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Do your homework: Think beyond the typical interview questions

It should go without saying that recruiters and hiring managers prefer to speak with a job seeker who can hold a two-way conversation. When the discussion becomes uneven, and you find yourself talking way too much about your cats, it's time to bring the conversation back by asking your interviewer thoughtful, relevant questions.

Career experts agree that job seekers often miss the mark when a hiring manager asks, "Do you have any questions for me?" This is your chance to make an impression by asking things that the interviewer may not be expecting, but at the same time won't make them uncomfortable.

It's probably best to avoid questions that are obviously trying to be funny or fish for answers that should have been uncovered in pre-interview research. So … try not to ask if the interviewer is a "Harry Potter" or "Twilight" person.

Research before the interview is key
Ron Fry, public education improvement advocate and author of "101 Smart Questions to Ask on Your Interview," says that there are key components to look for prior to any interview with a potential employer. These topics include: company history; major competitors and how this company compares in size, products or services; large customers; and the latest company news. This information can all be obtained through a simple Google search or a look at the organization's website.

You should also include basic biographical information of top executives and your potential boss in your research to develop more tailored questions for the interview, according to Fry. Savvy candidates should be able to find bios and other valuable company insights on social media and employment review websites.

Use your research to come up with insightful questions for your interviewer
The key here is that there is no "one size fits all" question that should be applied to every interview. Yes, it is important to further clarify the role the position plays in the organization and why the job is currently vacant, but interviewers expect those questions and have prepared answers. To make things a little more conversational, apply your pre-interview research to ask questions such as:

  • "I read last month's article about the new (product release or company initiative). How was this team affected by it and will I be able to contribute?" Set yourself apart from the rest of the pack with questions that are truly tailored to the specific job opportunity and show that you are eager to participate. "Professionals like to deal with other professionals. Including what you already know as an introduction to a question makes you sound far more knowledgeable than many of your competitors for the job," Fry says.
  • "I noticed company values listed on your corporate website. Tell me, how is [insert value word here] demonstrated by this position?" According to Leila Hock, executive career coach at Alignment Coaching, this question not only demonstrates your attention to detail in the research phase, but also requires the interviewer to take a step back and really think about an answer.
  • "What is your favorite part of the company's culture?" Wendi Weiner, nationally certified resume writer and owner of The Writing Guru, believes that company culture is a vital component of a cohesive and supportive work environment. "By phrasing the question in this way, the interviewer is being asked to provide his or her own personal opinion while also delivering information on the company's culture that could ultimately influence your decision," Weiner says.

Make those questions count
Researching a potential employer and coming up with a few questions can definitely help set you apart from other job seekers. However, simply asking questions doesn't make it a conversation. Actually listen to the interviewer's responses, and be ready to provide some input, ask a follow up question or answer an unexpected question from the manager.

Don't be afraid to ask questions, there is a reason this is part of the interview process.

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