Interview Questions: Ask this…don’t ask that


UnhappyThere is advice everywhere you turn about how to prepare answers to questions you’ll be asked in an interview.  There is less said about questions you should ask…and not ask.

It is my contention that interviewers learn as much about you from the questions you ask as from the answers you give to their questions.  It is crucial that you have intelligent, well thought out questions to ask.  Never say no to Do you have any questions for me?

Your questions should indicate that you understand the role and are knowledgeable about the organization.  Picture yourself in the job – what would you want to know.  I like organizational questions.  Can you please tell me about your organization – how many employees and what are their roles?  You’re asking for a verbal org chart.  What would you say are the strengths of your team?  What’s working well?  Where are the weaknesses, areas where you can use some help?  Depending on the answer, this is a good time to explain how you may be able to help them in those functions.  What other departments does your team [or this role] interact with and how is that going?

Another excellent way to convey what you know about the organization is to preface your question with something you’ve learned from your research.  I understand that name-of-company has made a number of acquisitions in the past year. How have these impacted your team?  From what I understand, your leading competitors are X and Y but that you are gaining market share. What would you say is your competitive edge?

There are some questions that you should not ask, specifically something negative like, I’ve noticed that name-of-company’s stock has been declining steadily.  What’s wrong?  If you’ve received an offer or getting close to it, then you can do more due diligence prior to making a decision.  I advise my clients not to ask about company culture and I receive a lot of pushback.  I ask them what it is they really want to know.  Companies like Google that have distinct cultures they’re proud of have made it well known and/or will offer it to you without your asking.

Are you wondering about benefits and perks such as a game room and catered meals?  Are you wondering if working long hours is expected on a regular basis?  You already know that neither of these are questions you should ask in an interview. What’s more important is how the interviewer will interpret your question.  There’s too great a chance there will be a miscommunication.  Learn the culture by doing research, both online and talking with people who work or have worked there.  Even better, make it a point to pay attention to what’s going on in the office when you’re on site.  Ask the people you meet what they like/don’t like about working there.

Overall, you should stick with questions like those above that relate to the job and company.  You’ll come across intelligent and thoughtful.  Good luck!


KRON InterviewMauri Schwartz is President/CEO of Career Insiders, a career management and talent acquisition consulting firm. She speaks frequently at business and professional conferences and career panels. Her favorite client update is, “I did everything you told me to and I got the job!”

Career Insiders’ Talent Acquisition services are focused on executive and senior management level positions in sales/marketing, finance, technology, corporate legal, and HR.

Mauri has an MBA from the Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley and a BS in Mathematics from Tulane University. Career Insiders has been certified by the City and County of San Francisco as as a Small – Local – Woman-owned enterprise S/L/WBE.  Contact Mauri directly at


A Bird in the Hand: What to Do When Waiting on Multiple Offers

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Recently, a client told me that her long, arduous job search was finally paying off. She was told by one nonprofit organization (organization A) that she would be receiving an offer the next morning. She was excited but was also very interested in another organization as well. She had already conducted several interviews with organization B that went well from her perspective, but she wasn’t told when they would be making a final decision.

She wanted to know what she should say to the hiring manager for organization A when she calls with the offer and if there were anything she could do regarding organization B to nudge them along.

Of course, the first thing I said was “Congratulations!” Receiving an offer for a job you like is great. Getting multiple offers is even better. But clearly she faced the dilemma of not wanting to lose the bird in hand and still desiring a choice of offers.

Here’s my advice: Assuming the offer from organization A is attractive, thank the hiring manager and respond with enthusiasm, and then ask for time to consider it. In fact, one should always ask for time to evaluate an offer even if not expecting another one. It is extremely rare that an organization would demand an answer on the spot. Unless they have a close #2 candidate, they can wait a bit for you to make a decision. They really don’t want to go out and start the search all over again.

Try to ask for as much time as possible up to a week. They may very well balk at this much time, and there may be some negotiation regarding your response time. Be prepared to give your answer at the agreed upon time.

Once armed with organization A’s offer in hand, contact organization B to notify them that another organization has made an offer, that you are still very interested in them, but need to respond to organization A very soon. Be careful that you are conveying only the facts and not being pushy. If organization B is leaning toward making an offer, this may act as a catalyst. It will let them know that others are interested in you, that you are sought after, which makes you even more attractive to them—just like dating. Hopefully organization B will be able to quicken its pace and move the process forward in time. If not, you still have your original offer.

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Mauri Schwartz, President and CEO of Career Insiders, is a leading figure in the San Francisco Bay Area career and talent management community. Career Insiders consults with companies and nonprofit organizations regarding executive recruitment as well as outplacement for all employee levels, and job seeker services for individual clients. In addition to her outstanding success rate in helping clients achieve their career goals, Mauri is a frequent speaker at conferences, job fairs, and career panels. She has served as Adjunct Advisor of Career Services at the Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley where she received her MBA and delivered seminars at other universities (Tulane, Mills, San Francisco State, others), nonprofits, and businesses.  Mauri’s motivational style uses techniques that combine old fashioned interpersonal relationship building skills with the latest technological tools.  Career Insiders has been certified by the City and County of San Francisco as a woman-owned business.

What can you do about ageism in hiring?

It is quite often that a mid- to late-career client asks me how far back in their work experience should they go in writing their resume.  The person will say they have heard to put only the most recent 10 years, some say 15.  My most common answer to clients’ questions regarding resumes, interviews, etc. is “It depends.”  ED001406

I don’t believe there is one right number.  I think those who advise a set number of years, such as 10 or 15, do so because it is simpler to recommend a one-size-fits-all than to advise on an individual basis.  There are many guidelines that are common to nearly all job seekers, but everyone has something that calls for special attention.  In addition to these particulars, other variables include how much experience is deemed appropriate for a specific industry, company, function, or job level.

Unfortunately, age discrimination does exist, primarily against older workers, but often it is against younger employees.  If it is age discrimination, which we all know is illegal, it is usually nearly impossible to prove.  For older workers, I have found that in most cases, the issue is not tied to an age number.  It may be the expectation that a more senior candidate will require a higher compensation than someone earlier in their career.  Or, there is a concern that an older candidate may be approaching retirement, and so will only stay employed for a few years.  However, the average job tenure among employees of all ages is less than five years (last recorded in 2012 by the US Department of Labor), and just over three years for those younger than forty.

I think the primary reason may be that the employer assumes that someone who is older has tired, stale ideas and ways of performing the job and has less energy and enthusiasm. These are factors that you can and should eliminate with your actual behavior, body language and voice during an interview, even when it is on the phone.

But, you must first get the interview which means that you do not want to give them any reason for discarding your resume on first glance.

For those who have been out of college at the undergraduate level for 12-20 years or more, I would omit graduation dates.  In general, 12-18 years of experience is the time span I recommend, depending on the variables mentioned above (industry, company, function, job level) as well as how pertinent the particular experience is to the position you seek.  My advice is to include only achievements that are relevant to your targeted role, even in your more recent experience.


Mauri SchwartzHi my name is Mauri, and I am the President of Career Insiders, a career management and talent acquisition consulting firm. I speak frequently at conferences, job fairs, and career panels. I have been invited to speak at NCHRA’S Annual HR West Conference. I consult with career centers at universities including UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, Tulane University, Mills College, and others, and contribute regularly to publications such as TheLadders RecruitBlog. I am what some might consider a professional “people person.”

Unhappy with Your Job?

UnhappyAt some time in their careers, most people come to a point when they’re so unhappy with their jobs that they want to make drastic changes in their careers, “I don’t want to do this anymore. I need a change!”

It’s true that many aren’t cut out for their current careers or find they have a strong passion for another field, and should be making efforts to take on something new. However, most of the time, they can achieve change, and job satisfaction, without taking such drastic action.

It is essential for someone in this situation to dig deep to discover the real reason s/he is unhappy before proceeding down a path to change careers. Accordingly, a career coach or counselor should initiate such a conversation before proceeding to help her/his client pursue a new career path.

Keep in mind that organizations hire you because you’ve proven from your experience and achievements that you can be successful in their organization…not for what you think you can do. This is especially true today’s tight job market.Unhappy

How do you know?

Ask yourself, “What is the primary reason you are unhappy?” ( “Burned out” is not a reason.)

  • Are you not getting enough recognition/respect from your manager? Upper management? Your colleagues?
  • Are you not getting paid enough…or what you think you should be getting?
  • Are you working too many long days, nights, and weekends?
  • Are you required to travel much more than you’d like?
  • Are you commuting much more than you’d like?
  • Do you have the necessary skills and/or tools to be successful?
  • Are you spending too much of your time doing tasks that you hate?
  • Do you have ethical or moral conflicts with your manager or the company?

Then ask yourself:

  • If I could change anything about my job what would it be?
  • Is there a realistic chance of getting this change made?

There are several options to take before giving up entirely on your current career.

  • Have a conversation with your manager and ask if there is a way to get what you need.
  • Look for other opportunities in the same company.
  • Look for similar opportunities in a different company, industry, or location.

As Barbara Safani, owner of a NY career management firm, said in a New York Times article a while back, ’A lot of people who say that they hate what they do actually hate who they do it for.

If after doing this analysis, you still feel strongly about pursuing another career, perform your due diligence. Thoroughly research the field and talk to people in the field to learn what it’s really like.

  • What education or skills do I need to acquire?
  • What are the costs involved – financial, time, other?
  • Can I afford these costs?
  • Am I willing to start at the bottom again?

KRON InterviewHi I’m Mauri, President/CEO of Career Insiders, a career management and talent acquisition consulting firm. I speak frequently at conferences, job fairs, and career panels. My favorite client update is, “I did everything you told me to and I got the job!”

Career Insiders’ Talent Acquisition services are focused on executive and senior management level positions in sales/marketing, finance, corporate legal, and HR. Please contact me for more info.

How you recruit is a reflection of your brand

InterviewMost of my posts are directed at arming job seekers with the ammunition needed to conduct a successful search. This time, I set aim at the other side of the table. I hear the same complaints repeatedly from clients about how they were treated during the recruitment process.  So, to those in charge of recruiting for your organizations, here are some recommendations.


According to Dr. B Lynn Ware, President/CEO at Integral Talent Systems, organizations should do more to develop and hone their employment brands and then ensure that every touch point with targeted candidates consistently reflects that brand. Much attention is focused on the marketing of programs and services while employment branding and its execution are an afterthought. As a result, candidates may have misperceptions about what it is like to work there.


Read the entire resume.  You asked for it, so read it carefully.  With so many resumes to review, most recruiters are looking for a way to make that pile smaller and use the average 6-second scan to find a reason to reject. You could be eliminating some of the best candidates. The extra time up front is much shorter and less expensive than making a mistake.

In screening a resume, recruiters should focus on identifying the candidate’s achievements, whether for work or a side project, and should learn to read between the lines, watching for these factors.

Overselling:  In reading through her job descriptions, the candidate may look like she’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.  However, practically speaking, could all of the stated achievements been made in the specified timeframe?

Ambiguity:  Because only so much information can fit onto a resume, oftentimes responsibilities are described very generally. Recruiters should make sure they can ascertain the activities executed by this candidate specifically. It’s rare that an organization will be hiring the entire team at once.

Depth of Experience:  How long has the applicant been engaged in the pertinent experience?  How much a part of her role was it?  She may be able to truthfully say she has the knowledge, but is it strong enough?  Look for length and level of her participation.

Having said this, candidates need to be able to convey their achievements on “paper” articulately, based on educating themselves as to how their resume will be reviewed.

Annoying recruiting procedures

Lengthy application forms have got to go. Some go on for pages, and each must be completed before continuing to the next. There is no way to look ahead to see what more will be required. Who wants to fill them out? No one. Who wants to read them? No one. Fortunately, some smaller organizations are opting for a much simpler route with a simple upload of a resume or social media profile. Why insist on entering every job’s details when they’re already on the resume? There’s no reason to ask for all the candidate’s personal information unless and until she’s seriously being considered.

Make your entire process comfortable for candidates and as streamlined as possible. Treat them like guests in your home when they come in to interview, and provide clear feedback and status quickly. Lack of clear and timely communication is probably the #1 complaint of candidates.
Hi I’m Mauri, President/CEO of Career Insiders, a career management and talent acquisition consulting firm. I speak frequently at conferences, job fairs, and career panels.  Recently Career Insiders has increased its Talent Acquisition line of business and has successfully placed a VP Marketing at a rapidly growing company, and have another one on the way. Our recruiting focus is on executives in sales/marketing, finance, corporate legal, and HR.


Are you qualified?

Despite the fact that the recession has been declared over, many job seekers are still havinMauri + Client Reviewing Resumeg trouble landing a new job. As a result of their frustration…and espousing the numbers game, many are applying for jobs for which they are only partially qualified, “There’s always something in the job description that doesn’t match with my experience, but that I know I can do if given the chance. How do I convince an employer to hire me in this situation?”

When applying for a job, it’s essential to put yourself in the shoes of the hiring manager. If you feel qualified for the position, you need to make it clear in every communication to her, including your cover letter, resume, emails, and interviews. With the hundreds of resumes a hiring manager receives, don’t expect her to figure it out.

First, assess the 4 or 5 key priorities of this position from the hiring manager’s side. If you don’t have demonstrable achievements in those specific priorities, don’t waste your time. If you were the hiring manager, what would you think of someone sending you a resume with a similar lack of qualifications? There will be plenty of candidates who are qualified, and adding your resume to the pile just makes the process move more slowly and doesn’t help you at all.

When you do feel that you possess the required skills but still aren’t making progress, what can you do to improve your odds? In my experience, most job seekers use the same resume for every job application, or at most will tweak it only slightly. They understand the need for customization but think it can be accomplished with the cover letter. This is a huge mistake. I’ve been coaching clients for many years, and continue to survey hiring managers. The vast majority of cover letters are never read. And most of those which are read are done so after the hiring manager has reviewed your resume, likes it, and reads the cover letter as additional information. The resume must stand alone! However, the cover letter must be written as if it will be read.

Write your resume so that it spells out what you’ve previously accomplished that solved the same or similar problems as outlined in the job posting. List your achievements and qualifications in order of the hiring manager’s priority, not yours. If you don’t have experience with a specific requirement in a paid position, but were successful doing it in a significant volunteer role, include it, but be sure to note that it was in an unpaid position.

In your resume, cover letter, and interview, present your case by drawing a parallel with each of the job’s stated requirements. You may have accomplishments of which you are proud, but if they aren’t directly relevant to the specific job, don’t share them. Don’t confuse the interviewer with extraneous information that muddies the picture you want to present.

And don’t waste time telling them how their job will round out your professional experience. To rephrase President John F. Kennedy’s quote in his 1961 inaugural address, it’s not what the employer can do for you; it’s what you can do for her!

Mauri SchwartzHi my name is Mauri, and I am the President of Career Insiders, a career management and talent acquisition consulting firm. I speak frequently at conferences, job fairs, and career panels. I have been invited to speak at NCHRA’S Annual HR West Conference. I consult with career centers at universities including UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, Tulane University, Mills College, and others, and contribute regularly to publications such as TheLadders RecruitBlog. I am what some might consider a professional “people person.”

Ace the Phone Interview

Interview - comks12851 - $50

Congratulations on getting that interview!  These days it takes hard work to get even that far in the search process.  That is unless you have expertise in some esoteric programming stream processing framework like Storm, S4 or Samza.  Huh?

Anyway, back to the issue at hand.  First, consider a phone interview pretty much like a face-to-face meeting. Prepare in detail just as you would normally.  Dress the same too.  Create a private space without noise or distraction to take the call, one where you know you will get the best phone reception.  Be ready a few minutes ahead of time and operating on all cylinders – be at your best.

The nice thing about phone interviews (that are not Skyped) is that you can have some notes in front of you, but be very careful not to have too much. You don’t want to be in the position of making noise by shuffling papers or taking too much time to answer because you’re searching through your notes to find it.

Use your computer to help you, one with a big enough screen to be useful.  Not your phone; it’s not big enough. I highly recommend that you bring up the person’s LinkedIn profile so that you can talk to the person directly. It’s not ideal in that the facial expression is fixed and you won’t be able to read body language, but I believe you can still tell a great deal just from a photograph.

And don’t forget to prepare ahead.  You can download a free copy of my proven Interview Prep Guide from the Resources page of my web site.  Good luck!