InterviewIn a recent article featured in the British publication,SHP, James Pomeroy, the Group HSE Manager with Senior Plc, observed that in an interview situation the importance of questions is paramount.

He argues that the questions asked and the way in which they are framed are as revealing as the candidate’s answers so when preparing for an interview it is crucial to choose your questions carefully.

The following is an extract from his article:

So, what are good questions to ask, and how should you go about developing them?

Firstly, and most obviously, actually ask questions! The number of candidates who pass up the opportunity to question the employer about the position remains high. Having no questions tells the potential employer that the candidate is indifferent, ill-prepared, or – worse – clueless.

Secondly, think out the topics you might want to discuss, remembering that employers continue to make judgements about candidates based on the questions they raise. Plan the areas you want to explore, research the organisation, and then develop the questions. Don’t limit your research to the organisation’s website; consider sector information from the likes of the HSE and trade associations. The latter are particularly useful if you have no prior experience of the industry within which the organisation operates.

Do your homework

When researching an organisation, start by clarifying the key OH&S risks it faces. This may sound obvious, but the more you home in on the significant issues the better you will understand the organisation and thus have a stronger set of questions.
Once you have a good idea of the services provided by the organisation and fully understand the sector in which they operate, it can be useful to consider the context in which the hiring is taking place. If the organisation publishes information about its aims, targets or strategy, you should think about the safety implications of these.
For example, a construction firm might be planning to move into the refurbishment sector, a retailer has announced a plan to merge distribution centres, or a council is seeking to reduce operating costs by 15 per cent. Organisational change has implications for safety practitioners at all levels and candidates who demonstrate an understanding of this will stand out from the crowd.
It is also advisable to research what performance data are available. Is it possible, for example, to obtain any injury and ill-health statistics for the sector, or even the organisation itself? Is there any record of previous enforcement action against it? Competitors or other organisations in the same sector may also provide something to compare against.

Formulate your questions

Once you have a feel for the organisation, start drafting your questions, based on your research. Think, too, about how to frame the questions to ensure they appear informed and are respectful. Always try to ask ‘open’ questions, i.e. those that require a detailed answer, rather than a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’. This will ensure the interviewer is drawn into a discussion, providing an opportunity for candidates to again demonstrate their experience of managing a risk, or handling a particular situation.
Ask questions that reveal the depth of your research and your interest in the job. In other words, do not ask questions that are easily answered on the company website, or in the job description – “Have you not read the job description?” The areas to enquire about are the goals of the organisation, the challenges of the role, and your expectations as the candidate.
While there are no hard and fast rules on the number of questions to ask, you should prepare six to eight, on the assumption that half will be answered during the interview itself. Prioritise your questions based on importance and whether you are at first, second, or third-interview stage. Asking an obvious question in a second or third interview can be counterproductive!

Source: Pomeroy, J. 2012, ‘ If you ask me’, SHP, vol. 30, no. 1, pp. 32-34

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