As I think back on the many interviews in which I’ve participated, there is one action that has set interviewees apart in my view. It wasn’t showcasing an accomplishment or maintaining good posture or smiling – though those are important. It was asking questions.
Asking questions shows engagement, curiosity, and initiative. Engineers who display those traits are also typically proactive, eager to learn, and enthusiastic – traits which I believe are more important than technical aptitude in young engineers.
As the interviewee, asking questions is an effective way to demonstrate interest in the job and the company. For examples…
Asking about the company’s goals shows your interest in the company’s future.
Asking what topics and skills you’ll be learning on the job shows interest in your place within the company and your advanced education.
Asking about the typical life cycle of a project shows technical curiosity.
I recommend generating a list of questions in preparation for your interview. While questions specifically related to the company or its products may require a bit of research, the work will pay off.
The difficult part for many interviewees seems to be knowing when to ask their questions, so here is my advice: ask questions throughout the entire interview. Asking questions keeps the interview from turning into an interrogation or a one-sided shoe-and-tell. When both parties engage each other, it’s a more memorable experience, and the chances of a positive outcome increase.
During the interview, the questions you ask should push the conversation forward. To do so, ask intelligent follow-up questions even if you already know the answer. If you want to change topics, smoothly transition by beginning your question with, “I read on your website that…” or similar preface.
Finally, be sure to reserve a question for the end of the interview, because you will be asked, “Do you have any other questions before we conclude”. The interviewer may ask this out of politeness or genuine curiosity or to measure your interest, enthusiasm, and engagement. Whatever the case, the right question will end the interview on a high note and put your name on the top of the call back list.
Actually, here is my final point. Don’t ask questions hoping to stump your interviewer. They will not be impressed by a prospective employee trying to show them up. Trust me.