“You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions”
– Naguib Mahfouz, first Egyptian Nobel Prize Winner for Literature
Do you talk more than listen? Does your ego get in the way of building relationships? Do you find yourself advocating your view of the world more often than inquiring about other people’s perspectives?
Most people love to talk about themselves. Start talking about yourself in response, without embracing what was just said, and you run the risk of proving you are not listening. The shutters come down. A valued connection is missed.
Deliberately asking great questions – and actively listening to the answers – is both a mindset and a skill. It means you are no longer the center of attention. It can be uncomfortable. It can run counter to all the advice you’ve heard about personal branding, elevator pitches and so much more.
And yet asking questions can be the single best way to gain connections.
Here are three common situations where asking the right questions at the right times – and in the right ways – will help build relationships during your job search:
I was at a university event last week where students met recent alumni. The goal: to find out about their jobs and how they had made the successful transition into the workplace. A student admitted to me he was “intimidated” by the situation and did not know what to say to anyone.
In these situations, take the pressure off yourself by asking simple questions!
- “What do you like best about your job?”
- “What are your top tips for engaging with your employer?”
- “What did you learn here at <insert name of university> that helped you most in your career?”
Savvy engagers know that asking questions can tap into the wisdom of the crowd and help you leverage the giving nature of so many on social media. On Twitter, especially, and in LinkedIn groups, people love to help others. And asking good questions shows confidence, listening skills and a willingness to self-learn to recruiters and employers.
Especially online, where the tone of your voice can’t be heard, be sure to ask open questions (What? When? Where? How? Who?) to get a conversation going, gather information and encourage the other person to open up. Be careful about your use of Why? questions that sometimes come across as judgmental or evaluative, which can lead to defensiveness.
At the end of every job interview – when the interviewer asks “Do you have any questions of me?” – you have a golden opportunity to make an impact. It is at this moment you can rescue an average interview, take a great interview to the next level, or perhaps find out something to help you decide if this employer is the right one for you.
Ask probing questions to show genuine interest or dig beneath the surface of an issue:
- When you first started working here, why did you choose this company?
- What challenges are most commonly associated with working here… and how can I best rise above those challenges?
- How will my success be evaluated and communicated? How is mutually-beneficial feedback informally communicated?
Even if you don’t get this job, the recruiter or hiring manager will remember you as prepared, poised and professional – and become a networking ally.
During the job search, continuously ask yourself: “What type of questions will help move me toward my goals?” Before every opportunity, think ahead. Then ask your well-prepared questions. Listen attentively to the responses. Learn everything you can.
Most important, see if deliberately asking great questions of others – instead of talking about yourself – leads to more, and more valuable, connections.
For this post, YouTern thanks our friends at Learning to Leap!
About the Author: David Shindler is founder of the Employability Hub online learning centre, Director of Learning to Leap and widely respected in the industry as an employability expert. David understands the ‘soft’ skills, attitudes and behaviors needed by employers and can help people improve them to get the job they want.