Posts Tagged ‘interviewing’

While lying on a job interview is a bad idea, that doesn’t mean the Job Interview Police will come after you with handcuffs and an electric prod if you don’t reveal every little snippet of info related to your work history. Contrary to popular belief, a job interview is not an interrogation. It’s more like a first date. If you were on a first date, you wouldn’t chatter about the time you spent in the psych hospital because of your breakdown after your stalker ex-boyfriend came after you with a serving fork, would you? Hope not.

By the same token, don’t talk about the stuff the employer doesn’t need (or necessarily want) to hear in an interview, either. Here are a few tidbits to keep to yourself:

  • Your termination from your last job as the result of your calling your boss a moron on your Facebook page. Yes, people still actually do that. Don’t be one of them. And if you were terminated for something stupid you did or something stupid they did, your prospective employer doesn’t need to hear the details. Be as brief and positive as you can in your explanation as to why you left the job (not a good idea to say you were “fired,”  “terminated,” or “tossed out on my ass”), and don’t talk against your former employer, even if he was an evil toad who forced you out because your lunch was smelly.
  • Your plans to get pregnant. If you start a new job and actually get pregnant, you probably want to share that bit of news with your employer at some point before your water breaks all over her Manolos during a sales presentation. But you are not legally or morally obligated to share your personal goals with an employer you don’t even work for yet.
  • Your plans to take a 2-week trip to Alaska next month to try to catch a glimpse of Sarah Palin skinning a moose. The knowledge that you might have to take 2 weeks off right after starting a job might sit sour in the interviewer’s mouth, and you don’t want that to influence their decision whether or not to hire you. Besides, you don’t know what their timeline may turn out to be. When you have an offer and are discussing a start date is the time to bring that up.
  • Your recent divorce and subsequent career epiphany. The career epiphany part is fine if it’s relevant to why you’re applying for that particular job, or how you’ve arrived at this point in your career. But leave the personal stuff for your shrink.
  • Your difficulty getting out of bed in the morning.  Not all of us are morning people, and some workplaces are more flexible than others about work hours, but you don’t want to share your tardiness issues on a job interview. ‘Nuff said.
  • How you became born-again last week. How nice for you, but the whole God thing — not an appropriate topic for an interview, unless you’re applying for a job in a monastery.
  • Your salary in your last job. Yes, the interviewer may ask, but you don’t have to give out that information, even though you think you gotta answer ‘cuz they asked. Don’t forget the “it’s not an interrogation” thing. And by the way, your previous employer isn’t supposed to share that info either. You can answer the question by saying that your desired salary range is blah blah blah, based on your level of experience and the position. Your desired salary range is what’s relevant, not what you made before. After all, you may have been absurdly underpaid, or you might be more interested in a lower-paying position at this point in your career for various reasons. So there.


1.   If you have big yellow sweat stains on your shirt, your first will be your last.

2.   You don’t want to just blurt out anything that comes into your head.

3.   An hour late — not good.

4.   Sizing each other up is what it’s about.

5.   Uncontrolled body noises are frowned on.

6.   Preparation helps.

7.   You don’t want to just blather on about yourself without giving a flying toenail about the other person.

8.   Grabbing a boob in greeting will probably get you thrown out.

9.   If you whine about your ex, you’ll blow it.

10.  If you call them by the wrong name, forget it.


If you’re not familiar with haiku, it’s a form of poetry that consists of 3 lines, with 5 syllables in the first line, 7 in the second, and 5 in the third. Here’re some about job interviews:

The manager asks
Did you used to be a blonde?
Illegal question

The phone interview –
I called the CEO Jane
“Uh, it’s Jim.” Oh crap.

Tough group interview
They fire questions at me
Don’t quit now, pit stick

Meeting with the boss
Focus on accomplishments
Ignore his foul breath

Maintain eye contact
Talk mutual benefits
Oops – looked at his crotch

Congratulations – you have a job offer! All those months (years?) of job hunting; sending targeted resumes and cover letters to hiring managers showing them how you can impale their nasty little dragons on the head of a spear; enduring the smirks of passersby on the street after a networking event because you forgot to take off your name tag. You’ve been offered the job you wanted and a salary that will allow you to pay your Verizon bill from 3 months ago and stop rationing the toilet paper.

Now what? Do you just take the salary that’s offered, ‘cuz you’re just so happy to have the job? Do you stammer, “Do you think maybe you could go just a wee bit higher?” I think you know the answer to that. Keep in mind that every job/salary affects your financial situation for years to come, probably for the rest of your life (how’s that for pressure?).

Here are some don’ts when it comes to negotiating salary.

  • Don’t be too humble. I am, of course, assuming that you wouldn’t literally bend down to the floor and chant, “I’m not worthy, I’m not worthy!” But sometimes people are so grateful to have a job offer, especially after a long and difficult search, that they aren’t assertive enough about what they’re worth. You wouldn’t be getting hired if the employer didn’t think you have a lot to offer, so you want to approach the negotiation process with an “I’m awesome, you’re awesome” mindset. Remember the whole “mutual benefit” thing.
  • Don’t take the first offer without negotiating at all. Your new employer expects you to negotiate. If you don’t, it makes you look  a. desperate,  b. insecure,  c. gutless,  and  d. kinda goofy. Not a good way to start off in a new job. Even if the company has a tight budget, if they’re doing well enough to hire a new employee, they have some leeway in the salary range. Even if it’s a nonprofit, don’t assume they can’t be flexible. The range may be smaller for a 5-person nonprofit than for a Fortune 500 company, but there still is one (range, that is). I did once get hired years ago for a position with the City of Boston that boasted a non-negotiable salary of $14.63 an hour (how the hell did they come up with THAT figure??), but that’s pretty rare. So negotiate if you want your new employer’s respect!
  • Don’t be out in left field with your counteroffer. Do your research so you know what your market value is, based on the position, your level of experience, and the city you’re in. The typical salary range for a software developer is a bit different in New York City than Butte, Montana. Look on sites like salary.com, glassdoor.com and payscale.com for info.
  • Don’t give too specific a salary when asked for your requirement. “I figured out I need $53,400 to be able to pay my bills” is not a good answer. Give a wide range; $50 – 60K is the range I’m focusing on” is much better.
  • Don’t give your current or recent salary in your cover letter or in an interview (don’t give a fake one, either). It’s really not the employer’s business what you made before; it’s their business what they should pay you based on your experience. If asked this question, give your target range instead (be upfront about it; don’t pretend your target range is your recent salary).
  • If you have absolutely no clue what salary range they’re offering by the second interview, ask (something like, “Could you give me an idea what the salary range is, so we know we’re in the same ballpark?”). If it’s outlandishly below your range, say so (not in those exact words). No point in wasting your or their time if they’re paying $30,000 below what you need to buy cat food. That goes double if the interview is in another state.
  • If you find out when you get an offer that the salary is just a tad lower than your range, express enthusiasm about the job and see if you can negotiate up. If not, try to negotiate other benefits – early salary review, bonus, extra vacation time, tuition reimbursement, discount card for Whole Foods, time-share in the Cayman Islands, date with the sexy admin assistant guy, etc. Just kidding about the last three. But you knew that.
  • Don’t assume the offer is carved in stone if it’s just verbal. Once you have a salary that’s mutually agreeable, get it in writing.

Spider-Man has a job interview. He knows the interviewer won’t just ask him about his work history, but will also probably do a behavioral interview, i.e. ask him to give examples of times when he saved the world from multi-limbed freaks or greedy uber-ambitious guys who climbed out of  the TV sitcom hellpit. Here are some of the behavioral interview stories he’s prepared:

  • a time when he solved a problem –  “I had to figure out how to save a trainload of people without splitting myself in half, so I focused on the problem and used my finger to create a rope….”
  • a story about handling conflict – “When my best friend wanted to kill me ’cause I killed his father and stole his girlfriend, I successfully negotiated a win-win before I knocked him unconscious.”
  • a time when he defused a potentially volatile situation – “I de-limbed Alfred Molina as he was about to destroy a lot of buildings….”
  • his strategies for handling stress – “To keep my general stress level low, I do some deep breathing, climb walls, and bungee-jump without the bungee.”
  • an example demonstrating how well he worked on a team – “I divided up world-saving responsibilities with my alter-ego based on our different strengths.”
  • a time when he initiated a project or strategy – “I started the Spidey’s-Not-the-Bad-Guy Fan Club.”
  • an example of when he juggled multiple priorities – “Well, I had to save three people who were about to fall to their death, so I perched two of them on the roof….”

A career portfolio is always a good idea as part of your job search package, to trot out at interviews to showcase your accomplishments. A job search show-and-tell, as it were.  And no, it’s not just for artists, writers and celebrity bachelor party cake decorators.

Samples of your professional accomplishments, skills, problems you’ve solved, and dragons you’ve beheaded can illustrate what you’re talking about in an interview in a powerful way. Being able to say, “…and I have an example of that if you’d like to see it,” can win you big fat brownie points in a job interview.

Of course, the interviewer may say, “no thanks, I don’t need to see your headless dragon,” but even if they don’t end up seeing anything you’ve got in there, the process of putting your portfolio together is still really helpful.  Going through your materials and work samples can help you a. prepare for the interview,  b. figure out where the hell your career is going,  c. figure out where you want it to go,  and  d. make you feel really good about yourself, because your accomplishments are all laid out in front of you and scattered all over the kitchen floor.

There are many materials you want to include in your career portfolio (more about that in a later post); here are some things you’ll want to leave out:

  • Your dating site photo; the one with the boob shirt. Really, for that matter, any photo unless you’re a model or actor. In addition to being inappropriate, it’s redundant – you’re sitting right in front of them.
  • Different versions of your resume. What is the interviewer supposed to do, pick the one that best matches the color of their walls? Choose the version that’s most relevant to that position/the same one you sent them (ahem – they should be one and the same), and include that one in your portfolio.
  • Stuff in general not relevant to the position for which you’re interviewing. You don’t want the interviewer to say, “Wait a minute. Which position are you interviewing for again?”
  • Reference letters old enough to be on yellowed paper. I don’t really have to spell out the reasons for that one, do I?
  • Confidential or proprietary information, without permission from the company or clients involved. Again, don’t really need to spell that one out.
  • Personal information that a prospective employer doesn’t need to know about. Even if you think the fundamentalist revival you helped coordinate and the tongues you spoke in while there might somehow be relevant to that office manager position, leave the leaflets you passed out at the mall out of your portfolio.
  • Anything that doesn’t demonstrate a success. If you designed marketing collateral for a huge fund raising event, you’re asked about the results, and only 3 people showed up, that’s not going to look too good for you. Showcase successes, not disasters.

Guest post on my talented friend Andy’s blog, Laughing in Purgatory:

http://www.laughinginpurgatory.com/2010/12/job-interview-praying-aint-gonna-help.html

straitjacket guyA comedic look at job search and success – “What Color is Your Parachute” meets “This Is Spinal Tap,” if you will. This combination of comedy and advice gives helpful tips to anyone who is searching for a job, or hoping to hold on to the one they have. Topics include contemplating your navel to find your life’s work, idiot-proofing your job search, online disasters, strategic schmoozing, resume do’s and don’ts, interviewing horrors and how to handle them, how to hold on to your job, reflections on bizarre jobs, and weird work stories.

http://www.lulu.com/product/ebook/what-color-is-your-straitjacket-a-pocket-guide-to-getting-and-keeping-a-job-without-going-wacko/14265245

Here is an excerpt from What Color is Your Straitjacket? A Pocket Guide to Getting and Keeping a Job Without Going Wacko, soon to be available as an e-book. The artist is my talented friend Glenn Davis.

You’ve done your research about the company. You know how long they’ve been in business, their history, what their current goals are (beyond not going belly-up), and how you can help them achieve their corporate fantasies. You’re prepared to tell them how  you’re their fairy godmother.

You’ve also prepared your answers to questions typically asked in interviews, and thought of (short) stories that show your accomplishments. You have your questions  for them all ready. So how do you field those questions thrown at you by those exhaustingly perky H.R. pod people? How do you respond to queries  such as,

  • If you were an animal, what kind of animal would you be?

Hint: the specific answer to this question is largely irrelevant, as long as you don’t come back with “three-toed sloth, because I’d love to just lie around all day,” “anteater, because I could do amazing things with that tongue,” or “elephant, because they must have huge schlongs.”

  • If you were soda, would you be Coke or Pepsi, and why?

Hint: if you say, “Neither, I prefer whiskey,” you could either be perceived as “thinking outside the box” or “lush.” It’s a toss-up.

  • Who’s your favorite Marx Brother?

Hint: “Harpo, because he didn’t have to talk to anyone,” probably wouldn’t be a good answer.

  • What’s your favorite shape?

Hint: I’d refrain from giving an obvious answer such as, “Brad Pitt in his prime.”

  • Are you pregnant?

Hint: Even if you waddled into the interviewing room looking like you’re about to pop like a 175-pound balloon, the employer can’t legally even hint that your advanced gestational state even entered his consciousness. And of course, even if it weren’t illegal it’s a pretty rude question, especially if you’re not actually preggers but just really bloated that day.


Preparing is key
Think accomplishment stories
Don’t forget breath mints

A group interview
Look everyone in the eye
Or at least the nose

Speak confidently
Don’t jiggle your leg non-stop
They’ll think you’re crazy

Well, that one’s over
Send thank-yous to everyone
On to the next one!