From a Shot in the Dark into Broad Daylight: The Best Question To Ask in Your Next Job Interview
Typically, job seekers think they should wait until they’ve answered all of the employer’s interview questions before it’s their turn to ask a few of their own—usually at the tail end of the conversation.
But did you know the best question you can ask comes at the very beginning—before the interview really gets rolling?
This question gives you invaluable information to use so you can better tailor your responses.
This question demonstrates that you’re proactive, a great listener, and a problem solver, and it’s incredibly simple:
“What is your top priority for this position?”
That’s it! When you ask about the position priority at the beginning of the interview, rather than the end, you’re gaining valuable information and context to help form your replies in the hour you spend talking with the interviewer. Remember that you’re there for one reason: to solve a problem or to keep a function running smoothly, so it’s best to surface the need or the issue and then address it with your response. Rather than taking a shot in the dark, you’re answering in broad daylight. You’re erasing the ambiguity and guesswork as to whether you’re addressing what they need to know.
Asking this question takes some finesse and timing, so use these 4 tips as a guide:
Make Sure the Time Is Right
The best time to ask this question is following the introductions and light conversation/icebreakers, but before the interview starts rolling.
Check in to See if It’s Okay to Ask the Question
Since the interviewer probably isn’t expecting you to ask the first question, ask for permission, phrased something like this:
“Excuse me, but before we get started, would you mind if I asked you a quick question?”
In most cases, they’ll be very curious and want to hear your question. Keep it simple, resist layering on details, and don’t start to fill any silence with assumptions like, “I know you probably weren’t expecting that, right?” or “That may be a tough one because you probably have a lot of needs for this role” or even anticipating their answer saying something like, “I know it’s probably that you want to grow sales by 50% this year.”
The key is to ask the question, wait as long as you need to until they answer, and then really listen to their response. If they don’t know or have a multifaceted reply, then that’s more data—albeit not the kind you wanted—that you’ll have for decision-making down the line.
Modify the Question Based on Your Job Level and Your Audience
You can further tailor your response by including the name of the position, such as
“What is your current top priority for the VP Marketing position?”
If you know you’re being hired for a defined project, say
“What is your top priority for Project X?”
If you’re in sales or another role focused on a specific region or territory, then add in that detail.
The question doesn’t only apply to the direct hiring manager. You can also ask peers or others you meet their opinion on the top priority. (This approach works best in 1:1 meetings.)
Address the Priority When it Makes Sense
Once you’ve heard the top priority for the position, don’t be tempted to address their need right then and there. Use it as a reference point at natural times during your responses throughout the conversation.
The next time you interview, be the candidate who stands out based on finding out the top priority or need and then addressing it.
Have you ever used this strategy? If not, will you give this a try in your next interview?