Tag Archives: interview questions

7 Universal Job Search Truths

There is an awful lot of advice out there about how to write a perfect resume or give the ultimate answer (42??) to the ultimate interview question. Some of it is even pretty good. But, the truth is there is more than one way to do it right. Recruiting, interviewing and selection are subjective.

It’s very likely that if you ask 10 recruiters for feedback on your resume, you will get 10 different opinions. It’s just as likely that if you ask 10 recruiters the best way to answer an interview question (almost any interview question), you will get 10 different replies.

Don’t get me wrong; as a profession, we do everything we can to take subjectivity out of the equation whenever possible. We (try to) ignore resume format choices. We create interview questions which focus on past work experience and competencies only as they relate to the skills necessary for the jobs we’re filling. We even create job scorecards and interview evaluation forms that help us stay as objective as humanly possible. But see… that’s just it. We’re human. So recruiting remains subjective.

That being said… there are still some things that are universal truths in the job search regardless of who’s on the receiving end.

  1. Proofread and edit your marketing material. No typos, misspellings or raging grammatical errors in your cover letter, resume, thank you note, LinkedIn profile, or any other material you are using to represent yourself are acceptable. If you claim to have great attention to detail, and spell manager without the second a, you’re doing yourself a disservice.
  2. Do your research. Due diligence is critical to a successful interview. If you don’t at least know what the company does, what people are saying about it and what we say about ourselves, you are not getting to the next interview.
  3. Nobody wants to hear your life’s story. If I ask you to “tell me about yourself” (which I don’t ever do by the way, but many people do. See – recruiting is subjective.) I do not want you to regurgitate everything that’s already on your resume. I want to hear the things that are relevant to this particular role and what makes you uniquely qualified for this job.
  4. Be ready and able to prove that you can do / have done what you say you can do / have done. You can’t just tell me you’re an innovator (or an excellent motivator, or that you impact top and bottom line growth) and expect me to just take your word for it. Arm yourself with metrics, results, and stories about your work history that validate your statements.
  5. Be kind. Be polite. Be thoughtful. I know hiring managers who ask their receptionists how you behaved while you were waiting for your interview. And, I actually know someone who, while parking their car, flipped off the person who was about to interview them. Yeah – the interview didn’t even happen.
  6. Stay positive. Desperate people don’t get hired. Neither do the ones who badmouth their former employers or team members.
  7. Be honest and be yourself. Life’s too short and you spend too much of it at work to not be in an environment where you will feel comfortable and really fit in.

If you happen to be the hiring authority, keep an open mind. Your way may not be the best way, and it certainly isn’t the only way. If all we do is hire people just like us, we’ll never grow. And, stagnation will never lead to success.

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Hiring for Trust: 9 Interview Questions



Establishing mutual trust with your existing employees is a great goal, and the key to creating whatever other culture you hope to achieve in your organization. Since coming back from HRevolution and my bold HR session, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about this. You can read about that HERE and HERE.

If you and your employees are all willing to do the work, a culture of trust can be a reality. But how do you make sure that new people you hire will buy in to that culture?

Definition of Trust

First, I think we need to define trust. Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines trust as, “the belief that someone or something is reliable, good, honest, effective, etc.” (yes… etc. is in there. See for yourself.)

When I Google it, trust is defined as the “firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something” with synonyms of confidence, belief, faith, certainty, assurance, conviction, and credence.

Determining Trustworthiness

With this in mind, I have thought long and hard about how to determine “trust” during an interview. A Topgrading interview might get you there – let’s face it, you really KNOW somebody after that process, but that’s not always feasible, especially for higher volume or entry-level recruiting.

Is there some secret sauce to the trust interview? I don’t think so. In my opinion, the best interviews are two-sided conversations, and it’s amazing what people will tell you if you let them…

So here are 9 interview questions that can help get the trust dialogue going.

  1. Tell me about a work incident when you were totally honest, despite a potential risk or downside for the honesty.
  2. Describe a work circumstance when the pressures to compromise your integrity were strong. How did you respond to that?
  3. If there were something you could change about the way your current /most recent employer does business, what would it be and how would you change it?
  4. Under what circumstances have you found it justifiable to break a professional confidence?
  5. When you have experienced unethical behavior at work, have you confronted it, or chosen not to say anything in order not to get involved? Why? Would you do something differently next time?
  6. What are a couple of the most unpopular stands you have ever taken in your career so far?
  7. What are examples of times you went above and beyond the call of duty to help either a customer or co-worker?
  8. What would you if you were given credit for something a co-worker actually did?
  9. Tell me about a time in which you were expected to work with someone you did not like. What would the people who didn’t like you say about you?

Trust Your Instincts

You might not necessarily ask all of these, as in the course of the conversation you may learn all you need.

Trust is something that needs to be earned; it doesn’t happen overnight. But by identifying at least some trustworthy behaviors and attitudes, you can rest assured that you’re on the right track.

The Reason for the Phone Interview

Image Copyright: korionov / 123RF Stock Photo

Image Copyright: korionov / 123RF Stock Photo

When discussing selection strategy with my clients, I often get asked why I include a phone interview at the beginning of the process. My answer is fairly simple.

It’s courteous. For both sides of the phone line.

Resumes and LinkedIn profiles can only tell you so much about a person.

Yes, you learn where and for how long a person has worked. You get an idea of a person’s previous responsibilities. And, if you’re lucky, you get some idea of their accomplishments. (Note to job seekers – please include accomplishments in your marketing material. Inquiring recruiter minds want to know!)

Yet, again, applicants’ marketing material is just that. Marketing.

It may do the job well, and inspire you to move to the next level. But, it may not… and if all you have to go on are previous companies and job titles, is it really best to assume that the applicant is not the right fit? On the contrary, if someone paid a professional to draft marketing material that speaks volumes, is it really best to assume that the applicant *is* the right fit?

Enter… the phone interview.

Conducting a brief, yet thorough phone interview saves time, effort, and money for both the potential employer… and the applicant.

A few simple questions can help both parties determine if they want to move to the next step in the process.

When conducting phone interviews I like to verify that all basic requirements are met and that commute/relocation (and maybe even salary) expectations are in line with what we are prepared to offer.

I use this time to ask some “knock-out” questions. You know, the questions that if the answer is “no” to, we simply can’t move on. These may include willingness to travel, previous experience negotiating contracts… whatever requirements for the job we can’t train for, or change to accommodate an otherwise great candidate.

I also use the time to ask my first culture-fit questions such as asking about preferred work environment, and whether or not the applicant prefers to work autonomously or as part of a team.

And a nasty truth – I measure the person’s energy level, ability to articulate thoughts and answer questions directly, and demonstrate desire for the position. Also, because I typically schedule phone interviews ahead of time vs. just calling someone out of the blue, I use this as a tool to measure punctuality and preparedness.

My ultimate goal is to be sure that we are not wasting anybody’s time by moving on to the next step in the selection process. And, while many job boards and applicant tracking systems allow employers to ask questions in written form, I feel like nothing beats the connection of a two-way conversation.

Do you have thoughts on phone interviews? We’d love to hear about them in the comments.

Hiring for Culture Fit – My 3 Favorite Interview Questions

I often get asked how to determine cultural fit during an interview. My answer partially depends on how you define culture. If you want to determine if a candidate will be successful in your physical work environment you can ask them to describe the work environment or culture in which they believe they are most productive, or like the best. If you want to determine if they will fit in with a particular team, or work well with a certain manager, you can ask them about the teams they’ve worked with and to describe the best boss they ever had.

But if you define culture by “the way things are around here” or the company’s standards of behavior and the attitudes about what is really important inside, then you really need to dig into the things your candidates internalized long before they hit the traditional workforce.

While doing so may not be an exact science, I thought I’d share my top three favorite interview questions (and the thought process behind them) to get at that culture fit.

Copyright: sarahdesign / 123RF Stock Photo

1. Tell me about the very first thing you did that you ever got paid for (your very first job.) Babysitting?  A paper route? Walking dogs? Think back – what did you learn from that experience?

Do I really care what their first job was? No. What I want to learn about are the values they adopted as a result of their experience. I’ll give you an example from my own past. The very first job I ever had was babysitting when I was 12. I worked one evening a week for a single mom of 2 who taught swimming exercises to a group of mastectomy patients. They needed her for so many reasons. And she needed me. I was never late. I never called out sick. I was reliable and dependable at 12, because that’s what I had to be. Was every other sitter she ever hired the same way? Heck no. But those were the values I took away from that role. You know what? 30 some-odd years later I am 100% positive that any of my clients will say that I am reliable and dependable, and I always get the job done.

I had a candidate recently tell me that as his very first job, he house sat when his neighbors went on vacation.  He would get the mail, feed the animals, water the plants, and clear the answering machine. I asked him what he learned from that. His answer was not at all what I expected to hear. I would have guessed at reliability/dependability, just based on my own experience. But, no. He told me that he learned he could keep getting hired by not giving the homeowners messages from the other neighbor boys who wanted his job. He chuckled to himself as some memory fled though his mind. He went on to say that he guessed he was still pretty competitive.


2. I’m going to give you a list of five things. While they’re all important, tell me the one thing that is most important to you in making your next career move. Is it money, recognition, stability, challenge, or environment?

While any answer may be acceptable, understanding your company’s culture enough to know if that answer will work for you is critical. If the candidate says “recognition” and your company has a recognition culture, you’re off to a great start. If the person says “money” is the most important, and you know your organization traditionally pays at the lower end of the competitive scale, you know you have an issue to address.

Another critical component to consider is how the answer fits in with what you already know about the candidate. If the person has been laid off repeatedly throughout his or her career, perhaps due to company closures or lack of work, it makes perfect sense for “stability” to be the response. If the person says “challenge”, but has held the same level of responsibility for the last 10 years, you need to explore.


3. Describe your ideal company culture. What five characteristics does it have?

To really understand if your candidate is a match for your internal culture using this question, you first need to know what five words actually describe your internal culture. Then you need to see how closely your candidate’s answers are to your company’s reality. How to best accomplish this, my friends, is a whole new blog post.


What are your top favorite questions that help you get at culture fit? Let us know in the comments.