A reader writes:
I have read, and made good use of, all of your posts about the best sorts of questions to ask an interviewer and how an interview should be a conversation. However, some issues have been coming up during that part of the interview in a number of recent interviews, and I am wondering if I should be acting differently when I’m asking the interviewer my own questions.
Once an interviewer responds to your question, say about “What sort of person does well at your company,” are you supposed to respond with something like, “I have experience in that sort of situation you mention, for example [x...],” and how extensive should this answer be? The answer to this question seems like it should definitely be “yes” for that sort of question, but does your answer change if I am asking more technical questions? I worry about overdoing it by following up with examples of similar work highlighting my technical knowledge.
No, please do not do that. When you ask your interviewer questions, the goal is to hear the answer — not to turn it into an opportunity for a sales pitch. I hate it when candidates do that; it makes it seem like their questions aren’t genuine and they’re not using the answers to help think critically about whether the job is right for them. And that takes away all the benefits of having a candid give and take — it denies you, the candidate, the ability to assess the interviewer’s answers in the moment, which is key to assessing whether you should even want this job, and it will make your interviewer feel like you’re stuck in sales mode. Not thinking critically, not genuinely gathering information, just … selling.
A dating analogy might help illustrate this: Imagine if you were on a first date with someone, and every time you gave him a thoughtful answer to a question, he used that as an opportunity to advocate for why you and he were a great match. You’d feel like he was overly interested in making you like him, and not nearly interested enough in actually getting to know you. It’s a similar thing here.
So ask a question, listen to the answer, and have a thoughtful response — but don’t make a point of using it to sell yourself.
And sure, on occasion your natural response might just happen to do that anyway. If you ask the interviewer about the workplace culture and in part of her answer she mentions the company’s weekly tetherball tournaments and you just happen to love tetherball, of course it’s fine to share that. But you’d let that happen naturally; you don’t need to go searching for that kind of mirroring after every answer she gives you.