Without question, the reverse interview or informational interview is the most effective method for finding a job. Reverse interview questions have continually opened up doors for my clients to new jobs – often creating jobs. (See my post on Finding Hidden Jobs)
One of the most common questions my clients ask me is “what should I ask when I walk into the room for the interview?” No matter what it is called (formal interview, an informational interview, or a reverse interview) you need to ask questions that will 1) generate information you need, 2) present you in a good light to the employer, and 3) help you develop a good relationship. The latter – relationship – is the most important. So what do you ask? And perhaps more important, what do you do with the answers?
The Purpose of Reverse Interview Questions (informational interview)
Reverse interview questions are set to help you discover a job or start a new company. (We use these same techniques when I work with startups in my Building Your Own Business Course) The key purpose is to gather information. You need to learn. Learn about a company, a job, a profession, or an industry. You need to take a look inside and see if what these people do on a daily basis excites you.
** Don’t think the startup is for you? Maybe you need to think about the risk of not having a company.
Who You Should Be Interviewing
Since the purpose of asking reverse interview questions is to get inside knowledge, you should NOT be talking to Human Resources (HR) unless you hope to work in HR. The reverse or informational interview is best used when talking to a person who either has the power to hire or is someone you want to become. Think one or two levels above the job you want.
** As an aside – you can also use this powerful tool on the day job to create deeper relationships.
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Three Questions to Ask During a Reverse Interview
Question #1 – How did you get to where you are today? (Or you might say “tell me your story.”) This reverse interview question breaks open the floodgates. It instantly opens up the interviewee because you are asking them to talk about themselves, which is their favorite subject. So just be up front and ask them to tell you their story. Their answer will help you connect to them and them to you. You will learn a ton about how to get into the business they are in and what to do first. And, because you are asking an expert to talk about their favorite subject, this one question could take while.
Question #2 – What do you hate and love about your job? This is also a question about how they feel. But now you get to hear some pros and cons from their view. You might also learn some things they hate doing in their job that you love to do. For instance, while interviewing a cake designer, you may find out they hate talking to customers. This information tells you some of their business needs, since this designer might be very willing to hire someone who loves cakes and who also loves talking to people. In other words, you might learn about a job opening they did not know about themselves.
Question #3 – What keeps you awake at night? (You can change the wording based on the conversation, perhaps to say something like “What is your greatest challenge?” or “What keeps you from making more profit?”) This question is literally a million dollar question. It has been used to find a niche in a market in which many a company were formed. Listen closely.
What do you do after asking the reverse interview questions
The first two questions will help you understand their background and to open them up to talk. But the last question is loaded with information. Some things to watch for with this final reverse interview question:
- Do they struggle? If they struggle with this question and seem to not have a real clue about the business challenges they have, you might be talking to a middle manager or someone who is not the real decision maker. The true leader can usually tell you instantly where the challenges of the business lie.
- What is the cost? As they tell you the answer, think about cost. How much financial pain does their problem bring? If you are talking to the true leader, they are likely to share this information with you. For instance, I had an occasion where someone told me their problem and it generated a $2.5 million risk. Another friend of mine was told of a problem which generated a loss of $5 million per month for his interviewee. We call these losses and risks pain. People will pay to make their greatest pain go away.
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What to Do Next After the Reverse Interview
Obviously you should follow up and thank them. But that was covered in my previous post on reverse interviews. But now, armed with the information from their answers, you are in a powerful position with this company. You now know the following:
- Is it interesting? If the company or industry is still interesting to you you can move on to develop a deeper relationship.
- Were you talking to someone with authority? Based on their answers, or lack of answers, you should know if they have the power to spend money and hire you.
- Is their pain worth solving? Based on the third question about their pain (what keeps them up at night) you might have an idea of the money involved. A $1,000 per month problem is not really that exciting. A $10,000 per month problem can generate a job.
Your Calling Can Help You Find Reverse Interview Subjects
Want to find more people to ask those reverse interview questions. Forget want-ads or job openings. Find jobs you would LOVE to do. Learn how in my ebook on Finding Your Calling.
Here are other great resources to help you in your interview.