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  • A Subtle Way To Look Smart

    It’s really easy to look smart.

    One of my favorite parts of my work as a keynote speaker is after a presentation when students come up to me to ask a question. I love getting the chance to speak to people individually to help them with their specific challenges.

    However, there is one aspect of this that is incredibly frustrating.

    After every one of my presentations (on how to get your dream job after college), there is always at least one student (and usually many students), who will ask me a question like “Pete, I want to do ______ after college. Do you have any advice for me?”

    I’m always polite when I get questions like this, but they really drive me crazy. After hearing practical advice for an hour, this is the best question you can ask?

    It makes me wonder if the person asking the question listened to anything from my presentation.

    Why not ask me to expand on one of my tips or ask for my advice in applying one of my tips to their specific situation?

    Contrast the “Do you have any advice for me” question with the following questions that other students have asked me after some of my recent presentations:

    • “Pete, what questions could I ask to impress people at a networking event for environmental engineers?” (One student asked me this question after a presentation where I talked about the importance of asking great questions. This question impressed me because it showed me that the person was listening to me.)
    • “Pete, what can I do to stand out in a group interview?” (This question impressed me because it was specific and because it was not something I had addressed during my presentation.)
    • “Pete, I run a student group on campus and am having difficulty motivating some of my fellow members. How can I motivate them?” (This question had nothing to do with my presentation, but it impressed me because it showed that the student asking the question was a leader who wanted to have a bigger impact.)

    Was there anything earth-shattering about these questions? Of course not. Anyone could have asked them.

    However, I can tell you from fielding questions after presentations for thousands of people that it’s very rare to be asked great questions. Most people just say something like “Do you have any advice for me?”

    Want to look smart when you are networking and interviewing? Ask specific questions. They prove that you care, that you were paying attention, and that you did your homework.


    Pete Leibman is the Founder of Dream Job Academy and the Author of the new book titled “I Got My Dream Job and So Can You” (AMACOM, 2012). His career advice has been featured on Fox, CBS, and CNN, and he is a popular Keynote Speaker at career events for college students and at conferences for people who work with college students.

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    Posted in Networking, Personal Branding, Success Strategies
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    One comment on “A Subtle Way To Look Smart
    1. avatar

      Thanks, Pete. I agree with you, just having a question is not enough. Some questions are actually statements in disguise, or criticisms. The best ones start with “what” or “how”, just like in your examples. I also love the questions that go deeper into something I’ve just brushed on. A practice that works for me to avoid asking stupid question is checking with myself “What am I curious about?” and even start the questions with “Hmmm, I’m curious, how/what…?” Maybe the kid who asked “Do you have any advice for me?” was curious about how to apply your information to his specific situation and needed some help with connecting the dots.

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