Category Archives: Interviewing

5 keys to a successful mock interview

One of my clients told me recently that the mock interview I conducted with her was the best experience she’s had preparing for interviews to date. This was after a session where I reviewed her performance with constructive criticism, at times brutal honesty.

mock interview2

I understood my client’s sentiment, because I also think a mock interview is extremely effective, if done correctly. I’ve conducted hundreds of mock interviews over the course of my tenure at the urban career center for which I work.

You don’t have to be a career advisor in order to conduct a mock interview. You can be a friend or relative. But to successfully conduct a mock interview, you must cover the following four components.

1. Keep the interview itself short

The length of the mock interview should be no longer than 45 minutes; you’ll want to give yourself time to play back the recorded interview. The playback gives the client and you the opportunity to address the strengths and weaknesses of her performance.

The goal of a mock interview is not to make it the length of a real interview. Where the real interview might be a marathon, the mock interview is akin to a sprint. It is intense and just long enough for the client to get the idea of how she performed. Additionally, the interview part itself can be exhausting if it is 90 minutes long.

2. The mock interview should be filmed and played back

If possible, you should should film the mock interview with a digital camera. The old saying the camera never lies is true. Not only is it important for your client to hear the content of her answers and the tone and inflection of her voice; she also needs to see her body language and other nuances.

Your client, and you, may forget the answers she gives. Filming the interview allows both of you to hear her answers again. You can comment on her answers intelligently and accurately. For example, “Your answer to this question asking why you left your most recent position is a bit too long,” you may comment. “And refrain from blaming your supervisor if possible.”

Seeing her body language can be even more important to your client than hearing her answers, particularly if her body language is extremely poor. One of my clients came across so stiff that he didn’t move his hands the whole time. His eye contact was extremely poor, as well. He recognized this because of seeing the recording and vowed to correct his body language and eye contact.

Usually I don’t have the time to get through the entire playback, but this is fine. I ask participants to bring a thumb drive with them so they can review their mock interview at a later date.

3. Clients must take the mock interview seriously

Be sure to make this clear before a few days of the mock interview. Tell your client that it will be treated as a legitimate interview. Setting this expectation will ensure that the atmosphere will be professional.

This begins with something as simple as dressing the part. I can tell when a client is serious about his mock interview by the way he dresses. If he comes dressed to the nines, this is a good sign. On the other hand, if he comes dressed in a tee-shirt and shorts, this is a turnoff.

The participant must also have done his research. For example, if you ask, “What can you tell me about this company, and why do you want to work here?” it is unacceptable for him to tell you he will know the answers in the “real interview.” No, he must see the mock interview as a “real interview.”

Your client must be an active participant. I will ask for my client’s input during the playback of the mock interview. This is his opportunity to comment on the content of his answers, as well as his body language. As the interviewer, you don’t want to give all the feedback. It’s important that the participant does some self-critique.

4. You must also take the mock interview seriously

This means being prepared. If I show up for a mock interview unprepared, it doesn’t go as well; and I sense that my client knows this. I might ask canned questions.

Before conducting a mock interview, ask your client to provide two documents, her résumé and a recent job description. From these you’ll write the questions for the interview. You don’t necessary have to stay on script; you might fall into a more conversational mode if the spirit drives you.

The questions must be challenging, without embarrassing your client. It’s also important to come across as friendly in order to put her at ease. On the other hand, if you know your client will encounter stress interviews, make the mock interview stressful. Generally speaking, the mock interview must build confidence, not demean your client.

At times you might experience resistance from your client. Hold your ground. She doesn’t need to agree with everything you say; and you might want to preface this at the beginning of the critique. Keep in mind that she will know more about her occupation, but you know more about the interview process. However, if you are unprepared, your authority goes out the window.

5. Ask challenging question

As mentioned above, when conducting a mock interview, make the questions challenging. Ask questions that 1) determine the interviewee’s self-awareness, 2) her understanding of the position, 3) her knowledge of the company, 4) and even her take on the competition.

My preference is to ask more behavioral-based questions than the typical no-brainers. The “What is your greatest weakness,” “Why should we hire you,” and even “Why did you leave your last company” questions are ones the interviewee’s can rehearse.

Focus on the job description she’s provided and ask questions like, “Tell me about a time when you managed a team of more than 5 people. How did that work out.” This will require her to come up with a thoughtful story using the Situation-Task-Actions-Result formula.

Even though behavioral-based questions take longer to answer, they reveal many more skills than you ask about. To determine if the interviewee demonstrates self-awareness, ask questions that require a negative result, such as, “Tell me about a time when you led a project that didn’t go well.” Will she blame others or take ownership of her faults?


Mock interviews can be the most valuable job-search tool for a candidate. I encourage my clients to participate in them as much as possible. Many express discomfort at the idea of being asked questions, let alone being filmed. When you have the opportunity to conduct a mock interview with a client, don’t hesitate. You’ll be doing your client a great favor.

4 things to consider when answering personality interview questions

The majority of people I interview aren’t transparent when I asked the questions that require them to reveal something about their personality. The question could be what they enjoy doing outside of work or even something as simple as the genre of literature they prefer.

This is natural; who wants to talk about their personality with a complete stranger? In an interview their focus is on answering questions that are relevant to the job at hand. This is what they’ve prepared for.

However, avoiding answering personality interview questions is an irritant with interviewers and can hurt your chances of landing a job. Interviewers want—even need—to know who they’ll be hiring as a person.

Sure, your engineering, marketing, finance, operations, or management experience is necessary for the role to which you’re applying. But there’s more to you as a person than just this requirement.

Do you recall when you were a child and your parents told you they wanted you to be honest? Do you have a relationship with someone that’s based on trust? Interviewing is the same; the person or people interviewing you want to hear and see self-awareness.

I find myself getting irritated when job candidates danced around questions asking for them to reveal something about themselves because I honestly wanted to know their answers to my appropriate questions. But for those who obliged me, I am impressed and their answer prompted me to ask follow-up questions.

There are four reasons why job candidates are hesitant to answer this question.

  1. They don’t understand why it’s being asked.
  2. They overthink how to answer it.
  3. They don’t want to answer wrong.
  4. They think it’s irrelevant

Why interviewers ask the questions they do

Here’s the thing, you’re more than your title and responsibilities; you’re someone your colleagues and superiors will be working with at least eight hours a day. They’ll want to know you as a person and have conversations with you that doesn’t have to revolve around work.

When I go on a walk with a colleague or am eating lunch with them (pre-pandemic), the last thing I want to do is talk about work. It’s a time, albeit short because I don’t take a long lunch, when I don’t have to think about work. Talking about work during these times makes me irritable.

Instead, I like to talk about what they did over the weekend or what they plan to do for the upcoming weekend. I’ll give you an example. One of my colleagues is an avid cyclist. I admire this, as he sometimes goes on 30-mile journeys or more. He’ll talk about how he cycled the back roads of Massachusetts.

As an interviewer, I want to know what makes a person tick outside of work. I want to know that they have interests. They don’t have to reveal their whole life, but if there’s a commonality, that’s even better. If there isn’t, that’s cool. I don’t cycle, nor do I want to; but to hear my colleague talk about it with such excitement is enjoyable.

Don’t overthink it

As I interview some candidates’ via Zoom, I can see some of them thinking way too hard about how to answer the question, “What do you like to do outside of work?” It’s like their minds are doing somersaults trying to come up with the perfect answer. I want them to chill; just answer the question.

In some ways I blame people like myself and other job coaches for teaching our clients to carefully weigh answering questions in a manner that won’t hurt their chances of landing the job. Maybe too carefully. But this innocent question isn’t one of them.

During a Job Club meeting, I asked the participants an ice-breaker question that was simple in nature. Because it was only a Job Club meeting, most participants were animated in answering, “What do you do outside of work?” But a few of them asked, “What does this have to do with work?”

Admittedly this irritated me. It was a simple exercise and something to get the hour-and-a-half kicked off. Regardless, the few participants immediately went into interview mode. They were overthinking the simple question. They didn’t want to get the answer wrong.

There’s no wrong answer…usually

Well, usually you can’t answer this question wrong, unless what you like doing outside of work is pulling wings off of flies. This image is too morose, but you get the idea. When I ask about candidate’s outside interests, I don’t care if they’re similar to mine or if they’re totally different.

For example, if someone loves the theater, that’s perfectly fine. If they enjoy yoga or meditation, great. I even like to hear about activities they enjoy doing with their family. And, no, I don’t hold this against them.

We’ve told our clients to stay away from talking about their children. Why? I have children, albeit older in age, so I love family people. I also assume they’ll dedicate the required time to the job and not spend an unnecessary amount of time with their family.

By the point I ask this question in an interview, I should have a good sense that a candidate is a good fit for the job—able to excel in the technical aspect of it, are motivated to take on the challenges, and will be a good fit for the role.

The caveat of answering this question is to steer clear of political or religious activities. This is something I will stick by as a career coach. There are just some things that are out of bounds. I used to say anything to do with hunting was taboo, but I’ve since changed my mind on that.

Good interviewers ask relevant questions

I like to think that if I ask a question about what a candidate likes to do outside of work there is a good reason for doing so. Throughout this article I’ve talked about reasons for asking this question. I like to know the person as a person. I want to see how they answer; do they show self-awareness or are they guarded. Another reason would simply to put the candidate at ease.

Prior questions or ones to follow the personality questions are about the position and, to some extent, the company. These are all legit with no malice intended. This can’t be said about poor interviewers, of whom try to trap candidates into saying the wrong things.

Here’s the thing, every question an interviewer asks should be relevant. I for one am not a big fan of the generic questions, such as “What is your greatest weakness,” “Why should we hire you,” and “What do you plan to do in five years.” To me, they’re throw away questions.

What’s telling is a poll that I’m conducting at the moment where I ask, “Why do some candidates have a difficult answering questions about their private life?” Of close to 10,000 respondents, only 18 percent of have answered that they think questions like the one I write about today are irrelevant.

Following are some responses to the poll I conducted.


Tara Orchard: Some people prefer to keep their personal life private and focus on their skills and experience. Perception of the question is important. For some personal means too personal, including relationships, family, religion, personal beliefs, obstacles in their past and other private factors.

I remind clients it is useful to have some personal information to talk about but it need not be very personal. They can talk about why they selected the school they attended, an interesting adventure they had, sports, arts, hobbies and so on that are relatable, general or interesting.

The employer is likely either trying to build rapport or see if the person is well rounded, not digging for private information. As usual, perception and preparation are key.

MARY FAIN BRANDT: I think job candidates are simply afraid to “answer it wrong”, which is silly! Perhaps they are worried how they will be viewed if they say are a huge STAR WARS fan or if they love Comic Con, or if they spend all their personal time shuffling their kids around to soccer games and cheer practice. Or the big one – I am active in my Church.

I think people are afraid to say the wrong thing.

I say share something light, but don’t hide who you are. After all, if you do get the job, conversations will come up about what you did over the weekend.

Austin Belcak (He/Him): As I’m writing this “Don’t want to answer wrong” is leading the pack. It’s a bummer that companies have made candidates feel that a simple question could be a trap. Says a lot about the interview and hiring practices right now.

Anastasia Magnitskaia: That is a great question Bob! Part of it, sometimes we are so prepared to answer questions that we have researched and practiced that this question can come as a surprise. Think about answering the question with substance- we all have things we do outside of work that will inspire others. Don’t sell yourself short and answer “I watch tv”. I also want to add that if a company is asking that question, it shows that they actually do care about work life balance!

Erin Kennedy: Oooh, that is a great reminder, Bob McIntosh. It IS a question they may get asked. It’s good to be prepared with those types of questions as well. Keep your answers prepared and skim them lightly (no need to delve into your personal life).

Erica Reckamp: You can usually navigate this by picking out a couple of benign hobbies. Avoid anything dangerous (insurance liability) or elitist (yachting anyone?)

Most often, it’s an opportunity to open a broader conversation with the interviewer. If you’ve done your research in advance, this is a great opportunity to mention shared interests!

LAURA SMITH-PROULX: This is a great point, Bob McIntosh. I really think people are caught off guard and hesitant to get too personal in the interview. It’s good to prepare for some version of this question and give a brief description that doesn’t stray too far from the subject. “I’m a voracious reader” or “I enjoy the local outdoors” might help combat nervousness.

Lotte Struwing: I think many may want to keep their personal lives to themselves. Without understanding the question, they may think it’s not a legal question and are uncomfortable responding to it.

Paul Upton: Hiring manager perspective:
I love this question as well as “tell me about yourself”. As a hiring manager I’d love to hear when candidates tell me about who they are personally and professionally… we tend to spend more time with people that we work with than many other folks in our lives, so it’s so important to be personable and show your human side.

I’d always get a bit discouraged when candidates just jump into stuff they think I wanted to hear and focus strictly about the job.

These types of questions are such a great opportunity to really stand out and show who you really are and why you’d be someone folks would love to work with!

Paula Christensen: loved your poll Bob McIntosh and this follow up. I’ll continue to be optimistic and view this question as a chance to build a connection and create engagement. I do agree that keeping polarizing subjects out of the response makes sense. Don’t over think it.

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5 tips on how to combat ageism in an interview

Three career strategists recently weighed in on ageism in this post. All three couldn’t deny that ageism exists, but the question is when does this deterrent to employment effect older job seekers? The most obvious of stage in the job search is the interview. This is why older job seekers need ways to combat ageism.

Unlike other career coaches, all my clients are active job seekers, not ones who are gainfully employed and looking to pivot to a new opportunity. It’s a well known fact that some employers erroneously prefer to hire passive job seekers. Ding one against my clients.

Job seekers are seen by some employers as “damaged goods.” Coupled with being an older job seeker, the label “damaged goods” takes on new meaning. It means that their ability to grasp technology isn’t as great, they are slower to perform, they are inflexible, and they get sick more often; all of which isn’t necessarily true. Ding number two.

The average age of my clients is 55. The age disparity isn’t great, probably between 45 and 65. Anyone who’s over 40 is considered an older worker, according to the Department of Labor (DOL), which means their tax bracket is a deterrent for employers. In other words, you expect too much money. Ding number three.

One complaint my clients express is they’re being told that they’re overqualified for the job at hand. While this might be true, some of them are willing to take on jobs that require them to utilize skills they’ve used in the past. They’re also looking to step down and be an individual contributor. Ding number four.

The final hurdle they have to face is the economy which has contributed to their long-term unemployment, being jobless for more than six months. As we all know, the chances of getting a job at this point is very difficult. In the Job Club I run, many attendees have been out of work for longer than a year. Ding number five.

Does this mean my clients don’t have a chance of landing a job? Of course not. Many of them are securing employment, albeit slower than they’d like. They have acknowledged the challenges with which they’re presented and see it “as the way it is.” However—a big however—this doesn’t make their job search easier.

How to do well in the interview

These are four stereotypes employers have of older job seekers. To succeed in the interview, you’ll need to dispel them with the correct verbiage and attitude. You’re skilled and have rich experience. It’s your presentation that matters.

You are actively looking for work

This means you’re hungry for work. No, you’re starving for work. And the good thing about you is that you’re not running from a current employer; you’re running toward this potential employer. You and I know employers should hire you for a number of reasons. Nonetheless, the question will be, “Why did you leave your last job?”

Regardless of the situation, you learned a great deal from your past experience and want to pass it on to this new employer. You acquired skills that will make you the obvious choice for this role, as they closely match the ones required by this employer.

Break it down during the course of the interview addressing the must-haves as well as the skills and experience that can be a bonus to the employer. Most importantly, demonstrate the value you’ll bring to the table by telling your S.T.A.R. stories to answer behavioral-based stories.

But don’t wait to be asked. Open with, “I’m truly excited about this role, not only from what I’ve gleaned through my research, but also because my experience closely matches your requirements. For example, you need someone who can manage projects that are completed on time and under budget. I’ve done this at my previous two companies….”

You are “damaged goods

This is ding number two and, quite honestly, offensive to my senses. This is the running belief and needs to be put to rest. In the interview is the ideal time for you to prove they’re capable of getting back in the saddle, that you’re vibrant and as capable, if not more, than younger workers.

Cut the interviewer/s off at the pass. You’re hungry for work and have most of the required skills, so you need to express this with your first impressions and an answer to questions like, “Why did you leave your last position?” You’ll be asked this question to slip you up. Don’t let the interviewer/s do this.

Tell them that you enjoyed your last position and the people with whom you worked but, unfortunately, you were laid off among other people in your department or company. To the best of your knowledge, your boss thought you did a great job, and that you expect your performance to stay on par.

It might be that you were let go for poor performance, conflict with your boss, or some other reason. Own this and say that you learned a great deal from the situation. You’ve had time to reflect and are ready to return to the great employee you were prior to your unfortunate departure. Make this answer short and sweet.

You expect too much money

First of all, you better be or else you’re in the wrong room. There’s no faking this. Be real with yourself and don’t expect to take a job that pays half of what you made in the past. When my clients tell me they’ll settle for 80% of what they made in the past, I tell them they might have a case for accepting the position.

If you’re willing to take less than what you made in your previous role, it’s because you can swing the cut in pay with little or no impact on your life style. Most of the major bills have been paid, such as tuition, mortgage, car payments, etc. You’ll actually be better off by accepting this role because you’re in a better space.

Beat them to the punch by telling them that you are aware from speaking with the recruiter that you’ll be taking a cut from your previous job which is fine because of the aforementioned reasons. Explain this with conviction. Don’t leave doubt in their minds because if there is doubt, you won’t be able to make the sale.

You’re overqualified

This is one of the toughest objections to beat. When you’re literally told, “You are overqualified for this job,” it’s a hard pill to swallow, especially if this is true. You’ve probably been told to say, “I’m not overqualified, I’m fully-qualified,” which is all good and true.

But here’s the thing: employers are afraid you’ll be bored and be looking for more money, so you’re going to look for the next best thing. We have to admit this is a valid concern.

Here’s your rebuttal: you are fine with taking on responsibilities you’ve performed in the past. Why? Because you want to take a step back. You’re tired of the stress that comes with being a VP, manager, or supervisor. This is understandable and needs to be expressed during the interview in a diplomatic and compelling way.

Another tactic you might take is by saying, “I understand your concerns. I would have the same ones. However, I will add more value to the organization with my skills and experience, and I’ll be a mentor to the other purchasers. Would you rather hire a Ford Focus or a Mercedes?” You might want to leave this last part out.

You’ve been out of work for more than six months

Long-term unemployment is a beast. You’re among the age group that is hit hardest by it. According to TradinghEconomics.com, the U.S. unemployment rate is 6% which only counts those who are filing for unemployment. Finding a job not an easy task but not impossible. Ask many of my clients who’ve landed jobs.

When it comes to first impressions, first and foremost enter the room like you own it. Enthusiasm is key here. And you need to maintain it throughout the interview/s. I can tell which ones of my clients get this when I advise them on interviewing and conduct a mock interview with them.

It’s the vibe they give off. They smile, their eyes light up, and their handshake is firm, yet gentle. There’s no hint in their tone that they’ve been out of work for too long than they want. Conversely, I can read the ones who can’t pull off the act like a book. They just haven’t mastered the attitude yet. And for some of them, it takes a while to master and ultimately land.

In the interview you’ll have to demonstrate your ability to perform the job, despite being out of work for more than six months, by answering the job-related questions. This speaks to your knowledge of the position, so make sure you’ve done your research.

You’ll most likely be asked why you’ve been out of work for X number of months. COVID-19 is a good cover, but be able to explain how you’ve been improving your skills by taking training, attending networking events (particularly valuable for salespeople), volunteering, or working on a contract basis. Being able to address this question will do you well in the job search.


In order to succeed in an interview, you’ll need to be prepared to address these stereotypes employers hold against older job seekers. They aren’t insurmountable and have to be handled with the right attitude. My last bit of advice is to not enter the interview thinking you’re going to face ageism. If you do this, the battle is already lost.

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Shorter is better when it comes to your elevator pitch: the people have spoken

Has it always been the case that shorter is better? I’m sure there was a time when verbosity was appreciated; when long-winded stories captivated the listeners. Even elevator pitches—statements that answer, “Tell me about yourself”—were longer. I remember a workshop I led where I encouraged two-minute elevator pitches.

But times have changed. I’ve changed. An elevator pitch that’s anywhere between 30-45 seconds is more digestible. One that’s 90-120 seconds is a tad long. Two minutes is way long. This is my opinion. The trick job candidates need to learn is mastering a short, yet value-packed delivery. Again, my opinion.

It matters where you deliver your pitch. At a networking event, your elevator pitch can be 15-30 seconds. Any longer is considered obtrusive. In an interview keeping it under 45 seconds is advised.

But wait? you ask. To answer the directive, “Tell me about yourself” requires a longer explanation in an interview; certainly more than 45 seconds. Here’s my question for you? How long is the average attention span of a human being? I’ll tell you. Eight seconds.

This isn’t to say that after eight seconds we zone out and stop hearing what others are saying. No, we zone out and zone in. Here’s another fact, the attention our attention span has decreased from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 present day. Says Time magazine, the Telegraph, the Guardian, USA Today, the New York Times or the National Post.

Dr. Gemma Brigg from the BBC disputes this: “It’s very much task-dependent. How much attention we apply to a task will vary depending on what the task demand is.”

This article is not about the average attention span of a human, though. It’s about the proper length of an elevator pitch. According to a LinkedIn poll, which has garnered more than 7,000 votes, 16% say the pitch should be approximately 15 seconds, 46% 30 seconds, 31% 45 seconds, and 8% more than 45 seconds.

Here’s are the outlines some interview-prep pros and I offer to structure your elevator pitch. Notice, like snowflakes, that no two are exactly alike, save for the fact that expressing your value is a key element of all elevator pitches. These outlines are laid out in the discussion of the poll.

Sarah Johnston
✔ The hook
✔ 2 Strengths that relate to the job
✔ And WIFM (Which stands for “what’s in it for me?)

Rachel Montañez
✔ Story
✔ Story climax/intrinsic motivation
✔ Evidence of your capabilities and not just your skills
✔ Current goal – Tie it to the corporate values

Me
✔ Ask yourself, “What are the companies pain points?”
✔ Demonstrate your value in form of your passion for the job.
✔ Next talk about your relevant accomplishments.
✔ Why you’re a fit.

KRISTIN A. SHERRY
✔ Three strengths you bring to the job
✔ Plus, the value results
✔ Plus, a story to back it up

ALEX FREUND
✔ Provide some concrete facts the of work you performed.
✔ Give an example of a professional success story.
✔ To follow up immediately on that, ask the interviewer a question about the job’s responsibilities.

Go to Sarah Johnston’s article that describes the following outlines in greater detail.

This still leaves us with the question of how long the elevator pitch should be. Here are the stats again: 16% of voters say the pitch should be approximately 15 seconds, 46% 30 seconds, 31% 45 seconds, and 8% more than 45 seconds.

Let’s hear it from some career-search strategists

Of the 7.065 who voted, some had opinions on the length of the elevator pitch. Most agreed that it depends on the situation, but given the nature of LinkedIn’s polls, listing all the variables is not an option.

Hannah Morgan—Context matters A LOT. Is this pitch being delivered during a job interview? Is it a first interview? Who is asking the question (HR, recruiter, hiring manager).

All these things matter and that’s why one answer won’t work all the time. Attention spans are short. But if you are interviewing for a job, you have up to 1 minute to convey why you are interested and a fit for the role.

Austin Belcak—I’d encourage people to time themselves before answering Bob! I’m a BIG fan of being direct and concise but it’s pretty darn hard to get everything across without leaving out value in <30 seconds even if you have it down pat.

Jim Peacock—I voted longer than 60 seconds because I often think it is more like a conversation about value you bring to the company…specifically that company. If it is in an interview situation then less than 2 minutes for sure.

KRISTIN A. SHERRY—Being able to share your pitch in 60 seconds or less demonstrates confidence and clarity about the value you bring. People can ask for more detail if they want it, so it’s best to be concise. Thank you for the mention!

Angela Watts—As we know, there is rarely a one-size-fits-all approach to these kinds of things. I think it’s always a good idea to err on the side of speaking briefly and allowing the other person to hone in on what interests them most.

Ideally, you would give the pitch and they would be so intrigued by something you said that they will ask for more. When this happens, you’ve got their full attention and intrigue.

Jayne Mattson—If you are referring to being asked “tell me about yourself” as the first interview question, your answer needs to apply to the position. Your examples ideally should be related to what you will do in this role. Have it be 2 minutes and well prepared, so you don’t ramble.

I work with clients on answering with their head and their heart. I always encourage someone to share something about their human side too. After all they are hiring a human being and you can use something that relates to the culture or mission

LoRen 🚀 gReiFf —I advise for 60 seconds; right not rushed. Which means no fat. And the other key to getting it right is lots of practice. “I fear* not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times” – Bruce Lee *Of course the goal isn’t to generate fear, but the take away still applies!

Wendy Schoen—This is a question that is asked in EVERY interview. And a canned answer isn’t going to do it. I am a believer in the 60 second answer. It needs to be tailored to the specific job/company you are interviewing for/with.

It needs to cover who you are, WHAT you have accomplished and WHAT/WHY you are sitting in that chair today! IF you are able to craft the answer in a story, all the better for you. Engage the interviewer with your answer!

Ed Lawrence—In my MCOA sessions, I advocate a concise answer for networking situations. I follow Stephen Melanson’s approach—aim for 15 seconds: continuing if there is clear interest or a question from the other party.

I direct people to work on their 30 second elevator speech, if they want to. I then say it can be the basis for their interview answer to “tell me about yourself.” I think the goal there is one minute. Two at the absolute max and only then if you have led a fascinating life.

Becca Carnahan—I go with three relevant strengths, brief examples/stories, why you’re looking to make a change (in brief- one major reason related to growth/investment in industry/function/role, and why this company is the ideal fit. I recommend 60-90 seconds because the extra length helps answer the interviewer’s next question and ties the interviewee’s experience directly to the role.

Paula Christensen—The pitch length depends on the audience. I recommend between 30-90 seconds. Job seekers need to use their intuition here. The elevator pitch will be longer for someone in your industry who is engaged, like an interview with a hiring manager. Use a shorter version for networking.

Sweta Regmi—It depends on the role, industry and job description. I have coached up to 2 minutes. Use the tactics of commercials we see on TV. If you could pick one pain point on tell me about yourself and say “why you can solve their ongoing problem.” it hits the hiring manager’s head.

Have them at hello. “I understand that your customer satisfaction survey was only 60% last year. I have a formula on how to get that higher. I have saved xxx for my previous company” Dare to show numbers on tell me about yourself.

Rebecca Oppenheim—This is a really important topic – but I strongly disagree with a “one size fits all’ approach. It’s like telling people their resume needs to be X amount of pages. Too many variables. Unfortunately, many interviewers start out with “so tell me about yourself.” And if you go on for a long time, monopolizing the conversation, you’ll lose the interest of the interviewer before you even get started.

Ana Lokotkova—The way I see it, anywhere between 30 and 60 seconds works well. You want to be concise, but at the same time give enough “flavor” to leave the other person curious for more.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Your elevator pitch: why years of experience doesn’t matter as much as what you’ve accomplished

It’s inevitable. When an older job seeker delivers their elevator pitch to me, they lead with something like “I have 20 years of experience in project management.” My reaction to this auspicious beginning is that it’s not…auspicious. In other words, the person’s years of experience doesn’t impress.

What impresses me AND employers is what you’ve accomplished most recently, say in the last five to seven years, and that your accomplishments are relevant to the employer’s needs. In addition to this, by stating your years of experience, you risk being exposed to ageism.

Besides, your most recent 10-15 years of experience is stated on your resume. There’s no need to bring it up in your elevator pitch.

If you ask 10 people how someone should deliver their elevator pitch, you’ll get 10 different answers. This doesn’t mean the answers will be wrong; it simply means the components of the elevator pitch will vary slightly or be arranged in a different manner.

Following is my opinion on how to deliver the elevator pitch without stating years of experience.

Start strong

Instead of beginning your elevator pitch with the number of years you’ve been in occupation and industry, explain why you enjoy what you’re doing. That’s right, tell the interviewers or fellow networkers what drives you in your work. I’m tempted to say what you’re passionate about, but why not?

People like to hear and see enthusiasm. Especially employers who are hiring people for motivation and fit. Sure, technical skills matter. Employers need to know you can do the job, but your years of experience doesn’t prove you can do the job. “I have 20 years of experience” is a “So what?” statement.

Let’s look at a sample answer to “Tell me about yourself.” The following statement shows enthusiasm and draws the listener’s attention, especially with inflection in your voice:

I knew marketing communications was the route I wanted to take as soon as I realized what an impact it has stakeholders. Playing an integral role in getting the company’s message out to the public is one of my greatest pleasures, (slight rise in voice) especially when it increases awareness of our products or services.

Back it up with relevant accomplishments

This part of your elevator pitch is the most important, as you will speak to the employer’s needs. Two or three relevant accomplishments of what you’ve achieved most recently is best. But keep in mind they don’t want to hear your life story. Keep it brief, yet impactful.

Telling your life story in your written and oral communications is not what employers want to read and hear.

(Big smile) One of my greatest accomplishments is having recently led a social media team of five who were able to increase traffic to my previous company’s website 250% since I took over. I was hired for the role because of my (slight rise in voice) leadership abilities and intimate knowledge of the platforms we used, such as: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

(Slight pause)

One of my favorite aspects of communications is writing content for press releases, whitepapers, customer success stories, newsletters, and product releases. My former boss said I was the most prolific writer he’s seen. More importantly, (slight rise in voice) I increased our organization’s visibility by 40%.

(Another slight pause)

I know you’re looking for someone who can create and conduct webinars. I have extensive experience over the past five years delivering three webinars a week on a consistent basis. These were well received by our (spread arms wide) 10s of thousands of viewers. One of my favorites was interviewing the VP once a month.

Wrap it up with energy

You’ve made it to the concluding statement. Maintain the energy that makes you the go-getter all employers want. Make them look past your age and focus on what you’ve achieved. A strong ending will set the tone for the rest of the interview. Use the word “energy.” If you say it, they’re more likely to believe it.

I’d like to end by saying that I’ve received multiple awards of recognition from my colleagues for not only the expertise I demonstrated (slight rise in voice) but also the energy I exuded. In addition, I was often told by my boss that if she could clone me she would. I will bring to your company the experience required and the energy needed to get things done.

You might be an older candidate, but by not letting interviewers to focus on your 20-years of experience and more on what you’ve accomplished, your chances of wowing them will be greater. They would if I were interviewing you.

6 soft skills of most importance to hiring managers and how you can demonstrate in an interview that you have them

There are plenty of articles floating out there declaring questions for which job seekers should be prepared. “What is your greatest weakness?” is a popular one. “What would your former boss say about you?” is also common. “Why were you let go from your last job?” scares the bejesus out of job seekers.

businessman man person bar

But the questions above are ones that job candidates can predict will be asked. That’s why I tell my clients that they should have an answer in mind before even getting to the interview. The same goes for every other traditional question.

LinkedIn published in LinkedIn Talent Solutions a guide that it calls Guide to Screening Candidates: 30 Essential Interview Questions. This guide tells readers the questions hiring managers (HMs) should be asking job candidates.

To create this guide, LinkedIn polled 1,297 HMs to determine which “soft skills” the HMs feel are important for a candidate to demonstrate. LinkedIn then came up with five questions for each skill, totaling 30, that the HMs should ask. The majority of the questions are behavioral-based ones.

So, what are the skills of most interest to the HMs who were polled? Here they are in order of importance:

  1. Adaptability
  2. Cultural Fit
  3. Collaboration
  4. Leadership
  5. Growth Mindset
  6. Prioritization.

What’s so special about behavioral-based questions?

If you think behavioral-based questions are not important, think again. Behavioral-based questions are being asked in interviews because employers see value in them. Behavioral-based questions are an accurate predictor of job candidates’ behavior in the future.

“The good news is that behavioral interview questions are a proven way to reveal a person’s ability to collaborate, adapt, and more. By looking at their past behavior, you can more easily determine what someone will be like to work with,” says LinkedIn

Most job seekers have difficulty answering behavioral-based questions. Why? These questions demand a great deal of preparation and the ability to answer them with a compelling story. But with preparation comes success. Go into an interview without preparing your stories can lead to disaster.

Some things to consider when answering behavioral-based questions. First, know that they’re used to discover strengths and weaknesses in a candidate. Second, answering them requires telling a brief story. Third, they reveal requirements for the job.


How to answer behavioral-based questions

The best way to answer behavioral-based questions is by telling a story using the S.T.A.R formula, where:

S stands for the situation you faced at work;

T is your task in that situation;

A the actions you took to solve the situation; and

R the positive result/s.

You’ll want to keep the situation and tasks brief, perhaps 20% of your story. The actions should be the main part of your story, let’s say 60%. And the result/s is also brief, the other 20%. Does it always work out this way? No. Can you start with the result first? Sure.


The soft skills employers feels are important

Adaptability

Says LinkedIn: 69% of hiring managers say adaptability is the most important skill.

The most popular question: “Tell me about a time when you were asked to do something you had never done before. How did you react? What did you learn?”

This question makes me think of a colleague in the next cube saying loudly, “I wasn’t hired to do this work.” A person with this mindset won’t answer this question well–they’ll crash and burn. Companies don’t operate on still mode; there’s constant flow. A successful answer would sound something like:

The webmaster of our company left abruptly. At the time I was the public relations manager. The CFO asked me to take over maintaining the website.

My first step in the process was to learn how to use Dreamweaver quickly, plus brush up on some HTML I’d learned in college.

I also had to gather information that the company wanted posted on the site. This required interfacing with Engineering, Marketing, Finance, Sales, and the VP. Often times I would have to write original content and get it approved by each department.

One department that was especially difficult from which to gather information was Engineering. I had to explain to them that their information was vital to the success of the website. In addition, their names would be mentioned. That did the trick.

There were moments of frustration but I grew to like this task, and the VP commented that I was doing a great job. I would say I saved the company close to $50,000 over a six-month period.

Cultural fit

Says LinkedIn: 89% of hiring managers say adaptability is the most important skill.

The most popular question: “What are the three things that are most important to you in a job?”

Although not a behavioral-based question, this requires knowledge of the company’s work environment, including the position and culture, before going to the interview. If the three aspects of the position and culture align well with your values, this will not be a difficult question to answer. With this knowledge your answer would be:

The most important aspects of a job would be in this order: a variety of tasks, leading in a team environment, and achieving the results to get the job done. I am excited to work oversee a team in the inventory room, purchase the exact amount of products for distribution.

There’s nothing like leading a team that practices lean methods to get the job done. I’ll be clear in my expectations like I have been in the past, leaving no room for doubt. I’ve been told by my boss that I’m a natural leader.

The third aspect of this job I’m looking forward to is the autonomy that it will offer. My team and I will be held accountable for the meeting company goals which is something I’ve always achieved in the past.

Collaboration

Says LinkedIn: 97% of employees and executives believe a lack of team alignment directly impacts the outcome of a task or project.

The most popular question: “Give an example of when you had to work with someone who was difficult to get along with. How did you handle interactions with that person?”

Answering this question will take diplomacy and tact. You don’t want to come across as difficult to get along with while at the same time you don’t want to cast aspersions on the colleague with whom you had a conflict. You might answer this question like this:

I’m generally a very organized person. I was working with another software engineer who was very talented but didn’t always get the assignments he was given completed on time. This was frustrating, as it effected the team and landed us in trouble with some of our clients.

After some heated discussions, held privately, I offered to help him with his organizational skills and he accepted my help, knowing his performance was hurting not only him, but the team only. Reluctantly he accepted my help, but in the end he became more organized.

Leadership

Says LinkedIn: High-quality leadership 13X more likely to outperform the competition.

The most popular question: “Tell me about the last time something significant didn’t go according to plan at work. What was your role? What was the outcome?”

This is a tough question because it calls for an instance when you didn’t come through with a positive result. You have to be prepared to answer questions that ask for negative results. Keep your answer brief and don’t bash any of your colleagues. Interviewers want to hear self-awareness.

Our company was launching a social media campaign. As the marketing manager, my role was to over see this project. I was given two months to complete the project. One piece was to develop a LinkedIn company page and LinkedIn group. I didn’t stay on top of this. As a result, we were two weeks late in completing the project. The outcome was a brief reprimand from my boss.

Growth potential

Says LinkedIn: When an employee leaves, it costs your company 1.5X the employee’s salary to replace them.

The most popular question: “Recall a time when your manager was unavailable when a problem arose. How did you handle the situation? With whom did you consult?”

To answer this question you need to demonstrate your problem-solving and leadership abilities. State the problem briefly and then describe the actions you took. Finally explain the positive result.

One of our clients was upset because our CRM software wasn’t as user friendly as they had expected. As the systems engineer who was responsible for the integration of our software, I felt I was also responsible for servicing our customer.

Since my boss was on vacation, I had to make a decision as to how to proceed with the issue. I decide that bothering him wasn’t the best route to go. Normally he would prefer that I have his approval to go onsite to our clients, especially if I was working on another project.

I made an appointment to see our client the day after I heard about their disapproval. When I arrived, the CEO met me, and I could tell she wasn’t happy. She took me to the sales department, where I spent an hour going over all the features of our software.

In the end, they were ecstatic with our product. They didn’t realize the capability of it. Furthermore, the CEO sent a glowing email to my boss describing her pleasure of having me making a special visit to her company.

Prioritization

Says LinkedIn: Being unable to prioritize means that key assignments fall through the cracks.

The most popular question: “Tell me about a time when you had to juggle several projects at the same time. How did you organize your time? What was the result?”

This question gives you the structure needed to answer it successfully. It provides the situation and task, the skill the interviewer wants to hear about (organization), and the result. With this guidance, your answer might go like this:

Two years ago I had three projects that landed on my plate. I was asked to present at our company’s largest trade show, we had a new build that had to be released around the same time, and I had to prepare performance reviews of my staff. I definitely had to organize my time for all three to go as planned.

I discussed this with the VP and told him that doing all three were near impossible. He agreed. If I had help with one of the projects, I could complete the other two. I decided that the release of our new build was most important, considering three of our clients were dying to purchase it.

The presentation was the second priority. I had to prepare speaking notes and have my marketing specialist create a PowerPoint presentation. She was fully capable and took the ball and ran with it.

For the performance reviews, my VP and I decided that we would have a working lunch or two, if needed, and I would provide him with all the reports on my staff. The reports were mostly positive, save for one of my staff who needed to pick up his game.

By the time of the deadline, we shipped the build two weeks ahead of projection, I was confident the speaking engagement would go very well, and my VP had all the information he needed to conduct the performance reviews.


LinkedIn also provides questions for you to ask HMs

Your job is not only to answer the questions HMs throw at you; it’s also to have questions to ask them. If anyone tells you it’s alright to say you don’t have questions to ask, they’re out of their mind. I tell my clients to have 10-15 questions to ask at the end. In case you’re at a lost, here are seven to start you off.

  • Why did you join this company, and what keeps you here?
  • What does success look like in this position?
  • What was the biggest challenge affecting the last person in this job?
  • Why do people say __________ about your company?
  • How does the company measure success?
  • What would you expect from me when I start, after three months, and after a year?
  • Can you describe what my career path could look like?

Hot Job Interview Trends for 2020: What the Experts Say

It is 2020 and you are in the job hunt, either because you are unemployed or looking for a better gig. While the hiring process might be painfully slow, you still must shine in the interview, and this means every stage of the process.

Interview Prep

This is why you need to need to understand the interviewing trends for 2020 if you want to be successful in landing your next position.

Advice from 5 Job Interview Experts

Here’s some good news: I asked 5 interview authorities to weigh in on what to expect in 2020. They tell you what to do before the interview, what to do during the interview, and what to do after the interview.

Do not rely on traditional methods to get the interview. Show your value.  

Austin Belcak has a unique view on how to get to interviews with blue-chip companies. He has helped hundreds of people, whether they have worked with him directly or gleaned vital information by following him on LinkedIn.

These are Austin’s thoughts:

Do not let unemployment numbers fool you. We are currently experiencing one of the most competitive job markets in history.

Relying on resumes, cover letters, and online applications is not going to be enough in 2020.

If you want to land interviews at high caliber companies, you need to focus on three things:

1. Build relationships with the people who can influence the hiring decision

After you press submit on your application, fire up LinkedIn and use it to find your potential hiring manager or colleagues on the hiring team. Reach out to them, show them you understand their needs/goals, and find ways to illustrate your value in relation to those things.

2. Find ways to illustrate your value on your terms

How many times have you said, “I know I can do this job, but nobody will give me a chance!”

If people are not recognizing your value, you need to find ways to clarify it for them. One of my favorite strategies for this is putting together a Value Validation Project (VVP).

3. Develop a Value Validation Project (VVP)

Value Validation Projects are deliverables that illustrate your ability to do the job by providing suggestions, ideas, or feedback to the team’s biggest needs or goals.

For example:

  • If you are targeting a marketing role, you could do a quick competitive analysis, and then package that data with 3 suggestions to help the company get more visibility.
  • If you are aiming for a data analyst role, you could work to find a source of publicly available data that you can use to parse and tell a story. Check out this example of an analyst who used Twitter data to capture consumer sentiment about different airlines.

VVPs are highly effective because they give you the opportunity to say, “I have done my research, and I know what your goals are. Here is exactly what I bring to the table.”

You are also doing that in your own words, via a medium you are comfortable with, that offers a lot more flexibility in terms of visuals, data, and content.

That is going to set you apart!

More about Austin: Austin’s LinkedIn Profile, Austin’s website.


In 2020, research will be even more important.  

Sarah Johnston, a career coach and former recruiter, is a strong believer in doing research before going to the interview. All too often job seekers fail to research the position, company, and even the individuals conducting the interview.

According to Sarah, you must know the employer’s pain points. Here is what she has to say:

The average corporate role gets 250 online applications (Source). And that is rising at a staggering rate thanks to automation and the Internet. Of those candidates, only 5 to 6 will get called in to interview.

The best way to beat the competition is through preparation before you interview; have a good understanding of your target audience, what they care about, and their pain points.

When you are researching your target audience (the company and the individuals who interview you), it is smart to look at the corporate website for press releases, mission, and diversity statements.

As companies are becoming more mission-centric, I am seeing an uptick in interview questions focused around values and the importance of inclusive cultures.

It is also important to interview the people who are going to interview you. Take the time to look at their LinkedIn pages to read more about their training, experience, and for common ground.

If you have time, do a search on your favorite search engine for podcasts they’ve been on or news articles that reference their work. I suggest identifying 3 to 5 connection points that you can use to make small talk during the informal part of the interview.

Finally, one of the best — and surprisingly most overlooked — ways to research and prepare for the interview is to look for pain points or “clues” in the job description.

Read between the lines to better understand the culture, reporting structure, and the actual job requirements. Consider that every bullet point in the job requirement section could be turned into an interview question.

For example, let’s say that the job description reads:

“Identify, initiate, and drive process improvement solutions that will ultimately provide operating efficiencies and synergies within the supply chain, resulting in cost reduction and increasing service level to customers.”

This could be turned into a behavioral question in the interview:

“Tell me about a time that you identified and drove a large process improvement solution in a previous role that led to increased operating efficiency. Tell me about the solution and the results of the implementation.”

Be prepared with your answer to this question.

More about Sarah: Sarah’s LinkedIn Profile. Sarah’s website.


It is not only about job-related skills. It is also about personality.  

Biron Clark is a former technical recruiter and is now a career coach and trainer. He foresees more emphasis being placed on hiring for motivation and fit in 2020. Expect more questions that will get to the heart of your drive and personality fit.

Biron says:

I expect that employers will be interested in learning about your personality and motivation just as much as your technical background in 2020.

The average person is spending less time in each role when compared to past decades, so employers are conscious of hiring people who are not only qualified but also excited about the day-to-day work and the general work that the company is doing.

This helps them reduce turnover and find long-term matches for their company.

To prepare for this, make sure you’re ready to answer questions like, “What about this role caught your interest?” or, “Why did you apply for this position?”

They may also ask, “What do you know about us?”

These questions are a chance to show you’ve done more research than other candidates. A bad answer here can derail your interview, but a great, detailed answer can set you apart and help you win the job… even if someone else was better-qualified.

Other questions to be ready for:

  • What are you passionate about?
  • What motivates you?
  • Where do you see yourself in 2-3 years?
  • What are your long-term career goals?
  • What would you be doing if money weren’t a concern?

The bottom line is employers do not want to just hire someone who is only capable of the work. They want to hire someone who is also motivated and excited to do the work.

My prediction for 2020 is that you are going to see more employers trying to learn about you as a person and asking about what motivates you, what interests you, what you actually want to be doing in your life and career. And if you cannot explain this, you may miss some great job opportunities.

One more area to be ready for: Behavioral questions. Employers want to know how you think and how you’ll react to situations. Be ready to answer questions like:

More about Biron: Biron’s LinkedIn Profile. Biron’s website.


Do I want to work here?  

Susan P. Joyce, publisher of JobHunt.Org and career strategist, shares her concern about finding the right work environment. And how do you do this? By asking questions during the interview. Our 4th interview expert feels this is an important piece of the puzzle.

Here’s what Susan has to say:

A job interview is frequently viewed as your opportunity to “close the sale” – convince the employer to make you a job offer. And it is. But, the job interview is also your opportunity to learn if the job is a good fit for you.

I made a big mistake early in my career by not paying attention in the job interview. I was more interested in leaving my old job and not paying sufficient attention to where I was going next.

So, until my first day of work, I did not notice that only male employees had window offices while the women all worked in cubicles. OOPS! I stayed less than a year.

When you interview at the employer’s location, observe the whole environment and the employees there.

  • Do people look happy or stressed?
  • Is the location noisy or quiet?
  • Do you see others of your gender and/or race there, and do they seem comfortable?
  • Does this place look and feel comfortable to you?

You will be asked if you have any questions for the interviewers. Leverage this golden opportunity to learn more about whether you would be happy working there. Ask questions like these:

  • How long have you worked here?
  • What is the best part of working there?
  • Why is this job open?
  • Did the previous employee leave or get promoted? If the job is new, what brought about the need to create the position?

Be cautious if everyone has worked there less than a year, this job is filled frequently, or they struggle to say something nice about the organization.

Note: If you feel the opportunity is right, ask if you can take a tour of the company. This is when you can observe the employees to get a picture of their mood. Any good employer will gladly give you a tour of their company.

More about Susan: Susan’s LinkedIn Profile. Susan’s website.


It isn’t over until it’s over.  

Ashley Watkins is an executive resume writer. As a former recruiter, she has a unique view from the other side of the table.

Ashley offers sage advice on what to do after the interview, which can be as important as before and during the process.

She advises:

Follow instructions.

At the close of the interview, most recruiters and hiring managers will give detailed instructions about the next steps. But if the timeline isn’t offered, ask the interviewer when and how you should follow up (email, phone, or not at all).

If you are scheduled to hear back in a week but get crickets, wait until that time has come and passed before you reach out to check your status.

Do not stop at the timeline.

Take it a step further, and use this as an opportunity to refresh the interviewer’s memory about why you are such a great catch. Share a few short success bullets that align with the goals of your target role.

Also, do not be afraid to reattach your resume or LinkedIn URL. Make it easy for your interviewer to review your work history and accomplishments again versus sending them on a wild goose chase in the company’s database.

Always ask for feedback.

Although many companies have strict policies about what information interviewers can release, you may encounter a recruiter who is willing to share some tips — or you may discover an upcoming role that is a better fit. Then, you can quickly express your interest in the opportunity.

Build a relationship.

Another way to further your interaction with your target company and build a mutually beneficial relationship with a recruiter is to make a referral.

If you know a friend or colleague who would be a great fit for a different job, offer to make the introduction. Now, you have established yourself as a resource.

Breathe.

Not knowing where you stand after an interview can be frustrating. Understanding the hiring process for your desired position can relieve some pressure.

Take the time after an interview to reflect on things you learned, areas for improvement, and any red flags.

Sometimes rejection can be a blessing in disguise. Keep pushing until you land that right-fit role.

More about Ashley: Ashley’s LinkedIn profile. Ashley’s website.


Wrapping it up  

As you can see, the interview doesn’t only consist of the meeting between interviewers and you. There is a before, middle, and end. Make sure you have all the bases covered. If you accomplish this, you will be successful in 2020.

Take it from the experts:

  1. The interview process is longer these days and involves more work to prove you are the one to earn an interview.
  2. Research, research, and conduct more research.
  3. Interviewers want to know more about you than just your job-related skills.
  4. Try to learn about the company during the interview.
  5. There’s still work to do after the interview ends and can be as important as the actual interview.

More Expert Advice and Hot Trends for 2020:

This article previously appeared in Job-Hunt.org.

New LinkedIn feature provides advice on how to answer 26 general interview questions

As well as questions specific to two industries.

LinkedIn has launched a new interview-practice feature which leaves me with a sense of ambiguity. On one hand, I think it’s a great attempt to educate job seekers on how to interview for a position. On the other hand, there are limitations to this new feature.

Interview women

What should we expect with any feature that tries to be all things to all people? Where you might love the new information presented, I might see it as slightly contrived and overdone. LinkedIn has done its best, and I give credit where credit is due.

Let’s first look at where to find this new feature. Many people are unaware of it, let alone where it resides.

How to find Prepare for an interview

Click the Jobs icon, select More Resources, and choose from the dropdown Prepare for an interview.

Prepare for an interview

LinkedIn shows you a list of what it considers to be the most common interview questions, as well as questions specific to two industries (Categories). At this point there are 26 common questions and questions for only finance and sales.

Common Questions

You can first watch “expert” advice on how to answer a question, then watch an example of how someone would answer the questions. You can also record answers to questions and submit them for feedback from your connections by selecting Practice and get feedback.

What’s nice about this feature

The new interview-practice feature gives job seekers some guidance on how to answer what LinkedIn deems are important questions. I’m encouraged that LinkedIn is taking the job search more seriously. As well, LinkedIn is sending the message that practicing answering questions is smart.

Another plus is the number of behavioral-based questions listed under Common Questions. This type of question is most difficult to answer. The advice on how to answer them is sound. Career strategists and coaches suggest using the well-known S.T.A.R. format when answering behavioral-based questions.

The quality of the videos is top-notch. LinkedIn’s career strategists and hiring managers are well-spoken in both framing how to answer the questions and delivering sample answers. (Ironically career strategists are matched with each other, and the same goes with hiring managers.)

The videos are a good length overall. Most of them don’t exceed 1:50 minutes, which is nice if you’re interested in seeing most of the videos.

LinkedIn offers tips on how to answer questions. For example, to answer “Tell me about yourself” LI suggests:

  • Prepare for this question in advance and have a compelling story about your past experiences.
  • Pull prominent skills from the job description.
  • Be “SHE” (succinct, honest and engaging).

To answer, “Tell me about a time when you were successful on a team”:

  • Describe a problem that arose with a team.
  • Outline your key actions with the team.
  • Explain the positive result based on the work you did.
  • Give credit to your teamwork skills.

Probably most valuable is the ability to record answers to questions with which you need the most practice. And then send your recording to a connection for critique. This could be a gamechanger for someone who sees the need to practice answering questions and has someone who is willing to provide feedback.

Practice answering questions

Where this feature drops the ball

The most obvious fault of this feature is that LinkedIn has more work to do in order to complete it. I’m speaking about how only two industries are represented, finance and sales. It would be nice to have a wider range of industries, such as marketing, engineering, medical devices, nursing, etc.

This might be a reflection on the questions interviewers are still asking, but many of them are ones I’ve seen since being in career development, 15 years (gulp). Such as, “What is your greatest weakness?” Could LinkedIn have been more creative when it comes to the Common Questions?

Not all the questions have video. This speaks to the fact that LinkedIn has miles to travel before it sleeps. Where there are no videos, LinkedIn provides articles that don’t have the same appeal. I would rather see fewer questions than incomplete samples.

Related to one of the strengths I mentioned above: the quality of the videos is top-notch, the answers come across as contrived. Some of the career strategists and hiring managers think that acting is a better approach than speaking naturally. Also, please do not start with, “That’s a great question.”

Do they think interviewers want candidates to walk into the room and schmooze them with canned answers? I suppose the speakers shouldn’t come across as deadpan but come on, let’s not talk too unnaturally.

Conclusion

Overall, I think this feature has some merit. It can benefit job candidates who are nervous going into their rounds of interviews. There are more pluses than negatives. Now the big question is will LinkedIn require its users to upgrade to premium to use this feature?

10 ways to make your job-search networking meetings shine

The day a woman called me to ask for an “informational interview” I had a feeling it wouldn’t go well. The tone of her voice was monotone, unenthusiastic. She was smacking gum in my ear. Regardless, I said yes and then there was silence. “Hello,” I said.

networking-meeting

“Oh, I was just looking through my calendar to see when I’m free,” she replied.

As I suspected, the conversation didn’t go well. The woman was probably told by a well-meaning career advisor to ask for an informational interview. But she wasn’t told the questions to ask or why she was asking for a networking meeting. She wasn’t clear on the purpose of our meeting.

The purpose of a networking meeting

First of all, no job has been advertised, so these meetings are not actual interviews. That’s why the term “networking meeting” is more fitting.

Second, you’re requesting a networking meeting to gather advice for a particular position and the company. So you’re the one asking the intelligent, thought-provoking questions. Therefore there is no pressure on the person offering information and advice, and no pressure on you.

Third, your goal is to present yourself as a potential solution to problems the company may have. There might be a position developing at the company, unbeknownst to you; and you might be recommended to the hiring manager for the position. At the very least, you could be sent away with three other people with whom to speak.

10 ways to make sure your networking meetings go smoothly.

1. Ask strong questions. Poor questions show a lack of preparation and are disrespectful. A question like, “What does your company do?” is weak because it lacks creativity and thought. Besides, you should already know what the company does before talking with the person granting you the meeting. I hate this question.

Another question I hate being asked is, “What do you do?” Can you be a little more specific? “How do you prepare for creating your workshops?” is a question I can talk to at length because it gives me direction. Begin the discussion with, “I know a little about what you do, but I have some questions to ask….”

Note: If there’s one question you should ask, it’s, “Are there any issues or problems that exist in your department or the company?” This gives you the opportunity to talk about how you’d solve the problem/s.

2. Your enthusiasm level is high. Chances are the person granting you the networking meeting is not looking forward to spending his valuable time answering questions from a person he’s never met or met once at a conference. So coming across as bored or hesitant, will not bode well.

Instead begin the conversation by introducing yourself and explaining why you are excited about talking with said person. Why you’re interested in the position up for discussion, as well as the types of companies you’re interested in learning about.

Don’t forget to smile while you’re talking in person or on the phone—it can be heard through the phone connection.

3. Arrive or call on time. This is a no brainer. If you are late for the meeting, you might as well kiss it goodbye. This is common sense; people hate it when others are late, me included.

Make arrangements for this special day so that there’s no way you’ll be late. In fact, arrive early if you’re meeting for coffee with the person granting you the meeting. If you’re calling, set your watch alarm or e-mail alert 10 minutes before making the call. Don’t call late or early; call at the exact time.

4. Have a clear agenda. Similar to point #1, your agenda must provide direction. Don’t come across as wimpy and disorganized.

State at the beginning of the meeting that your goal is to learn more about the position, the company, and competition—if the person can speak to that point.

While you want the meeting to be more like a conversation, it doesn’t hurt to provide structure. Write down all your questions in groupings of the job, company, and competition. This way you won’t forget to ask them.

5. Provide data to back up your accomplishments. You’re not being interviewed for a job, but the person granting you the meeting will want to know something about you, what you’re made of. To break the ice, she might ask what you currently do and what your interests are.

So you’re interested in event planning, but most of your experience as been through extensive volunteerism (you stayed home 10 years to raise a family). Most recently, you were tasked with planning the PTO’s bake sale which raised $3,000; whereas the year before the school raised only $150. Tell her you “love” event planning.

This is great information and should be shared with the person granting you the networking meeting, if asked.

6 Show your gratitude. Don’t make the person feel as though you’re the one who’s inconvenienced by having to ask questions and giving structure to the meeting. You come across as someone who is all about yourself, not about giving back.

As I’ve said before, the person granting you the networking meeting is taking time out of her busy schedule. Say, “Thank you for taking this time to answer my questions” at the outset and repeat your words of gratitude at the end of the conversation.

7. Don’t ask for a job. There’s no job available; at least to the person granting you the meeting, so don’t be presumptuous. Besides, the mere fact that you’re before this person or talking on the phone implies you’re looking for a job, especially at this company.

Now if it’s a known fact between you and the person with whom you’re speaking that a position exists at the company, by all means discuss the possibility of your fit, both job-related and personality wise. Perhaps you were given a soft lead from a connection of yours.

8. A call for action. Always ask if there’s anyone else you can speak with to gather more information and advice. If no position exist or is being developed at the moment, the least you should come away with are additional people with whom to talk. Often job seekers will neglect this part of the networking process.

Your goal is to gather as many quality people to join your networking campaign as possible. Politely ask at the end of the informational meeting, “Can you think of anyone I can speak with regarding a nursing position?” Don’t expect the person to come up with three people immediately; she may have to send you the contact information.

9. Reciprocate. Failure to give back demonstrates your lack of networking etiquette. You can’t expect to receive and not give. I come across many people who think their job search is the center of everyone’s lives and don’t think of offering help to those who help them.

Reciprocity can come in many forms. After discussing some issues that existed at the company, you came up with a better procedure for the company’s supply chain operation. Or the small company needs some graphic art for their website—this will fit nicely on your résumé.

10. Always send a thank-you note and follow-up. This is a golden rule at any point in your job search. Failing to send a thank-you note, via e-mail or a card is insulting and a sure way to lose that person as part of your network. A nicely written thank you shows your gratitude and professionalism.

Gently remind the person who granted you the network meeting of the additional people you should contact. Keep a lively conversation—perhaps one that involved an existing problem at the company—going, and offer a solution to that problem. By all means don’t drop this person as a potential networking connection.


Networking meetings can be a gem. I tell my workshop attendees that they’re not easy to come by, as people are extremely busy. Most people who grant networking meetings do so because they want to help you in your job search. Don’t waste their time. They can be an asset to your networking endeavor.

And please don’t act like the woman who called me for our “informational interview.”

Photo: Flickr, Pulpolux !!!

32 days in the life of a job seeker

The waiting is killing you. It’s been 29 days since you sent your résumé to Mack, the recruiter, for a job that’s perfect for you. You are finally going to have your interview with the VP of Engineering. But not before a lot of time and anguish. Welcome to the world of a job seeker.

Stressed young businessman

On the 4th of the month, Mack called asking what your salary requirement is, to which you said $85,000. Fine, Mack said. Wait, you thought, that was too easy. Mack asked you questions about your ability to perform the tasks of a Project Manager. He seemed convinced you can do the job.

He set you up to have a telephone interview with the Manager of Project Managers the following week on the 11th. You hit it off great. She said you could be a very strong fit, but other members of the team (Accounting, Sales, and Marketing) will have to talk with you via Zoom. It’s scheduled for the 16th.

In the meantime, you’d have to take a personality assessment that would take half an hour, an hour at most. It took you 45 minutes. Your were questioned on integrity, honesty, dealing with conflict and other traits you can’t remember.

On the 14th, Mack called to tell you that one of the team members is out of the office on “emergency” business. The Zoom interview will have to be pushed to the 16th at 10:00 am, the day you were supposed to attend your kid’s pre-school pageant. It killed you to miss it.

The Zoom interview went extremely well. You were definitely in the running. There were three other candidates they had to interview via Zoom. Once they conducted those interviews, you would be brought in for a face-to-face. They all waved bye as they ended the session.

You called Mack on 18th to ask if he heard anything. No, he hadn’t, but he said he’d call you as soon as he does.

You started thinking about looking for other jobs, as your networking buddies had suggested since the outset. There were a ton of Project Management positions, but they all seemed wrong for one reason or another. You didn’t apply to any.

The weekend came and went. Still nothing.

You called Mack on the  21st. He didn’t answer. You sent him an email on the 23rd.

He called the next day, on the 24th. They love you, he said. It’s down to you and another person. Internal, you asked. He wasn’t sure. That’s above his pay grade.

On the 25th, Mack called to say you would be contacted by the Manager of Project Managers to schedule an interview. It should be the following Monday. They want you to meet with her boss, the VP of engineering.

The present

It’s Monday the 28th. You wait with your phone on all day and throughout dinner.

Finally the phone call comes on the 30th from the Manager of Project Managers. She apologizes for not getting back to you. They were waiting for the VP to return from Europe, who was vacationing in Italy.

They want you to come in tomorrow, the 31st, at 2:00 pm. You’re supposed to pick up your daughter at the bus stop, but you’ll make it work. Your retired neighbor gladly agrees to pick her up.

It’s been 29 days after the recruiter has received your résumé.

You’ve had a phone interview with Mack; another phone interview with the Manager of Project Management; and a Zoom interview with her, Accounting, Sales, and Marketing. Hopefully this will be the last one.

The interview goes well with the VP; you address the pain points that were previously discussed with the team in great detail. You talk about how both of you traveled to Europe. You hit it off.

The VP offers you the job, much to your excitement. There are some hoops you’ll have to jump through, though. They’ll have to do a background check and contact your former bosses. Other than that, you should start in a week’s time. He hopes you understand. They want to dot all the Is and cross all the Ts.

On the 5th of the following month Mack notifies you that all is clear. Your former  supervisors gave you glowing recommendations and your background check came back fine. You can start in two days after they’ve set up your computer. You are amenable to that.


Your situation, although grueling, was not  uncommon. You were extremely lucky in that you didn’t look for other work and put all your energy and faith in one company…and got away with it. Smarter job seekers would have continued looking for other jobs.


According to a study by Jobvite (2019 Recruiting Benchmark Report) this example is not extreme. Their most recent statistics cover 2016-2018. The average time to hire was 38 days in 2018, depending on variables, such as logistics, level of occupation, and geographic location, etc.

What have you learned through this whole process? You’ve learned that it takes time to land a job. You thought it would be quick. You were always good at what you did. But the landscape of the job search has changed. Employers are moving slower for a number of reasons like above.