Interview Lessons from Subway

Needing to get caught up on some reading and reviewing for my team, I worked from home yesterday.  With apologies to my friends over at Quick Sandwiches (my preferred sandwich destination), I went to a Subway nearby to pick up lunch.

At the cash area, there was a refreshingly cool blast from the air conditioner; besides providing a cold and friendly embrace, it also caused an instructional notice to the employees to be visible (the sheet was affixed to the top part of the sneeze guard, sticking up the air, and the force of the airflow caused it to bow over towards the patrons).  This notice was apparently a directive entitled, “Always Upsell”.

Ah, the upsell…so pervasive in our commercial establishments.  I particularly dislike the upsell in restaurants: “would you like to add a side of sauteed peppers and onions?”  No!

I could only see the top part of the form, but the first suggestion/directive was to “ask open-ended questions“, with the handy example of saying, “What kind of drink would you like with that?” rather than the closed, “Would you like a drink with that?” or (gasp!) not mentioning a drink or the convenient combo at all.

No sooner had I read this when I was asked, “That’ll be a combo?” in a hopeful manner with audible intonation/expectation.  You presume much, Subway! (I didn’t make it a combo)

In parallel to this conversation, and inwardly chuckling about a glaringly visible sign to extract more money from customers, I was thinking about interview questions.  Many an interviewer has stumbled by asking closed questions like “Would you describe yourself as creative?” or “Have you ever had to deal with a conflict in the workplace?”.  Skilled interviewees could take these closed questions and crank them open, but other folks might stumble and simply give yes/no responses.  No one gains much from that exchange.  To get the most out of the conversation, the interviewer could phrase the question differently: “How would you describe yourself?” and “How would you deal, or have you dealt, with a conflict in the workplace?”

The open-ended question…applicable to so many situations in life.  Don’t make the limiting mistake of asking closed questions, a simple rewording will serve you well.


Lee Brooks is the founder of Cromulent Marketing, a boutique marketing agency specializing in crafting messaging, creating content, and managing public relations for B2B technology companies.

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Posted in Advertising, Careers, Everything, Marketing

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