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Goal of job interview should be a conversation

Dear J.T. & Dale: I have an on-site interview coming up and was curious what you recommend to bring with you to the interview. Notebook and pen, notes about the company research you’ve done, copy of your résumé – or is all that a distraction? I know you should have your résumé down cold, but I’m thinking I want to have a copy with me. Thoughts? – Casey

J.T.: It makes sense to bring all of that. However, I don’t encourage people to take notes in the interview unless the person interviewing you encourages it. It’s very distracting watching someone take notes when you are trying to have an engaging conversation with him or her.

DALE: Yes, when you take notes, others wonder what you’re writing, and that can make them circumspect, choosing words carefully and worrying about being politically correct. Or they might be wondering why this and not that, judging what you consider worth making note of. Plus, you lose eye contact. Remember, the goal of the interview is to make it a conversation. And that’s why there is a perfect time to look at the notes you brought along: when the interviewer asks if you have questions.

J.T.: I suggest that you respond by asking if you can pull out your research notes and list of questions to see which ones might not have been answered through the interview process. That shows you did your homework and gives you a chance to breathe and make sure all your questions get answered.

DALE: People always want to know what type of questions to ask, and I always tell them my favorite question is: “What kind of people do best here?” That lets hiring managers know you care about excelling, and that you care about their opinions, all while letting you know what to emphasize in the last innings of the interview. What else to ask? J.T. has a marvelous video on this subject. You can find it on YouTube under “8 Smart Questions to Ask Hiring Managers in a Job Interview.” It has over a million views (!), so it will pop up in a search.

J.T.: While I won’t try to explain all eight questions here, I can tell you my two favorites. One is to ask the hiring manager, “How did you come to work here?” This is a chance to bond. And then, perhaps after asking Dale’s favorite question, ask them, “Tell me about a hire that didn’t work out.” This helps you assess how likely you are to succeed in their culture.

Dear J.T. & Dale: I am interviewing for promotions within my company. If they ask what I would do if I don’t get the position, how should I respond? Do I say that I would look for opportunities with other companies, or find out what skills I am lacking so I might qualify for the promotion in the future? – Gemma

J.T.: What they are trying to understand is how you handle rejection. If they say “no” to you on the promotion, will you be upset and want to move on someplace else, or can you see the value in staying, getting feedback and trying for the promotion again? They want you to articulate whether you can handle the rejection and how you could turn it into a positive. Explain to them how you won’t give up on the first try!

DALE: Well said. I know people who’d argue that you should say you’d leave if passed over, reasoning it would put pressure on management to come across with the promotion, or, if not, at least a raise or other incentive to ensure that you stay. But that’s the logic of someone who feels indispensable. Being indispensable sounds like an ideal situation, but it’s just the opposite. Management hates a void, and the possibility of your leaving creating one would indeed put pressure on them – pressure to accommodate the possibility of your leaving by reorganizing or hiring someone who knows your position. The person management wants to promote is the team player, and the team player says something like what J.T. is suggesting.

Jeanine “J.T.” Tanner O’Donnell is a career coach and the founder of the leading career site Dale Dauten is founder of The Innovators’ Lab. Please visit them at, where you can send questions via email, or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St, 15th Fl, New York, 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803. (c) 2018 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.