Are You Asking the Right Questions... the right way?

apostille preparation Jan 16, 2024

I have come to understand the importance of asking questions correctly, and specifically how to frame a question so you can obtain a specific answer.

The Encyclopedia of Britannica defines the word “question” as “a sentence, phrase, or word that asks for information or is used to test someone's knowledge.”   The key words here is to “test someone’s knowledge.”

Often, people respond to my posts about becoming an Apostille Agent with the same comment: 

"I wish I could do them, but I contacted my Secretary of State, and they told me only the Secretary of State can do that."

That is 100% true. Only a Secretary of State can actually “issue” an Apostille. However, the job of an Apostille Agent is to be the “facilitator” or the person who gets the document(s) to the Secretary of State notarized and acknowledged (when required,) with the correct amount of money and return label(s) so the Secretary of State can issue the Apostille(s).

So, why are you not getting the correct answers to your questions? Are you testing someone’s knowledge, or trying to understand the next step? 

Let’s dive in.

Example: You are an Apostille Agent from Philadelphia. You call the Pennsylvania Secretary of State and ask, “Can I apostille documents?”

The SOS gives you a quick answer and says, “No, the Secretary of State performs that process.”

You hang up and you do not pursue this because you have been told that you cannot do this in your home state.

Now, let’s ask the question in a different way:

You are an Apostille Agent from Philadelphia. You call the Pennsylvania Secretary of State and ask: “I am an Apostille facilitator and I want to know if you can direct me as to where I can find your state acceptance policies and procedures for obtaining Apostilles.”

The recipient of the call answers and says, “You cannot issue them, only our office can do that, but often people such as yourself act as “facilitators” or “expeditors” and help people with the correct process for getting them to our office.” 

He or she may even direct you to their website.

You hang up and you pursue this opportunity.

So, you framed your question to let the person know that you are knowledgeable, and that what you want is more knowledge. You have tested their knowledge and they have responded accordingly.

Unfortunately, more often than not, when making this type of call, you will get a quick Answer.  Many of these people are working from home right now and with extended deadlines in place, they are getting thousands of phone calls. So, it falls to you to try to formulate your questions in a manner in which you will get your desired answer. You need to let them know you are an expert, but you need some assistance.

Let’s use another example:

You are an Apostille Agent from California. You have a document which needs to be apostilled in New Jersey. You call the New Jersey Secretary of State and say: “I am from California. I want to send you an Apostille and I just want to know if you have expedited service.”  

The recipient of the call says, “You can find all of that information on the Internet.”  

You might try:

You are an Apostille Agent from California. You have a document which needs to be apostilled in New Jersey. You call the New Jersey Secretary of State and say, “I am from California. I am sending you a document for Apostille. I have the document, your order form, a return label but before I write a check, I cannot seem to find anything on the Internet about expedited service. Do you offer expedited service”?

The recipient of the call responds, “Yes, we offer 2 days, and it is additional $40.00 per document”.

What did you do? You have shown that you are an expert, and you are prepared. You have put together your order for processing, but you just have one question so that you can complete the job and they can give you your answer “quickly” and “correctly.”

I often encounter a similar situation in my general notary practice.  A person calls or texts and asks,

“Do you do notaries there?” “How much do they cost?”  “What are your hours,” “I might need you on a Saturday in a month or so,” I might have a document next week, etc., etc.

It takes 10 minutes or 10 text threads explaining most of what is clearly on my website.

That same caller could call or text and say, “I am trying to be prepared. I am verifying that if I have a document, I can bring it to you and get it   notarized. I see your hours are weekdays from 8-6 pm, are you available weekends if I need you?

I then respond by saying, “Thank you and yes, we do work on weekends, but by appointment only so be sure to call when you are ready. If you need it, we have online booking.” 

I answered “quickly,” “correctly” and I gave the caller the information he or she needed.

So, before you call someone and ask a question, think about what you need, and framing your question in such a way that you can obtain the desired answer. Let whoever you are calling know that you are prepared, you want to be an expert but require some guidance to compete your transactions.

I have co-authored a book entitled “The Apostille Agents’ Survival Guide, a Not-So-Secret Reference Handbook to International Document Services which is available for purchase on Amazon.

You can reach me at [email protected].


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