Want a Productive Meeting ? Ask these Productive Questions

Picture this. A team-meeting where just one person is speaking, setting the agenda, explaining the tasks, and the others just nod their way through the meeting, only to realise much later that they aren’t clear about a key concern.

Take this other scenario. Again, a team-meeting, and someone who isn’t in a habit of conducting meetings is doing so now. A barrage of questions would overwhelm this new person, but just the right amount could potentially help them get a cue about how they are doing the job thus helping them ease into the meeting. It can also tell them how effectively have they communicated and what they can keep in mind in future meetings.

Asking questions is almost like an art. When asked at the right time, to the right person, in the right manner can lead to fruitful discussions, integration of unique perspectives leading to innovation, filling gaps and loopholes leading to the outcomes actually desired.

This art is seen in interviews, but it can also be utilised in meetings, brainstorming sessions and important decision-making discussions.

Let us take a look at some strategies to ask better questions so that team-meetings can actually include perspectives of team-members, and brainstorming sessions don’t end up becoming storms to run away from!

The Nuance of ‘Why’:

Contrary to what is obvious, ‘why’ is actually not a question that can lead to many fruitful discussions; at least not always. Have we not had times when a sudden ‘why’ rendered us questioning the whole point of our agenda? It could often shut us down and demoralise.

As Amy Drader writes in a blog for growthpartnersconsulting.com, ‘why’ can actually make the person asked get defensive. It often requires them to look into the past and justify a key decision. Necessary at certain times, at other times, it can drive the discussion away from the solution and more to the problem itself.

So, asking a ‘why’ demands a lot more prudence about how one frames or phrases it.


The key then is to ask questions which elicit answers that lead one to think in a direction they might not have. To lead one to offer their perspective. To clarify, to specify. Because let us face it, speakers could forget key details in the rush to get done with the meeting, and thus the onus lies on the others listening to ask the right questions and get all the details clearly laid out.

Open-ended questions, generally but not always begin with a ‘what’, ‘how’ and sometimes ‘who’. Some examples provided by the blog cited above include questions like:

  • How do we move forward?
  • What is the important thing to do here, and what is that can wait for later?
  • What do you think is the best option?
  • What are some things expected from us?
  • What can we expect this to achieve?
  • What are we trying to accomplish here?
  • What seems to be the best practice/alternative/strategy?
  • How has this been done in the past and how can we do it better?
  • Who are the key persons with what sort of roles in this?
  • What impact is this likely make?

And so on.

Note how most of these questions are likely to elicit a discussion, invite some perspectives, clarify a few things and provide the specifics. For the speaker too, it is not a bad idea to ask questions like these to individual members. A question as simple as ‘what do you think about…’ followed by questions on a similar tangent as mentioned above can encourage the listeners put their point forward.

Listening Skills:

However, great questions will not mean anything if we don’t listen to the responses and not help taking the meeting in the right direction. While asking questions should be an important part of any meeting, it should not become a hindrance to the agenda.

Thus, it is important that the questions are asked with an intention to:

  • Get clarity about the agenda
  • To prevent taking unnecessary long detours
  • Avoiding potential loopholes and filling gaps
  • Make sure the speaker isn’t missing out on any key detail

And not with an intention to:

  • Provide opinions that don’t directly concern the agenda
  • Waste time
  • Assert power to fuel in office politics

While open-ended questions work great, there will be times when a simple yes or no shall be enough to provide the necessary clarity. At such times, it is best to let the meeting move forward and not try to come up with further questions just for the sake of coming up questions. The key is to ask questions that facilitate the movement of the meeting.  

The Independence Within

The Independence Day of our country is right around the corner! Time and again we are reminded of the sacrifices our freedom fighters have made and how indebted we are to them, when we take a look around and see where we stand as a country after all these years. Have we looked within and tried to cultivate a state of freedom in our own thinking and actions?

Hereby we take a look at some aspects where an independence of thought and a freedom from the shackles of conformity is a must if we want to make the best of our careers. Let us take a look!

Independence in Thinking About our Career-Values:

Often, we find ourselves being confronted by key decisions…of other people. When a long-time co-worker leaves their job, we find ourselves wondering if it’s time for us to leave as well. When we see a colleague take up a new side-venture, we wonder if we should do it too. In other words, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of comparison and put ourselves through unnecessary rethinking. There is a fine line between wanting a change in one’s path and wanting a change in one’s path because someone made you feel so.

 A keen sense of self-awareness about one’s own career path is necessary to make sure we make the right decisions, independently, keeping our own situation, our aspirations and our own dreams in mind. An independence in thinking about what works well for our life and career is necessary to stay on the right path so we don’t end up projecting the situation and aspirations of someone else onto ours.

This brings us to a related but nevertheless an important point.

Independence in Thinking About our Values:

Everyone wants different things from their jobs. Some of us might crave for some structural stability, while others are looking for an outlet for their creativity, while some are looking to channelise their need to uplift and inspire people. A person might be looking for autonomy, fulfilling intellectual work, fast-pace and new challenges. Another person might be looking for stability, security, steadiness and routine work.

What gives the other person contentment might leave another feeling stuck. It is thus necessary to think about our own individual values, independent of what others decide for themselves and what countless success-stories of others might tell us.

One too many of us often under-utilise our potential, change paths unnecessarily or stay at the same place wondering why we are unhappy because of not thinking about what we really want from our work.

Independence in Initiative:

We often let factors like office politics, prejudices and biases of others, our own assumptions about people, our mental-sets about our own capacities come in the way of taking efficient initiatives within the workplace environment. The latter point deserves some more explanation. A senior member might have the mental-set that they can’t learn anything new and that technology is difficult to master when in reality, it’s a fast- growing learning curve. A younger person might feel the interviewers on the panel are out to bully their lack of experience and go in the interview already under-confident when in reality, they are testing how fresh their ideas are. A person in the middle of their career might feel like their opportunities have dried up and it’s no use learning or undertaking anything new, when in reality their wisdom and humility are much needed qualities.

While communicating with client and colleagues, we often let the established biases, prejudices and assumptions come in the way, stopping us from trying our best, thinking ‘It has always been like this…’, when in reality, a little independence in thought, a little unshackling can lead us to think, ‘Yes, it has always been like this, but have we tried to…’

It is about trying out an innovation without waiting for someone else to bring it up.

It is about understanding the shackles that bind our thinking in the form of hearsay, unsaid conventions and outdated beliefs and cultivating that independence in trying to look beyond them.

Thus, this Independence Day, let us free ourselves from habits and thought patterns that prevent us from being the best version of ourselves and making our office environment a better place. Team UHR wishes everyone a very happy Independence Day!

New Kind of Interview Questions in the New Normal

As more and more hiring avenues open up amidst the new normal, we find a change in mechanisms related to interviewing, onboarding and company culture. We have talked about onboarding, or more precisely about onboarding yourself in an earlier article. We have also talked about skills in demand for remote-workers. And now, we shall take a look at the new kind of interview questions one might need to start preparing for in the light of the post-pandemic world of work.

The interactions around the office space have changed, and there have been some new additions to the commonly asked interview questions. So, let us take a look at the kind of interview questions one might have to answer as the new normal brings in a need for new set of skills.

Let us see some questions, what the interviewers want to know through those questions and what you can do to use them to your advantage.

The chief themes of the questions will revolve around remote working, and the ability to self-direct.

Some questions will revolve around your experience of working remotely. Questions like:

  • Have you ever worked remotely? How did you adapt to the work from home challenge?
  • Which aspects of remote working did you enjoy and which ones were challenging?

The employers/interviewers would ask such questions to gauge your adaptability, your self-discipline, how you have set up your work from home environment, and in what ways would you manage hybrid workspaces. The obvious key is to make it clear through your answers that you can be productive from home, and show that you are comfortable enough in using remote-working technologies.

The nature of the interview has changed, and thus aside from a well-groomed demeanour, how you have set up your current meeting, your comfort with your equipment, care about the connectivity and a distraction-free environment will be the core things to be careful about, and they will be an answer in themselves.

Some questions will revolve around your communications skills. Questions like:

  • How would you communicate with your manager and co-workers in a remote setting?
  • How would you ensure that our teams collaborate safely with each other and clients?

These seemingly simple questions might be asked to gauge how you report and hold accountability. Moreover, organisations would also be looking for safety in the office space as well. Your answers should revolve, in addition to reporting and accountability, around specific examples of how you got things done with your team members, clients in your previous job when things were uncertain and members were absent.

Think of specific examples when you kept the client engaged through the uncertain situation, or at least how you plan/intend to do so.

Some questions will revolve around in what ways you took advantage of the situation.

The underlying theme is ‘how did you deal with a difficult situation?’

They would want to know in what ways did you take advantage of the various online resources. Moreover, they would also want to know if you took the time out to reassess your career and if there were any significant insights you had. Be prepared with answers about the various webinars, certification courses you might have attended, how you used your networking skills and if there are any new hard or soft skills you developed.

Expect questions about the extent of one’s comfort with a ‘return’ to the office and travel; keep your answers as well as potential alternatives and solutions in mind.

Finally, as a candidate, there are some questions you could ask to arrive at the right decision. Questions surrounding:

  • What technology will be used for the main tasks.
  • How communication will be carried out among employees, like details about online meeting invitations and scheduling, and who will be in-charge of those.
  • What tools and resources would the company provide to employees in case of remote-working.
  • Safety requirements and provisions made.
  • Return to office time-table and the extent of its flexibility.

Answering About your Typical Workday

answering about your typical workday, how does a typical workday look like

There are interview questions wherein the purpose of asking is quite clear. Questions like:

It is quite obvious why they are asked. But even these seemingly direct questions have a key to answer, which have charted out in our older articles.

There are interview questions which might feel redundant, leaving us wondering why a future employer would like an answer to this. One such common but interesting question is:

‘Could you describe a typical workday?’

A lot of us might find ourselves wondering at such a question that:

  • What is the use of asking about my typical workday at a job I am planning to change?
  • Which details do they want to know exactly?
  • Why are they asking something which isn’t really related to this new job that I am applying for?
  • How does this question answer anything about why I am a good hire/cultural fit/cultural addition?

Without further ado, let us look into the intricacies of this question and what one can keep in mind when the time comes to answer it.

The Purpose:

Firstly, why is this question asked? What is the purpose of getting to know a candidate’s typical workday?

According to an article on The Muse, the core purpose is that the interviewer wants to know what responsibilities you have at your current or most recent job/volunteer work/internship, how you prioritise and approach those responsibilities. This core purpose is something even interns/freshers can keep in mind and structure their answers accordingly.

Another purpose is that they want to know if there are responsibilities that you have which overlap or match with the job description of this new job you are applying for. They would like to know if you are already doing a task which you would have to undertake at this new job, and to what extent are you ready to take up something like that.

Moreover, the interviewers are often looking to see how your current (or most recent) work environment is like and how you deal with it.

All in all, the overarching purpose is to get to know the responsibilities, environment, approach and priorities based on how the answer has been constructed, and how well a candidate might transfer it all to the new job. This brings us to the next point: how does one answer such a question?

Answering It:

Reading, Listing, Connecting:

  It is always a good idea to read the job description as you are preparing for the interview. The job description will tell you what skillsets would the interviewer be looking to hear about.

The obvious parallel step is to actually refresh and write it out for yourself the responsibilities you have had in your previous/recent/current job, and what you a typical productive day looked like. As you create a list of things you did, your next step is to find if there is an overlap between what you did and what your job description will expect you to do.

This will be easy if you are applying for a similar role in the same or similar field but there are bound to be some differences. But what you will pick on are similarities between tasks and responsibilities in your old typical workday and what you anticipate at your new endeavour based on the job description. This brings us to the next step.

-Chronologise and Emphasize:

Similar but not entirely the same as walking someone through your CV, walking someone through your typical workday will involve telling them in a chronological order about your tasks and responsibilities for the day or week. In case of the CV-story it was advisable to emphasize just on the relevant parts and keep an order that gives a sense to your career narrative. Here, in case of ‘walking through a typical workday’, it is important that you:

  • Maintain the chronology, that is, the correct order of how you chose to do the tasks.
  • At the same time emphasizing on the task(s) which you think was important and why you undertook it the way you did.
  • Don’t spend too much time talking about repetitive tasks and do spend time on tasks which have impelled you to work strategically and creatively.


The catch is, like most interview answers, to be concise, clear and strategic. Strategic how?

There will be times when you might wonder if you should tell something which isn’t really a part of the new job description but was anyway a big part of what you did. Do we leave it out? No, because that would show the gaps in your narrative. Do we dwell on it too much? No, because that would not give you enough time to focus on the more directly related bits. What we need is strategy here where we talk about the ‘different’ responsibility in a way that gives a sense to the interviewer as to how you handle similar responsibilities. This is an especially valuable insight if your workdays kept changing or there was no typical workday as such or what you are interviewing for is a little different from what you did/do.

The Muse article gives a good example:

‘…if you’re in an accounting role where you work on many aspects of a company’s finances, but you’re interviewing for a payroll-specific job, you might choose to describe a typical day leading up to payday when your focus is more on the type of work you’d be doing in this next role. It might even be worth mentioning at the beginning of your response that there’s no one typical day and you’ll give an example of a day when you’re working on payroll or preparing for a big meeting or closing deals for the quarter.’

And finally, remember that an interview is ultimately a conversation of a kind. Leaving space for questions is fine. Adding ‘…is there anything you would want to hear more about?’ at the end of answer to any interview question is a great idea, which helps you to keep your responses concise and open-ended.

Explaining the Pandemic Gap in Your Resume

In our earlier articles, we have charted out ways of hunting for a job during the pandemic, or onboarding yourself when you have been hired and there are limitations with the said process. Realistically speaking, many of us also had to leave our jobs. Many of us might still be on a look out! Worries might be creeping in about explaining the gap in our resume. Circumstances hit us and we had to remain unemployed and maybe we still are.

The unfair situation might be daunting. One might find wondering things like:

  • How can I explain the employment gap in my resume?
  • What to do if this gap keeps getting longer?
  • How do I make sure they know the gap doesn’t overshadow my skillset and competence?

Addressing these questions, let us delve into what one can do about explaining the gap year in the resume.

Be Honest about the gap:

The number one tip is to be honest about it. It might be tempting to cover it up or say something else about the gap. That is a not a good idea.

A lot of people have been affected by the pandemic when it comes to employment, and everyone knows it. Potential employers, hiring managers will understand your situation and it is best the gap caused as a result of the pandemic is made known.

One can add a little note or a small section in the resume letting the readers know the time period of the gap and that the pandemic was the reason of the gap. One can also add a similar line in the cover-letter. 

This brings us to the next point.

Highlighting the Brighter things:

The revelation has been made but how does one make sure that the gap doesn’t simply end up defining the resume?

The key is to making sure your skills, capabilities and certifications are up to date. If you took up some kind of online L&D while being indoors, add it! If you imparted your own L&D in some way, add it! If you attended any webinars, online workshops, training programs, add, add, add!

If the situation didn’t allow you to engage in much L&D then and you can do it now, go ahead and start, and add what you have started, mentioning the ongoing status.

If still your situation doesn’t let you have access to online L&D, make sure your skills and prior experience section are up to date and that you aren’t missing out on anything. You can still update bits about the soft-skills. Note that while additional L&D while staying stuck inside would be a bonus, it is still fine if you were not able to do any of that. Again, remember that potential employers will understand. But wait, we aren’t done yet!

Contacts and References:

Now is the time to use your references well. Talk to your mentors and seniors and ask them if they would be fine to be listed as your references. Potential employers will understand the gap in your resume and they might get in touch with your references. In the absence of recent work experience, a sense of how you are as a learner, how you approach and handle responsibilities will be a good anchor for the potential employers, which they can get from your references.

Make sure you tell the people listed in your references about job-seeking efforts and what you have been up to lately and how you have handled your situation. Keeping this bit about what you have done lately and how you have been handling the job-seeking is also a good thing to bring up during the interview.

And finally, even if you haven’t landed an interview yet, hang on and know that a ton of people all over the world are in the same boat. Keep up the fighting spirit and use the challenging situation to learn, adapt, and persevere more. Remember to keep developing yourself under pressure in whatever way possible, remember to be antifragile!