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Stop Asking This Negative Question


Last month, I saw an article on LinkedIn (LI) with a title similar to “Ask This Question and Be Hired Every Time.” The question turned out to be “Is there any reason you wouldn’t hire me today?”


The rationale for asking this is that the interviewer will provide an [honest] answer, and then you’ll have the chance to address their concerns. Having addressed their negative concerns, you’ll get the job.


If only, this were true. The truth is-- As one hiring manager recently told me-- “Most hiring people either can’t or don’t want to be put on the spot. We either aren’t allowed to give direct feedback or aren’t comfortable doing it.”


(So, stop asking that negative question!)


The reality is that interviewers will rarely reply, “You lack this specific skill” and never reply “I don’t like you.’” Odds are they will be vague. Perhaps, they will mention how some other candidates have more experience in the industry or the exact role.


I recall how years ago, I asked the negative question and the interviewer replied, “I honestly can’t think of any reason. But I want to look at a few more candidates.” I was not invited back for another interview.


In short, interviewers will rarely be totally honest with you. The only time they might be honest, is when it’s already clear to both of you that you just don’t have the desired skillset.

Given this lack of transparency, is there a way to figure out what they are thinking? What’s a better way to gather feedback?


To answer this question we need to consider what the interviewers don’t want to tell us, specifically, why they really don’t intend to extend a job offer. The top reasons are [in no particular order]:

1) They simply think another candidate is better.

2) They don’t think you will get along, or you are not right for the role or environment.

3) You remind them of someone [negative association].

4) There never was a job [for you or for anyone].


#1 and #2 are obvious. Let’s examine #3 and #4.


#3: “You remind them of someone” refers to the first impression phenomenon. This means as soon as they met you, they thought of something or someone that they did not like. It could be a former co-worker that no one liked; it could their old great aunt Martha. This effect is very hard to overcome during an interview.

While it is possible you could remind them of someone they liked, the negative effect is documented as being more powerful. Studies show most interviewers make up their minds within a few minutes.


#4: “There never was a job” references two things—First, how many companies post jobs and interview applicants even though they have decided to fill the position with an internal candidate. Secondly, how as many of a third of surveyed hiring managers admitted they would advertise a position that simply would not be filled. Why do that? Reasons stated included keeping tabs on the market; collecting resumes for the future; and to keep currently overworked employees satisfied by hinting/lying that help was on the way.

By now, you should understand how hiring manager or recruiter will rarely admit to any of these four reasons for not hiring you. Asking the negative question will rarely work, and--even worse for you--after you leave, the last things they thought about you will be negative.

Congratulations! Your use of the negative question just dropped you completely out of the running.


“Well, Mr. Stop Sign,” you should be thinking, “I understand. But if I mustn’t ask that negative question, what should I ask? You said you were going to tell us!”


Glad you asked, because I’ve got you covered. Here are four better questions to ask!


1) If you continue the search to fill this position after having met with me, what will you look for in the next candidate, that you didn’t see in me?

2) When you think about the people on your team who you can really count on, what are their qualities and characteristics?

3) Is there anything you’re looking for that we didn’t cover yet?

4) What is the feeling you have about me being in this role?


#1 is an improved variation on the negative question. Instead of focusing on your negatives, it focuses on the future; prompts the interviewer to consider what they’re looking for; and allows you to respond without any negatives being associated with you.


I call it “the real estate” question, as realtors often find themselves asking young house-buyers, “This house checks off everything on your list. If you’re not going to buy this house, what do you want the next house we look at to have?”


#2 focuses on positive attributes of current team members. We can safely assume they want to hire someone with similar positive attributes. This question allows you to agree how important those qualities are, and to then say something like, “That’s how I work for my managers, too.”


#3 is a safe way to check on your status and keep the conversation going. I once extended an interview by ten minutes with this question. The interviewer actually said how he had forgotten to ask me about something. On the other hand, if the answer is “We covered everything,” then you can quickly agree and then state some of the topics you both discussed.


#4 is a more direct way to check on your status. If you are lucky, the interviewer will provide honest feedback, positive or not. Even if they don’t, at least you aren’t prompting them to think negatively.


And following any of these questions, you can ask “What’s the next step?


Even with these questions, there’s no guarantee of an honest response. Remember---interviewers are uncomfortable providing direct feedback. The key difference, however, is that after you leave the interviewer’s head won’t necessarily be filled with last minute negative thoughts about you.


Be positive.

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