asking questions

Posted: May 27, 2014
By: Clay Cerny

One of my favorite blogs Big Think recently featured one of my favorite writers, Daniel Pink, who was talking about how to influence others by asking the right kind of questions. As he did in his book Drive, Pink explores how we can motivate others by appealing to their interests instead to arguing for what is right (what we want). In this video, he models how to ask questions and follow up in a way that encourages self-motivated actions. This is a very interesting model for influencing others, including prospective employers, current bosses, and networking partners. Try to put Pink’s advice into practice the next time you have to influence someone who is reluctant to do what you want.

Posted: April 29, 2014
By: Clay Cerny


I recently came across some advice for job interview strategy that could do more harm than good. An expert recommends: “You should talk half the time, and the employer should talk half the time.”

My problem with this advice is that it sets up a false expectation. In some interviews the exchange between an interviewer and job seeker might be pretty equal. In most cases, however, the job seeker will talk more because she is the person being interviewed. Think about any situation when you ask a question that involves an explanation. The answer is longer than the question, which means that in most interviews the job seeker will be talking more. I think what the expert wants to say is that job seekers should engage interviewers in dialogue whenever possible. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. But that’s not the most important thing a job seeker needs to do.

Good interviews start with focused listening. If you’re listening well, you can usually make your agenda fit the interviewer’s. You will also build a relationship with the interviewer. Let your strengths show through the conversation. That’s what the employer wants to know.

Posted: April 6, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

Beware of sensational headlines.  For example, today’s Huffington Post features an article with the front page headline of “Poll: Huge Number of American Want Christianity as State Religion.”  However, when you follow the link, the headline and story change tone:  “Christianity as State Religion Supported by One-Third of Americans, Poll Finds.”  That same headline could be rewritten to say that two-thirds of Americans reject Christianity as a state religion.

I often see a similar problem in writing about careers and jobs.  Simple claims, often negative news, takes on significance because they are reposted from website to website.  For example, about a year ago there was a meme that said you would not be hired unless you are currently employed.  Some employers posted a help wanted ads that said only currently employed workers should apply.  Only a few companies did this.  The megaphone power of the Internet turned this minor problem into reality for many people who were unemployed.

What should we do?  Test all claims that seem too easy to believe.  When clients brought up the example of companies only hiring people who were employed, I’d ask them to put themselves in the employer’s position.  If two candidates are equally (or even similarly) qualified, would you hire someone who is employed or unemployed?  Most employers would go with the unemployed candidate because that person would be cheaper.  Some who is employed is able to negotiate and even say no. The widely posted claim made no sense.

Media loves simple, scary stories.  As the two examples above show, they often are not true.  Yes, a third of Americans might want a national religion, but a third is not even close to a majority.  Yes, a few employers may have wanted to hire people who are currently employed.  But, again, it’s not logical to assume most employers would do this.  Whenever you’re faced with the scary headline, test its claim.  Usually you’ll find the claim is overblown, if not totally false.