- The Essential Military-to-Civilian Transition Resource

The Power of Questions
by Tom Wolfe, Career Coach and Senior Contributing Editor

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Tom Wolfe

Some of the most powerful tools in your career transition toolbox are the questions you will ask throughout the job-hunting process. For any tool to be effective it needs to be well honed. To understand why questions are such an important aspect of your career transition, let's start by asking ourselves a question - why do we ask them?

The obvious reason we ask questions is to get answers. In the case of career transition, there is much to learn about a position and a organization before we can commit to a new career. What are the responsibilities of the job and the potential for career growth? How is individual performance measured? Will the compensation, benefits, and location support quality-of-life goals? The answers to these and other questions will help you decide if the opportunity is right for you. However, implicit in the word decision is a choice, and unless you have an offer to work for the organization, do you really have a choice? Answering that question leads us to the less obvious yet equally powerful force behind questions.

I know a U.S. Marine Corps command sergeant major named Michael who was turned down for a position that he felt was ideal for him. When asked for the reason for rejection, the company said that although Michael was well qualified he did not appear to be interested in the job. The company reached this conclusion because Michael asked very few questions during the interviewing process. In the company's opinion, this lack of questions indicated a lack of interest, hence the rejection.

Showing interest in the opportunity and the company is one of the most important keys to successful interviewing. Asking questions is the single most powerful tool available to us to express this interest. A lack of questions is one of the most often cited reasons for rejection in the interviewing process. Keep in mind the dual-purpose nature of asking questions: first, to send to the potential employer strong signals of interest, and, second, to gather information about the position.

There are additional factors to consider - scope, timing, and content. We can address these factors by taking a look at some typical interview questions:


Review the list. Which ones apply to you? Which ones are actually relevant to enhancing your professional or career development? Maybe there are additional ones to consider.

  1. Why is this position available?
  2. When would be the first opportunity for promotion?
  3. Who would be my supervisor?
  4. Is tuition reimbursement part of the benefits package?
  5. What is the biggest challenge of this position?
  6. How much will the company spend on R & D next year?
  7. Is there anything absent in my experience that is important in this job?
  8. When will I be eligible to participate in the 401(k) plan?
  9. What is the next step in the interviewing process?
  10. Are there exercise and child daycare facilities available on site?

For the sake of this discussion, assume you are interviewing for a position called Distribution Manager, and the interviewer, Richard, is in charge of distribution.

Scope. When asking questions, it is important to consider the perspective of the individual with whom you are interviewing. This is called interviewing empathy - what is important to Richard and what falls under his span of control? Look at question #6. Even if he knows the answer, is this subject appropriate? If Richard is also the Director of R & D, then yes, otherwise, no.

Timing. Look at questions 4, 8, and 10. Are these questions appropriate during the job-hunting process? Everyone cares about benefits. But consider the timing. In the early stages of the process, the answers to these questions are not relevant. Unless you work for the company, what difference does it make what perks are available? When should you ask these questions? Wait until the job offer is on the table. With the offer in hand, the answers to the questions will influence your decision whether or not to accept.

Content. Look at the odd-numbered questions. See how powerful they can be? Asking them gives you information that you need and sends a strong I am interested signal to the interviewer. They are appropriate for both the scope of the interviewer and the timing of the interview.

Question #2 was saved for last because it deserves special analysis. Since both you and your potential employer care about your growth potential, this question needs to be asked. Be careful of your phraseology, timing, and frequency however. Bring it up too early and you might send a signal of disinterest or impatience.

Questions are powerful tools in your transition toolbox. Like the skilled craftsman about to begin an important project, you need to decide which ones to use, gather them together, sharpen them, practice, and time their usage appropriately.

Tom Wolfe, Career Coach, is a nationally recognized expert in military to civilian career transition and the Senior Contributing Editor at Civilian Job News.  He served as a surface warfare officer in the Navy and has provided career guidance to military personnel since 1978. Contact him via e-mail


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