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“7 Questions Job Seekers Should Always Ask—But Can’t”

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Asking questions during an interview shows the employer your interest and enthusiasm. It helps you pinpoint what the employer is looking for in their next hire and gives you the opportunity to connect it to your experience. Some questions, though, should not be asked during the initial interviews or you might not make it to the next round.

1. How much will I make? While certainly you should discuss salary before taking the job, asking too early can turnoff potential employers. An employer wants to feel like you’re interviewing for the job because you’re interested in the company and the position, not just the money.

Wait until you’ve been invited back to bring up salary, and even then, tiptoe around the issue. Try to word the question better, such as, “what’s the salary range for this role?”

2. Who do I speak with about vacation time? You haven’t even gotten the job and already you’re asking for time off. This is a huge red flag for employers, especially in the interview process. If and when you get to the offer stage and you think there will be a scheduling conflict, you may bring up any already planned events, but only at the appropriate time in the hiring process.

3. Where is my parking space? This is just an example of one of an infinite number of superficial questions that have no place in a job interview. Rest assured: this company has hired before, and if the employers select you as the best candidate for the job, they’ll fill you in on everything you need to know—from where to park to when to take your lunch break.

4. What does the company do? Ask this if you want a quick escort out the door. It is your responsibility to study up on any company that’s interviewing you. You should be able to walk in and tell them what they do, about their products, their competitors, and even the most recent company news.

You can, however, ask intelligent questions about the company, such as:

  • What are the biggest challenges someone in this position will face?
  • How would you describe the company culture here? How do you measure someone’s success who works here?
  • How has Company X’s strategy changed in light of [insert intelligent comment here from all the research you’ve done]?

5. When do I start? Confidence is an important trait to show while you’re interviewing, but cockiness will send you to the door. You shouldn’t presume you have the job in your initial job interview. You’re likely one of several candidates being considered, and even if you’re the most qualified, attitude trumps experience in many cases. A better way to work around this blatant question is to ask when the hiring manager expects to make a hiring decision and have the new person start.

6. How flexible is the company? If you’re already looking to bend or break the rules when it comes to showing up to work late, leaving early, taking long lunches or other situations, chances are the human resources manager is going to move on to the next candidate. Before asking the hiring manager to accommodate your personal circumstances, make it clear through the interview process that you’re the ideal candidate for the job.

7. Can I telecommute? If telecommuting wasn’t described in the job description, then most likely the company is looking for somebody on-site. At many companies, telecommuting is an earned privilege and not one offered right out of the gate.Asking indirect questions may give you some insight into how flexible the company is with telecommuting, but if it seems like it’s on a case-by-case basis, you’d be better off to leave it until you’ve been working in the company for awhile.

8. Any personal question. It’s perfectly fine to start with small talk to warm up the interview, but don’t cross the line with the personal questions. If you see a photo on her desk, it’s natural to ask if it’s her family, which could lead to a generic conversation about her kids, but don’t ask her if she plans to have more children, if she’s married, or how old she is. None of it pertains to the subject at hand: how you qualify as a job candidate.

9. Too many questions. If you’re nervous you might ask lots of questions to keep the other person talking. Try to be aware of how many you’re asking and not to come across as if you’re interrogating the interviewer. You want to get the questions answered you feel like you need to know to move forward in the interview process, but leave some for your follow-up or next interview.


There’s no arguing that the workplace presents different challenges for females than for males. In many industries, women are still making lessthan men comparably, and females have their own battles to fight in the office. I asked three female executives who have seen it all on their climbs to the top for their advice for career women.

What is your best advice to women looking to further their careers?

Marla Kaplowitz, chief executive officer of MEC North America—one of the largest global media buying and planning agencies—encourages women looking to move up the corporate ladder to be curious and do their homework. “Find the area that sparks the greatest interest and match that to your skill set. Start following the companies you are interested in learning more about on Twitter and Facebook,” she says.

Nellie Akalp is the CEO and co-founder of CorpNet.com, a company that provides small businesses with business filings (corporations, LLCs, DBAs). Prior to launching CorpNet.com, Akalp and her husband sold their previous business filing service to Intuit.

Akalp says if you want to be successful, don’t make success your goal. “I suggest not worrying about being successful, but working towards being significant and pursuing a career that you really are truly passionate about and would look forward to doing each and every day—and the success will naturally follow.”

Julie Smolyansky is president and CEO of Lifeway Foods and the creator of Kefir drinks. She encourages women to find their passion: “If you border on obsession with your industry, brand, or area of expertise and can communicate that passion, you have the best possible chance at a positive outcome or ‘success,'” she says. “Besides, life is too short to spend it in a career you are lukewarm about.”

What mistakes have you made in your career and learned from?

Akalp says: “My instincts are my most valuable asset. I have learned to rely on and trust my gut more. In the past, I failed to do so, and was burned and hurt in the process. Now I am much more careful.”

Smolyansky doesn’t look at her past actions as mistakes. “I don’t use the word ‘mistake,'” she says. “It carries a negative connotation and can hinder us from ever taking any action for fear of making a ‘mistake,'” she explains.

She encourages women to challenge themselves, even if it means falling at times. “If you feel too comfortable, you are probably not growing.”

Kaplowitz started out at a traditional creative ad agency, but one day realized that wasn’t where she felt passionate. She made the decision to “follow my passions and do what I feel most connected to.”

What if anything would you change in terms of the path you took to get to where you are?

Smolyansky says she wouldn’t change a thing about her journey. “Every experience you have imprints on you,” she says. “We are all on a journey. Get really good at listening to your gut. It is generally right. If you need to pivot, it will be the first one to tell you. The times I have second guessed my gut are the times it’s come back to bite me.”

Kaplowitz wishes she’d had the confidence to take more risks early on. “Being young is the greatest time and opportunity to explore. Every risk led to personal and professional growth as well as the realization that ultimately it all works out,” she recalls.

And Akalp appreciates that life is full of obstacles, and the best thing one can do is to embrace them and move on. “I took my obstacles as challenges and life lessons, and used them to become a better wife, mother, and business owner, and that was meant to be my path in life. I would not be who I am today without going down this path.”


Job seekers spend so much time figuring out what to say during the job hunt, it’s easy to forget how important it is to know what not to say. Unfortunately, in this competitive job-search environment, one poor response or casual reference can mean an employer will decide not to hire you.

The most important thing you can do as a job seeker is focus on the employer’s needs before your own and recognize that hiring managers will evaluate you at every opportunity. Companies put a lot of time and effort into trying to evaluate and hire candidates who are good fits. They look for every opportunity to qualify or disqualify you, and use every interaction to assess a good fit beyond specific skills needed.

Employers want to know: Is the person able to communicate efficiently and succinctly? Does he or she appear prepared and informed about the position, which might indicate the candidate’s general approach to preparing for important meetings? Is the candidate someone who would be pleasant to have in the office, or does he or she bring a negative attitude?

Since it’s tough to learn these specifics from a resume, your conversations and casual interactions will speak volumes. Be aware and prepared, and consider the following so you don’t botch your chances for the job inadvertently.

Don’t be desperate. If you say, “I really need this job; or any job,” the employer is likely to run the other way. Another no-no: “I’m really flexible, I can do anything.”

Why is it bad to be so available? Confidence, not desperation, is the skill most employers want in a new hire. Usually, they don’t go hand-in-hand; so one whiff of “I can be anything you want me to be” or “I need this job to pay my bills” may send the employer racing in the opposite direction.

Don’t complain. Employers are sensitive to subtle signs and clues when they talk to you. Don’t say anything that may make it appear you are excessively negative or whiny. If you had a bad night, are really tired, hate the heat, couldn’t find a parking place, or broke your heel on the way to the interview, keep it to yourself. Otherwise, you risk leaving the impression it will be unpleasant to work with you. No one likes spending time with someone who always sees the cup half empty, so smile, and don’t let on that anything is bothering you.

Another topic to avoid: Don’t mention how hard it is to find a job. For example, don’t say, “I’ve been having a hard time getting a job because of my age.” This may or may not be true, but the potential employer doesn’t care, and you’re wasting your time discussing your job hunt with someone who won’t hire you.

Don’t be rude. Mind your manners. If you’re at a lunch interview at a restaurant, and you are rude to the waiter, expect the interviewer to take notice. Say “please” and “thank you,” be considerate, and don’t do anything that leaves the impression that you missed important lessons about how to treat people. Similarly, employers monitor your interactions with assistants and receptionists. If you are unkind or snippy with anyone during your interactions, assume it will be held against you. For example, if you’ve been kept waiting a long time, don’t complain to the front desk person, “I have better things to do than wait here all day.” Instead, politely ask when someone will see you, and then make a decision if you want to work for someone who keeps you waiting at the interview.

Don’t be a blabbermouth. The minute you badmouth your previous boss or employer, you tell the new employer you lack common sense. Even if your previous boss or company has a bad reputation, it is not wise to add your two cents on the matter. Be discrete; who wants to hire a known gossip? The hiring manager will assume you would spread negative information about the new company, and will probably not want to take a risk by hiring you.

Don’t ramble on and on. When the interviewer asks, “Tell me about yourself,” and you start with, “I was born…,” you can pretty much assume you just lost your listener’s attention—and probably your chance to impress the employer. Do yourself a big favor by keeping everything you say focused on information you know the employer wants to hear.

Don’t make it “all about you.” It can be a real turn-off when you start asking about salary and benefits before you’ve sold yourself as the best candidate for the job. Asking how much vacation time you’ll have, mentioning your need to secure childcare, or asking about perks like a company car, computer, or cell phone will make the employer think you are more worried about your needs than those of the organization. This is not a selling point for you.

Don’t ask anything you could have easily found out already. If you’re applying for a job, the onus is on you to research the company. Don’t ask questions if the answers are on the organization’s website. It makes you look lazy and unprepared, two “qualities” most employers hope to avoid when hiring.

Don’t let it all hang out online. There are many stories about candidates who shared details about their personal lives or opinions about companies where they are interviewing online and lost the opportunity as a result. Assume anything you post online is accessible to employers and avoid commenting on the interviewer’s ugly tie, bad breath, or lack of preparedness. Do not say you will take the job until something better comes along. Do not post details about your illegal drug use, and do not let everyone know how often you come to work hung over. This information, when it is part of the public record about you, will come into play when the employer is choosing candidates, and it will hurt you.