Surely you know that a job interview requires preparation and research. We often spend hours and hours practicing answering the most common questions. Yet, our greatest keys to success come from asking only a few questions prior to the interview. In this post, I’ll present three key questions that you must ask to set the stage for your interview preparation, as well as give you the competitive advantage you need to win each conversation.

A job interview brings with it great tension. Mostly due to the barrage of unknown questions, for which success requires brilliant riposte. We sit in eager anticipation of each one, wondering if we articulate the response they seek. Each word we speak either brings us closer to the prize or closer to the door.
However, our ignorance need not stir such great emotion, nor does it need to exist in the first place. No matter if you are working with a recruiter or the company’s HR directly, you should request the answers to the following three questions within a day or two of the interview. Answers to any of them will provide great insight into what they are seeking in a candidate. Here’s a breakdown of each one.

Who will I interview with?

This information allows you to research who these people are and what interests they have. Once you know the names, research them on LinkedIn, Facebook, Myspace and any other site you can find. You should seek to learn as much about them as you can, such as their educational background, previous companies, interests and hobbies. This will allow you to establish some commonalities with interviewer. Such discussions will put them at ease with you.

If you’re having trouble finding information about them on the web, find individuals that work at the company from these same websites. Then, ask them to help you find information about your interviewers. You’ll find people are willing to help you. With one of my clients, we found a Business Development Manager who was willing to support us through the whole process. Not only did we get information about the interviewer, the company, the customers, but we also learned about the salary, bonuses and “unwritten” policies.

What will we discuss?

Getting the answer to this question can certainly put you in the driver’s seat of the interview. Is it possible to get a list of questions that will be asked during the interview? Yes, if you ask the question. No, if you never ask for them. Is it okay to ask for this? You bet.

In one case, my client sent their resume to the HR department, reminding them that they had an interview setup for that coming Wednesday. She asked HR to forward the resume to each interviewer and ask them what questions they would be asking her. HR sent the email to the interviewers. Since the message came from HR, everyone responded with a list of questions. HR then forwarded these questions back to my client. Now, she had a great start on the interview. She had two days to work on them before the interview.

You have a lot of options to research the correct answers to the interview questions. Here are a few suggestions:

• Network with some employees inside the company and have them answer them
• Talk them over with friends and family
• Contact a consultant on how to answer them
• Look at recommendations from websites
• Find answers in interview books at the library

Wow. Can you imagine the confidence my client had when she walked into the interview? She knew the topics. She knew her answers. She had rehearsed them over and over. This is the competitive advantage you seek. All it takes is asking the right question to get the questions for which you can provide the right answers. Got it?

How long will we talk?

The answer to this question gives you an idea of how long you have to respond to each question. Let’s say you received 5 questions from an interviewer and the schedule shows you only have 30 minutes for the full interview. Obviously, you’ll have to answer each question in a few minutes, say 2 to 3. You’ll need to give the interviewer time to respond to your answer. It wouldn’t be good for you to do significant research and prepare long answers to the questions, only to be cutoff or have insufficient time to address them all. It is best to develop short, well thought responses. This may take a little practice. So, once you know how long you have, plan accordingly.

That’s it. Three simple questions. All you have to do is ask them to the appropriate people. Once you get the answers, you have the keys to your next opportunity. Unfortunately, you may not always get these answers. Not all organizations have this information so readily available. They may not possess a formal interview process, implying they put everything together the day before the interview and don’t know who will be interviewing you until it’s about time for the interview. However, you won’t know whether the organization has developed processes until you ask. So, the next time you get an interview, ask for this information a few days prior so you can sufficiently prepare and give yourself a huge advantage over this whole process.

Author's Bio: 

Todd Rhoad, MSEE, MBA is Director at BT Consulting, a career consulting firm in Altanta. He is also the author of Blitz The Ladder and can be reached at