Keeping the Momentum at the Interview Ask Questions, Do Your Research, and Be a Team Player

By Andrea N. Browne Staff Writer Sunday, July 29, 2007; K01

With a must-have job on the line, you have done all of the pre-interview preparation: printed copies of your résumé, practiced your responses to popular questions and dressed to impress.

But so has the competition. Can you give yourself an advantage over other qualified candidates?

You can, experts say, in part by being on point from the beginning to the very end of your interview. While you may approach the end of a long interview feeling as if there's nothing left to say, by keeping a few smart questions in your back pocket, you can regain momentum and impress hiring managers one last time. That way, you'll never stammer when an interviewer asks, "So, any last questions for me?"

Some smart background research on the organization you are applying to will likely supply you with a few good questions, suggested Dorothy Stubblebine, president of DJS Associates, a human resources consulting firm in New Jersey.

If possible, obtain a copy of the annual report and read it thoroughly, she recommended. Then use your familiarity with the organization to ask an incisive question directly related to recent news. It might be about projects the organization has taken on, contracts it has won or high-profile moves at the top.

"I understand the company has a new agreement with another firm," you might ask. "How's that going?" Doing this shows interest in the company, the job and the industry, she said, and can help end the interview on a positive note.

Your skills and background are key, but do not forget that hiring managers are looking at how you would fit in with an existing team. While your achievements are important, showing that you are approachable and a team player can be just as crucial.

There is a simple way to help demonstrate this, Stubblebine said: Whether in a group or individual setting, a smart response to "any questions before we wrap up?" is to ask something that lets the interviewer provide insight into daily work life. Ask a question like, "What is a typical workday like for you?"

If in a group situation, ask each interviewer about his or her role and how it helps the company achieve its goals. This gives you the chance to ask follow-up questions directed at a specific individual, which can help you establish a connection and demonstrate your interest in the team's effort.

The last few minutes of a job interview give the candidate the opportunity to reverse roles, said Tom Darrow, co-founder of Talent Connections in Atlanta.

Ask the recruiter, "Is there anything that concerns you about my background?" If there are concerns, the applicant can try to ease them, Darrow said. The question can also help reverse any objection a recruiter might have.

While some applicants may be hesitant to ask such a question, Darrow added, it can be the deciding factor in whether an applicant is called back for a second interview.

One topic you should lay off, however, is money. While it's natural for a job seeker to think about salary, it's probably best to avoid the topic unless prompted, especially at the end of the interview.

Instead of showing interest in the company and the job, asking about pay shows an interest in yourself, and you don't want to end the interview having set that tone, said Leonard Pfeiffer, managing director of Leonard Pfeiffer & Co., an executive recruitment consulting company in the District.

Instead, Darrow recommended, do something unexpected: Ask for the job. Job seekers will subject themselves to all manner of experiences and stresses for a job they really want, but most never think to clearly and plainly state their interest while in the interview room.

You don't have to be literal, Darrow said. Try something like, "After what I've learned, I'm confident that I'd be a good fit for the position and the company. I hope to hear from you soon."

This could go a long way toward ensuring that a hiring manager won't forget your name when you walk out the door.