Ask The Right Questions Or Don’t

I am privileged as an Employment Counsellor to engage in meaningful conversations with people looking for employment. If you listened in on these, you’d hear me pose a number of questions and with each answer a clearer picture of the person would be revealed.

The trap someone in my place can easily fall into is to size up the job seeker in a few moments based on all the previous job seekers one’s worked with and miss what makes this person unique. The questions I ask and especially the ones I might not, can and do make all the difference in helping that one person find the right match; what they’re really after.

For example ask the question, “So what job are you looking for?”, and I’m likely to get a simple job title. “Personal Support Worker”. This reply is correct, definitive and tells me nothing of the person themselves. If I worked in an environment where success was based solely on churning out resumes and getting people to apply for jobs measured my performance, this would be the fastest way to carry out that goal. However, that seems backwards measuring my success rather than the job seekers based on quantity and not quality.

There’s better questions to ask of someone looking for work; questions which are far more effective at assisting someone to find and keep employment. Better questions that get at the person themselves and their motivation for work.

When I ask, “So what do you want out of your next job?”, one will glibly state, “A pay cheque.” Another will say, “I want to find meaning in what I do”, or, “I want a job where I can make a difference; where I can really help others.” So of the two answers, which person would you rather have caring for you as a Personal Support Worker? I’ll opt for the person who is motivated by their wish to make a difference in the lives they’ll touch over the person working for a pay cheque.

Another good question I like to pose is, “Tell me about that job; what would you actually do?” I ask this question whether I have a really solid understanding of the daily functions of the role or not. This question is really designed to give me information on what the job entails from their perspective and how well that matches up with what employer’s set out as the responsibilities and job functions. Working in a Veterinary Clinic for example sounds appealing to those who like animals but many aren’t ready to keep their opinions and values to themselves when an owner comes to an agonizing decision to put down their beloved pet. It’s not all cuddling and grooming.

As I listen to someone describe the job they are after, I also focus my attention on not only the actual words they use but whether there is any passion or genuine love for the work described. This is most often revealed through a smile on the face, a softening of the eyes, a change in the pace of their words and some varying of the tone in their voice. Do they show and demonstrate some enthusiasm and excitement at the prospect of doing this job or not? Some speak very matter-of-factly about their work of course and for many that’s exactly what it is; work.

Perhaps you’ve heard that expression, “Find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”? Well, even the most ardent worker who loves their job with all they’ve got will tell you they still make a significant investment in their time working to improve their productivity, working to keep their high standard of performance or working to keep up with best practices. Stop working at being your best and you rot. So if we all ‘work’ at work, why isn’t the experience of work the same for everyone?

Simply put, it’s what we put in and what we get out of it; investment and return. The best athletes aren’t just naturally gifted, they invest countless hours training, improving, working on elevating their performance to be the best they can be. The brightest often experiment and when they don’t succeed they embrace that failure and learn from what didn’t work to discover what will. So when I ask, “What are willing to put into the job?”, if they answer with the question, “You mean overtime?” that tells me volumes.

Here’s what I think about, “overtime”. I find that a person I work with will often end up over time securing a job which differs from the one they originally identified to me because having got to know them better, together we’ve found a better fit. In other words, with some question and answers, they’ve discovered that finding satisfying and fulfilling work is more than just finding a job.

If you believe that in this economy this kind of thinking is a luxury and one can only hope for a job and a pay cheque, you are entitled to that opinion. There are professionals who will gladly take your money and your time while mass producing your resumes.

As an alternative, let’s ask some probing questions; get to the heart of what makes you unique and find where you’ll truly live that passion that seems so elusive.

I’d love to hear your own thoughts on this. Please comment and share.



My Job Interview Performance

If you were reading the blog yesterday, you’ll recall I had a mock job interview myself with the job search class I’m facilitating acting as the interview panel. Today I want to share what happened which was very interesting.

The group had to first meet and decide what questions they would pose, who would ask what and in what order, take note of my answers, act like professionals themselves, arrange the room for the interview, and one of them had to come out and introduce themself to me and then upon arrival the entire panel introduced themselves. Lots of work for a group and lots of learning.

So upon arrival, I gave a solid handshake, repeated their names as I was introduced, and sat down in front of them with my best posture, documents neatly in-hand including resume, cover letter and questions to pose myself. I offered to provide all the panel with a copy of my cover letter and resume which they readily accepted and quickly scanned. I didn’t get asked the standard, “Tell me about yourself” which I had anticipated. Instead I got asked how my previous work history prepared me for a Sales position at Target. Great start. So I related a past sales position I’ve had, and in my answer demonstrated how that experience and the other jobs I’ve had in Social Services working with people gave me a great deal of experience dealing with the public.

Then I was asked why I wanted to work for Target. I had really hoped they’d ask this question. I said, “I don’t actually want to work for Target” and then I paused long enough for the stunned faces to appear. Just when one of them appeared ready to talk,  on cue I continued and told them that I want to work for Target’s customers, whom they call guests, and while I would like to be EMPLOYED by Target, I was only interested in working FOR their guests and that’s what would ultimately separate me from all the other applicants whom I believed would tell the panel why they wanted to work for Target. They ate it up.

So on it went, and I was asked an interesting question which was to describe a time as a Social Services Caseworker when I had a looming deadline of some kind and how I met it and by doing so, was noticed by Management. Another great question which showed me they really prepared. So I answered that too by recalling a time when I returned from a three-week vacation and was expected by Management to have a backlog of appointments. However, I had prepared in advance by seeing clients earlier than they were due to be seen, and hence I returned to a manageable number of appointments and continued to meet Management expectations.

Then about half way through the interview, a very interesting thing took place. One of the panel said this; “I have a question for you – Kirk or Picard?” What a quirky question and totally unexpected! So I answered, “Picard”.  The rest of the panel was surprised too so it hadn’t been shared that this question would be asked. His question was designed to see how I’d react to something unexpected, and would have only been improved had he then followed it up with, “Why?” Then I would have had to weave my answer to getting around to how, “Picard” would relate back to the job I was being interviewed for – as in maybe his communication skills etc.

I was also asked if I’d relocate and again I went with something they didn’t expect by replying, “No actually. I currently have a one hour commute to work, and I used to have a two-hour commute to work for six years. Over that time, I have been late by twenty minutes on one occasion, and knowing where your store is located, I am confident my attendance will continue to be excellent”.  Later I pointed out that if you are going to say no to this question, you have to defend your decision or otherwise you might look confrontational or disagreeable if the REASON behind the question is to make sure you will be reliable.

In the end, I got the job! We then broke down the answers, debriefed the entire process, and they all said it had been beneficial to see the interview done by someone who does it well and is a professional. I pointed out too that the interview had gone very much like a conversation back and forth and to this they agreed. All in all, it was a great exercise, and I encourage other Facilitator’s out there to consider this approach and try it out. Put the responsibility on the group and it’s a great learning opportunity for them. I was very proud of each one of them for putting in the effort.

Today the group ends. Two have already got hired in the two weeks, and others have further interviews ahead and all are awaiting a response from jobs applied to. Each member has moved forward in their capacity to job search and has improved or corrected a job search issue in some way over the two weeks. I’m hopeful that our time together has enabled them to start new habits and build new patterns of behaviour that ultimately will help them gain financial independence through employment in the near future.

All the best