Tag Archives: interviews

Two Excellent Books: One on Interviews, One on Career Management

Careermageddon – Cracking the 21st Century Career Code; If you have a job today, you need a plan for when you no longer have it. If you are looking for a job today, this book will show you how to get it, and more importantly how to sustain a career which isn’t at the mercy of an uncertain economic outlook.

Ask the Headhunter: Reinventing the Interview to Win the Job  – Offers detailed advice and insider tips for making it in today’s new business world, the age of downsizing, by explaining how to interview properly and show off one’s best skills in a short period of time in order to make an impression. Original.


Articles for job seekers

No — I Won’t Supply My References Before The First Interview


I agree. I think this practice runs the risk of companies contacting references without the candidate preparing them for what to emphasize (always within their ability to ethically do so!), or even giving notice. References are job search treasure, and must be cherished and protected. It also has the potential to be a sneaky way for companies to gather other names of people to solicit for employment. And depending on how long you’ve been employed, you may want to customize the reference list you give depending on the interview and the directions taken while you were there.

And I’m only semi-cynical in predicting this, but at some point I can see health testing, even DNA testing… all as a condition of being considered for employment. DNA testing brings to mind this cartoon:

Job Search Humor Cartoon


And yes, I have this gene.  (Some would doubtless opine a deplorable excess thereof…)

4 Behavioral Interview Questions That Reveal What a Job Candidate Is Really Like


Insights from the interviewer’s playbook. Good stuff. Related:

5 Non-traditional Interview Questions That Can Help You Select the Best Candidate


With respect to the fourth question specifically: while the question itself is quite legitimate and can lead to great insights, I believe the implicit assumption that if the candidate can’t think of anything then the candidate is assumed to be the one with the problem, is not legitimate. I call BS. There are, sadly, some very bad people in management out there (recall the “conventional wisdom” that people leave managers, not companies) – to de facto assume that problems always reside with the employee, and never with the person’s manager (or the company in general), is naïve. And another question, which I think is actually a very good one, so prepare:

How You Answer This Interview Question Reveals Your True Character


Anyone can “song and dance” their way through an interview and shine. This is a “penetrating” question and gets to a person’s character. I like it; one can train for skill, one can inspire and motivate for attitude… but one cannot implant ethics, integrity, or basic character (at best one can get someone to stick to the “letter of the law” out of fear of punishment, but GOOD behavior and GOOD character – that’s inherent in a person). And it’s actually a good question to ask of a hiring manager too!!

How A Story Database Will Make You More Persuasive


Written for sales, but also vital for job seekers. Stories ENGAGE not just factually, but EMOTIONALLY. The trick is to get in front of someone – a human! – who is willing to have a conversation and listen to your stories… and also have the perception to jump to what your background and stories could do for them.

The tech that hiring managers are using to screen all of your social media posts


I wonder… this could be a good software for someone to purchase, and then have people pay to screen their SM presence. And I have to wonder – I don’t have a FB account. Does that affect me positively, or negatively? I do find this to be a “catch-22”: too much SM presence, and that’s bad, too much of the “wrong” content, that’s bad, not enough or even if you’re not on SM altogether, that’s bad too. In my first essay on this, I came up with a quote which I think very much applies to vetting people through their SM presence:

“Hiring managers and human resources people search the internet for indications about a candidate’s personality, character, opinions, and human failings – and then are shocked and horrified to discover candidates have personalities, characters, opinions, and human failings.”

Consulting Firms: Strike back & stir the pot


Always good stuff from Nick Corcodilos! 

Networking Tips for Awkward People


Good overview thoughts. Especially if, like many technically-oriented people, you tend to not be comfortable in social settings.

7 Toxic Traits Of A Bad Employer


I’ve said this before: if you have time, search on LinkedIn for people who used to work at the company, and see if they’ll answer some questions. Also, if you are a member of related professional societies, ask around. Companies develop reputations. And if you know some good recruiters in the space, they also can be a good place to get off-the-record scuttlebutt. (One recruiter I know told me about a company they’d FIRED as a client because of all the negative feedback about the company they’d received from potential candidates – one of whom actually said “I’d rather be homeless than work for that place.”) 

9 Scary Reasons Overqualified Job Seekers are Rejected


Which only highlights the value of networking in and having conversations with decision-makers. Get to someone who can see beyond the scariness of someone “overqualified” to what you could do for them. And at the risk of shameless self-promotion, consider changing the rules of the game entirely with these thoughts:

The “O” Word 2


Don’t Overshare: What Not to Say During a Job Interview


It used to be, with people building careers at one company over decades, that friendships formed with so much time spent with the same people for so long. (Aside: growing up, my parents would often hold dinner parties; guests were, very regularly, co-workers from either – sometimes both – of my parents’ places of work… even in my next-generation case, some of my still-close friends come from former employers). In interviews “back then”, personal details would come out in anticipation of that long-term relationship. That’s done and in-the-past these days. Today, always ask yourself if the details you are about to share really are their business (and, potentially, could be things held against you for employment purposes, or as potential “leverage” against you should you join).

The most important trait for a successful job search


An absolutely key ingredient.




I am a senior-level Mechanical Engineer with, primarily, a background in plastics where I started my career. I am seeking a full-time engineering role, ideally in medical devices or defense, from Burlington MA to Concord NH, as a:

  • Plastics Design Engineer / Project Engineer
  • New Product Introduction / Design-Manufacturing handoff
  • Cost Reduction “Tiger Team” Engineer
  • Manufacturing / Process Engineer

For those interested, you can see some target companies on my blog:

Target Companies


And please do look at my portfolio of things I’ve done, and topical (i.e., engineering / manufacturing) essays I’ve written:



And lastly, I do urge you to “Pay it forward” yourself. I don’t NEED to post articles, job leads, etc. I WANT to do it because it’s a way to help people. Character matters. As I said in my essay:

The Hairs-Breadth Challenge


“Life is about helping people; if you aren’t elevating others, you’re diminishing yourself.”

Articles for Job Seekers

10 CV Mistakes That Put Employers Off Your Candidates 


It never hurts to keep fundamentals in mind.


9 Killer Questions Candidates Ought to Ask the Interviewer


All good; I would like to stress #6. At one job I had, the person who led the interview process, who called to extend the offer, and to whom I thought I reported – was NOT my actual direct supervisor / manager. And even after I attempted to engage the thought-he-was-my-boss person to firm up a six month plan with priorities, it was NOT made clear to whom I actually reported for a good couple of weeks. 


What Parking Says About Your Character


I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, this has the potential to be indicative of character and I do see the argument. On the other hand, this has the feeling of “reading tea leaves”; i.e., if they WANT to find something wrong (or good) about you, they can. IMHO, ultimately, this is much too subjective and open to interpretation. But do be aware that you are potentially being watched and evaluated even before you go in… and potentially as you drive in. You never know that the person you cut off (or worse, flip off!) might be the hiring manager coming back from lunch! 


How to get to love networking


It doesn’t HAVE to be scary. 


Employer Unfairly Blacklisted An Employee. Here’s What Happened… 


The problem is that it’s almost never this obvious (or contestable). One recruiter I know well, who has placed me in multiple interviews over the years, said that MOST of this happens at HR society meetings. He described several as nothing more than verbal sessions of “Don’t hire X, Y, or Z.” This is a problem! And I disagree with J.T.’s observation that most companies understand it’s partially both employer and employee… from both my readings AND from experience, the potential employer gives full weight to the other employer, and very little credence to the candidate’s side of things. 


I Would Never Have Taken This Job If I’d Known About The Hours


60 seems to be the new 40, hours-at-work-wise. And 70 is the new 100, salary-wise. IMHO this is not sustainable. And I find it interesting that the “conventional wisdom” is NOT to ask about typical work hours… for fear of branding yourself as a 9-to-5 type, but Liz recommends asking specifically. Let me be clear: no professional objects to crisis OT – it’s part of the territory. But if you need to work 60 hours a week to get your regular job done… something is very, very wrong.


How to make age less of a factor in your job search


Read the comments; some very penetrating insights, comments, and questions about / objections to the article. 


Avoid This Salary Negotiation Mistake


Not only some straight advice, but a bunch of video snippets too. Related to salary: 

Doing the Salary “Dance” in Job Interviews



The value of employee loyalty revealed


The irony is… loyalty needs to go – MUST GO! – both ways, and IMHO must be shown TO the rank-and-file before people reciprocate. 


5 Steps to Take When Using LinkedIn to Network for a Job


Some great advice on using this tool. 


Answering Tough Interview Questions: What Kind of Tree Would You Be?


If someone actually asked me this question, depending on how much I wanted the job, I’d counter with:

  1. “And how does this pertain to my ability to do the job here?”
  2. “One of those moving trees from the ‘Lord of the Rings’ – Huorns – because I’m walking out of here.”


Don’t Make These Body Language Mistakes!


While body language IS important, the more obsessed over it you become, the less you will be perceived as genuine.



I am a senior-level Mechanical Engineer with, primarily, a background in plastics where I started my career. I am seeking a FT engineering role, ideally in medical devices or defense, from Burlington MA to Concord NH, as a:

  • Plastics Design Engineer / Project Engineer
  • New Product Introduction / Design-Manufacturing handoff
  • Cost Reduction “Tiger Team” Engineer
  • Manufacturing / Process Engineer

For those interested, you can see some target companies on my blog:


And please do look at my portfolio of things I’ve done, and topical essays I’ve written (including two that were republished by the Society of Plastics Engineers!):


Given my accomplishments, i.e., proven examples of saving money, developing new products and processes… what could I do for you?


Articles for job seekers

Please do keep in mind, I’m on a job search too.

  • Product Design Engineer (strength in plastics design, but I can do other things too)
  • New Product Introduction Engineer
  • Cost Reduction Engineer
  • Manufacturing / Process Engineer

North of Boston, MA, ideally in the medical devices or defense industries.


7 (Really Hard) Interview Questions You Must Answer Properly


There’s a fine line between penetrating questions and interrogations. In the best of all possible worlds, an interview should be a conversation. Not necessarily an easy one at all times, but a conversation nonetheless! If you’re being treated like a suspect, or you feel you’re having to prove – at every step – the veracity of what you say, then that’s a red flag about their culture.

Boomerslang: The Clues in Your Resume That Can Out You as an Older Applicant


Even if you can hide your age in a resume, they’ll know when you walk in the door. That happened to a person I know – they’d be all enthusiastic at his resume, and excited after the phone interview… and he described how, time after time, he’d go into a place that was gung-ho about his visit, and their faces would fall when they saw his white hair and wrinkles. More:

55, unemployed and faking normal: One woman’s story of barely scraping by


The comment that age discrimination starts at 35 YEARS OLD was frightening. We’re approaching a world where, at 40, you’re thrown on the trash heap. What a waste of capability and experience! Related:

The Recruiter Said ‘At Your Age, You’d Better Take What You Can Get’


An open question: Do people who commit ageism truly believe that, when they get older, it won’t happen to them?

3 Reasons Baby Boomers Are Getting Fired


In the details, there’s some good advice here. In the grand scheme, however, I think J.T. O’Donnell is full of it in this essay (she’s done a lot of other, very good, ones). IMHO the single biggest objection companies have to older workers is NOT “tech savvy” or “higher salary” or anything else typically cited… but rather the strength of character of older workers to:

  1. Not sign on to the latest frenzied craze; life experience teaches that this is often a lemmings-off-the-cliff scenario. Experience breeds an ability to resist drinking the faddish Kool-Aid but, instead, say “Let’s take a serious and considered look at this, not scurry like ants that have had a wet lollipop dropped on the nest”. 
  2. Having a brain and a spine, and a willingness to NOT accede to insane demands on time. Crisis OT is one thing – no white collar professional objects to that. But when, to get your regular job done, it is necessary to spend 60 (or even more) hours a week at work, and to be expected to be accessible 24/7, older people push back.

 Side anecdote: A friend of mine from a former employer had his boss send him a meeting request for Monday morning at 8 AM… that prior Sunday afternoon. Had my friend not logged in to check, he’d have missed it.

Also, don’t forget the dreaded THREAT TO THE HIRING MANAGER’S CHAIR.

3 Common Negotiation Pitfalls And How To Avoid Them


I read this and think of the scene from “Devil’s Advocate”… “Are we negotiating?” “Always!”

Answer to Interview Question: “Have You Ever Been Fired?”


The trick, IMHO, is not to song-and-dance, or worse, lie, but to give them enough to answer the question without uncovering the rabbit hole for them to pursue. That never ends well.

Long-Term Unemployed? 5 Options to Fill that “Employment Gap”


The trick can be getting contract work too. And… a quote: “Remember, in this economy, it is not uncommon to hit a bump in the road during your career. How you handle it is what makes the difference going forward.” >> While I agree with all this, in my opinion there is still a huge “empathy gap” for people who are in the situation on the part of people who – purportedly – value EQ. Mentioned at the end of the article:

Overcoming the “Unemployed Bias” https://www.job-hunt.org/recruiters/overcoming-bias-unemployed.shtml

My one objection to this: Cranking up the confidence can lead to being perceived as arrogant. Where’s the window on that? One person’s confidence is another’s arrogance; one person’s low key is another’s passivity. And so on.

10 Powerful Headhunter Interview Tips That Will Help You Land the Job http://www.youtern.com/thesavvyintern/index.php/2017/03/15/headhunter-interview-tips-land-job/

Questions you may be asked!

The Cover Letter Formula That Skyrocketed My Interviews From 0% to 55% http://www.payscale.com/career-news/2017/02/cover-letter-formula

Worth reading, but I don’t think it’s something that can be reduced to a formula.

The last remaining human skill


Excellent point. And those that help people are better off than those that just absorb.

The best kept networking secret for jobseekers


Everyone out there is networking (if they’re paying attention). The trick is to network in places and in ways that sets you apart.


Ask 6: Still more questions to ask in interviews

This is the sixth in a series of thoughts I’ve had for unique and penetrating questions to ask during an interview. These days, the expectation is that you will ask questions and there are many articles out there on “stock” questions to ask. I submit these – as an on-going series – in an effort to provide questions that will be revealing in that they’re not going to be the same-old, same-old questions interviewers hear all the time – thus, not only gaining you useful information, but differentiating you in their eyes. The prior ones in the series are Ask, Ask 2, Ask 3, Ask 4, and Ask 5.

Tell me about the last time you went head-to-head in a disagreement with a subordinate. What was it about and how was it resolved? (This can also be reworded to be asked to potential co-workers.)

Hey, if employers can ask behavioral questions, so can you. The positive of this question is that, assuming they answer the question, you will gain insight into how they handle disagreements in the group. The negative, obviously, is the implicit (even if incorrect) message that you are a troublemaker who wants to know how they’ll handle when you don’t toe the line. But, in and of itself, that too would be a useful piece of information about what it would be like to work there. And asking a reworded version to co-workers can reveal if the boss is a “My way or the highway” person, or is open to alternatives and constructive disagreements from the team.


Am I the first candidate you’ve interviewed for this position?

Best to ask this early on, and casually. But this can be a critical datum point. Very often in the interview process interviewers learn from their conversations with candidates details and tidbits of what they want that they hadn’t realized they wanted – and those get added to their mental lists. Thus, you don’t want to be first. Then again, they may have already decided by the time you get there and are just going through the motions. Now, there’s nothing you can really do about it, but… consider a follow-on question if they say they’ve spoken to several other people:

I’m curious: Have you refined what you want in a candidate based on those prior conversations?

This should indicate to a hiring manager that you’re really interested in what their needs are. In my experience, there is always something that they’ve identified from talking with the first candidate or two. See if you can get it out of them, and then address those points. Those newly-discovered, but undocumented, wants and needs can make or break you.

Have you seen a lot of resumes for this position?

This is especially pertinent for companies that use ATS portals, and is probably best asked of HR. It’s an imperfect metric, but the number of resumes the HR person has seen can be an indication of how much competition there is, how fine their ATS screen is, and – if they’ve not seen many and you’re talking with them – this is an excuse to then chime in sympathetically about how hard it is to find qualified people and that you’re glad you’ve met the bar to be them in person. Thus, this can be a psychological trick to get them to put you on the short list since they’ve seen so few resumes come through.

What is the last book or magazine you’ve read?

This is a reversal – hey, they can ask, why not you? – of the third question from here. Just as the person who asks this wants to understand your intellectual base, I think it’s fair to understand the hiring manager’s intellectual base too.

When’s the last time you changed your mind about something “big”, what was it, and what changed your mind?

How open-minded is your potential boss? Are they ossified in their cognitive template, or can they assimilate new information even if it disrupts their world view? Note that this has a danger in that it can tread upon peoples’ deep-held beliefs, and threatens to open up the Three Dread Topics: Sex, Religion, and Politics. So I’d recommend this one only if you are having a good, friendly conversation where there seems to be a good rapport.

Who is the last person who left the group, and do you know why?

This is best aimed at potential co-workers, and can be phrased any number of ways to investigate a little. What are you hoping to find? That people leave the group because they are promoted. If people leave because they’re shown the door, or spew bile about the place as they walk out the door, that’s not a good sign. A related question to ask, if someone left to go elsewhere, is:

How did the boss take it when so-and-so left the company?

When someone finds a better career move, it’s sad for the company they’re leaving but good for them. I read about one company – don’t recall which – that as a person exits on their last day, people line up to applaud and congratulate them. (WOW!) If a boss doesn’t even spring for a goodbye lunch, that can be an indicator of vindictiveness. And a parallel question to ask HR:

What would you say the turnover rate at this company is like?

First, HR better know it. If they hem and haw, it means it’s high. And a high turnover rate can mean several things: 1) that they fire lots of people, 2) that lots of people leave, which can indicate lots of problems, whether low pay, high stress, abusive managers, etc. (In parallel, if you have time and access to industry groups in the area related to the company’s business, see if you can dig a little into what the company’s “ people churn rate” is.)

© 2015, David Hunt PE

Fuzzy Limits

In high school my Physics teacher asked a very intriguing question: How do you know when you’ve reached a limit?

The answer, of course, is that you don’t. You know when you’ve exceeded a limit. Even at the limit of strength, a string remains unbroken, a compressed spring retains its resiliency; an ID is still 100% good the day before its expiration, but utterly useless the day after. Something on a slope with a specified coefficient of friction will not slide at a maximum angle “X” but will slide if the angle goes above that value. And so on. What’s the common key here? All these things are objectively quantifiable and predictable.

People Have Fuzzy Limits

Unlike the above examples, people are not inanimate things with immovable limits. Depending on their mood, experiences, memories and past associations, likes, dislikes, hormones, their being rested or not, their nutritional intake, stress level, and myriad other factors, peoples’ limits while interacting with others are… fuzzy.

Take jokes for example. As the late comedian Milton Berle said, “Laughter is an instant vacation” and I fully endorse this view; I am a firm believer in the idea that life is too serious to take seriously. Even between longtime friends, however, one person can hear and think a joke is hysterically funny, but in sharing it with another, the other person may not appreciate it. A joke about divorce may rile a person who, unknown to the joker, has just been told by their spouse that their marriage is over. So many factors go into whether someone likes, or doesn’t like, humor that there is no one-size-fits-all in this.

In a similar vein, citing the workplace, interactions are both necessary and yet ripe for misunderstanding especially as people grow to know each other and relax. As an example, take the universal “Harassment Training” that is part of every company’s new hire orientation. Now, I need to make clear that I am not advocating harassment of any sort; whether racial, sexual, religious, or anything else, making disparaging statements – open or veiled – about another as an individual or member of a group is absolutely out of bounds. Nor, to cite sexual harassment specifically, are comments about another’s physical attributes, sexual proclivities, hypothesized “amorous behaviors”, etc. – let alone, of course, leveraging power differentials for “favors”. Unacceptable, period. No exception.

But people are people, with fuzzy limits. A comment, of any nature, from one speaker that might be taken at face value by one listener on one day, could be taken completely differently by another listener, or even the first listener on a different day. For example, a genuine, spontaneous, and truly innocent compliment about a unique and/or noticeable broach, scarf, or tie can be taken as a wonderful compliment, or it might be considered unwanted or intrusive. Thus, even as people speaking need to keep in mind what they say, especially in a professional environment, listeners need to have a tolerance for what others say (given the potential for such a comment to be innocent; many comments have that potential, but some will clearly be beyond the pale and I opine that the latter are typically very clear).

The Flea Market Rule                                                                                                   

I love going to yard sales and flea markets (I keep hoping for something like this to happen to me). At the latter, I haven’t been to one where, somewhere, there hasn’t been the sign “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” And so it is with human interactions as well, especially at the beginning when people first meet.

Take, as an example, interviews. I was speaking with a recruiter recently, and they described a person they were attempting to place at a company. Their client rejected the candidate, citing that the person came across as “too aggressive”. Upon being told that feedback, the candidate altered their presentation to be more low-key… and was rejected at their next interview as “not dynamic enough”.

One man’s confidence is another man’s cocky. Is a person humble, or uncertain? Dynamic and enthusiastic, or aggressive? Accomplished and proud, or arrogant? Low-key by nature, or disinterested? A delegator who knows how to manage their work load, or a slacker who sloughs their tasks off on others? Bubbly and effusive, or a gabby motormouth? Diplomatic, or wishy-washy? Straight-forward, or abrasive? And so on.

There is the Halo Effect, where a person reacts subconsciously to like someone who acts, dresses, or otherwise presents as similar to themselves. Likewise, one person can engender a sense of like or dislike in another simply because they connect to a memory totally unrelated to them. And first impressions, formed in seconds, can determine the outcome of an interview before skills, accomplishments, and job history are even opened as topics of the discussion.

Beginnings Are Unstable

As people meet for the first time, whether in interviews, first dates, or any other venue, the possibilities are rife for misunderstandings and misperceptions. (Sometimes, thinking about this, I am amazed people ever form friendships and relationships given all the potential for missteps and snap-judgments.)

Ultimately, people are the way they are. I’d rather deal with someone who presents honestly than a person who tries to pass themselves off to me based on what they think I want to see and hear. And in the quest for harmony – whether at work, at home, or life in general – we ignore the dynamic interchange that comes from others who have different personalities, backgrounds, interests, faiths, etc. For it is from that intellectual and personality diversity, Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations, that we grow both as professionals and people.

No Telepaths Here

Perhaps the most famous telepath in science fiction these days is Professor Charles Xavier, leader of the superhero team The X-Men (Marvel Comics). A mutant with the ability to read minds and ascertain the true thoughts of a person if he chooses to use his powers, misunderstanding is impossible. Similarly able to read people, Deanna Troi, a character in Star Trek: The Next Generation, had the ability to read others’ emotions due to her being a hybrid between a human and a telepathic Betazoid.

But we here in reality have no such abilities, thus the possibilities for misunderstanding are legion. So as you meet new people in life, whether socially, at work, or if you are an interviewer or a candidate, may your minds be open to the diversity of others, and may your limits and judgments be fuzzy.


© 2014, David Hunt, PE

Differentiate Yourself in an Interview: Beyond Your Background

HR blogger and columnist Liz Ryan wrote an excellent essay on LinkedIn, The Five Deadliest Job Interview Mistakes.  All of these boil down to a single question: Are you memorable?

Per Liz’s column this could be memorable in either a good or bad way.  Not asking any questions at all?  Memorable – in a bad way.  (This assumes, however, that you’re able to get a word in edgewise.  I’ve been in interviews where the questions flew so fast that I barely had time to answer, let alone formulate a question to ask as a part of a desired – desired on my side at least – conversation… and then it was “OK, thank you, the next person will be in to talk with you” as they walk out.)  Groveling or not knowing the company’s business will also make you memorable in a negative context.  Doing your homework is necessary.

What Memorable Really Means

So I want to focus on how job seekers can work to make themselves memorable in a positive way.  Let’s talk marketing – what we’re really discussing is the marketing of yourself, and in this case, we need to discuss a key term: differentiation.  In other words, how can you show you are different than the slew of other people interviewing?

Ask Penetrating Questions


Thus far I have posted four sets of “penetrating questions” (Ask, Ask 2, Ask 3, Ask 4).  Not all of these will be appropriate for every interview, or every person interviewing you.  But many of these will set you apart.  They will remember you as someone who asked tough questions.

Why is this important?  Because people who ask strong questions are sharp, interested, and serious about the position.  And if you’re lucky, during the group discussion, someone who was challenged by one of your questions will spin off some version of “This candidate asked me some really great questions” – which will start a discussion of the questions you asked and how they convey your intellect and drive.

Seconds Count


First impressions play a key part in any hiring process.  As I wrote here, most interviews are settled within seconds, possibly even within a single second as Staffing and Recruiting consultant Donna Svei wrote here.  And I’d like to take a moment to brag by comparing my essay and hers on a key point; specifically, that we are hardwired to make such snap-judgments about others.  From my essay where I reached a conclusion by pure thought-process-and-logic (emphasis added):

This is reality: making snap judgments about others as people meet is hardwired into us as a survival trait, a trait selected-for over millions upon millions of years.  And while effort and time can overcome an initial bad impression, you as a job seeker may not be given the chance.  Making decisions emotionally based on sight, sound, and smell is hardwired into the limbic system, the seat of emotion and memory in our brain – and probably the oldest structure in the brain (I’d like to definitively say the oldest, but apparently this is the subject of some debate these days).

My conclusion about hardwiring is confirmed, as she mentioned (emphasis added):

And lest you think your interviewer might be too well trained to make snap judgments, think again. Another study, conducted at Tel Aviv University (Hassin & Trope), in a simulated interview setting, found that we’re hard-wired to make instant judgments about others.

Grooming, odors, smiles, handshakes, weight, projected energy and posture, and myriad other factors play into a first impression, where more than half the interview is won or lost before you can say more than “Nice to meet you.”

Be “Sticky”


Unlike the hiking dictum “Take only pictures, leave only footprints”, you want to leave something behind that is memorable and physical – and not just a business card.  I always bring portfolios of my work, including my resume, as something to discuss during an interview.  I typically leave one behind.  While some advisors recommend against this practice, there is a good body of work suggesting bringing something physical to leave behind.  Some guidelines as to what to leave behind recommend a mini-portfolio.  The article “Leave Behind” Your Success at Your Next Job Interview is excellent, though I do disagree with the idea of bringing reference letters to an interview – you want to customize your reference list based on the interview, not select references beforehand.  (It also puts your references at risk to being contacted willy-nilly – and thereby ticking them off.)

On the other hand, not everyone councils leaving a portfolio or other materials.  For example, Fred Nothnagel, founder of the networking group WIND, once counseled me in a coaching session that my habit of leaving my portfolio with people risks their having something to be poured over seeking things to criticize after-the-fact.  In one article recommending such leave-behinds, some commenters are highly negative about the practice.

Recruiter and job-search advisor Nick Corcodilos has two excellent articles on interviewing – among many on job searching of course: 5 “Sticky” Interview Tactics: Part 1 and 5 “Sticky” Interview Tactics: Part 2.  And that’s really what you’re trying to do – be sticky in their mind as a top candidate who is able to do the work, interested in doing the work, and will fit in.  And I will opine that part of being sticky is having something that reminds them of you – something physical.  It may not be a portfolio, but put some thought into what it might be.

The Halo Effect


Numerous articles have been written about subtly mirroring the gestures and postures of the interviewer, and I won’t go further than to mention them.  A google search is educational.  But as one article found in this search points out, “Remember, people hire people they like…”.

So let’s take that one step further: people like people like them.  Before you go on an interview, take a page from companies vetting people on social media, and do the same (after all, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander).  Google the interview team; if you don’t know who they are, ask the HR person (and if they won’t tell you, that’s indicative of either they’re disorganized enough to have not settled things, or so secretive that it should be disturbing; what possible harm could come from telling you in advance who you will be meeting?).  Look them up on LinkedIn.  Can you find their Twitter feed?  Are they on Facebook?  And assuming you are brought into someone’s office for the interview, look around quickly for cues.

What are you looking for?  Commonalities.  Did you attend the same school – can you make a subtle alumni connection?  Do you have a common outside interest – especially useful if the person has pictures or mementos of the activity in their office?  Do you have common life events (e.g., living/working overseas)?  What this does is help pull you, in their perception, into their “inner circle”.

The key to this working is being subtle but sincere about it.  It’s one thing to observe someone’s scuba pictures as you go into an office, asking about them, then casually mentioning that it reminds you of the time you went wreck diving.  It is quite another to say “Oh, I looked you up on LinkedIn and saw that we share an interest in bird watching.”  While they will look at you online, and expect you to do the same, openly mentioning that you did will doubtless come across as being slightly stalker-ish.

Laughter is the Best Medicine


I cannot stress strongly enough how much of hiring decision is based on emotion.  There are very few people who do not like to laugh.  So can you be casually funny?

This doesn’t mean, of course, spinning off jokes – even clean and innocuous ones – left and right.  But if you are a quick wit, there are opportunities in this.  (Dangers too, so be judicious.)  If you can elevate their mood, they are more likely to see you as a “fit” culturally.

The Follow-Up

Everyone counsels sending thank-you notes… so it is a surprise that so many people do not.  Stand out here too; unless you’ve really goofed up this is a good chance to differentiate yourself as they debate the candidates that passed initial muster.

First, send email thank you notes ASAP: that evening (I’ve even read that you should bring a laptop and email from their parking lot; I’d advise against that… instead, spend a few minutes making some notes about each interviewer while they’re fresh in your mind for use later).  Remember that they will – literally – compare notes, so customize each note.  But second, also send a thank you note by snail-mail within two days.  This way the hiring manager gets a second reminder of you, and gets it after the immediate short-term memory of your visit is starting to fade.

There is opportunity here, whether in the email or mailed note.  Did they mention a specific problem they’re having?  Do some research; can you send a link to a helpful article, or a copy of an article?  Did they have a hobby they mentioned/you noticed from cues in their office that you share (nothing will seem phonier than researching and sending an article about a hobby that you do not share)?  Send something interesting about it.  The opportunities and possibilities are legion.  This will both show that you are attentive, and that you go the extra mile.

Boiling an Interview Down to its Essence

Ultimately, an interview is a marketing presentation, nothing more.  Just as a sales professional tries to sell their product or service as the best-value solution to a company’s problem, you are in an interview to do the same.  From the moment you arrive in their parking lot, to your follow-up thank you notes, keep in mind not only differentiation of your work background, but emotional differentiation, i.e., how you present yourself, and what makes you memorable and “sticky”.

Go get ‘em.


© 2014, David Hunt, PE

Ask 4

This seems to be developing into an on-going series of ideas for “penetrating questions” to ask in an interview setting.  Here are some more (prior ones in the series are Ask, Ask 2, and Ask 3).

How would your subordinates describe you?

I just saw this as a question to ask candidates – “How would people you have worked with describe you?”  So flip it.  See if the potential hiring manager can articulate the sentiments and impressions he gives to those who work for him.  Among other things it’s an awareness test, and a measure of how often the boss interacts with the team – not in an instructional mode, but in real exchanges.

How would you describe your boss?

The corollary to the above question.  Ask this of a potential co-worker.  In combination, you can get two points of information.  First, a “skinny” on how people perceive the boss – though obviously filtered for political correctness (let alone survival).  Second, compare and contrast with the answer from the above question.  What agreement is there?  And more importantly, what dissonances exist?  This can also be a good pair of questions for the hiring manager and their boss if you get to meet them.

Why are you the best company for me to work for?

Again, this is inspired by reading articles recommending “innovative” questions to ask candidates, specifically, the question “Why are you the best person for this position?”.  It is similar to others I’ve proposed before (e.g., Ask 2) – in this case, it differs from the previous version in that this is a little more challenging (and could – be forewarned! – be perceived as a little aggressive) .  Remember, just as they are interviewing you, with you having to sell yourself to them, they should likewise be reminded that – even with the job market the way it is – they need to market to you.  After all, you’re a skilled professional, right?  And if they look at you as though you’ve turned purple with orange polka dots and get very defensive, that’s a potential indication that they know their power over you… and are surprised at your out-of-the-gate challenge to it.

What intrinsic personality characteristics do you see as fundamental to a “good hire”?

This is a key insight into the culture (and a bit of a trick question too).  If they’re looking for “hard workers” or “rock stars” or “people who want to go places” and so on, they’re only looking at the superficial.  Remember… skills and knowledge can be learned, corporate cultures can be adapted to (to some degree), ambition can cycle up and down, dedication and drive can be inspired by good leadership, but integrity/ethics and intelligence are foundational elements of a person’s makeup.  As a parallel, ask to see their mission statement.  Is it available?  Is it posted?  And does it discuss ethics and integrity?

Describe a difficult ethical situation you had to deal with in this company, and how was it resolved.

This sort-of goes in parallel with the above.  (Hey, if they can use behavioral interview questions, why can’t you?)  There is no business that does not have situations where, depending on one’s ethics, a decision point could go in different directions.  Understanding a situation or two of such events, and how they were handled, can give you insight as to whether you are interviewing with a place with high ethical standards… or without them.

Tell me about a time you had to give bad news to the boss.

Again, a behavioral question to be asked of someone on the team – not the boss.  How did they handle the bad news?  If they’ve never told the boss bad news, well, there’s always bad news at some point in a project.  There’s small bad news which a person can handle, but sometimes it’s big, and needs to be passed up the food chain.  And IMHO how an organization reacts to that can be very revealing.

Can you describe the company culture in five stand-alone words?

Yes, this could be a very difficult question to answer – but that’s one of the reasons you’re in an interview, isn’t it?  Not only to present yourself as a candidate, but to vet them as a potential employer?  Asking this of several people, at different levels, will give you insights into how those different levels perceive the company… what words (or synonyms) are said by multiple people?  Conversely, what outliers are there?  Those outliers can highlight potential dissonances in perception, which can be useful in evaluating how unified the workforce is in culture and vision.  Some differences are expected, both from level and by individual characters, but if there’s a huge difference that could be a warning sign of any number of things.

How have your career goals changed since you joined the company?

This is similar, but not identical, to a question in Ask; that was a very general question while this is one aimed specifically at how the company handles peoples’ career development from the perspective of an employee (so ask this of a potential coworker only).  Lead into this with “So… how long have you been with ?”  If longer than ten years, follow up with this.  Many – but not all – people have ambitions to move up the ladder, or at least not do the same thing their entire career.  Most people want some kind of growth.  How that growth actually happened compared with what they thought would happen can indicate how the company takes into account what you want to do in your career vs. where they put you.  Does this mean, of course, that the company has dictated where a person’s career went without their input?  No; on top of that, people can change as well.  However, it should give you some idea of how people’s aspirations and plans are handled and factored in to their development.

© 2014, David Hunt, PE