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.

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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?

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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. 

How to answer Amazon ownership principle questions

How to answer Amazon behavioral interview questions

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.