Job & Interview Tips: Share yours

Mary Richards and boss Lou GrantWhat not to be asked

Classic job interview footage in this
first episode of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."  See Lou Grant ask all the "wrong" questions and how Mary fields them. 
On Hulu.

What job interviewers will ask;
What they really want to know

Interviewers are supposed to stick to questions relevant a person's ability to do a job. Many do. Many are looking to get around discrimination laws. Some questions not legal during the interview are fine once you're in.


Here are some typical sensitive questions and what the interviewer really wants to know:


Do you have a drivers license? Are you legally permitted to work in the United States?

Where were you born? Are you an illegal alien? You're a citizen of Albania? When were you naturalized?


Please describe your work experience and history?

You're how old? Were you born before moveable type was invented?  Conversely, are you too young for this job? Do you have any experience?


Have you ever been convicted of a criminal offense?

When was the last time you were busted for smoking pot?


This job requires working long hours, or certain time commitments, or travel. Is there anything that might prevent you from meeting these requirements?

  • Are you married? Happily? Fool Around?
  • Do you have a domestic partner?
  • Do you have kids at home? Who takes care of them? Do you have to pick them up at daycare at a fixed time?


What languages do you speak and write fluently?

What is your native tongue? Are you a minority? Can we exploit that?


Are you able to perform the essential tasks and duties of the position as they have been explained to you? Are you willing to accept an employment offer on the condition that you pass a job-related physical examination?

Are you mentally stable? Are you on any medications that keep you stable? Do you have any extra you can share? Are there restrictions on your drivers license? Do you get tired in the afternoon (see also: You're how old?)? Has Alzheimer's set in yet or are you just sundowning at this point? Did your previous job give you a heart attack?


Do you belong to any professional associations or organizations that might impact your ability to perform this job?

Are you a member of the Communist Party? Planned Parenthood? PTA? On the other hand, can you go to Rotary meetings and subtly sell advertising there?


This job requires working on (Friday/Saturday/Sunday). Can you meet that requirement?

What religion are you? Which church do you belong to? You need to take off Christmas/Yom Kippur/Ramadan?


Then there are questions designed to measure your abilities, skills and management potential. Here are a few examples of each type, and what they're looking for


Behavioral questions

  • What is your strong point? How do you demonstrate that?
  • Describe your method for influencing people.
  • Do you prefer to work alone or as part of a team?
  • If I asked former co-workers to describe you, what would they say?

(Do you play well with others on the playground? Or will you open us up to sexual-harassment and hostile-workplace complaints?)


Workplace environment questions 

  • Describe a time when your supervisor talked to you about your performance? How did you handle it?
  • How do you react when computers go down on deadline?
  • Describe a time when you faced a problem that tested your coping skills?
  • Describe how you handled your toughest ad sale or news interview.
  • How do you react when equipment malfunctions on deadline?

  (Can you take criticism? Would you go postal? Do you smash computer keyboards? Kick copiers?)


  • What are your standards for success in your job and what have you done to meet them?
  • What factors in your career, education and outside activities will contribute to your success?
  • What problems have you faced on the job and what procedures did you take to resolve them?
  • Give me an example of times you did more than you were required to do.
  • What are the most important rewards you expect in your career?

(Can you toe the company line? Or are you a union organizer? Do you Tweet nasty things about your boss?)

Three other common questions:

How did you hear about this position?

Are our job posting costs worth it? Do you already have friends or relatives here?


Aren't you overqualified for this position?

Why do you really want to work here?


What are your salary expectations?

Are you kidding?


Jan Northup, president of Glendale, Ariz.-based Management Training SystemsSo you landed that elusive interview! Try these tips

Jan Northup is president of Glendale, Ariz.-based  Management Training Systems, Inc., which she started 29 years ago. Her company focuses on helping decision-makers make the right hires and keep them. She is the author of several books, including, Life's a Bitch and Then You Change Your Attitude:  Five Secrets to Taming Life's Roller Coaster and Building Resilience. Here she shares tips for getting back into the job market, especially for people recently laid off from long-time careers, like journalists.

Resume is keyword:
“Think about what job you’re applying for.”

Resume sampleWhile resumes can be the luck of the draw, you can swing the odds in your favor. Resumes often are uploaded into large organizations’ computers where software screens for keywords. If the right keywords are there, then your general information will be put into a category for review and a possible interview opportunity.

“Pick words out of job descriptions.”


Dress the part:
“Personal appearance is the No. 1 reason people didn’t get a job.”

InterviewingDress one level above the job you are seeking. Even though the company may have a casual-dress policy, it doesn’t mean you go  to a job interview in jeans. For men, shirt, slacks, and even a tie and jacket would be appropriate; for women, slacks are always good, as are nice dresses or skirts.

“If you don’t look professional, interviewers won’t think you can perform professionally.”


Talk the talk:
“Jump right into your skills, talents and expertise.”

InterviewingAt your initial interview, this will be the likely first question: ‘Tell me something about yourself and your background.’ It’s not the time to unload personal baggage. So don’t say, ‘I was born and raised in LA, went to college in Arizona, I’ve always been interested in sports…’ Try this: ‘For the past six years, I’ve been working in electronics communications. I got promoted to lead a tech department where I supervise six team members. I enjoy a fast-paced environment that offers challenges and is goal-oriented.’

“They don’t care anything about you personally, they want to know if you can do the job.”


Know thyself:
“Many people cannot state what their skills and talents are.”

Stressed at interviewDon’t say, ‘I work pretty well with most people.’ Instead, say it in a positive way: ‘I have highly honed interpersonal skills.’ If that sounds too much like corporate lingo, try, ‘I’ve had the opportunity to work with many different teams and with people at all levels, I’m comfortable working with all those people.’ Develop a 30-second elevator talk about yourself and your background; rehearse it aloud and in front of other people so you’re comfortable.

“Practice, practice, practice.”


Neither Eeeyore nor Tigger be:
“People want to work around positive people, not work around those who are always negative.”

Office workerIf you start bad-mouthing your previous employer – ‘the management stinks,’ or ‘the company was not good with finances’ – interviewers will worry that you’ll talk negatively about their companies. They also want to know that you take responsibility seriously. So, the Winnie the Pooh analogy.

“If you start talking about problems, you’ll be seen as an Eeyore; but people don’t want Tiggers either, airheads with lots of energy; there’s a fine line between being positive but not looking at responsibilities.”


Wrapping it up:
“Be prepared for the end of the interview.”

ConclusionInterviewers will ask if you have questions. Be prepared to follow up on points raised without being redundant and without raising personal issues. Generally, save questions about pay, holidays, vacations, stock options and other policies for a second interview. You should be able to find out most of those answers before you go anyway. Good questions that may draw out more details: ‘When will the job be available?’ ‘Is there a more-complete job description,’ ‘Is travel involved?’ – then interviewers may ask if you’re willing. Then you might bring up child- or adult-care responsibilities.

“We’re not asking anyone to be dishonest, but too many people give too much information.”

Been on an interview?
Share what they asked you.

Real questions
from real interviews

For editor/writer of an in-house publication:

1. We rely heavily on AP style here.  Give an example of common miss-use of AP style.
2. Why would someone with your background be interested in this job?
3. Walk us through your editing process.
4.  Name an example of a large project you have been in charge of.
5.  How would you feel about sources reading the stories ahead of publication.
6. What did you like best about your most recent job and what did you like least.

For government/
community-relations job:

(Compiled from several interviews)

>What is your experience with social media?
>What is your philosophy on building relationships with key influentials, community organizations, etc.?
>What is your community relations background? Please provide examples.
>What have/did you enjoy most about your Government Relations experience?
>What are you looking for in this role?
>How would you approach the first week, month and quarter in this role?
>What results do you see of the relationships that you build?  What would you do to leverage those relationships?
>What is your experience communicating complex technical issues?
>Describe your writing/communications background.

>What are your computer/graphics skills?
>Describe your experience handling difficult issues.
>Give an example of how you handled a crisis situation.
>Do you think you have enough experience for this job?

Don't lie:

Tim Sackett, MS, SPHR is Executive Vice President of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, Mich. See his article: How Job Candidates Lie, and the Best Lies They Always Seem to Tell


Tips for resumes,
cover letters
Cover letter

  • Don't skip it.
  • Make it unique for each job.
  • Point out skills/qualities you have that match job description.
  • Refer to your resume.
  • Don't make errors.


  • Be concise.
  • Be truthful about employment history, achievements and education.
  • Point out how past performance is indicative of a good return on the employer's investment in you.
  • Don't make errors.

Close encounters:

Share your experiences

Oddball interview questions:

Plenty of HR email jokes deal with bad answers, but what's the oddest question put to you?  Has this:
"If you were stranded on a desert island, which two books would bring?"

become this:
"If you were stranded on a desert island, would your rather have an iPhone or a Blackberry?"

Or maybe this:
If you were stranded on a desert island with your iPod and could only have 10 songs on it, what would they be?

Transferable skills:

People in news, advertising and circulation already have a lot of talent. But can clever copy editors really find happiness (read: paychecks) as advertising copy writers? "Vixen chooses Ginsu carver to take key slice out of hubby, then turns knife on Lean Cuisine - unthawed! But wait, there's more: Click in the next 30 minutes and get 4 free steak knives, too."

Quick retraining:

Maybe it's too late to be the doctor your mother wanted you to be, but what jobs are out there that you can retrain for in under a year?
"I went to truck-driver training school and got my license in just 23 days with Swift."

Send tips and encounters of your own to

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