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Liz Ryan Contributor

I write about bringing life to work and bringing work to life. full bio →

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I was a Fortune 500 HR SVP for ten million years, but I was an opera singer before I ever heard the term HR. The higher I got in the corporate world, the more operatic the action became. I started writing about the workplace for the Chicago Sun-Times in 1997, but it took me ages to find my own voice. Now I write for the Huffington Post, Business Week, LinkedIn, the Harvard Business Review, the Denver Post and Forbes.com and lead the worldwide Human Workplace movement to reinvent work for people. Stop by and join us: http://www.humanworkplace.com

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Leadership 2,352 views

How To Conduct A Pain Interview With Your Hiring Manager

Pain Interviewing begins when you shift your hiring executive’s focus from the standard interview script to the actual business matters he or she is responsible for.

We call it Pain Interviewing because in the same way that a Pain Letter deals with the real Business Pain behind the job ad, a Pain Interview digs into what isn’t working right now in your hiring manager’s world. That’s the meat of the matter.

Who cares what kind of soup you would be if you were a can of soup, or what you think your greatest weaknesses are or what you had for breakfast? An interview is a business meeting, so let’s talk about business!

You can help your hiring manager get off the interview script and begin the Pain Interviewing process.

You’ll do it by answering one of your hiring manager’s questions, often the question “Tell me about yourself!” with a short answer and then ‘spinning the table’ to ask a question of your own.

Here’s a script to illustrate the Spin the Table process and get your hiring manager off the interview script into a human conversation about real business issues.

Once you begin to get off the script and talk about the Business Pain behind the job ad, you’ll find that the conversation gets easier and more interesting. All you can do when you’re being asked traditional interview questions is sit and answer them.

You are not an active participant in the interview process as long as you’re answering questions like a person taking an oral exam or a citizenship test.

You have to get off the script to get to the heart of what’s going on in the organization you’re thinking about joining.

Here are some Business Pain questions you can ask your hiring manager at your job interview. When you ask these questions and talk about your hiring executive’s business obstacles, you’ll be in a Pain Interview!

You have to start with a Pain Hypothesis that you formulated long before the interview, maybe a week or two ago. You researched the organization. You read your hiring manager’s LinkedIn LinkedIn profile from top to bottom. You thought about the question “If I were this manager, what would be keeping me up at night?”

Is it customer service hold times, or the fact that the company has no social media strategy from what you can tell? Is it problems with financing for new product development? You know a lot about your industry and your function. Let’s put that learning to use!


Here’s how you’ll advance a Pain Hypothesis to get the Pain Interview party started!

MANAGER: So, how long have you been using Excel?

YOU: Oh, about five years I guess – I love Excel. I’m a spreadsheet geek, for sure. Listen, can I ask you a quick question about the job?

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