By Lida Citroën
As you transition to your civilian career and prepare the tools you'll need – from a resume to elevator pitch and online profiles – you should also arm yourself with the skill to ask good questions as part of your job search.
There are many instances when you'll need to ask interesting, poignant and relevant questions. Often, the questions you ask will highlight your knowledge and insight. In a job interview, informational interview or meeting with a key networking contact, it helps to have good questions you can ask of them.
Before you consider the types of questions you'll ask, first clarify your goals and motivation: A good question starts with understanding why you are asking the question and why you want the answer: Are you trying to prove a point? Validate your suspicions? Catch someone in a lie? Build a better relationship?
Here are 7 tips for asking better questions:
Be direct and specific. Oftentimes, questions don't return a valuable response because the asker isn't clear and direct. For instance, when requesting assistance with your job search from a networking contact, don't ask them if they "have any ideas for how I can get a job…?" Instead ask, "Do you have any connections at ABC Company? I'm interested in interviewing there."
Know when to ask open-ended versus closed questions. There are times when a yes/no question makes sense. For instance, if you are confirming an appointment, you might ask, "Are we still meeting today at noon?" But, when looking to start or build a conversation, enlist insight and information, or showcase your knowledge on a topic, avoid closed-ended (yes/no) questions. In an informational interview, for example, you might inquire, "How did you get started in your career at this company?" to receive a more detailed and informative response.
Evaluate the appropriateness of the question. Just because you want to know something doesn't mean it's okay to ask. Consider whether the question you want to ask is of a personal nature, which might cross a line of professionalism. Similarly, could the question imply you are seeking confidential insight? Stay away from a question that could be inappropriate to the situation or your relationship with the recipient.
Silence can be golden. When asking a question, it can be tempting to fill the silence if the other person hesitates. Give them time to respond. Some questions require thought and care in responding. Just because the other person doesn't fire back a quick response doesn't mean something is wrong. When you give the other person time to consider a response, it's a sign of respect.
Set up and properly frame the question. Does your question require context to be understood? If in an interview, consider that the interviewer might be seeing many job candidates on that day, and if you provide background to your question you can make yourself stand out. For instance, instead of asking, "Where will this project be five years from now?" consider asking, "I'm looking to leverage the team building skills I developed in my military career, to grow a team and project into a sustainable and scalable business unit in the company. Do you envision this type of growth for this project over the next five years?"
Resist interrupting or answering for them. Avoid asking a question and then answering it before the other person can respond, such as "Why are competitors coming into your space? Is it because prices have been driven down, overseas competition is getting smarter, and your company hasn't stayed progressive?" This feels more like you were trying to show off your knowledge. Similarly, if the other person rambles a bit when answering, let them. You asked the question to hear an answer. Avoid getting impatient and interrupting them.
Ask again, if need be. It might happen that the person misunderstood what you asked. In that case, politely restate your question, or ask it a different way. Your goal is to solicit a response that is valuable to you. Reframe the question and ask it again if need be.
A well-thought out question can deliver great insight and information to a job seeker. You might learn more about the industry, company or individual by asking appropriate and interesting questions. Always have a set of questions ready for networking situations, informational interviews, job fairs, and interviews.