Archives for posts with tag: Question

When you’re interviewing for a new job, there is in my view one type of question you should parry. That question is anything to do with being in the role you’re interviewing for.

The question is sometimes phrased along the lines of:

‘Can you describe what your typical day might be if you took this job?’ or

‘What would your priorities be coming into this role?’

You might be tempted to blurt out ‘how the heck do I know? I don’t work here, I don’t know the company, the people, the products, services, challenges, objectives or anything else well enough to answer that. I need to assess the situation first before I decide anything. Alternatively, I can share with you some vacuous generalities if you like…’ Assuming you want to work here, I don’t recommend quite such a confrontational approach to what is an unfair question.

Rather than attempting to answer the 64-thousand-dollar question, it’s much better to parry it with ‘It depends‘ and illustrate the approach you would take to learning the role so that you’d be best placed to answer the question with the knowledge, experience and authority of having lived it for a couple of weeks. After all, that’s what you did in previous roles and look how well they turned out, right?


We do so much work trying to persuade our customers to buy from us that we often forget that they hold the answers to our success. If we provide a good product or service and we have our customers’ interests at heart, they’ll want us to do well and they’ll want to build relationships with us. In short, they’re rooting for us.

– Want to know what success looks like for your customer? Ask the customer what they’re trying to achieve, what’s stoping them from getting there, and what they require to remove the barriers.

– Want to know why you won the deal, so you can improve your offering? Ask the customer.

– Want to know why you lost the deal, so you can improve your offering? Ask the customer, but make it easy to get honest feedback by sending someone not involved in the deal, because it might be personal.

– Want to know how you can sell better? Ask the customer how they want to buy.

– Want to know what products and services to develop next? Ask the customer. They may not know what the next big thing is going to be, but they know what’s big for them right now.

– Want to know how much to charge? Ask the customer what they’re prepared to pay.

If in doubt, customer will out, to paraphrase Mr Shakespeare…

I’m all for clarity of communication. I prefer it to innuendo, nuancing and saying one thing and really meaning another. I guess that would make me a poor business person or negotiator in some parts of the world. I’d have to work harder to make progress in those more inscrutable, deferential and stratified societies.

When I can give a simple answer to a simple question, I will. The trouble is, in much of our working lives – and a lot of our family or private lives – the questions are rarely simple, even though the answers might be.

That’s why my favourite answer  – the one I almost always fall back on – is ‘it depends.’ You’re not fudging your answer. You want to give a good answer so you use it to buy more time and seek qualification to the original question so that you can answer it as well as you can.

Here’s an example:

‘Should we hire this person?’

‘It depends.’

‘How so?’

‘Well, it depends on our plans for the role that this person would be filling. If we are looking for someone who has done the job before and who will hit the ground running, then yes I believe we should. If the role is a stepping stone to a more strategic role where someone is looking for ways to evolve the department and where that someone will need to bring broader and softer skills, then probably not.’

Have a try yourself tomorrow with your customers, partners and colleagues. You’ll be surprised how many times this holding answer allows you to give a better answer later than an inaccurate answer earlier.

I guess it makes me more diplomatic than I thought :-).