What are the best (and worst) questions to ask during an interview?

An important part of preparing for an interview is thinking through (and writing down) questions for your interviewers. While there is such a thing as asking too many questions, coming in with a short list of smart questions will go a long way to both understand the role and impress the hiring manager. It’s always best to focus on the role, the team and company – not the vacation package.

Great questions:

  • What are the biggest professional challenges that the person in this role is likely to encounter?
  • What are your long term goals for this role and department?
  • How is the team structured?
  • How closely will I work with a supervisor or mentor?
  • What types of employee tend to succeed here? OR – What qualities are most important for success in this role?
  • Are there opportunities to take on new projects and challenges that may fall out of the actual job responsibilities? 
  • Is there any experience you’re looking for that I haven’t yet spoken to?
  • What are the next steps/best way to follow up after our meeting?

Avoid asking:

  • How long will it take for a promotion? (You seem like you’re only interested in climbing the ladder, not focused on being successful in the current opportunity)
  • How long until I can take vacation? (Wait until offer stage or a conversation with HR to ask about benefits, PTO, etc.)
  • How soon can I apply for another job here? (Don’t jump ship so quickly! Stay focused on the one position.)
  • How much PTO do I get? (You shouldn’t be planning your vacation before you even get the job.)
  • Flexible Schedule or special privileges (Save these for when you actually have an offer.)
  • Anything generic – So…. What do you like about working in X industry? (Really, how is this helping you evaluate the job?) 

Start Off Your 2018 Job Search in Style With These Classic Blogs from smartdept. inc.

If your 2018 New Year’s Resolutions include a new job in the Creative and Digital world, the creative consultants at smartdept. inc. are here to help! We’ve ventured into the archives to pull some of our favorite tips to get your search started out right. As always, we’d love to be a part of your journey to a new career (and even included a blog for that too!), so get in touch with a real-life smartie today!

Give your resume an overhaul: Read more >

Spruce up your LinkedIn profile: Read more >

Upgrade your portfolio: Read more >

What NOT to do on an interview: Read more >

What to expect from working with smartie: Read more >


Find a job in Chicago >
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Find a job in Seattle >

So you want a fresh resume…. where to start?

In the 10 years I’ve been in staffing, I’ve looked at 3 million resumes (give or take a few 100,000). I’m excited to share some expert advice on making your resume excellent.

First at foremost, tailor your resume to align with the job you want, while keeping in mind that formatting, organization, and readability are important as well. Take a long look at the job description for the role you have in mind. What key words and ideas jump out at you? What have you accomplished in your career that makes you an awesome fit for the position? Do you have the software/technical skills reflected in your resume that are required? Your resume should reflect all of these things.

The closer your resume matches up with the job description, the more compelling it will be for a Recruiter or Hiring Manager to follow up with you. It may be easy to assume that having a certain job title means you have a specific kind of experience, but you need to spell things out for someone like a recruiter who might have many candidates in front of them with the same job title. If you are applying for a role that requires certain experiences, and you have that experience – add a specific section with examples of those.

LENGTH: Stick to a one-page resume if you have less than five years of experience, and expand into two pages if you’re more seasoned.


  • Stick with standard fonts like Arial, Garamond, Times New Roman or Calibri. They’re easy on the eyes
  • Choose size 11 or 12 font – making the font smaller to fit everything on one page is not ideal – it needs to be legible
  • Avoid script fonts. Use italics, bolding and caps sparingly
  • “Creative” formatting like using heavy graphics or running text diagonally across the page is never a good idea – sometimes your resume only gets a quick glance, make it count!


  • Header: Your name, email address, phone number, city, state and zip code should be clearly listed at the top of the page. No need to share your street address.
  • Summary: A well-written Summary sets the stage for the rest of your resume. Five to seven sentences are ideal. Speak to your years of experience, area of specialization, and industries in which you’ve worked.  Do you have an advanced degree? Do you have staff management experience? Are you a strong project manager? Have you worked for a big name company or client? What are your technical or software skills?  Look at that job description again – and format each summary to each specific role you are applying for. What can you call attention to on a high-level to matches the things that the description calls for?
  • Tools/Skills: After your summary, make a quick list of the programs and skills in your toolkit – leading with those called for in the job description. Whether you’re a marketing analyst well-versed in Adobe Analytics and SQL or a designer skilled at using Adobe Creative Cloud, call attention to your familiarity with the required and nice-to-have tools.
  • Professional Experience:
    – List your experience chronologically, with your most recent job listed first.
    – If you have been working for an agency or freelancing, include the names/industries of your top clients. Unless your company is a house-hold name, include a one line description about your company. Are they national or global? This helps put your experience into context.
    – Lead with your company, title, start and end dates including months, not just the year.
    – When describing your role, think about the job description again. Lead with information that ties back to the job you’re applying to. More than just a list of tasks, speak to your measurable accomplishments. How have you impacted the bottom line?
    – Format these points in a bulleted list, rather than a big block of text.

EDUCATION: If you are early in your career (less than three years out of school), consider floating your Education as the first item on your resume. If not, the Education section should be toward the end. Include the name of your school, the degree earned, and your graduation date.


  • “References available upon request.” This is assumed.
  • Personal interests can be appealing to potential hiring managers, but avoid anything that is polarizing such as religious affiliations.

For feedback on your resume and a hand with your job search, get in touch with a real-life smartie today!

Find a job in Chicago >
Find a job in Grand Rapids >
Find a job in Seattle >


from the desk of Amy Porter, Sr. Creative Consultant in Chicago

What recruiters want you to know

Do you ever feel like applying for full-time jobs is a full-time job in itself? You know the drill – shotgun your resume out to 50-100 online postings. Maybe you even read some of the descriptions. If lightning strikes, you’ll snag 2-3 HR phone interviews. With any luck, you may even hear back from one of them within a month, but maybe not, and that’s what you’re used to.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if you had someone in your corner who really took the time to get to know you? Who brought relevant jobs to your attention and made sure that your resume was on the right hiring manager’s desk at the right time?

That’s where we come in!

The creative consultants at smartdept recruit exclusively on creative roles in Chicago, Seattle and Grand Rapids. Meeting with the right recruiter can be one of the most rewarding and beneficial relationships you make in your career.

How can you make the most of the relationship?

  • Come prepared with your resume and portfolio, and be open to suggestions. Our recruiters have seen it all. They are experts in the creative space – and they know what their clients are looking for. If they have a suggestion on how to better your digital portfolio or resume, take it! If the smartie you meet with, doesn’t have much feedback on your resume, ask for it!
  • Be transparent and honest, always. We promise to be sincere and match you with not just any role, but the right role. In return, if you have other irons in the fire, if contracts aren’t what you’re comfortable with, we need to know! We build relationships with people and it’s our expertise. It is vital that we keep both our clients and our candidates on the same page.
  • Explain when you’re feeling unsure. There are a lot of murky waters to navigate here, and we’re here to help. Are you looking at multiple offers? Great! Talking out all of the options with your recruiters is the best way to weigh the pros and cons of each opportunity.

What can you expect when you meet with a smartie?

  • We will never force a job onto a candidate.
  • Honest and valuable insight into job opportunities – if we have something that sounds great to you, but we know from our relationship that it isn’t the best fit whether that means the culture, growth trajectory, or work style isn’t aligning – we are going to be honest with you.
  • Consistent communication and a smooth timeline (most of the time) – unlike those online applications you’re applying to day after day, we are going to keep you up to speed. If you’ve been disqualified from the role, we don’t leave you hanging. And if we are waiting on our client to review your application, you will know. We do our best to keep the process as seamless and hassle-free as possible.

So what do our services cost you, the job seeker? Nothing.

It will require your time, your engagement and a little bit of trust. smartdept. inc. is a free resource to our job seeking candidates. Now what are you waiting for – get in touch with a real-life smartie today!

Find a job in Chicago >
Find a job in Grand Rapids >
Find a job in Seattle >


from the desk of Hannah Staal, Creative Consultant in Grand Rapids

Help me help you (find a job)

I’m frequently asked by job seekers how to work with staffing resources and recruiters.  Below are the top four things that help me find you a job.

1 – Tell me about your irons
I want to know everything about your job search. Tell me how many irons you have in the fire. You won’t offend me if you tell me you’re working with another recruiter at a different staffing resource, but not telling me you’re interviewing with prospective employers puts me at a disadvantage. I want to be able to tell my clients that you’re actively interviewing and most likely won’t be on the job market long, thus expediting the interview/offer process. I also don’t want to blindside my clients. If I have you scheduled to interview for a contract or direct hire position – you seem interested in the role, and the client seems interested in you – but then you accept a different position the day after your interview. Transparency is key in helping me find you a job. If you receive an offer or know one is on its way, tell me so I can leverage that with the clients I’m trying to place you with.

2 – Polish your presence, check your settings
I need a clean resume and a LinkedIn profile that supports the content of your resume.  LinkedIn is a tool that isn’t going away. It’s only getting more popular, so make sure your profile is up to date and doesn’t read like your Facebook page. Your profile on LinkedIn is your own personal brand – handle it with care. If you have a Facebook page and don’t feel the content you post is appropriate for prospective employers to read, keep your Facebook settings private. This goes for any other online presence you have that is non-professional. Double check the content you post online and keep your settings private if you don’t want a potential employer to read it.

3 – Response time
I want to hear from you as quickly as possible. If you’re on the hunt for a job and I’m calling to talk with you or email you to tell you about a new opportunity, you may lose out if you don’t get back to me quickly. My goal when working with a client is to find the best fit for their current need as quickly as possible.  Sometimes I’m competing with another staffing resource that is also working on the same position, and sometimes I’m the only recruiter supporting the role. Either way, my response time to my client is key and I can’t present you to my client without talking through the role with you to determine the fit.

4 – Understand my role
I work for you (the candidate), and for my client (your prospective employer). I want to get to know you and I need to understand what’s important to you in your next professional endeavor. However, I might not always have the right role for you right away. Job searching is a process, and one that usually happens multiple times throughout your professional life. Don’t give up on me if I don’t find you a job right away. Stay in touch even after you find a job. I have candidates that have become my clients and then become my candidates again. They’re some of my favorite people to work with because we’ve developed a relationship over a number of years. I look forward to grabbing coffee and catching up with them. I try to meet with all my candidates in person, even if we’re unable to do a formal interview at my office I’ll meet you for coffee – just ask me! I not only want to find you a job, but I want to make a long-term hire for my client. My client pays the bills, but for the job seeker my services are free. I’m another set of eyes looking for roles on your behalf. Help me help you (Cuba Gooding, Jr., Jerry Maguire – yes, I made a Jerry Maguire reference).

From the desk of smartdept. inc. Seattle Branch Manager: Meghann Kern

The Zombie

1. The Zombie

Okay, it’s true, zombies are as popular as ever. Movies, shows, conventions about movies and shows — it goes on and on. Hey, for the purpose of entertainment, I love them too. But there’s one place that zombies are not welcome (anyone?). That’s right. In an interview. In this context, a “zombie” refers to a person who continually gives one-word answers and generally refuses to engage in a “conversation” during the interview.

There are many elements involved in successfully navigating the interview process. The most obvious is having the exact skill set the prospective employer is seeking. But perhaps the second most obvious is communication — being able to talk through a solution you’re offering in your portfolio, for example. Or, your approach to a difficult situation you encountered at another job and how you worked through it. Clear, concise communication can leave a prospective employer impressed and can sometimes be a difference maker if other elements of your interview come up short.

Besides, think of all the money you’ll save not having to buy zombie make-up! All by simply being conversational with your approach to an interview.

from the desk of smartdept. inc. Principal, Eric Pairitz


Introducing our new blog series – Interview Don’ts

I would like to formally (or informally) introduce smartdept’s new blog series — cleverly entitled, Interview Don’ts. This eight-part series was created to help give potential candidates an edge by making light of a few “don’ts” that we occasionally see while interviewing.

Accompanying these short bits of useful knowledge are video performances depicting, in a (not so) real way, how these scenarios might play out.

In addition, I am pleased to introduce, The Not Ready For Bedtime Players, a small, but mighty group of performers who took the stage in these budget-busting depictions.

Stay tuned for the first installment tomorrow, and enjoy!


from the desk of smartdept. inc. Principal: Eric Pairitz



Corporate Culture Helps Determine Fit

From the desk of Seattle recruiter: Beth Miller

Corporate Culture. It’s the newest catchphrase for employers and job seekers alike. As the job market evens out, candidates are more concerned with work/life balance than finding a job they actually enjoy rather than just a number on a paycheck. Similarly, employers understand that happier, more engaged employees will stay longer and produce more, creating a shift toward culture fit and soft skills in many of the creative and marketing roles we’re staffing. I’ve experienced both sides of the culture equation – a great culture fit (thank you, smartdept. inc.), and a lousy one (we’ll be vague on the specifics). I’ve found a company with values that are similar to my own personal goals of professional growth and philanthropy, and I feel supported in my role.

But what does “culture” look like when you’re a freelancer? Here are a few things I like to keep in mind to gauge whether a candidate is a good long-term fit for a client.

First, take note of the physical space of the office you might be working in. Is it loud and bright, or mellow and dark? Is it an open area, or cubed? Is there music on or does everyone have ear-buds in? As much as skill set is a factor in determining whether or not a candidate is qualified for a position, it’s equally important to ensure a candidate can work in the physical space.

Second, ask process-focused questions. Having a firm understanding of how projects and tasks are managed, what the daily workflow looks like and understanding how your peers, managers and teams will interact is important. As a recruiter I do my best to set clear expectations at the beginning of any interaction with our candidates. Communication is key, and understanding how communication works within an organization can determine whether a candidate will be a good fit.

The final thing to keep in mind when assessing culture fit is whether the core values of an organization are similar to your own values. Employees come and go, and yes, corporate culture can (and probably should) evolve as there are advances in technology, organizational growth and new hires joining a company, but if you agree with the core values of an organization that’s a huge indicator that the role could be a long term fit.

Spending time thinking about culture fit, whether you’re a candidate or employer, is an important piece to the hiring puzzle.

– Beth

Holiday Job Hunting

Our very own Senior Creative Consultant Meghann Kern was recently quoted in the Seattle Times! She lent her expertise to a fantastic article about looking for a job during the hectic holiday season.

“Timing is everything,” Kern says. “If you keep at it and are consistent with your search, there’s a good chance you could have your résumé reviewed by a hiring manager who’s sitting at her desk three days before Christmas and just got budget approval for a first-quarter hire.”

Read the full article on jobs.seattletimes.com!

5 Answers to Key Interview Questions You Should Practice Now

There are lots of resources online that can help you prepare for an interview in general, but this post is more specifically targeted to preparing for the questions you are most likely to hear during the interview – along with some general tips towards the end as well. The best way to prepare for questions is to practice, either with mock or real interviews.

Read the full article here | via HackCollege

Your job hunt may be tax-deductible

Let’s say you’re out of work and buy new clothes — and, while you’re at it, get a new haircut — for job interviews. Then suppose you use your home office as a base, and travel to meet with prospective employers. In the evenings, you’re taking classes to learn new marketable skills outside your current field. It’s all tax-deductible, right?

Actually, no. Uncle Sam will foot the bill for your travel expenses, but the clothes, the haircut, the office, and the classes are on you.

If you didn’t know that, you have plenty of company. A new survey by online tax preparation service CompleteTax.com quizzed more than 1,000 adults and found that, with April 15 fast approaching, fewer than half could correctly answer basic questions about which job-hunting expenses they can write off.

Please read the full article here! (via fortune.cnn.com)