Asking Questions

Successful job applicants know how to ask good questions. Good questions let interviewers know that you’re curious; you’ve done your homework; you’re listening to what they’re telling you; and you want to find as good a match as they do.

Good questions focus on the future and explore ways that applicants can contribute to the company’s goals and objectives. Good questions keep the discussion energized and positive. Bad questions sound critical, cynical, confrontational, and close-ended.

Good questions: What are the qualities of your most successful employees? What are some of their greatest accomplishments?  What direction is the company heading? What would you like me to achieve in the first 30 days, 60 and 90 days on the job? What training would you like me to complete so I can get up to speed as quickly and effectively as possible? What do you consider important for me to know about this business culture?

Good questioners demonstrate their listening and processing skills by connecting, combining, and confirming key elements of the conversation with good builds. For example:

“Tell me more…” “Please expand your thinking about…”  “What I understand you to say is…”

Good questions open the discussion, invite interviewers to educate, elaborate and inform, to be experts, to be good stewards of the company.

Good questions, asked badly, suggest that questioners already know the answer, want confirmation or recognition of their points of view, or are trying to control the conversation. Examples are: “Is (or isn’t) it true that…?”  “Can you confirm that…?”  “Would (or wouldn’t) you say that…?” Each of these leads suggests the obvious response is a “yes” or “”no”. Close-ended questions can stop the conversation in its tracks or take it in a direction that neither the applicant nor the interviewer want to go.

Bad questions focus on “What’s in for me?” These questioners want to know about compensation, benefits, vacation, time off, and exceptions to the rules (“… If I’m supposed to start work in the next six weeks that just won’t happen. I have to go on vacation… I bought my tickets before I knew I’d be interviewing for a job… they were expensive… my family is counting on me to attend…”)

Bad questions target what’s broken and who broke it. Instead of asking, “Why did you fire the last person who held this job?”, ask, “What skills and abilities are you looking for in the person you hire?”. Instead of asking, “Why is this company in so much trouble?”, ask, “What direction is the company heading?”
Applicants who solve problems want problems to solve and can turn potentially bad questions into good ones with lead-in statements that explain why they’re asking. For example, “I’m a problem solver by trade and training. I add value and contribute most when I protect your bottom line by finding ways to save you time and money. With that in mind, what are some of the challenges the company is currently facing and what are you looking for in the candidate who’s right for this position?”

Applicants who see themselves as efficient (and others may see as impatient) experience frustration and irritation when having to wait to ask questions that concern them most: Will you pay me what I think I deserve? Will you promote me quickly and often? Will I get the insurance coverage I need and the vacation time I deserve? If you cut to the chase too quickly you’ll be cut from the competition. You’ll have time and opportunity to get your answers after you’ve been made the offer and before you decide to accept it. In the meantime, stick with questions that keep you in the game.

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Joyce Richman ( has been specializing in executive and career coaching since she started her own practice in 1982. She works in a variety of environments including: higher education, manufacturing, sales, marketing, media, technology, pharmaceuticals, medicine, banking and finance, service, IT, and non-profit sectors. A member of the adjunct faculty at the Center for Creative Leadership, Joyce is certified to administer a number of feedback and psychological instruments. Joyce has appeared regularly on WFMY-TV and is the career columnist for The Greensboro News & Record. She is the author of Roads, Routes and Ruts: A Guidebook to Career Success and co-author of Getting Your Kid Out of the House and Into a Job. A popular speaker, Richman conducts seminars and workshops throughout the United States, Canada and Europe. Her coaching profile can be found at

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