04/22/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Please Don't Answer Job Interview Questions

It's a funny time on the national job search scene. Lots more jobs are popping up, and people are getting job offers every day. Three of the folks in my online community got job offers last week (no, not McJobs; the three salary offers were $65K, $95K and $190K).

But lots of other people are still having a rough time, sending out resumes and waiting for the phone to ring.

Who is getting the work? Consultants are getting lots of it; and where full time W-2 jobs are concerned, job seekers who bring a consulting approach have a huge advantage over traditional job seekers. That's because consultants go on interviews (only they call them sales calls) to ask questions, not to answer them.

Consultants show up to meetings with prospects to see whether the consultant's brand of antidote is a good match with the prospect's pain. We can do the same thing on a job interview. The three folks I mentioned earlier, the ones who got job offers last week, did that. They didn't sit in the chair and answer the interviewer's question and then wait for him or her to ask another one.

They used the interview time to probe for the employer's pain. They already knew before entering the room that the job spec is mostly a bunch of made-up garbage. They shot higher than that. They weren't willing to spend their time answering questions like "Tell me about your experience with Job Spec Item One." They knew that even if they'd been bionically engineered, or raised in a Petri dish to fit that job spec, it wouldn't guarantee them a job.

The person who gets the job is the person who understands and speaks to the pain behind the job opening.

How does this work? Here's a quick example.

THEM: So, do you have experience with FrameScoper software?
YOU: Not tons, but I've worked with half a dozen other content management programs. How does FrameScoper fit into the scheme of things in this role?
THEM: Well, we use FrameScoper to write chapters and keep track of versions, for our manuals.

Instantly the job-seeker sees that the software-application question is a typical idiotic job interviewer question, driven not by any great need for FrameScoper skills (you could learn the software package, if it weren't imaginary, in a day or two) but by the interviewer's reliance on the job spec as a focal point for the conversation. Who cares about the stupid FrameScoper application? No one really cares, but we make the software important because it's prominent on the published job spec. That is a horrible way to write a job spec, but that's a topic for another blog post.

We don't want to let the interview devolve into a conversation about software applications, so we press on in search of the business pain behind the job opening.

YOU: Can I ask you a quick question about the manuals?
THEM: Shoot.
YOU: I want to make sure I understand. You're creating manuals for end-users. Those users presumably aren't technically savvy. Do you have issues with new users stumbling over the product's functionality?
THEM: Kind of. A lot of times we do. We try to make the manuals simple, but we still get a lot of tech support calls from new users.
YOU: How often would you say you get one of those calls?
THEM: Well, I don't talk to the Call Center Manager that often, but maybe ten calls a week.
YOU: That's got to cost money, fielding all those calls. And people typically aren't happy when the manual doesn't answer their first few questions. What have you tried, to make the manuals more comprehensive around new-user questions?
THEM (frustratedly): We keep revising the manuals, but people are so ... annoying! They buy the device, and they don't read the manual, and they don't charge the batteries properly, and we get blamed for it.
YOU: That is frustrating. It sounds like the job has as much to do with getting user feedback, getting the must-do steps right up front and very prominent in the manual -- maybe even in the product packaging -- as it has to do with writing FAQs and troubleshooting tips.
THEM: That is true. We need to get inside our users' heads, especially the rank newbies, without alienating the expert users who want to use the coolest features.
YOU: Do you have an online user group where the gadget-heads could brainstorm together?
THEM: No, but we've talked about doing that. Do you have experience with that?

You have shifted the interview successfully to the soul of the matter -- the business pain -- and you've introduced one good idea that made the hiring manager's heart beat faster. (You don't want to give away more than one or two ideas in the interview.)

Consultative job-seekers don't sit in the chair and answer the interview questions that are put to them. They dig in and figure out what's going on and what's at stake for the hiring manager in front of them.

Try it! The beautiful thing about this interview approach is that, even if you don't get the job, your self-confidence skyrockets. Who couldn't use a dose of encouragement on the job hunt?