Duh, what else are you supposed to say?

Photo by Sam McGhee on Unsplash

Reading an interview the other day, I saw that the NBA was looking to expand their efforts in Asia (Mark Tatum, deputy commissioner was in Manila doing the media rounds). When I dove a little deeper, I noticed that the headline came from a very simple question — ‘Is the NBA going to develop in Asia?’ — to which the obvious answer is ‘YES’ because why would he say ‘NO’? What could he have possibly said that wasn’t in the realm of ‘YES’?

Too often when it comes to interviews and questionnaires, people get lazy and ask obvious questions. Can you do X? Can you do Y? Inevitably, people are going to say yes no matter the request (saying ‘no’ would be stupid). So is it the interviewer’s fault, or is the the fault of the interviewee?

What are you supposed to ask in an interview?

Interviewing is a very difficult task — whether you’re doing it from an employer’s perspective or from the media’s perspective— you need to spend time devising the appropriate questions so that you can derive value from the answers.

Simple questions such as ‘Can you do SEO?’ is a silly question because of course the answer you’re going to get is ‘YES’. However, asking ‘How will you approach SEO for our company?’ is completely different, and the answer would give you some insight as to how the candidate looks at a problem and strategises solutions. (If the candidate said ‘NO’ to the former question or unable to answer the question with some intelligence, then they’re obviously not good candidates for the role — incidentally not knowing what to ask during an interview is what makes hiring digital marketers so difficult).

The role of the interviewer, as media, is vital for good content. Good interviewers don’t ask the same typical questions, because there’s no point in churning out articles/pieces that can’t be differentiated from other (otherwise, as a consumer you might as well just google for a similar article). It’s important to ask questions that probe into interesting areas and interviewees don’t just robo-recall answers (we’ve all seen these). There’s a reason why podcasts are being more and more popular, and it’s because the format allows interviewers to dive deep into a subject and ask questions that most outlets miss (a lot of the times because the time window is as little as 5–10 minutes. Social media is a great way to stand out, but to do it well, you need to be creative and try something different.).

While it seems like it’s a lot of work to ask questions that stand out, it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. Sean Evans is a terrific interviewer and many of his questions are the same for each guest. Where he stands out is in the research that he does and the thoughtfulness in each of his questions/segments. The same is true for Tim Ferriss.

Can any random outsider predict the answer?

If anyone can predict what an answer to a question will be, the question is too basic and needs to be changed. If the interviewee doesn’t even need to pause and think about their answer, you probably asked the wrong question.

It’s all in the preparation. When thinking about questions, sure you can start with the basics, but spend a couple of minutes to figure out what you’re trying to learn and change the question accordingly. Otherwise you’ve just wasted everybody’s time.

This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s largest entrepreneurship publication followed by 326,962+ people.

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