Asking the Right Questions Can Have a Dramatic Impact on Your Life

Don Tennant
Slide Show

Top 25 Oddball Interview Questions of 2011

If there's one thing I've learned in this line of work, it's that knowing how to ask questions is every bit as essential as knowing how to answer them. In any information-collection process, the information you collect is only going to be as good as the questions you ask to get it. The fact is, asking the right questions in the right way can have a dramatic impact on your life, both personally and professionally.


Let me set the context here with a shameless plug. Wearing my other hat as a partner in QVerity, a company that does training and consulting in the areas of detecting deception, personnel screening and critical interviewing, I've written a book with my colleagues who founded the company, former CIA officers who are masters in the art of asking the right questions. The book, "Spy the Lie: Former CIA Officers Teach You How to Detect Deception," is being published by St. Martin's Press, and will hit the streets in July. The methodology we share in the book has proven to be remarkably effective in the intelligence, law enforcement and corporate communities, and the book makes it available to people in all fields of endeavor for use in their professional and personal lives.


One of the core takeaways from the book is that being able to tell if someone is being truthful with you is dependent on the questions you ask, and how you ask them. And whether or not you're able to obtain truthful information can have life-altering consequences, whether the issue at hand is the fidelity of a spouse, the character of a caregiver, the question of whether your child has experimented with drugs, the temperament of a prospective employee, or - and this can have an especially dramatic impact on your future - the suitability of a prospective employer.


With that context set, I want to shift the focus to another author who has also written on the theme of asking the right questions. Andrew Sobel, a management consultant, executive coach and co-author of "Power Questions: Build Relationships, Win New Business, and Influence Others," has some especially good advice for job hunters. Sobel recognizes that asking good questions in a job interview is just as important as answering them. It not only shows that you've done your homework, but it enables you to get a sense of whether the company would be a good fit. Here are the kinds of questions Sobel says you should be prepared to ask in any job interview:


  • Credibility-building questions: "As I think back to my experience in managing large sales forces, I've found there are typically three barriers to breakthrough sales performance: coordination of the sales function with marketing and manufacturing, customer selection, and product quality. In your case, do you think any of these factors are holding back your sales growth? What do you believe are your own greatest opportunities for increasing sales effectiveness?"
  • "Why?" questions: "Why did you close down your parts business rather than try to find a buyer for it?" or "Why did you decide to move from a functional to a product-based organization structure?"
  • Personal understanding questions: "I understand you joined the organization five years ago. With all the growth you've had, how do you find the experience of working here now compared to when you started?"
  • Passion questions: "What do you love most about working here?"
  • Value-added advice questions: "Have you considered creating an online platform for your top account executives, so that they can share success stories and collaborate better around key client opportunities? We implemented such a concept a year ago, and it's been very successful."
  • Future-oriented questions: "You've achieved large increases in productivity over the last three years. Where do you believe future operational improvements will come from?"
  • Aspiration questions: "As you look ahead to the next couple of years, what are the potential growth areas that people are most excited about in the company?"
  • Organizational culture questions: "What are the most common reasons why new hires don't work out here?" or "What kinds of people really thrive in your organization?"
  • Decision-making questions: "If you were to arrive at two final candidates with equal experience and skills, how would you choose one over the other?"
  • Company strengths-and-weaknesses questions: "Why do people come to work for you rather than a competitor? And why do you think they stay?"

My colleagues at QVerity have some great advice on what questions to ask (and how to ask them) in a job interview, too. I'll share that advice in a future post.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Mar 15, 2012 12:11 PM George Alexander George Alexander  says:

Very insightful. In my experience as a candidate for interviews in s/w dev roles, asking the right questions and following them up with the reason why you asked them can make a positive impact on the interviewer(s) so much so that you can steer the interview into a discussion. Questions like "what project methodology is followed by the team" and explain what your previous teams followed and how you've contributed or "what is the expected role" followed by roles you played or "do you guys use XYZ technology/process" and then explain why you think its good etc.... these usually come in the end of the interview and if you've done fairly decent, then you would leave a lasting impression over the other candidates who might have answered everything correctly and better but might have not indicated passion. It also gives an oppertunity to the candidate to indirectly express their strengths through past experiences. Just my 0.02$


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