she talks.

By saying things like “what you expect from me,” you are inviting the Hiring Manage to begin seeing you in the job. You are also beginning to behave like an employee, and a good one, someone expecting to deliver high performance.

Ideally, you’d like the Hiring Manager to talk in this vein for five minutes or so. While listening, you make a mental outline of the three of four things most important to them. Your job for the rest of the interview is to provide evidence that you can deliver those things.