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Clever and Intelligent Questions to Ask on your Interview


Chapter 6


Questions To Close The Sale

At some point, it will dawn on you that you actually want this job. You may even have gotten the impression that the interviewer wants you to have the job. Or, at least, you think she does.
It’s time to find out how real your chances are by asking “closing” questions – highly targeted questions designed to uncover the interviewer’s (unstated) concerns, figure out where you are in the process, identify the competition, and, most important, ask for the job!
“Is there anyone else ...?”
Salespeople know that one of the most deadly obstacles to closing a sale is talking to the wrong person. What good is a powerful, professional presentation that generates a series of enthusiastic “yes’s” if the person you’re selling lacks the authority to actually buy your product or service? While it may be important to get this person’s recommendation, wouldn’t you want to know you’re actually interviewing with the person with the ability to say, “Great! When can you start?”
To forestall this waste of time and effort, top salespeople will often use a line like the following to qualify a prospect before they go into their spiel: “Is there anyone else along with yourself who needs to be part of this discussion so a buying decision can be made today?”
That’s qualifying! Be ready to ask a similar question yourself:
Is there anyone else along with yourself who needs to be part of this interview so a hiring decision can be made today?
If the answer is “no,” you can feel somewhat confident that this is the person you have to convince. Often, an employer will answer a question such as this by detailing the hiring process for you:
“Well, Jim, I’m ultimately going to be the one making the decision about whom to hire, but I’m going to have the top two or three candidates interview with ---- and -------- before I make the final cut.”
Which would, of course, lead you to ask a whole series of other questions:
Will those other interviews be scheduled following this one?
Over what period of time will those other interviews take place?
How long a period have you set aside for interviews before you make a final decision?
At what point do you feel you will be making a final decision?
May I make appointments with those other executives immediately following this interview?
If you properly researched the interviewer and asked the right questions of the recruiter or headhunter with whom you’re working (or the Human Resources person who pre-interviewed you), you really should already know whether the person you’re talking to is the ultimate decision maker. In an ideal world, of course. But the world these days is far from ideal. So ask this qualifying question early in the interview; it’s important to know whether you’re selling the Emperor...or merely one of his advisors.


Uncover Hidden Objections

Salespeople also know (or quickly learn) that the key to any sale is filling their customers’ needs … or at least convincing the customer that they can fulfill those needs. In order to get to that point, however, they may have to handle a series of objections, of which price is only one (though perhaps one that comes up more often than others). In order to confront these objections, they must be identified. Needless to say, not every buyer is blithely ready to volunteer the real reasons why he’s unwilling to switch vendors (or reveal the magic words that will win his business).
So successful salespeople have developed detailed routines to elicit hidden objections – the unstated but real obstacles they must overcome to win the account. You must follow their lead. After all, you can’t eliminate an objection you don’t even know about.
Questions designed to clear your path are, by their very nature, a little intrusive, a little pushy, a little aggressive. But they must be asked:
Is there anything that is stopping you from offering me this job right now?
This is perhaps one of the more aggressive ways to phrase this question, but it certainly gets to the point. The interviewer may not bare his soul; he could answer, “Yes, because you have three more interviews to go if you get past me!” But at least you’ll learn that much!
How do I compare with the others you’ve interviewed for this position?
How many other people would you say are also serious candidates for this position? How do you see me stacking up against them?
You can’t really knock the competition, even if you wanted to (and you shouldn’t want to), because no matter how much the interviewer tells you, you really won’t know enough to do so. But it’s essential that you know how many viable candidates there actually are and how the interviewer thinks you measure up. Invariably, rather than giving you a plethora of details about other candidates, you will hear something like, “Well, you all have similar educations and experience, but there are some differences in computer skills. As you know, the ability to troubleshoot our system is a secondary but still very important part of the job description.” Hmmm, it might have been described as secondary in an ad, but clearly it’s more important than you thought. Time to sell your computer skills, big time.
Are there any specific areas in which you believe my qualifications are lacking?
Do you have any reservations about my ability to do this job?
You’re asking the interviewer for very specific feedback – lack of the pertinent degree, not quite enough experience, experience with a firm smaller than she would like, and so on. Her answer should enable you to spin your credentials so they mesh better with her requirements. Other versions of this same question might take slightly different tacks:
Do you have any concerns I haven’t adequately addressed?
Given my qualifications, skills and experience, do you have any concerns about my ability to become an important member of your team?
Is there anything in my background, education, skills, or qualifications that concerns you?
Is there anything else I can tell you that would help you make the decision to hire me?
This is another variation that I like, because it craftily but directly implies your interest in the position, puts you in the position of “helping” rather than selling, and attempts to close the sale …. All at the same time.
There is, of course, a not-so-fine line between appearing confidant and being an arrogant boor. Adjust the level of aggressiveness to the tone of the interview. If you’ve done a good job establishing rapport with the interviewer and are having a comfortable, conversational interview, there’s no reason to come off like a fire-breathing dragon when it’s time to close the sale:
I think we’ve had an excellent talk, and I’m very interested in this position. Where do we go from here?
When can I expect to hear from you? If you are unable to call me before then, would it be all right if I call you on------------?
If the interviewer said he’d call Wednesday and doesn’t, that’s not a reason to lose sleep. Everything might be all right; a phone call the next morning might offer a credible excuse: “Oh, Ron, I’m so sorry I couldn’t get to you yesterday as promised, but I had to put out some raging fires.” So arrange ahead of time to call him if you don’t hear. You’ll sleep better.
How am I doing? Do you think you will be recommending me to move on in the process?
Hey, it was a successful catchphrase for former New York mayor Ed Koch, though I think it may come off a trifle too brazen (maybe even a little too glib).
Here are two questions that are the least aggressive, though still designed to make the interviewer give you the information you need:
What are the key criteria you’re going to use to decide callbacks? How do I measure up, in your opinion?
What are the next steps in the hiring process?
There are few interviewers who, when asked either of these two questions, will not make it pretty clear to the candidates who aren’t making the grade that the next step is to shake hands, smile, and go on to another company: “How do you measure up, Brad? Well, I’m afraid you don’t.”
Likewise, those viable candidates should be given a road map for the rest of the process – with whom they should meet next, how long the process should last, and how many other candidates are still in the running.
Salespeople can be more aggressive
What if you’re seeking a sales position? Since I’ve counseled every candidate to identify hidden objections through probing questions, ask closing questions, and, most important, ask for the offer, don’t you think it’s even more important for potential sales people to aggressively seek answers … and the job?
You bet it is. Questions that may seem overly aggressive to an accounting major may appear positively mild to a fire-breathing salesperson. And most sales managers expect salespeople to be aggressive; it’s supposed to be their nature. So the closing questions can be as aggressive as you can make them (within the context of the rest of the interview, of course, and with due respect for the personality of the interview):
I believe I’ve demonstrated the qualifications, experience, and attitude you’re looking for. When can I start?
There’s clearly a fit here. I’m ready to come aboard immediately and exceed your expectations. Can we discuss the details of my package?
I’m sure we’ll have no trouble dealing with compensation issues. Can we start by discussing a salary slightly higher than you advertised?
These and similar questions that you should now be able to construct on your own have two things in common: They exude confidence, and they assume that the job is already won. The latter, naturally enough called an “assumptive close,” is virtually de rigueur for any salesperson. But it is certainly a way for more aggressive interviewees of any stripe to “go for the close.”
Getting to yes
Young salespeople are taught the importance of getting prospects to say “yes.” Neophytes are often given a series of scripted, closed-ended questions to ask with the sole purpose of getting a series of “yes’s,” on the assumption that is someone says “yes” enough, they’ll fall right into the “yes” that matters – “Do you want to buy my product/service?”
Without going into the plusses and minuses of such a sales technique, let me suggest that there is an adaptation that might be appropriate in some interviews or with some interviewers. Especially, it seems to me, those who haven’t conducted the clearest interview of all time or who have given you the impression that they’re a little lost. Perhaps you can help them toward a decision with this technique. I’ve created two sample scripts (below). Until the end, I’m going to assume you have done a wonderful job and the only thing the interviewer can say is, of course, “YES”:
“Mr. Barnes, have we established that I have the educational background you’re seeking?”
“And do I have the breadth of experience you want?”
“Have my answers allayed any concerns you may have had about my abilities?”
“Am I someone you feel you and your team can comfortably work with?”
Presuming a series of resounding “yes’s” in response, the sales candidate would be ready to close:
“So, should we start discussing my compensation package and make arrangements to bring me on board?”
Here’s a more detailed way to get to the same place:
“Mr. Olsen, the original ad that brought us together detailed a number of qualifications. May I go over them briefly with you?” (YES)
“I think it’s important that we review what we’ve discussed and make sure I haven’t failed to discuss an important topic, wouldn’t you agree?” (YES)
“The ad specified a BA degree from a four-year college, right?” (YES)
“An English major?” (YES)
“coursework in creative writing?” (YES)
“An internship for at least two summers?”(YES)
“Two to three years of on-the-job experience in consumer magazine editing?”(YES)
“Some experience with layout?” (YES)
“It also stated that the company wanted a ‘go-getter,’ someone ready to move higher up in publishing and take over the reins of the entire magazine within five years.” (YES)
“Obviously, these requirements are just the tip of the iceberg. You want an individual that will fit in with your corporate culture, someone your and my future coworkers will be able to get along with. Do you think I have the personality and personal style to do so?” (YES)
“Have I answered all of your questions satisfactorily?” (YES)
If at any point your questions elicit a “no,” you would pause, clarify the misinformation, confirm that you now understood each other, then restate the question in a way that would restart the series of “yes’s.” Otherwise, you would immediately proceed to a series of closing questions:
Can I assume from your positive responses that I am a serious candidate for the job?
Can you tell me where you are in the process?
How many other candidates would you say you still believe have a shot at this job after talking to me today? (this is a strong close, but it’s very positive, and I personally like it a lot)
Whom do I need to talk to next? May I set up an appointment with her before I leave today?
When do you expect to make a final decision and fill the position?
Frankly, even an aggressive sales type should avoid being too pushy. Pressuring an interviewer for a decision by a specific day (or, worse, immediately) may be going overboard at all but the most Type-A companies. However, if you acknowledge that you’re being pushy, you may get away with it! For example,
“Mr. Barnes, I like you, I like the people I’ve met, I like the company, and I am excited about this opportunity. I don’t mean to come to on too strong, but I have been interviewing elsewhere and I am expecting at least ------------ other offers before the end of the week. Is there any way I can hear from you before Friday?”
The nicest thing about this question is that it makes you seem even more attractive: “Hey,” you’re announcing, “other companies are ready to make me an offer. What’s wrong with you?”


You Can Always Work For Free

“I realize you have a very difficult decision to make, but since you’ve indicated you need at least a week to do so, would you object if I came in first thing tomorrow morning and actually showed you what I can do? I wouldn’t expect payment, of course, until you officially hire me at the end of the week.”
Speaking as someone who has hired hundreds, and who still sometimes worries that I’ve missed something and may be making the wrong choice, it would be mighty hard for me to pass up this “free trial offer.” It completely devastates the competition! It effectively puts off the decision for a week – a week during which you are in the office, working away, making friends, and influencing people, while your competitors are, what, sitting by their phones? You have taken control.
Do you really think the decision was being made in a week? Who cares anymore? You are in a position to force the decision to be made in a week. You have closed the presale and put yourself in an unbelievable position. Is there any question in your mind as to whether you’ll be hired at the end of the week? Only if you really can’t do the job, they hate you, or you hate them. In which case you’ve saved everyone a lot of grief and only “wasted” a week!


Questions To Ask Yourself After Every Interview

Kate Wendleton, founder and president of The Five O’clock Club, a national job-networking organization, has her counselors as a series of questions of every candidate when they return from an interview. I heartily recommend that you ask yourself the same questions (and take notes on your answers):
How did it go?
What did they say?
What did you say?
How many people did you see?
How much time did you spend with each?
What role does each person play?
Who seemed the most important?
Who is the hiring manager?
Who is the decision maker?
Who seems to most influence the decision?
Who else did you meet (secretaries, receptionists, department heads, peers, etc.)?
How quickly do they want to make a decision?
How do you stack up to your competition?
What objections did you have to overcome? Do you think you did so successfully?
How badly do you want this job?
What’s the next step according to them?
What is your plan?

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