It's vital that you arrive at a job interview prepared to ask questions of your own. Remember that the purpose of this meeting is as much for you to interview the company as it is for the company to interview you. You want to develop a solid basis for either accepting or rejecting the job, if it's offered to you. A smart interviewer knows he or she should be selling the job to you as well as evaluating you. It's costly and frustrating for an employer to go to the time, trouble and expense of identifying the best candidate, only to have the candidate turn the job offer down.
First, ask questions that indicate your interest in the job and the organization, and that elicit answers to help you respond to the interviewer's questions. What, specifically, are the functions the person in this job will perform? What are the strengths you're looking for in an ideal job candidate? What changes would you like to see made in the way this job is done? What is the most important objective of this department? Answers to such questions as these will tell you exactly what interests the interviewer most, and how to position your own strengths, education and experience. In a way it's like borrowing somebody's watch so you can tell him what time it is. But these are perfectly legitimate questions.
The critical point here is this: until you understand what the employer is looking for, you have no way of knowing if you're describing yourself an a way that's appealing to him or her. So try to get as much information as you can, as early in the interview as you can. Ideally, you want the interviewer to lay out all the job background and specifications before you start talking about yourself. Later in the interview, probe for answers that give you insights into what the future might hold for you if you work there.
Who held the job last? How long? Why did he or she leave? You want to know if this is a swinging door position, in which no one can last very long, or whether it's a launching pad for bigger things in the company. If I'm as successful in this position as we'd both expect me to be, what might I be doing after a year? After two years? Be prepared for the response, "What would you like to be doing?" Go ahead and answer, but find out of the interviewer thinks your aspirations are realistic. You're trying to find out whether there are good opportunities for promotion, or whether this is a dead-end job. What would I have to accomplish in this job to be considered first-rate? Who in the company would review my performance? When? It's quite permissible to bring a prepared list of questions into the interview, if you wish, and refer to it openly.
A pad in a nice writing portfolio adds a touch of class to this procedure.
Bruce J. Bloom is a respected writer on job-hunting and career opportunities. He is a contributor to the hard-hitting career strategy website "Fast Track For Women," http://www.winyourcareer.com. His career manual "Fast Track To The Best Job" was published by Blazer Books.