Second Interview Questions You’ll Probably Get - And How to Prepare for Them

As a candidate for a new job, you’re typically going to face several rounds of interviews with the company you’re exploring. In the interview process, you have an opportunity to demonstrate your skills, illustrate how your work experience aligns with the role, and provide answers that your cover letter and resume can’t address.

The first interview in the hiring process is often via phone, and is usually the time to address general questions about your experience. Human resources team members often conduct this “screening” interview, and are typically capturing basic information to understand your fit for the role, near-term career goals, and better understand your resume and experiences.

Generally, the second interview is more focused, lasts longer, and is an opportunity to more deeply explore your capabilities. Your second interview is often conducted by someone that works on - or is responsible for - the team that is hiring for the position. This generally makes it a more detailed discussion, with more specific interview questions.

In many hiring processes, you can expect additional interviews beyond the second round, and different types of interviews. For example, some companies prefer “two-on-one” interviews where two staff members conduct the interview together, and others prefer “case interviews” where you are presented with a business problem you need to analyze and discuss.

How can you prepare for these interviews? First, you need to understand the interview process you’re walking into. Don’t assume anything about the process. To be well-prepared, I strongly encourage you to inquire about the number of interview rounds you should expect as well as the types of interviews that the company uses to make hiring decisions. Further, the company should provide you with who is conducting the interview. This will allow you to research their background and come with your own questions tailored to their experiences.

Additionally, you should prepare by gathering any publicly available information about the company. Sites like Fairygodboss and social media make this easy by helping you understand company priorities, summarize employee feedback, and learn about executives that run the business. You should always visit the company’s own website before an interview, and pay attention to recent press releases and statements of company goals and values.

Bolster your preparation by connecting with your network. Look for alumni, former colleagues, and connections that work at the company. Having a few, brief networking conversations in advance of your interview will provide you with valuable real-life perspective from current employees. Remember that these people are busy - reach out to them with a pointed, thoughtful set of questions and recognize that their time is valuable. If you impress them with your questions and insight, they may even bolster your candidacy for the job!

Finally, prepare your own thoughtful, tailored questions to ask of your interviewers. A good interviewer will ensure you have time to ask questions about the company and role. This is an opportunity to demonstrate your preparation. Tailored, specific questions illustrate that you are seriously considering the opportunity, and provide the interviewer with insight into how effectively you’ll address the business problems in the role.

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While companies use very different types of interview processes, there are questions you’re likely to get in a second interview. Here are ten common questions that you can expect - and prepare for.

  • Walk me through your resume. This is an opportunity for you to add context to the resume you’ve painstakingly prepared. A good resume walkthrough will be succinct (around 3 minutes) and both start and end with how your experiences fit will with the role. Share your biggest accomplishments and include the results of your actions, providing metrics, feedback received from leadership, and quantifiable results wherever possible.

  • What attracted you to this role and company? Show you’ve done your research by highlighting specifics about the company’s unique position in the marketplace, recent accomplishments, cultural values, and reputation. Mention any connections you have at the business, and other research you’ve done to confirm it is a good fit for you.

    Similarly, you’ll want to articulate how the role will both take advantage of your skills and experiences while affording you an opportunity to develop further. Be prepared to highlight how selecting you will be a win-win for your own career and the company’s objectives.

  • What are your career goals in the short- and long-term? Your short-term career goals (typically within the next 1 - 3 years) should align well with the immediate opportunity you are interviewing for. I recommend sharing your objectives and communicating how you think the position may help you achieve those goals.

    Longer-term goals are typically five (or more) years out, and require a more careful balancing act. Interviewers understand that employees today are more likely to switch jobs, but still remain wary of hiring someone who is eager to switch jobs. If you don’t have a very specific long-term goal in mind, I recommend focusing on the skills you plan to be utilizing and experiences you aim to have in that timeframe. This may include leading a larger team, working in an international assignment, or serving a different type of customer.

  • Why are you looking to leave your current position? Remain positive and future-focused when you respond to this question, as your interviewer is likely both genuinely curious and interested in the elements that you’re not excited about in your current role. Don’t disparage your current employer - however difficult the situation might be. Instead, focus on what you’re seeking to gain in the new position, highlighting the new skills, experiences, or knowledge you’re interested in attaining.

  • Tell me about a time when you worked as part of a team. This question is typically seeking to understand your ability to work in teams, the role you often plan in teams, and how effectively you describe projects and situations. In your response, share context before you dive into details. What was the team tasked to with achieving, how was success measured, and what was your role?

    As you respond, offer a brief summary of the role you played, how you interacted with others, and whether the team achieved its objective. I recommend sharing what you learned from the experience, and briefly highlighting other team experiences the interviewer may want to hear about.

    In experiential questions, you can generally offer a fairly brief summary. When you conclude, you can always ask the interviewer if they’d like to hear more. For example you can inquire, “Would you like me to share additional detail about our team report, or how the team interacted?” This is generally better than preparing a lengthy, detailed, overview that is far more than the interviewer needs.

  • Tell me about a time when you had to deal with conflict at work. Your interviewer knows you are eager to put your best foot forward - but they also recognize that the workforce involves conflict. Your answer to this question provides clues about your personality, self-awareness, and how effectively you manage challenging situations.

    When responding to this question, share a genuine conflict - not something minor or inconsequential. I also recommend avoiding situations where the other individuals were clearly in error - selecting a conflict where there’s a genuine difference of opinion, and neither party is objectively “right” or “wrong” is more authentic.

    In your response, don’t disparage the other individuals involved in the conflict. Provide context, so the interviewer understands the situation and why there was a difference in opinion, and share how you evaluated the conflict, how you addressed it, and the ultimate resolution. Highlight any lessons you learned, or things you’d have done differently if the situation arose again.

  • Tell me about a time when you failed at work. Like the question above, this is an opportunity to understand your self-awareness, candor, and resilience. Talking about our successes is fun - but we learn much more from our failures.

    When responding, I recommend that you select a significant example. Downplaying your failures, or selecting a minor issue, indicates that you aren’t being candid or might not learn from mistakes. In your response, ensure you highlight how you took ownership of the failure and sought to learn from the experience.

  • What is your biggest professional accomplishment? This is an opportunity for you to shine - prepare at least three major accomplishments that you’d like to share in the interview process, and prioritize them. For some, it can feel uncomfortable sharing your successes - but if you don’t communicate these to the interviewer, they won’t fully understand your fantastic achievements. If you need some help, practice with a friend, who can help you effectively share your biggest career wins.

    For each accomplishment, focus on the role you played as well as the results or benefit that resulted from your efforts. Benefits come in many forms - they may include quantifiable business metrics - but I advise you to articulate other benefits like company reputation, team morale, and client satisfaction. Like other questions, this is also an opportunity to highlight skills you developed or lessons you learned as part of the success you achieved.

  • What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses? This question is often checking for both information and your own self-awareness. Candidates that brag about a strength without much evidence, or share “faux weaknesses” like perfectionism, can cause the interviewer to question the validity of other responses.

    Your best preparation is a strong view of your own skill set. If you don’t have this already, enlist a trusted colleague or friend to help you develop your top three strengths (and weaknesses) that you can back up with brief examples. When answering a question like this, spend more time outlining your strengths, and less time on your weaknesses.

    When listing your weaknesses, I recommend offering one that is genuine - but wouldn’t be detrimental to the role. Your interviewer may ask for more - so you’ll want to have at least three prepared that are truly opportunities for development but wouldn’t rule you out for the position you’re applying for. Many candidates responding to this question elect to highlight gaps that result from lack of experience (haven’t managed people, haven’t served in an international position) versus lack of skill.

  • Why should we hire you? This question is at the heart of the interview process, and I believe it is one of the most important questions you should prepare for. Further, if you aren’t asked it of the interviewer, you should proactively share your thoughtful response.

    When this question is asked, your reply should be delivered with confidence, include specifics, and be succinct. I recommend signaling that you welcome the question, with something like, “I’m so glad you asked; as you can imagine I’ve been thinking about that question a lot myself.”

    The content of the response is also critical. When crafting your reply, prepare to address three things: your skills, the company’s goals, and your interviewer. Your skills include the capabilities you’ve developed that prepare you for success. Linking these to company goals demonstrate your understanding of the position and wider business. Finally, tailoring your response to your interviewer acknowledges that you’ve done thoughtful research on them in advance of the discussion.

In addition to these general questions, you can expect questions tailored to the position you’re interviewing for. Ensure you’ve researched the role and understand common expectations, success indicators, and industry standards so you can effectively navigate the more detailed questions in the process.

Thoughtful preparation and practice with a trusted friend will put you in a position to nail your next interview, stand out among other applicants for the job, and land you the role you’ve been working towards. What second interview questions do you prepare for? Or, if you’re a hiring manager, what do you typically ask? I’d love to hear from you.

 

This post also appeared on the Fairygodboss blog - I love their mission to improve the lives and workplace for women, through transparency.

I Love My Company, But Hate My Role...What Should I Do?

You landed the job you’ve worked so hard to secure. After all the networking, interviews, and salary negotiations, you’re a month in - and you hate it. The company has everything you hoped for - smart colleagues, interesting challenges, thoughtful, diverse leaders - but the role you’re in stinks. What do you do next?

I’ve got you. This is precisely what happened to me my first job out of college. It took me about six weeks to realize how much I hated the role. The first few weeks were a whirlwind of onboarding, meeting new colleagues, and the rush of a new job in an amazing city. Then, after everything settled down, I realized the daily responsibilities of the job weren’t energizing and excluded some of the things I loved most. Here’s what you should do when faced with this dilemma.

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First - check the culture. Understand the culture around internal movement from colleagues. There can be both written policies and unwritten norms to explore. Since you’re a new employee, you can do so by accurately explaining you’re interested in understanding long-term career prospects. You’ll want to understand:

  • Formal policies - some companies restrict new hires from moving into a new role for a certain amount of time

  • Unwritten norms - what’s commonly accepted for a new employee, what career paths have successful colleagues forged as they moved teams

  • Your manager and leadership team - reflect on the discussions they have had with you, and how they’ve reacted to colleagues that moved roles - if they’ve encouraged career development, you likely have a manager more open to supporting your shift

Second - determine how to engage your manager. If your manager is a strong developer of talent, they will want you to find the absolute best position within the company. She will have signaled this by discussing long-term career ambitions with you and by offering (and asking for) feedback. In this case, I recommend candidly discussing your ambitions without denigrating your current role.

You can approach this by saying, “Taylor, I have enjoyed my first several weeks here tremendously. In our next one-on-one, I’d like to get your advice on how to further grow my career here and contribute even more.” Giving your boss a heads-up ensures they aren’t blindsided.

You’ll want to carefully balance your primary responsibility - which is success in the current role - and your future ambitions. You might say, “Taylor, in the first few weeks here I’ve learned a tremendous amount. Contributing on the Alpha Report was a big challenge and it was fantastic to see it so well received by our clients. I still have a lot to learn, however I’m beginning to see that, in this role, my love for creativity and design aren’t being leveraged. Would you be open to a longer-term career planning discussion?”

This diplomatic approach recognizes that you are still new, and frames the discussion around your career goals, not the position itself. You’re reminding your boss of the successes you’ve had in the short term you’ve been in seat, and labeling the things you aren’t getting out of this position.

In this discussion, you’re looking for how your manager reacts. Is she engaging you to start thinking about your career, does she welcome a longer-term discussion, does she start thinking creatively about how to give you some exposure to the things you find lacking? Those are good signals, indicating you have a manager who is likely to help in your transition. If she appears frustrated or annoyed, you might need to be more delicate.

If your manager is only focused on keeping you in the current role, and appears disinterested, then you’ll want to engage others across the company in career-coaching discussions. Learning and development teams, HR business partners, employee networks, and fellow college alumni that work at the company can help you navigate the business.

That said, you should assume that everything you share in those discussions goes back to your direct manager. I’m not saying it will - but you should approach each meeting with a positive, thoughtful approach that is anchored on your long-term contribution to the success of the business you’re a part of.

Third - explore where you want to go. This component is particularly important - you don’t want a reputation as an unreliable employee who can’t stick to their commitments. Therefore, the next position you move to should be one where you want to invest time and effort.

Now that you’re inside the company, you’re able to see the reality in much more detail than you could when you were interviewing. As you build your company network, I suggest three things:

  • Always bring something of value to each networking discussion. This doesn’t need to be huge; it could be as simple as doing a quick search on the person you are meeting, seeing they follow Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg on LinkedIn, and sharing a recent article that featured Sandberg’s views.

  • Focus on skills, not just roles. As a new employee, you’re just learning the company. Don’t make assumptions about what function is best for you. Instead, focus on the three to five skills you’d like to develop or utilize more. Your colleagues may make interesting connections - like pointing you to a team that is just forming, but will need the skills you mentioned - that you wouldn’t have been able to yourself.

  • Ask your colleagues for connections. As you build your network, ask your colleagues who they recommend you meet. This is an excellent way to close the discussion and continue growing your connections.

  • Understand the internal application process. Learn precisely how the process works for employees who move internally. Most businesses require a very similar process for internal hires as they do external - resume submission, formal interviews, and even cover letters.

Fourth - set yourself up and make the move. In my experience, two things contribute disproportionately to making a move within your current company. The first is critical - you need to be effective at your current position. Even if you dislike it, you’ve got to nail it by meeting deadlines, delivering quality work, and ensuring you’re performing well by asking your manager and peers for feedback. If you don’t have a strong reputation in your current position, it will be challenging to get the next job.

Additionally, I recommend being appropriately transparent with your management team about your long-term ambitions. This is far easier if your manager is supportive of you. But - you never want your manager to be surprised that you are applying for a role internally. Many HR departments make a first call to the employee’s current manager before setting up an internal interview. This often allows HR to capture feedback on your performance and ensures the manager isn’t surprised. You want your manager to hear about your interest in a new role from you, not HR.

If you love your company, but hate your role, you can navigate into a new position. The talent in today’s market remains scarce, and competitive businesses recognize that it’s better to keep an employee by moving them into a new role than having them resign.

I’ll share my experience - after six months in the role I disliked, I landed an internal position in a new department that stretched my skills in exciting, interesting ways. My new role had many things my first position lacked, including more focused client engagement and deeper analytics.

Interestingly, some of the skills I built in the role I disliked (particularly an intensive attention to detail and the ability to write research reports extremely quickly) serve me well in my career to this day. I wish you the best of luck as you land the role you deserve in the company of your dreams.

xoxo,
Ms. Financier

How to Slay Your First Job Out of College

This post is by my fabulous internet friend Tori Dunlap. Founder of her first business at age nine, Tori is an award-winning digital marketer, entrepreneur, and blogger. She has led, developed, and executed social media and communication plans for global brands. Tori is founder of Victori Media, helping millennial women live life victoriously and is obsessed with finding cheap flights, reading a good book in the bathtub, and watching classic "Whose Line" episodes.

You’ve walked across that stage, diploma in hand. You’re absolutely exhausted, and elated for what’s to come. But whether you have a job lined up already or are beginning the search, your challenges (both good and bad!) are just beginning.

I was in your shoes just a few short years ago, when I graduated college and launched my career. Like most graduates, I was discovering how to navigate the corporate world. But unlike most graduates, I landed a job that had me running marketing and communication strategy for a global company of 5,000. By myself.

In order to be successful, I knew I was going to have to constantly learn. And since my first day on the job, I’ve been given more responsibilities, had fantastic opportunities to travel and work special events, and even earned a massive raise.

Here’s what I learned about how to kill it at your first corporate job.

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1. Chat with your boss

Discovering more about your role requires a 1:1 discussion with your supervisor. Your first week on the job is a great time to figure out the big picture stuff, like how success will be defined in your position — is it quantitative or qualitative? The number of clients you bring in, or an increase in brand awareness? — and what your goals should be in this first year.

More day-to-day expectations are important too — do you need to stay as late as your boss? Can you work from home (if so, how often?) What meetings should you be attending? Ask questions now before you regret NOT asking them later.

2. Get some info

The best resource for getting your feet wet at your first job? The people you’ll work with every day! It’s your chance to learn everything you can about a new company: make friends with people in other departments, email executives a few questions about their role and experience (after you’ve done your research on their background and achievements), ask someone out for coffee. Sit with new people at lunch every day for your first few weeks, ask to observe any executive meetings — soak it all in!

3. Bond with your peers out of office

Work is better with friends — your mental health is proven to increase when you have friends at the office. Having people that will support you, guide you, and have your back will be so important as you take on larger projects. Go to lunch together, or bring your home lunches outside. Visit the art museum together, go to a movie, grab drinks. Building positive, friendly relationships with coworkers will make tough days easier, and will congratulate you and cheer you on when things go right.

4. Contribute innovative ideas

Going above and beyond in your job is not just working hard. You want to be an innovator. See where you could fill a need, and pitch it to your boss (chances are, you learned some of the challenges in your informational interviews!) Begin to seek out the organization’s problems, and dream up ways to solve them. For example, I implemented our Lunch and Learn program at our office (and it helped me get that huge raise!)

5. Offer support and encouragement

Your coworkers are just like anyone else: to be successful, they want to feel supported. When a coworker is set to leave for vacation, ask them if there is anything you can assist with while they’re away. When the person in the cubicle next to you gets a raise or promotion, handwrite a note of congratulations. Make them something small for their birthday, or help decorate their desk. It’s the small things, but they’ll go a long way in having a more cohesive, collaborative team who feels respected.

6. Ask for feedback

In that very first meeting with your boss, you want to set up sessions for formal feedback. Ask her for a formal review every 6 months, with consistent check-ins when you meet one-on-one. The last thing you want is to feel like you’re doing a great job, only to have a negative review from lack of communication. Ask for feedback from peers and other team members, too. Let them know you’re eager for feedback on what you can improve, since you’re looking to grow.

7. Constantly strive to learn

Whether this learning comes from your on-the-job training, an introductory interview with someone in another department, a book, or an online course, the best thing you can do for your career is to keep learning (and you thought college was over!) Free webinars and networking events have been very helpful for me, as well as collaborating with colleagues on projects. Ask your boss if there is a discretionary budget for learning materials, courses, or certifications.

For those of you just launching your careers, be compassionate and confident in your skills, and never stop asking questions. You’ve got this! If you’re looking to discover your path after graduation, or are having a hard time finding that perfect fit — drop me a line! I would love to work with you to discover your full potential.

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I love Tori's thoughtful, practical advice on how to slay your first job out of college! For those that have been in the workplace for some time, you probably realized you're doing several of these things already. Or, perhaps you found something new to incorporate. Thank you, Tori, for your take!

xoxo, Ms. Financier

 

How My Mentor Helped Me Get Promoted

In the workforce, doing great work isn’t enough to accelerate your career. Mentors and sponsors ensure your great work is recognized, acknowledged, and appreciated by those in power. My mentor has been a tremendously valuable source of guidance throughout my career, and our partnership helped me earn my most recent (and significant) promotion.

Let’s take a moment to define terms:

  • Mentors provide guidance, coaching, and perspective on your career and professional ambitions. I think of my best mentors as a second set of eyes on my life decisions, and love this article on the four things the best mentors do. Mentors may be within or outside of your organization.

  • Sponsors may do some of the things mentors do, but they exert effort on your behalf. They actively seek, develop, and create professional opportunities for you. I believe you must have at least one sponsor within your own organization.

A report by executive search firm Egon Zehnder indicated that only 54% of women have sponsors or mentors supporting their career. Frustratingly, women have fewer sponsors than men. In my experience, I find we are less assertive about developing senior relationships because we often feel uncomfortable asking for help. If you don’t yet have a mentor, here are six tips on how to get one.

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My primary mentor is an amazing, inspiring businesswoman with over a decade of additional professional experience. Let’s call her Amani. Her guidance has been valuable throughout my career and she played a massive role in helping me secure a big promotion.

Eighteen months ago, I felt stuck in a professional rut. Amani and I had a conversation where I shared this feeling with her, and she asked me several pointed questions to help me diagnose the source of my angst. I find that the best mentors, like Amani, often listen more than they speak.

One of the questions she asked me was: “If you weren’t stuck, what would be happening differently at work and in your career?” This simple, thoughtful question required me to gather my thoughts. I shared some of the frustrations that would be eliminated, the projects I’d stop spending time on, how I’d change my staff, and the new things I’d take on. “Well,” Amani chuckled, “let’s build your plan to do just that.”

Over the next several weeks, I evaluated and retired lower-value projects; I assessed my staff, and adjusted workload and responsibilities. With Amani’s guidance echoing in my head, I built a small working team to re-evaluate internal processes that had grown cumbersome and inefficient, and began working towards new goals that inspired me.

In the eighteen months that followed, Amani served as a “second set of eyes,” as I ran any new project and commitment by her. Her objective perspective helped me evaluate which opportunities truly matched the revised vision of my career.

Before a particularly difficult meeting, with several executives that never agreed on anything, she was my audience as I practiced the meeting, executive concerns, and questions I would need to address.

Amani helped me clarify my focus and served as a meaningful source of inspiration, particularly when some of my proposals went down in flames. She reminded me, “Your next role isn’t going to come because you were right every time, it’s going to be awarded to you because you’re a great executive and thoughtful leader. Keep proving that, and the opportunity will come.”

Importantly, Amani helped me communicate the case for my promotion in the six months leading up to the review cycle. She and I would discuss which leaders had confirmed their support and strategize on which critical promotion decision-makers needed to shift from neutral to supportive.

My great work and strong leadership earned me a promotion eighteen months after I articulated my feeling of being professionally “stuck” with Amani. Her guidance, support, and objective advice are things I’m forever grateful for. You might be curious how I pay her back? She always asks one thing: that I return the favor by mentoring other women. I’m happy to oblige.

I’d love to hear how you’ve benefited from the partnership of a mentor...or, how you’re supporting other women by serving as their mentor. By intentionally spending the time to support those around us, we’re elevating all women, which is a beautiful thing.

xoxo, Ms. Financier

This post also appeared on the Fairygodboss blog - I love their mission to improve the lives and workplace for women, through transparency.

“Why Should We Hire You?” How to Answer This Key Interview Question

Last year, my friend was interviewing for an amazing job at a great company. In her final interview, she was asked, “Why should we hire you? We get hundreds of applicants for each position - why should we offer you the job?” Normally quick on her feet, this question made her freeze.

She thought about her previous positions, the other candidates, her skills, the experiences she had managing teams...she said, “I don't know the qualifications of the other people you're considering, I'm sure they have similar credentials, and I know you wouldn't interview them if they didn't meet the criteria, but I also meet most of what the job description asks for.” She didn't get the job.

In her quest to be fair and accurate, my fabulous friend flubbed this critical interview question. When she asked the recruiter for feedback, her poor answer to that question was cited. The recruiter shared, “Our interviewer was concerned that you couldn’t sell yourself; therefore, we worry about you being able to sell an idea to clients or management.” Ouch.

The interview process boils down to the question my friend was asked. Hiring managers scan resumes, conduct assessments, check references, and do interviews to find the right candidate. They want to understand why they should hire you over anyone else. I’ve interviewed hundreds of candidates, and ask this question in every interview. Make it easy on hiring managers by nailing your answer; here's how.

 The question, “Why should we hire you?” is testing both how you respond and the content of your answer. In my friend’s quest for an accurate response, she unfortunately, missed both elements. Her focus on the other candidates didn’t help her, and her lack of preparation for this question meant she was caught unprepared and didn’t come across as confident in her fit for the role.

First, let’s address how you respond. When this question is asked, your reply should be delivered with confidence, include specifics, and be succinct. I recommend signaling that you welcome the question, with something like, “I’m so glad you asked; as you can imagine I’ve been thinking about that question a lot myself.”

Practice your response with a savvy friend. Ask her if you used too much jargon, whether you were convincing, and explore how to improve your reply. Conveying confidence in your answer will put the interviewer at ease and demonstrate that you have put serious thought into why you would succeed in this specific role.

The content of the response is also critical. When crafting your reply, prepare to address three things: your skills, the company’s goals, and your interviewer.

First your skills and experiences; this is the area you know far better than your interviewer. Prepare a simple explanation of how your capabilities will be a unique asset in the position. Three to five examples that you can relate directly to the role will suffice.

Here’s what this might sound like, “I bring four unique skills and experiences to this role; I’m experienced in managing difficult clients, am an effective presenter, have worked in the tech industry for several years, and have a degree in history. That combination means you’ll have an employee that performs well under client pressure, will be comfortable and effective in client presentations, understands the software space, and can bring historical perspective to modern-day challenges.”

Next, you need to address company goals. This demonstrates that you understand the business and makes it easy for your interviewer to connect your skills to the company’s objectives. Usually, you can find the company’s goals on their website, press releases, or earnings reports (for public companies). Clearly link these goals to your experiences. For example, “Your CEO cites client retention as a critical business goal for this year; the skills I just discussed are important to retain both happy and challenging clients in the tech industry.”

Conclude with something personalized to the interviewer. Research your interviewer - many have public social media profiles or have been mentioned in articles. Perhaps your interviewer was recently quoted discussing the importance of customer service - acknowledge that in your reply. You could share, “I also saw you were recently quoted about exceptional customer service - as you’ll see at the bottom of my resume, I received the highest customer service scores on my team last year, which will contribute to my success on your team.”

For bonus points, consider any proof points or references that might reinforce your candidacy. For example, do you have a manager from a prior role that has agreed to serve as a reference? Cite their qualifications and offer to make an introduction. Did you go to the same university? Mention a professor that provided a glowing review of your senior thesis, if relevant to the role.

If you practice both the content of your response and how you convey it to the interviewer, you’ll be far ahead of many candidates. I’m often surprised by how many applicants appear to be unprepared for this question, or even signal to me they haven’t thought about it. I’ve heard replies that begin with, “That’s an interesting question, let me think about it,” and “Hm, I’m not sure…” Those replies do not express that you’re taking this position seriously.

Walk into your next interview ready to nail this question. If your interviewer doesn’t ask it, offer your perspective during your discussion. You can say, “I've put some thought into why you should select me for this position,” and share your reply. This will demonstrate your confidence, understanding of the position, and help the interviewer better understand your skills. After all, if you can't make the case for why the interviewer should hire you - how can you expect her to?

I’m curious if you’ve answered this question in interviews. How did you respond? What tips would you suggest?

xoxo, Ms. Financier

This post also appeared on the Fairygodboss blog - I love their mission to improve the lives and workplace for women, through transparency.

Business Travel Tips From an Expert Traveler

I’ve been traveling for business for more than a dozen years. Looking for business travel tips? I’ve got you. These are some of the travel hacks that help me survive on the road.

Enjoy the experience. There are many articles about the drudgery of travel, but visiting new places is a tremendous luxury. It is estimated that two-thirds of American adults haven’t flown in the past 12 months and 18% haven’t flown in their life. Only 36% of Americans hold a valid passport, meaning that 64% cannot travel outside the United States (though they may have previously.) Look to meet new people, try a new type of cuisine, and broaden your own horizons through your trips.

Pack a good attitude. Confirmation bias is the tendency to seek, interpret, and recall information that confirms our biases. If you travel with a negative attitude (thinking airlines are terrible, people are annoying, stations are crowded), your brain will seek those experiences and reinforce your bias towards the horrors of travel. I encourage you to pack another attitude: that travel is interesting, exciting, and offers an opportunity to experience things you never would in your home office.

Be loyal. While rewards programs aren’t as rich as they used to be, they’re still useful. I have a colleague in a different department that was traveling sporadically for five years without any loyalty programs. Since they only traveled four or five times a year, they didn’t think signing up for anything was worth the effort. Understand your company’s travel policies and look for a few airlines and hotels you can remain loyal to in order to earn rewards.

Sign up for TSA Precheck and Global Entry. Not optional. Global Entry includes TSA Precheck, so once you are vetted, you’ll have both benefits. The current cost is $85 for five years. Precheck saves you time and effort at the beginning of your journey - you can move more quickly through dedicated security lines that also include Precheck travelers (who tend to be more experienced, and therefore efficient.) Global Entry saves you time when you return from an international flight; you simply enter information at a kiosk as opposed to standing in a queue to interact with a live agent.

Invest in excellent luggage. This really, really matters. I prefer Briggs & Riley and Tumi, as both have excellent customer service and provide warranties. If possible, select your luggage in person, and ensure it works with the items you pack, is comfortable to wheel when full, and is something you can lift into an overhead bin.

Invest in a travel-friendly wardrobe. Look for pieces that can mix and match easily with one another, in neutral colors, that don’t wrinkle. Here’s where women get a big leg up on men - they are often in suits with pressed shirts; women in a professional role can often get away with an amazing shift dress. Much easier to pack. Other critical items include good scarves and statement jewelry; both add flavor to a wardrobe without taking up much space. I’m also mindful of my pyjamas; I have been in hotels that have been evacuated at night and have been standing outside with colleagues. It can happen.

Use a list and pre-pack. Even experienced travelers forget things! I have a packing list that I use for my business trips, which ensures I don’t forget small items, like socks, hosiery, and my sports bra. I also pre-pack, meaning that there are certain items that never leave my luggage. These items include: an umbrella, travel pyjamas, chargers for my electronics, and my makeup/toiletry kit (which include Band-Aids, aspirin, and Imodium, which you should never be without). I also travel with my beautiful Shhhowercap; life is too short for the ineffective plastic caps provided by most hotels.

Keep your work bag stocked. Some items that are critical for flights stay in my work bag at all times, like lip balm, hand sanitizer, tissues, gum, and a travel-friendly pouch of wet wipes in case I end up in a seat with a dirty tray table that hasn’t yet been cleaned. I also always have a large scarf in my bag; temperature is unpredictable while traveling and it can double as a blanket.

Use packing cubes. You never know when you’re going to have to open your luggage in front of colleagues, clients, or the TSA. I use Eagle Creek packing cubes, laundry bags, and shoe sacks so I can easily dig through my bag without any embarrassment.

Never check your luggage. I’m serious - even if you’re headed overseas for a few weeks, it is possible to go carry-on only if you have excellent luggage and a travel-friendly wardrobe. At best, checking your luggage wastes your time (and that of your colleagues if you’re traveling together); at worst, it puts you at risk of not having what you need for tomorrow’s meeting.

Pack an extra bag. Sometimes, you end up adding things to your luggage on your journey. This may be binders or books from your clients or something fun like an unexpected piece of art and a splurge at Duty Free. I keep Tumi’s ultra-lightweight Just-In-Case® tote packed in my luggage for these emergencies. In this case, you are then allowed to check your luggage on the return flight!

Consider noise-cancelling headphones. I travel with mine for flights that are over 2-3 hours; shorter than that, I can get by with smaller earbuds to drown out the noise. Your experience may differ, but my ears get irritated after a few hours, so an over-the-ear model works best for me on long flights.

Identify a pair of “airport flats” that work for you. I’m usually in business professional clothing when I travel, and I prefer to wear heels to client meetings. If you’re often in heels, I recommend identifying a pair of neutral “airport flats” that you keep in your luggage and can change into after a client meeting, before you have to dash through the airport to catch your flight. Comfortable ballet flats work well.

Prepare for long-haul flights. Long-haul and overnight flights require a little extra effort. When I’m flying overnight, I add a few things to my work bag, including: my noise-cancelling headphones, eye drops, panty liners (I’m serious, pack a few to stay fresh on long flights!), woolen socks, an eye mask (I prefer the 40 Blinks mask from Bucky), and a superb travel pillow (I prefer the Aeris neck pillow; Travel and Leisure has an excellent list for different types of sleepers). I also drink a lot of water and use Airborne; I’m not sure if the Airborne actually does anything but I rarely get sick while traveling.

Stay active healthy. Whether I’m traveling for a single night or several weeks, my gym clothes and sneakers come with me. Staying active on the road helps my energy and keeps me healthy. Nearly every hotel has a fitness facility, and it’s possible to get a great workout in your room, too. I also eat healthy, looking for fresh fruits and vegetables and avoiding the temptation to grab a “treat” just because I’m on the road. Since I often travel to the same locations, I’ve learned where I can get a healthy meal on the go. And in an unfamiliar airport or city, a quick Google search can reveal the best options nearby. Hydration is also really important when you're traveling; drink a lot of water if you'll be stationary and near a bathroom for a few hours!

Set two alarms. I’ll end on a very practical note. Never, ever rely on just one alarm to wake you up. If you use the hotel clock, set your phone as a backup. And, if you use your phone, call down to reception to request a wakeup call.

Those are some of my very favorite business travel tips. In a future post, I’ll share my favorite travel hacks, tech, and apps to make the journey easier. I’d love to hear if there are any that are new to you, or if you have any you’d like to add. Travel safely, and enjoy the journey!

xoxo,

Ms. Financier

25 Things Women Should Stop Apologizing For At Work

It’s time to stop being sorry. Many of us were taught to be nice, mind our manners, and apologize. Those well-intended (gendered) behavior guidelines can hurt us in the workplace.

 Women apologize more than men. Pantene even created an ad that highlighted our tendency to say sorry. However, it is important to note that when evaluating the same set of situations, we identify more of them as apology-worthy compared to men. That said, “I’m sorry,” weakens your position and puts you on the defensive in the workplace. 

Save your “sorry” for when it is needed; a difficult situation your coworker is going through at home...not before you ask a question. Here are 25 things we must stop apologizing for at work.

  1. Bumping into someone: “Pardon me,” is a perfectly acceptable response when you bump into a colleague. Acknowledge, but don’t apologize.

  2. Asking a question: Don’t start your question with, “I’m sorry;” instead use language like, “Excuse me,” “Could you clarify…,” or “I  have a question.”

  3. Answering a question: You’re asked something you don’t have the answer to. “I’ll look into that,” or “No, I don’t have the analysis for Asia,” is better than apologizing.

  4. Getting sick: Whether you stay home or leave suddenly during the day, do not apologize for falling ill! Presenteeism hurts productivity; if you’re contagious, your coworkers will thank you for staying home.

  5. Caring for a family member: If a family member or friend falls ill or needs help following a medical procedure, don’t apologize for using your time off to care for them.

  6. Declining a request: You’re asked by a peer to do something you can’t (or shouldn’t). Decline without apology; suggest other colleagues or related resources if you’d like.

  7. Requesting materials: You’re preparing for a meeting, and need certain supplies. State your request, not: “I’m sorry, but could get a projector for today’s session?”

  8. Starting a meeting: The meeting you’re leading is about to begin and everyone is still chatting. Start with, “Good afternoon, let’s begin,” and not, “I’m sorry to interrupt…”

  9. Being busy: Your colleague wants to meet with you, but your calendar is full. Don’t apologize; see if you can skip a “nice to have” meeting or suggest a few alternative dates.

  10. Asking for benefits information: HR teams are designed to source, attract, and keep great employees. When you ask for clarification on your benefits, don’t apologize. State your question clearly so they can get you the information you need.

  11. Asking for time off: In America, time off is a benefit that more than half of us don’t use in full. Don’t start with, “I’m sorry to ask for a few days next month;” simply communicate the dates you’re requesting.

  12. Announcing a pregnancy: It can be scary to tell your employer about an upcoming pregnancy, even though it shouldn’t be. Here’s how to tell your boss - no apologies permitted!

  13. Writing an email: Don’t add “sorry” to your emails. It undermines your credibility and unnecessarily documents an apology.

  14. Rescheduling a meeting: Don’t make a huge deal out of having to move a meeting. A simple, “We will need to reschedule,” with alternative times will suffice.

  15. Beginning your presentation: Right before you begin presenting, an apology slips out, like: “Sorry, these slides aren’t as organized as I’d like,” or “Sorry I only prepared this yesterday.” Don’t undercut your authority before you’ve even begun!

  16. Addressing a disruptive colleague: “Sorry, we need to move on to the next agenda item,” may silence Disruptive Dan, but why are you apologizing? Instead, try, “Dan, your point is noted. Now, we’ll address the next item, to ensure we cover everything on today’s agenda.”

  17. Requesting time from a senior executive: Senior sponsors play a critical role in career advancement. Here’s how to cultivate those relationships. Importantly, do not start off by apologizing when you ask for their time.

  18. Catching up after returning from leave: When you return back from vacation, parental leave, or an illness, you need help to catch up. Be gracious to your colleagues, but don’t apologize for being out or needing assistance to get back up to speed.

  19. Participating in an important life event: Everyone’s life outside of work is different. If you’re not available because you’re at your daughter’s important recital, or cheering for your best friend in her first marathon, don’t apologize - find another way to get the information or suggest a different time.

  20. Popping into the boss’ office: Your boss’ door is open, and you’d like to tell her about the fantastic client feedback you received. Don’t start with, “I’m sorry, Sheryl, do you have a minute?” Instead, try: “Sheryl, since your door is open, I know you’d appreciate some fantastic client feedback.” She’ll let you know if she doesn’t have time.

  21. Admitting a big mistake: Yikes - the report you sent to Alpha Company included two massive data errors. Immediately alert your boss; bring her the details of the situation and at least two ideas on how to fix it, not an apology.

  22. Informing an employee they didn’t get promoted: This is tough, but a well-intended apology undermines your promotion processes. Be direct and empathetic but not apologetic; “Cameron, you didn’t receive a promotion. You may be disappointed; I can provide a detailed summary of feedback on the two skills you’ll need to improve.”

  23. Giving a client bad news: Communicating bad news gracefully is challenging. Your client wants to understand the situation, why it occurred, and what alternatives they are now facing - not how sorry you are.

  24. Giving an employee a poor review: Ideally, you’ve had prior discussions about where they are failing to meet expectations. However, discussing a poor performance review is difficult. Stick to the facts; apologizing can only undermine the feedback you’re providing.

  25. Firing someone: Letting someone go is best done swiftly, directly, and in partnership with HR. You may be tempted to apologize, but doing so can muddy the message. “I’m so sorry, Andre I have to let you go,” may sound nice, but it’s not clear. Instead, use language like; “Andre, today is your last day at Alpha Company. You have not achieved your goals in the last three months and are frequently late to work. Here is the paperwork to complete in order to receive your last paycheck.”

Stop apologizing and start being direct. If you think you apologize frequently, share this article with a trusted colleague or friend who can hold you accountable. And, if you’re mentoring other women, let them know if you observe them over-apologizing - they’ll thank you for it!

Are there any that I missed? Do you disagree with my recommendations? Let me know.

xoxo, Ms. Financier

This post also appeared on the Fairygodboss blog - I love their mission to improve the lives and workplace for women, through transparency.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: When Employees Ask for a Raise

We hear a lot about how critical it is for women to ask for raises. But, asking is only the first step. Most businesses require managers to exert effort to fund even the most well-deserved employee compensation increases. I’ve been managing employees since 2006 (longer, if you ask my younger siblings!) Here’s the good, bad, and ugly I’ve experienced when my employees have asked for a raise.*

Let’s start with the bad. “Allison” worked on my team during the economic downturn in the late 2000’s. Allison was a detail-oriented employee who was meeting the expectations of her entry-level job. She wasn’t a rock star, nor was she dragging the team down. However, at that time our company was struggling as the housing market and banking sectors were imploding. Allison requested a salary increase, after receiving a passable performance review.

There were at least three things that Allison messed up:

  • Her request was really a demand. How you ask for a change in compensation matters. Allison’s tone was, “Pay me more or else.” A more productive, fact-based tone would have started the discussion off without sounding like an ultimatum.
  • She didn’t have the performance to back it up. Allison had just received a review that identified her as adequately meeting her performance standards. Focusing on her areas for improvement, and building a plan to improve those in pursuit of a salary increase, would have been more effective.
  • She asked for salary (and only salary) at a very difficult time for the business. This was the late 2000’s. Businesses like Lehman Brothers, which was founded in 1850, were going bankrupt! Allison didn’t bring any other negotiables to the table, and I certainly wasn’t inclined to suggest any to her.

Allison didn’t get the raise she demanded at that time. Instead, we focused on her development plan and ensuring she was getting the feedback and opportunities to improve her performance in her current role.

Now, the ugly. “Heather” was a lower-than-average team member who seemed to excel in getting in her own way. Her work was inconsistent in quality, and team members struggled to work productively with her. She was constantly comparing her performance to others that joined the business at the same time, and would regularly bring up the expenses and lifestyles of others.

When Heather approached me for a raise, it was in a rambling speech that included remarks like, “...everyone in DC was born with a silver spoon in their mouth,” and “I can’t afford to live the lifestyle I want on my current salary.” Her reasoning seemed to be that given the excess she saw around her, and the cost of living in downtown DC, our company owed her a raise.

Anchoring your request for a raise on your own personal financial situation or lifestyle is a huge mistake. First, it isn’t germane to the conversation - which should be performance and business based. Second, it’s likely to backfire. In this situation, I saw Heather’s negative attitude in a very unvarnished manner, and we later had a candid career discussion that resulted in her resignation, which I happily accepted.

Finally - the good. “Nia” was a strong performer who pro-actively managed her career, by asking for feedback on how she can improve, seeking additional responsibility, and supporting her peers. In a conversation before her upcoming performance review, Nia shared her salary history and compared it to her current responsibility set, which had expanded since she accepted the role. She also compared her salary to more junior hires on her team. They were certainly making less than she was, but not that much less given their difference in responsibility.

I told her I understood her request and would do some research on her behalf. First, I asked HR to benchmark her salary to other higher-performing employees in her role. Next, I met with the other decision makers that would need to weigh in on the decision, and with their support negotiated an increase with our company’s compensation team. Nia’s request required me to do work on her behalf, but her clear and well-reasoned case inspired me to expend the effort and political capital to support her.

You can tell what Nia did well; she was a stronger performer who came in with a business-grounded request. For example, I had access to her salary history, but she brought me the data and presented it in compelling contrast to the more junior team members. She concisely summarized the added responsibilities she had taken on in one summary document.

After this effort, Nia received a sizeable salary increase. This helped her in two ways - obviously, her regular take-home pay increased. But, because she had a bonus available where she could earn up to a certain percentage of her salary, her overall compensation pool increased.

Wouldn’t you prefer to be Nia, compared to Allison and Heather? Even Nia could have improved her ask by identifying more negotiables (beyond salary). But, she created the case that compelled management to take action. Have you had an employee ask you for a raise? Were they the good, the bad, or the ugly? Or, have you been the asker? (In which case I hope you were the good!)

xoxo, Ms. Financier

*Names and identifying details have been disguised, but each story is real. You seriously can’t make this stuff up.

How to Ask for a Raise in 4 Steps

Many of us assume that if we work hard and are effective, salary increases and career opportunities will follow. However, the reality is that doing well in your current position is necessary but not sufficient to grow your wealth.

In this post, we’ll explore the four steps to asking for a raise. This is particularly important for women, who face a pay gap relative to men. Growing income is one of the two levers to building wealth, so let's do this!

First, define your business case. Do not pass go, do not collect $200 until you have clearly defined why your achievements merit a raise. If you’re gunning for a pay increase, you need to document the heck out of the business value you deliver to your employer.

Your comparison point is your current salary. What and how have you earned more than that? Consider things like extraordinary effort, taking on new processes or tasks, implementing solutions that saved the company money, or introducing services that result in more repeat purchases.

Don’t freeze up in this first step. Don’t minimize your achievements. Reflect on the value you contribute and think creatively. If you're unsure about the quality of your business case, a savvy friend, family member, or mentor can pressure-test your thinking. They may see more impact in what you’ve done or help you think about it differently.

Use the “Situation, action, result” format to create your business case. For example, “The new client survey process I designed helped client service levels,” isn’t specific enough.

Try: “In 2016, client service satisfaction was 5% lower than 2015, which hurt Alpha Company’s revenue and reputation. I designed a new client survey, trained our customer service staff, and implemented the measurement system in order to capture client feedback in the first 30 days of their contract. This allowed our client service teams to identify service risks earlier, which improved client service satisfaction scores by 15%. This improvement contributes an estimated $1.2M in annual revenue.”

The first sentence describes the situation, the second describes the action, and the last sentences describe the result. Do your best to quantify results, and be okay with making informed estimates. Businesses are built usin estimates and models to inform decisions! Your case for a raise is no different.

Second, identify your negotiables. You've got the case for your pay raise. Now what? You need to come to the table with what you want. The good news is that technology is your friend in this effort. Just a few years ago, we had to rely on general industry studies, government data, or asking colleagues (yikes!) to benchmark our salaries. Today, pay data is increasingly accessible. Online sources like the Fairygodboss salary database provide more precise data on what your role is worth.

Decide the exact amount you’re asking for, and then increase it by at least 10%, because women don’t ask for enough. Then, prepare at least 3 other non-salary items that you will negotiate for, in addition to your pay increase. I recommend asking for the salary increase and one other item at a minimum as your “first ask.” Then, you’ll have 2 other items in your back pocket to introduce if you don’t get the full increase you’re requesting.

What else could you ask for? More paid time off; Better expense account - things like taxi service to/from work, flight upgrades, airline lounge memberships; Administrative support or a summer intern; Funding for conferences or classes for ongoing education; Working from another office location on a regular basis (say, you’re based in DC and you want to work from the London office once a quarter).

Next, practice! Once you have your business case and negotiables, practice with a savvy friend who can role-play your boss’ reaction. Prepare for objections like:

  • “We don’t have budget at this time.” Ask follow-up questions to understand when and how budget could be freed up, and confirm that budget is the only barrier.
  • “I’ll need to speak about this with my boss or HR.” Ask what your boss’ boss/HR needs to see, and how you can help prepare that case. Suggest speaking directly with other decision makers.
  • “Your last raise wasn’t enough?” Clarify that this ask doesn’t come from a place of ungratefulness, but business value. Reiterate your business case and understand whether your boss supports your request.

Your goal in the discussion with your boss is to understand if she agrees with and supports your case. If not, confirm what she needs to see in order to support you in the future. Practice “closing” the conversation to ensure you leave with clear next steps to continue the discussion.

Finally, ask (and ask again). Set time with your manager and ask! Don’t wait for the next review cycle. When your case is ready and you’ve practiced your pitch, confidently approach your boss with the business case for why you have earned a raise. Take careful notes and be prepared to continue the conversation - I find it is rare to come to an agreement in just one discussion. Follow-up in writing with a summary of the discussion and next steps, to ensure you and your boss are on the same page.

A “no” or “not right now” with defined next steps is progress. A study of Australian workers found that women were 25% less likely to receive a pay raise when we asked for it. I’m not convinced this study is globally representative, but be prepared to persist with your case. You will need to own the next steps to secure that raise over time, if need be.

With that, I wish you very good luck. And, I look forward to sharing my experience on the other side of the table - when my employees have asked for a raise. I’ll share the good, the bad, and the ugly! What other advice do you have for securing a raise? If you used this approach, how did it work for you? I look forward to hearing from you.

xoxo, Ms. Financier


Resources:

Women Don't Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide, by Linda Babcock and Sara Lashever

Ask For It: How Women Can Use the Power of Negotiation to Get What They Really Want, by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever

High Performance Negotiation Skills for Women, Lecture featuring Professor Leah Thompson, Kellogg School of Management