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Career Column: Well-Mannered Job Interviews and the Art of Question-Asking

Interviewer: Do you have any questions for me?
Job Seeker: Not really. Everything's pretty clear and I have another interview shortly. Thanks for your time. Could you please help me find the way out?

We have all heard about good manners making good first impressions, but what about last impressions? Aren't they important too? You bet they are! But it's not just about manners. Manners -- "please," "thank you," "pardon me"-- go a long way when making a generally good impression, but they won't help a candidate to be distinguishable from other candidates as the interview closes. For that, carefully worded questions are needed. Of course, good manners are always in order but this article goes beyond interview etiquette to provide clues that uncover the mystery of good question-asking on the part of the job seeker. Consider this scenario: Janet has been job hunting for three months. Frustrated and surprised that no offers have been made, she presents an impeccable resume showing excellent skills and the required entry-level experience. She practices good eye contact, sits erect while taking notes and carries company data in a great attaché case. So, where are the job offers? Perhaps they are buried in the last few words of every interview she completes.

First and last events in every single interview can stick strongly in the minds of interviewers. This is the simple psychology of memory -- last in last out. In other words, choose your last words carefully because they're bound to be remembered. What is asked by the job seeker can be just as powerful as the answers given to the interviewer's questions.

Whether expressed in the form of a question or a comment, the last words said to an interviewer (especially if emotion is sparked) can be remembered longer than any printed words in a resume. So it may pay, in the actual form of a pay check, to give thought to parting words.

Although many interviews (and thus, job opportunities) end like Janet's, with her presumption that she's making an impression of being "sought-after," they could end more effectively by asking any of the following questions:

Interviewer: Do you have any questions for me?
Job Seeker (1): Yes. In what two or three areas is it absolutely necessary to obtain key results for success in this position? These would be areas that make or break my success.


Job Seeker (2): Thanks for asking. I've been wondering whether the mission of XYZ Company is expected to evolve with changing economic conditions?


Job Seeker (3): I do... in the area of my personal match with the organization's needs. Where and how do you see my strengths primarily being used?

Each scenario (above) suggests well-executed questions that a wise job seeker can ask of any employer. The wording can be fine-tuned, always accompanied by good manners, to uniquely fit each interview situation. Also, each question allows the job seeker the ultimate opening to "horn-toot." For example, after the interviewer has answered the question about matching organizational needs, job seeker # 3 can add, "I can see also that my strengths in communication and problem-solving would serve your customers well," reminding the interviewer of this great asset. When time is not constrained, all three questions could be asked in the same interview and followed up with appropriate horn-tooting. Presto -- a good last impression.

No job seeker wants to leave an interview in a cloud of mystery, not knowing what kind of impression was made. The key is to take charge of the lasting good impression through the use of skillful questions, making the last few moments of the interview stick positively in the mind of the interviewer. Since we all want to be remembered in a good light, we can position ourselves as beacons of that light through well-mannered question-asking. The answers may lead to a great job offer.

Debi Carter-Ford is a professor of psychology and consultant to management in the areas of applied psychology and employee training. Questions and comments may be sent to careers@dunsonandassociates.com.

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