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Close An Interview Like You’d Close A Deal

April 30, 2009

I had this IM conversation with a job-seeking friend last night:

My friend asking me how to close an interview.

My friend asking me how to close an interview.

To summarize, she wanted to know what she should say to fill the time between when her interviewer asks her “Now, do you have any questions for us?” and when she gets to go home.

There’s nothing I hate more than when people ask me lazy questions that they could find answers to on the Internets. I guarantee you employers hate this too.

You’ve landed an interview, put on your feel-good interview outfit, and listed out all the ways in which you’re a competitive candidate for the job.

At the end of an interview, the interviewer asks you, “Now, do you have any questions for us?”

Like me during interviews in the past, you may be thinking, “Huh? I’m tired, and I just got done telling you how awesome I am. Can’t you just hire me and let me go home to celebrate now?”

If this is what’s going through your head, you’re squandering the biggest opportunity the interview afforded you – the opportunity to close the interview in the same way you’d close a deal.

Closing an interview the way you’d close a deal is about how you communicate with someone who has more social power than you.

When I wrote about how to talk to engineers if you’re in a non-technical function, I was talking about ways to bridge the social power gap through superb communication.

Along the lines of How To Talk To Engineers, closing an interview the way you’d close a deal is achieved in three broad strokes:


The first step to gaining your potential employer’s respect is to show them that you have value that’s not currently present in their organization.

Use the interview as an opportunity to highlight your expertise. That is, use this precious face-time to present some information that’s useful to their industry positioning that they don’t know, but might like to know.

To do this, you have to objectify yourself. Consider yourself a product with a fixed set of sellable attributes. Which of these attributes will most interest your employer in the next 9 – 12 months?

Exercise: Write, on paper, the answers to the following questions:

•    Is the company interested in international expansion? (If so, consider your foreign market experience or the other languages you speak)
•    Have you previously worked for a company that has succeeded in a space that your potential employer might be targeting? (If so, consider your experience – even just as an observer – of your previous company’s navigation strategy. Your informant status would be hugely useful to your potential employer)
•    What are the gaps in your potential employer’s revenue strategy and what are your unique, unimplemented ideas for how to fill them? (Note: this question is relevant to ALL employers outside of government, including nonprofits, educational institutions, and private enterprises alike)

If you can’t answer these questions, then you need to do more research, which brings us to the next category…


To her credit, my friend did a bit of homework before pinging me about what to ask an interviewer in return. She searched the Internets for interviewing tips, but found the content to be too general, not the specific, ready-to-ask-verbatim questions she’d been hoping for.

She actually tells me “I didn’t do so much research on the company” and “I’m lazy.”

GRRRR!!! If only my annoyance were the only repercussion.

If you go into a job interview NOT having done 3x the research you initially thought of doing, you will FAIL.

There’s nothing, NOTHING (!!) that interviewers hate more than taking time out of their busy workdays to talk to someone who doesn’t understand the fundamentals – the company’s business model, the organization’s mission, the school’s constituency, etc.

Exercise: To do deep research, look into the following resources:

•    LinkedIn AND Facebook searches on EVERY person you will be interviewing with. Ask for the list in advance. Understand their backgrounds and likely points of view. Dig out any network connections you might have with them. (Maybe a college connection? Neighboring social circles? Regional?)

•    Company news search starting from their press release page, but definitely not ending there. Extend your news mining to Google News, industry blogs, and Twitter mentions.

•    If you’re interviewing at a nonprofit, their operating budget is public information. If you’re interviewing at a startup, you may be able to ascertain their burn rate by asking around or just asking your interviewer. You can use this extremely valuable information to determine everything from burn rate to program size to your likely salary and the organization’s flexibility at the bargaining table.

•    Competitor press coverage will show you what else is going on in that niche and help you to define whom your employer might be chasing, or trying to run from.

Deep research will enable you to think critically about the company’s weak spots, which will allow you to…


Here’s the question my friend was getting at. All interviewers will ask you what questions you have for them.
When they ask you this, you’d better have some questions for them, and they’d better be astute, critical, and at least somewhat original.

More than an opportunity for you to ask about the job’s benefits and the company’s chances at success, your questions for your interviewer are the time when you get to grill her as a way to show your critical thinking capacity and your enthusiasm for the job.

If you only ask questions related to you – ‘what do I get out of it’-type questions – you will come off not only as not self-centered and careless, but also as a merely cursory thinker.

After you’ve done your deep research to understand what the company’s weak spots are, the interviewer questioning time is when you should exploit these weak spots to demonstrate your curiosity, thoughtfulness, and general hirability.

And, the moment you’ve been waiting for… six sample questions:

•    How will your revenue strategy beat out your competitor’s? Are you aiming to be first in your category, or can you achieve profitability/growth/success in, say, the #3 spot?

•    How are you planning to grow your customer/donor/constituent base once you’ve reached saturation among the current group? What if it doesn’t work?

•    What company/organization/group outside your industry do you look to as a model for how you want to grow? Why?

•    How did you, specifically you the interviewer, get to this position? What was your last company and why did you leave to come here? (Ask this even if you’ve memorized the ‘correct’ answer from your LinkedIn stalking – it’s crucial to hear this in your interviewer’s own words)

•    How many employees do you plan to have in 12 months? 18 months? How many customers/markets?

•    Why do you think this position is critical to your growth plan?

These are only samples that MUST be tailored to the specific findings you came up with from your deep research. If you don’t tailor them really, really well, you’ll come off sounding like you’re parroting some “how to get hired” blog post…


If you’re job hunting, run through each of these exercises at least 3 days before your next phone or in-person interview.

If it’s a successful phone interview that ends up converting into an in-person session, run through each of the exercises again 1 day before your in-person interview. Then, at the end of your interview, ask for feedback from your interviewer.

The feedback will be more positive than any you’ve received so far – no matter how qualified or un-qualified you are for the job.

If these strategies work, I would love it if you could please let me know via comments or messages.


What do you have to add? What else do you look for in a standout candidate?

Have any ‘worst interview ever’ memories that you’re able to share with me via private message?

I’d love to get your feedback and stories.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Paul permalink
    April 30, 2009 9:56 pm

    One interesting thing, turn interview questions about into questions about the company, it’s values and how it interacts with their customers/members.

    For example my favorite question to ask a prospective hire is “Tell me about one time you really screwed up on the job and how you kept from getting fired.” By doing this I’m looking for a few things. Someone who says “none” is either risk averse, a liar, or inexperienced. Whether a person owns up to their mistakes and how they deal with the resulting mess tells me a lot about how you are as a person — your values, your communication skills, etc.

    Anyway, turn this around and ask the interviewer: “Tell me about one time your firm really messed up and how you kept your customers/members from bolting.”

  2. Dave permalink
    May 1, 2009 7:06 pm

    Just remember, almost everyone who makes it into a management position is a power hungry, egotistical narcissist. Get them to start talking about themselves and they will eat up the rest of the time on their own. I particularly like “What keeps you coming in every morning?” or “What’s the best and worst thing about working here”. They’ll ramble on about their own petty life while thinking you’re the most engaged candidate they’ve ever met. As long as you nod a lot and laugh at appropriate moments, they won’t even remember that you forgot the name of the company and the role you were interviewing for.

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