November 18, 2010
Want to pass the interview? Prepare your 'power questions'
Your success in an interview depends directly on your understanding of the employer's true needs and desires and your ability to communicate how you're the exact match for what the company is seeking in its new hire.
Many good candidates fail interviews because they assume that the employer's needs are fully articulated on the job description. Others fail because they assume that the employer actually understands their true needs and desires.
By asking strategic questions, you can get to the root problems, identify the core needs and elicit the true desires of the employer. With this information, you can position yourself powerfully to make a strong tailored presentation and show how you have everything the company is looking for.
If the employer has several needs, you'll need to identify which are most important and urgent for them to solve. I've developed and teach a technique called "power questioning" that helps you to identify and rank the employer's needs and make your presentation accordingly. There are several aspects of power questioning:
Identification: Before you rank the employer's needs and wants, you need to identify their challenges first. Ask, "What are your top three challenges right now?" or "What keeps you up at night?" or "What are the greatest needs that will have to be solved this quarter?"
Length of time: Next ask, "How long have these been a challenge?" Problems that have persisted for a long time have a stronger negative impact on the organization. Showing that you can offer a possible solution to these long-standing problems puts you in a strong position as a candidate. (Before you offer your solutions, however, see the next step.)
Solutions tried: Most likely, the employer has attempted to solve these challenges. Knowing what they've tried in advance can help you eliminate proposing solutions where they have already failed and you can instead suggest ideas they haven't thought of yet. It's very similar to playing poker: You want them to play their cards first so you know how to make your next move. You might ask, "What have you tried so far?" or "From those solutions tried, what were the outcomes?"
Current impact: Now that you understand the problem, know how long it's affected the organization and solutions they've tried that might not have worked, you still need to understand the impact of the problems before making your presentation. This will help you rank the problems with the largest impact and solve the most pressing ones first. Questions you might ask are, "What has been the impact of these problems on the organization?" or "How has this affected your bottom line?"
Future consequences: Last, but not least, before you finalize your ranking, find out which problems will ultimately have the biggest consequences for the employer. While many problems can have a large impact, the ones with the greatest long-term consequences tend to have a higher ranking in terms of the company's hierarchy of needs. Think of questions such as, "What will happen if these challenges aren't addressed quickly?" or "What are the consequences to attracting the right talent if these problems aren't addressed?"
Once you have addressed all of the above questions, you can finally understand and rank the company's exact needs, regardless of what was listed on the job description. From there, you can tailor your presentation to show the employer that you are the best person to answer their needs and make your case for why the hiring manager should choose you above all other candidates.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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