TAO Self-help

Title:The Power of Questions

Author:© 2015 Tom Wolfe, author; all rights reserved; excerpts from Out of Uniform: Your Guide to a Successful Military-to-Civilian Career Transition; used with the permission of the author and publisher, potomacbooksinc.com.

Date:September 2015


Questions, especially the ones you ask in an interview, are among the most powerful tools in your career transition toolbox. For any tool to be effective it needs to be both well honed and appropriate for the task at hand. To understand why questions are so important, let’s ask ourselves one: why do we ask them? There are two answers; one is fairly obvious and the other somewhat obscure.

The obvious reason we ask questions is to get answers. There is much to learn about a potential position and a new organization before we can commit to a new career. What are the responsibilities of the job? What is the potential for career growth? How is individual performance measured? What is the corporate culture? Will the compensation, benefits, and location support quality-of-life goals? The answers to these and other questions will help the job seeker decide if the opportunity is right for him or her. However, since you cannot accept an offer you do not have, we need to dig a little deeper.

I know a United States Marine Corps command sergeant major named Michael who was turned down for a position that he felt was ideal for him. When asked for the reason for rejection, the company said that although Michael was well qualified for the position and highly regarded by the entire interviewing team, he did not appear to be interested in the job. The company reached this conclusion based on the fact that Michael asked very few questions during the interviewing process. In the company’s opinion, this lack of questions indicated a lack of interest, hence the rejection.

Showing interest in the opportunity and the company is one of the most important keys to successful interviewing. Asking questions is the single most powerful tool available to us to express this interest. A lack of questions is one of the most often cited reasons for rejection in the interviewing process. Keep in mind the dual-purpose nature of asking questions. First, to send to the potential employer strong signals of interest. Second, to gather information about the position and the organization so that you can decide whether or not to accept an offer of employment if one is extended.

There are additional factors to consider—scope, timing, and content. We can address these factors by taking a look at some typical interview questions, specifically these ten:

  1. Why is this position available?
  2. When would be the first opportunity for promotion?
  3. Who would be my supervisor?
  4. Is tuition reimbursement part of the benefits package?
  5. What is the biggest challenge of this position?
  6. How much will the company spend on R & D next year?
  7. Is there anything absent in my experience that is important in this job?
  8. When will I be eligible to participate in the 401(K) plan?
  9. What is the next step in the interviewing process?
  10. Are there exercise and child daycare facilities available on-site?

For the sake of this discussion, assume you are interviewing for a position called Distribution Manager, you are in the early stages of the interviewing process, and the interviewer, Richard, is in charge of distribution operations for the company.

Scope. When asking questions it is important to consider the perspective of the individual with whom you are interviewing. This is called interviewing empathy—what is important to Richard and what falls under his span of control? Look at question #6. Even if he knows the answer, is this subject appropriate? Well, if Richard just happens to also be the Director of R & D, then yes. Otherwise, no.

Timing. Look at questions 4, 8, and 10. Are these questions appropriate during the job-hunting process? Everyone cares about benefits. But consider the timing. In the early stages of the process, the answers to these questions are irrelevant. Unless you work for the company, what difference does it make what perks are available? When should you ask these and other selfish questions? Wait until the job offer is on the table. With the offer in hand, the answers to the selfish questions will influence your decision whether or not to accept.

Content. Look at the odd numbered questions. See how powerful they can be? Asking them gives you information that you need and sends a strong I am interested signal to the interviewer. They are appropriate for both the scope of the interviewer and the timing of the interview.

Question #2 was saved for last because it deserves special analysis. Since both you and your potential employer care about your growth potential, this question needs to be asked. Be careful of your phraseology, timing, and frequency however. Bring it up too early or too often and you might send a signal of disinterest or impatience.

Questions are powerful tools in your transition toolbox. Like the skilled craftsman about to begin an important project, you need to decide which ones to use, gather them together, sharpen them, practice a little, and time their usage appropriately. Applying the right tools at the right time will help you build a successful career transition.


By Tom Wolfe, Career Coach
© 2015; Tom Wolfe is an author, columnist, career coach, veteran, and an expert in the field of military-to-civilian career transition. During his career he assisted thousands of service members in their searches for employment, placing more than 3000 in their new jobs. Prior to civilian life, he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and served as a surface warfare officer. He teaches transition courses, gives seminars on career and job change, writes about the career transition process, and continues to counsel current and former military personnel. His book, Out of Uniform: Your Guide to a Successful Military-to-Civilian Career Transition, was published by Potomac Books in 2011. Tom lives on the North Carolina coast with his wife, Julie, and their Chesapeake Bay retriever, Maggie.

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