Job Search and Interview Tips: What HR Professionals and Recruiters Notice – October 15, 2018 – by David Lee


You’re about to conduct a job search or maybe you’re in the midst of your job search and you’ve finally landed a promising interview.

What do you do and…what do you make sure you DON’T do?

Since I’m the primary interview coach at Heart At Work Associates, I wanted to consider these questions from the perspective of the job searcher’s “customer”: the HR professionals who will decide whether they get the interview and if they get the job.

This blog post is the first of a series of interviews. The HR professional I interviewed for this article is a highly respected seasoned Chief Human Resources Officer at a financial services organization.

What follows are her answers to some of the important questions you need to ask when conducting a job search and preparing for an interview.

How to Get the Interview

Question: What do you look for in a cover letter and what turns you off?

Answer: I want a cover letter to sell me on how they fit with my company.  What values do we share? They should research the company and use similar culture words in their cover. Please do not repeat anything I can see on the resume.  If your address is outside of Maine, tell me when you will be moving or available to interview.  If your resume would prompt me to ask a question, (what have you been doing for the last two years?), explain it in the cover letter.

Question: What do you look for in a resume?

Answer: I prefer to see the most current activity listed first.  No typos.  Identify gaps.   Make sure it is current; I don’t want you to tell me that is an old resume.

How to Ace the Interview

Question: When you ask “Can you tell me about yourself?” what do you like and what turns you off?

(Note: people often miss the mark with this very vague, open-ended question, going on and on recounting their whole work history, or sharing personal interests and information that should best be kept for social interactions. Once I had someone with whom I was conducting a mock interview start off “I was born in ______”. Because this question can easily go wrong quickly, you want to put serious thought into this question.)

Answer: I like them to explain their career progression and aspirations they have met and what aspirations they currently have.   Maybe life lessons that brought them here today.  I look for “I”’s or “we’s” when they talk about accomplishments.  Are they individually focused or team focused?  I prefer they stay away from religion, children and other taboo topics we are not allowed to ask about.

Question: When you ask “Do you have questions for me?” what do you look for in the questions they choose to ask and what it says about them?

(Note: When coaching someone to answer this question, I ask them to keep the following mantra in mind: Everything Matters. I first heard it from Scott Bedbury, author of It’s a New Brand World, and former brand manager of Starbucks and Nike. As it relates to interviewing, it means that every word choice, every story you tell, every question you ask tells the interviewer something about you. So…Everything Matters in the interview. As you consider what questions you want to ask, think about what the question or questions say about YOU. If you ask a question that is about what the employer will do for you says something very different than a question that reflects your interest in learning how you could make the biggest contribution possible. Questions that speak to the employer’s strategy or mission, or that relate to research you have done on them, speak to a big picture thinker who wouldn’t just be focused on their little piece of the puzzle, and again…wants to know who they can provide the most value.)

Answer: I want them to ask about where the company is going from a growth perspective, and more strategic big picture questions.  Ask me how long I have been here and what keeps me here. Don’t ask about what we can do for you.  If you are in the running, we will let you know when the time is right.


Question: When you think of people who impressed you the most…what was it about them that made them stand out?

Answer: There is truth to the old adage “You never have a second chance to make a first impression.” Be on time or a few minutes early, dress for success, make eye contact, and exhibit listening skills when others are talking.


Question: How do you like people to follow up with you after an interview and what do you NOT want them to do?

Answer: I always tell everyone that I will get back to them and the time frame they will hear from me.  I never leave anyone wondering what happened and I get back to everyone.  I don’t give them a reason to call.

(Note: This HR professional understands that Everything Matters, and how HR treats job applicants, whether they get a job or not, contributes to an employer’s reputation, their Employer Brand. Thoughtless behavior spreads ill will, thoughtful behavior spreads goodwill and good PR throughout the marketplace. Let’s say you don’t hear back, what can you do? Here’s what Heart at Work Associates founder, Barbara Babkirk says: “Follow up with a phone call or email after a week if you’ve not received a response. But, better still, before you leave an interview, ask about the timeframe for the hiring process and when you might expect to hear from them. Ask for the interviewer(s) business card in case you need to follow up…and connect with them on Linkedin in addition to sending a thank you note.”)

Question: What are some other “Don’t do this…” recommendations you have for job searchers?

Answer: Here are six don’t dos:

  • Don’t ask about salary and benefits in the first interview.
  • Don’t ask for a different schedule than what was posted.
  • Don’t give references that don’t know you are giving their names. It makes for awkward conversations.
  • Double check what you put down as your references’ phone numbers. Incorrect phone numbers are both annoying and make you look careless.
  • If you list your phone number on your resume, make sure you have your voicemail set with an appropriate greeting, and that your mailbox is not full.  (Yes, this happens!)
  • If you come in jeans or leggings, the interview will be very quick.


Question: If there was ONE recommendation you have for job searchers, what would it be?   

Answer:Please dress for success. Again…no jeans or leggings (Note: if you aren’t sure what would be appropriate, get advice from trusted advisors who have been in the workforce longer than you, those who work in the industry or organization you’re applying to if you are unfamiliar with their culture and informal dress code.)


About the author: David Lee is a career coach at Heart at Work Associates, who, as part of his work, conducts video-recorded interview coaching.

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