Questions to ask your interviewer in a job interview

You might think that all you have to do in your interview is answer questions, but answering questions is only part of the equation. You need to ask questions too.

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When you ask questions, you’re showing you care about doing the job well and about deciding if the job's a good fit for you.

If you don’t ask questions you’ll seem like you’re not interested enough to want to know more and no one wants to give a job to someone who seems like they're not that interested in it.

How many questions should you ask during your interview?

I recommend asking a total of 10 questions during and after the interview.

Isn’t that a lot of questions? Yes, but if you’re talking to someone for an hour 10 questions isn't really that many. Plus, some of them can be short and simple.

Still, 10 seems like a lot.

Okay, yes, 10 is a lot but the key is to ask some during the interview, because that turns the interview into a conversation and shows your interest. If you ask a question here and there during the interview, you’ll only need to ask a few at the end.

And if you prepare 10, some of them will probably be answered as you talk to the interviewer. You don’t want to ask about the team culture if she’s already talked about the team culture at length, for example, so you’ll have to cross it off your list.

Questions you can ask during your interview, divided by topic

You can use these questions for ideas, but if there’s something you’re interested in learning you should definitely use your own idea instead, because it will sound more personalized to you.

The Position

What is a typical day like for the person in this job?

Can you tell me more about the day-to-day responsibilities for this job?

Can you give me some examples of projects I’d be working on?

Do you expect the main responsibilities for this position to change in the next 6 months to a year?

Is this a new role that’s been created?

What are the 3 most important leadership principles for this job?

How do you define success for this position? What metrics will you use to measure my accomplishments?

Do you have any concerns about my qualifications for this job?

Training and Development

How will I be trained?

Where is the last person who held this role moving on to?

What is the typical career path for someone in this role?

Review Process

What is the performance review process like here? Can you walk me through a typical one?

What would your expectation for me be for the first 90 days?

The Interviewer

These questions are personal so you don’t want to ask them if your interviewer seems like they might have a problem with personal questions. They’re not too personal though so you can definitely ask them if it seems like a good time to do so.

How long have you been working here?

Why did you choose this company?

What’s your favorite part about working here?

The Team

How would you describe the team culture?

Can you tell me about the members of the team?

What are the team’s strengths and weaknesses?

What have been the biggest challenges for the team this year?

Whom will I report to directly?

Which other departments work closely with this one?

Do you expect the department/team to grow?

The Company

How does this service or product fit into the larger picture?

How do you measure customer service?

What important initiatives are you working on for the next 6-12 months?

How does this role contribute to larger company goals?

What do you like the most about working here?

Can you tell me a little bit about the company culture?

Where do you think the company is headed in the next 5 years?

Whom do you consider your top competitor and why?

What are the biggest opportunities facing the company right now?

Next steps

Is there anything else I can provide you with that would be helpful?

Can I answer any final questions for you?

What are the next steps in the interview process?

Topics to avoid during your interview

If you ask about these you'll seem selfish and impatient and like you don’t care about the job. These are questions you should save for the recruiter or HR manager after they offer you the job.

Salary

Benefits

Working hours/your schedule

Vacation time

Did I get the job?

From senior VP to entry-level candidates, my clients have nailed the interview and landed the job. Let's work together preparing for your interview and improve your career. Email me at jennifer@interviewgenie.com to schedule a consultation.

Interview Genie is an interview prep company. I specialize in coaching non-native English speakers.

Use PAR, not STAR, for answering behavioral interview questions

This article is for those of you who know the STAR method but find it confusing because the “S” and the “T” steps seem so similar.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about you can skip this and keep using STAR to answer your behavioral interview questions. 

Use PAR, not STAR.png

So, the “situation” and “task” steps in STAR, they seem kind of similar, right? Yeah, they do. I’ve never been able to figure out the difference between them and I’ve had many clients ask me to explain the difference to them, which I can’t do because it doesn’t make any sense to me.

To save everyone from confusion, I’ve started teaching my clients to use “PAR” instead. PAR is the same as STAR but combines the S and the T steps.

Why “P” instead of “S”? S and P mean the same – situation, problem, issue – it doesn’t really matter what you call it, it’s the same thing.

You may have heard the term “PAR” used when talking about resumes, and it's a common way of formatting resume bullet points, but we can also use it for answering behavioral questions and it is so much clear than STAR.

Here is the format:

P = problem/situation/issue

A = action (what did you do?)

R = result

Now use the letters as a structure to tell your story (you need to use a story to answer your behavioral interview question). 

Will your interviewer notice that you’re not using STAR? No. I promise you they will have no idea, because the S and the T sections get combined so often anyway. 

If you're one of the people who finds STAR confusing and annoying like I do, start using PAR instead. 

From senior VP to entry-level candidates, my clients have nailed the interview and landed the job. Let's work together preparing for your interview and take your career up a level. Email me at jennifer@interviewgenie.com to schedule a consultation.

Interview Genie is an interview prep company. I specialize in coaching non-native English speakers.

How to sell yourself in interviews

Interviews in the United States or in American companies require that you talk about your strengths, which is also called selling yourself or self-promotion.

Selling yourself in interviews.png

 

What does "sell yourself" mean?

Selling yourself” in an interview is the process of talking openly, clearly, and directly about your strengths – your skills, experience, and personal qualities - and explicitly stating how these strengths can help the company.

It’s a form of marketing, but the product you’re marketing is you.

Why is self-promotion hard for some people?

In your daily life you don’t usually get asked about your strengths or what your greatest achievement was, right?

Probably not. That’s not something that happens to us normally, except in interviews.  

So self-promotion is a skill that most of us just don’t use very often.

Can you improve your self-promotion skills?

 “But I don’t know how to sell myself!” is something that I hear often in my interview coaching work.

I love hearing this because I know I can help. It’s easy for me, because my clients are usually smart and successful in their work, but they don’t know how to express this. I can teach them how – and it isn’t very hard.

Interviews are a type of communication that isn’t like anything else. They’re like a game you have to learn to play. If you’ve never played the game before, you won’t know how, but if you learn the rules and practice, you’ll be able to play.

Why do I need to sell myself in my interview?

You’ve probably heard that you need to sell yourself in interviews but you might not understand exactly why.

Here's why: an interview is a very short time frame. The interviewer needs to make a decision about you quickly. They’ll know more about your skills and experience if you tell them.

Can’t they just read your resume? Yes, your resume is a document you use for self-promotion. In your interview you need to assume the interviewer hasn’t read your resume (because sometimes this is true) so you will need to tell them your selling points. Even if they have read your resume, they’ll remember things better if they read it and hear it from you.

I’m sure you’ve known someone who got a job that you didn’t think they were qualified for. You may have even seen someone in your office get promoted before someone else who was better for the role. Why does this happen? Sometimes it happens because the person was a good interviewer.

If you don’t sell yourself well, you might lose the job to someone who does, even if you would be better at the job.

Selling yourself isn’t being fake

I’m not saying that you need to go into the interview and do an “elevator pitch” or a sales pitch.

These pitches have a bad reputation because they’re what’s known as the “hard sell,” or being very aggressive with marketing.

That’s not what I mean by marketing yourself. That kind of marketing yourself can be a mistake because you aren’t telling the interviewer what they need to know, just what you think they should know.

That type of marketing is too aggressive for an interview because it’s one way – it’s you talking (and talking). An interview should be two people talking, like in a conversation.

I think it’s possible to market yourself in a natural way. I’ll try to teach you to figure out what your strengths are and communicate them. That’s what I think selling yourself is.

Sell yourself in your interview by focusing on your core messages

You don’t want to go into an interview and tell them everything about yourself. Your interviewer doesn’t need to know every detail.

They don’t need to know about every major deal you’ve closed, every job you’ve had, every certification you have, or every single programming language you know.

In your interview you need to focus.

This is a huge problem for people.

When I ask my clients, “Tell me about your background,” which is an alternative way to ask the common question “Tell me about yourself,” some of them go on and on. I’ve heard answers to this question that were over five minutes long. This is much too long.

No one can listen for this long.

I know you’re thinking that you need to give a lot of info here so the interviewer knows your skills, but the interviewer has a limited attention span.

Stick to giving shorter answers that focus on a few core messages.

Plan your core messages

Core messages are your strengths. They are also known as your key selling points.

They can be your skills, your education or training, your experience, your key accomplishments, soft skills, or your personality traits.

How many core messages should you have?

I think three to five core messages is the best number. If you use more, it may get hard for you to remember and you may confuse your interviewer.

Your core messages should be on your resume already

If you’re not sure what to list as your strengths, look at your resume. If you’ve done your resume correctly, everything you want to list in the interview as your selling points should already be listed there.

If you aren't finding your core messages on your resume, do a brainstorming session. Write down everything you can think of that is one of your strong points and then narrow down the list to the most important.

Check your core messages against the job description

Before you finalize your list, look at the job description right now and see if your core messages, or something related to them, are on the job description. If not, you need to rethink your messages. There is no reason to try to sell your interviewer on your skills if the skills don’t relate to the JD.

But understand the job description first.

Sometimes job descriptions aren’t written very clearly. Have you ever read one that was a page long and realized that it was the same thing written in different ways?

In some cases you might need to translate the JD into simple English before you start building your core messages around it.

I was helping a client with one recently that we both had a hard time understanding. The job was Associate Director of Sales and Operations for the Global Sales and Operations Planning and Optimization product team at Wayfair. He asked me if I could help him go over the JD to make sure he understood it before we started practicing for his interview. And it was so hard to understand I couldn’t believe it (no offence Wayfair, but you need to work on your JDs). In the end the job boiled down to being a liaison between the people who tracked customer demand and the logistics people. But it absolutely did not say that in words that were easy to understand.

Before we could even start practicing answers to questions we had to make sure we understood what the job was so he could target the right things with his core messages.

Examples of core messages

In case you aren’t sure what I mean by core messages, here are some examples I’ve taken from client resumes. I’ve divided them by role.

Digital marketing:

  • Grew community from 2 million to 4.5 million, grew influencer advocate program from zero to 3,000, and drove 100,000+ webinar registrations in 2017
  • Own $4+ million paid advertising budget with Krux DMP segmentation reducing CPA 31% & increasing conversion 54%
  • Transformed conversion rates by 845% in trial software downloads; reduced 2300+ landing pages into 1 dynamic page

Private equity and tech investing:

  • Quadrilingual: fluent in English, French, Polish, and Russian
  • Responsible for 300M€ spread between LP stakes in venture funds, direct equity stakes and a GP, spanning across the US, Europe, Israel and China
  • Wrote blueprint for a pan-European impact investing fund in the tech area

Solutions Architect:

  • Expertise in Cloud and Hybrid technologies
  • AWS Certified Solutions Architect Professional
  • Implementation, support and evolution of the external website for the regional airport authority hosted in Microsoft Azure leveraging IaaS and PaaS technologies
  • Proficient in designing and implementing integration solutions for legacy, Cloud-based and on-premise applications using different integration patterns.

Business Development:

  • At Siemens I led the cross-divisional Smart City initiative, engaging at the CXO level with Smart Dubai and major stakeholders in the Dubai infrastructure space.
  • Business development and key account management of strategic enterprise customers
  • Work with teams to create a strategic plan to grow existing customers or acquire new ones.  Formulating pursuit strategies around customer needs and Aricent’s unique propositions.
  • Building and leading cross functional teams that won large transformational deals.

Product Management:

  • Hands-on product management executive with a passion to build products that delight people
  • Big Data platforms, Cloud, analytics, databases, middleware, integration, NoSQL and UI
  • Lead product vision, strategy, and building of next-generation cloud hosting using containers, AWS and Google Cloud
  • PM for large-scale text processing built on custom NoSQL with GraphDB and Lucene indexing with NLP and ML for SNA apps

These are some examples of core messages/selling points that you could use in an interview. They're all good ones, as long as the job description is calling for these qualities.

If you say that you are an expert in “Big Data platforms, Cloud, analytics, databases, middleware, integration, NoSQL and UI” that’s fine as long as the job description mentions at least some of these technologies OR you know that the job requires them.

You absolutely need to target the job description or your knowledge of what the role requires. It can be easy to list your strengths because you’re proud of having certain skills, but maybe the job doesn’t require most of them.

I was just working with a client named Rajan. He was having a problem focusing his core messages. He had a lot of experience, and it ranged across sales, operations, and digital marketing roles, but he was applying for a senior level product management role. He did actually have the right experience, but he had so much other experience that it was hard to understand that he was right for the job. In his case we had to remove a lot of things he wanted to say and really focus the things he should say into a few key points.

Rank your selling points in order of most important to least important

Okay, so remember the example I just gave of some of these technologies?

  • Big Data platforms, Cloud, analytics, databases, middleware, integration, NoSQL and UI

This is a great selling point (as long as you need these in the job), but should you list them first when you’re talking about why they should hire you?

Well, probably yes if the job requires you to be working directly with one or all of these every day. But probably not if you’re applying to be the VP of Product. In the VP role you will need to understand the technology, but it isn’t the most important thing you need for the role. It might not even make your list of top five selling points.

Say the most relevant selling point first in your interview.

Make up general statements or examples for your core messages

You need a general statement and an example for each message.

If your core message is that you’re an expert in Java, that’s your general statement, so you need an example to back it up. Also, show that you are able to use that expertise to deliver results.

You can say “I’m an expert in Java. At my current job, I've written tens of thousands of lines of code for projects that reached a large, enterprise user base. As a result of my expertise, I was asked to lead the Android development team, and we shipped the company's first mobile app in under four months. The app currently has a 4.8-star rating in the Google Play Store, and has helped our company gain marketshare."

If your core message is that you are a “Hands-on product management executive with a passion to build products that delight people” that’s your general statement and you need an example to back it up. Again, try to focus on results. Use numbers to bolster your case.

You can say “We just rolled out a new video player that has five thousand daily active users just two weeks after launch, up from just a few hundred users last month.”

How do you use these selling points?

Once you know your core messages, you need to say them at certain points during the interview. The key is to bring in your core messages as part of your answers to the interview questions.

Which questions can you use your core messages in?

Tell me about yourself.

Tell me about your background.

Walk me through your resume.

What are your strengths?

Why should we hire you?

Why do you want to work at Amazon?

Why do you want this job?

What are the responsibilities of your current job?

And last but not least, in the stories you use to answer behavioral questions

 

Let's work together preparing for your interview so you get the job of your choice. Email me at jennifer@interviewgenie.com to schedule a consultation.

Interview Genie is an interview prep company. I specialize in coaching non-native English speakers.

 

 

 

 

 

How to sound natural in English in your interview

Many clients tell me that they worry about sounding natural in interviews.

It’s common for non-native English speakers to worry about their English — including their grammar, their sentence structure, and also whether they sound comfortable and natural when they speak.

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If you’re going to an interview in English, you probably have an intermediate English level or above, but you might still worry about how you’ll sound. 

You might be comfortable with your English in most situations but be more worried about your interview because, as you know, interviews are special situations that require good conversational English.

How to improve your conversational English so you sound natural

Learning English isn’t something you can do over night. Sounding natural in English also takes time.

If you have a solid intermediate level in English, you can begin to work on sounding like native speakers, in other words, sounding “natural.”

Long-term way to sound more natural in English

Work with an English teacher

The best way to learn to sound natural is with an English teacher, because to improve your conversation skills you need to have conversations with someone, preferably someone who can point out your mistakes.

If you’d like to know a good English teacher who specializes in sounding natural and conversational English, let me know and I’ll give you the name of someone I trust.

BUT, if you have an interview soon, you probably don’t have time to work with a teacher.

Short-term tips for sounding more natural in interviews

I assume you’re reading this because you do have an interview soon, so I’m going to give you some tips that you can use in the short term. You can add them to your interview prep.

Don't read your answers in phone interviews

If you have a phone interview, you’re probably excited because you think it will be easier.

You probably made a list of possible questions and wrote answers to them so you can read them aloud.

After all, they can't see you, so why not?

NO!!!

Do not do this. If you read your answers, you'll sound like a robot.

Sounding natural is your goal (actually you need to sound natural, smart, and professional).

So what should you do?

Practice your answers enough so that you don't need to read them. You can use notes, but don't read word for word.

Your interviewer will know when you're reading.

Reading makes your interviewer believe you can’t think on your feet. It makes them think you can’t have a normal conversation without notes.

Don’t memorize your answers

Preparing your answers is good, but sometimes people prepare so much they memorize their answers. This gives the same effect as reading them ­— a robotic tone.

Have you prepared too much?

If you’ve prepared a lot, you may have prepared too much.

Are you Chinese? Are you Asian? Are you Indian?

Over-preparers tend to be Chinese or Indian.

If you’re Chinese or Indian (or Asian), ask someone to listen to your answers so they can give you feedback on whether you sound natural.

In my experience, people who’ve practiced so much they’ve memorized their answers don’t know that they’ve done this.

Ask for feedback, preferably from a native speaker.

Use a conversational tone

When you’re talking to your interviewer you want to sound like you're talking to a friend, not reading out loud — not like a robot.

You will be able to sound more conversational if you don’t read your notes, if you prepare without memorizing your answers, and if you speak conversationally.

What do I mean by speaking conversationally?

Here's an example of the beginning of a response to the question, "Tell me about yourself.”

"I’m from Xiamen, which is in the west of China. I’m a senior at Xiamen University, one of the best engineering schools in China. I’m majoring in Chemical Engineering.”

Okay, now try reading this aloud.

Did you read it with the same emphasis on each word? Most people do.

The problem with that is that all words sound the same. This is called monotone, which means “same tone.”

Listen to yourself when you talk to a friend. You emphasize different words in the sentence, meaning you say some words in a louder voice.

When we’re having a casual conversation we naturally stress some words more.

You either need to learn to read so that you sound natural (for phone interviews), or you need to stop reading and just speak normally, without notes. 

Pretend you’re talking to a friend.

If you’re speaking normally, like you would in a conversation with a friend, you’ll probably emphasize these words:

"I’m from Xiamen, which is in the west of China. I’m a senior at Xiamen University, one of the best engineering schools in China. I’m majoring in Chemical Engineering."

This example sounds natural since some words are emphasized more than others.

Many people who speak in a monotone don’t know they’re doing this.

Ask for feedback from a native speaker.

Copy your interviewer

Listen to how your interviewer is speaking and copy them.

If your interviewer speaks loudly and your voice is quiet, you need to be louder than normal.

If your interviewer speaks very softly and your natural voice is loud, speak more quietly.

If your interviewer speaks slowly and you talk quickly, you need to slow down.

Matching their speed and volume will make them feel more comfortable with you.

Don't talk too much

Some people worry about not having anything to say in an interview. Yes, that can be a problem, but I think a bigger one is talking too much.

Your answers should be about 1 to 2 minutes. Any more and you are boring the interviewer.

If you structure your answer correctly, you can deliver enough information quickly.

I talk more about this in the interview question section.

If you are in sales or a sales-adjacent position, like biz dev, you probably have a tendency to talk more than necessary. I’m not saying this to be rude, I’m saying it to warn you that talking a lot is okay in real life but not so great in interviews.

Don't raise your voice at the end of a sentence

It's common for people to raise their voice at the end of a sentence.

This is normal if you're asking a question.

"Are you hungry?" If you say this correctly the end of "hungry" is in a higher tone than the beginning. This is how we indicate something is a question in English.

However, if you're not asking a question, you don't want to sound like you are.

Imagine this:

"Do you know how to lead a project?"  

"Yes, I've led several projects?"

If you raise your voice on the last word it makes the sentence sound like a question. You don't want to ask a question, you want to make a statement.

This is a common thing with younger people, but I also notice people who are not young doing it as well.

Be positive

I know you might be nervous at an interview and so you might not feel like you're happy or comfortable. However, you have to try to smile, be friendly, show that you're interested in the job, and use positive words when you answer questions.

This applies to phone interviews as well. 

  • Smile
  • Be friendly
  • Be polite
  • Show interest – You know you want the job, but have you told them?
  • Don't be negative – People want to work with or go to school with happy, friendly people, not ones who say negative things about their colleagues and bosses.

Some of these tips only apply to non-native English speakers, but most can help you even if English is your native language. 

 

Let's work together preparing for your interview so you get the job of your choice. Email me at jennifer@interviewgenie.com to schedule a consultation.

Interview Genie is an interview prep company. I specialize in coaching non-native English speakers.

 

 

 

Is your polite English good enough for interviews?

There are two different levels of English, informal and formal. Another name for formal English is “polite” English.

How is the topic of polite English related to interviews?

Polite English.png

Why you need to use polite language in interviews

Your goal in an interview is to show that you’re the best person for the job.

Using polite language shows your interviewer that you: 

  • Are well educated
  • Have good manners

These two things make your interviewer think that you can:

  • Communicate
  • Negotiate
  • Build relationships with colleagues, partners, and customers

These are what are called “soft skills.”

Sometimes technical people think that they don’t need soft skills. The truth is, even if your job is technical you’ll still need to be able to communicate with your supervisor or colleagues.

Using polite English shows your interviewer that you have good soft skills. 

Test your polite English skills

Here’s an exercise that I use with clients to assess how polite their language is.

Polite English Exercise

The language in these sentences is direct and clear but not very polite/formal. Revise them so that the meaning is the same but the tone of the message is more polite.

1.    “Last month we sent you a form asking if you were interested in our services, but we haven’t heard back from you.”

Write down your politer answer.

Have you written down your answer? Write it down before you go on to the next paragraph.

Did your answer sound like this?

“We have been waiting to receive your response on whether you are interested in our services.”

The tone of this answer is actually more direct than the one in the example. Because it’s more direct, it’s actually less polite.

Here is a politer form of this example:

“We would like to follow up with you regarding our correspondence dated June 25th. We would truly appreciate receiving your reply regarding your interest in our services.

This is definitely politer than the original.

Your answer should sound something like this, although it doesn’t have to use those exact words. There are many ways to get the right level of politeness of English.

I'm not going to teach you polite English here because that's a complex topic, but if you need to learn or improve your polite English there are many resources.

Here are more example questions to test yourself:

2.    “I couldn’t complete your order because you failed to mention which size shirt you wanted.”

Write down a politer version.

This one has the same tone:

“Can you mention which size shirt you want so I can complete your order?”

In order to be polite it needs softening language.

This one is politer:

“I’m afraid I was not able to complete your order due to the lack of information regarding the size shirt.”

But it still isn’t very polite.

Here’s a good answer:

“I’m afraid I couldn’t complete your order. Could you please tell me which size shirt you’d like? Once I get that information, I’ll transmit the order right away. Thank you very much.”

3.    “Because there were more qualified candidates we didn’t keep your application.”

This statement is too honest.

This one uses different words but has the same tone:

“We could not consider your application as we had many qualified candidates.”

The next answer is better:

“Thank you for applying. I’m afraid that at this time we aren’t able to interview you, but we’ll keep you in mind for the future.”

This doesn’t actually say they rejected the application, although it implies it. If you don't say the bad news directly, it's more polite.

4.    “We’re sorry that we have no more rooms available for Labor Day weekend.”

This version is much politer:

“We regret to inform you that we are fully booked for the Labor Day weekend and we cannot accommodate you during this time frame. We apologize for the inconvenience caused and hope to see you soon.”

5.    “The only reason you don’t do well at your job is because you don’t work hard enough.”

Ouch, too direct!

This is also too direct:

“You need to put more effort in and bring out your A game!”

This is also too direct:

If you work hard enough, you will do well in your job.

Remember, we’re trying to use formal English, which means you’re talking to someone who is not your friend but more likely a colleague or an employee.

This is better:

“I’m sorry you’re not doing well at your job. Do you have any idea why? Do you think you might not be working hard enough?”

This is still a difficult subject to talk about. The most polite thing to do is to not discuss it at all, but you may need to discuss something like this at work. If you need to have the discussion this is a better way to phrase it.

6.    “It’s a very important meeting. I want to make a good impression with the client. Try not to say anything wrong like you did at the last meeting.”

Too direct! Being this direct makes you sound mean and insulting.

This is better:

“The upcoming meeting is going to be very important for us and we need to make a positive impression with the client. We should review our talking points before the meeting to make sure we’re all on the same page.”

7.    “Your department is doing a terrible job with sales. Can’t you get more customers?”

This statement is too direct. It needs to be softened.

This one is better:

“The sales results from your department weren’t good last quarter, as I’m sure you’re aware. Have you given any thought to ways you can get more customers?“

-

This was a short test to see how polite your English is. If you're going to an interview, you need to make sure you can use the polite version of the language.  

If you failed the test, you should review your polite English. If you aren't sure how you did, can email me your answers and I can let you know. 

Let's work together preparing for your interview so you get the job of your choice. Email me at jennifer@interviewgenie.com to schedule a consultation.

Interview Genie is an interview prep company. I specialize in coaching non-native English speakers.

How to improve your accent before an interview

You can’t succeed in an interview unless the interviewer understands you.

You may have years of professional experience and industry knowledge but if you can’t communicate this to your interviewer they won’t know about it.

How to improve your accent before an interview

You can succeed in an interview if you have an accent

You may be worried that your accent will keep you from succeeding in an interview situation, but that isn't true.

If you have an accent, you can succeed at your interview, but there are a few things to consider.

How strong is your accent?

Most of my international coaching clients worry too much about their accents.

It’s perfectly okay to have an accent.

The question you want to ask is, how strong is your accent?

Slight (small) accent

If you have a slight accent, it won’t be a problem in your interview.

I know you may be self-conscious about the way you speak, and you may have gotten some comments about it in the past, but as long as it isn’t interfering with listener comprehension you should be okay.

One of my clients told me he had gotten complaints about the way he said “development.” I hadn’t noticed anything so I asked him to say the word for me. Yes, he did have an Indian accent but it was easily comprehensible and I had absolutely no trouble understanding the word.

It was a shame that an American had made him self-conscious about his pronunciation, and I apologize on behalf of my fellow Americans because we can be pretty rude.

A note about Americans and accents: Most Americans don’t study foreign languages and don’t interact with foreigners often, so we’re not great at understanding or dealing with accents. The ones who work at tech companies get more experience.

Do people understand you when you speak English? If yes then your accent isn’t a problem.

It doesn’t matter if your accent is different than your interviewer’s, as long as they can understand you

Strong accent

What if you do have a strong accent?

If you do have a stronger accent there are some things you can do to improve the chance that your interviewer will understand you.

How to improve your accent before your interview

Here are some tips for improving your accent before you go into your interview. 

1.   Work with an accent coach

You can work with an accent coach, and I’m happy to refer you to a good one (I don’t do accent coaching myself).

I realize that accent coaching is expensive, so if you can’t work with one long-term, I advise having a consultation/evaluation. A good accent coach will do an evaluation of your accent and pinpoint your specific problems. They will then give you a learning plan with things you can fix on your own (and give you ideas of resources).

I don’t advise trying to improve your accent without getting an evaluation, because it’s hard to know what your own problems are.

The problem is, however, that accent coaching is a long-term (or at least longer term) project. You probably have an interview coming up soon if you’re reading this book.

If you do have at least a month before your interview, congratulations! You’ve planned ahead and you do have time to work on your accent with a coach. Email me and I can let you know the name of my favorite accent coach.

Most of you probably don’t have that much time, so I’m going to give you a few suggestions of things you can learn quickly and incorporate into your interview prep on your own.

2.   Is it your accent or theirs?

 Although you may go into the interview worried about your own accent, you might actually have a problem understanding your interviewer’s accent. Most people are so focused on worrying about their own performance they never think of this possibility.

Even though you might be interviewing in an American company, there may be quite a few people working there who weren’t born in America.

What should you do if this happens to you in your interview?

You can’t ignore it if you’re having a problem answering the questions, because you can’t answer a question you don’t understand. I know you might want to ignore it if you’re worried about being rude, but you need to say something.

Be polite but direct. Say to them, “I’m sorry, but I’m having trouble understanding you. Would you please slow down?”  Or “Could you please repeat the question?”

Hopefully this will solve the problem and they will then repeat the question.

Worst case scenario is that you don’t understand them the second time, or they ignore you. Unfortunately, both of these things might happen. What should you do if it does?

Ask them to repeat the question again. You can also say that you’re sorry but you don’t understand their accent.

You need to be clear that you don’t understand them, because you can’t interview if you don’t understand the questions

This might be a test

If the team you’ll be working closely with are people who are often difficult to understand they might test you to see how you handle the interaction.

If you ignore the problem you might fail the interview because they’ll see you couldn’t communicate with them anyway. Of course, you’ll probably fail because you won’t be able to answer the questions.

Ask the interviewer to repeat words and have them spell them if they don’t make sense.

You don’t need to feel self-conscious if you do have this problem, because this is actually a common occurrence in tech companies.

3.   Slow down

Many non-native English speakers think that speaking fast will help them sound smarter and more fluent.

I often do mock interviews with clients and they give their answers so quickly that I can’t understand them at all. But then, when they slow down, the same answer is totally clear.

Speaking fast:

  • increases your pronunciation mistakes
  • decreases clarity
  • makes you sound nervous or self-conscious

These aren’t good things in an interview.

Slow down and your words will be much easier to comprehend.

This will help Americans and other non-native speakers understand you.

4.   Say technical words clearly

You should try to say all of your words clearly, but be especially clear with key words – technical words, acronyms, names of companies, etc.

For example, the company name is the most important word in this sentence, “I worked at Mitsubishi for 6 years.”

I gave you that example because I had a client who worked there, and I couldn’t understand him when he said the name of the company.

Another example is “AWS.” I get a lot of clients who are applying to AWS and I ask them to answer the question “Why do you want to work at AWS?”

Many of them have a hard time with the “W” but unfortunately if you’re applying to a company with a “W” in the name you need to be able to say “W.”

You may think you are saying the name of your company correctly because you say it every day, but you should test your pronunciation on someone else.

5.   Speak up

Do you speak quietly because you’re not confident in your English?

Do you speak very softly all the time?

Do you speak at a normal volume but then “skip” a word you don’t know how to pronounce?

Don’t do this. Speak in your normal tone of voice.

This advice will be particularly useful for Asians, who tend to speak more softly than Americans.

It's definitely possible to succeed in an interview if you have an accent, especially if you practice with some of these tips.

 

Let's work together preparing for your interview so you get the job of your choice. Email me at jennifer@interviewgenie.com to schedule a consultation.

Interview Genie is an interview prep company. I specialize in coaching non-native English speakers.

Don't use filler words and phrases in your interview

Recently I worked with a client who was a Solutions Architect. He had good experience and was getting interviews, and he answered interview questions well. He sounded like someone any company would want to hire, except for one thing – when he spoke he said “um” constantly.

Although his other interview skills were good, the “um’s” made him sound unprofessional.

Don't use filler words in interviews.png

Using filler words in interviews is unprofessional

Do you use filler words?

Do you have the same problem my client had?

If you have a good resume that gets you interviews, but you have a problem doing well in the interview, is it because you speak unprofessionally?

How you sound is just as important as your experience and education.

What are filler words?

A filler word is a word that doesn’t mean anything and is just used to fill space.

Examples of filler words:

um, uh, er, ah

There are also words or phrases that do mean something but are also often used as fillers.

Examples of words that can be used as fillers:

like, you know, okay, right, well, really, so, right, I mean

Do you use any of these? I’m embarrassed to admit how many of them I use when talking to my friends. I try not to use them when I’m in professional situations though, and sometimes I succeed.

How many filler words is it okay to use?

I recommend interviewees use no more than one filler word per minute of speech.

I realize this isn’t very many and it may be hard for you to cut it down to this, but you need to if you’re going to succeed in your interview.

Filler words are bad

Filler words make you sound childlike and not smart.

Filler words also make you sound like you don’t have self-confidence.

You don’t want to sound dumb, insecure, or childlike in your interview — you want to sound the opposite of those things.

Non-native English speakers should avoid filler words

Often people whose English isn’t perfect use filler words because they can’t think of the English word they need.

If you’re a non-native English speaker, you may already have an accent or imperfect English.

Using filler words can make it harder for your listener to understand you.

You want your interviewer to understand you.

You can’t make your English perfect in a few days because that’s a long-term goal, but you can work on your use of filler words in the few days or weeks before your interview.

How to reduce the number of filler words you use

Okay, so you agree that filler words are bad and you don’t want to use them. How do you stop, or at least use fewer of them?

1.   Learn whether you use filler words

You may already know you use fillers, but if you don’t, make an audio or video recording of yourself.

Then listen to/watch the recording. Count the use of filler words.

Do you use them more than once every minute? If so, you have a filler word problem.

2. Understand which filler words you use and where you use them

This may be easy and it may not be.

I seem to use quite a few filler words in different circumstances so it isn’t easy to say what my pattern is.

 I use “you know” at the ends of sentences; I use “uh” and “um” in the middle of sentences; I’ve also started using the word “literally” a lot, which is a trend with American women; I also use “like” when it isn’t needed, which is common with Americans, unfortunately.

I hope it’s easier for you to figure out your filler pattern because you don’t use as many fillers as I do.

But this step is definitely necessary because you can’t stop a habit if you don’t know what it is.

3. See the filler word coming

If your pattern is to say “you know” at the end of every sentence, pay attention when your sentences are ending.

If you know when you’re going to say it, you can prepare not to say it.

4. Use a pause instead of a filler word

Instead of using a filler word, just say nothing.

If you usually say “I mean” at the beginning of every sentence, say nothing instead. Just leave an empty space.

It sounds strange to you, but other people won’t notice it because the time will be so short.

Succeed in your interview by avoiding fillers

If you go through this process and continue to practice, you can stop using filler words.

When you eliminate fillers, your speech will be more effective and you will be more likely to succeed in your interview.

Let's work together preparing for your interview so you get the job of your choice. Email me at jennifer@interviewgenie.com to schedule a consultation.

Interview Genie is an interview prep company. I specialize in coaching non-native English speakers.

Georgetown McDonough EMBA interview questions

Here’s a list of questions that my client recently got asked in his EMBA interview at Georgetown University.

This should give you an idea of potential questions, although interview questions can vary widely from interviewer to interviewer.

Georgetown McDonough EMBA interview questions

The first thing my client told me is that the admissions officer had read his application package closely. The officer knew the names of his recommenders and could talk about his resume without looking at it. He’d clearly done his homework.

Don't all admissions people do this? Not necessarily. The admissions officers at the better schools tend to spend more time with the applications before the interview.

The reason this matters to you is that if your interviewer already knows about you when you meet, you won't be spending much time on intro questions like "Tell me about yourself" and "What do you want to learn in this program?" 

This means you'll start out with the harder questions.

Georgetown EMBA Interview Questions

The interview started with a case study: my client was given15 min to read a 5 page case. I'm not going to talk about how to analyze a business case right now but it's very common in B school interviews. 

Once you factor the case in, there were only 30 minutes left for questions. Here are the questions he got asked.

1. What weaknesses or gaps in your skills are you hoping that the program will address?

I assume you already know the answer to this question, so you should be honest. You've probably already talked about this in your essays.

2. What strengths would you bring to the program?

Before your interview you should prepare your key selling points, the top 3-5 things about yourself that you want to talk about in your interview. 

3. How do you want to be remembered by your peers in the program once you're finished? 

Another way of asking you about your strengths. 

4. Whom do you most admire?

My client said his father, but I don't recommend this answer because it's fairly common. 

Remember the point of the interview — to talk about your strengths when possible. Give an answer that shows something about who you are. 

5. If you could have a cup of coffee with one person in the world, across all time, whom would it be? And what would you discuss?

Please don't say Jesus or Steve Jobs. I hear these answers all the time.

My client said LeBron James, and that he wanted to ask him about what business ventures he's going to do once he retires from playing. This was a good answer because it wasn't what everyone else says — I'm sure no one else will say the same thing. 

It also conveyed something about my client's personality: he's from Cleveland and he loves basketball. Is this really a strength? Well, the interviewer wants to know your personality. You want them to remember you. I'm sure they won't forget the person who talked about LeBron, whereas if you say Jesus or Steve they will forget you the second you walk out the door. 

5. How will you apply what you learn to your current job?

6. What’s your biggest challenge right now at your current workplace?

And then the interview was over.

Not very long at all, but no intro questions, no resume-related questions, unless you count #6, and no behavioral questions.

 

How to prepare for your MBA interview

INSEAD MBA interview questions

Let's work together preparing for your interview so you get into the school of your choice. Email me at jennifer@interviewgenie.com to schedule a consultation.

Interview Genie is an interview prep company. I specialize in coaching non-native English speakers.

What you need to know about American interviews

Succeeding in interviews for American companies requires a set of tactics that might seem unnatural to you if you're from another culture. With practice and the right mindset, you'll have no trouble learning the American interview behavioral norms.

Note: When I talk about “American” interviews or interviewing with an American company, I'm talking about interviews in American companies in the US, interviews in American companies in other countries, or interviews in companies, most likely multinationals, that use the American interview style.

What you need to know about American interviews

Let's review the tactics you should adopt for maximum success.

What interviewees should do in an American interview

1.   Sell yourself

Job interviews in the United States require selling yourself.

What does this mean?

Selling yourself” is the process of talking openly, clearly, and straightforwardly about your strengths and explicitly stating how they can help the company.

If you don't know how to sell yourself you’ll have to learn before your US interview.

In some countries you’re expected to talk about your work experience and your education in your interview, but you don’t have to explain how you can help the company. In American interviews you need to take it that step further and connect the dots for the interviewer.

For example, saying "I studied CS at Stanford" is telling us one of your strengths but it isn't connecting that to how you can help the company.

If you say "I'm an excellent Python programmer" you're showing how your CS skill, in this case Python, can be used by the company.

You could also take it one step further and say "I'm an excellent Python programmer and I've completed two Python projects this quarter" or "...and I've been working on...." It's especially useful if you can say you've been working on some kind of project that directly relates to the open job.

You might not think that there's that much difference between saying you studied CS at Stanford and saying you're an excellent Python programmer who's worked on relevant projects, but the latter really paints a picture for the interviewer that lets them envision you doing the same work for their company.

Cultures where people aren’t taught to sell themselves

  • Japan and many other countries in Asia
  • France
  • Spain
  • Italy
  • the Middle East, including Iraq and Iran
  • South America, including Brazil
  • most countries in Africa

In interviews in these cultures:

  • Bragging is seen as negative because group performance is more important than individual performance
  • Focus is on where you went to school and where you’ve worked more than on your skills and your ideas

Cultures where people are taught to sell themselves

  • the U.S.
  • the U.K.
  • Germany
  • Switzerland
  • Norway
  • Denmark
  • Sweden
  • Finland
  • Canada
  • Australia

In interviews in these cultures:

  • Bragging is okay (and it's called selling yourself or talking about your strengths) because individual performance is valued
  • Focus is more on what you've done, as opposed to your academic credentials or past companies

How to succeed in US interviews

When interviewing for jobs in the U.S., explain what you bring to the company. If you don’t, the interviewer will think you aren't a good candidate.

2.   Develop strategies to explain your background 

Most Americans aren't very familiar with foreign cultures, unfortunately. 

This means you may have to explain the relevant aspects of your background.

For example, your university may be prestigious in your country, but the U.S. interviewer may not know anything about it.

I often work with clients who are surprised that I've never heard of their school. The truth is, I don’t know much about schools that aren’t in the US or Europe, and I probably know more than most Americans do because of my job.

How can you ensure that your interviewer knows that your school was good? 

You could say, “I went to X University, which is the top engineering school in China.”

I had one client who was the number one student at one of the top three medical schools in China. I had never heard of her school, and if I hadn’t asked her questions about it she wouldn’t have told me that it was so good. I encouraged her to explain in her interview that the school was such a high quality.

She practicing saying, "I went to X University, which is one of the top three medical schools in China."

You may also need to explain what your company does or how successful it is, even if everyone in your country already knows this.

You can say, "Currently I work at X, which is an e-commerce platform for sports equipment. We have $400m in revenue."

This shows what your company does and how big it is.

3. Show what you've done and can do, not who you know

In some countries, who you know is important. In the US your relationships aren't as valued.

For instance, if you've been introduced to the company by a third party, the interviewer may ask you about your relationship to this person. However, although knowing this person helped you get the interview, in most cases it won't help you get the job. Your skills will. 

Don't talk about well-known family members, friends, or connections you have. While some Americans may be impressed, others may judge you as arrogant or elitist.

Instead, you should focus on what you personally have accomplished and what talents and abilities you may bring to the company. 

Note: If you're in a sales role, you may need to talk about your connections in your interview because making connections is part of your job. In this case it's okay.

4. Use "I" not "we"

In your answers you should focus on what you've done as an individual, not as part of a group or team. 

While being a "good team player" is important and you may be asked about your ability to work with others, most of the time you'll need to talk about what you've done as an individual.

You can talk about how you made changes, solved problems, or developed new initiatives, whatever you've done as part of your past jobs.

This may feel like bragging, but you need to do it if you want to succeed in your interview.

Often people who work at very prestigious companies will talk about how "we did this" and "we did that," or they will say "X did this" (X being the company). If you're the CEO this can work, but if you're not, you need to talk about what you did, not what the company did. 

5. Quantify your answers

Attach numbers to your experience to be more persuasive in selling yourself.

If you cut costs in your last position, say how much money you saved.

If you gave training programs or language lessons, say how many you gave or how many people you trained.

If you're talking about your sales numbers, say how many units you sold or how much money you made.

If you're talking about your clients, say how many clients.

6. Keep your answers short 

Americans value efficiency and time management. Avoid any behavior that may make the interviewers think they are wasting their time.

What do I mean?

  • Give quick answers - 1 minute or less. Up to 2 for a complicated question.
  • Give the most important information at the very beginning of your answer.
  • Give simple answers, not heavy on detail or background.

If an American wants to know more about a certain topic, they'll ask you questions after you finish giving your initial short answer.

7. Keep your answers focused

Americans tend to speak directly to the point and value those who do.

The problem is that in some cultures answering in a roundabout way is the norm. 

Not every American cares about this, but some interviewers will notice if your answers have no structure. They think people who take a long time to answer questions or answer in a roundabout way are stupid. 

I know this seems harsh, especially if you're not someone who notices or cares about this issue, but long indirect answers really drive some people crazy. 

Do you have a tendency to ramble? To go off on tangents? To give too much detail? Do you talk around the point but not directly to the point? Do your listeners ever seem bored?

Then you're probably either talking too much (see #6) or not using a simple, direct structure in your answers. 

Here is an article with an answer structure that Americans will be happy with

8. Match the behavior of your interviewer

Try to adjust to the style that the interviewers set. 

In general Americans use an informal style in interviews, but some people are naturally more formal so you may have to adjust your behavior when you meet your interviewer.

Although the interviewer and other company representatives are in the superior position during the interview, meaning they have the power in the situation, they will still use an informal style. 

Elements of informal style:

  • friendliness
  • openness
  • use of first names
  • humor
  • a relaxed attitude
  • chatting about unrelated topics

If you're too formal and reserved the Americans may think you're arrogant or shy.

9. Be positive

The tone of the interview is expected to be positive, optimistic, and enthusiastic.

What does this mean?

  • Don't make self-deprecating comments about your background, abilities, or experience.
  • You should appear confident in your abilities.
  • Don't be humble. If you're good at something, talk about it.
  • Don't focus on the negative or on difficulties you've had in the past. If an interviewer asks about what has been most challenging for you, focus the answer on things you'd like to learn or skills you'd like to acquire so that you can resolve those challenges.
  • Don't say negative things about your company or colleagues. Even if you're in a bad situation at work, try to frame this with a focus on the positive.

10. Respond quickly 

U.S. interviewers are often looking for people who are “quick on their feet.”

This means that they want spontaneity and a high speed of processing from their candidates.

A U.S. interviewer may jump around, asking you questions out of sequence to see how quickly you respond and how flexible you are. He or she may ask you many questions about one aspect of your experience and virtually ignore the rest of your background.

You may be asked questions about how you would solve or approach particular problems.

You may also be asked how to solve problems that aren't clearly related to the job, as a test of your thinking.

You are expected to answer questions without needing time to think of answers. I know many people freeze when asked questions they haven't prepared answers to and this is very natural, but it doesn't make a good impression on interviewers.

Interview prep can be useful here, as it can give you practice answering questions that you might not be expecting. If you know you have a problem thinking quickly or dealing with seemingly unorganized conversations, I advise you to do as much practice as you can beforehand. 

 

From senior VP to entry-level candidates, my clients have nailed the interview and landed the job. Let's work together preparing for your interview and take your career to the next level. Email me at jennifer@interviewgenie.com to schedule a consultation.

Interview Genie is an interview prep company. I specialize in coaching non-native English speakers.

Templates for responding to emails from recruiters

Sometimes you'll need to write emails about your interview before the interview, usually to the recruiter or hiring manager. What should you say?

Email templates for your interview.png

Sample emails from recruiters and templates to use for your responses

Here are some examples of emails you might get as you schedule your interviews. I’ll give you examples so you can see how they’ll greet you and the type of language they’ll use.

I'll also give you templates you can use to answer the emails.

First email from recruiter to arrange phone interview

Dear [First Name],

We have reviewed your CV and would like to confirm our interest in conducting a telephone interview with you for the position of [title]. I am the recruitment coordinator for this position and will be your point of contact during this process.

The interview will be 30 - 45 minutes and will be an opportunity for you to learn more about the role and for us to get an idea of your experience and skills. There will be a number of competency based questions for which you should draw on your experience for your answers. 

Please provide all of the days and times that you are available for a 45-minute phone interview over the next 3 weeks.  Times should be provided in CEST/CET (Central European/Summer Time) between 8.30am and 6.00pm.  Please also include the best number to call for the phone interview. 

Once I receive your reply I will confirm the phone interview as quickly as possible.  Thank you for your interest in employment with [X] and I look forward to receiving your response. 

Kind Regards,

[Name]

Template for answer to first email from recruiter to arrange phone interview

Dear [Name],

Thanks for your email. I'm happy to arrange an interview with [Company]. 

I can be available [day of the week] through [day of the week] from [time] to [time] CEST for those three weeks. You can use the number [X] to reach me.

Best regards,

[Your Name]

Second email from recruiter to arrange phone interview

Dear [First Name],

Thank you for getting back to me with your availability. I am now pleased to confirm your telephone interview with [Name] on [Date] at [time]. [Name] will call you at [number]. If you would like to be called on another number please let me know.

It will be a competency based interview, designed to assess a fit to [company] and an alignment to our mission. It will also be an opportunity for you to learn more about [company], our job opportunities, and for us to discuss your background and skills.

Please reply to confirm that this time is convenient for you and that the number is correct.

Kind regards,

[Name]

Template for answer to second email from recruiter to arrange phone interview

Dear [Name],

Thanks for your email. I will be available at the time you mentioned and that is the correct number to use. 

I'm looking forward to speaking with [Name].

Best regards,

[Name]

Email from recruiter about second phone interview

Hi [Name],

Hope this email finds you well. Happy to share with you that we would like to move forward with your application and invite you for another phone interview.

May I kindly ask you to share your availability over the next three weeks?

Thanks a lot,

[Name]

Template for answer to second email from recruiter to arrange phone interview 

Hi [Name],

Thanks for your email. I'm glad to hear you decided to move forward with my application. 

I will be available [day of week] through [day] from [time] to [time] CEST for the next three weeks. You can use the number [X] to reach me. I'm looking forward to it.

Best regards,

[Name]

Email from recruiter to arrange on-site interview

Hi [Your Name]!

The team is excited to have you come onsite for interviews on [date] at [time]. We suggest you arrive at least 15 minutes early in order to check in and register (valid photo ID required) with [X]. Please ask for [Name] upon your arrival.  He will meet you in the lobby and escort you to the interview room. 

I have also scheduled a quick 30-minute call with a recruiter to help prepare you for your upcoming interview. This call is scheduled for [date] at [time]. [Name] will use the number [X] to reach you for the call.

Below please find the addresses and directions to our building as well as information pertaining to your interview expenses. Please respond to this email as confirmation that you have received this information.

Attached for your assistance:
*Prior to your interview, please review and sign the following attached Non-Disclosure Agreement.  You will be asked to submit this document to reception before your first interview begins.
*Candidate Reimbursement Forms (local transportation and other incidental expenses):  Email form(s) with attached receipts to [email address]. If you have any questions about your expenses, please contact [email address].

Building Address: [X].

Parking: Visitors may park on [X]. Visitors should bring their parking ticket to [X] to receive parking validation.

Dress code: Casual – You do not need to wear a suit. Please wear something that you are comfortable in.

What to expect:
*You will meet with [number] people. However, interview schedules can change often, so we appreciate your flexibility. The mix of interviewers will include managers and peers that make up the technical team. Please note: we will not be giving you a list of names that you will be meeting with during the day due to the flex of our schedules.
*Each meeting will be one-on-one interview sessions lasting approximately 45-60 minutes. These in-depth conversations will be around technologies from your background and specific to the job description.
*You will be provided lunch if the interview is scheduled during the noon hour. Please let us know if you have any dietary restrictions.

Should you have any questions, feel free to contact me regarding your interview logistics.

We are excited to have you come and meet the team!

Thanks!

Template for answer to email from recruiter to arrange on-site interview

Hi [Name],

Thanks for your email. I appreciate the information about what to expect the day of the interview and I will also be happy to have a call with the recruiter beforehand. I will let you know if I have any questions before then. 

Best regards,

[Name]

 

You may get different types of emails when you're arranging your interview, but I think this covers many of the possibilities.

You can use these templates as ideas to start and then add your own language and ideas. 

 

I hope this post helps with your interview-related emails. If you need help with them or with your interview itself, email me at jennifer@interviewgenie.com to schedule a consultation or an appointment.

Interview Genie is an interview prep company that specializes in coaching international students or international professionals for admissions interviews or job interviews. I'm focused on your interview success every step of the way.

11 resume mistakes to avoid in 2018

I'm an interview coach, so people usually come to me after they've already sent their resume out and had it accepted. That's fine with me, because I used to be a resume writer, and I can tell you that writing ten resumes a day isn't my cup of tea.

But I do enjoy working on resumes (one a day is enough), and sometimes my clients ask me to look at theirs.

I've developed quite a list of things that drive me crazy about resumes and I'm sharing it with you in the hopes you won't drive recruiters crazy and keep yourself from getting a job.

Resume mistakes.png

Resume mistakes to avoid

1. Don't invent your own template

Why do people try to do this? Don't, unless you're a graphic designer. Just get one of the free downloadable templates from a site like Monster or one of the thousand other sites that has them. You don't need to create one yourself and it will look better if you don't.

I think the people who do this don't realize the format they're using is unattractive or outdated.

In doubt about your template (or lack thereof)? Ask someone their opinion of yours. 

2. Don't use a creative template if you're not a creative

Stick to a basic template. If you need to ask me whether you can use a "modern" or "creative" or "fun" template, you can't. 

Remember, what is the point of resumes? To get you an interview. How do they do this? By being easy to read. The human brain is big on pattern recognition. We like to see the same thing over and over because it's easier. 

3. Don't overdo the summary sections

Don't use an objective, a summary statement, and a skills section at the top. You can have one of these if you want, and you can have two if you're a tech person (summary and skills), but not three. Simplicity is best.

I had one client this week who had the most sections I have ever seen: career chronology, summary, skills and attributes, key assets, professional qualifications, career highlights, and technical skills. If you use this many sections it's so hard to focus on the key information.

No resume needs to be more than two pages. You can add as much info as you want to your LinkedIn profile. 

4. Use taglines carefully

There's nothing wrong with taglines, but they're not standard format for a resume. In my opinion, this is a reason not to use them. 

What's a tagline? My tagline on my LinkedIn profile (which is not on my resume) is "Interview Coach for International Students and Professionals."

You can have a tagline on your resume if you're successful enough (VP or higher). You can also use one if you're in marketing because they're more common in that field. 

Steve Jobs could put "Visionary" on his resume (not that he needed a resume), but what if I did? If I had that, or any tagline, on my resume you would think I was trying too hard to market myself.

"Jennifer Scupi, Product Leader."

It's okay on a LinkedIn profile but on a resume it's too much.

While resumes are marketing documents, taglines aren't common on them (yet), so when you use one it stands out. Standing out can be good, but when you try too hard to market yourself, it's not good.

5. Don't omit big things

Leaving off your undergrad degree to make yourself look younger or to hide that it's in a different field doesn't work.

It just makes you look like you forgot to add it. We aren't going to forget that college exists just because you didn't write it down.

6. Don't use small fonts

Your fonts should be 12 point. Don't use 10 point font. If you need to use 10 point to fit everything in you are writing too much detail. 

7. Don't use serif fonts

I've gotten a lot of resumes lately with serif fonts. Why? My guess is that people think serif fonts are more interesting or "prettier." 

What's a serif font? Serifs are the little curly ends on the letters. See the red circled tips of the letters below? 

serif vs sans serif fonts

Serifs are old-fashioned and harder to read. They're also hard to choose correctly unless you are a graphic designer. 

What font should you use? 

Arial 12 point is the most common resume font and no one will think about it or complain if you use this.

8. Don't use buzzwords and cliches

Buzzwords and cliches are words or phrases that are used so much they become overused. When this happens we don't notice them anymore, and that's the last thing you want to happen with your resume.

Ones to avoid:

  • "results-driven" Instead you can write about what you did to actually drive results. What actions did you take to do this? What were the results?
  • "results oriented" See above. 
  • "data driven" See above, and also, wow, I hear this a lot. You realize what the opposite of this is, right? It means you just guess what to do. So of course you're data driven. I hope you're data driven. You don't need to say it. Stop copying lines from job descriptions and pasting them into your resume without understanding which keywords to copy and which not to.
  • "proven track record of success" This is absolutely the most overused resume phrase of the decade. Instead of saying "I'm an interview coach with a proven track record of success" I could say "I'm an interview coach who's helped X number of clients get jobs." This is a more compelling sentence.
  • "team player" Again, think of what this is saying. You can work with other people? You shouldn't need to say this. It's like saying I'm not a serial killer, please hire me.
  • "hard worker"  Tell me things that you accomplished, not what your personality traits are.
  • "think outside the box" Again, this is a personality trait. Tell me what you did with your creativity, don't tell me that you're creative.
  • "ROI" We know you know what ROI is, you don't need to put it into each sentence. Please don't use it unless someone asks you a question with this in it. It makes you sound like a teenager pretending to have an MBA.
  • "disruptive" "Amazon is so disruptive." "This technology is so disruptive." Actually it's really not, not in 2018. It was in 2010, but it isn't anymore. Think of something more creative to say about whatever it is.

As I said above, don't copy words or phrases or entire sentences from job descriptions and paste them into your resume unless you understand how to choose the right ones. You do need to use the same keywords in your resume that the job description has, but if you're using the words and phrases above because you copied from the JD, you don't understand how to choose the right keywords.

9. Don't put personal info on resumes for American jobs

What do I mean by personal?

No photo of you (Americans don't do this), no marital status (this is illegal for American companies to ask), no religion (also illegal), no age (illegal), and no hobbies. 

If you list these things it screams "I'm a foreigner and I don't understand American culture." 

Also no home address or home phone number. 

If you're a US citizen but have a foreign name and have worked abroad, you can put your citizenship status because it will make companies more willing to interview you. Don't list it unless you are a citizen because not being one will make employers less willing to interview you.

10. Don't list references

Many people write "references available upon request" but this is outdated. It will make you seem old and old-fashioned.

11. Use the correct tense

Use present tense to talk about your current job and past tense to talk about your past jobs. Only descriptions of your current job should be in the present tense.

If you'd like a review of the right tenses to use in your job interview (which applies to resumes too), you can read this post.

 

I hope this post helps you with your resume. If you need help with it, email me at jennifer@interviewgenie.com to schedule a consultation or an appointment.

Interview Genie is an interview prep company that specializes in coaching international students or international professionals for admissions interviews or job interviews. I'm focused on your interview success every step of the way.

Answers for the top 5 Amazon "Ownership" principle interview questions

If you're about to interview at Amazon you should learn the 14 Leadership Principles because their interview questions are based on them. 

I've talked about interview questions based on the first principle, Customer Obsession, here

The second Amazon leadership principle is "Ownership."

Top 5 Amazon Ownership Questions.png

Amazon Leadership Principle #2: Ownership

This is how Amazon explains the principle:

Leaders are owners. They think long term and don’t sacrifice long-term value for short-term results. They act on behalf of the entire company, beyond just their own team. They never say “that’s not my job." 

If you're not clear on what exactly this means, here are some other ways of understanding it. If you show ownership, you will:

  • Ignore boundaries between jobs and departments if necessary to get your project done. If you see a problem and it’s not in your department, you will try to fix it.

  • Along the same lines, you will manage every dependency and won’t make excuses if something goes wrong. You won't say, "That wasn't my job to take care of."

  • Think about the impact of your decisions on other teams, sites and the customer over time.

  • Consider future outcomes (scalable, long-term value, etc.)

  • Coach and mentor your team to understand the big picture, how their role supports the overall objectives of Amazon, and how it ties to others.

There are different ways your interviewer can ask you about your ownership skills. Here are the top 5 questions, based on my experience with clients.

Top 5 Amazon interview questions asking about ownership

1. Provide an example of when you personally demonstrated ownership.

2. Tell me about a time you went above and beyond.

3. Tell me about a time when you took on something significant outside your area of responsibility. Why was it important? What was the outcome?

4. Describe a project or idea (not necessarily your own) that was implemented primarily because of your efforts. What was your role? What was the outcome?

5. Give an example of when you saw a peer struggling and decided to step in and help. What was the situation and what actions did you take? What was the outcome?

Answer the interview questions by telling a story

All 5 questions need to be answered with a story about a time in your past work experience.

How do you tell your story so that it's clear and the right length? Use the STAR technique. 

The STAR technique is a common structure used to answer interview questions. 

These are the 4 steps of STAR:

S – Situation - background info

T – Task - what you had to do 

A – Activity - what you did - this should be the longest part of the answer

R – Result - positive; quantifiable; what you learned; what you would do differently next time

If you get asked a behavioral question, answer by going through the letters in order.

This is the basic STAR method. You can read this post for more about STAR, including sample answers to some possible questions, if you feel like you need more information before you start using it. 

Sample answers for the top 5 ownership questions

1. Provide an example of when you personally demonstrated ownership

Senior Product Manager's answer:

"When we were trying to penetrate the academic markets it required a new way of interacting with the customer. No one was clear on what this method was. It wasn't my job to plan this but I could see that no one was having success with it so I did research and figured it out myself. At our next meeting I presented my method and we implemented it. So far we've made millions of dollars in this  market."

This answer is good but it would be better if he said what product they were trying to introduce into the academic market, why it required a new way of interacting with the customer, and what the new method was he presented. Specific details make the story more interesting.

2. Tell me about a time you went above and beyond

In case you don't know what "above and beyond" means, it means that you do more than you are required to do.

Developer's answer:

"While working on my most recent project, our customer asked to add a new feature to the product. While it was a reasonable request, it went past the scope of the project we had worked out and there was no time built in to the schedule for it. My manager decided that we couldn't refuse and reworked the schedule. This change increased my workload about 25% in the same timeframe. I did my best to complete the extra work in the time given by working later at night and also working some of the weekends. Although it wasn't an ideal situation, we managed to pull it off and the customer was satisfied with our work."

This is a good answer but adding details about the type of product and feature and the exact work the developer was doing would be preferable. Like I said before, details help make the story more interesting. Of course you don't want to get too far into details if the interviewer doesn't understand the technical stuff, but otherwise they will add to your story.

3. Tell me about a time when you took on something significant outside your area of responsibility. Why was it important? What was the outcome?

This is an Operations Manager's answer:

"We were moving our site from the old domain to the new domain. The old site generated trials worth $4.50 each and we were getting 1000 per day. The key was to migrate the content pages and have Google reindex the site quickly enough so that organic search results didn't fall. I didn't see anyone treating this project with the sense of urgency or risk mitigation that I thought it deserved, so I took over coordinating it, although it should have been the marketing team leading this effort. We completed the migration in the first quarter, and as a result we made our B2C budget numbers."

4. Describe a project or idea (not necessarily your own) that was implemented primarily because of your efforts. What was your role? What was the outcome?

Digital Marketing Manager's answer:

"Last year we weren't getting high enough conversion rates on some of our pages for our newest product. They were well below our goal. I was managing the team whose goal was to fix this. I coordinated our landing page optimization efforts and we updated the UI on10+ landing pages in less than three months. We got conversion lifts between 25 and 45%."

This is a good answer but it's short. You could also add details about how you did this task. Look at the job description and see what key tasks it lists. Does it really emphasize managing teams? Then talk about that more in this example. Does it emphasize technical skills? Then break down "updating the UI" into smaller tasks and list them. Or spell out what kind of "conversion lifts" you got.

5. Give an example of when you saw a peer struggling and decided to step in and help. What was the situation and what actions did you take? What was the outcome?

Senior Business Development Manager's answer:

"At my current job, there was an opportunity to enter into a new marketplace. I had a colleague who was preparing the plan to do this. I saw that he was missing some of the key players in the space and so probably wouldn't be successful. I knew the right people to talk to from my work at a past job. Even though this wasn't my project, I wanted to help him because ultimately his deal would help us all so I made some introductions to the right people. It worked out and he was able to succeed with this."

This is a good answer. 

 

From senior VP to entry-level programmer candidates, my clients have nailed the interview and landed the job at Amazon. Let's work together preparing for your interview and take your career to the next level. Email me at jennifer@interviewgenie.com to schedule a consultation.

Interview Genie is an interview prep company. I specialize in coaching non-native English speakers.

How to answer Amazon customer obsession questions

Small talk at interview lunches, dinners, or cocktail hours

If you're at an on-site interview, you may have to eat a meal or go for drinks with your interviewers or with members of the department.

This is the time when you're going to have to use your small talk skills.

Small talk out of the office.png

 

What is small talk?

Small talk is the conversation that happens before, during, or after the interview (or the business meeting or the conference) that isn't about the professional topic. It's typically about "unimportant" topics. 

Why do I need to use small talk?

The most important thing to remember about small talk is that even though you may feel shy using your second language, it is sometimes considered rude to say nothing. In an English-speaking environment it is often better to make a few mistakes than to say nothing at all.

Let me repeat this, especially for those of you from Asian cultures: It is often better to speak imperfectly than to say nothing.

Do Americans use small talk?

Americans love small talk, or at least we're used to using it. I don't actually like it, but I'm good at it because I need to be.

I realize that if you're not used to talking to Americans this situation might not be easy for you.

Some cultures don't use small talk in professional situations.

Who needs to practice small talk skills before an interview?

I had a client this week who wanted to spend our time practicing small talk. She's an example of someone who could and probably should practice their small talk skills before an interview.

She is a Korean Master's student at an Ivy League school who is applying to Ph.D. programs and she said she was so nervous about this part of the interview that she couldn't think about anything else all day before our class

She made me realize that small talk is really hard for internationals, especially from countries like Korea or China or Japan where it isn't common in interviews.

If you're equally nervous about small talk, you should practice before you go.

Best topics for small talk out of the office

These topics will work for during the interview too.

The weather

Weather is a popular small talk topic. You can say something like:

  • "Is it always so hot in the summer here?" (If it's hot that day)
  • "Does it rain a lot here?" (if it's raining that day) 
  • Beautiful day, isn't it? (if it's clear and sunny)
  • Can you believe all of this rain we've been having? (If it's been raining a lot)
  • It looks like it's going to snow.
  • I hear they're calling for thunderstorms all weekend.

The food or drink

Good if you're at a restaurant or bar

  • Have you tried the cabbage rolls?
  • Would you like a napkin?
  • Are you enjoying yourself?
  • It looks like you could use another drink.
  • Would you like another beer?
  • Pretty nice place, huh?

Hobbies

  • What do you do in your free time?
  • Do you play tennis?

One of my clients wasn't sure what Americans consider normal hobbies. She was afraid to talk about something in case it wasn't normal. These are all normal hobbies: reading, hiking, rock climbing, dancing, cooking, going to movies. Going to the gym, traveling, listening to music, and shopping are also normal hobbies. My husband's hobbies are playing video games, reading, watching movies, and watching basketball. My mother's hobbies are gardening, reading the newspaper, and walking. My mother's neighbor's hobby is reading.

There are a lot of hobbies you can talk about. If you're not sure if your hobby is "normal" enough, don't talk about it.

Don't talk about going to church or doing anything political.

Location

  • Where are you from? 
  • How do you like Atlanta? (whatever town you're in)
  • Have you been living here long?
  • What is there to do in your free time here? (obviously, don't use this if you're in a big city like New York)

Sports

If you're a sports fan, research the local team so you can start a conversation about it.

  • Did you see the Red Sox game last night?
  • I saw the Redskins game last night. Did you see it?

Movies and TV

You can always ask if they've seen the latest episode of Game of Thrones or whatever tv show is popular, and the same with movies. They may say they haven't seen it but hopefully they will continue the conversation. 

  • Have you seen the new Star Wars movie?
  • Do you watch Star Trek?

Travel

  • Have you been to China? (If you're from China)
  • Do you have a trip planned? (If it's near the holidays)

Current events

  • Did you see the news about the flood in Texas?
  • Did you hear about the new book about Trump?

I know you're busy and you may not be interested in US news, but you need to read a US newspaper every day in the few weeks before your interview because you may be asked about current events.

I was practicing small talk with one of my clients and I asked her what she thought of the wildfires. This was during the week when the fires were burning in Napa Valley, California. She hadn't even known about them, and they were on the front page of every newspaper that week. 

No one is going to ask you about some small thing that happened in Atlanta a few weeks ago, but they may mention something big, like the wildfires. You should know what the big stories are so you can hold a conversation about it. 

Topics to avoid

There are also some subjects that are not considered acceptable when making small talk.

  • Money: Don't ask anything that relates to how much money the other person makes. Also, don't bring up anything that shows how much money you have. For instance, don't talk about your BMW or your vacation to the Maldives. Unless of course you are applying for a job where you know the people you will be talking with make quite a bit of money.
  • Personal information such as a recent divorce.
  • Family: I find that people from non-Western cultures often bring up their families to their interviewers without being asked. The bottom line is that this is extra information that distracts from the main topic. If you're asked about it though, you can of course talk about it.
  • Appearance: Compliments on clothing or hair are acceptable; however, you should never say something (good or bad) about a person's body or overall appearance, as this is too personal. If you are a man talking with a woman, I advise you to skip any talk about appearance. 
  • Religion: Don't ask about religion or mention that you go to church. Religion is not important to many Americans and they are uncomfortable with people who are religious. You don't know if your interviewer is comfortable with religion.
  • Unpopular topics: Stop talking about an issue that the other person does not seem comfortable with or interested in.

You can't prepare sentences or questions for every topic you may be asked about during small talk, but if you prepare for the small talk period you should do well enough. 

Further reading on small talk 

I can help you practice your small talk so you'll feel comfortable in your interview. Email me at jennifer@interviewgenie.com

Interview Genie is an interview prep company. I specialize in coaching international students or international professionals for admissions interviews or job interviews. 

English verb tenses for interviews

One of the most common things that happens with clients is that they tell me about something they did at their last job and they use the present tense. 

It drives me crazy, not because I really care about grammar, but because it's hard to focus on the content if the grammar is wrong. That's why I tell my clients they really have to get their verb tenses right.

English verb tenses for interviews.png

In any admissions or job interview, you'll need to talk about (1) your past experience, (2) what you're doing now, and (3) what you plan to do. That's the past, the present, and the future.

Before your interview, review the right verb tenses in English to talk about these three time periods.

Overview of verb tenses to use in an interview

1. Use Simple Past to talk about the past

In interviews you're going to be talking about what you did in the past, right? You might have to talk about what you did last summer, or what your favorite class was, or where you went to school, or what you studied, or what you did in your last job, or the last project you worked on.

You can use the Simple Past tense to talk about those things. This is the most common tense to use when speaking about past experience.

Example sentences:

  • I studied English in high school.
  • I got an A in algebra last year.
  • I was #3 in my class freshman year. 
  • I worked at Siemens as a Finance Manager and then I moved to Nokia. 
  • I became a manager after 2 years.
  • I created my first website in 2006.
  • I developed an in-house database for the HR department.
  • Just last week I finished a database for our warehouse.
  • I completed the project under budget and 3 months ahead of schedule.

2. Use Present Simple or Present Continuous to talk about now

In interviews you're going to be talking about what you do right now. You might have to talk about what classes you're taking, or what degree you're getting, or where you work, or what your day-to-day responsibilities are, or what research you're doing.

You can use the Simple Present tense to talk about fixed habits or routines — things that don't change.

Example sentences:

  • I work at O'Reilly Media.
  • I go to Haverford.
  • I'm a Bio major.
  • I collect data from all of our branches and analyze the information on a weekly basis.
  • I manage a team of front-end developers.
  • I am  the number 1 salesman in my region.
  • I am the lead project manager on the redesign of a trading platform used by 4,000 investment managers at my company.
  • I'm usually responsible for staff organization and office management.
  • I create and maintain the quarterly sales reports.

You can use the Present Continuous tense to talk about actions that are happening at the present moment, but will finish soon.

Example sentences: 

  • Currently, we're expanding our sales division to include South America.
  • I'm designing a new layout for our local branch.
  • I am working on a project for our Senior Partner.
  • I'm writing a presentation for a conference next month.

Usually in an interview when you talk about what you are doing now you are going to use a mix of these two tenses.

3. Use Future Simple or Present Continuous to talk about your plans for the future

You can use the Future Simple to answer questions like "What is your five year plan?" or "What do you plan to do after you graduate?" This is the tense I advise you to use if your English is average or below average because it's the easiest. 

Example sentences:

  • In 5 five years I will be the manager of a medium-sized retail outlet.
  • My long-term plan is that in 2 years I will be in a Master's program and 2 years after that I will be in a Ph.D. program.

You can also use Present Continuous to talk about experiences in the future. 

Example sentences:

  • Once I gain additional experience, I am planning to move from my technical position into a managerial role.
  • In the future, I am going to grow with a company where I can continue to learn, take on additional responsibilities, and contribute as much value as I can. 

This was a just a quick overview; I wasn't trying to teach you grammar because I assume you've already learned that.

This was more of a reminder to you that you need to use tenses properly when you're interviewing because if you don't you will force the interviewer to focus on your grammar and not your skills. 

Does your English need to be perfect to interview? No, it doesn't, but using the wrong tenses is one of the worst English mistakes you can make, so it's best if you can avoid that.

How to discuss your education in an interview (including tenses) 

I hope this post helped you understand the English tenses to use in your interview. If you want to practice, ask me for one-on-one interview prep. 

Interview Genie is an interview prep company. I specialize in coaching international students and professionals. You can email me at jennifer@interviewgenie.com to schedule a consultation.

Answers for the top 5 "Customer Obsession" Amazon interview questions

If you're about to interview at Amazon you should learn the 14 Leadership Principles because they ask interview questions based on them. 

Amazon Customer Obsession Questions

Amazon Leadership Principle #1: Customer Obsession

Everyone, no matter what role they're interviewing for, should prepare answers for the customer obsession questions because it’s the company’s favorite principle. 

This is how Amazon explains the principle:

Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.

In other words, customers are #1. 

There are a lot of ways they can ask you about your interest in customers. Here are the top 5.

Top 5 Amazon interview questions asking about your customer obsession

  1. How do you show your customer obsession? 
  2. Tell me about a time you handled a difficult customer. 
  3. How do you wow your customers?
  4. How do you develop client relationships?
  5. How do you understand your customer’s needs?

Answer the interview questions by telling a story

All 5 questions need to be answered with a story about a time in your past work experience.

Even if you get asked "How do you wow your customers?" — which seems like it wants a general answer like "I work really hard” — they are actually asking for a story about something specific. You should answer general questions like this with something like, "I try to go above and beyond to serve my customers [first you give a general statement about your work habits]. For example, once last year I had to…[then you tell a specific story]" 

Use the STAR technique to structure your stories

How do you tell your story so that it's clear and not too short or too long? Use the STAR technique. 

The STAR technique is a common system used to answer interview questions. It provides a structure for you to remember so that you include the correct data in your answers. 

These are the 4 steps of STAR:

S – Situation - background info

T – Task - what you had to do 

A – Activity - what you did - this should be the longest part of the answer

R – Result - positive; quantifiable; what you learned; what you would do differently next time

If you get asked a behavioral question, answer by going through the letters in order.

First give the S part (explain the basic situation). Then give the T (what was your job/task in this situation) .Then A (show what you did). Last, give the R (outcome).

This is the basic STAR method. You can read this post for more about STAR, including sample answers to some possible questions, if you feel like you need more information before you start using it. 

Sample answers for customer obsession questions

How do you show customer obsession?

A senior digital marketer's answer:

“An example of how I regard customers is from when I had just become the Regional Manager at X bank in India in 2015. We were having problems retaining customers because our online services, in particular the online banking app, weren't as sophisticated as our in person services were even though more of our customers were wanting to bank online. I realized this couldn't continue and began a push to revamp the app along with the IT department. It took us a year of product development but in the end we rolled out the new online banking app and service plan and it was well received. This and effort from other departments helped the organization notch customer engagement of 75% from 55% earlier over the next 2 years. We improved the region’s profitability by 15%."

This is a good answer because he gives a specific problem and shows specifically how he handled it and then gives the results. 

Tell me about a time you handled a difficult customer.

This is the answer given by a salesperson:

"When I was a Sales Manager at X we had a group of unhappy customers. We'd sold them a weed killer that hadn't worked well. As farmers, this was important to them and they were threatening to take their business to our competitor. I had to try to keep them as customers. I knew this would be hard because our product had been defective and had cost them money. I had a meeting with all of them where I listened to them complain about what had happened. I tried to listen to each of them and respond calmly. I explained to them what had happened, which was definitely our fault, and apologized. In the end, they agreed to give us one more chance even though I couldn't offer them a refund (I didn't have the ability to do that.)"

This answer is good. Why?

• It talks about skills that will be relevant in the job she is applying for — dealing with unhappy clients, client communication, conflict management

• It follows the STAR structure so it's easy to follow

• It keeps to the details that are needed but doesn't add more — not too short or too long

• It references the Amazon principle "customer obsession" although you'll notice she doesn't use those words

This is her answer broken down with STAR:

S: When I was a Sales Manager at X we had a group of unhappy customers. We'd sold them a weed killer that hadn't worked well. As farmers, this was important to them and they were threatening to take their business to our competitor.

T: I had to try to keep them as customers. I knew this would be hard because our product had been defective and had cost them money.

A: I had a meeting with all of them where I listened to them complain about what had happened. I tried to listen to each of them and respond calmly. I explained to them what had happened, which was definitely our fault, and apologized.

R: In the end, they agreed to give us one more chance even though I couldn't offer them a refund (I didn't have the ability to do that).

Length: Each section has only two to four sentences in it. The Action step can have more than this, but the other sections should stick to this number. If you're using more sentences, your answer is too long.

How do you wow your customers?

A Customer Service Manager's answer:

"I wow the customer by helping them with their problems as far as its in my power because I feel like that is a win-win for both us and the customer. Last week I made a customer happy because he wrote to say that he couldn’t use our service because he couldn’t afford it because he was in between school and a job, so I gave him four months of access for free. The reason I did that is that because I felt like once he did get a job I felt like he was more likely to pay for our product. He said he had a tear in his eye when he read my email, and so I'm sure that he will definitely be a loyal customer."

How do you develop client relationships?

A Product Manager's answer:

"The key to client relationships is listening to their needs and showing that you take them seriously. For example, one of our biggest enterprise customers wanted to migrate to our newest product but they were anxious because they had a lot of time invested into the old product and they were worried it wouldn’t be as good. I brought in senior people, not just the customer manager, to talk to them and speak to their concerns."

The problem with this answer is that it doesn't have the result but otherwise it's good. You could add more details about what you said to them to allay their concerns as well as how they reacted and what happened later.

How do you understand the customer’s needs?

This is the answer given by a Senior Digital Product Manager:

"I use quantitative and qualitative approaches. Quantitative is looking at data to derive insights. Data can be what customers are doing when they use your product and if you're using a digital product you could use an approach like web analytics. Qualitative approaches you can simply ask them about their needs about how they use your product, but a better way is to immerse yourself into their problem space and ask where does the product fit into their daily life today? For example, in looking at my top customers, in terms of the customers most engaged on my platform, I can see that content about IT certification is very popular. As a result we started doing online trainings and certifications. So instead of just a course or video, we do live trainings now. Those turned out to be really popular. So it seems that anything we give them in terms of IT certifcation is really popular. So I've started to talk to customers about the role of certification in their workplace. It turns out that it's important because it's tied to promotions." 

This isn't a bad answer, but it isn't great. How could you make it better? Let's break it down into S-T-A-R first. 

The first part is not actually the Situation, but rather what I call "general stuff" and "extra stuff we don't need" — it's typical to see this at the start of answers — but do you see how it isn't actually "S" stuff?

"I use quantitative and qualitative approaches. Quantitative is looking at data to derive insights. Data can be what are customers doing when they use your product and if you're using a digital product you could use an approach like web analytics. Qualitative approaches you can simply ask them about their needs about how they use your product, but a better way is to immerse yourself into their problem space and ask where does the product fit into their daily life today?"

How could you use the same info but fix the structure? Move it around this way.

S — I use both quantitative and qualitative methods to find out what my customers need. [I kept one sentence of the general stuff as a lead in.] For example, last month I wanted to find out what type of content was most popular on our site so we could do more of it. 

T — I looked at data on my top customers, in terms of the customers most engaged on my platform, and I could see that content about IT certification is very popular.  So I started to talk to customers about the role of certification in their workplace. It turns out that it's important because it's tied to promotions." 

A — As a result we started doing online trainings for the certifications. So instead of just a course or video, we do live trainings now as part of the educational product line up.

R — Those turned out to be really popular. So it seems that anything we give them in terms of IT certification is really popular.

This is a much clearer answer. It uses a specific example to explain how he finds out what his customers want. 

If you’d like more info about answering customer obsession questions and a list of more possible questions you might get asked about it, read the longer version of the article. The article you just read is the quick rundown of a few of the potential questions. 

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Interview Genie is an interview prep company. I specialize in coaching non-native English speakers.