About Me

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Fishers, Indiana, United States
Brenda gained career expertise as a human resources leader at a global company before becoming an HR consultant. Her functional experience includes a variety of sales roles in the health care industry achieving success for over 30 years. She is currently in Consulting & Analytics Business Development for a health care firm. Her passion is participating in, writing about and observing the evolving workforce. For the first time in history four generations work together. It keeps things interesting. Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) are redefining retirement and what it means to age in the workforce. It is not just about money. Okay it plays a role! At 76.4 million members strong, Boomers are leveraging technology to continue their careers and the personal fulfillment working brings. Managing a late-stage career requires a strategy. There is no roadmap or one size fits all answer. This blog is about sharing, networking & finding your own right answer to working later, managing your career, redefining retirement, looking for work in your 50s & 60s and reinventing yourself.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Winning the Interview—Part Two

In Part One, the different types of interviews were highlighted along with interview trends. In this post, I will tackle behavioral interview questions recruiters seem intent on asking along with the illegal questions recruiters are not supposed to ask. The final post of the Winning the Interview series--Part Three, I will address how to handle gaps in employment and other tough questions.
Illegal Questions:
I’ve been asked some of these questions  early in my career and I have answered them and got the job. I’m not saying you should answer illegal interview questions. When you see them, you will notice many of them are focused on younger females (because they are around family planning). One caution in answering illigal questions is they could be a signal of worse situations to come in that work environment. Certainly, corporate-trained hiring managers and recruiters know these questions are off limits and would not put their company at risk:
1.      How old are you? (often disguised as a compliment, it is still inappropriate and illegal)
2.      Were you born in the United States?
3.      Travel is a big part of this job. Will your (boyfriend) or girlfriend be alright with the travel? Do you have a boyfriend (or girlfriend)? Are you married?
4.      I see your ankle is wrapped. How did you hurt yourself?
5.      Do you have children?
6.      Are you planning to have children?
7.      What political party do you belong to?
8.      Do you go to church? What religion are you? Would your religion beliefs allow you to work Sundays?
9.      What’s your race? What country are your parents from? You have a Hispanic-sounding last name, but you look Caucasian-which are you?
10.  What is your sexual orientation? (even if it is couched in a “that’s-okay-here,” we have a GLBT affinity group), like question #1 it is inappropriate and illegal).

Behavioral Interview Questions:
As established career professionals, we’ve lived through the interviews that were straightforward—“What are you strengths and weaknesses?” “Do you like working independently?” And now, behavioral-based interview questions are becoming more prevalent as the economy has tightened. Human resources professionals believe that how you actually reacted in the past will give them a glimpse into how you will handle situations in the future at their company. These are typical behavioral-based questions to prepare for your interview:
1.       Tell me about a time when you were faced with a problem and you initially did not know what to do? What course of action did you take and what was the outcome?
2.      Describe a situation where you had to deal with an angry customer. How did you handle the situation and what was the outcome?
3.      Tell me about a time when you had to make a quick decision and what was your thought process.
When handling behavioral interview questions, be prepared with a quick example or story that addresses the specific situation. Keep it as current as possible—two years ago or less if you can. The interviewer wants to know if you have what it takes to be successful in the job. Behavioral interview questions are less about questions than they are statements asking you to cite a specific example. Remember to give the interviewer the outcome in your story or example. The time the company invests in hiring, training and orienting you into the position is just that—an investment. And, like any investment, the company is looking for a return on investment. That is the intent of the behavioral interview--helping the company make a good investment. Hiring managers want someone who will be productive; someone who will stay with the company for a while-to recoup their initial training investment and someone promotable into the next level or two.
When you read the job description or during your phone interview, try to identify the competencies and attributes considered most important for this job. It can even be one of the questions you ask during the telephone interview. Then, think about your current position and examples or stories you can give from your current work experience that highlight your use of the competencies and attributes. Examples of attributes include:
A strong work ethic (important in sales and positions where you work independently)
A sense of urgency
Emotional intelligence
Good judgment and decision-making skills
Strategic-orientation (the ability to see the big picture)
Interpersonal Skills
Preparation is critical to interviewing success. Remember you've made it this far, so you definitely are in the inner circle to get the job. Congratulations!


  1. The basics are still the best, thanks for the reminder.

  2. A friend turned me on to this blog and it is just in time. I have my first telephone interview in about 17 years and while the recruiter helped me prep a lot, these two articles about interviewing and the one about technology and interviewing on video reminds me it has been a long time since I have been on the other side of the desk answering the questions.

  3. Hi Brenda,

    First of all I very much enjoyed your presentation last evening at P2E. My comment is on the legality of questions such as age, childen, etc. I don't think those questions are illegal for am employer to ask. I am sitting next to an attorney in a class I am taking, and he confirmed this. They certainly put an employer at risk, and beg the question if you would want to work for the organization.

    Thanks, Tim Youngblood

  4. Hi Tim,
    Glad you enjoyed the presentation last night on Blogging in Your Job Search. You bring up some excellent points Tim. While legality around ADA and other "protected class" issues are clear some of the other questions may be more inappropriate than anything else. And, I love your point-would you want to work for the organization (or that hiring manager). I think this link is a also a good one for hiring managers to consider when asking questions:


  5. Brenda/Tim: I'm sure your attorney classmate is a great lawyer, is he an HR lawyer? I have to agree with Brenda on this point. I'd love to hear what the attorney sites as a basis for his opinion. I don't mean to start anything but I'd like to know for my future interviews as well. We can all be a source for each other.

  6. If these questions are asked in a protected class situation, there could be legal recourse. In over 30 years, I have not heard of an interviewee suing over an interview question. It is a sure way not to get hired--ever.

  7. For those of us who have hired staff in our careers,interviewing and selecting the best candidate is certainly a key to both personal and organizational success. As Brenda has pointed out, state and federal equal opportunity laws in general prohibit the use of pre-employment questions that screen out applicants based on protected status. It’s important for hiring managers to understand that the EEOC and state agencies take the position that information obtained through the pre-employment and interview process be designed to identify the candidates qualifications without regard to irrelevant, non-job-related factors. Thanks Brenda for reminding us to be the best interviewers possible!

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