As we search for and work toward landing a job, we are faced with two important objectives – understanding if a company is a great fit for us while also selling ourselves through our interactions with our target company.

Networking sessions with specific companies are common in business programs but are tougher to come by outside of the academic world.  Those forums are perfect for gaining some nuanced learning about companies to understand if the opportunities and culture synch up to your career objectives. There are some alternative resources, such as Glassdoor, which can to be biased, or digital networking communities which may yield some intel.

Typically, however, when we get to the interview process, we still have questions that are unanswered. My advice to those reading is to get the most out of these questions – yes, learn about the organization, but also seize the opportunity to sell yourself in the process.  These questions do just that – or at least provide a gateway to some important selling; approaching your Q&A with the right mindset can go a long way to making both parties comfortable that this is a match.

How does your company reward or value exceptional performance?

A question like this suggests you are ambitious. Furthermore, you’re coming off like the type who doesn’t want a parade just for coming in and doing your job; you show the desire to exceed…and probably expect to do so.  This question for you is the perfect gateway to understand total compensation, from money to stocks to perks and the like; this insight places less weight on starting salary, which rarely tells the whole story of how you stand to benefit.  This was very much the case in my experiences at both Johnson & Johnson and Warner Bros.  As I performed, the benefits came in many unexpected forms to overshadow whatever opinion I had about the base salary.

Does this company have a high-energy / social culture?  Are there opportunities on social or event committees?

Now don’t ask this if you’re not willing to follow through!

Again, you’re showing that you can bring energy to the company and develop a team dynamic.  It also suggests a natural orientation to surpass basic job requirements by taking on projects.  All while you learn about culture and working conditions. I teach Organizational Behaviour; we call this good ‘Organizational Citizenship’, a behaviour that’s rewarded in organizations but not always asked about.

Questions like these can also lead to bonding opportunities with your interviewer (and as I already shared, employers tend to recruit like-minded candidates); this goes a long way to helping them envision and excited about working with you.

Can you describe any resources this company has for self-development?

Asking a question in this particular way shows that you are resourceful and don’t expect the company to serve up your entire career plan in a ready-made curriculum.  You remove some of that burden by suggesting that your development is a partnership in which you are anxious to take part.  You may find there are online or offline courses you could take or extracurricular work teams you can join.

Version A. What are some of your pain points that this role can help solve?  OR Version B. What is your vision about how this role can make a bigger impact on the organization compared to the past? 

Version A is the better question to ask if you’re talking to your potential direct manager. The idea here is that you are not just coming in to do a job but you are there to make their life easier – and who doesn’t want that in an employee? Version B could be asked of anyone who has knowledge of the role.

Aside from what we talked about, is there anything else I should be thinking about on the job that I should do or watch out for so that YOUR boss thinks highly of our team?

This another way to ask the previous question, to show you are a team player and wantf your department to be seen as one making impact.

Among all the job requirements, what is the most challenging skill for which you are trying to recruit?

Every employer wants the second coming of Christ, based on the JD. Take the opportunity to zero in on what’s most imporant in the eyes of your interviewer and then explain why you are precisely that rare person they have been trying to find.

In what areas would you like to see this company improve?

Again, a question that gets you insight into the company while also perhaps leading to a bonding moment with your contact.  Listen carefully to what you’re told and be empathetic; you will score points if you can find a way to position yourself to be a part of the solution when you join the company.

Update, January 2015:  This article written by a LinkedIn influencer provides some additional angles to get at the same objectives.

Think of a person in this company that you respect and is considered successful. While you don’t need to identify them, please explain why you have this high opinion of them.

Go beyond the requirements listed in the job description to make the conversation personal and relatable. Such a question will get you a more real and genuine answer to a question about the skills and abilities required to be a fit with org culture, and in a way that your interviewer will find personally meaningful. More importantly, you need to follow up on the reply by explaining how you also have demonstrated the same abilities. In so doing, you have sold yourself AND likened yourself to a successful and respected person in the company. Identifying with winners is a great strategy, and this particular question can help your interviewer see you as one much more clearly.

Marketing has so much to do with understanding your target customer – their needs and pain points – and then positioning yourself (the product) to meet those needs, with upside that surpasses the competition. That’s basically it. And coming out of the interview process you want to close the loop on that exact marketing paradigm; these questions will help you do just that.

Additional resources:

Cool video from Forbes on the 10 questions everyone should ask in an interview!