THE BLOG
01/23/2008 01:31 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Finding The Right Questions to Ask for President or First Date -- With a Nod to Barbara Walters and James Lipton

The Reality-TV mini-series we call the Presidential Debates is running out of juice. Same questions, same answers endlessly re-looped as the media-candidate interview process grinds on from state to state. Yes, the candidates are trying to goose things up with oppo- research gotcha barbs. But the TV newsies are basically running out of questions to ask. It's daunting. Anyone who's ever had to interview someone for a job, whether for president, or for sales, production, or child-care, knows the examination process can be tough. Job applicants, and presidential candidates, are put through seemingly endless Q&A sessions starting with the entry level gate-keepers, which in business is the HR Department, for president, the Larry King Show. If the job applicants gets on the call-back sheet, they slowly climb up the interview ladder -- for business, it's the Department head, for president, The League of Women Voters who sponsor the final presidential appearances.

If you've been the one doing the interviewing you know the whole process depends on asking the right questions to find out who is the best person for the job. There are standard buckets of questions every applicant knows they're going to get. In business: "Tell me about yourself." For president: "Why do you want to be president." Later on in the process, the questions get a little more substantive: "What would you do if........? " While these boilerplates queries do weed out the slugs, any job candidate who's been around, knows they're coming and has prepared answers. Ultimately, the whole interview process becomes predictable, redundant and unrevealing. Because of this, job interviewers, or reporters, look for the one question that the applicant has never heard before. The 'aha' moment when you get a real sense of the person. With candidate interviews, a left-field question is often a game changer. When Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis was asked a hypothetical question by CNN's Bernard Shaw that was predicated on his wife being raped, the candidate's robotic answer created a major negative tilt in the 1988 presidential campaign. More recently, Tim Russert's UFO question at a Democratic Q&A was one of those sit-up and take notice questions. Yes, it got a lot of flak from serious issue-dweebs but it probably contributed to your perception about Congressman Dennis Kucinich. Job interviews are a little like American Idol. We wait for the unexpected, either the song that soars or the flub that embarrasses. How many times have you endured "how would you describe your management style,?" or "What do you think is your greatest weakness?" By now these kinds of questions and answers all blend into an unrevealing blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. So, if we're looking for wiz-bang answers we need wiz-bang questions. Here is a starter list. Whether interviewing for a baby sitter, District Manager, or President, feel free to add your own questions. Incidentally, these also work for first dates:

Q: Do you have any tattoos and, if so, where?
Q: When, and how, did you first find out about Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy?
Q: Do you think O.J. did it? (the murder rap, not the robbery)
Q: What is your favorite late night snack?
Q: What is the one gadget you absolutely cannot live without?
Q: What pets have you had, and what were their names?
Q: What is your fantasy career, other than your current one?
Q: What's your favorite rainy day movie and book?
Q: What is the one household item you will not throw away?
Q: What's in your pocket, or purse, right now?
Q: What's your favorite kitchen gadget?
Q: When's the last time you cried?
Q: What was your most recent impulse purchase?

And finally, when all else has failed to illicit anything, try......

Q: What medications are you on?

Good Luck!