How to Overcome an Interview Error

It’s called being human. It happens to everyone. You are asked a question and blow the answer.

Now there is one answer that is always useful. “I don’t know, but I’ll find out!” No one is expected to know everything. According to Einstein, a clock that is moving runs slower than a clock that is at rest. Similarly, a rod is shorter when moving than when at rest. I don’t understand it. I can’t explain it. (I think it’s because the clock or rod are pushing up against gravity, but my Ph.D. is in International Relations, so what do I know? And what if the clock is digital – something that did not exist in Einstein’s day?) But if Einstein says it, it’s good enough for me.

Of course, I would never be interviewing for a job where I would have to explain the Special or General Theory of Relativity (and, I admit, I am not certain which one is relevant here, although I think it’s the Special). But what if you are interviewing for a job for which, heaven forbid, you are actually qualified?

That happened to me years ago. I was asked a very simple question. “How are your communication skills?” What’s easier to answer than a question where you can engage in self-praise and brag?

As I began to answer the question I heard myself saying what I was about to say and I could not stop myself. I actually said,

“I write good…” Luckily, I knew I had a big problem which I had to fix in a nanosecond, if not sooner.

Humor is never a good idea in a job interview. I guarantee the joke will bomb or someone will be offended. I was once asked, in an interview, to tell a joke. I chose this one (compliments of Buddy Hackett):

A duck walks into a pharmacy. The druggist asks him, “How can I help you?” “I need Chapstick.” “Will that be cash or charge?” “Put it on my bill!”

OK, it’s a terrible pun. But offensive? No. Yet, for some reason that no one could understand, one woman in the room did not react with a chuckle or a moan of feigned disgust, but almost with disdain.

But there is one type of humor that you may get away with: Self-deprecating. When you make fun of yourself, people should laugh with you, not at you. It’s also a sign that you have no ego issues.

So how did I get out of my grammatical conundrum?

“I write good…and speak even betterer.”

Everyone laughed and no one was the wiser. (And, yes, I got the job.)


Bruce Hurwitz is an executive recruiter and career counselor. He has helped scores (thousands if you include attendees at his presentations) of people, including veterans, not only change jobs but, on occasion, change careers. Having successfully transitioned from academia to non-profits to the recruiting industry, he has been there and done that!

Bruce is a recognized authority on job search and career issues, having been quoted in over 700 articles, appearing in some 500 publications, across the United States and in more than 30 foreign countries. His posts on LinkedIn have been read over 300,000 times and have garnered national and international media attention, including television appearances on Fox Business Network and Headline News (CNN).

In addition to serving on the Board of Directors of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, he chairs their Entrepreneurs Network, hosts their weekly podcast – The Voice of Manhattan Business – and serves as an Ambassador.

An advocate for the protection of job seekers, visit the homepage of his website,, to read about questionable offerings of so-called job search assistance companies and to learn about his upcoming speaking engagements.


How to Learn How to Listen

I have been an executive recruiter since 2003 and formally a career counselor since 2009. During this time I have been asked hundreds of questions, some of which have almost made liars out of those teachers who had assured me that there was no such thing as a stupid question.

Today I was asked a question I have never been asked before. And it’s a good one.

While discussing interviewing, my new client explained that she has problems listening. “Shut up and pay attention” was not the answer to her problem. That she knows. The question is how to get practice so it becomes a natural process.

I have been through this myself and I told her about the one thing that has helped me to overcome difficulties listening. First, I do shut up. Second, I remind myself that day dreaming is a no-no. Third, I really think about what the person is saying. I concentrate on their every word and jot a few things down. But those are the mechanics, not the skill.

The way I learned to listen, which is another way of saying “concentrate,” was by listening to old radio show mysteries. You have to pay attention. Some are rather complicated. If you day dream for a minute, you may miss the clue and then you will not understand the ending. So Google “mystery radio shows” and find ones that interest you. A good many appear to be free. So for no money you will not only be entertained, you’ll also learn possibly the most important skill for having a successful interview.


Bruce Hurwitz is an executive recruiter and career counselor. His posts on LinkedIn have been read over 300,000 times and have garnered national and international media attention.  In addition to serving on the Board of Directors of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, he chairs their Entrepreneurs Network, hosts their weekly podcast – The Voice of Manhattan Business – and serves as an Ambassador. An advocate for the protection of job seekers, visit the homepage of his website,, to read about questionable offerings of so-called job search assistance companies and to learn about his upcoming speaking engagements.

How to be an Expert: The Difference Between Knowledge and Understanding or What Job Candidates Can Learn from Max Planck’s Chauffeur

Max Planck, who won the 1918 Nobel Prize in Physics, was one of the founders, if not the founder, of quantum mechanics/physics. (Just as an aside, he was involved with the plot to kill Hitler, for which his wife was assassinated.)

Apparently, in his time, it was not common practice for physicists, even prominent ones, to be photographed. As the story goes, he would travel throughout Germany speaking to lay audiences. One day his chauffeur told him that he had heard his presentation so often that he could give it himself. So, at their next stop, they changed hats, and the chauffeur entered the hall where the presentation was to be given wearing the professor’s hat and the professor was wearing the chauffeur’s cap.

The chauffeur perfectly recited the lecture. He was flawless. And then things started to fall apart. Following his remarks, people wanted to ask questions. The chauffeur knew the speech, he had the knowledge, but he lacked the understanding so he could not answer the first question.

Apparently Professor Planck was smart about hiring as well as physics! The chauffeur did not miss a beat. He looked at his questioner and responded, That question is so simple I’ll have my chauffeur answer it!

I’ve read this story a couple of times. I want to believe that it is true. Even if not it is something to keep in mind because the lesson is valid. Repeating what you have heard does not make you anything make than a recorder. To be an expert, you need understanding. So in an interview, if you can’t explain it, don’t say it!


Bruce Hurwitz is an executive recruiter and career counselor. His posts on LinkedIn have been read over 300,000 times and have garnered national and international media attention.  In addition to serving on the Board of Directors of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, he chairs their Entrepreneurs Network, hosts their weekly podcast – The Voice of Manhattan Business – and serves as an Ambassador. An advocate for the protection of job seekers, visit the homepage of his website,, to read about questionable offerings of so-called job search assistance companies and to learn about his upcoming speaking engagements.

Three Questions to Ask to Determine if You are a Cultural Fit for a Company

Employers, if they are smart, will spend most of a job interview asking questions to see if the candidate is a good cultural fit for them. Similarly, smart candidates will ask questions to see if they are a good cultural fit for the company. In the end, even if they meet all of the qualifications, they still may not be right for the job because the company is just night right for them.

So what should you ask?

Who succeeds here? This is the question, if you are having a telephone interview, and only have the chance to ask one question, that you should ask. What is amazing is that employers sometimes have difficulty answering. They respond to a different question: Who succeeds in the position? Then you have to repeat the actual question and clarify: Who is successful at your company?

That’s the direct question about culture. Let’s take a simple example that probably will never happen. If they say, “We micromanage everyone,” and you can’t stand being micromanaged, don’t waste any more time interviewing.

The beauty of the question is in that last phrase, “don’t waste any more time.” By asking the question you are sending the message that you don’t want to waste your time or the employer’s. Employers like that! So if the response is acceptable, you have just raise your stature in the eyes of the employer.

Do you promote from within? Well, not exactly. You should know the answer by viewing the LinkedIn profiles of their employees. So you should either ask, “I see from the LinkedIn profiles of your employees that you promote from within. How does that work? Do you have a formalized career development/advancement program?” Or, the question could be, “I was surprised when reviewing the LinkedIn profiles of your staff that none indicated that they were promoted from within. Is that accurate and, if so, why don’t you promote from within? Do you have any career development programming?”

What is your turnover rate? This tells you everything you need to know about the company. First, if they don’t know the answer, move on. Second, if they won’t tell you, move on. Third, if it is high, ask why and what they are doing about it. Fourth, if it is low ask why and see if you possess the qualities of their longest tenured employees. (This is different from “Who succeeds here?” in that a person can be very successful at a company and leave after three or four years. But if everyone leaves after three or four years, there’s a problem.)

Interested in learning more? Watch my interview on Jessica Dewell’s program:


Bruce Hurwitz is an executive recruiter and career counselor. His posts on LinkedIn have been read over 300,000 times and have garnered national and international media attention.  In addition to serving on the Board of Directors of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, he chairs their Entrepreneurs Network, hosts their weekly podcast – The Voice of Manhattan Business – and serves as an Ambassador. An advocate for the protection of job seekers, visit the homepage of his website,, to read about questionable offerings of so-called job search assistance companies and to learn about his upcoming speaking engagements.

Advising Job Seekers with Mental Health Issues

First, a clarification.  I am neither a psychologist nor an attorney.  If any of these composite characters resonate seek the assistance of a qualified health care professional or attorney.  Second, you will find no political correctness here.  It’s not my role as a career counselor to make someone feel comfortable unless, as in the case of interviewing skills, that will help them get a job.  It’s my role to help them find employment.  If that means forcing them to face a reality they do not like, so be it.

During my career I have helped people with five different mental health issues.  For me, a mental health issue is when a person’s cognitive and/or behavioral abilities are not the norm.  This can manifest itself in their decision making process and/or their body language.   Let’s look at each in alphabetical order.


It is not difficult to sense when someone whom I am interviewing is hiding something.  What they are hiding is a different matter.  It is easy to tell when someone does not want to admit that they have been fired.  And, sadly, I have gotten pretty good at spotting people who claim to be veterans but are not.  (The mission of my company is to promote the hiring of veterans.  I do that by lowering my executive recruiting fee by a third when the client/employer hires a candidate who is a veteran, and by one half when a career counseling client is a veteran.)  But one day a woman came to me and, even though I knew she was hiding something, I did not have a clue what it was.

In cases like this I have a very simple method to discover what the issue is.  I use the word “issue” intentionally because while the individual may think they have a “problem,” the majority of time they do not.  It’s just an issue which can usually be dealt with quite easily.  So what is this “simple method?”  I ask them!

This woman had a good resume/career.  She was not a “jumper;” she kept her jobs for a reasonable period of time.  She had a Master’s degree from a respected university.  She was professional and articulate.  And she was hiding something.  When I asked her to confide in me she said, “I’m autistic but highly functional.”   I then asked, “So what’s the problem?  What can’t you do?”

She was amazed to discover that there was not a single thing she could not do, at least as related to the jobs for which she applied.  In fact, there were many things she could do better than most normal or regular people.

My guess was that she was obsessing over her autism and that made for uncomfortable interviews.  She was sending the wrong non-verbal cues.  My advice was to turn her autism into a positive.   When given the opportunity to tell interviewers about herself or how she overcomes difficulties, I told her to say, “I have had to do that all my life.  As a highly functional person with autism I have had to find ways to achieve goals. Here are some examples…”

All of the examples were work related and relevant.  With that change in her interviewing tactics, she found employment.


I was working on finding a fundraiser for a school for special needs children.  I found a very good candidate who became the perfect candidate once he answered the question, “Do you have any experience with persons, especially children, with mental health issues?”

Other candidates had told me about their friends.  This gentleman told me about himself.  He said, “I’m dyslexic.”  He immediately went from being a strong candidate to a perfect candidate because he knew “special needs” first hand.

What was amazing was that in the past he never mentioned his disability.  He was afraid it would cost him a job.  He was wrong.

Dyslexic people, especially older ones who had to hide their disability in school because of the ignorance of society, have learned how to do, what I call, “workarounds,” meaning they have had to find innovative ways to do things.  What boss does not want to have on his team someone who is good at innovative thinking?  So I told him to talk about his dyslexia.  He did and he got the job.


Geniuses are a funny sort. They are highly intelligent but not necessarily when it comes to social skills.  It’s the famous “IQ vs EQ” debate.  Some have a need for everyone to know that they are the smartest person in the room.  That can turn people off very quickly.  Since employers only hire people they like, it is hard for some geniuses to find employment because they talk too much and come across as know-it-alls.  Appearing to be obnoxious is never a good idea in an interview!

One woman came to me who was, to say the least, brilliant.  The first thing I told her to do was to remove MENSA from her resume.  It took a while but I finally convinced her that a MENSA membership can be intimidating and it would be irrelevant for any job to which she was applying.

Then we worked on her interviewing skills.  She was a lecturer.  I don’t mean professionally, she was not a teacher, but every answer to every question I asked began with a lecture on the subject.  No one wants to be lectured to.  Simple answers to simple questions.  If you talk too much, you can talk yourself out of a job offer.

It comes down to prioritizing information distribution.  You don’t have to impart all of your knowledge on a subject.  You certainly don’t have to back up everything you say by citing countless books and articles.  What is required is to focus on what the interviewer wants to hear.  That’s easy to know if, and many geniuses have a problem with this (and some non-geniuses as well!), you listen.  You can’t listen if you are talking or thinking about talking.

In the case of one genius client, I worked with him on his listening skills.  The minute I would say something that I knew intrigued him, I could see the wheels start to turn, so to speak.  He was already thinking about his answer to what he presumed would be my question.  It never was.  For example, I started my question by talking about car manufacturing during World War II but I actually asked him about aircraft production.  He missed the actual question because he was excited to tell me about the contribution of the Jeep during the War, but when I stopped him in midsentence to point out that I had asked about aircraft production, he was shocked.  He never heard the question.  Once he learned to listen, he got a job.


Homosexuals have a lot in common with geniuses.  Many talk too much as a defense mechanism.  They think they are at a disadvantage so they overcompensate.  It is an all too familiar nervous reaction to which most people fall victim.  Additionally, some place the same emphasis on the minor as they do on the major.  Allow me to explain:

A gentleman came to me who had some of the physical manifestations of homosexuality: a slight lisp, feminine mannerism including a tell-tale gait.  He was highly professional, very intelligent, and had had a great career.  Problem was, he lost his job when the organization he worked for went out of business.  He had not interviewed for a very long time and, like many other people in that situation, needed help.

He was a fundraiser.  I asked him to tell me about his fundraising successes.  He began by telling me about a parlor meeting he had organized that was attended by a dozen people and raised a few thousand dollars.  He then told me about a gala he had organized which was attended by 500 people and had brought in half a million dollars for the non-profit.  He told me that that was the answer he would give when asked in an interview about his successes.  And he never got a job offer.  Why?  Because he spoke the same amount of time about each success and, more importantly, with equal passion.  He gave them equal value even though they clearly were not of equal importance.

At one point in the interview he asked me if he should tell interviewers that he was homosexual.  (By the way, I don’t use the term “gay” because I think it is disrespectful.  Watch old movies.  Characters say “gay” all the time.  It means “happy” or “carefree.”  Describing a human being in that way is demeaning and disrespectful and I don’t do it.)  I asked him if he felt that homosexuality was a condition for which he required “reasonable accommodation” from an employer.  (When someone has a health or religious issue that is relevant for the job, employers are required by law to make “reasonable accommodation” for them.  For example, in the case of someone with a mental health issue it would be reasonable to allow the person an extra half hour once a week for lunch so that he could go to a therapy session.)  He said no.  Then I asked if his homosexuality was in any way related to the job for which he was applying.  Again, he said no.  So I told him not to bring it up.

He then admitted that he had in past interviews.  I told him that that was probably a mistake.  Interviewers would not know his motivation.  Was he telling them about his homosexuality because he was an honest person and wanted them to know something that he considered to be important about himself, or was he telling them as a non-articulated threat that, “If you don’t hire me I’m going to sue for discrimination!”  They would have no way of knowing so, to be safe, they would not hire him because he may be a law suit waiting to happen.

One client asked a very interesting question.  He said that he was well connected in the homosexual community and thought that would be important for an employer to know as he could expand the employer’s customer base.  On the face of it, that’s relevant and a positive.  The problem is, some employers do not want to expand their business.  They are happy the way things are.  So suggesting expansion, regardless of the “what” and the “who,” may be counterproductive.  I told him that once he had the job for which he was applying to wait until he had gained the respect of his boss and colleagues, and then ask about expansion.

A few months after he got the job he called to tell me that he gone to his direct supervisor to offer to introduce some sales people to potential customers in the homosexual community.  He told me that his supervisor immediately got up, they were in his office, closed the door and warned him never to talk about expansion or growth around the owner.  Apparently, the owner had had a partner who wanted to expand the business.  The result was an end to the partnership and near bankruptcy.  He then told him which sales person to approach and how to do it.

Post Traumatic Stress (Disorder)

First, an explanation.  “Disorder” is in parentheses because I have heard a number of veterans speak who have said that they find the term “disorder” to be disrespectful.  Thus my use of PTS instead of PTSD.

When a veteran interviews for a job, the 600 pound guerilla in the room is the question of their health.  Employers like people who are honest and who know the concern of the people with whom they are meeting.  My advice is always to be upfront.  In fact, to the best of my knowledge, it has always been appreciated by interviewers.

There are two possibilities.  In the first case the veteran can say, “I know you are concerned about health issues and I also know you can’t ask me anything more than whether or not there is any reason why I cannot fulfill the requirements of the job.  So let me answer the question.  I have no health issues.”  End of discussion.

In the second case the veteran says, “I know you can’t ask me so I am going to tell you because eventually it will come out.  I have…” (not “suffer from” just “have”) “PTSD.”   (I include the “D” because most people innocently don’t understand the “D” issue and know it at PTSD.)  “What this means is…  The reasonable accommodation I require is…”  And that’s all there is to it.

What usually happens is that there is a discussion about what PTS really is and how it manifests itself.  The veteran shows herself to be intelligent, articulate, caring and thoughtful, answering all questions.  At the beginning of the conversation she goes from being candidate to teacher.  I have never had a veteran denied a job offer because of a medical condition.


Bruce Hurwitz is an executive recruiter and career counselor.  He is the author of Success! As Employee or Entrepreneur and A Hooker’s Guide to Getting a Job: Parables from the Real World of Career Counseling and Executive Recruiting.

The Most Important Part of a LinkedIn Profile for an Employer or Recruiter

Of late I have come to the realization that, as a recruiter, besides a person’s location and industry, the most important part of a potential candidate’s LinkedIn profile is the “View Recent Activity” button.


Because it shows how a person acts publicly in what is supposed to be a professional network.

One woman today posted a photo of her new born baby.  The post was apologetic in tone.  “Sorry I have not been updating you recently but I have a good reason…”  Does she really think her LinkedIn network noticed her absence?  And why is she sharing details of her personal life, literally, with the world?  Would she bring her personal life into the workplace as well?  Would it just be about births (which is understandable) or will her co-workers have to hear complaints, comments, criticisms and praise about her family day in and day out?

Now the birth of a child is a joyous occasion.  The death of a child, parent or colleague is not.  It’s sad and we can all feel sympathy but the same questions I posed above also hold true when publicly announcing a tragedy.  These announcement, both happy and sad, are perfect for Facebook but not for LinkedIn.

And then there is the politics.   A woman recently opined that is was a shame that the person who apparently was going to attack Donald Trump failed.  (I reported her because such comments are inexcusable and possibly criminal.)  A man shared his opinion that President Obama will go down in history as the greatest president of all time.  (From the comments posted one would be excused for thinking he was kidding.)   And then there are the pictures/posts debunking Black Lives Matter.  The list is endless.

Will these individuals bring politics into the office?  No employer wants that.

So think twice when you post non-professional or purely personal commentary or information on LinkedIn.  It may cost you a job offer.  (It will be interesting to see if anyone is ever fired for a LinkedIn post or comment and, if they sue, what the verdict will be!)


Bruce Hurwitz is an executive recruiter and career counselor.  He is the author of Success! As Employee or Entrepreneur and A Hooker’s Guide to Getting a Job: Parables from the Real World of Career Counseling and Executive Recruiting.

The Great Anomaly or A New Year’s Resolution for Job Seekers

Here’s the thing.  As a good job seeker you sit down and work very hard on your collaterals – your marketing materials.  Specifically, your cover letter and resume.  Some of you may even have paid someone to prepare them for you, albeit under your supervision.   They are important documents – the equivalent of the company brochure or website.  They have to be perfect.

If you are expecting an argument, you won’t get one from me.  They have to be perfect.  No typos, grammatical or spelling errors allowed.  But here’s the thing:

The average (and this is based on absolutely no scientific evidence at all, just personal/professional experience) job seeker will spend hours and days on their cover letter and days and weeks on their resume.  As a musician writing her score, the job seeker will tweak and tweak, refine and refine, until everything is perfect to eye and ear.  Now for the anomaly:

The average resume recipient will spend no more than 10 seconds on a cover letter, if any at all (I know recruiters and some HR managers who don’t even read them unless the job requires writing skills!), and even less time on the resume.  That’s why the cover letter has to be no more than an “elevator pitch” and the resume needs to begin with the equivalent of a Superbowl commercial – grabbing the reader’s attention and making them want more.

But the anomaly continues:

The job seeker will spend minutes, maybe a few hours, doing research on the company and – if she is smart – on the people who will be interviewing her.  The employer will spend the same amount of time researching the job seeker, or perhaps less, depending on the position.  The employer, like the job seeker, will Google the candidate (as the job seeker Googles the employer) to find out all they can about her.  However, and here’s the funny part, the employer will spend hours on the interview while the job seeker usually only spends a few minutes – normally on the way to the interview.

What happens, from the employer’s perspective, regarding interviews?  First, the candidate meets with someone from HR, usually for a good 20 minutes to half an hour.  Then the candidate may meet with a director for 45 minutes to an hour and then a quarter to half an hour with an executive.  That could be the first phase but, for sake of argument, that’s all there is to it.  So the employer had staff meet with the candidate for a total of about an hour and half to two hours.  Then, all the interviewers get together to discuss the candidates.  That takes another hour.  But let’s be minimalists.  Let’s agree that an employer spends a good two hours interviewing, including the debrief.  That’s a lot of time.  It’s a large investment.

What does the job candidate do?  On the way to the interview she does a mock interview in her head, answering questions that she thinks she is going to be asked.  What are your strengths?  What are your weaknesses?  Why do you want to work here?  Why did you leave your previous jobs?  What salary are you looking for?  Basic answers to basic questions.  Just like everybody else!

But the key to getting a job is differentiation.  So here’s your New Year’s Resolution:

In 2012 you will devote more time to preparing for an interview than writing the cover letter and resume.  You’ll research the employer digging as deep as possible.  You’ll research the interviewer(s).  You’ll not only prepare answers to the standard questions, you’ll prepare a list of questions that, when you ask them, will show the employer that you understand the importance of due diligence.

You see, the purpose of the cover letter is to get the recipient to read the resume, and the purpose of the resume is get an interview.  But it is the interview that leads to the offer and that’s your goal: to get the job offer.  So you are going to write a good cover letter and a great resume, but you’re going to spend most of your time preparing for the interview.  Why?  Because that’s what the employer is going to do!  Put differently, what’s most important to the employer should be what’s most important to you.

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