The One Thing You Must Do In Every Job Interview is pretty simple, according to author Dave Kerpen. In this article he tells a story about a promising interviewee who sat down in the chair across from him and checked all the boxes of an ideal candidate, except one: when he asked at the end of the interview if she had any questions for him, she said no. To this employer, her lack of curiosity showed that she wasn’t really interested in learning more about the company or in creating value, which ultimately equaled no second interview.
This story parallels so much of what we grapple with in the field of communications – both in building relationships with colleagues, and in providing valuable counsel to our clients. Effective communication is the ability to drill down and reveal what is really going on in an interaction, to skillfully distill important information and brush off the unnecessary clutter. And sometimes to do this, you need to risk embarrassment and ask uncomfortable or obvious questions in order for a deeper truth to be revealed.
In one interview I had after graduating from university, I was asked if I had any questions for the panel. I knew enough at that point not to ask about salary or vacation, and I asked the four interviewers what their dream communications team would look like. They were noticeably startled by this question as they hadn’t yet asked it of themselves. A ten minute discussion followed, where I was privy to them hashing out the specific vibe and personality this dream team would ideally have. If I hadn’t asked this question, they wouldn’t necessarily have articulated with such precision what it was they were looking for in a candidate (and I wouldn’t have landed the job, wink wink).
Being in a more junior level position and therefore more of an observer than a leader at this point in my career, I notice that asking questions is generally resisted among most people. There’s this fear that asking a “dumb question” will reveal your incompetence, so it’s better to nod along with what your boss is saying to feign comprehension and avoid revealing any weaknesses that will hurt your ego and stall your salary.
But on the contrary, I find that the most articulate, inspiring and truly powerful people I come across are the ones with the confidence to ask the questions that matter – the questions that some other people at the table might be thinking, but would never say out loud. When you ask enough well thought-out, targeted questions, a space is created where connections can be made and new ideas born. Being able to provide honest critique and expert advice based on previous experience is essential in consulting of course, but having the presence to be a sounding board so that someone else can come up with their own answers is the mark of a true professional.