Follow us on Twitter Follow us on LinkedIN

Alicia Blain

Entries tagged with “Interview Tips”.


As I’ve mentioned in many of my recent posts, this past year I had the pleasure of interviewing young professionals who had been working from 1 to 5 years out of college.  Over 80% of them had been unhappy in their first job and had either left it or were looking to leave. But all 100% of them agreed on one thing:  they were not prepared for what to expect once they had the  job.

This is not unusual but it’s a fact that doesn’t get talked about much.  The reality is that college doesn’t prepare you for the world of work.  Going from college to corporate is one of the hardest transitions we all make.  Don’t think it’s a new reality either.  When I graduated from college many, many, many years ago, I almost quit after my first two weeks.  Actually, I wanted to quit after the first week but decided to wait until a got my first paycheck.  I figured it was the least the company could do for having me go through the shock of working in a corporate environment.

As it turns out, I never quit.  The economic situation at the time very much resembled the one today’s college grads are facing.  I had many friends who had not found work and when I told them I was quitting, they told me I was crazy & that I needed to stick it out even if I was miserable.  I listened and I did stick it out. Of course back then, the career or job options available to a 20-something were much more limited than they are today.   There weren’t any internships or contracting work that a young person could take to make a living.  But the truth is it took me a LONG time to get used to the work environment because it wasn’t easy to figure out.

Today’s newest and youngest entrants to the workplace told me the same thing.  In fact, they told me the 5 key areas that shocked them the most about working.  So I made a decision.  I decided to write a series of ebooks to give college grads the upper hand in transitioning from college to corporate.   The first ebook  which comes out this month is called New @ Work: An Insider’s Survival Guide to the Crazy Workplace.  It gives college grads 5  insider secrets about the world of work.  It busts the myths many of us had about the workplace before we worked there.  It’s the 5 that were highlighted by the young people I interviewed this past year.

Let me give you 2 examples of what I mean.

1.  As a college grad, you probably expect that your boss will not only be a good boss to you but that he will be a good leader for the team you work for.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  The likelihood is that he or she won’t be.  The inside scoop that seasoned workers learned the hard way is that there is an overwhelmingly large number of bad bosses in the workplace.  I call them batty bosses and I’ve described some of their characteristics in some of my previous blogs.  In the ebook, I go into each of them and explain why they exist.  I also provide some probing questions you can ask during your job interviews to uncover if you will be working for one.  If you get lucky enough to land a good boss, count your blessings and don’t do anything to jeopardize that relationship.

2.  As a college grad, you probably expect that your workplace will encourage and foster collaboration among employees both in and outside your team.  Maybe. Maybe not.  The insider truth is that collaboration doesn’t always flourish in many of the more established companies and it certainly doesn’t do so at the level that young people today are used to collaborating.  There are a lot of reasons for that which I explain in the book and I give some pointed questions you can ask during your job interview to get a glimpse of how collaborative or not your future employer is.

The point is that as a college grad you should not go blindly into your first job.  The hundreds of thousands of us that have done so either quit our jobs or took a long time to figure it out.  You don’t need to do that. It’s important that you know exactly what to expect.  Instead of being miserable or wasting time trying to make sense of it all, you can be ready for it and concentrate on making a great impression and showcasing your talents and desire to make a difference.

One thing you can do now to get ready:  talk to your friends who have been working for a year or more.  Ask them what surprised them most about work.  Ask them for 1 to 3 tips to prepare you so you can know what to expect.

In the meantime, look out for my ebook announcement and the special offer for the class of 2011.

Most college grads think the way to stand out during a job interview is to be as prepared as possible for the questions employers will ask them during their interviews.  That is partially true.  Job interviews are the first impression you are making to the employer.  Being able to anticipate their questions and answer them well is a strong start to making a good impression.

But do you know there’s another effective way to stand out during your interview?  Here’s an insider secret: The interview process gives you a rare and often unutilized opportunity to put the employer under the microscope by asking them some probing questions.

The questions provide 2 immediate benefits.

1. It Showcases YOU:  Here’s another insider secret: Employers don’t usually expect to get probing questions from young employees. That’s expected from the more experienced candidates who have been working for years and know the “real deal”. The questions will distinguish you from other interviewees in 3 key ways:

         a.  Savviness. You instantly show you are savvy about what goes on inside the corporate walls. It demonstrates you went       above and beyond the normal research and due diligence.

         b. Surprise. Employers already know the typical questions young and inexperienced candidates ask. Time after time, they respond with the same routine, memorized answer. Pointed questions surprise them and make them take notice. It breaks them out of the expected and it’s a way for you to stand out among a sea of other applicants.

         c.  Spunkiness. Employers were once in your shoes and know how uncomfortable it is for a young person to ask tough questions. Most will admire your courage because so few do. It shows spunk and that shows the employer that you are bright and on the ball. It makes them feel confident you’ll get up to speed quickly when hired.

2. Forewarned is Forearmed. Many young employees make the common mistake of focusing all their attention on making a good impression during the interview process. This is an extremely important thing to do, but it isn’t the only thing you should be doing. You need to understand the work environment you will be walking into when you accept the job. Unlike the majority of young employees who start work and are clueless about what they’re getting into, you will know. You won’t waste time being surprised. Instead you can focus  on what you have to do to get on the fast track to advance your career.

Take those tips from my previous blogs and start coming up with a list of questions to ask your employer during the interview.  You might find those questions to be the key ingredient to standing out and going to the front of the line during the selection process.

I know that in today’s challenging economy, college grads are concerned about finding a job.  You are spending a lot of time preparing for your interviews & making sure you are ready to answer the tough questions employers will throw at you so that you can stand out.

Well, guess what?  That’s only half the battle. What steps are you taking during the interview process to determine if your prospective employer is a good fit for you?  Here’s a reality that most college grads are unaware of when they are seeking their first job: over 80% of college grads wind up hating their first job.  That’s a LOT of people that are unhappy.

How do I know that?  I spent the last year, interviewing college grads that were working between 1 and 5 years. Most of them – 80% – said they had either left their first job or were unhappy there and were aggressively looking for another job. When I asked them why they were unhappy they all said the same thing:  we didn’t do our homework on the company hiring us.  Like most of you, these young professionals currently in the workforce did not take the time to really ask the employer some penetrating questions to determine what it would be like to work there.

All of the young people I interviewed said they were just laser focused on getting into a company & starting their career.  They did not focus a lot of attention on asking their employers some penetrating questions.  Whatever questions they asked was to show the employer how much they knew about the company. After they started, they realized what most experienced employees already know.  Finding “a job” is often not the right approach to take even though you may be extremely tempted to do that. 

Most of the young people I interviewed said that taking “a job” had not been a good decision for them.  Many wished they had taken the time to question their prospective employer (and boss)  instead of just trying to be as prepared as possible for the employer’s questions.  Most interviewees felt sure that if they had taken the time to ask better questions they would have either chosen not to take the job or, if they needed to, they would have known ahead of time what they were getting themselves into. 

That’s good advice.  The difference between an inexperienced interviewee and an experienced one is that the experienced one knows that getting “a job” is not the answer.  It’s finding one that’s a good fit for you.  That’s why people that have been working for some time make a list of probing questions to ask during an interview.  They know the importance of putting their prospective boss and employer under the microscope.   

A job search is an exhausting process and not something you necessarily look forward to.  Experienced job seekers don’t want to be in a situation where they look for “a job” and are unhappy and have to look for another one soon after. Being prepared for the interview by asking a series of good questions to determine if there’s a fit is what experienced job seekers do to prevent that situation from happening.

Take your cues from the pros.  Being prepared to answer an employer’s probing question is an important part of getting a job.  Asking the employer your own probing questions is an important part of finding the right fit and wanting to stay on the job.

Here are 3 tips to finding the right fit.  

Tip #1: Take some of the questions I’ve highlighted in my previous blogs as a starting point to preparing your list. 

Tip #2:  Ask your friends & family members who have been working for a few years, what questions they wished they had asked when they interviewed for their first jobs.  Everyone will be more than happy to give you their set of questions. 

Tip #3: Take the questions that have been repeated by most people and add those to your list.  That’s going to give you a huge advantage over other job seekers.  While they are busy finding “a job”, you’re busy finding the “right job” for you .

When we graduate college and start looking for our first job, we rarely think about our relationship with our boss.  After my interviews with young people this past year, many of them indicated that they actually always assumed they’d have bosses who’d mentor them and guide them through their career.

Nothing can be furthest from the truth.  Here’s an insider secret:  As a college grad in your first job, you have a higher chance of working for someone who isn’t a very good mentor nor is interested in becoming one.  Many of today’s managers are overworked, stressed and dealing with their own career issues. They don’t have any time left over to dedicate to their staff. Some managers are simply not mentoring types at all and try to avoid that part of their role.

The good news is that your boss doesn’t have to be the one you turn to for mentoring.  Once you start working you will quickly find out who are the managers in the organization that not only like mentoring but that find the time to do so.  Those are the ones you want to align yourself with and pick one of them as your mentor.

Believe it or not, the interview process provides you with a unique opportunity to ask questions of your prospective boss to see if he or she would be a good mentor and a good fit for your personality.  As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs,  there are a lot of batty bosses out there. All of us have different tolerance levels for the different types that exist.  Wouldn’t it be better to know ahead of time whether you may be working for one or not? Most college grads don’t grab this opportunity because they are focused on making a good impression on the employer.  Although that is very important, it is equally important to ask probing questions as well.

Here are 5 good questions you can ask your prospective boss to determine what type of boss he is. 

1. Give me an example of a famous leader you admire and what are the traits you admire about him or her?

2. Give me an example of someone you’ve mentored in your team and what you liked and didn’t like about it?

3.  How would your employees describe you?

4. What are your top 3 pet peeves?

5.  What are 3 things you enjoy about leading your team and 3 things you don’t enjoy?

From the responses, you’ll get an indication whether your future boss is a good and caring boss. If (s)he is, you hit the jackpot! Count your blessings . Do everything you can to get the job and stay with him for as long as you can. If they don’t, well, welcome to reality. You have to ask yourself these questions:

  • What batty boss type is he? Is it one of the types I can tolerate?
  • If it’s not a tolerable type for me, is the job opportunity worth the aggravation of learning to deal with that type of boss?
  • If so, what steps can I take now to prepare myself to handle this type of boss so I don’t derail my career?

The best way to excel in your first job is to be as prepared as possible so that you are not shocked at the world of work and lose precious time trying to figure it out.  While others are doing that, you will be focusing your effort on creating value and showcasing your skills as a high performer.

You don’t know what you don’t know.  Everybody knows that but what you don’t know can make you miserable later.  That’s what young people working for the past 1 to 5 years told me this last year when I interviewed them.  Over 80% said they just did not do a good job asking prospective employers probing questions to find out what it would be like to work there.

Most of these young people started their jobs right out of college and said they mainly focused on preparing for the questions that employers would ask them.  They admitted that they had  a list of generic questions to ask employers but mainly did so to show the employer that they had done their research about the company. Again to showcase themselves to the employer.

Most young people don’t give a lot of thought to what they are getting themselves into when they accept a job.  After all, the company websites and the on campus meet & greets paint an awesome picture of  what it’s like to be on the inside – an employee – of Company XYZ.  Like everything else in life, there are always two sides to every story.

There is no doubt that working for a company gives you tremendous exposure and great experience as a new entrant into the workforce. There are many benefits to working for a company in your early career. However, there are many things about working that college grads are unaware of and that consequently make them very disillusioned and disheartened once the job offer is accepted.  So much so that 80% of the young people I interviewed had left their jobs, were actively looking to leave or thinking of leaving in the short term. They simply weren’t prepared for the shock of being an employee.

In case you think this is a new phenomenon, it isn’t.  I think you can ask anyone who has been working as an employee and if they can remember back to their early twenties they will tell you how shocked they were when they started working.   I share my own story and tell young people that when I started working in my first job, I came VERY close to quitting after the second week (had to get that paycheck, right?). College simply does not prepare you for the workplace.

The twenty-somethings I interviewed told me that in hindsight they wished they had asked their employers better questions to be better prepared for working there.   Many agreed that given the tight job market they would probably have taken the job regardless of what they discovered.  The big difference that would have made a huge difference as an employee is they wouldn’t have wasted so much time wrapping their heads around the job shock.  Instead they would have been ready and focused on adding value immediately to enhance their employee brand and to stand out.

Here are 2 insider secrets most young people don’t give a lot of thought to but impacts them nonetheless.

1.       You will NEVER work for a perfect company.

2.        All companies have warts and some have more than others. Warts are things that aren’t great about the company but need to be tolerated in order to work there.

During the job interview, you want to gauge what specific brand of warts your prospective employer has because the closer the warts are to things you can tolerate the better your experience will be.

Here are 3 specific questions you can ask to help you get a better idea of their warts. More importantly, it will help you understand the environment you will be working in should you accept the position.

1.    Can you tell me 2 reasons why you work for this company?   What keeps you here?

2.   What are 2 things you wish you could change about the company and why?

3.   What are 3 things people don’t know about working for the company that they should?

Listen very carefully to the responses and jot them down. Your interviewers will not be expecting these types of questions and will most likely not have a pat answer that is not very revealing.  The responses will be more truthful and telling.

Stay tuned next time when I will share more interview questions that Gen Yers on the Job suggest you ask before you accept your first job.

Drumroll, please…  The last & what I consider the worst of the 5 batty bosses at work is Mr. Snarly.

This is the angry, moody, obnoxious boss who spends his day screaming at everyone, regardless of whether it’s his team members, his assistant, his kids or the barista at Starbucks. He loves belittling people in meetings and has absolutely no manners or delicacy. He thrives on intimidation. Reporting to him keeps you constantly wondering when his tirade will fall on you.

Certainly not a fun person to work for.  It will amaze you how many Mr. Snarly’s still exist in the workplace today.  You would think with all the leadership advice out there & the money companies spend on mentoring their leaders & managers that a Mr. Snarly could never be allowed to exist & wreak havoc at work.  But they do.  And chances are, you will run into one if you are not already reporting to one.

That’s why it’s so important to ask probing questions during an interview especially for those first entering the workplace. Working for a Mr. Snarly right out of school is almost harmful to someone new to the grim realities of work. A young employee is not savvy enough or experienced enough to deal with Snarly’s tirades & unprofessional behavior. There are many seasoned professionals that can’t deal with that type either. But the point is to try & flush that out before you take the job.

If you don’t want to get caught working for Mr. Snarly, you need to ask probing questions when interviewing with your prosepective boss.  The person the position reports to has the ultimate decision in who gets hired. Here’s a insider tip. Most prospective bosses have interviewed hundreds of candidates over the years. They know that young people are  more focused on impressing them. They know that young candidates don’t know the corporate realities of being an insider.  After years of interviewing young people, they already know by heart the types of questions you will ask them – questions that are meant to impress them with your knowledge. 

What they don’t expect is for you to be a savvy interviewee & ask them questions like experienced candidates do. On the rare occasion a young person asks probing questions, the prospective boss immediately takes notice. I know I did when I interviewed.  Here is a person that is making the boss think about the answer instead of asking a question everyone else asks. This person will automatically stand out from the throngs of other interviewees they will see.  And that’s what you want.  You want to stand out & ultimately get the job.

So here are some questions you can ask your potential boss to make him think & take notice of you.

  • Can you describe your leadership style?
  • Give me an example of a famous leader you admire.
  • What are your top 3 pet peeves?
  • Do you enjoy mentoring your staff?
  • Give me an example of someone you’ve mentored in your team and what you liked and didn’t like about it.
  • How would your employees describe you?
  • What are 3 things you enjoy about leading your team and 3 things you don’t enjoy?

You need to listen carefully to the responses given since that will give you clues as to the type of person you will be reporting to.  Now that you know the list of batty bosses you can be better prepared.  You may hit the jackpot & find that you will work for a great boss.  If so, it is even more critical for you to do everything you can to stand out & get the job.  Great bosses are rare to find & when you find one, you want to work for them as long as you can.

If you currently work for a Mr. Snarly & can’t stomach his outbursts, now you have the questions you need to ask in your new job search.  Don’t get caught by surprise again.  For those college graduates interviewing for their first jobs, stay out of Mr. Snarly’s clutches.  Ask probing questions & know what you’re getting into.  The more you know, the less job shock you will experience when you start working. That means the quicker you can focus on making an impact on the inside & moving your career forward.  Instead of a deer in the headlights, you will walk into the spotlight with confidence & knowledge.