In 1944, Isidor Rabi won the Nobel Prize for Physics. He developed Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, which is used in MRI worldwide. With us being in the medical device space, the irony is sweet.

They asked him later, “To what or whom do you credit your scientific success?” He answered simply, “My mother.”

He explained, “Every day after school, she was never curious about what I learned. She said the same thing:

What questions did you ask today?

Rabi felt that since his formative school years were spent asking questions, he had become interested in scientific research. Seems to have worked out.

In the recruiting world, everything is about the questions we ask. It is similar in the legal profession, particularly in the courtroom. If you want a certain answer, you must ask the right question. 

Not to mention, you must ask it correctly and at the correct time.

Oh, and by the way, you better have the right facial expression and tone in your voice.

The quality of the answer you receive is directly proportional to the quality of the question you ask.

To expand, asking questions is an art and a science. There are certain approaches, such as behavioral-type questions where the person places you in a past scenario, asking you to recount the situation and outcome. “Tell me about a time when you…” These questions are asked with a specific purpose and are linear. Good for checking boxes.

Consider, though, that sometimes it is difficult for certain personalities to answer those questions as they are too broad for them. The sports term is “playing in space .” The free-thinkers love it. The super methodical types, not so much. Some people are better playing “in a phone booth.” If they are stumbling, make the questions more specific. You may miss out on a great potential hire if you stick to a rigid format. Not everyone communicates the same way, nor is it necessary for every role that the person can answer a question like that on the spot. It is not a reflection of their skills, personality, or intellect. 

The art, on the other hand, takes practice. Yes, some people are naturally disarming. They have an infectious laugh or smile that puts folks at ease. They are curious by nature and are fine with sharing personal information. Comfortable in their skin.

After that, though, it takes time to hone the feeling part of questioning. When to push the door open gently and when to kick it down. Listening is the key. Noting their hesitation on a specific question and jotting it down to circle back later. Every stammer, change of subject, repeating the same non-answer, and nervous chuckle are signs that the question (and/or the answer) has the person uncomfortable.

Eventually, we need to wade into potentially sensitive waters. Some examples are:

The person was only at a company for a short time.

The individual took a lesser or lateral title.

The person was let go from one of their roles.


Depending on the person answering and the person exploring these areas, it could turn into the last thing we want – a contentious conversation. 

At that point, I usually speak about something personal first. Note their hobby at the bottom or make mention of a sound in the background (dog, child, etc.). It allows them to breathe, gather their thoughts, and make a personal connection. Makes it a conversation, not an interview/interrogation. 

Quick sidebar – keep hobbies, interests, and activities at the bottom of your resume. It is what makes you unique

Okay, back to our story. 

Delving into a touchy subject is then better received. 

If you feel that the person needs to be more forthright with you, ask the question in another way. For instance, relocation, commute, and travel are the most common areas where more of the onion needs to be peeled. 

Here is how it sounds:

Q: “Are you open to relocation?”

A: “Uh, sure, we would consider it.”

We have a technical term for this exchange. Bologna.

There are four or five follow-ups to this point. 

Have you ever been to this city before? 

Will someone else’s career be affected by a move? 

Do you own or rent? 

Are you currently living in your hometown? 

Does your significant other’s or your extended family live in the area?

All of a sudden, we have all kinds of reasons why relocation will not work.

Rapid-fire interrogation, as written above, is not the way. 

Start with a softball:

How do you like living in Chicago?

How does your family like the neighborhood?

Where did you grow up?

When they start saying how much they love it (or hate it), now you can ask the more pointed questions.

If you love it so much, how will it feel when you leave?

These are simply a few of the exchanges that can be slippery.

Keep this in mind: questions are the signs along the path of a conversation. They let you know if you are on the right road. Stop signs, detours, and school zones are found throughout each interview. 

Take note of them. It could be the difference between hiring the right or the wrong person.