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I just had an interview with a hiring manager about a job that I am really interested in. The company is in the software industry, and the position was for a business analyst. I interviewed in the United States with a local company.

I asked the following two questions at the end of the interview:

  1. What concerns do you have that impedes my progress in the hiring process?

  2. How do I compare from what I have said to the ideal candidate you are looking to hire for this position?

I asked the first question as I felt that if the hiring manager indeed had any concerns about my background, I would like to address them on the spot, as a showing of being proactive and being confident.

I asked the second question for a similar version - How do I compare to the ideal candidate - what shortcomings might eliminate me from further contention for the position.

The manager seems to be surprised and a distinct hesitation could be seen.

Are my questions not proper to ask at the end of an interview, or could they be construed as too aggressive / rude?

  • 36
    It could be anything, from "goodness, I haven't clarified my thoughts on these questions" to "I hate this guy, but I'm not going to tell him that and risk a lawsuit." – Amy Blankenship Aug 13 '15 at 23:41
  • I've definitely seen a single question that combines these two suggested as a good "have you got any questions for me?", but I can't remember where. Did you come up with these two yourself? – AakashM Aug 14 '15 at 7:33
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    I pulled this approach at my last interview. It threw the interviewer for a half second, not because he couldn't handle it, perhaps just that he didn't expect it from me. I think in my case it ticked more good boxes than bad ones. Too aggressive / rude? That depends on your delivery, so I cant say... Also the questions have a potential overlap in solution, maybe he thought the second was redundant? (I didn't get the job btw... but I did get a job :) – Lamar Latrell Aug 14 '15 at 10:19

10 Answers 10

29

I am a tech recruiter at a company in Australia, but have mainly worked as an external recruiter prior. I've interviewed quite a few BAs from pure business to technical BAs. Some of this answer would depend on cultural differences but the USA --> Australia should be similar. My answer to your question:

Are my questions not proper to ask at the end of an interview, or could they be construed as too aggressive / rude?

Your questions are not commonplace and I also find the wording quite awkward - I would not recommend using them again. If I have to be honest, I usually expect and look for very advanced communication skills and emotional intelligence for a BA, maybe adjusting my expectations down if they are required to be more technical. So if I was asked those two questions I would walk away from the interview questioning how suitable, savvy and sensitive you would be when dealing with stakeholders.

To provide some more detailed feedback, your 1st question has what I would call a 'negative frame' so I would avoid it. I understand why you want to ask it, but in doing so you are requesting me to actively search and think about your shortcomings and you are also putting me on the spot. Interviews take time to digest and the answer would depend on a huge amount of factors. Others have already highlighted that most companies will not be keen to go into detail around negative feedback on interviews for legal reasons. FYI I always try and provide as much feedback as possible, but I wouldn't usually be as blunt as if talking to a good friend.

Regarding the 2nd question, I don't meant to be rude, but like the first one, it comes off as something from an interview advice article from a long, long time ago and a bit 'robotic' sounding, so again I would avoid it. I think the tone reminds me of a sales / closing question from the 60's era of selling.

I would highly recommend you be genuine when asking questions, as a good interviewer will pick up on passion and interest and alternatively if someone is trying to sell them or 'close' them. Best of luck!

  • 5
    +1 for explanation why not to ask, from POV of person on the other side of the table – Peter M. Aug 14 '15 at 15:28
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    Reminds me of the car salesman asking, 'What can I do to get you into a car, today?' – Rob P. Aug 16 '15 at 1:23
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    @RobP. - exactly right. As an interviewer I'd get the impression that the candidate thinks I won't recognise that this is a sales technique. Which I'd find interesting and maybe revealing in itself. – A E Aug 16 '15 at 10:21
52

Personally, I tend not to like these sorts of questions at least for most non-sales positions. They show up rather often as suggested questions for people that are interviewing for roles in sales so, as with most anything that involves interpersonal interactions, it will depend on the individual. Based on your profile, you appear to be looking for IT positions-- I would tend not to ask that sort of question for that sort of position.

Most interviewers want at least a bit of time to organize their thoughts and get their notes together after an interview before passing judgement. Particularly if you met with multiple people (either serially or in parallel), those interviewers are going to want to get their thoughts together, compare notes, and come to a conclusion. Giving an off-the-cuff answer can be a bit off-putting.

When I'm involved in the interview process, I'm generally doing the technical round of interviews. My goal is to get an idea of where a candidate is strong and where the candidate is weak but it's generally someone else's job to figure out how to prioritize those things. I don't necessarily know which strengths the hiring manager is ultimately going to prefer and which weaknesses are going to create the biggest obstacles. I can certainly guess (particularly if the interview went badly and the candidate is weak across the board). But those guesses might be wrong.

An interviewers biggest concerns might also feel rather unfair to the candidate. The "ideal" candidate for most IT jobs doesn't exist-- they're an expert in the precise half dozen or so major technologies that the company happens to use who also has a deep understanding of the company's business area and possesses exceptional interpersonal skills. And this mythical ideal candidate is willing to take the job for the salary that you have budgeted. Everyone knows going in that this person doesn't exist so comparisons to the ideal candidate don't do much good. They also tend to be very unfair in a lot of ways-- an interviewer often knows from the candidate's resume that the candidate doesn't have certain types of experience. They may interview them anyway because what they do have may make up for it but the biggest concern could well be something that was obvious from your resume. Telling someone that doesn't list technology X on their resume that our biggest concern after an interview is their lack of X might be truthful but it's not going to make anyone feel good.

For companies that have multiple open positions, there are also situations where people are trying to "mix and match" skills across candidates which makes feedback even harder. Imagine I'm a hiring manager who has two open theoretically identical positions both looking for skills X, Y, and Z. If you apply and have great X & Y skills but no exposure to Z, that may be fine if I can hire someone else with a lot of Z. On the other hand, if none of the good candidates have a lot of Z, I may prefer to take a couple of people that have an intermediate understanding of X, Y, and Z hope that they can figure things out between them rather than having two experts dividing the tasks. The issues with your candidacy may well change depending on the skillset of other applicants.

Finally, answering those questions truthfully is often rather uncomfortable. Telling someone that you don't think they're anywhere close to the skill level that you need and that you're going to be strongly recommending against hiring them would be brutal. Telling something that you're on the fence about who you might want to extend an offer to depending on how other interviews go that you really wish they had a bit more experience with some technology or that you were hoping from their resume that they had more business knowledge doesn't get the new relationship off on a good foot. It's hard for the candidates not to take that as an attack and defend themselves (which rarely produces good results). And it may lead the candidate to have a bad taste in their mouth if the company does extend an offer. If you do ask these sorts of questions, most people are going to reply with vague platitudes that communicate as little as possible in order not to offend anyone and to avoid making any rush judgements.

Ideally, of course, the hiring manager would reply with a concern that you can quickly address. But that assumes that the hiring manager is so poor at their job that they have a major concern that they can articulate for which they don't ask enough questions to give the candidate a fair chance to address. If a hiring manager knows that X is an impediment to moving forward, they had darn well better ask questions about X that are designed to let the candidate either address or confirm the concern. Perhaps there are occasionally situations where the hiring manager misunderstands something that the candidate said and that misunderstanding can be quickly rectified at the end of the interview. But that is exceedingly rare.

  • Good insight into a hiring manager's thought process. My experience is that hiring managers want all candidates to believe they have a shot at employment. Nice to see what they're actually thinking. – Acumen Simulator Aug 14 '15 at 3:35
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    This. Exactly this. There's just one potential caveat. If you've already failed a part of the interview so badly there's no way you'll be hired it's unlikely someone will be asking something about X. It's politer to end the interview and explain why. – Ben Aug 14 '15 at 4:27
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    +1 good answer. I particularly agree with your first paragraph - I'm not in sales and I'm not looking for someone in sales, so high pressure tactics aren't really conducive to my particular environment.. – Raystafarian Aug 14 '15 at 8:14
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Interviewers at most companies are not allowed to give you any direct feedback on your performance. There's nothing for the company to gain from giving you that feedback. Consequently there's nothing for you to gain from asking for it. There's almost nothing you can say to an interviewer in the last few minutes that will change their decision. Instead ask questions that will help you decide whether to accept their offer if you receive one.

  • 3
    I've literally never heard of this, and I'm an interviewer. Bear in mind the question states 'local company' so probably won't have the red tape of much larger companies. – Ian Newson Aug 14 '15 at 19:18
  • @IanNewson, while "being allowed" may vary, it is virtually always true that "there's nothing for the company to gain". – Paul Draper Aug 14 '15 at 23:16
  • @PaulDraper except good will, and not gaining a bad reputation. Again maybe not an issue for larger companies, but smaller companies often have a smaller pool of candidates so it's worth keeping them on your good side. – Ian Newson Aug 15 '15 at 5:16
  • @IanNewson Can you give an example of post-interview feedback that will engender good will? – kevin cline Aug 17 '15 at 4:41
7

Think about it from the interviewer's perspective. What is he going to say?

If he thinks you're a good candidate, but then ultimately the company decides to give the job to someone else, he's gotten your hopes up only for them to be dashed later. Not only is this rather cruel, but it would give you ammunition for a discrimination lawsuit. You could argue in court that they told you that you were the best qualified, but then hired someone else, "obviously" because of racial or sex or religious or something bias.

If he thinks you're not a very good candidate, he doesn't want to be the one to tell you that you're not getting the job. It would be mean, and he might be afraid that you would then start an argument over it.

I suppose you could imagine a scenario where you asked such a question, and the interviewer said, "I'm sorry, but we were looking for someone with experience doing X", and you could say, "But I do have experience doing X!" and tell them about it. But if this was important to them, wouldn't they have brought it up? I suppose the interviewer could be confused or poorly organized, but it's not a likely scenario that they'd just forget to bring up something important to them during the interview, and then reject you because you didn't bring it up yourself.

It's like the classic question many interviewers ask, "What is your biggest weakness?" It's a pointless question because no one is really going to admit to some serious problem. Like, "Hmm, hard to say whether it's the violent rages I get into where I assault my co-workers, or my habit of embezzling money from the company."

If I was interviewing a candidate and he asked me such a question, I can't imagine what I would say other than something on the order of, "We're going to have to evaluate that" or maybe "I really can't say until we've interviewed all the candidates".

There's no point in asking questions that are just awkward and put someone on the spot, and that he's not going to give an honest answer to.

5

Only the interviewer knows for sure why he/she hesitated to answer.

However, I will say that your questions, while good, are not often asked by candidates, and it is possible you caught your interviewer off guard. It's also possible that if he/she is relatively new to interviewing, the hesitation could be related to not really knowing how to respond.

Other than that (and including this), it's all a guess.

  • 2
    Unfortunately, speculation is all we can do since we can't get into the head of the interview panel, the candidate or the atmosphere during the interview. – Jane S Aug 14 '15 at 0:37
1

There are concerns that a hiring manager may have that cannot necessarily be discussed with the applicant. Asking questions that cannot be answered or require some reflection time may come off as overly aggressive.

For example, when I was hiring, I would also look at attributes aside from their technical skills:

  • Would the person fit in with the team
  • Would the person fit well within the company.
  • Are the person's communications skills and interpersonal skills appropriate for the job.
  • Is the person likely to be a long-term employee. I've seen CVs where the person changes jobs every 12 months. For a contractor, this may mean they do not get renewed. For a permanent, this may mean they don't like to settle down.

These are concerns that require a bit of reflection and not things that I can really discuss with the applicant.

  • 2
    This doesn't really answer the question. The OP is asking if the questions the candidate asked are appropriate, not what questions the interview panel should ask. – Jane S Aug 14 '15 at 2:01
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    @JaneS - I've reworded it a bit but the gist of the answer was that there are things that the interviewer would not want to discuss. You would not say "Technically you're great but you can't put two sentences together so too bad." – dave Aug 14 '15 at 2:18
  • @dave In an ideal world you would, but of course the majority of candidates would take this badly, get defensive or combatative, or (particularly in the US) would think they should start a lawsuit because someone said something negative about them in a job interview. – Lilienthal Aug 14 '15 at 11:01
  • One point regarding your answer: some contractors specialise in short-term projects so I would ask about the type of work he did instead of holding it against him. Since we're talking about the interview stage I'd ask any applicant with short-term positions this regardless of his status. Whether you're happy with his answer is something that might indeed take some reflection. – Lilienthal Aug 14 '15 at 11:05
1

I'm British and I've recently been interviewing candidates for software engineering and product management roles in the UK and India - so my perspective may not be 100% relevant to the US scenario presented, due to cultural differences - but, for what it's worth, here it is:

  • I'd normally expect the candidate's questions to be about the role and the company. Those are the topics on which I'm expecting questions. Questions on any other topics ("how am I doing?" "do you like this tie?" "where do babies come from?") breach the implicit conventions of job interviews to which I'm accustomed (not necessarily a bad thing, but you need to show you're aware these are unusual questions... e.g. "now I know this is a bit of an unusual question but can I ask you ..." - otherwise you'll look naive).

  • So I'd find it surprising if a candidate used the opportunity for questions to ask ones like those you've quoted. That would be enough to make me pause and look surprised at the very least.

  • I quite often interview with other people - either they are there in the interview with me, or else they are interviewing the same candidate before/after me. I haven't come to a firm decision about the candidate until I've discussed him/her with my colleague(s). I know what I think but I'm interested to hear what they think, and I want to form a collective opinion - they might have noticed or found out something that I haven't. So it's going to be difficult for me to answer this kind of meta-question before I've spoken to them.

  • Your first question assumes that there is a problem. It's rather defensive. It pretty much amounts to "why won't you hire me?", or at least that's how I'd interpret it.

  • I'd interpret these questions as being a 'hard sell'. In the kind of roles I interview for, that wouldn't usually be appropriate. (It might be totally appropriate for a sales role - I don't know because I don't interview candidates for those roles). The questions give the impression that you're trying to detect and remove what salesmen call 'barriers to purchase' - I'd have the impression that you want to convince me that any objections to your candidacy which might exist are either incorrect or irrelevant, and that you think I won't notice you're doing that (which I'd find a bit patronising). I'd prefer to make the decision (whether to hire you) for myself and in consultation with my colleagues - I wouldn't find it 100% appropriate for the candidate to try to shoe-horn themselves into the decision-making process about themselves (unless, as I said, this is a sales role, in which case it might be fair enough).

  • Those questions could give the impression that you don't know how well or badly you're doing. The job description should describe the ideal candidate - haven't you read it? Don't you already know what your strengths and weaknesses are as an applicant, for this particular role? I'd normally expect you to know that already. Aren't you already aware how well / badly the different parts of the interview have gone? These questions could give the impression that you're not, which could imply lack of interpersonal skills.

  • If I were interviewing you then I'd consider picking these questions apart a bit: "That's an interesting question, where did you get the idea of asking that?" or turning them back on you: "Well, you've read the job description, how do you think you compare to the ideal candidate?". I'm pretty unlikely to give a totally straight answer (e.g. "You're great and we want to hire you but I'm trying not to look over-enthusiastic because that would give you the upper hand in salary negotiations" or "You're an awful fit for this job and I can't believe my colleague called you in for interview, I'll be having some words with them later" or whatever). So be prepared for pushback, and don't expect to actually get the information you're asking for.

So (tl;dr) in the UK/India software/product milieu at least, I wouldn't recommend asking these questions, because:
- you'll look pushy or defensive,
- you won't get a straight answer,
- you're missing the opportunity to ask something more meaningful.

1

In some countries companies won't give you any negative feedback, because anti-discrimination laws are very strict and they fear that a thoughtless comment might get them into serious trouble. By asking directly for negative feedback it could make them feel uncomfortable, because they cannot or are not allowed to answer your question.

If you feel that they have concerns, try to address the issue directly. For example if you have to move house for the job and your family lives far away, tell them how much you like the new place and that you already have some friends there.

  • 3
    "you force them to lie" - well, "Our internal guidelines do not allow us to provide any negative feedback on interviews for legal reasons." is not a lie, but it is so unhelpful a statement that it again makes asking the question in the first place pointless. – O. R. Mapper Aug 14 '15 at 13:30
  • @O.R.Mapper: There is an "or" in that sentence. Please read the whole answer. – Chris Aug 15 '15 at 20:49
  • I did. It is also not an excuse to avoid an answer, rather a straightforward answer. – O. R. Mapper Aug 15 '15 at 20:53
  • @O.R.Mapper: Ok, I added a "might". Especially small companies don't have such internal guidelines, therefore they can't give a straightforward answer. – Chris Aug 16 '15 at 7:14
  • When there are no such internal guidelines, the interviewer is of course just as free to give a straightforward answer along the lines of "We/I generally do not provide .../For legal reasons, we do not provide ...". My point is that they are never forced to find any workaround and giving a straightforward answer as described is always an option. – O. R. Mapper Aug 16 '15 at 8:48
0

Don't know about the second question, but I've often asked the first. It's true that it tends to disorient a bit the interviewer, but in a couple of occasions the answer was "yes..." and I was able to clarify their doubts (they wanted to know for if I was in the country temporarily or indefinitely).

IMHO the first question makes sense at the end of an interview, as you may have said or done something during the interview (or written in the CV) the interviewer is concerned about.

The second requires the interviewer had enough time to think about all the candidates and compare them.

0

You might be better off asking:

  1. What are you looking for in an ideal candidate? (This is good to ask if the interview has meandered; it allows you to reiterate your positive qualities.)

  2. How long have you worked at [Company]? I'd like to know more about your background. (This shows that you are interested in the team/your boss)

  • 1
    Welcome to the Workplace -- these are good questions someone could ask in an interview, but the OP's question is about the interviewer's reaction to the questions she did ask -- can you address that as well? – mcknz Aug 14 '15 at 21:40

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