asking hard-sell “closing” questions in job interviews

A reader writes:

I read about a in a “career search expert’s” column that was sent to me by a recruitment agency that I should ask “closing” questions at the end of an interview.  So in the last two interviews I had (which were both unsuccessful), I asked the question, “Do you think that I have met the qualifications for this job?”

In the first interview, I thought this worked really well.  He responded with a yes, but also noted an area that concerned him in which I was lacking experience.  From what I heard, the successful candidate did have that experience, but at least I had some idea of why.

The second interview didn’t go so well.  She said yes and began to tell me that I was on a short list and the next steps in the process.  She seemed very uncomfortable at having to answer the question though.  The timeframe to hear back came and went and she later responded to my follow up email with “We have filled the position.”

Should I be wording my closing question differently or are they too confrontational in general?  It feels like I might be making interviewers uncomfortable by putting them on the spot.

Yes, you’re making them uncomfortable. Most of them, anyway.

I’ve seen those articles recommending that you ask aggressive questions like that too. They also like to recommend:
* “Do you have any hesitations about me for this job?”
* “Is there any reason I wouldn’t be a great fit for this job?”
* “Is there anything standing in the way of me getting an offer?”

Ugh, ugh, ugh.

It’s too aggressive. It puts your interviewer on the spot and can create a really awkward situation.

Your interviewer may well have concerns about your candidacy that she isn’t ready to share … because she’s still processing her thoughts … or because she, like most people, prefers not to speak off the cuff when saying something that might make someone feel bad … or because, frankly, she’s simply not willing to share with you that you smell bad or seem crazy or don’t seem smart enough. (And yes, I know lots of you argue that interviewers should share that kind of feedback, but the reality is that most aren’t going to.) Or, maybe she figures that the type of candidate who asks questions like that is the type of candidate who’s going to argue with her when she responds that you don’t have the experience she wants in X, and she’s not inclined to get into a debate with you about it.

And moreover, even if your interviewer thinks you’re a strong candidate, these questions come across like they’re trying to pin the interviewer down before she’s ready.  It’s too much like car salespeople who ask, “What do I need to do to get you into this car today?”

Of course, an experienced interviewer will manage to field these questions just fine, by saying something like, “You have great experience but we have a competitive pool so it’ll be a few weeks before we make any decisions.” But that doesn’t mean that she won’t still be annoyed to get a hard sell like that and to be put on the spot. And you don’t want the interviewer’s last impression of you to be discomfort.

Now, ultimately when “experts” (scoff) recommend these questions, they’re trying to help you create an opening to learn about and address any doubts the interviewer might have about you. And there actually is an effective, softer way of doing that. Instead of sounding like a used car salesperson, you can say something like, “Are there any reservations you have about my fit for the position that I could address?” (That last part is key.)

That’s a reasonable question, it doesn’t have the same pressure-tactic feel as the ones above, and an interviewer who doesn’t want to give on-the-spot feedback can easily say, “No, you’ve answered all my questions thoroughly, thank you.”  But it also opens the door for the interviewer to say, “You know, I guess the one area where I have concern is that you don’t have a lot of experience doing ___. Ideally for this position we’d love someone with more background in that.”  And that can indeed be useful — because maybe it prompts you to mention that you actually do have experience in that but it just wasn’t on your resume, or that you have experience with something not quite the same but similar, or whatever. (And it also gives you a chance to consider whether those doubts might be reasonable and point to a bad fit.)

But overall, if anyone ever recommends that you take a hard-sell, super-aggressive approach to interviewing (other than maybe for a sales job), stop listening to that person. Interviewers like to think they’re hiring the best person for the job, not the most aggressive.

{ 43 comments… read them below }

  1. Sydney*

    Does it also depend on the company or industry culture, and also how the interview actually went?

    I started asking the interviewers if they had concerns about me at the end of the interview – I *think* I read the advice on Penelope Trunk’s website but cannot be sure. So far I haven’t met any interviewers that became uncomfortable. In fact many interviewers were actually impressed by this question (which is why I kept using it). Some have said it was a great question and others said (in an impressed tone) that they’ve never been asked this before. So I think there could be a cultural factor there.

    But I only ask this when I feel I’ve “hit it off” with the interviewers and when we’re having very in-depth discussions about the my fit, the company, and possibly “philosophical” topics related to my field. In interviews that aren’t going as well or the interviewers don’t show much interest, I figure there isn’t a point in asking this question. And I don’t ask this question in screening interviews – figure it’s too early for that.

  2. Lisa*

    I have used the “softer” sell that is mentioned in the third-to-last paragraph of this post with great success. I credit it with nailing the job I currently am in- one that I snagged after almost a year of looking.

    I framed it like I was doing the interviewer a favor. She was visibly surprised when I said, “If you have any lingering concerns about my fit for this job, I’d love to be able to address them now, when I’m sitting right here in front of you!” I paired it with a big friendly smile, and that was it. I had opened the door. We had a good conversation about her reservations, and in a couple of days I had an offer in hand.

  3. Jen*

    I’m not entirely sure I understand the difference between the harder phrasing and the softer suggestion. Both sound similar in tone to me. (It’s also true that I could be feeling defensive because I’ve used one or the other – and don’t recall which – in an interview earlier this week.)

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I worried that I might not have made the difference clear enough. The softer version asks “are there reservations I could address?” So it gives the interviewer a built-in out — no, there’s nothing you need to address. As opposed to the more aggressive versions, which don’t give an out — they’re more demanding of an on-the-spot answer.

  4. Wilton Businessman*

    An effective interviewer has already gotten enough information about the areas that they have concerns about. If they’re asking you unrelated questions off a piece of paper or using your resume as an outline, they’re not an effective interviewer.

    When I look at a resume, I already know the areas I want to talk to that person about. I will probe them about areas I’m confident they know just to make sure they’re not BSing me, but if you do this enough times your BS meter gets pretty good. I spend the most time on places I don’t know if you can cut the mustard or not.

    I know most candidates get fed the hard sell from their recruiters. I get the same hard sell from the same recruiters every time. When one of the candidates gives me the hard sell at the end of an interview, I tell them “If you’d take this job for (some ridiculous salary) I I’d offer it to you right now.”

    The best closing I’ve ever heard was “I am really excited about this opportunity and I would love to join your group.” And she meant it. She wasn’t the strongest candidate, but she had a great attitude. And she got the job.

  5. happyinterviewer*

    I once had a very tough (read: scary) interviewer (who would not have been my boss, but somebody my boss trusted) who asked super-tough questions in a super-tough tone (I could tell it was a bit of an act for the interview, but it totally threw me off). After she asked me a million questions and after I asked her several questions, she asked me if I had any more questions. So I said, “so, how’d I do?” I dont think she was expecting to get that question, and it sort of softened her a bit, which helped in having a longer and less scary conversation with her about the work of the organization and the position I was interviewing for. In any case, I got the job!

  6. Ilf*

    I’ve used the question in some interviews (the less aggressive version). It seemed like a really good idea, but I’m not so sure anymore. Basically it means asking the interviewer to formulate some concerns right before ending the interview. Some people have been taken by surprise and felt forced to find issues where they had none before I asked the question. It also means asking the interviewer to phrase his view just so you can contradict it, and this doesn’t go over so well with some people.
    I feel asking the question especially at the end of the interview is a big risk of ending it on the wrong note. Even if one can find some stellar arguments to alleviate the interviewer’s concerns, the last thing in his mind will be why he doesn’t like you for the job rather than why he likes you for the job.

    1. Jen*

      When I used this earlier this week, one of the interviewers responded by saying that he liked me, but that he thought I should really think about whether the position would be a good fit for me personally. I have to say that I appreciated the honesty of his response. The job is a high-pressure position, something I have no experience with. His response highlighted to me that I was coming off as not prepared for the company culture and that I needed to address it in the next couple of conversations. (He was interviewer #2 of 4 during one of those marathon jobbies.)

      1. Anonymous*

        Having sat in on a few interviews but not being the hiring manager, you often start to formulate some questions in your mind or concerns, but for one reason or another are do not address them, then you are left to speculate after the candidate has left. As an interviewee, I’d want the opportunity to address those concerns, and eliminate the possibility of the hiring manager coming to an incorrect conclusion. Agreed, most hiring managers are not good interviewers, so a gentle prod to open up more conversation is would most likely be welcomed.

  7. Stacey*

    As an interviewer, I would *hate* that hard sell question and it would put a bad taste in my mouth about the applicant. You have to be SO careful in an interview to keep everyone on the same playing field and not convey anything that might be construed as a promise or offer of employment, or risk the wrath of your HR and Legal teams. Half the time the person interviewing may not even have the final say in the process so any potential feedback you might get may not help anyway.

    Now that said, as an applicant, I’ve asked a slightly softer version myself – the popular “Are there any remaining questions you may have about my skills or background that I can address?” question but always in a polite tone and never confrontational. On occasion I’ve been asked “Do you have any final questions for us?” and I’ve said, “Sure…when can I start?!” which has drawn laughs (and, coincidentally or not, I’ve gotten offers after the fact).

  8. K*

    I’ve asked similar questions like these towards the end of my phone interviews instead of the face-to-face interview. When I was laid off, a consultant that was helping me with career transitioning said that you should already know your worth by the time you interview in person.

    In one phone interview, I think the interviewer was caught off guard by this type of question – my resume was not moved forward for the in person interview. The second time I asked this question, the interviewer reacted positively and told me she felt my background fit their qualifications and I had an in person interview with 4 people at the company two days ago. Overall, I’m all for asking this type of questioning during the pre-interview interview.

  9. MoreBadParentAdvice*

    I love this post. Absolutely love it and why I love it builds off of an earlier post about bad parental job search advice. My father is in sales and has been for three decades. He’s conducted multiple hiring cycles in his career and therefore thinks he knows how every interview should and does go (regardless of the fact that I’m in a completely different industry). I’ve gone with my gut in the job search and have often included a question such as the soft tone above in my interviews, but as those interviews have been unsuccessful he’s been urging me to take his advice and to tell an interviewer who asks if I have any other questions: “No, I think this has been a very interesting conversation and I am very excited about working here. I look forward to receiving the offer.”

    I doubt I will EVER break that out in an interview as I feel it’s presumptuous and will leave a horrible taste in the interviewers mind and they’ll assume I feel entitled to the position. But, my dad says that he has hired the last two people who said that because it proved they REALLY wanted to work with him. (no idea how…)

  10. Samie*

    I love your answer to this. I found out it was pretty true the hard way when I was still 18. My uncle suggested I do this at my interviews, and on a few of them I tried them — including a retail job at Barnes and Nobles I would have died for at the time — and while it had gone well until then, I could tell from the interviewer’s face that me asking had upset him. I’ve never used aggressive questions at the end of an interview since then, and I’ve gotten more job offers from interviews since.

    I do think though, like some people have mentioned, that it also depends on the environment. I think people interviewing for a sales position would have better luck with such questions as it might be seen as them trying to ‘sell themselves’ rather than being pushy. Though it would definitely depend on the interviewer either way.

  11. Ariel*

    I have had lots of interview with cities and other governmental agencies, and often, they are only allowed to read the specific pre-formulated questions. Asking Allison’s version of the question seems like a great way to give them the opportunity to explore your unique history — since they are responding to a query of yours instead of making up their own.

  12. Ana*

    I tried in a few interviews ask to the interviewer what caught their attention to my CV. They point out two or three things and this give me the opportunity to emphasise the same and other points, explore maybe and see their reaction. Still no luck, still trying…

      1. Jo*

        Ha! Now I remember that very article was the reason why I threw that question in my past interviews! I still think it’s HOW you ask, not the question itself. And to me that was a great question to ask, never got any puzzled or surprised look from the interviewer either. In fact a few of them said they think I’m very qualified and a great fit for the position.

        And I did get offer from those interviews.

  13. Joanna Reichert*

    samiam3 – I was just thinking that, and looking for the link!

    But I believe Alison is saying that #9 is much easier on the ears and not as used-car-salesman-y.

  14. Joe*

    For once, Alison, I’m a bit baffled by your response. In particular, your example of the soft question, and the kind of reply it could elicit. If the interviewer was concerned that the application didn’t have experience in ___, why would they not ask about it during the interview. One of the first things I do when prepping for an interview (on the hiring side) is make a list of specific skills/technologies/whatever that the person would need in the job, and check their resumes for those skills, so that I can probe on them during the interview. I can’t imagine that being asked “anything else?” would make me suddenly think of something that I wanted to ask about that I hadn’t already.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      They might indeed have asked about it in the interview — but that’s different than saying “to be honest, I AM concerned that your experience with __ isn’t quite what we need.”

      Or, alternately, it might be something like, “We deal with some pretty aggressive/grumpy partners, and I’m worried you might be more soft-spoken than the people who normally do well with them” — which is certainly something the interviewer COULD have asked about earlier, but might not have even finished fully processing her thoughts on, until the candidate prompted her to focus in on it.

  15. Joey*

    I think both approaches are a little pushy and premature at least for me anyway. Maybe that’s because I like to compare candidates after I’ve interviewed a number of them. After I whittle it down to my top one or two then I’m interested in addressing weaknesses.

    1. Mike C.*

      But by the time you’re interested in addressing weaknesses, they cannot address them and you’re left to speculate, right? Or does this process occur before another round of interviews?

      1. Joey*

        If, after interviews there’s not a clear top candidate I give the candidates a chance to address any weaknesses I perceive them to have. It’s usually over the phone and I’ve found it to be a good tool to separate the good from the best. The best thing is that it allows me to deliberately prepare some pointed questions instead of addressing weaknesses off the cuff.

  16. Meredith*

    We had a candidate ask, “Do you have any hesitations about me for this job?” in a phone screening with multiple people listening in. It was *extremely* awkward and there was dead silence for awhile. Not only did no one want to be put on the spot in this manner, it also showed us that the person won’t be a good fit for our office culture. (We are employed in an industry where these aggressive sales tactics are not acceptable.) Needless to say, the person was not invited for an in-person interview.

    1. Mike C.*

      I’m not understanding this point of view, so could I ask what exactly was so awkward about this question? In my mind the candidate is simply asking if there were some areas of weakness they could address, but I only have my own viewpoint to go from.

      Maybe it’s just that we differ in personal tolerances. Either that, or I hate that the economy is so bad that a miscommunication is enough to disqualify an otherwise qualified candidate.

      1. Meredith*

        To give you some more context, I don’t think this one question ruled the candidate out, but it was indicative of how the whole phone screening went. It got to the point where I felt the candidate wasn’t really trying to determine if the position sounded like a good fit to her. Instead, the person was determined to “win” and secure the job above all else. It was off putting and frankly strange not to be asked in-depth questions about the type of work that we do and the environment of our department and the larger organization. By the time she got around to the, “Do you have any hesitations about me for this job?” question, I think all we had were hesitations! Not something I would want to say in the moment though. If I was going to address it, I would want some time to frame it diplomatically which we weren’t given by being put on the spot.

        1. Chris Walker*

          The ‘question’ is completely wrong for a phone interview. It’s wrong not because of the question itself but because of the timing. The employer doesn’t know nearly enough about the candidate at this point to answer. To me, this is something I would ask at the end of a second interview after something of a relationship has been established.

          This is also the candidate’s one shot at any feedback regarding the interview. Once the ‘We picked someone else’ message has been sent, the conversation is over from the employer’s perspective; there is nothing to be gained from starting it again.

  17. Jo*

    I actually used this many times in my job search last year, and got really great responses from the interviewers. I think it depends on HOW you address that question. I normally said it with a very friendly smile and said: you’ve seen my resume, and you have met me in person, do you think there is any question, or concern that I might not be the right person for this job?
    Quite a few times a few of those interviewers candidly told me that they really like me and that they think I could be a great fit for the job! This current job that I started 4 months ago, I met with 10 people for the interviews and all of them said they thought I’d be a great fit, and see where I am now! :)

  18. Anonymous*

    I’d second a lot of the earlier hesitations–I think a soft version of the question could possibly work, but the original question posed would likely backfire. I object most strongly to the word “qualified”–I picture a frustrated/cynical interviewer thinking, “Yup. You’re qualified. But I’d never hire you.” Being qualified isn’t the issue; if you were unqualified, odds are you wouldn’t have made it to the interview stage. The issue is your particular fit for that particular position, organization, and time. As this economy has made clear, plenty of “qualified” people get turned down.

  19. my honest answer*

    Ooooh, that sounds spot on. It’s amazing how adding that small phrase at the end can make the difference between it sounding like you’re pushing a hard-sell, instead of seeking a bit of advice. The way you phrase it allows for them to give some constructive feedback, without feeling like they have to justify why they’re NOT giving you the job. That’s what I don’t like about the question really – it sounds like a challenge: either come up with a reason why I’m not good enough, or I should I expect an offer tomorrow, right?!

    1. Phideaux*

      I interviewed someone earlier this week, and that’s exactly what I got, The Challenge. It was one of those cases when the person looked soooo good on paper, but almost from the time he stepped through the door we knew there was no way he’d fit in this position and within our company. I gave him the courtesy 20 minutes, and his last question was basically, “What time do you want me to be here tomorrow?”
      I politely explained that we were still interviewing and we would evaluate all candidates before , etc, etc. He started to become quite agitated that I couldn’t see that clearly he was The One and “demanded” (his word, really!) to know why either he couldn’t start immediately or have a very good reason why we would be so foolish as to let him get away. I simply couldn’t resist telling him exactly why he would never set foot in our door ever again.

      The interview was a disaster and a complete waste of time, but I have a really good story to tell.

      1. Dawn*

        I’m not always very tactful, so I would’ve loved for that guy to come walking through my door!

  20. hehe*

    A friend of mine went to those interview workshops, and was advised to do the following:

    “At the end of the interview, as you walk out, turn around and walk back to the interviewer who is sitting, bend down and look at the interviewer square in the eyes and ask “Is there anything that is preventing me from getting this job?”

    I couldn’t believe the advice she got and told her to NOT do it unless she wants the reason to be, ‘you’re psycho’.

  21. Dawn*

    If I were interviewing someone, I’d much rather hear, “Is there anything you would like me address that I haven’t already?” When I interview people, I like to go through my notes and think about any concerns I might have. Then, if there’s a strong candidate and I need clarification or further information, I’ll call the person. I’m someone who needs the time to mull things over. If someone gave me the hard sell question at the end of the interview, it would probably put me off. I haven’t had the time to process it yet!

  22. Stina*

    Everyone whose against the question keeps saying its off putting because its not enough time to process. Well, just be honest then. Say “Not that I can think of at the moment” or “You are qualified (which I hope would be true since they got an interview) but I’ll have to review these notes with my boss before we can make a decision.”

    I, like some others, don’t see whats so off putting about it. “Do you have any reservations about my fit for the job?” I don’t even think its a hard sell. Someone could be a good/great fit but that doesn’t mean someone else isn’t better, its just asking your initial impression. Saying “Yes, I think you would do well here.” Isn’t a job promise. Or even if you feel awkward saying they wouldn’t be you can always opt out and say “No” or “Not at the moment”, no one expects complete 100% blunt honesty (to the point of awkwardness) at interviews.

    What I always ask is “From what you have seen from my resume and in speaking with me, is there any reservations you might have about my fit for the position?” Used it twice, got offers both times.

  23. Anon*

    I have used a fairly aggressive version of this, and told I got the job because of it. Large company, prestigious position. I had carefully thought through in advance what their answer was likely to be based on gaps, and carefully thought out excellent counterpoints. Sometimes it’s okay to be assertive, folks- and I’m a petite female.

  24. Anon*

    Also, I have interviewed many, and I usually have a lingering question. I’d prefer they raise it rather than me- less awkward than me having to say ‘so why did you leave the job, what are you doing now…?”

  25. T*

    Hello! I figured I would post this is on the most recent article. I got an interview because of your absolutely awesome cover letter advice!!! I just have a question about discussing weakness at the interview.

    I thought long and hard about it and I realized that I get anxious/feel uprooted when communication lines aren’t open. For example, if I’m not doing a good job in something, and my manager or someone else won’t tell me what I’m doing wrong and would rather just passive aggressively get annoyed. I can immediately pick up on things like that and if I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, it could definitely affect my performance. I’m not a mind reader and I would LOVE to do a good job at what I do and if my supervisor or someone thinks something needs to change, I would absolutely welcome the advice. I was going to say something like that and touch upon how I can help forward that along by letting them know that they should come up to me and tell me if they need something fixed because I know some people that hate that kind of thing. I’m a very verbal/expressive person and when that’s cut off it feels like I can’t connect. Of course eventually once I get settled in the job, this shouldn’t be an issue but it’s very important to me. Could I mention something like that??

  26. Kathleen in AZ*

    You go to so much trouble to accentuate the positive about yourself during interviews, why ever would you want to open the door for them to make negative comments about you, which they will most likely remember?

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