Turning the Tables

by John F. Tuton

Getting the job interview is a major goal in any job search, and most of the advice that career counselors offer is focused on how to handle four kinds of questions—open-ended ones like “tell me about yourself”, evaluative ones like “what are your strengths and weaknesses?”, focused ones like “can you tell me about a time when you…” one and lastly, challenging ones like “why should we hire you?”.   Anyone who’s been through an interview has encountered at least two or three of these, and the ideal response (hopefully strengthened by practicing beforehand) has always been to focus on the positives and manage the question in as confident a way as possible.

It’s certainly important to answer these questions in the best way you can, but I think they could also be extremely useful if you asked them yourself, or in other words used them to turn the tables on the interviewer and find out more about the job, the organization, or some aspects of the culture you might be joining.  For instance, it might be very interesting if you asked an interviewer, “What do you think your organization’s strengths and weaknesses are?” or “Can you tell me how you handled a downturn in business” or even, “Why should I want to work here?”  That last question might sound pretty bold at first, but think about it—if it is asked tactfully in the right tone of voice, it might yield all sorts of useful information, like how much effort is put into orienting new employees, what career paths are available, what the organization thinks of its competition and how much time is devoted to employee training and development.

Turning the tables on an interviewer might sound like a risky thing to do, but it could also lead to the most important outcome of any interview—understanding how well the organization fits you as much as how well you fit it.

Author: John

John Tuton is a graduate career counselor in Career Services.