The Most Important Interview Question Everyone Gets Wrong

Most interviews at tech companies are very similar. You are greeted, perhaps given a brief intro about the interviewer and the interview quickly becomes technical. The interviewers want to learn as much as they can about the person they are talking to in the allotted time to make the best hiring decision they can. The way tech companies train their employees to interview, is to ask the same question, have specific answers, and in the case of multiple possible answers, know which ones are better.

This process tries to minimize the variance and make it easy to compare candidates to each other. It creates a very efficient process for selecting candidates, but it doesn’t leave much room for the candidates to connect with their interviewers and letting them know how awesome they are as more than just a code generating apparatus.

Even though on most interviews candidates are not asked this exact question, they are still given the opportunity to show how great they are. This question is asked at every single interview, but everyone gets it wrong. The question is …

“Do you have any questions?”

Most people answer this question by asking meaningless questions or even worse, not asking anything, signaling that they are not very interested in the opportunity you are offering.

To understand why everyone gets this questions wrong, we need to step back and to figure out what is the goal of the interview. Candidates get it wrong all the time, similarly to how people misinterpret the purpose of a resume. The same way that resume is not a brief history of our professional career but just a document with the sole purpose of getting the candidate through the screening process to an interview, an interview is not an opportunity to gather more information about the perks and the working environment of the company you are interviewing for, but just a step to another interview with the final goal of getting an offer.

Perks, reporting, projects, etc. are all very important in the decision of which company to work for, but in this competitive environment where companies battle for the best and the brightest, once a candidate passes the interview stage, not only companies are willing to provide this information, they will invite candidates for a full day of hanging around in the office, meeting all their future teammates and learning about their projects and having a nice lunch or even a fancy dinner to answer any questions they might have.

Although most people do not like to admit it, personal impression of the candidate will carry a significant weight in interview decisions. And since most of the interview experiences as an interviewer is rejecting candidates, leaving an interview that went very well is a nice change.

Interview is a lot like a first date, it is a brief encounter that has a great effect on whether there will be a second one and perhaps a long lasting relationship. The way to make this meeting successful is doing some basic research to find out their interests and why do they love what they do. Bring up these topics at the end of the interview and make your interviewer leave the meeting with a feeling that she just met a person that could be her friend.

One of the examples for the best interviews I ever had is when a candidate have seen a conference I attended and realized I’ve asked a question at the end of one of the sessions. He realized that I care enough about the subject to be the first to ask a question and followed up with a discussion about the subject stating his own opinion. Another example is when a candidate have watched one of my talks online and recognized one of the tradeoff points I’ve made and started a discussion around the reasoning behind this tradeoff. The depth of this conversations have signaled to me that the candidates are genuinely passionate about the subjects I care about as well or at the very least care enough about the interview process to go through hours of online videos.

The goal of every interview should be to get to the next interview, and the best way to go about it besides answering the questions right is asking the right questions. So next time you are asked whether do you have any questions, be different.

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