home »

dear headhunter columns »

career insider columns »

syndicated newspapers »

internet/on-line readership »

the buzz about George »

biography/references »

order advice/order book »

send email »

career insider


Your interview is simply a structured Q&A session. The employer will attempt to qualify your background to see if it fits the job opening. The agenda is preset, by the employer, before you arrive. The employer wants to control the interview by asking the first set of questions. After the opening questions, it’s your responsibility is to take control of the middle part of the interview by asking smart questions.

I have had many candidates eliminated from contention because they did not ask meaningful questions. The lack of questions indicates to the employer a few possibilities. The choices are that you have not done research on their company, that you are just window-shopping and are not a bonafide candidate or that you’re not talented. Asking smart questions is effortless once you understand the process. I hope this advice will help you during your next interview.

    Careful listening to the employer’s questions will expose future questions for you to ask. When you’re thinking about your next answer, you cannot listen fully and can miss important information from the employer. Focusing on the questions will enable you to ask better questions.

    Close ended questions are weak because their response in normally one word. Rhetorical questions are dumb, because you are trying to impress by already knowing the answer. The best dumb question will expect a one word, yes or no, answer.
    "’Why?’ is a great questions for a talk show host because it can’t be answered in one word." – Larry King

    Open-ended questions start with: Who, What, Why, Where, When, How? This type of question cannot be answered with a simple yes or no. When you ask an open-ended question, a few things happen. One, your questions is not rhetorical. Two, you are not trying to impress the interviewer with how smart you are. Three, you’ll normally get a complete, in-depth answer.

    The secret to never asking a dumb question is to add the word exactly to an open-ended question. Here are some examples: "Exactly, what do you mean by stating XYZ? I understand your commission rates, but how exactly does the percentage increase? When you test your products, exactly what is the projected timeline? Where exactly is the location of your European affiliate? Who exactly directs the marketing campaign? Why exactly is your profit at a three year high?" When you add "exactly" to an open-ended question you give the impression that you have knowledge and an understanding without feeding the answers to the other person. These types of questions get results.

    My heroes of questioning are Jay Leno and Larry King. If you have followed their careers, you’ll notice that they almost never ask close-ended questions. They have excelled by being open to the answers and allowing their guests to respond candidly. During your interviews, you will succeed with open-ended questions.
[QUICK TIP] There are many how-to books on listening. Get a good book on asking. The two-thousand-year-old truism is not "Listen and you shall receive" it is "Ask." We’re all good at receiving, but need work on our asking.

PLEASE NOTE: emails received become the property of "Dear Headhunter" and may be published unless otherwise requested. Questions may be edited for content and length. All questions will be reviewed, some without a reply.

George Gurney has been a leader in the employment industry since 1976. He founded an executive search firm that conducts domestic and international assignments.  He has won numerous awards for recruiting excellence.  He has been a guest speaker at national conventions and seminars.