In life there are two main kinds of question:
1. A question solely intended to obtain some useful information
2. A question to show off how cleaver or knowledgeable the questioner is.
Professional Interim managers know that the secret to finding the truth lies solely in the quality of the question and not in the ego of the questioner.

This week I was having lunch with the son of a business associate, he was starting out into his professional life and I was trying to offer him some advice and to possibly help him find the best path forward. For someone, such as he, with many options and an abundance of ideas, the first steps can be very tricky to say the least.

During our lunch he was asking me some pretty good questions, but then I began to realize that the questions he was asking were designed to show me how smart and knowledgeable he was. He had obviously been taught all the smart questions and had learned them off by heart, probably thinking up some of his own along the way. The advice I gave him was as follows:

In an interview you should only ask a question if you genuinely want to know the answer. You should never waste a question by trying to show off. In any kind of interview, the interviewer has already read your CV, the selection process has already singled you out as a possible candidate, and you are very likely to be asked many questions that interviewer wants to know your opinion on. Answering questions is the opportunity you are given to show off your knowledge and skills. In many interviews, you only get the chance to ask just one or two questions (prior to the negotiation round) and therefore these need to be thought through very carefully. They are your ace cards and need to be deployed extremely wisely.

The young man in front of me told me that when he was applying for a sales job, he always asked what the unique selling points were of the product or service he had to sell. But I discovered that he was not asking it for the right reason because he was solely relying on one answer with no further qualification.

i.e. if the answer he receives is ‘Quality and reliability’, it tells him nothing unless he knows who the target market is. (If the target market is currently happy with a cheap throw away solution, it might mean that he is going to be working for a company with a fantastic product that is extremely hard to sell because it is too expensive and actually nobody really wants it). Therefore, he needs to ask his question with a second one in mind. Like in Chess, he needs to think at least two or more moves ahead. So, if his follow up question is ‘and how do the USP’s relate to your target market?’ Then he will get all the information he needs, especially when he relates it back to the commission schemes and average earnings of the company’s sales team. In fact he simply needs to tie the two questions together and he probably will launch a whole raft of very useful information from the interviewer that will make his choice of which employer to work for so much easier. Thus his question should be ‘What are the unique selling points of your product and how do they relate to your target market?’

Similarly, questions are beginning to come in on my article about the CEO’s dilemma. Some of them will give the questioner a lot of information. However, unless the questioner genuinely knows what information they are looking for in the first place, then the answer they receive might be disappointing and not help them that much with their recommendation.

I believe more training should be given in schools on the power of asking the right question, rather than an ‘impressive’ one.