Land the Job

'Never end the job interview before asking this No. 1 question,' says career expert of 15 years

Irina | Twenty20

Job interviews are not a one-way street. You, the job seeker, are interviewing the company just as much as the company is interviewing you.

While your questions will largely depend on the company and specific job responsibilities, there's one that many candidates fail ask: "Why is this job open?"

The answer you receive will lead to important insights that, should you get an offer, will play a major role in your decision to take the job.

Here's why you should never end a job interview before asking this important question:

1. It could be a brand new position.

With a new position, there is no history of performance to rely on. So if you get hired, you'll be the first person to set standards.

Make sure you get clarity on what the manager's expectations are. It's risky to step into a role without clear knowledge about why the position was created, what you need to accomplish, and how success will be measured.

2. You could be replacing a rockstar.

If the person who previously held the role was an outstanding employee, you'll want to ask what they did that made them so valuable. This will help you brainstorm what you can do to raise the bar.

You should also think about what you're looking for in a new job: Do you want a challenging role that will expand your skills and experience? Does the idea of filling big shoes excite you?

If not, then you may need to reconsider whether the job is right for you.

3. You could be replacing a poor performer.

It could that the previous person was mediocre — or even worse, that they got fired. Whatever the reason, you need to know why things didn't work out.

  • Maybe the position is extremely demanding and requires someone with more experience.
  • Maybe they were too experienced, and you might find yourself in a similar position based on your skills.
  • Maybe it wasn't their fault that they failed to impress (e.g., the company or boss wasn't a good fit, they decided to go a different direction in their career).
  • Maybe they were a slacker or simply not engaged enough.

The goal is to know why they didn't do well, and how you can do better — or whether you want to work at the organization at all.

Hiring managers won't be offended by this question

Asking about the history of a position is the best way to get a sense of what's expected from you and how much potential there is for career advancement at the company.

Having been a career coach for more than 15 years, I can assure you that any employer would impressed by this question.

It not only shows preparation and professionalism, but it also tells them that you are serious about the job and are eager to succeed.

J.T. O'Donnell is the founder and CEO of Work It Daily, an online platform dedicated to helping people solve their biggest career problems. She has more than 15 years of experience in hiring, recruiting and career coaching. For more career tips, follow her on TikTok @jtodonnell.

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