Clarifying is Critical: How Clarifying Questions Can Alleviate Stress and Offer Control

This past Wednesday I had the pleasure and privilege of speaking to students at my Alma Mater. (See photo above)

Among the many topics we covered was the importance of asking clarifying questions in interview situations.

Why was this a prominent topic?

Because—more often than you might think—your interviewer is less interested in your answer to the question and more interested in how you handle stress. So when (if) you have the wherewithal to pause in a moment of pressure to consider the question/situation critically, it’s impressive.

What might this sound like?

The example one attendee gave was being asked the question, “How many weddings took place in Japan last year?”

As I said to him, I would have (in my dream world where I do everything brilliantly) countered that with, “May I ask some clarifying questions?”

Should he have gotten an OK, he might have begun with, “Are you making a distinction between registry office and religious ceremonies?” etc. etc.

My point was—as you can imagine— that the interviewer’s goal was not necessarily having him arrive at the answer to the question.  Rather, it was to see if he had the wherewithal to take a breath and formulate a strategy for finding a reasonable response.

So if (when) you are asked a question in your next interview that seems bizarre/preposterous/unprecedented, I recommend countering with,

“May I ask some clarifying questions?”


For more on the value of clarifying questions, take a look at “Clarifying is Key: Using Questions to Stimulate and Empower Others”