06/26/2015 05:27 EDT | Updated 06/26/2016 05:59 EDT

How to Land a Job With One Question

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The Canadian job market remains very competitive in many markets, even seven years after the recession. In a recent survey by Workopolis, most Canadians told us they had to apply to at least 10 jobs before being hired for their most recent position.

Just landing a job interview can be challenging -- only two per cent of candidates who apply for a job are ever interviewed for it. So once you actually get to meet with a potential employer in person, it's important to stand out from the other candidates and make it clear that you're the one for the job. But how?

You can convey your competence and confidence, your job-readiness, to an employer much more impressively with the questions you ask than the ones you answer.

Smart questions can demonstrate that you have some knowledge of the industry, and that you're already thinking about how you can contribute to it. They can lead to off-the-beaten path conversations that take your interview to the next level in the employer's mind and cause you to be more memorable than your competition.

Here's an example of the best question I have ever been asked by a candidate in a job interview (and I believe it can be easily modified to be applicable across industries.)

I was hiring a Content Producer for an editorial website that reached several million Canadians every month. Our subject matter was broad, including news, technology, trends and even some pop culture.

The stand out candidate was competent, but unremarkable -- until I asked if she had any questions for me. Here's what she said that landed her the job:

    "Your stories are timely and relevant, your headlines are great, but the Canadian internet audience for content like this is much bigger than your readership -- who aren't you reaching, and why?"

This lead to a conversation about our methods of content dissemination, things we had tried, and plans for the future. Social media was just becoming a powerful force at the time, and she had some follow-up questions about what we were doing and made some great suggestions for using it in innovative ways to connect with new people.

Before the end of the interview, she already had the job. I literally couldn't remember the discussions I'd had with other potential candidates.

Here's why it worked:

She prefaced the question by demonstrating that she knew what we were doing already (and complimented us on it), indicated that she knew and had thought about the target market (potential audience traffic for a site like ours) -- and asked the key question: who aren't you reaching, and why? She wanted to know the challenges of the role, and how to meet them.

That same question could be adapted to whatever industry you're applying for. Who isn't shopping/dining/visiting here now, and why not? Who doesn't use your product or service, and why?

It shows you've come into the interview thinking of the future. You've seen potential growth for the company, and you want to know how you can help them reach that next level.

Of course it's important to be prepared for the standard job interview questions you know you will be asked, and to practice describing your past work experience and accomplishments in relevant terms. But it is in the questions you ask, not the ones you answer, that you can really stand out from the crowd.


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