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Why? The Best – and Worst – Question

Re-blogged from the Goodwill ® Blog by Randy Wooden, Director, Professional Center by Goodwill Industries of Northwest North Carolina

Of all the questions we ask or are asked of us, the “why” question is potentially the best or most challenging. Whether in an interview or engaged in everyday conversation, consider a different way of wording questions. Let’s explore.

The why question presumes that you already know the outcome and puts the person on the spot to defend that result. For example, “You were on that last job for less than a year. Why?”

Another interview question that could put you on the spot is, “Why didn’t you finish your high school education/college degree?”

When responding to tough questions like these, it is important to not sound confrontational or defensive. Indicate that you’ve been asked that before or that you’d have that same question if you were on their side of the desk and then say, “Let me explain,” before launching into a brief answer.

Why can also be a positive question. Perhaps the employer asks why you decided to pursue your line of work or field of study. They may ask why you would like to work for them or why they should hire you over other candidates. These questions encourage positive responses.

As a candidate, you might ask why the position is open, a good question but could put the employer on the spot. It is may not be a good practice to call an employer and ask why you did not get the job. Instead, you could say, “I’m sure you had a number of people to choose from. Help me understand what went into your decision.” While you may not get a transparent responses, it is simply a different way of seeking feedback. Moving beyond interviews and onto the job. Be careful of using the why question in your everyday conversation. “Why do we have to do it this way? Why do they get to do that and we don’t? Why didn’t you tell me?” Instead, consider, “Tell me how this fits into our process,” or, “Tell me about the different processes different teams have for this work.”

Look for ways to get a less combative or defensive response. Good luck!
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