By Frances Jones

The “Six Layers of Why” is a mental exercise consultants use to deliver recommendations to a client, in the client’s own language. The technique is simple. When you hit a roadblock ask, “Why?” When you’ve gotten the answer, ask the same question again. Repeat four more times. Although asking the same question over and over may initially seem irritating or childish, it can often lead to unexpected answers or insights. Exploring the “Six Layers of Why” ensures you haven’t left any ideas unturned.

Here’s an example. I was recently working on re–branding a client to attract a more upscale clientele. As I began researching their brand language, I discovered a product description that could only be described as down–market. My first instinct was just to say, “Change it.” Yet by tabling this impulse and asking, “Why?” we started digging into the issue. Asking, “Why?” five further times was edifying. After their initial reaction, “It’s always been that way,” they admitted the decision was made by the founder’s son in the 1940s to bring in customers. With this information, I was able to appeal to their sense of heritage – and logic – in my request that they change their description. Evolving their language has helped them to attract the customers they were seeking.

Why Ask “Why” in Your Job Search
Say, for example, you are looking for a job in marketing, but you’ve been at your current job for some time, or you’ve been off the market for awhile. Simply dusting off your old resume won’t be enough. You’ll have to re–word many roles to make it sound current and alive. I recommend researching today’s job postings for positions you might target. What you’ll discover is that – while the basic elements of the job haven’t changed – the way people talk about those elements may have.

While you’re reading these job descriptions, ask yourself why they’re written the way they are, and why particular skills are either required or highlighted. The answers will help you refocus and update your resume. For instance, what your old resume refers to as ‘managed market research plans’ might now be phrased in more detailed terms like, “ran focus groups to uncover consumer trends.” Wow. That’s more exciting. That’s language that makes me want to get in touch.

As you get ready for your interview the “why’s” can also be extraordinarily helpful. A qualification like, “I was nominated four times for Eastern Sales Manager of the year” is something you could improve upon prior to your face–to–face meeting. Asking yourself the first “why” leads you to the statement, “Because I increased sales 23%.” The second “why”, (in effect, “how?”) probes you to detail how you accomplished this goal. You might respond, “Because I instituted a new approach to talking to customers.” The third “why” gets behind the performance issue you identified. “Why’s” four five, and six can then help you articulate how you plan to add value to a potential company. As you can see, by asking yourself to explain further, you can develop more well–rounded, fully fleshed out answers to common interview questions.

As you hunt for the best fit in your area of expertise, use the “Six Layers of Why” as a helpful tool to position yourself against the pack.

Frances Cole Jones is the author of How to Wow: Proven Strategies for Presenting Your Ideas, Persuading Your Audience, and Perfecting Your Image” and the President of Cole Media Management, a communications consulting firm in New York City.