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?) 

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!

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

Interview Don’ts – Stre-e-e-e-tch!

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

3. Stre-e-e-e-tch!

Yup! We’ve all done it. And, most of the time, we don’t even realize we’re doing it. For instance, during a traffic stop, when a police officer asks, “How fast you were going?” Or when the nurse’s assistant at your regularly scheduled check-up asks, “What’s your height and weight?” (I always say 6′ with shoes on.) Oh, and my favorite, “How many baseball cards do you have?” Okay, that one is more specific to me. But you get my point. Every single day, we’re asked a dozen questions that allow us the opportunity to “STRETCH” the truth.

But what about during an interview? Can we “STRETCH” a tiny bit there? You know — make four-and-a-half years of experience into five? Maybe bump that previous salary up a bit? Stre-e-e-e-tch!? Just a little? Well, I’m not your mother, so do what you think? However, creatives, beware! There’s one place for certain that you should never make a “STRETCH.” And that place is during a portfolio review.

That’s right! You should be up front in every case about your level of participation on a particular piece in your portfolio. If your contribution to a piece was more production and less conceptual, let your prospective employer know. Maybe it was a collaborative effort? If so, give credit to your partner (they’d like that). Lastly (and this seems obvious), never represent someone else’s work as your own. If you convey to a prospective employer that you possess a particular skill set, you can expect to be put in a position to use that skill set if you’re hired. Stretching the truth may set you up to fail in your new environment. Worse yet, it could cost your employer time and maybe even money.

So remember, if you’re a creative with an opportunity to show off your work, it’s best not to “STRETCH” the truth. Oh, and how many baseball cards do I have? I’d say, “About a million.”

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



7 Questions Great Candidates Ask

At the end of the interview when you, the interviewer, ask the candidate, “Do you have any questions for us?” it’s often hard to know what to expect. Will the candidate ask a couple of superficial questions just to be polite, or will he or she ask deep, probing questions?

If a candidate appears to be simply going through the motions at this point, this is often a sign of a candidate who is not fully engaged with your brand and the hiring process. On the other hand, a candidate who probes and asks questions of substance is a more engaged candidate. The person is trying to form a picture of your business to see if it is the right cultural fit, job fit, technical fit and career fit for him or her. This more discerning approach is likely to be taken by the best candidates. But, what questions are these more engaged candidates likely to ask and how should you respond?

Read the rest on recruiter.com!

Tough Interview Questions: Misjudging a Colleague

(hollaforthatdolla.com) – Today’s question comes from an active job seeker who was recently asked a difficult but very clever question while on the hunt: I was recently asked in an interview to desribe an instance where I had misjudged a colleague. Can you provide any advice on how to answer this question without falling into an “interview trap?”

 I think this is a great interview question and kudos to the interviewer who posed it. Some might feel that this is a question that will fail to elicit any useful information but the exact opposite is true in my opinion – a question like this provides insight into how an individual sees flaws in their own charatcer and how they look to rectify that.

 Read the full article here!

Behavioral Job Interviews

Behavioral based job interviews are based on learning how the interviewee acted in specific employment-related situations. The logic is that past behavior will predict future performance.  Here’s information on behavioral job interviews, including behavioral job interview questions, how to prepare for a behavioral interview, and techniques and strategies for acing a behavioral job interview.

What is a  behavioral job interview?

Candidates for employement often ask what the difference is between a regular job interview and a behavioral interview. There isn’t a difference in the actual format of the job interview. You will still meet with an interviewer and respond to interview questions. The difference is in the type of interview questions that will be asked.

Read the full article by Alison Doyle on about.com!

How to Prepare for a Phone Interview

(about.com) – Some employers choose to prescreen job applicants over the phone before doing an in-person interview. If you’re selected for a phone interview, prepare for a phone interview just as carefully as you would for a regular interview.

Prepare for a Phone Interview Research the job and the company so you are prepared to discuss the company and your role if you were to be hired. Compile a list of answers to typical phone interview questions. In addition, have a list of questions ready to ask the interviewer.

Read the full article here!

Debrief Yourself After a Job Interview

(Dave Johnson on bnet.com) – Statistics show that the average person has to weather a dozen interviews to get the job they want. All those meetings with HR and hiring managers aren’t just wasted effort, though — you can use the experiences to be better prepared for next time.

Specifically, The Wisdom Journal recommends that you thoroughly debrief yourself after each interview rejection. There are several key questions you should take the time to answer:

  • What did you learn from the interview?
  • Were you adequately prepared?
  • What could you have done or said better?
  • How can you be better prepared for the next interview?

Be honest, think about your performance objectively, and use your answers to improve your next interview. As Wisdom Journal points out:

Try to view your job candidacy from another perspective – the hiring manager’s. Would YOU hire yourself? Before you answer that – think about why you would hire yourself. Then make certain you mention those in your next interview. [via Lifehacker]

Phone Etiquette: Pinkies Up and Don’t Slurp

With the advent of texting and chatting, something’s been lost: the phone conversation. Don’t believe me? Check out this month’s issue of Wired (http://www.wired.com/magazine/2010/07/st_thompson_deadphone/) to read Clive Thompson’s riveting article about this phenomenon.

‘So?’ you ask. ‘Who cares?’

So along with the death of the phone conversation, comes the death of phone etiquette. If you don’t practice the art of the phone conversation in the first place, why would it matter?

I’ll tell you why: phone screens and phone interviews.

While calling your friends is no longer the hip cool thing (who cares when there’s Skype and iChat?), it’s become an upward trend in the interview process. Employers don’t want to carve hours out of their day and bring in some sod based off of their resume, just to have them blow the interview in the first ten minutes. So it’s much easier just to give ’em a ring and have a chat.

Let me tell you a story (because I know how you love my stories.)

When it became apparent that it was time for me to evolve in my career, I started sending out my resume to several agencies. I admit, I have a pretty resume, and it bagged interviews with about 70% of the places I sent it (not bad, considering the economic state at the time.) Almost every single one started off with a phone interview.

One lasted five minutes and resulted in a ‘Thank you for your interest’ email. Another lasted an hour and resulted in three more interviews and a job offer. So how did I screw one up so badly, but do well the with other one?

The five minute talk was for a Project Management position. This was not a job I wanted, but it was something I had experience with. It was apparent that I was uninterested. I was sitting at my desk at my other job, clicking through e-mails, giving vague answers, and filing my nails. I was not being very attentive or articulate. It showed.

It took five minutes for my interviewer to realize this. Then it was over. That’s it: a measly five minutes for a decision to be made about a career.

Admittedly, I wasn’t too disappointed with that one. But let’s take a look at how the hour long interview resulted in total success, and how you can set yourself up for success with your phone interview, as well.

1. Find your quiet, happy place. Go to a room where there’s no ambient noise or echoes, no kids tugging at your shirttails, no toilets flushing, no reception interference and no crowds watching baseball (go Cubs!) The last thing you want is a distraction, or the interviewer to think that you’re in a wind-tunnel. You want to be understood as clearly as possible, and you don’t want to interrupt the flow of conversation with a, ‘What’d you say?’ or ‘Huh?’ I blocked out time in a conference room with a closed door for my chat.

2. Use your suave voice. You know, the one that you use when you want to attract that cutie at the bus stop. Try to be aware of your volume and tone. Pleasant, upbeat and articulate are all important facets to have, and you want to be clear and concise. Super loud, super fast, and super slurred are all super bad.

3. Answer the stinking phone. I can’t count how many times I’ve scheduled a call through an e-mail, just to have the person not pick up. That’s an immediate turn-off. Make sure to prepare five minutes before the expected call, and when you pick up, use a proper greeting. ‘What?’, ‘Yes?’, ‘What’s up?’ and ‘What do you want?’ are not acceptable. Try out a, ‘Hello?’ or a ‘This is (insert your name here)’ for maximum pleasantries. And if you are calling your prospective employer, ALWAYS be sure to ask, ‘Hello, this is (insert name here.) May I please speak with (insert name here)?’ Be nice to whomever picks up the phone. You can’t tell if it’s an intern, receptionist, or the CEO and founder. Better safe than sorry! And if they have been tied up in a meeting or are unable to come to the phone for any reason, all that is required is, ‘Is there a time I can expect their call, or is there at time that will be more convenient for me to call? Thank you very much for your help.’

4. Have your props. Meaning make sure to have a working pen, a notebook to take notes with, and the resume and cover letter you sent them. You want to be sure to have exactly what they’re looking at when you talk, so when they reference certain points, you can address them quickly and easily. Also, you want to be sure you have a place to write down the details of the job, as well as times, dates, addresses and names if they extend an invitation for a second interview. Thank goodness I had a pen and paper, ’cause there was a fast talker on the other line and I had to scribble down information quickly. Also, it’s not rude to ask if they could please send a confirmation e-mail so you can double-check the correct information.

5. Be a boy scout. And by that, I mean be prepared. Don’t have gum in your mouth, don’t be eating, and don’t blow your nose. Have a glass of water nearby. Make sure you went potty beforehand. And be prepared to answer serious questions. This is an interview. Expect to talk about your job history, your goals, your expectations, and anything that would traditionally  be discussed in a first in-person interview. That also means that you should have a list of questions you have come up with in advance, so you can get information from them. Good things to ask?

  • What’s a typical day like in the office?
  • What is the most important qualification you want this person to have?
  • What’s the work environment like?
  • What are your goals in hiring this position?
  • Where do you see the company going in the next five years?

6. Seal the deal. When the interview is over, ALWAYS say something to the effect of, ‘Thank you so much for your time. It was great talking with you, and I hope to have the opportunity to speak again in the near future.’ End on a positive note, even if you don’t think it went well. Keeping a positive attitude not only leaves potential employers with a good impression, it helps you keep a good attitude about your job search. And lastly: make sure you hung up the phone properly. The last thing you want is for the person on the other line to hear you moaning and groaning to your hubby about how horribly that just went, or how screechy their voice was.

So, there are some helpful hints in how to have a successful phone interview. Best of luck!

Fashion Is As Fashion Does

Every single morning, I face the same dilemma. It’s a daily struggle, and I admit, sometimes takes nearly an hour to resolve.

What do I wear today?

Yup, that’s the dilemma. I mean, seriously. What do I wear? Should I go casual? Dress it up a bit? Am I meeting with clients? Candidates? Lunch date? What am I doing after work? Friends? Drinks? Gym? OK, so what do I wear? Dress? Pants? Skirt? Which top? What color? Heels? Flats? Accessories? Makeup? Hair?

It can be overwhelming.

What’s even more overwhelming is deciding what to wear to a job interview. I mean, this is your future. You must be properly clothed.

Before we go any further, let me be the first to admit that clothes are functional. They cover your butt and keep out the cold. But just because something’s functional, does not mean that it can’t also be fantastically wonderful. What’re the first three letters in functional? That’s right: FUN. Getting dressed should be fun, and that includes getting dressed for an interview. If you know you look fantastic, it’s going to show in your demeanor, your strut, your body language, everything. Those unspoken gestures are what makes or breaks some interviews, so let’s make sure you look your best!

We’re gonna cover the don’ts first, and this goes for the gentlemen as well as the ladies.

1. DON’T look sloppy.
That means whatever you’re wearing should be clean, ironed, and in good condition. And on top of that, you should look polished. That means hair in place, loose threads clipped, shoes shined, shirt tucked in, no runs in your stockings and no chipped nail polish!

2. DON’T wear something uncomfortable.
Make sure you’re OK with whatever you’re wearing. Make sure it’s not too tight, too loose, or too revealing. Make sure it fits properly!! That means putting in the time and the dough to go to a TAILOR. That’s right, a tailor. And trust me: it’s worth it. Best tailor? Check out Gus’ Tailor Shop on Ashland.

3. DON’T wear something inappropriate.
When you’re going on an interview, it’s important to do a little research beforehand. Is it a casual atmosphere? Corporate? Don’t be afraid to ask! If it’s corporate, go for a gorgeous suit in a neutral color. If it’s casual, you can be more playful and wear slacks and a shirt with a blazer,