The “Why?” Test… Indentifying your needs? So What?

Last Saturday, we looked at how relationship to your job is much like the relationship you have with a romantic partner. Part of ensuring that we’re in the “right” relationship is understanding what we want and need, and being able to assess whether what we have, or what we think we want, will actually deliver on those objectives. It sounds like a massive task – and it is – or is it?

Over the years, I’ve worked with employers and jobseekers, including those re-entering the job market or looking to change direction. One of the key questions I’ve asked is “why?” Why must that candidate have that particular skill? What must that job involve this, that or the other? Why aren’t you happy in your current situation? It’s the most important question you can ask yourself and it’s essential if you want to uncover the truth of your current situation and what you want – this is true of work, relationships and life in general.

I call this my “Why?” test. Yes, it does evoke images of an annoying child asking “why?” to every instruction you give them, but hear me out. Sometimes, depending on the audience and the situation and may substitute it with “so what?” instead but like most things you need to know your audience – misjudging it can cause to embarrassment and offense. I generally reserve the “so what?” for my internal monologue – yes I undertake this exercise with myself all the time. It’s a great way to test your objectives and motivation.

All too often, we go after or stay with X because we think it will deliver Y. In fact there may be a better way to achieve Y – and sometimes the reality is that we don’t want Y – we want Z which we think Y will be able to offer. But if we don’t ask ourselves “Why?” we’ll never uncover the truth of our situation and be able to appraise it honestly.

Here’s an example – this is a real one so I’m sure many of you will be able to relate to it. I was working with someone who said that they needed to achieve a particular salary in their new role. I asked why and they explained that they wanted more money when they moved. I asked why and the answer was really just the assumption that they should get more money to tempt them away. Asking why this should be the case, they revealed that they would only move for a promotion or more responsibility and naturally would want more money to reflect this. I asked why they were looking for more responsibility; they revealed that they wanted to develop a particular skill set. Again I asked why…. you get the picture. At the end of our session, we’d discovered that while they were quite happy in their current role, they really wanted to take their career in a different direction – that was the real thing that would tempt them away, not money. With this established as the long term goal we could start to think about what the priorities should be – in fact it would be unlikely that there would be a promotion or a pay rise, but a lateral move which afford these opportunities and a much happier life in the long term.

A similar situation arose with a very dear friend of mine. She seemed to have very diffuse goals and was looking to pursue something very different. The vacancy they were applying for was very different to anything that they’d done before. Through the use of “why” to every answer we were able to drill down into their real motivation – they current post failed to meet their core values. However, the post they were applying for probably wouldn’t achieve that either. Our conversation ended with them stating “Because I want to feel like a make a difference, it’s who I am.” To carry on with the “why” questioning after that would have been insulting and unnecessary, and a little facetious. We’d drilled down to the ultimate requirement and could expand her search to find all the jobs which could potentially meet her fundamental need.
It’s a great technique for clarifying tangible requirements – particularly around salary, working hours, location and so on. I’ve even used it when looking at properties and it’s amazing how it can help you hone in on what you really need. Sometimes, it will confirm your existing position, but sometimes it will open up whole new opportunities. Perhaps you don’t need to restrict you job search to a particular location, if child care is on site, or if the working hours are flexible. Perhaps you can move for the same salary because there’s parking on site – I’ve even been able to take a pay cut on this basis but in real terms been better off.
So what, I hear you say…. exactly.


Helen Treharne

I’m Helen Treharne, fiction author an creator of The Sophie Morgan Vampire Series. I live in South Wales with my husband, young son and rescue cat.
My books are available at all major digital retailers with soft back copies also available from Amazon, Createspace and other stores.
When I’m not writing fiction, I blog at, sharing my experiences of being a busy parent jugging working, writing, and more. Follow me there for my personal insights.

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