Last week, a client of mine asked me to develop a list of potential interview questions for her to review prior to being flown to the West Coast for a major job opportunity. Listed below are the ten I formulated, accompanied by commentary that I hope will broaden their applicability from simply interview preparation to shedding light on the unique strengths, interests, and personal qualities you wish to further develop as you pursue your career. While these questions are targeted to people who already have significant workplace experience, they will also be useful for someone seeking to choose a first career path.
1) What are the qualities about you that have contributed most to your success?
This is a question that will help an interviewer gauge whether what you value about yourself is a quality likely to be a good fit with the organization's culture and your boss and team. Answering it (and the one below) for yourself can help guide you towards a more fulfilling career path as you begin to outline criteria against which a future career choice can be judged (e.g. "attention to detail" and "good at following through" might suggest that you consider project management, while "leadership abilities" or "creativity" might point you away from administrative occupations).
2) What quality / qualities have stood in the way of even greater success?
Careful answering this one - it's another way of asking "What's your greatest weakness?" However you choose to answer, be sure to emphasize that you have already invested a significant amount of time and effort in reducing the obstacle to even greater success. So you might say "I have been quick to agree to meet deadlines without carefully thinking through the likelihood of being able to meet them. Realizing that my word is super valuable, I have practiced giving greater thought to how realistic a commmitment may be, and to clearly communicating that there's a possibility that a requested deadline could be missed.
3) What would most co-workers say about you?
Asking yourself this question enables you to shift your perspective on yourself and may reveal strengths or weaknesses that you might otherwise overlook. You might even want to actually ask your co-workers. Of course their answers will be slanted to the positive, but so should your answers to the interviewer.
4) Where do you want to be five years from now?
In an interview, this question should be answered both hierarchically (e.g. "I would like to be in a position of greater authority and responsibility...." and functionally (e.g. "...so that I can more fully exercise my creative and strategic strengths" or "so that I can apply the technical expertise I will have acquired to a wider range of challenges).
5) What skills would you like to further develop?
In answering this question for a potential employer you need to balance your personal goals against those of the organization. Obviously, the best fit for both of you would be one in which the goals were aligned.
6) Give me two examples of your having been particularly resourceful.
Almost any organization is going to highly value resourcefulness, particularly in the current environment of diminished resources. If you don't have a good answer to this question, GET ONE!
7) Have your career motivations / aspirations changed over the years?
This question will probably not be asked by many interviewers, but it may be, and even if not it is useful for you to be able to discern your motivational and aspirational evolution and trajectory. Doing so can help you determine what is going to give you genuine fulfillment down the road.
8) What qualities do you think you will need to draw on to successfully transition to our organization?
This question will reveal how well you "get" the organization you're looking to join, so it's an absolutely critical one. If you honestly don't have all of the qualities you think an ideal candidate should have, you should be frank about it, but should also explain how you plan to further develop the qualities that are lacking: "I've not had a lot of experience with social media, but I'm enrolled in a course right now that's bringing me up to speed".
9) What about this job would be preferable to your current position?
A mature, balanced description of your current situation is necessary here. "I have an impossible boss," or "there's not enough for me to do," or "the work isn't challenging enough" may all be true statements, but they imply that you haven't been clever or resourceful enough to find ways around the challenges. Phrase the shortcomings of your current position in a way that showcases positive personal characteristics ("although I've proposed several initiatives, the financial position of the company is such that there isn't a way of funding them").
10) Any questions?
My favorite closing question is: "Is there anything I've said, or not said, today that leaves you with any concerns of about my ability to excel at this job?" It's bold and emphasizes that you really want this job. It's also a good idea to phrase questions from the standpoint of an already-hired employee: "As the manager of customer relations, what would you imagine the greatest challenge for me would be?"