Penalty-Free Ride Home

This is something my wife and I instituted at the beginning of junior high and extended all the way through high school graduation.  If the kids ever find themselves in an uncomfortable situation that they want to get out of, they can call home and we will come get them with no questions asked.  We tell them we can park a few blocks away, if needed, to be discreet.  Basically, whatever it takes to make them comfortable exercising this offer if in a bad situation.  We make it clear that we won’t interrogate them into telling us the reason for the call if they would rather us not know.  The important thing is that they know this safety net is there.

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The 50 / 50 Rule

50-50 graphicNervous about the dichotomy between buying nice-to-have things for your kids and making sure your they learn what it means to earn their own way?  Welcome to the 50/50 rule.  When your kids want a _____ (insert seemingly important item that fits the “want” category rather than the “need” category), tell them that you’ll split the cost 50/50 with them.  Then immediately be ready to offer ways to make money with chores if they ask.  If they really want the item, they will do whatever it takes to get it.  And with the 50/50 split it’s amazing how often their 50% share is reasonably within reach if they will put in some effort to work for the money.  And if they come to you with an idea to sell homemade banana bread every weekend morning door-to-door in your neighborhood, you have the side benefit of knowing you’ve given birth to an entrepreneur.

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Advice for New-Found Financial Freedom (College Grads)

So you’re a college graduate that just secured a full-time job and now more money is rolling in than you’ve ever been responsible for.  You’ve heard horror stories about how new-found financial freedom can suddenly turn into a nightmare with just a couple of wrong decisions.  This blog post doesn’t cover obvious problems like driving up credit card debt but instead describes some fundamental principles to guide you.

Warning:  I am not a certified financial advisor/planner.  I’m just a guy that has done well with my own personal investments and has had the benefit of passing advice to two daughters when they graduated from college and got their first job.

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Interviewing for a Job

It’s part art and part science.  But you can definitely improve your interviewing skills if you want to.  I’ve interviewed hundreds of job candidates throughout my career and used that experience to assemble a series of blog posts.

Here’s the make up of this blog post series:

See my related blog post series on Job Hunting and Resume Writing.

Resume Writing

There are plenty of books and websites with advice on this subject.  I’ve reviewed thousands of resumes during my career and due to the amount of my career that has been spent in marketing, I take a special interest in the art form of resume writing.  So I wrote a series of blog posts on the topic.  I can’t guarantee it will get you a job but I can practically guarantee that you’ll find some ideas to improve your resume.

Here’s the make up of this blog post series:

See my related blog post series on Job Hunting and Interviewing.

Job Hunting

Often times you come across new job opportunities while you’re gainfully employed and without even looking for them.  But what if you find yourself in a situation where you need to proactively look for a new job?  How do you go about it and what are some of the tricks of the trade?  I published a blog series on this topic and hope it’s helpful to your endeavor.

Here’s the make up of this blog post series:

Also read my related blog post series on Resume Writing and Interviewing.

For Military Veterans

For military veterans newly transitioning into the private sector, I highly recommend this blog post by Craig Cummings titled “A Military Veteran Transitioning to the Private Sector Needs to Act Like a Startup


20 Easy-to-Forget Things When Building a Home

Especially if you’re a first-timer (see related post titled “Home Building Advice for First Timers“), but also if you’re a veteran, you’re going to have some “why didn’t I think of that” moments after it’s too late.  Over the years I’ve kept a list of small and easy, but somewhat important, things to remember when building a home.  Below is a list of 20 of my favorites, plus a few optional things to consider.

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Home Building Advice for First Timers

Building a house or even finishing the last phases of construction on a spec home that you purchased can be stressful if you’ve never done it before.  In fact, it’s at least a little stressful every time after that too.  But there are a handful of things I remind myself of as I enter the process and I wanted to share them with others that are building a house for the first time.

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Swimming Workouts – Getting Started Advice for Adults

Swimming - getting startedMaybe your child just joined a summer league swim team and it’s given you the itch to swim yourself.  Or maybe you are a good runner and cyclist but your swimming skills are preventing you from trying a triathlon.  Whatever the case, I’ve created an advice document intended for adults that want to start swimming as a form of workout.  The document includes advice for initially building up your stamina, sample workout sets, stroke advice, equipment recommendations, tips for avoiding injury and a website reference for finding good lap pools while on business travel.  You can download the document hereAnd if you later end up getting really serious, check out the swim workouts for competitive swimmers on my Swimming page.

Parent Taught Driving Instruction – Tips from a Veteran

Some states now allow for parent-taught driving instruction as an alternative to a traditional classroom setting followed by behind-the-wheel instruction from an agency.  Having been through this now with three daughters, I have accumulated quite a nice checklist to follow in a logical, phased approach.  Even if your teenager follows the traditional instruction method at a driving school, you’ll almost certainly find yourself riding shotgun while your teenager has their learner’s permit.  Or maybe you want to double-check your kid’s readiness before you buy their first car or loan them your keys to go out on their own.  In any case, I’m hoping the checklists and ideas in these articles helpful.

In addition to the phased learning approach based on your kid’s readiness, I also have a checklist that has nothing to do with safely driving the car but rather taking care of the car itself.  This is a skill I’m afraid most of the current young generation isn’t being taught by their parents.  I’ve also provided my “golden rules of safe driving” checklist and a contract you can execute with your new teen driver to help demonstrate the seriousness of the responsibility.

Here’s the make up of the articles in this series:

If you’re thinking about printing all of the blog posts to have with you in the car or to add notes to, I’ve saved you some time.  Instead, click this link to download a document with all articles embedded in sequence.

driving instructionBy the way, if you haven’t already purchased the driving instruction book or online course, check out Aceable.  It’s a mobile app that is designed for the current generation of kids.  It’s certified for use in multiple US states and was developed in a way that’s very engaging to the student driver.  MUCH better than a boring textbook or online screen-by-screen option.

Driving Instruction – Before Getting on the Road

Cover the following checklist before ever setting the wheels in motion:

  • Explain how to adjust the seat, steering wheel and mirrors
    • And a reminder that it’s also important to do this when driving someone else’s car
  • Explain the various switches, buttons, indicator lights, hazard lights, etc
    • Then quiz them
  • Explain the ignition switch and its various positions
    • Also explain the implications of forgetting the car is running and accidentally trying to start it again.  The easy test if unsure is to just rev the engine while in Park to see if you can hear the engine running.  I guess this won’t work with an electric car.
  • Explain the various gear shifting positions and what they mean
    • This is also an opportunity to explain how gears on a car are similar to gears on a 10-speed bike
  • Demonstrate the blind spots
    • With your teenager in the driver’s seat, stand in various places to the side of the car and ask if they can see you, either directly or from the side/rear mirrors.  A related exercise involves standing somewhere near the car in which they can see you and then gradually move in one or more directions away from the car until you reach a blind spot.  Explain how this relates to backing out of a parking spot, changing lanes or potentially not seeing someone that is crossing the street or riding a bicycle.  This exercise also helps give justification to reject the idea of hanging decorative items from the rear view mirror or putting excessive amounts of decals on the back window.
  • Explain proper hand position on the wheel
    • This should be how they place their hands throughout the entire training phase.  They can migrate to one-handed steering once they have their license.
    • The traditional guidance for hand position was 10:00 and 2:00 but you should look at the course material provided to your teenager because the proliferation of air bags in the steering wheel has resulted in different guidelines.
  • Explain the hand-over-hand method of turning
    • You can use make-believe practice by gliding your hands across the wheel while the car is stationary
  • Explain the rules about the radio
    • My personal rule is that I control the volume of the radio during the instruction phase.  Having said this, I gradually increase the volume as they get more and more hours behind the wheel.  My theory is that by the time they reach the more advanced steps, I want them to be able to operate the car with the radio at some moderate or higher level because I know they’re going to have it this loud, or louder, when they are on their own.  So they may as well practice with the radio on.
  • Explain the rules about advise versus orders during the driving instruction phase
    • I tell my kids it will be clear from my tone of voice and volume if I’m giving an order for safety reasons versus food-for-thought advice
  • Show an example of how the rear wheels don’t track along the exact same path as the front wheels while turning
    • A good example can be putting the car along the curb leading to your driveway.  You can have the tires 12-18” away from the curb.  With your teenager on the sidewalk watching both the front and rear tires, pull forward until the front tire has cleared the curb and is in front of the driveway.  Turn sharply into the driveway, causing the rear tire hits the curb.  The lesson is obvious.  Later, when they take a turn a little too soon and jump the curb, you can remind them of the driveway exercise.

When you’re done with this phase, move on to the Getting Started phase.

Driving Instruction – Getting Started

You’ve completed the Before Getting on the Road checklist and your teenager is now ready to set the car in motion.  Obviously, the setting should be some country road, neighborhood under construction, or somewhere with minimal traffic.  Ask other parents with recent new drivers where they started out.

Here’s the checklist for this phase:

  • Staying in the proper position within your lane (left-to-right)
  • Proper following distance
  • Proper signaling for turns and lane changes
    • Not too far in advance but also not too late
    • Explain hand signals, if ever needed
  • Always looking over both shoulders at blind spots when changing lanes – always, always, always
  • Always turning into the proper lane – the nearest lane
  • Always have an “out” on multi-lane roads
    • In other words, if you find yourself right next to someone in the adjacent lane, either pull ahead of them or let them drift in front of you so that you always have an escape route to the right
  • Paying attention to the stripes in the road, and their meaning – white or yellow, solid or dashed.  Their instruction book explains these so make sure to be consistent with what they’ve learned.
  • Regularly scanning mirrors and the road ahead – both near and far ahead
  • Paying attention to signs
    • A good method is to randomly ask a question after passing signs of various importance.  For example, 2-3 seconds after passing a speed zone sign, ask what the speed limit is.  Or after passing a sign that says lanes will merge ahead, ask what’s about to happen to the road.  You can also say something like “We just passed a yellow sign.  What did it say and what does it mean?”
  • Managing yellow lights
    • Obviously, the key issue is when to stop and when to proceed through the intersection.  I taught my teenagers to ask themselves if they can safely stop before the intersection after seeing the light change to yellow.  Unfortunately, most people ask whether or not they can make it through the intersection before the light turns red.
    • After an example or two where you dictate the action, try to let your teenager make the decision rather than always telling them to stop or proceed.
  • Right-on-red
  • What to do when two lanes turn
    • Use the signs and road markings to determine if one or two lanes can turn
    • Pay close attention to the dashed line as you turn to make sure you’re not encroaching on the other turn lane
  • Proper stopping position at stop lights and stop signs.  Make sure to be consistent with what their instruction book says for this.
  • Being prepared when passing a car parked on the side of a neighborhood street – hidden kids can easily come out of nowhere
    • My teenagers and I used the code word “danger” for these situations.  When we saw this scenario up ahead, one of us would say “danger, danger”.  After a few weeks of this it sinks in without having to say it.
  • Being prepared when approaching a kid on their bike – same as above with parked cars
  • Filling up with gas – really just the basics of how to do it, but let them do it

When you’re done with this phase, move on to the Intermediate Skill phase.

Driving Instruction – Intermediate Skills

You’ve finished the Getting Started phase and your teenager is now ready to shift gears and move onto the next level.  And even though your teenager already knows the basics, the concepts taught in this phase have a little more risk in them.  As a result, reinforce the importance of safety and the need to listen closely to your instruction.

Here’s the checklist for this phase:

  • Backing out of the driveway
    • Repeatedly looking backwards over both shoulders, forwards, into all mirrors
  • “What if” scenario for being tailgated.
    • At random times, pretend it’s happening and make sure to give extra distance in front so you aren’t suddenly forced to brake hard
  • Using the center turn lane
    • Including being careful for others entering the lane from the opposite direction
  • Parking – do lots of it and start in an empty church parking lot or shopping mall parking lot (on Sunday)
    • Straight in spaces and angled spaces
    • Pulling in and pulling out (incl instruction about how to back out 1-2 feet at a time when you can’t really see
    • Start by parking in spaces with empty adjacent spaces, then with one adjacent space filled and ultimately with both adjacent spaces filled.  You might find that this evolution takes place over 10-15 driving sessions.
  • Driving with the right or left wheels on the line
    • The idea is to better understand where the wheels are.
    • You can use a line with reflectors or sleep-preventing bumps to really make it easy to sense where the car is.  Try to do this with both the left and right tires.
  • 3-point turn – start on a wide road but eventually try to find a narrow road
  • Driving on the shoulder past cars stopped at a light (dangerous if other cars still moving slowly and also illegal in many states)
  • “Move Over” laws – most states require drivers to either slow down or move over 1 lane if a police car or emergency vehicle is stopped on the side of the road with lights on.  Investigate and educate.
  • Drive backwards
    • Find an empty parking lot and literally drive backwards, including making turns into different sections of the parking lot and everything.  It’s a great practice to learn the different nuances when you drive backwards.
  • What to do if a police car signals to pull you over
    • At random times and in completely different settings, pretend it just happened and ask where is a reasonable place to stop.  Even practice it a time or two going through the full sequence of events.  After stopping, put the window down and put your hands on the wheel where they can be seen.
  • Controlling speed while going downhill
    • If you have a nice, steep hill, a good practice exercise is to dictate a 5 mph range and ask your teenager to stay within the range.  Of course, it’s harder than they think.
  • Navigated journey
    • Select a destination address, then have your teenager plot the best route to get there (at least once using a printed map, then possibly with a GPS).
    • The exercise also teaches them route planning.  During the journey, it teaches to pay attention to signs and addresses.
    • The key is to not help at all with the navigation aspect of this journey – only the driving safety aspect.  And remember that they will be looking at their map and the road.  At times they might get lost or might need to pull into a parking lot to get their bearings with the map.  No problem.  Be patient.
    • Do this once during the day and once at night.

When you’re done with this phase, move on to the Ready for Prime Time phase.

Driving Instruction – Ready for Prime Time

You’ve completed the Intermediate Skills phase and your teenager is now ready to move to the most advanced phase.  The following exercises and checklist items are important if you want to turn over the keys with confidence.  Many of the items are best practiced or demonstrated on a country road at a time of day when there is very minimal traffic.  And due to increased safety risks with the proposed exercises, don’t start with this phase until you really feel your teenager is ready.

Here’s the checklist for this phase:

  • Driving on a narrow, curvy, country road
  • U-turn at an intersection – including looking for signs to make sure it’s legal
  • Driving at night
    • Including use of low/high beam lights
    • What to do if an oncoming car is blinding you with their lights (look a little towards the right side of the road, using the white stripe for guidance)
    • Try the navigated journey exercise (explained in the Intermediate Skills phase) one time, but at night
  • Driving with one wheel on the shoulder, then recovering back to the road
    • Good for a country road with minimal traffic.  Do it first while driving 10 mph and then again at 30 mph.
    • You want your teenager to learn not to panic but rather slow down a bit and find the right time/place to make a deliberate turn back onto the main road rather than a very gradual easing that could cause slippage.  Doing this at 10 mph is different than 30 mph.
  • Advanced parking
    • Parallel – Put a trash can in front and behind, near the curb.  Start with them way far apart and move them 2’ closer with each success.  Might also need to put a box on top to make it easier to see over the hood and trunk.  But usually the front hood of most cars isn’t taller than a trash can.  You might also be able to practice at the exact location where your teenager does their official driving test.  This is ideal to do after they have the basics down.
    • Backing into a parking space.  Check the space on both sides after finished.  Start with an empty parking lot.  Then do it next to one car (empty space on other side).  Then do it with cars on both sides if you have the guts.
  • Freeway driving
    • Proper speed for on-ramp entrances and off-ramp exits
    • Yielding rules for on/off ramps
    • Changing lanes – incl use of mirrors first, then looking over shoulder every time
    • Safe back-off distance from the car in front
    • Leaving “outs” (not putting yourself in a position where you’re boxed in)
    • What to do if the police signal to pull you over
    • Driving 70-75 mph and noticing how much more sensitive steering is at this speed
  • Passing on a 2-lane road – probably out in the country
    • Use proper signaling and pay attention to the road stripes to know when it’s legal
  • Driving in the rain (actually do it, if at all possible)
  • Simulating loss of power while driving (running out of gas) – best on a country road with light traffic
    • Turn off the ignition, which will result in losing your power steering and power breaks.  Come to a stop on the shoulder.
  • Simulating loss of brakes
    • Glide as much as possible, downshift to lower gear, use emergency brake as last resort.  After explaining this and trying the basic concepts, do an exercise where you tell your child “You just lost your brakes, navigate to a stop somehow”.  Of course, do it on a country road or somewhere with minimal disruption to other drivers.
  • Anti-lock brakes demonstration
    • You don’t need to do this at 50 mph.  But, at minimum, show how the brakes can be pushed all the way to the floor in the event of an emergency – maybe at 20-25 mph in your neighborhood.  Your child needs to know they can push the brakes as hard as possible in the event of an emergency.

This phase concludes the actual driving instruction sequence.  From here you can check out my Golden Rules of Safe Driving, my ideas for teaching Basic Car Maintenance or the Driving Contract I executed with my teenagers.

Driving Instruction – Basic Car Maintenance

I know that driving instruction should focus on the act of driving but I also feel like drivers and car owners should know how to basically take care of their car.  When I was a kid this included actually learning how to work on the car (replace spark plugs, change the oil, replace belts, etc.).  But those days are gone, mostly due to the computerized nature of cars.  But there are still things that should be understood by every driver.

Some of these items should be done proactively and periodically as part of a maintenance routine while others are more for events of emergency.  Also, after walking through these items, give a quiz that involves actually doing the activity or at least pointing and explaining the steps.

  • Checking tire pressure and tire tread
    • For tire pressure, show the decal on the inside edge of the driver’s door or the opposing car panel that explains the ideal tire pressure when cold
  • Adding washer fluid
  • Checking the battery terminals for corrosion if the car gets harder and harder to start
  • Jump starting the battery
  • Checking the oil level and adding oil
  • What to do (and not to do) if the car overheats and the radiator is steaming (don’t open the cap)
  • Changing a tire
    • I strongly recommend having your teenager actually do this in the driveway (but not on a slope) while you verbally instruct
    • I also recommend marking the page in their owner’s manual where it explains proper jack placement.  There is almost always a picture of some sort to help explain this.  Have you teenager write some explanatory notes on this page in their own words for future use.

Beyond this, explain the importance of paying attention to new noises, vibrations or increased difficulty starting the car.  Obviously, these can be signs of something going wrong.  Saying something about it as soon as it starts can avoid much more costly repairs if the issue were allowed to continue.

Gordon’s Golden Rules of Safe Driving

Below is my Top 10 list of things to drill over and over again throughout the duration of your teenager’s behind-the-wheel education.  I recommend literally pulling it out every fourth or fifth time and reviewing each item in the list.

  1. Leave plenty of distance in between you and the car in front of you.
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  2. When changing lanes or moving into a center turn lane, after checking your mirrors look over your left or right shoulder because of the blind spot.
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  3. When driving in a neighborhood, assume there is an 80% chance of a little kid running out from behind any car parked on the street.  Be prepared.  Same idea for a kid riding their bike along the edge of the road near the gutter.  Assume there is an 80% chance they will swerve out into the street.
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  4. Don’t talk on your cell phone unless absolutely necessary.  If talking is necessary, do so using a hands-free device (earpiece or Bluetooth speakerphone).  Absolutely, positively never text while driving (reading or responding).  View the first 45 seconds of the following video clip with your new teenage driver to help this sink in.  But be warned that some of the images in the video are pretty graphic.
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  5. Don’t crank up the radio full blast unless on an open highway in the middle of nowhere with minimal traffic and distractions.
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  6. On multi-lane roads, leave yourself an “out” (don’t put yourself right next to another car).
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  7. When turning onto a multi-lane road, turn into the nearest lane.  If you need to be in another lane, then make the lane change after a safe, successful turn.
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  8. Don’t run yellow lights.  The question to ask yourself when suddenly presented with a yellow light is this: “Can I safely stop without sliding into the intersection?”  The question is NOT “Can I make it through the intersection before the light turns red?”.
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  9. Be extra paranoid when backing out of a parking space – take your time and ease back 1-2 feet at a time until you can see the driving lane
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  10. Be extra paranoid when driving in any parking lot.  Anything can happen at a moment’s notice.

Driving Contract – For Your New Teenage Driver

Driving Contract TemplateClick here to download a template I’ve used with my three daughters to make it crystal clear what our obligations are as parents and what theirs are as new drivers.  Since the document is editable, you can add signature lines, revise the terms or add more terms to make it match your standards and philosophies.  About 6 months after putting this into effect, pull it out again and review it with your son/daughter as a reminder.

You Want the Teenagers to Hangout at Your House

I know, teenagers can be loud and obnoxious.  But when your kids get into high school and especially once they start driving, it’s easy to lose track of where they are and who they are hanging out with.  It won’t seem like it initially, but if you’re lucky for kid’s teenage friends will want to come to your house to hang out.  And you can possibly influence this if you try.  You’ll know where they are, what they are doing and who they are hanging out with.  Think about the alternative.

Continue reading “You Want the Teenagers to Hangout at Your House”

Does Your Kid Have a “System”?

The concept of defining and refining a System is something I regularly stressed with my girls during their high school and college years.  The truth is that each person has a different way of planning, organizing, studying and remembering.  What works for you in these areas might not at all work for your son/daughter.  One of the most important things to accomplish during the high school and college years is for your kid to develop and refine a system that works for them.

Continue reading “Does Your Kid Have a “System”?”

What’s The Worst Thing That Could Happen?

This is a fabulous concept to incorporate into your parenting practice.  It’s used in conjunction with explaining decision-making to your kids.  I started using this with my girls when they were about 13 years old and regularly reinforced it all the way through the day they left home for college.

Continue reading “What’s The Worst Thing That Could Happen?”

Using the “Give More Rope” Analogy

Parenting AdviceI happen to think that one of parents’ most important responsibilities is preparing their children for the day when they leave home and live on their own.  Will they be ready to make decisions for themselves?  Will they know how to react in stressful or dangerous situations?  Will they be able to manage their own money?  The list goes on and on.  But the way I mentally visualize this parenting challenge is using the “give more rope” analogy.

When your child is young, there is only a very short rope between you and them.  What does this mean?  As they drift from side to side (ie – doing things that are wrong or dangerous), the rope is so short that the parent can immediately correct (explain, scold, punish).  The other benefit of the rope being so short is that the consequences of the child’s action are limited.  Even something like touching a hot stove might seem catastrophic at the time but in a short few years you’ll realize that a blister on a finger is nothing compared to later potential consequences you’ll be worried about.  Again, a short rope yields quick correction and limited consequences.

Continue reading “Using the “Give More Rope” Analogy”

Interviewing Tip #7 – Follow Up

Our society seems to have drifted away from formal Thank You’s.  But this isn’t the time to ignore the tradition.  You should ask each interviewer for a business card, mainly for the purpose of sending a thank you note.  I personally find it hugely respectful and professional when I receive a written Thank You card but I believe it’s OK to send an email thank you.  In the email, you want to 1) thank them for taking valuable time from their schedule to meet with you  2) reiterate your interest in their company and the role they are hiring  3) remind them of something you discussed about yourself that uniquely qualifies you for the job/company.  In closing your email you can show your willingness to have a follow-up phone discussion or in-person visit, if needed.

See the rest of my series on Interviewing Tips here.   I also have a related series for Resume Writing and one for Job Hunting.

Interviewing Tip #6 – Asking for Feedback

It’s not out of the question to ask how you did at the end of the interview.  But the way you ask is important.  You don’t want to say, “So, do you think I’ll get the job”.  Instead, you could ask, “Do you mind if I ask if you have any initial observations or comments about the interview we just had?”.  Another slightly more aggressive approach would be to ask, “Is there anything about the interview we just had that would cause you concern about my ability to perform this job well?”.

See the rest of my series on Interviewing Tips here.   I also have a related series for Resume Writing and one for Job Hunting.

Interviewing Tip #5 – Asking Questions

In my previous post I described who should be talking during the interview.  Remember that during the face-to-face interview you are interviewing the company as much as they are interviewing you.  So absolutely have a list of questions that you would like to get answered.  Your list of questions can be as long as it needs to be.  If you are interviewing with multiple company representatives, then split the list based on the most appropriate person to direct the question to.  And some of your questions possibly should be directed at multiple interviewers to compare their responses later.  Also, be very mindful of the fact that your questions also tell a lot about you.  So don’t blow them.  Don’t ask a shallow question whose answer is front and center on the website homepage.  This will just show that you didn’t dig very deep with your research.  Instead, ask a question that digs deeper into the strategy of the company or industry.  Or ask a question that demonstrates you’re looking to develop your career, not just find a job.  Here are some ideas:

  • Ask the hiring manager how they would describe their management style.  One way to ask the question is “How would your employees describe your management style?”  You can also go a step further by asking what their employees like best about working for them.
  • Ask how your interviewer would describe the culture of the company
  • Ask a question about the impact of a competitor’s recent announcement
  • If the company is private (not publicly traded), try to find out if revenue has been growing and if the company has yet reached profitability
  • When I’m interviewing candidates, I like to get questions about career paths or opportunities for more responsibility in the future because it shows ambition and shows the candidate is looking for a career-building opportunity rather than just a paycheck
  • Ask how success will be measured for the role
  • Ask what the biggest challenges your hiring manager’s team (or the department he/she is a part of) is currently facing and how the role your interviewing for can help the most towards those challenges
  • Ask what your hiring manager likes the most about the company and how much longer they can see themselves working for the company
  • Ask if the company has any basic beliefs or principals that it operates by and uses to make difficult decision.  As a follow up, you could ask for any recent examples that come to mind.
  • Ask if the interviewer has any concerns about you as a candidate for the position and mention that if they do you’d like a moment to address it.  As long as you’re diplomatic in the way you ask this question, you’ll be fine.

Finally, don’t ask questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no.  Instead, ask what are called open-ended questions.  These questions might start off with “Can you describe ….”, “How does the company go about …”, or “What methods does the company use …”.

See the rest of my series on Interviewing Tips here.   I also have a related series for Resume Writing and one for Job Hunting.

Interviewing Tip #4 – Puff Ball Questions

There is absolutely no excuse for not being ready for the most commonly asked interview questions.  Knock these out of the ballpark by being prepared ahead of time.  I’ve included a list of questions commonly asked during interviews Here.  Don’t necessarily memorize your response word-for-word, but definitely know which points you want to make and practice this using role play with a friend or family member.

Performance-Based Interview Questions

There’s a developing trend towards including performance-based and culture-fit questions into the interview.  Below are some examples of performance-based questions to help you prepare (credit to the Veterans Affairs website):

  • Describe a situation in which you had to use your communication skills in presenting complex information. How did you determine whether your message was received?
  • Share with me an example of an important personal goal that you set, and explain how you accomplished it.
  • Lead me through a decision-making process on a major project you’ve completed.
  • Have you ever had many different tasks given to you at the same time? How did you manage them?
  • Give an example of a time you had to make a difficult decision and how the scenario played out.

The “Compensation Expectation” Question

There’s one common question I’d like to cover directly in this article because it seems to be stressful for most people.  “How much are you looking to make?” or “What is your salary requirement?”.  Many people try to wiggle out of answering the question with responses like these:

  • I’m just looking to make whatever the market rate is for this type of position
  • I’m open to considering offers in a range of salary
  • Salary isn’t the most important thing to me.  I’m evaluating opportunities based on a broad range of factors.
  • At my last job I made $xxK

There’s nothing terrible about the above responses, but what about something like this: “Salary is only a part of my overall selection criteria but I’m most strongly considering roles that pay in the range of $xxx”.  There are some advantages to this approach:

  1. You highlight the fact that it’s not just about the salary
  2. You hint that you’ve either gotten other offers or are expecting some
  3. You suggest an acceptable range, which increases the chances the company’s budget for the role will be within the range

After that bold sentence, you could continue by describing other factors that are part of your selection criteria.  Company culture, opportunities for growth, company benefits plan, commute duration and other things could all be a part of your criteria.

I hope this information is helpful to your job search.  See the rest of my series on Interviewing Tips here.   I also have a related series for Resume Writing and one for Job Hunting.

Getting Stumped

Sometimes you’ll get a question that really forces you to think on-the-spot for a good answer.  First, don’t feel pressure to immediately blurt out an answer.  It’s totally OK to initially say something like “That’s a really good question.  Let me think about it for just a second.”  That along buys you some very valuable time.

You might get asked to describe a time when you performed a particular task or addressed a specific situation but, unfortunately, you’ve never encountered it.  Your best approach to this is probably to admit that you haven’t previously encountered that situation/task and then either 1) tell them about something that’s the most similar to the task/situation they asked about  2) tell them how you would go about addressing the situation.

You might get a question that isn’t looking for a precise answer but rather gives you an opportunity to demonstrate how you think.  Imagine a question like “How many jelly beans do you think could fit in my empty trash can?”  I can think of two ways to answer the question:

  • “I imagine considerably more than 1,000 could fit but I’m fairly certain 10,000 would overflow.  So my estimate is something in the 5,000 range.”
  • “I imagine about 100 jelly beans could fit in one cup.  It looks like your trash can has a volume of about 3 gallons.  With 16 cups per gallon, it means roughly 4,800 jelly beans.”

The second answer shows more analytical thinking than the first, but you get the idea.  The interviewer cares less about your answer and more about how your brain processes analytical challenges.

In the rare event that you get a question that literally leaves you stumped with no response, first ask to come back to it later in the interview.  If, when that happens, you still are drawing a blank, just let them know you’re sorry but you don’t have a really good answer at the moment.  Then, while driving home think about a possible good response.  If you come up with something, include mention of it when you send your thank you email.

Interviewing Tip #3 – Who Should Be Talking?

It’s very common for the interviewer to have a standard set of questions they want to cover first.  If so, then let them proceed.  But, at the same time, you should find the most appropriate way to get your interviewer talking –especially if they are the hiring manager (or the hiring manager’s boss).  The more you can get them talking, the more you will learn about the company and the job.  You will get invaluable insights into whether this is actually the company you want to work for.  And if you are fortunate enough to get more than one job offer, you will want these insights to assist with your decision-making.  One good way to get the interviewer talking is to ask them a suitable related question immediately after answering one of their questions.  But be careful about this if you detect they are the type of interviewer that wants to get through their question list first.

Conversely, you’ll come across interviewers that just want to talk about themselves and their company.  That’s great for getting additional insights to add to your research but terrible for when the recruiter or hiring manager asks what they thought about you.  You’ll need to cleverly figure out ways to jump in with comments that relate to what they are talking about but related to you and your accomplishments.  The ideal scenario is when you find yourself in a balanced interview with dialog and questions in both directions.

Finally, be ready with a list of questions that will give you valuable information on the role, company, industry and competition.  It’s OK to have these typed/written and stored in your interview binder.  You don’t have to memorize them.  But while asking these questions, inject some commentary that demonstrates that you’ve done your research.  You’d be amazed at how many candidates don’t do research, or if they do they don’t incorporate it into their interview.  This will really help you stand out.  And feel free to take notes.  It shows you’re taking this seriously.

See the rest of my series on Interviewing Tips here.   I also have a related series for Resume Writing and one for Job Hunting.

Interviewing Tip #2 – Attire

While I can’t say precisely what to wear for the specific company and job you are interviewing for, I can give a solid rule of thumb.  Assess the dress attire standard you would follow once in the job and take it up a notch for the interview.  In other words, if you would dress business casual for the job (let’s say Dockers and a button-up collar shirt for guys), then wear at least slacks, a dress shirt and sport coat for the interview – and don’t hesitate to add a tie.  If you would wear jeans and a pullover collar shirt for the job, then at least dress business casual for the interview.  I also recommend mostly ignoring the advice of any existing employees at the company.  They might tell you, “Don’t worry about dressing up for the interview because we’re pretty laid back here.”  Instead, just take it up at least one notch to come across as professional and serious.

See the rest of my series on Interviewing Tips here.   I also have a related series for Resume Writing and one for Job Hunting.

Interviewing Tip #1 – Phone Screening

OK, so you made enough of a positive impression with your job application or unsolicited email (see related post) to get a response from the company.  This will usually start with a request for a phone interview.  It’s the company’s way of conducting a second round of filtering (following the resume filter) to make sure they only spend face-to-face time with the most viable candidates.

The main thing I’ll say about the phone screening interview is shame on you if you don’t have all of your most important research information in front of you during the interview (see related post and this one too).  In addition, you should have a cheat sheet of your personal accomplishments right in front of you.  Maybe this is just a highlighted version of your resume.  Finally, some of the recommendations in the following posts of this series are also excellent preparatory tasks for a phone screening interview.  But remember three key things.

  1. The only reason the company is doing the phone screening interview with you is to decide if they want to bring you in for a more comprehensive fact-to-face interview.  So don’t turn it into your interview of the company (that comes later).  You should be prepared with a couple of questions about the company in case you’re given the opportunity and to show that you’ve done your research.  But make sure they get what they need first.
  2. Take full advantage of the fact that there is a phone line in between you and the interviewer.  You can have every cheat sheet known to man at your fingertips.  Just be organized.
  3. Eliminate things that could distract or disrupt the interview.  Have a dog at home that likes to bark when people walk by your house?  Put him/her in the bedroom.  Have a land line phone at home?  Use it instead of your cell phone for better clarity.

See the rest of my series on Interviewing Tips here.   I also have a related series for Resume Writing and one for Job Hunting.