This Dilbert cartoon from yesterday caught my eye. It was even funnier because the class I was teaching had just discussed the prospect of an interviewing manager wanting great work for next to nothing. It’s the prospect of questions like this that make Q&A a much-feared part of interviews, presentations, sales calls, and status meetings.
Don’t you really know most of the questions you will face? Maybe not the exact questions (“If you were a cereal, what cereal would you be?“), but close enough. Most of the sales teams I’ve worked with, when asked “What percentage of questions you receive could you predict or expect?,” answer in the 90+% range.
Which means there is NO EXCUSE for not being prepared. If you are headed to an interview, expect to answer why you have a three-year gap in your resume, what the most rewarding aspect of your last job was, and address something you wish you’d done differently. If you are on a sales call, expect to be asked how much the product/service costs, why it is better than your competitor, and how you got into this line of work. Expecting the questions means you get to craft and practice a response BEFORE YOU ARE ASKED! What easier communication task is there?! Interview candidates should practice several times a day telling why they are a good fit for the job and the core strengths they bring to the table. Sales persons should be able to defend their product against the competition and go over it until it’s second nature. Consultants should be able to quote their price with a straight face (if you can’t, lower your price until you can) and practice during every car ride to (and from) a prospect.
If you are part of team, use meeting times to brainstorm the questions you will be asked (or were asked last week), and then collectively craft and practice answering them. Over time, the compilation of questions will create a de facto guide in how the business unit should address and answer any question. New people would much rather have that list than a three-ring binder with the company history and an org chart. And they’ll be productive quicker as well.
There will always be questions you don’t expect (I got asked once by the first attendee to a speaking gig, “What on earth gives you the right to be our speaker tonight?” — I was quick-witted enough to answer, “Because I’ve made a lot more mistakes than most speakers, and you’ll want to avoid them!” It turned out to be a good enough answer that it’s my canned response to such inquiries.) But knowing great answers to the questions you can and should expect will give you confidence for the few you don’t. There really is no reason not to be prepared.
Catalog and answer the expected questions you will face.