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If you want to land the right position, ask the right questions

And if your questions elicit "the look," run away from that job as politely as possible.

By Al Kuebler
May 18, 2009 02:08 PM ET

Computerworld -

My first clue that the job I was interviewing for could be something special was the absence of "the look."

"The look" is my term for the facial expression we've all seen when we've asked someone something they just weren't prepared to answer. I call it the look. They don't want to seem surprised, dumbfounded or impolite, but they do want to buy a little time. They seem to make direct eye contact with you, but you can tell that their mental focus is somewhere else. Usually what has their full attention is an urgent internal search for some cogent words that will seem responsive to this question that they never thought they would receive. The look is not accompanied by words, though you may hear some "hmmm's" and "uh's." There is also no nodding that would indicate "yes," and no head-shaking to indicate "no." Some variations include letting the mouth hang open slightly or tilting the head a few degrees. Even with these variables, however, the look is unmistakable.

I first noticed the look when I was a university instructor asking a question that a student wasn't prepared for. Later, as a manager, I'd see the look from time to time on the faces of my employees. One time, I even saw it briefly when I asked my wife's parents for their daughter's hand in marriage. That last example demonstrates that seeing the look isn't a bad thing in itself, since that turned out wonderfully for me. But my advice to anyone who sees it when they are interviewing for a job is to run.

Before I tell you about that job interview where my questions didn't elicit the look, I should tell you something about my earlier experiences in job interviews. Early on in my career, I had, "the disease to please," and wasn't too critical about the conditions surrounding the prospective position. I saw job interviews as my chance to find out how I could help the prospective employer and to communicate my eagerness to do that. If I got the job I interviewed for, I had the nice feeling that the company wanted me, and I was happy -- for a while.

A few early positions turned out to be very different than the impression I'd received during the interview. Sure, some of those differences were positive, but most were negative, and in big ways. Clearly, my expectations weren't lined up properly with the day in and day out reality of the job. I can see now that this was mostly my fault. During the interview, I didn't particularly want to uncover things that didn't fit my idealized version of what I would be doing for the prospective employer.

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