There are 5 bad ways to answer questions.
Avoid these pitfalls to get hired to your dream job or to lead your team successfully.
I have had the privilege of posing questions to over 1,000 business leaders for jobs and for our books. So I’ve been on the receiving end of many great answers from some of the most respected CEOs on the planet. And I’ve also heard answers from less-skilled managers.
Recently, I witnessed a horrendously bad answer to a simple question. A middle manager was asked a question like, “Does John Thomas work at Google?” We all would have appreciated a “yes” or “no” answer. But the person decided to take us on a 5-minute journey back in time, full of detours and tangents that had no relevance to the question at hand. We were made to sit and wait for the answer, which would be revealed at the end of this free-associative ramble.
Here are five ways to answer questions like a CEO.
Answer a yes or no question with a “yes” or “no” before you provide details.
Does John Thomas work at Google?
Bad answer: “John Thomas? Oh I knew him back at University of Michigan. He and I were in the same engineering lab. This one time…”
Great answer: “Yes. John Thomas works at Google now. We went to college together and we are Facebook friends.”
Answer a number question with a number answer before you provide details.
How much did your sales decline during the last recession in ’08?
Bad answer: “The Great Recession was a really hard time for us. It felt like we were running a marathon in quicksand. No matter what we did, it felt like customers just stopped buying…”
Great answer: “20%. Our sales declined by 20%. Fortunately, the compensation of our team was largely variable, so we all just made a bit less income during that period, and so we were able to avoid having any lay-offs.”
Say what was your goal, what you observed, what you did, and what were the results.
What happened in that job?
Bad answer: “Well, it was the South. I was not used to the South. Wow were the summers humid. And the mosquitos? Are you kidding me? Big as birds…”
Great answer: “My mission was to set up a new food bank in Atlanta. The goal was to recruit 20 restaurant partners, hire the first 5 employees, and to be serving 100 meals a day within three months. What I observed was that things moved a little more slowly than what I was used to. It was taking too long to get the restaurants to sign on. So I had to get creative. The service manager and I came up with a new concept. We hired a video crew, interviewed restaurant managers and customers, and gave free social media advertising to the restaurants if they signed up with us. It cost less than $5,000, which was approved by HQ. And this approach allowed us to achieved our goals a month earlier than planned! My bosses were thrilled and they later asked me to roll out the concept to the 10 other offices in the region.”
Answer from the other person’s point of view.
Why do you want me to invest in your ice cream stores?
Bad answer: “Because we need the capital to grow. And we need a way for some of our cousins to cash out of the business. This store has been in our family for 50 years.”
Great answer: “Because 10% return on invested capital is what you say you want. And that is what we have delivered reliably on a per-store basis for over 50 years.”
Share just enough information to prove your point, but not more.
Why should we buy from your company?
Bad answer: “I could give you a million reasons to buy from our company. For starters, here is our 150-page brochure. And here is a 25-page PowerPoint slide deck in 8-point font. Now I want to tell you about a dozen customer cases about some companies that are nothing like you. After that, I’m going to give you some more random anecdotes—whatever comes to mind!”
Great answer: “I think you should buy from us for three reasons: 1) Gartner Group did a survey of our industry and rated us #1 in the three areas that are most important to you—ease of implementation, security, and customizability for multiple languages. 2) We know this space better than anybody. Our team published the #1 book on this topic, on both sales and review ratings on amazon. And 3) we offer a 100% money-back guarantee, so the burden of risk is on me, not you. 97% of our clients rate their satisfaction very high, and chances are, you will too.”
If you found these tactics useful, you will like our other free tools for leadership success. Download SMARTtools for Leaders™.
Tyrel Melville says
This is an amazing peek into the executive mindset. I’m a huge fan of point 5. The challenge for some might be to determine which are the more salient points to share, but it should be clear for anyone who took the time to know their audience. Thanks for sharing this insightful post Geoff.