One Interview Question That Reveals a Superstar Job Candidate

Granted, it’s not exactly a question…but it definitely elicits an important response.


We all have our favorite interview questions. (And every interviewee has questions, like the five great questions job candidates ask.)

Yet we all wish we had better questions to ask, especially when hiring the perfect person is so critical. But is there one perfect question that can identify a true superstar for your business?

Turns out there is.

Tejune Kang, founder of Six Dimensions (No. 651 on the Inc. 5000 in 2013), an IT service firm that provides expert consultants and on-demand implementation and management services, has one he swears by.

“The world is full of mediocrity,” Tejune says. “I don’t just want to compete. I want to hire superstars, because I want to win the Super Bowl.”

So Tejune starts every interview with a few basics. Assessing the candidate’s hunger and drive is important, so he asks how candidates determine their goals as well as what motivated them then and what motivates them now.

He also looks for competitive people, so he asks about the last time they competed, what they like about winning, what they don’t like about losing, how they feel when they lose–and what they do next.

Then he takes a step back:

“It sounds like you have the right degree, the right background, and the right skills, but in our company every employee has those qualities. That’s a given.

“The problem is, I just don’t see that extra something in you that all of our people have.”

And then he throws down the gauntlet:

“I’m sorry, but I just don’t think this is the right fit for you.”

Then he sits back and waits.

What happens? Nine out of 10 people immediately fold. They say, “Well, I appreciate your time.” They say, “I’m sorry you feel that way, but thanks for the interview.”

But the true gems don’t fold. They instead immediately rise to the challenge. After all, theywant the job and know his company is the right fit for them. So they work hard to overcome his resistance.

They say, “I think you’re wrong. I’m here for a reason. Here’s what you’re not seeing.”

In short, superstars don’t give up–which is exactly what you want every employee to do.

“It’s one thing to have a pleasant conversation during interviews,” Tejune says. “And I definitely do that. But at some point, you also need to turn up the heat and see how people respond. Anyone can do well when things go perfectly. Superstars rise to the challenge when things don’t go their way.”

The Gotcha Game?

I know what you’re thinking. Tejune’s approach sounds like a test.

But aren’t all interviews, at least in part, some form of test? You ask questions. You dig. You probe. You assess. No matter how hard you try to make an interview a conversation, there’s still an element of “testing” involved.

Besides, some companies literally test prospective employees (here’s looking at you, Google). Others spring surprises like group interviews or role-playing sessions. Because there is no way to truly know what’s inside a candidate–and how that candidate will perform once on the job–every interview involves some form of test the candidate passes or fails, even if that test boils down to, “Do I like this person?”

Plus, Tejune’s approach focuses on an important quality that is often hard to identify in an interview. Say you’re hiring a salesperson. Salespeople hear “no” dozens of times a day. Sales superstars rise to and defeat the challenge of “no” much more often than mediocre salespeople; that’s one of the qualities that make them super.

Or take it a step further. Don’t you want your employees to be able to push back and say you’re wrong–and then explain why you’re wrong and what is the better option?

Of course you do.

Superstars aren’t just good at what they do. Superstars push past barriers, push past rejection and roadblocks, and rise to the occasion when times truly get tough–which, in any business, they inevitably do.

Qualified candidates can do the job when life is good. Superstar candidates can do the job when everything collapses around them because they have the hunger and the drive and the competitive spirit to not just compete…but to win your version of the Super Bowl.

The next time you interview a job candidate who doesn’t appear to have what it takes, be honest. Say, “I’m just not seeing it.” (You may not feel comfortable when you do, but because you’ll eventually tell the candidate he or she didn’t get the job…why not do it now?)

Then sit back and see how the candidate responds.

Most will thank you for your time. And that’s fine.

But once in a while, a candidate will rise to the occasion and the challenge, and surprise you…and you will have found a superstar you otherwise would have missed.

It’s worth a shot, because no company ever has enough superstars.

Including yours. – Jeff Haden

How to Get the Job When You Don’t Have the Experience

Careers, Job Hunting


“The Permission Paradox” – You can’t get the job without the experience but you can’t get the experience without the job – is one of the great career Catch-22s. This challenge will confront you over the lifetime of your career, whether you’re trying to break into the work force or you’re to become a CEO for the first time. While the phenomenon can be frustrating no matter what your level, the Permission Paradox is especially challenging for today’s aspiring young professional and recent graduates.

Overcoming this conundrum is fundamental both to launching your career successfully and thriving over the long term. You are confident in your abilities if only you’re given the chance. The hard part is getting the shot to show what you can do.

The Permission Paradox can be a paralyzing obstacle and can often be a self-fulfilling prophecy. A distinguishing characteristic of the most successful professionals – at every stage – is that they find ways to gain access to attractive opportunities. And when they do, they deliver and make good on that leap of faith that someone took on them. One of the keys to overcoming the Permission Paradox is recognizing that when you apply for any job you will be evaluated along two different dimensions: your potential to add value in the future and yourtrack record in the area most central to the job. Depending on the seniority of the position, these two sources of value – your potential and your experience – will be weighted in different proportions, like the scales of justice. As a general rule, the earlier you are in your career, the greater the importance of your potential value.

Your potential value is best demonstrated by your attitude, enthusiasm, work ethic, communications skills, curiosity/quality of your questions, willingness to learn, and your knowledge of the company and role. Beyond showing your potential, however, here are five specific strategies you can deploy to overcome the Permission Paradox in the early days of your career.

Five Permission Strategies

  1. Get Credentials. One of the most logical ways to gain permission is to obtain relevant credentials. This can be in the form of a specialized degree or targeted training. One of the hottest areas in the economy right now, no surprise, is computer programming. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that by 2020, there will be a gigantic demand-supply gap, with one million computer programming jobs going unfilled. Traditional computer science programs will not be able to meet this need. It turns out that many companies seeking programmers actually don’t require degrees in computer science to get a job. At Google, for example, according to The Wall Street Journal, nearly 15 percent of the team members who work in programming don’t have a college degree. With training at places such as Codeacademy, which reportedly has had 24 million people around the world take one or more of its courses, you can develop proficiency in a period of months. With this credential, you’ll have enough experience to break in for a first job and then you’ll be in the same position as other entry-level programmers to perform and thrive. So go ahead, pick your field of interest, whether it be coding, finance, aviation, or the business of art, and find a respected credential-granting school or organization and pursue it. One effective finance program that promises to deliver “knowledge, experience, and opportunity” over the course of a summer, for example, is the Tuck Business Bridge Program at Dartmouth College. If you want to break into a career in art, check out Christie’s Education, which offers degree and non-degree programs in both the business of art and art itself. And if you dream of flying airplanes for a living, take a look at ATP Flight School’s Airline Career Pilot Program, which provides airline-oriented flight training at a fixed cost in the shortest time frame.
  2. Get Creative. Laura Chambers has run University Programs at eBay where her team of 40 was responsible for setting and hitting aggressive recruitment goals, and ensuring that the interns and new college graduates have high-quality experiences. She therefore speaks with expertise and practical experience on the topic of breaking into companies after college. Laura’s advice, especially if you don’t have a technical or specialized degree, is to get creative so that you can stand out from the crowd. “Volunteer at a start-up,” she suggests and “get your hands dirty. You will have the opportunity to do a wide variety of activities which will help you find what you love and build some skills at the same time.” This will also enable you to talk about your experience, not just your potential. She also advises to develop a customized approach for companies you target. “If you want to work at eBay, Inc., for example,” she says, “start a small business buying and selling on eBay or using PayPal, and be prepared to talk about the pros and cons of that experience.” It doesn’t cost have to cost too much, other than your time and initiative, to create a few video or blog posts about your experience. Maybe these can get picked up by media. At the very least they will give you something to show to complement your resume.
  3. Be Willing to Start at the Bottom. If you are a college graduate, you may feel (and frankly be) overqualified for many entry-level jobs. But you have to start somewhere. Or, as Lao Tzu famously said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step”.* Chad Dickerson, CEO of the rapidly growing online marketplace,, suggests that the best positions to “get a foot in the door” are often as a member of a company’s support team. “A number of Etsy support people have learned our business really well and turned into very capable product managers,” he said. Chad also admits to having a special place in his heart for this approach because it worked for him personally. “I took the lowest-paid clerical job at a newspaper in Raleigh, North Carolina in 1993 and it happened to be the first daily newspaper on the web in the United States. I ended up learning how to build websites just by being there!” Whether it’s in the Internet industry, financial services, retail, hospitality, or any other business that touches large numbers of people, starting at the point of customer interface, whether in customer support, behind the cash register, on the sales floor, or at the concierge desk, will give you a valuable opportunity to learn what’s really going on in the market. You’ll be able to use this when you seek to work your way up the ladder internally or interview elsewhere.
  4. Barter. You may not yet have a job. But if you don’t, by definition you have something else of enormous value, which you may not be fully considering. Time. Treat your time as the precious asset it is. If you are creative and package your time with energy, enthusiasm, and initiative, you can barter your way to opportunity and break the Permission Paradox. Earlier this summer, a new college graduate networked her way into an informational interview with a real estate brokerage firm. She had a degree in history. As she was talking to the executive, who seemed overwhelmingly busy, a light bulb went off. “You seem incredibly stretched right now,” she observed and then asked the $64,000 question. “What would you do to grow your business if you had an extra day in your week?” He paused and said he’d do a market research study for the young urban rental market. She offered to do that for free and was able to communicate quickly how her analysis and writing skills developed for her thesis would give her the ability to execute the project. He took her up on her offer and paid her $10 an hour for her work. After a few weeks, she presented her findings. The real estate executive was blown away by the quality of her report, the clarity of her thinking, and the creativity with which she packaged her analysis. She was offered and has now accepted an entry-level job as a market researcher in the firm.
  5. Re-imagine Your Experience. You’ve decided the general direction you’d like to take and have built up a target list of companies to research and pursue. You’ve followed your target list rigorously by visiting the career pages for each company to see what jobs are actually available. All good. But, at this point in the process, you may find that you just don’t have the experience sought for a position you’d like to pursue. You can either exit the website then and there and move on to the next company. Or you can try to re-imagine your experience and pursue this very opening. Here’s how one aspiring young professional did just that. For an entry-level position in a food company, it listed “project management” experience as a critical requirement. Initially this put off the energetic, enthusiastic graduate who was otherwise a great fit with the company and who resonated with the mission of providing customers with only the highest-quality organic food. In discussing the dilemma, we walked through this individual’s experiences and were able to find something that fit the bill – when thought of and described in a different way. A geography major who loves travel, he told how he worked with a group of his friends to “project manage” their recent three week trip across Eastern Europe – doing research into itineraries, finding the lowest fares and cheapest hostels, executing the reservations and bookings, collecting the money from his friends, and acting as “treasurer” for the journey. In so doing, he was able to demonstrate the capabilities that the company was looking for – even though he was drawing on a completely non-professional experience. The key lesson is that you may actually have more-relevant experience than you think. -James Citrin

The Peter Principle Explained

Peter Principle2

I was not a great laboratory technician. Some days I was so bored doing exactly the same thing that I would experiment with different ways of doing it. Good thing that I worked in a research laboratory and my playing around was useful.

For most jobs, the traits necessary to be an outstanding entry-level worker are not the traits necessary to become an outstanding manager. This is the Peter Principle: Do a great job, and you will eventually be promoted until you reach your level of incompetence.

One explanation for the Peter Principle is based on the working trait of Scope. A person can have a Specific scope or a General scope, or move back and forth between them as necessary. Most people work with a General scope. About 1 in four move easily between scopes, and 1 in 10 are limited to the specific scope.

Specific people are extremely over-represented in middle management, because they perform so well during their entry level job. These people handle detailed information very well. They understand sequences of events, procedures, rules, and how each part of a complex “thing” works. They do not need to understand why that “thing” works, or how that “thing” works with other “things.”

Interrupt a specific person, and they will continue from exactly the spot where you interrupted them, or shake their head and go back to the beginning. A specific person excels at almost all entry-level jobs, where there is a supervisor handling the how and why questions.

A general person is limited by the amount of time they can spend mired in the details. They can jump from step to step in random order, brainstorm new ideas based on seeing the effect of one decision on many different areas, and care about the why and how in everything they do. Spending large amounts of time dealing with the details of a “thing” will eventually cause a loss of focus for a general person. These people struggle in entry-level, detailed jobs.

Recognizing Specific Scope

  • Relays information with lots of detail
  • Uses adverbs and adjectives, always trying to find the exact form of the verb or noun (“bright red” car, or moving “with agitated purpose”)
  • Start over again if interrupted
  • Very aware of what came before and what comes next

Recognizing General Scope

  • Information comes in random order (gives you the most important information first, then the rest of it)
  • Great at summarizing, poor with the details
  • Concise sentences

One easy way to spot this trait is length of conversation. It will be much longer with a specific person vs. a general person.

“Remember to tie off that ladder on the bottom. If the slope is less than the required 4 to 1 ratio, then tie off the top securely as well. Do you know where the rope is stored. You can’t tie it off if you don’t have the rope first. Once it is tied off, you can climb the ladder.” (Specific)

“Remember to tie off that ladder. Don’t forget to get the rope before you start. That’ll help remind you to tie it off. Safety first, so you can get the job done right, okay?” (Specific ANDGeneral)

“Follow all the safety rules and don’t get hurt when you tag out that valve.” (General)

Understanding the Scope trait can go very far in allowing you to avoid the Peter Principle. A person with a very strong General focus, needs to learn how to get in the weeds and work with the details. Breaking up those focused times with short breaks or general-oriented tasks will make the details less painful. Get through the first few years of drudgery, developing your Specific skills, and you will be rewarded with a management position more suited to your General trait.

A manager promoting a person to a supervisory position needs to understand this trait as well. It is very easy to promote an outstanding worker who then fails miserably as a supervisor. As a manager, it will be important to not only motivate your Specific workers using their traits, but also to help them develop and express the General trait.

The Peter Principle is equally a problem for the newly promoted, as it is a problem for the person doing the promoting. -Rolf D.

6 Bad Habits Holding You Back From Success

Bad Habits


You always imagined your career would be like a rocket ship shooting you straight to the stars, but instead you seem to be stuck in one place, already out of gas. Before you blame your company, your coworkers, or your boss, it’s time to take a good look in the mirror. Your bad habits might be the culprit holding you back from the corner office you’ve always dreamed about.

We all have bad habits, but bringing your baggage along to the office can be the difference between soaring or stalling in your career. Below are six common workplace bad habits to break if you want to continue moving up the career ladder:

Being a Lone Wolf

Collaboration is the key to workplace success, but you prefer to work solo. While being able to work independently is a valuable commodity in any workplace, working alone shouldn’t be your only speed. If you are constantly ducking out of team projects or asking to tackle a task without any help, your coworkers will take notice.

While those around you put their heads together, brainstorm great ideas, and form connections, you’re being left in the dust. You need to show you can play well with others. After all, managers and those in charge need to be able to lead a team. Getting ahead in any office is one part skills and one part connections, and your lone wolf nature means you’re contracting your professional network instead of expanding.

Break the habit: Find a project you’re interested in and ask to be part of the team. Do your best to keep everyone involved and in the loop, and stretch those collaboration muscles. It’ll show managers and coworkers you’re more than just a lone wolf.

Saying Sorry

Are you apologizing too much in the office? According to recent statistics, the word sorry is uttered approximately 368 million times per day in the UK. Women in particular seem to have a tough time ditching the word sorry, and apologize far more frequently than men. Saying sorry about every little thing implies you are constantly making mistakes, and can undercut your position in the office and with managers.

Break the habit: You need to take ownership of your mistakes. It’s time to stop over-apologizing. Reserve the word sorry for big mistakes and cut it out of your everyday vocabulary.

Taking on Every Project

Do you get excited by new projects? Do you like jumping in with both feet and finding new challenges? These are great attributes to any employee, but it’s time to learn your limits. If you say yes to every single project, you might soon find yourself unhappy, burnt out, and badly overworked.

Break the habit: The word “no” is a powerful thing. It doesn’t make you look like a slacker or weak to turn down a project you just don’t have time for. Be protective of your time and abilities, and know when one more task is just too many.

Being Negative

No one likes a Debbie Downer, and if you come into work with a rain cloud over your head each morning, it’s not surprising you haven’t moved up in your company. Enthusiasm and passion are traits managers look for in superstar employees who get promotions and excel within the company. No one wants to promote someone who looks miserable to step into the office each day.

Break the habit: Sit yourself down and ask the hard questions you’ve been avoiding. If you hate your job, it might be time to look for another opportunity. Or maybe you feel stalled and want to learn something new, in which case you can talk to your manager or boss about opportunities to shadow in different departments or take professional development courses.Ask yourself what would make you wake up excited about your workday, and chase after your dreams.

Doing Things the Way They’ve Always Been Done

Innovation is the lifeblood of any company, yet many workers just come into the office to punch their time cards and collect their paychecks. And this isn’t only on employees:according to a survey by Fierce, Inc., less than one-third of employees felt their company would change practices based on employee feedback. Lack of innovation in companies, it turns out, is a two-way street.

Break the habit: Sit down with your boss and ask for an open-door policy for employee feedback and ideas. Once a month, try to submit an idea for how your company can improve and grow. Not all of your suggestions will be implemented, but you’ll make yourself stand out as someone with big ideas who really cares about the company’s future.

Being Disorganized

Every year, Americans spend on average nine million hours looking for things they’ve misplaced. Imagine how much of your work life is being frittered away every time you misplace a report under a pile of desktop debris. People walking past your cluttered workspace are judging you for your organizational chaos.

Break the habit: The next time you have a slow day, spend it organizing your office. Set up a plan to stay more organized and stick to it. Keep in mind, the hardest part of being organized is initially cleaning up the clutter and putting things in their places. Once the hard work of cleaning up is done, it should be a breeze to keep your work space in good shape.

Your bad habits don’t have to hold you back from career success. If you tackle these habits head-on, you might just find yourself moving on up the ladder. _ Ilya Pozin

Employment Laws You Didn’t Realize You Broke

Employment Laws


Employment laws are here to protect businesses and employees alike, but sometimes they are not obvious. Are you breaking any one of these laws? Even if you’re a staunch “by the books” employer, details can sometimes slip under the radar if you don’t already know what to look for. And as they say, it’s better to be safe than sorry! These are the top ten culprits for mistakes employers make unintentionally.

Mistake #1: Classifying employees as exempt from overtime

There are specific rules as to who should be paid overtime. Just because workers are paid a “salary” doesn’t mean they don’t qualify for overtime. Many owners think if they are paid the same amount no matter how many hours they work, they don’t need to pay extra for hours over the normal 8 in a day or 40 in a week. Some think that a specific job title means an employee is also exempt. This is incorrect. While there are some jobs that are exempt, these are usually high level executives, administrative or professional employees. Non-exempt employees must also be given proper rest and meal periods as defined by law.

Mistake #2: Allowing employees to take lunch at any time they want

Employees must take a 30 minute off-duty meal period if they will work more than 5 hours that day. Some employees like to take their lunch late in their shift so most of the day is over when they return to work. Employers may feel they are being nice by allowing the employee to take their break whenever they want. However, California labor laws require that an employee take their lunch break no later than the end of the fifth hour of their shift.

Mistake #3: Allowing employees to decide which hours and how many they want to work each day

Employees may prefer to work an alternative workweek schedule, however, they can’t just decide to do so. If an employer is going to allow an alternative schedule, there are steps that must be followed to make sure overtime does not apply. Employees may request make-up time for hours to be missed if they meet certain conditions:

  1. The hours are made up in the same work week as the time to be missed
  2. They work no more than 11 hours in a day or 40 in the week
  3. The employer agrees
  4. The request is made in writing

Mistake #4: Classifying workers as independent contractors to avoid running payroll, dodge worker’s compensation insurance, and reduce payroll tax payments.

The Internal Revenue Service as well as each state have regulations for who qualifies as an independent contractor. Classifying someone as a 1099 worker who doesn’t fit the qualifications may put you at risk for interest and penalties on unpaid payroll taxes that should have been remitted to the tax agencies. Some of the determining factors are:

  1. Who controls the schedule?
  2. Whose equipment is used to complete the work?
  3. Who determines how the work is to be done?
  4. Are any benefits provided such as insurance or vacation?

This misclassification may be discovered when the “independent contractor” files for worker’s compensation, unemployment or disability. At that time, the IRS and/or tax agency may say tax is owed that should have been withheld from the worker as well as the employer’s tax due on the amount earned.

Mistake #5: Failure to provide training to managers about harassment and discrimination

Managers and supervisors need to be aware of what is considered discrimination or harassment. Failure to do so puts the company at risk of a suit by one or more employees. Policies should be in place for managers to follow when they believe a situation has occurred that can be construed as discrimination or harassment. Every effort should be made by the company and it’s supervisors to prevent any behavior which may be deemed as inappropriate.

Mistake #6: Terminating an employee for taking a leave of absence

Employees have legal protections when it comes to certain leaves of absence. Terminating an employee for taking time off can lead to serious ramifications, even if you believe the employee is not going to come back at the end of the leave. Protected leaves include (but are not limited to) worker’s compensation, disability, pregnancy, family and medical leave, military leave, jury duty, etc. The employer cannot terminate once the employee has returned to work because of the leave either. If an employer terminates the employee upon his or her return to work, it will have to be proven that the employee was terminated for a legitimate cause not related to the leave of absence.

Mistake #7: Failure to give an employee’s final paycheck timely

Labor laws state when wages must be paid to an employer. State laws may differ, so the rules stated here are for California. If an employee gives 72 hours notice or more, they must be paid their final wages at the time of quitting. If they gave no notice, all wages must be paid within 72 hours of quitting. If an employee is fired, they must be presented their final paycheck immediately.

If an employee who quit or was terminated has company property (a laptop, cell phone, etc) it is tempting to hold their last check until the items are returned. However, this is illegal in California. You must pay the wages timely and try to get the items back without the threat of unpaid wages.

Failure to pay wages timely will result in a penalty of one day’s wages for each calendar day the wages are unpaid up to 30 days.

Mistake #8: Providing loans to employees and then deducting the payment from the paycheck

Deductions from paychecks are allowed if they are authorized by law or the employee for benefits offered by the employer. Typical deductions are federal/state withholding, FICA taxes, and disability insurance. Additional deductions may be for child support, unpaid past due taxes garnished by agencies, medical insurance premiums, etc.

Loans to employees generally should not be made. If the employer does loan funds, a written agreement should be drawn up stating the amount loaned, date payments are due, and amounts to be paid.

Mistake #9: Having Employees Sign Non-Compete Agreements

Most non-compete agreements are illegal in California. You can have forms signed stating customer lists, intellectual property, etc, is property of the company, but an employee can not be prevented from working for the competition. This infringes on an employee’s ability to work and earn an income should employment with your company not work out due to either the company’s or employee’s choice.

Mistake #10: Having a Use It or Lose It Vacation Policy

Anything considered wages must be paid, and vacation hours (if offered by the company) are considered wages. If an employee has not taken all vacation at the time of their leaving, the remaining amount must be paid with the final paycheck.

To prevent the large accumulation of vacation hours, a cap may be established. Once that cap is reached, no additional hours are accrued until vacation hours have been used. – Candy M.

The Right and Wrong Reasons for Changing Jobs

As the job market heats up, it might be time to update your LinkedIn profile. Just updating your profile is a clue to the folks at LinkedIn that you’re thinking of switching jobs, so don’t be surprised if you see more job opportunities pushed your way as a result.

But don’t overreact. Leaving a job to minimize pain should not be the primary reason for accepting another job. This idea is captured in the Job-Seeker’s Decision Grid. The bottom half of the grid represents the reasons why people consider switching jobs. The upper half represents reasons why they accept offers. These negative and positive motivators are divided into extrinsic (short-term) motivators shown on the left, and intrinsic (long-term) motivators shown on the right.

When considering a job switch, too many candidates overemphasize what they get on the start date of their new job – a title, location, company name and compensation package. While positive, these are short-term and if the job doesn’t represent a long-term career move, job satisfaction will quickly decline and the negative motivators will quickly reappear. I refer to this as the “vicious cycle” of dissatisfaction, underperformance and turnover. The decision grid can help job-seekers make more balanced career decisions, even when the pressure to leave is overwhelming and there’s a sizzling offer in hand.

Consider changing jobs when the intrinsic negatives outweigh the positives.

Quickly review the descriptions of the four categories. There is no question that if your job is “Going Nowhere” it’s time to change jobs. If the “Daily Grind” is getting you down, you should consider some short fixes but changing jobs should be just one of your options. The big problem for most job-seekers is that when given an offer there is usually not enough information available to make a full long-term career assessment. This is largely the fault of the company, hiring manager and recruiter involved in the process. In their rush to fill jobs as rapidly as possible with the best person who applies, little thought is actually given to the actual job itself and the potential opportunity it represents.

In this case, it’s up to the discerning candidate to better understand that what on the surface might appear to be a fine career move, underneath might be next year’s excuse for why you want to change jobs again. Here are some simple things you can do to conduct your own career due diligence.

  1. Understand real job needs. Ask the recruiter and/or hiring manager to define real job needs. If you get a sense the interviewer is flaying about ask, “What’s the most important goal the person in this role needs to accomplish in order to be considered successful?” Then follow up to further clarify job expectations, finding out the scope of the job, the resources available and the importance of the job.
  2. Convert “having” into “doing”. When someone starts box-checking skills or asks a brain-teaser, ask how the skill will be used on the job. If the person stumbles on this, you have a clue that the job hasn’t been defined too well.
  3. Find out why the job is open. The point of this question is to discover if there is some inherent problem with the job or if it’s the result of a positive change.
  4. Ask what happened to the last person in the role. This is often a clue to the manager’s ability to select and develop people.
  5. Ask how performance will be measured. Be concerned if the hiring manager is vague or non-committal. Strong managers are able to tell you their expectations for the person being hired.
  6. Go through the organization chart. Find out who’s on the team and who you’ll be working with. You’ll want to meet some of these people before you accept an offer. If you’re inheriting a team, ask about the quality and your opportunity to rebuild it.
  7. Ask about the manager’s vision for the department and the open role. This will give you a good sense of the capabilities of the hiring manager, his or her aspirations and the upside potential of the open job.
  8. Understand the manager’s leadership style. There could be a problem if the manager is too controlling or too hands-off, reactive or a planner, or a coach or a super techie, etc. The point: make sure your style meshes with the person you’ll be working for or you’ll be disappointed in a few months.
  9. Find out the real culture. Ask everyone you meet how decisions are made, the company’s appetite for change, the intensity, the politics, and the sophistication of the infrastructure. Don’t buy into the platitudes and fancy vision statement.

When considering whether to accept an offer or not, don’t get seduced by your desire to leave or by the Big Brass Employer Brand and what you get on Day 1. These will all become less important 3-6 months in to the job. Instead emphasize what you’ll be doing and learning, the people you’ll be working with and how this all meets your career and personal needs. This is how to prevent the “Daily Grind” from becoming too big an issue and a “Going Nowhere” job from becoming your next excuse for leaving.- Lou Adler

5 Tips Robin Williams Taught Us About Career Transitioning

Like most of us, I was deeply shocked and saddened by the passing of Robin Williams. He was such a genius. The poignancy of the lyrics “tears of a clown… when there’s no-one around” ring very true today.

So in tribute to Robin Williams, I thought I would draw on some of his most memorable roles as tips for career transitioning:

Good Morning Vietnam

Nominated for an Academy Award for his role in this movie, Williams played the role of an unorthodox and irreverent DJ, who shakes up things when he is assigned to the US Armed Services Radio station in Vietnam.

His wake up cry “Good Morning Vietnam”, became the signature for the movie – a slogan which is still used today by thousands around the globe when having to wake our friends or family outside of our normal waking period.

Williams’ DJ role showed the importance of being sure of one’s mission and purpose even though others might not have the same thing in mind. In the movie, he severely alienated his commanders, yet made the troops laugh – despite serving in very unpopular war.

Knowing one’s mission and purpose when in career transition is critical. It’s easy to be swayed by the next opportunity or opinion from our well-intended family, friends or colleagues. As George Harrison said “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”

‘Knowing thyself’ and then continuing to make sure your corner of the world knows about you is your sure fired way of announcing your own “Good Morning Vietnam” and sticking to what you want to brand as your purpose.

Mrs. Doubtfire

In Mrs. Doubtfire Williams played the role of father/husband Daniel Hillard, an eccentric actor who dubs voices for cartoon characters. After his wife files for divorce, and determined to stay in contact with his kids, Daniel keeps in touch with his family with the job, disguised as Mrs. Doubtfire, a Scottish nanny.

Mrs. Doubtfire represents the persistence that one needs to continue on a path and rediscover one’s self – what is truly important.

While the role Williams played here was hilarious and touching, the message was clear. Despite all the travails that a career transition poses and a re-launch requires, it’s important to keep persisting, regardless of any set back.

Not only that, but the use of something that you might think important might end up being the main pathway to your happiness. I recently read that the activity that constantly distracts you from your main game may very likely to be your real passion. There is richness in that distraction. Find your passion and continue to bring it to life.

Work is not work, when there is passion behind it.

Dead Poets Society

Williams earned an Oscar nomination for his role of an English teacher, Keating who inspires his students through his teaching of poetry. Keating encourages his students to go against the status quo and ‘seize the day’, carpe diem.

Williams as Keating showed the importance of not just thinking about things, but acting upon them.

When it comes to career transition, there are so many lessons within the term ‘carpe diem’:

  • Reach out to connections you may not have touched in a while
  • Don’t take no for a final answer
  • Ask for an appointment from a hiring manager
  • Write that branded cover letter
  • Apply for that new role
  • Make that phone call

I could go on and on. If we all remember to ‘seize the day’, then when we do that, we not only honour Robin Williams, but we do so to our own goals and dreams.

Patch Adams

Nominated for a Golden Globe for the role ofPatch Adams, Williams played the role of an aspiring doctor who loves helping people. Unfortunately, the medical and scientific community does not appreciate his methods of healing the sick, while the actual patients, medical professors, and hospital nurses all appreciate what he does.

I know people who were inspired to move in to Sales and Medicine because of this movie.

What does Williams’ role teach us here?

In essence, Adams threatened the establishment because he dared to ‘get down onto the same level as the patients’. In other words, always empathize with your customer base; with your intended employer’s interests and needs; do not merely play a role with a title, but be more authentic and human in your interaction.

If in your own career transitioning you can do this, you will be more attractive than other candidates and be hired because your prospective employer or new client falls for the essential YOU.

Good Will Hunting

Winning an Academy Award for the role he played in this movie, Williamsplayed the role of a therapist who works with a wayward young man struggling to find his identity, living in a world where he can solve any problem, except the one brewing deep within himself, until one day he meets his soulmate who opens his mind and his heart.

Williams’ role shows the importance of dealing with one’s demons. When aided by careful help, then anyone can overcome them, despite having fears of what might lie on the other side.

Having been laid off, many people feel understandably angry, hurt, and blind-sided. Often, especially Baby Boomers may have worked in the same role for many years. It is only once career transition is foisted upon them, that they have to discover what lies on the other side.

Should this happen to you, seek a coach or a mentor in your journey as Williams’ role did with Will Hunting. -Greg Weiss


The Strange, Difficult Questions CEOs Ask in Job Interviews

Interview questions






Interview questions: Everyone has them.

And everyone wishes they had better ones.

So I asked smart people from a variety of fields for their favorite interview question and what it tells them about the candidate.

1. Why have you had X number of jobs in Y years?

This question helps me get a full picture of the candidate’s work history. What keeps them motivated? Why, if they have, did they jump from job to job? And what is the key factor when they leave?

The answer shows me their loyalty and their reasoning process. Do they believe someone always keeps them down (managers, bosses, etc.)? Do they get bored easily?

There is nothing inherently wrong with moving from job to job — the reasons why are what matters.

Shama Kabani, The Marketing Zen Group founder and CEO

2. If we’re sitting here a year from now celebrating what a great twelve months it’s been for you in this role, what did we achieve together?

For me, the most important thing about interviews is that the interviewee interviews us. I need to know they’ve done their homework, truly understand our company and the role… and reallywant it.

The candidate should have enough strategic vision to not only talk about how good the year has been but to answer with an eye towards that bigger-picture understanding of the company — and why they want to be here.

Randy Garutti, Shake Shack CEO

3. When have you been most satisfied in your life?

Except with entry-level candidates, I presume reasonable job skill and intellect. Plus I believe smart people with relevant experience adapt quickly and excel in new environments where the culture fits and inspires them. So, I concentrate on character and how well theirs matches that of my organization.

This question opens the door for a different kind of conversation where I push to see the match between life in my company and what this person needs to be their best and better in my company than he or she could be anywhere else.

Dick Cross, Cross Partnership founder and CEO

4. If you got hired, loved everything about this job, and are paid the salary you asked for, what kind of offer from another company would you consider?

I like to find out how much the candidate is driven by money versus working at a place they love.

Can they be bought?

You’d be surprised by some of the answers.

Ilya Pozin, Ciplex founder

5. Who is your role model, and why?

The question can reveal how introspective the candidate is about their own personal and professional development, which is a quality I have found to be highly correlated with success and ambition.

Plus it can show what attributes and behaviors the candidate aspires to.

Clara Shih, Hearsay Social co-founder and CEO

6. What things do you not like to do?

We tend to assume people who have held a role enjoy all aspects of that role, but I’ve found that is seldom the case.

Getting an honest answer to the question requires persistence, though. I usually have to ask it a few times in different ways, but the answers are always worth the effort. For instance, I interviewed a sales candidate who said she didn’t enjoy meeting new people.

My favorite was the finance candidate who told me he hated dealing with mundane details and checking his work. Next!

Art Papas, Bullhorn founder and CEO

7. Tell me about a project or accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career.

I find that this question opens the door to further questions and enables someone to highlight themselves in a specific, non-generic way.

Plus additional questions can easily follow: What position did you hold when you achieved this accomplishment? How did it impact your growth at the company? Who else was involved and how did the accomplishment impact your team?

Discussing a single accomplishment is an easy way to open doors to additional information and insight about the person, their work habits, and how they work with others.

Deborah Sweeney, MyCorporation CEO

8. What’s your superpower… or spirit animal?

During her interview I asked my current executive assistant what was her favorite animal. She told me it was a duck, because ducks are calm on the surface and hustling like crazy getting things done under the surface.

I think this was an amazing response and a perfect description for the role of an EA. For the record, she’s been working with us for over a year now and is amazing at her job.

Ryan Holmes, HootSuite CEO

9. We’re constantly making things better, faster, smarter or less expensive. We leverage technology or improve processes. In other words, we strive to do more–with less. Tell me about a recent project or problem that you made better, faster, smarter, more efficient, or less expensive.

Good candidates will have lots of answers to this question. Great candidates will get excited as they share their answers.

In 13 years we’ve only passed along one price increase to our customers. That’s not because our costs have decreased–quite the contrary. We’ve been able to maintain our prices because we’ve gotten better at what we do. Our team, at every level, has their ears to the ground looking for problems to solve.

Every new employee needs to do that, too.

Edward Wimmer, RoadID co-founder

10. Discuss a specific accomplishment you’ve achieved in a previous position that indicates you will thrive in this position.

Past performance is usually the best indicator of future success.

If the candidate can’t point to a prior accomplishment, they are unlikely to be able to accomplish much at our organization–or yours.

– Dave Lavinsky, founder of Guiding Metrics

11. So, what’s your story?

This inane question immediately puts an interviewee on the defensive because there is no right answer or wrong answer. But there is an answer.

It’s a question that asks for a creative response. It’s an invitation to the candidate to play the game and see where it goes without worrying about the right answer. By playing along, it tells me a lot about the character, imagination, and inventiveness of the person.

The question, as obtuse as it might sound to the interviewee, is the beginning of a story and in today’s world of selling oneself, or one’s company, it’s the ability to tell a story and create a feeling that sells the brand–whether it’s a product or a person.

The way they look at me when the question is asked also tells me something about their likeability. If they act defensive, look uncomfortable, and pause longer than a few seconds, it tells me they probably take things too literally and are not broad thinkers. In our business we need broad thinkers.

Richard Funess, Finn Partners managing partner

12. What questions do you have for me?

I love asking this question really early in the interview–it shows me whether the candidate can think quickly on their feet, and also reveals their level of preparation and strategic thinking.

I often find you can learn more about a person based on the questions they ask versus the answers they give.

Scott Dorsey, ExactTarget co-founder and CEO

13. Tell us about a time when things didn’t go the way you wanted — like a promotion you wanted and didn’t get, or a project that didn’t turn out how you had hoped.

It’s a simple question that says so much. Candidates may say they understand the importance of working as a team but that doesn’t mean they actually know how to work as a team. We need self-starters that will view their position as a partnership.

Answers tend to fall into three basic categories: 1) blame 2) self-deprecation, or 3) opportunity for growth.

Our company requires focused employees willing to wear many hats and sometimes go above and beyond the job description, so I want team players with the right attitude and approach. If the candidate points fingers, blames, goes negative on former employers, communicates with a sense of entitlement, or speaks in terms of their role as an individual as opposed to their position as a partnership, he or she won’t do well here.

But if they take responsibility and are eager to put what they have learned to work, they will thrive in our meritocracy.

Tony Knopp, Spotlight Ticket Management co-founder and CEO


You Sound OLD! – Stop Saying This at Work




The Baby Boomer generation was born, um…a long time ago and the last ones were born in 1964. Generation X began in 1965 and the last ones were born in 1979. Generation Y (Millennials) were kicked out of the womb, beginning in 1980 with headphones permanently attached (See Justin Beiber). Gen Y is very different than the previous generations. Technology kicked off during their generation and they have had a gadget in their very clean, little iPhone tapping hands for 20 years. Of course we had our gadgets too but, Gen Y eats, sleeps and breathes with theirs. Gen Y loves change, desires it and expects it to happen every six months. As they enter the work force things WILL change, because they demand it. Now that the Baby Boomers are retiring in droves the RV, Golf and Health Industries are the places to put your money. Gen X and Gen Y will be taking over the professional work place.

To paraphrase George Orwell “Civilization is decadent, and our language will cause our collapse. The use of “pretentious diction” demonstrates the speaker can’t communicate, is full of crap or is indifferent.” To assist the Baby Boomers (still in the game) and the Gen X’s here are the vague and pretentious terms you should stop saying today, what Gen Y thinks when you say it and a suggested alternative:

I’m Busy, I have been Busy, or just Busy – Gen Y thinks, “This guy is lying. He is just working.” SUGGEST: Saying you’re busy is like saying “How about the weather?” Tell the truth, be open and engaging.

No Problem, Done, Got it – Gen Y thinks, “Yeah, This probably isn’t gonna happen.” SUGGEST: Actually making a plan. A more thorough answer about how it will happen.

The Bottom Line is… – Gen Y thinks, “There aren’t any lines in our international community.” SUGGEST: Tell them what you think.

No Offense, But – Gen Y thinks, “This jerk, is going to say something offensive.” SUGGEST: Don’t ever say “No Offense…”, you will sound like the Clippers owner, Donald Sterling.

So, or So… – Gen Y thinks, “This guy is a jerk.” SUGGEST: Never begin a sentence with “So”, it confirms you are a jerk.

Call me – Gen Y thinks, “Text me” SUGGEST: “Call me, don’t text.”

Synergy – Gen Y thinks, “Wait, What? Is that alternative fuel?” SUGGEST: “Work as a Team, Cooperate.”

Best Business Practice – Gen Y thinks, “There is no list, this is from the 80’s.” SUGGEST: Never saying it again, the list of BBP’s does not exist.

At My Old Job…, We use to… – Gen Y thinks, “Whatevs, doesn’t matter everything changed six months ago.” SUGGEST: Never talk about the old job, this is a new job with new stuff. Use experience to make decisions, but don’t talk about the “old job”.

Core Competency – Gen Y thinks, “This dude is a democrat, this used to work six months ago. Is a company competent?” SUGGEST: See the definition of competence.

Corporate Values – Gen Y thinks, “This dude is a republican and very closed minded. Value = cost, so this guy is weird.” SUGGEST: “Corporate Neutrality Rules.”

Empower – Gen Y thinks, “You want me to do this alone? WTH!” SUGGEST: “You can do it, make the choice!”

I’m Not the Smartest/Brightest but – Gen Y thinks, “Here comes advice…” SUGGEST: Skip to the advice.

Team Player – Gen Y thinks, “We are a team? I never did sports.” SUGGEST: “We can do it together or as a group.”

Next-Gen – Gen Y thinks, “I loved that game, I think it was like Half-Life.” or “He is talking about meeeee!” SUGGEST: Say design for the future, iGen, or Generation Z.

Boots on the Ground – Gen Y thinks, “Are we going to war?” SUGGEST: You learn how to use Social Media to Include Twitter/Facetime/Skype/Vimeo.

Five 9’s – Gen Y thinks, “Why didn’t he just say 100%?” SUGGEST: Say “100%”

Too Many Chiefs (Chefs) not enough Indians (cooks) – Gen Y thinks, “This guy is racist, who says, who says Indians.” Or “Who Cooks? What?” SUGGEST: Too many people on oovoo.

Low Hanging Fruit – Gen Y thinks, “I have no idea where fruit grows. Is he talking about Apple?” SUGGEST: “Attack at the iPod level.”

Comparing Apples to Oranges (or Apples) – Gen Y thinks, “Now Im hungry.” SUGGEST: “Comparing Apple to Android (Apple) or Blogging to Facebook (or Blogging)

Phoned it in – Gen Y thinks, “Am I talking too much? Maybe, he didn’t get the email?” SUGGEST: “Remote it in”

Sarcasm – Gen Y thinks, “Isn’t Seinfeld dead?” SUGGEST: Use witty inclusive or self-referential humor.

On my Radar – Gen Y thinks, “WTH is radar?” SUGGEST: Radar is apparently still used in games. – Steve Bilbo




9 Ways You are Destroying Your Team

In a program we ran with top executives of a multi-billion dollar company, the CEO asked us – “Why don’t we have this much fun at work?” So we asked back “What are you doing at work that is destroying teamwork?” This is he and his team said:

  1. Create unreasonable time constraints. Be sure to overwhelm team members with impossible deadlines so the reality of their already heavy, burdensome workloads doesn’t allow them to be creative and passionate on anything new. This forces them to deliver subpar work—they’ll hate you and the company for it.
  2. Insult innovation and discourage mistakes. Mock and ridicule your colleagues when they try new things and they don’t work. This generates a culture of fear, which cripples productivity and innovation.
  3. Don’t involve the team until the last minute. Approach people for help when a project is already half done or when it has run into problems. This partial involvement will generate low levels of ownership and quash any possible enthusiasm.
  4. Don’t define who does what. Your people are guaranteed to have power struggles and reduced productivity. And while you are at it keep individual goals and overlaps a secret. That will surely increase conflict and kill collaboration.
  5. Let corporate politics get in the way of progress. Don’t encourage colleagues to speak their mind, give rationale feedback or address conflicts. Make everyone walk on eggshells.
  6. Establish roadblocks to virtual collaboration. Send as many emails as you possibly can. Avoid phone calls and face-to-face meetings. This will make sure people misinterpret other people’s reactions, don’t form strong bonds with colleagues, and don’t feel any urgency to apply their full focus and energy to the project.
  7. Send mixed messages about the team priorities. Why bother getting the team focused? Instead, direct focus on individual success at the expense of the team.
  8. Don’t motivate with rewards and recognition. Who wants a crummy old bonus when they could instead receive a cold shoulder and a distant stare? Do any employees find the rewards attractive? Get rid of them—incentives will just make your employees get soft and lose their competitive edge. Better yet—discontinue any systems that are in place for recognizing individual and team accomplishments. And by all means, quit rewarding behaviors and achievements that are in line with the team’s goals.
  9. Don’t trust our colleagues. Remember, familiarity breeds contempt. Why trust your colleagues when you know they’re only out for themselves? Never, ever relax in the workplace. -Lawrence Polsky

Which one(s) of these does your team do?

One alone is enough to cripple your team. Combine them and you destroy your team. Unfortunately, while these attitudes and approaches might seem ridiculous and extreme, we run into them all the time. They create miserable workplaces and demolish productivity. So simply do the opposite. You will create a pumped up, focused, enthusiastic team able to take on the world!