How to Get Over Any Awkwardness and Ask Questions

By Joe Stein

Many Job Seekers have the mistaken belief that participating in an interview is a one-way conversation.  You are asked questions and you answer them.  For the most part, however, the days of the dominant Interviewer is long gone and Hiring Managers expect you to ask professional questions in order to enhance the conversation, or to ensure that you are clear on the position, company, etc.

If you have been in the workplace for a while, you may be particularly inclined to have this belief that a Job Seeker should not speak unless prompted, and that any question places your candidacy in peril.  This is because you have experienced the more direct type of questioning that used to exist in interviews. You probably also feel that asking questions may not only feel awkward, but very stressful as well.  It does not have be that way, however, because (in most situations) a variety of questions are perfectly acceptable and welcomed. 

Let’s examine how you can overcome your nerves and ask the questions you need to, in order to make a better decision regarding the position.  The key is a combination of your mindset, reading the situation, and knowing what to (and what not to) ask.

• Prepare Ahead – While you may have a question or two come from something the Interviewer mentioned in the interview, chances are that what you want to ask will not come up during the Hiring Manager questioning. Prepare your questions ahead of time and practice asking them.  This way you will feel comfortable in asking (removing any stress) and can frame exactly what will be the best way to ask it.
• Be Confident – Yes I know…easier said (or written) than done.  If you ask your question confidently and without apology, you will most likely gain the respect of the Interviewer.  If you fail to make eye contact, mumble the question, or apologize prior to asking it, all will reflect poorly upon you.  If you do not feel confident in asking a question…then don’t do it.
• Evaluate the Interviewer – It should not be too difficult to “read” the interviewer and determine how approachable he or she will be to questions.   If the Interviewer goes out of his/her way to make you feel comfortable and facilitates more of a discussion, then most likely questions will not only be welcomed, but will be expected from you.  You can also read the body language of the Interviewer after your first question to determine the reaction.  Start with your easiest question first, as a bit of a test, to determine if you should go further.
• Which Stage of the Process Is Important– The further you are into the process with the prospective employer, the more comfortable you should be in asking questions.  If you have already been through a phone screen and a first interview, then asking more specific questions should be easier to present.  This is because you should have developed some type of connection with the Hiring Manager during the first few steps. Early in the process, the questions should focus more around basic culture, company direction, etc.  As you move towards the end of the process, you can start focusing on specific aspects of the benefits program or ask compensation questions, such as how pay increases are handled.  Since you have already had a few conversations, you should feel more comfortable asking those types of questions.
• Frame the Question Positively – Your desire should not be to create a “60 Minutes” type of investigation intensity with your questions.  Don’t go into your questions thinking the worst and framing your questions in this manner.  For example, when asking about company culture, don’t lead off with everything you just read posted on various internet sites.  Doing this will place the Interviewer on the defensive, and will most likely make your portion of the Q&A less positive.  Instead, ask questions about company culture, management style, etc. By taking this approach, that you will be able to find out what you are looking for, without having to engage in an aggressive type of questioning.
• Avoid the Confidential – There are some topics that the Interviewer is not likely to disclose, especially early in the process.  Topics such as revenue (especially if privately-held) or specific clients are examples of information that is most likely confidential and will not be shared, so don’t ask.  This will only create a very awkward situation between you and the Interviewer.  This information will not help your candidacy, and may cause the Hiring Manager to question whether or not you respect confidential information. 

A Job Seeker should feel comfortable asking questions during an interview.  The key is to be ready and prepared, and know what to ask and when.  The benefits are enormous…you will impress the Interviewer while, at the same time, receive the answers you were seeking.

As always, best of luck in your job search.