Two Questions to Ask in Every Interview

By Joshua Spodek '93CC, '96GSAS, '99GSAS, '06BUS of the Columbia Career Coaches Network

Instead of trying to show off and making yourself a commodity, use these techniques to turn an interview into a two-way conversation so they'll ask you back. 

What else do you want from an interview?

Find out if you'll like working there—do you like the people, the culture, and everything else about the company?

What not to do in an interview.

Most people undermine both goals by trying to show off. Telling an interviewer about your features feels like it should work, but since everyone does it, you all end up looking like an undifferentiated commodity. In that strategy, you lead the interviewer to look at you all like cans of corn on the grocery shelf or used cars in a lot from which to pick the cheapest one.

If you're selling yourself and your labor, do you want to sound like a used car salesperson?

What to do.

Anyone who sells high-end goods and services knows to create a meaningful emotional connection and to learn the customer's interests and needs.

If you want your interviewer to see you as a desirable choice—not the cheapest one—create a human, emotional connection.


Create a meaningful connection.

I've coached enough people in how to create a meaningful connection that it's second-nature. Case in point: my start at Inc.

After the interview, I noticed I had automatically created a two-way dialogue instead of just answering questions.

Many interviewers ask you about your interest in the workplace—why you would like working there. You can ask them the same question.

You can rephrase the question to suit the context, but the gist is as follows.

Question 1: Ask the interviewer, "Why do you like working here?"

The person interviewing you is a human being with cares, desires, and drives, too. If you met elsewhere, you'd talk to him or her like a person, not an interviewer.

You can here, too.

You'll lead the interviewer to see you more as three-dimensional. He'll talk about what he likes, which will lead him to want to talk more, which will lead him to want you back.

If the interviewer struggles to tell you what he likes about the company, you learn you might not want the job—important information.

If you're more concerned, you could ask that question in a more discriminating way, "Do you like working here?"

Question 2: Ask the interviewer, "We're all busy. I'm curious, what about my background led you to invite me in?"

An interviewer spends time and resources on you because she believes something about you may meet the company's needs. Her answer tells you two things:

  • Her interests, which helps you negotiate.
  • What she likes about you, which tells you what about yourself to accentuate. Then, instead of looking like a commodity, you can present yourself as a custom solution.

What I did.

I described what I did, referencing a recent client also in an interviewing process.

Onboarding and negotiation interviews are different from a first interview, but the principles of creating human connections through leading the dialogue work in all these cases.

The results.

  • You are seen as human, not a used car or commodity.
  • The interviewer wants to keep talking to you, meaning he or she wants you back.
  • You know more about the interviewer. You see at least one employee there as human, helping you decide if you want to work there.

You can hit the ground running if you choose to work there by knowing more about the team you're joining.



Joshua Spodek, bestselling author of Leadership Step by Step, is an Adjunct Professor at NYU, leadership coach and workshop leader for Columbia Business School, columnist for Inc., and founder of

He has led seminars in leadership, entrepreneurship, creativity, and sales at Harvard, Princeton, MIT, INSEAD, the New York Academy of Science, and in private corporations. He holds five Ivy League degrees, including a PhD in Astrophysics and an MBA, both from Columbia, and studied under a Nobel Prize winner. He helped build an X-ray observational satellite for NASA, co-founded and led as CEO or COO several ventures, and holds six patents.

Learn more about the Columbia Career Coaches Network.

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