Would You Kill an Albatross to Ace a Job Interview?

November 7th, 2014

People Feature: Would You Kill an Albatross to Ace a Job Interview?

Article published on November 3, 2014
By Clare Trapasso

If a supervisor were to sleep with your girlfriend, would you stay with the company?

One mid-level job candidate told a hiring manager that it would depend on how serious his relationship was with his girlfriend. He got the job at the investment bank where he had applied, says recruiter Jeanne Branthover, head of the global services practice at Boyden Global Executive Search.

Interviewers can throw all sorts of wacky, and sometimes inappropriate, questions at job-seekers during interviews to gain insight into their thought processes and gauge how they react to stressful situations. And the answer is often far less important than what it shows the interviewer about the thought process behind it, say industry recruiters.

Firms like Calamos Investments, Vanguard, UMB Fund Services and Sentinel Investments use a wide array of questions to tease out what skills, ideas and expertise candidates bring to a firm and whether they would be good cultural fits.

Gary Black, global co-chief investment officer of Calamos, likes to ask candidates at the Naperville, Ill.-based firm how many barbers work in Chicago.

The answer gives Black a peek into applicants’ minds as they run through the city’s population, estimate the number of men and figure out how often they get their hair cut.

“I want to see if people have an analytical way of thinking,” Black previously said. “You want to make sure someone can think fast on their feet.”

A few of recruiter Brian Gennaro’s mutual fund clients have asked candidates an assortment of out-of-the-box questions ranging from what kind of superhero they would be to which one item they would want with them if they were stranded on an island.

“It’s more about how you frame your answer,” says Gennaro, of Rockwood Search Associates. “They’re looking for the rationale behind why you said that.”

One portfolio manager once asked a candidate if he would kill an albatross if the applicant were stranded on a ship and had the means to do so.

The prospective product manager was unfamiliar with the reference to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” But he knew an Iron Maiden song based on the poem that helped him come up with the answer. He was offered the job, but went to work for another company.

Gennaro advises job hunters to maintain their poise after curveball questions.

“What they’re looking for is to gain a sense of how you’re wired, how your mind works and how nimble your mind is in being able to answer questions that are not traditional,” Gennaro says of interviewers.

It is illegal for employers to ask candidates about any disabilities, says Christin Choi, an employment attorney at Fisher & Phillips. But companies may ask applicants about their ability to perform the duties and work the hours required of a job, she says.

Hiring managers should also avoid asking about age, gender, race, national origin, pregnancy, religion and even sexual orientation. Asking those questions and then not hiring the applicant can lead to state or federal lawsuits.

“It’s illegal to consider those issues factors, so there’s no need to ask about them,” Choi says.

Laurie Herbert, a recruiter at Sentinel parent, National Life Group, asks candidates about living in a cold-weather climate. The company is headquartered in Montpelier, Vt.

“We want to know if they’re outdoorsy, if they ski, if they sail,” says Herbert. Applicants who have never experienced a New England winter may not know what they are getting into, she says. “If you’re not somebody who can tolerate a long, cold winter, then that could affect [your] mind-set and how [you] feel about getting up every morning and going to work.”

Herbert also asks many job seekers in which areas they need coaching or improvement.

“That’s a question that usually catches people off guard,” Herbert says. “They’re not thinking about how they’re going to be better. They’re just trying to sell themselves now.”

Shayna Beck, who manages about 20 retail marketing staffers at Vanguard, says she prefers to have candid conversations with potential hires.

She often asks what prospective employees think of her Malvern, Pa.-based team’s communications, and listens for individuals who articulate how they would improve the work and why.

“It shows me I can count on them to make a better product,” she says.

At UMB Fund Services, job seekers should be ready to talk about challenging goals they have met and goals they missed.

“We’re looking for how people recover,” says Sharon Rose, senior VP of human resources at the Milwaukee, Wis.-based firm. “What did you learn from it?”

Sometimes it’s the candidates that ask the quirky questions.

Rose, who used to work at a bank, once had a candidate for a position as a legal secretary ask whether there was a roof deck where the applicant could sunbathe during lunch. Rose did not extend a job offer.

For job hunters prepping for interviews, Alvin Spector, a partner at OverNorth Senior Executive Recruitment, in Chicago, recommends practicing in front of the mirror or a video camera and with friends before meeting with hiring managers.

Candidates should also be comfortable addressing sticky topics, such as professional and personal failure.

“You always take a lemon and turn it into lemonade,” Spector says. “You demonstrate to the interviewer what you learned from your failure and your failure turned into something very positive in the future.”

“Lead at your best”

May 2nd, 2014

Another Required Read from McKinsey:

Read the article

“Bad to great: The path to scaling up excellence”

February 4th, 2014

Great article from McKinsey, “Bad to great: The path to scaling up excellence”

How well do you Link In?

June 12th, 2012

Good article from Business Insider showing what Recruiters look at when reviewing a LinkedIn profile via a heat map.  It’s a good refresher course in keeping your profile interesting to those folks you might want to hear from if you’re engaged in a search or even just passively interested in hearing about opportunities.

Typical progression is

Picture – do you have one?  Is it professional?

Status – have you updated it recently?

Current/Past employer in main area – is it properly reflected, and does it actually reveal something about other than the title?

Right side (“Send a message”, etc) – I think this is something of a reflex – there’s nothing you can enter on the right.

References – do you have any and are they relevant?

Here’s the article:


When Choosing a Job, Culture Matters

May 11th, 2012

When Choosing a Job, Culture Matters

by Bill Barnett

Some organizations will excite you. They’ll stimulate your success and growth. Others will be stressful. They may lead you to quit before you’ve accomplished much or learned what you hoped to. With the pressure (or excitement) of finding a new job, it’s all too easy to pursue a job opportunity or to accept an offer with only a hazy view of how the institution really operates. The path to an institution you’ll like is to investigate the culture you’re thinking of joining before you accept the position.

Sean (name has been changed) is a master at this. He pursued a job offer at a Fortune 500 company to be the first Chief Administrative Officer (CAO). He was well-qualified, presented himself well, and got the offer. He’d been competing with capable people. He was proud he’d “won the contest.”

The next step was a return visit, after which he’d decide to accept the offer. Sean had already learned a lot about the company’s businesses and some things about the organization. His priority now was culture and how the new position might fit: “I asked people, ‘What are you excited about? What are you proud of? Who are your close friends in the company? How does the group function together?'” Sean learned things like who the heroes were, what made them successful, and what his biggest challenges and opportunities would be in the job. The different people he met with were learning from his questions. It was almost like he already worked there, and they were jointly determining how to make the new role successful.

Surprisingly, Sean turned down the offer. The new role was a misfit in the company’s culture.

As he learned more about the company, Sean questioned how he’d be viewed as the first CAO in a company where everyone else focused on bottom-line results. It was a highly performance-driven environment with lots of business units. Corporate staffs were secondary.

“I asked how they’d keep score on me, how they’d really know I was making a difference,” he said. “We never got to satisfactory answers to that question. They weren’t hiding anything. This CAO position was a new one, and they didn’t really know.”

Sean was concerned that this new position wouldn’t fit in the company’s culture, that he wouldn’t really be accepted, and that it wouldn’t be a springboard to the line job that he really wanted after two or three years as CAO. He might have made it work, but why take the risk?

It’s not uncommon for job seekers to enter organizations without understanding the culture and come away disappointed. When considering a new job, be sure to investigate the institution’s culture. Consider these questions to guide you:

1. What should I learn? Understand the organization’s purpose — not just what they say they’re doing, but also how their purpose leads to decisions and what makes them proud. Learn how the organization operates. For example, consider the importance of performance, how the organization gets things done, the level of teamwork, the quality of the people, how people communicate, and any ethical issues.

Except for ethical issues, there’s no absolute standard of what’s best in organizational culture. Different purposes and different organizational features can be more or less appealing to different people. When you understand how the potential employer operates, you’ll need to consider how well that matches your goals. Your target organizational culture is an important part of your aspirations.

2. How should I learn? Read everything you can find about the institution, but read with a critical eye. Institutions have formal vision statements, and they often mention cultural topics in other public reports, but these documents are written with a purpose in mind. Independent writers take an independent perspective. They can be more critical, but they can miss details and get things wrong.

Discuss culture with people in the organization. You’ll talk to people in the interviewing process, of course. But you may learn different things if you meet others there who aren’t involved in your recruiting process. Also talk to people outside the organization who know it — customers, suppliers, partners, and ex-employees. Their different experiences with the institution will affect their views, so ask about situations where they’ve seen the culture in action.

3. When should I learn? It’s hard to learn about culture at an early stage in your search. But your impressions can guide you to target some institutions and avoid others.

Culture may come up in job interviews, although it may be complicated to do much investigation when you’re trying to sell yourself. People sometimes worry that discussing culture might make people uncomfortable and put a job offer at risk. The culture topic is certainly not off-base,  and it is necessary to know for future growth in the company. Hiring managers should expect it. Whether it’s in interviews or after you have an offer, you’ll do best if your questions show you’re learning rapidly about the organization, taking the employer’s perspective, and beginning to figure out how to succeed there. Culture questions can cast you in a positive light. Sean’s line of questioning confirmed the CEO’s judgment to hire him, even if Sean didn’t like the answers.

What’s your view of how culture affects the job search? Has culture played a part in how you choose your future employer?

Originally posted Wednesday May 2, 2012

“Benefits of Using a Recruiter”

April 24th, 2012

Benefits of Using a Recruiter


Why should I use a recruiter?

You are at your desk, or at home watching TV when you get a call from a recruiter who has found your contact information using the many secrets of the trade (sorry – that’s one secret I intend to keep). Before you hang up the phone, remember that recruiters can hold the keys to the hidden jewels of the job market. Use them and they may just open the door to a new career opportunity. I am not saying this because I am a recruiter, because I’m not – I just work for them. What I have learned working behind the scenes is the important role a recruiter can play in a persons career path. Even if you are not looking now, you may need their help later, so this applies to those who are blissfully happy with their careers, as well as those looking for a new opportunity. Here are the top 5 reasons why you should use a recruiter. Look for Part II: What to expect from your recruiter on Thursday.

  1. Hidden Job Market. I said earlier that recruiters hold the hidden jewels of the job market, and here they are – undisclosed jobs. Many times, especially with Sr level positions, companies have confidential roles that are for restricted eyes only. Companies then turn to recruiters for help with these positions. You cannot find these positions listed on Monster, or the various other job sites on the web. Imagine – your dream job may just be a recruiter away. This point goes hand in hand with #2.
  2. Connections. Recruiters have clout with hiring managers and sr. level executives – many of us do not. You send your resume to numerous companies, and post your resume on various job sites to no avail. You still haven’t heard a peep. Recruiters have the connections to not only get you in the door, but also get feedback – whether positive or negative – rather quickly. Think of how many others are applying to the same job you are…tons. Hiring managers and HR personnel simply cannot and do not have the time to review every resume. A recruiter can guarantee that you won’t be just another resume in a pile; you will be sent to Sr manager who will review your resume. Don’t you love recruiters just a little bit more now?
  3. Expertise. Are you underpaid? Overpaid? Are you ready for a Sr role? Are your technical skills up to par? There are a number of questions that can help you make an informed decision when it comes to strategic career planning, and a recruiter is a great resource to utilize. They can help you find answers and ask questions that will guide you to the right job and the right steps to take in order to advance your career. Best of all, this information is free, unbiased and essential when determining your position and worth in today’s job market.
  4. End Game is the same. You and your recruiter have the same goal, and that is to make sure you are putting your best foot forward, meeting the right people, and hopefully getting you an ideal role that is a perfect fit for both you and your future employer. Their on your side. This leads me to point #5…
  5. Long-term ally. Let’s say you found a recruiter, you find a job (whether it was their role or not), and you are now perfectly content, remember this may not always be the case. Come 3-5 years down the line you may decide to try your hands at a new company/role again. Or you may spend the rest of your days in the company you are working for, but may need advice when it comes to compensation, employee rights, etc… You now have an ally that is there for you to utilize. Recruiters (meaning legitimate, professional recruiters) are in it for the long haul. They are in the business of building relationships with both candidates and clients, and making sure both parties are equally satisfied. Therefore you not only gain a new role, but you also gain an important ally to guide you through your current and future career path.

So the next time a recruiter calls you, you just might want to pick up the phone.

-Evelyn Amaro

NationStaff Inc.

This article was originaly posted on NationStaff’s Blog

Commuters, take note

August 16th, 2011

Want to make the most of your morning commute?  Try Kindle-ing any of Time’s 25 Most Influential Business Management Books, listed here.


What Would MacGyver Do…on Barbara Walters?

August 16th, 2011

MacGyver, the 1980’s television icon played by Richard Dean Anderson, was a secret agent who never carried a weapon.  Instead, MacGyver relied on improvisation and a sound working knowledge of scientific principals, his Swiss Army knife, some duct tape and the occasional paper clip to finagle his way out of just about any predicament.

But ol’ Mac never had to sit through an interview with Barbara Walters, who famously asked Katharine Hepburn “If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?” 

Barbara’s inquiry falls into the category (however obliquely) of the vaunted behavioral interview question, increasingly employed not only by TV journalists, but also by Human Resources departments and a great many hiring managers. 

MacGyver’s improvisation skills would undoubtedly come in handy during a behavioral interview.  But why?

Behavioral interview questions are meant to show either how you think on your feet (as Google’s famous questions like “Why are manhole covers round?” might) and/or to determine how you have actually responded to real world situations and challenges (as in “Tell me about a time a supervisor challenged your behavior; how did you handle it?”).  Of course, there are also honest self-assessments that simultaneously gauge tact (“What is the biggest mistake you’ve made in your career?” – which we’d guess Mac might answer with “My choice in barbershops”).

Once dreaded but rare in frequency, today more and more interviewers are using the advanced strategy of behavioral questioning to delve deeply into a candidate’s psyche.  And while we here at Rockwood won’t be able to help you stop the flow of sulfuric acid with some chocolate the way Mac did in the pilot episode (later confirmed on Mythbusters), we can help by providing you with the top 10 most popular behavioral interview questions from About.com, this article JobInterviewQuestions.com covering behavioral question strategy and the exhaustive “Complete List of Behavioral Interview Questions” from Emurse.com.

So check out the Swiss Army knife of links above and get to building your interview cruise missile.  Or at least familiarizing yourself with Dendrology.



August 16th, 2011

Here’s another great article from Yahoo Finance furthering one of our prior posts on what not to share…this time, it’s what not to share with HR.


America’s got talent…and it’s on the move

August 4th, 2011

While the ultimate economic results of the debt deal remain to be seen, one thing is and has been certain: there will continue to be movement among employees who are actively seeking change.

A pre-debt deal survey by Mercer Consulting from June showed that nearly 1 in 3 employees was actively looking for new work and another 21% were dissatisfied with their employers.

While the number currently seeking employment is down from Right Management’s December 2010 survey of 84%, Mercer’s overall sample size was almost 20 times larger globally and nearly twice as large in the US…and also did not likely draw from a search firm’s candidate database (Right Management is the consulting division of staffing giant Manpower – who we are sure doesn’t mind us pointing this out, ahem).  Of course, Right’s survey was well in advance of the debt deal.

Notwithstanding the surveys (or the debt deal, for that matter), 2 million people quit their jobs in May, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics figures cited in a Bloomberg article yesterday, contending that confidence in the economy is the driver of that particular bus.

While we await last month’s BLS Employment Situation release tomorrow, one thing is certain: jobs are changing hands, irrespective of Howie Mandel.