Interview DO’s and DON’Ts

A reader writes…

I know it’s always a good idea to ask questions to the employer during an interview… but which kinds of questions are okay and which are not?

Dear “DOs and DON’Ts,”

A career is like a marriage – it’s meant to be long term, it has its ups and downs, and it requires a lot of “getting to know one another” to ensure a good match.

Since we’re using matrimony as our analogy, consider this…

If “marriage” is like a “career,” then “dating” is like the “interview.”   It requires open dialogue between both parties, shouldn’t move too quickly, and, well, can often become revealing!

And just like dating, if you ask the wrong things in an interview… it can be a real turn-off!

Here is a quick list of interview “DOs and DON’Ts” that may help you get the “I do”  you’re looking for from an employer.

Interview DOs – (AKA sample questions you should ask that show interest):

  • What type of  training does the company provide to groom and grow employees?
  • What is the hiring manager’s management style?
  • What does the potential boss like most about the company?  What would he or she change?
  • How is success evaluated?  How frequently?
  • What have current or former employees in this same position accomplished for the company?
  • What would I be expected to accomplish within the next 6 months to a year?
  • How long have employees worked here?
  • Where did the potential boss start at the company?  How long has he/she been with the organization?

Interview DONTs – (AKA if you ask these upfront… the marriage is off!):

  • What does your company do? (Do your homework in advance)
  • How much does this job pay? (I know you’re dying to know… but save this for a later interview.  You can research similar positions and “going rates” in advance).
  • What are the hours? (Nobody wants to hire a clock watcher)
  • How many sick days do I get? (Employers are looking for leaders not unhealthy couch potatoes!)
  • How much time off do I get? (You haven’t even been hired and you’re already looking to be gone?)
  • Do you do background checks or drug tests? (Uh..  got something to hide?)

Follow these examples, and you’re sure to get hitched…  oops, I mean hired!

Job Offer

A reader writes…

I received a job offer from another company AND a counteroffer from my current employer.  Should I stay or should I go?

Dear “Joe Strummer,”

You must be feeling pretty hot-to-trot these days!  Not only does a new company want you… but you’re being asked to stay (with probably a pay increase, promotion, or perk) by your current  employer.  Now before your head gets too big … I suggest you check your ego at the door and get ready for some serious soul searching.  You have a lot at stake here, and you don’t want to blow it!

Let me start by reminding you that this is a personal decision.  There’s a reason why you were looking at new opportunities in the first place (unless a headhunter discovered you).  Maybe you feel you’re in a dead-end position, you could use a new challenge, or – you simply hate your boss!  Whatever the circumstance, you’ve explored outside of the “cubicle.”  

Some might say that a counteroffer is like a kiss of death and that you should go with the new job opportunity.  What they mean is, even though you’re being given a counteroffer, your current employer knows you’ve been looking around, and your status as a “team player” will immediately become questionable.  Can you be trusted to stay on the job and carry out your responsibilities? Or are you going to jump ship the next time another opportunity rolls around?   The sense of “partnership” may go out the window.

On the other hand…

  • I’ve never seen anyone get fired for sharing an offer letter from another company.  In fact, it can serve as a wake-up call to your current employer.  As time goes on, your skills, experience, and contributions to the company get lost in the shuffle.  A job offer from another company is like a slap in the face.  If you’re a key player, your current employer will do what they can to keep you. Bare in mind, this conversation with your boss is never easy and can be completely nerve-wracking… Who knows how he or she will respond!
  • Here’s something else to consider…maybe the grass isn’t greener on the other side.  After receiving a job offer and a counteroffer,  maybe you should re-assess yourself and your situation. Is your current position as bad as you thought? Changing careers can be risky – you’re suddenly the new kid on the block in a completely different environment.  However, if you choose to stay put, keep in mind that your manager knows you considered leaving… he or she may lack trust in you.
  • Is it about the money?  While salary is a key factor, most employers will say that job satisfaction comes from other areas such as company culture, work/life balance, skills enhancements, etc.  The fact is, none of these people have to pay YOUR bills… so it’s up to you to decide whether money is the real reason for looking elsewhere. Depending on your situation, a job may actually be all about the money. If this is the case, it never hurts to make some sort of attempt to increase your salary.  
  • Are you feeling guilty? You’ve been with a company for several years, and you feel pretty loyal.  The idea of sharing an offer letter from another company feels like you’re “cheating” on a partner, right? 

Who needs the slap in the face now?

Company “loyalty” fell out the window a long time ago. Despite your hard work, the fact is, a company can (and will) drop you at any given moment.  It’s not like it was back in Grandpa Joe’s day when people spent their entire career at the same place, come hell or high water!  Times have changed. 

So what’s my advice?  Be loyal to YOURSELF.  Consider all of the pros and cons, be confident in your approach, and stick with your decision. This is a good “problem” to have, and you’re probably envied by many of our readers.  Good luck!

Conflicts with Upper Management – How to address in an interview?

A reader writes…

I recently quit my job due to conflicts with my manager. 
It was not a pretty situation. 
How do I explain this in a job interview, without sounding like I can’t respect upper management?

Dear “Conflicted,”

I am so sorry you experienced this predicament.  Leaving a job on “bad terms” with your manager never feels good and can certainly make upcoming interviews a little awkward… to say the least.

The fact of the matter is some people just don’t mesh well.  People are different, personalities vary, and work styles don’t always jibe.  Heck… that’s what makes the world go ‘round, right?

Just because you conflicted with one person, does not necessarily mean you can’t, or won’t, work well with another – and it certainly is not a reflection of your skills, abilities, or accomplishments that are (hopefully) listed on your résumé.

Here are a few thoughts to consider when the inevitable question, “Why did you leave your last job?” comes up:

  1. Be open and honest (without sounding negative, resentful, or bitter). Explain that you were unable to progress in your current position due to differences of opinion with your direct supervisor.  You can elaborate on attempts you made to work together and be flexible… but that in the end, it just wasn’t a good fit.  From there, you can go on to say how much you think the company you are applying to is a perfect fit for you.  Do your research about the company and sprinkle in some details you learned…  ALWAYS impressive!
  2. Try to turn the negative situation into a positive one.  Okay, I know I may sound like a Pollyanna right now… but hear me out!  Conflicts with your manager taught you a lot about yourself.  What you can (or cannot) tolerate, Things YOU should probably change or improve about yourself, what types of work environments suit you best, etc.  From this experience, you now know what you want (or need) in a manager.  It’s the perfect segue for YOU to be the one asking questions during an interview.  You know, tap into the management style of your next potential boss!  You can simply address the question by stating that your working relationship with your previous manager was an “invaluable learning experience” but that you’re ready to make a change.
  3. You could refrain from explaining the specific situation about your manager and simply state that you were ready for a new challenge – That you had learned all that you could in your current position and felt ready to move on.

I hope you find these suggestions helpful and wish you the best of luck!

Hey readers!  Anyone else been in a similar predicament?  How did YOU handle explaining the situation in an interview?  Post your comments here!


Motivational Training for Staff

A reader writes…

I feel like my staff could use a little motivational training.  You know, something that will be stimulating, yet educational.  Do you know of any resources?

Dear “Observant,”

Why have I named you “Observant?” Well, simply because I appreciate the fact that you recognize the need for motivational training in your work environment.  More often than not, managers and employees get caught up in a daily routine and lose sight of what’s really important on the job.

Offering quality training for your staff could be one of your company’s best investments…. and have I got the resource for you!

Power Training Institute offers custom workshops and seminars that cover the following topics:

  • Management and Supervision
  • Customer Service
  • Sales
  • Employee Behaviors
  • HR Compliance
  • Harassment Training
  • And more!

This highly recommended group of professionals will be able to piece together a training plan that’s right for you and your team.  Check out their website: today….  And tell ‘em Anita sent you!

Interview Advice

A reader writes…

I was fired from my last job! How do I handle that in an interview?

Dear “Damage Control,”

There’s no doubt about it, this can be a difficult situation.  Though I don’t know your exact  circumstance, nor the cause of your termination – don’t worry, you can spare the details –  I have some ideas that may help:

  1. When you’re asked, “Why did you leave your last job?” (by the way, you WILL be asked), try softening the subject by saying something like, “Unfortunately, there are a lot of people losing jobs these days.” Then sit tight and hope the interviewer switches gears. 

I hate to say it, but he or she probably won’t.  Instead, they may pause and assume you will elaborate.  Or, they will ask for more details about YOU specifically.  That’s when you need to put on your trusty thinking cap and, as the Boy Scouts would say, “Be Prepared.”

  1. Deliver a brief, well-phrased, and well-rehearsed response that ends on a positive note.  More often than not, especially in an uncomfortable situation, people tend to dwell on the details that will merely raise more questions and make the situation worse.  Put down the shovel my friend, and stop digging yourself into a deeper ditch!
  2. Address your contributions and accomplishments in your last job.  Next, simply explain that your organization went through a series of transitions and staff was reduced – which is not uncommon these days.  Or, you can explain that you ended up with a new manager who wanted to make changes (if that was the case), and you were unfortunately part of that “change.”
  3. Here’s the kicker…  you want to gracefully transition what was once a “challenge” into an “opportunity” by saying something like, “In many ways, maybe this was a blessing in disguise.  I am looking forward to new opportunities, and this will give me the chance to develop my skills and career in a new environment.”
  4. End by asking a question about the company or expectations of the position.  You know…  throw ‘em off course a bit by re-directing the conversation.

In a nutshell, discussing a termination is never easy, but as long as you are honest, yet to the point, you will feel much more comfortable… and confident!




Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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