The Three Hardest Words in the Job Interview

Joe was knocking the interview out of the park. I was a part of one of those abominable panel interviews and Joe had nailed a few hard analytical questions I had aimed between his eyeballs. The interview was less than half complete and in my mind, he had the job.The Three Hardest Words in the Job Interview

Then, it happened.

One of those traffic wrecks that you watch unfold in what seems like old-time, stop-motion cinema. Fenders crushing under the momentum of panic. Brakes squealing. And as quick as a Red Bull guzzling Mongol’s scimitar, Joe’s future with my company was lopped off unceremoniously.

And it wasn’t what he said: It was what he didn’t say. Joe could not say those three irksome words. The three words that separated him from where he was, and where he wanted to go: “I don’t know”.

The question was actually a pointless question from someone who had no business conducting an interview. But there it was: a soul-crushing, unfair question that should never have been asked, but it was Joe’s lot in this interview.

I am far from the first to suggest that admitting “I don’t know” is difficult. Just Google it. It’s hard. REALLY hard. I did my best damage control on Joe’s behalf because I can look past a few dents on an otherwise pristine Porsche, but his panic had sealed his fate with the others.

Don’t let this moment pass without trying it yourself out loud. Say it firmly and add a little staccato: “I. DON’T. KNOW.”

That didn’t feel very good, did it? It doesn’t feel very good for anyone, least of all me.

I’m asking you to commit yourself right here and right now to embrace this discomfort. Think of it like that tie you overpaid for at Brooks Brothers (yeah, you aren’t the only one): Once you get past feeling like the tourniquet is about to turn you into worm food, your step has a little extra spring because you not only are the right person for the job, but you look the part as well.

It’s like that, but harder.

If Joe had answered, “I don’t know”, he would’ve had a new job. And if he had some relevant insight, and was calm because he was prepared, Joe probably could have negotiated more money than what was on the table.

Listen to the power of these three difficult words when framed with the kind of wisdom any competent professional has inside: “I don’t know. But, if I understand your question clearly, here is how I would approach solving the problem…”

Joe was the most competent person that panel interviewed—by far—but that did not get him the job. Lack of preparation left him powerless. My passion is to help you find power through preparation. Wielding power with those three tongue-incapacitating words is a good start on mastering one of the most critical job skills you have never been taught.

In the rest of this blog series, I will share more techniques to help you interview with confidence. To interview with the confidence to speak those three despicable words.

The confidence to get the offer.

About the Author: 

Tony Plank is a polymath with an extremely diverse background including Information Technology, Law, and professional coaching. Three decades of success on both sides of the interview desk gives Tony a unique perspective on how to not just succeed in professional job interviews, but to master and control these critical career milestones. Mastering the interview demands preparation and planning. In an evocative series of blog posts, Tony will provide you with the basic elements of what it takes to walk into that next career changing event with confidence and walk out with the offer you want.

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Job Seeker

What It Costs When You Don’t Hire

Businesses operate on money and people. Hiring good people to fill your most pressing IT vacancies is a challenge that every hiring manager faces. It takes a definition of job requirements along with good interviewing skills and reference checks to recognize high-performance team players when you see them. It also requires teaching this skill to hiring managers throughout your organization. Recruiting is a vital function that could determine your success or failure as a manager or supervisor.What It Costs When You Don’t Hire

You have two main goals as you prepare to hire:

  1. Hire the best people available.
  2. Contain costs, but consider what a lost opportunity is costing you or a manager within your organization because of a failure to hire.

To help you evaluate the tangible and intangible costs here are several things to consider when making the decision NOT to hire:

  1. The impact of a shortage of employees could put pressure on the rest of your team members to the point that they become unhappy less productive. Some frustrated employees will quit.
  2. Employees could become vigilantes and they will secretly undermine you in an effort to spite you for being insensitive to the fact that more people are needed to do what’s expected.
  3. When you don’t have the people you need to handle the workload, you run the risk of losing your position in the marketplace to your competition.
  4. Look at every person on your team and ask yourself: What is the financial impact of this individual? To prove a point, try moving an untrained or unskilled worker into a vacant position and watch that person “weaken” your entire team.
  5. What if you don’t get your merchandise to the customers or marketplace on time because you don’t have enough of the right employees to get the job done? Maybe the production department has to shut down a line or cut a shift.
  6. Think of hiring as an investment in the future of your department rather than a liability. It’s a pay now or pay later task. Make sure that all of your hiring managers understand this critical concept too.
  7. Ask yourself how your team could change and become more effective with the right people. Ask your staff what they think it would take for them to become more effective.

Consider this four-step process when you are tempted NOT to hire:

Step #1
Calculate how much work you and your employees are doing right now that is “above and beyond” what’s expected and outside of their regular job responsibilities. Prepare a list of the tasks and then estimate the time that it takes to complete each one. Identify the work that could be handled by a newly hired person and thus relieve the others from the pressure that is mounting. This is easy to do and it will help you clarify in your own mind what makes the most sense in terms of hiring versus NOT hiring.

Step #2
Identify the new opportunities that would be possible if your current employees were relieved of the added burden they are now facing. For example, oftentimes clerical work falls on the shoulders of your professional or managerial level employees and it keeps them from doing their jobs.

Step #3
Make a list of the savings generated by hiring someone to pick up the slack. You might even prevent turnover and the associated astronomical costs generated by an employee who quits because he or she is fed up with what you are asking them to do.

Step #4
Ask yourself what it will cost to NOT hire in terms of your health and the health of your employees. Overworked employees are prone to illness and accidents and they often don’t take time to exercise and relax.

In summary, some of the cost savings and benefits that you have identified are concrete and measurable, while others are intangible. Your actual cost to pay the salary and benefits of a new hire should be weighed against the intangible benefits of hiring the people you need when you need them. Before you make the decision NOT to hire, evaluate the risks as well as the benefits associated with your decision. There are times when NOT filling a vacancy is the best, most logical thing to do. There are other times when the decision NOT to hire is a foolish, costly mistake that could impact your profitability for years to come. Think about what speaks for your decision and what speaks against it. Then do what you need to do.

About the Author: 

Carol Hacker is the former Director of Human Resources for the North American Division of a European manufacturing company, Employee Relations Manager for the Miller Brewing Company, and County Office Director for the US Department of Labor. Headquartered in Atlanta, GA, Carol has been the President and CEO of Hacker & Associates since January 1989. She specializes in teaching managers, supervisors, team leaders, HR professionals, and executives how to meet the leadership challenge. Carol is the author of over 400 published articles and 14 books including the bestseller, Hiring Top Performers-350 Great Interview Questions For People Who Need People. She earned her BS and MS with honors from the University of Wisconsin. She can be reached at or 770-410-0517.

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Hiring Manager

Is Your Company Embracing the Evolving Workplace?

I came across this post by Chuck Blakeman on LinkedIn and wanted to share my own response to Dell’s study, The Evolving Workplace: Expert Insights. The study is broken up into trends that relay the direction of the workplace as we know it. Adding to my excitement was the extra attention paid to the technical aspect. I couldn’t be more thrilled about the direction they are presenting for the new working landscape. The facts and success stories of companies around the world following the trends are incredible. I hope the bigwigs and company leaders are ready for this movement. The world is changing as a direct result of technical advances, and the way we work has consequently changed. If you aren’t comfortable with it, you might be left behind. Let’s look at a few of my favorite trends highlighted in the article and ask ourselves if our employers are ready and capable of keeping up with the evolving workplace.Is Your Company Embracing the Evolving Workplace?

Crowdsourcing and Crowdsource service
If you haven’t noticed, it is becoming easier and easier to pull insight from people all over the world and have teams of people work cohesively without ever being in the same place at the same time. It’s like taking the ‘two brains are better than one’ concept and multiplying that to an endless degree; why limit your team to a certain location or time zone?

This idea of a readily available workforce at your fingertips: contract-based, specialized workers, available to solve required tasks when you need them, seems simple enough. These contractors get paid for the work they complete, so the more productive workers will have a higher earning potential than those with lackluster results. This can prove to be very lucrative for companies, allowing them to save money by only paying for what they need, when they need it. However, there are still concerns around job security, availability of skilled workers, and the potential gap between the good workers and the bad ones. We wouldn’t want the harder workers getting too far ahead of the rest, now would we?

Productivity measured in outputs, not hours
It’s hard to pick a favorite of these trends, but this might be mine. Result-based companies over time-based companies. Ahh… what a concept. Kill the 9-5 schedule and focus on the quality of the output instead of the quantity of the input. The pushback for this trend is the question of fairness. Being rewarded based on the quality of your work rather than the hours worked can potentially cause problems among teams. The former ‘clock-in, clock-out’ worker now will be paid based on results. Technology can help regulate this and provide viability of tasks completed by specific individuals along the way. The key is to agree on a set of standard of measures for valuing the output.

Values versus rules
Okay, I am going to pick a favorite. This is huge for me! Let’s face it – there is technology for employers to track what you are doing at all times. That being said, distrust of employers will put a negative reputation in the air and companies need to hold employee-employer trust as a top priority. Can you imagine if employees preferred to work for value-based companies with less rules and more of a common set of principles? Employee-employer trust cultivates productivity and sustainability. This trend is key to holding everything together.

My takeaway is that change is good, happy employees are key, and with the right values in place and more employee-employer trust, companies will be able to keep and attract the right talent for the future. Which trend do you resonate with most? Leave a comment below or tweet me @TechRecruit4U.

About the Author: 

Rachel is a Technology Recruiter for MATRIX. She works for top talent IT professionals and gets them to the next stage of their career. Her chief goal is to link their professional goals with personal happiness. She loves flea market flips, anything DIY, and traveling. Feel free to connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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Hiring Manager

How to Start a Job Search at 55: From a Hiring Manager

This is Part III of Glen Bradley's blog series. Read the rest of the series here.

There are comments you hear that will make you cringe. “The test results are positive” or “we’re downsizing” or even “the wedding reception band plays rap music”. It can also be the case with the bittersweet phrase “you have an interview”. Bittersweet because yes, this is what the job seeker is working diligently to obtain, but there is a sweatiness that almost instantly forms in the palms as you consider the event.

How to Start a Job Search at 55: From a Hiring Manager

In my situation, I haven’t had an interview external to my company in about 20 years. However, there was a period in the early 2000s where I was an IT Director and did a significant amount of hiring. So, I sat down in my home office next to the trusty Golden Retriever to think what advice my hiring manager side would give to my job seeker side.

First, I should say there are mountains of advice columns, books, blogs, etc. where true recruiting experts can advise. I will also say that if you tried to keep up with all the tips and tricks that are given you would be reduced to a pool of water in the interview as you try to remember it all. This is a topic where I don’t consider myself “best in class”. On the other hand, I’ve done a lot of it, so I can provide a look into my internal conversation.

The most important thing I tell myself is that I only get one shot at the first impression. I was in an executive roundtable discussion this week and there is some scientific evidence where the “visual” stimulus in the interview may be as much as 60% of the information gathering. I agree with this. How the candidate was dressed, grooming, posture, and body language provided important signals to me as we would step through the questions. That may seem unfair to some, and maybe hiring managers shouldn’t admit it, but as much as I hate it, I have to get those leisure suits and polyester bellbottoms out of my closet for some updated threads.

The next thing I remember is that the hiring manager's chief goal in the interview is to cut through all the candidates' coaching to find out what they would really be like when they show up for work on that first Monday morning. Authenticity, I feel, is the holy grail of the interview. Everyone has numbers. They’ve reduced x percent, increased by y percent, added customers, eliminated waste, etc. Truthfully, as a hiring manager, I didn’t get caught up in the math on the resume, as it seemed many of the candidates calculators would misfire on the actuals.

Usually, I could start to get to the real person by talking about weaknesses. My administrative assistant had to pad my office with rubber because every time candidates told me their weakness was they “worked too hard”, I would begin to bang my head on the wall. Candidates who were honest and thoughtful about how they worked through their warts and freckles moved to the top of my list.

The other question I utilized was the discussion on mistakes. I once had a project manager candidate who had never missed a deliverable or key timeline. Really?? Then you couldn’t work here because our business people can’t make up their mind on requirements, the delivery timelines from our customers are ridiculously short, and my IT partners generally have a fire to put out rather than meet our agreed-on project task for that week. No, I needed a project manager that had been through Viking pillages if they were to cope and succeed in my shop. So, despite the great coaching I’m getting on interview techniques, how do I keep it real?

And finally, I tell myself to embrace the moment. Interviews are stressful, no way to get around that. But, I look at it this way: someone is giving me time to talk about the great teams I’ve shared tears and celebratory beers with, and all the wonderful experiences that I’ve had in my career. As I reflect, I have a lot to offer a new company, so pull up a chair and let’s sit and talk about it.

About the Author: 

Glen Bradley is an executive with a diverse background in IT, Logistics, and Commercial Operations. He is passionate about getting stakeholders aligned to deliver the strategic goals that help companies win in the marketplace. Learn more about Glen or connect with him on LinkedIn.

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Job Seeker

HSA: The acronym that will save you and your employees big money

If only I had a nickel for each time a conversation came to a halt when someone in a social setting asked me what I did for a living...

Let’s face it. Health insurance isn’t exactly an exciting topic. (I appreciate that you readers have made it this far!) It may not be exciting, but it can be very expensive, and can be disastrous when you don’t pay it enough attention. HSAMedical bills are the biggest cause of US bankruptcies, and insurance premiums can cost you more than your monthly mortgage payment. The market has evolved, attempting to keep premiums from climbing higher than the usual double-digit yearly increases, and now we are all facing higher deductibles and creative attempts (think “wellness plans”, etc.) at plan design.

Enter Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). HSAs were introduced over 10 years ago, as a pre-tax savings tool for participants in a qualifying high deductible health plan. These tools weren’t very popular then, in the good old days of full-coverage health plans. I remember introducing an HSA-qualified plan in 2007, and we had one lonely enrollee. As deductibles have risen over time, HSAs have gained in popularity and I’m happy to say that our HSA plan is overwhelmingly our most popular health plan at MATRIX. If you want to optimize your benefits (and who doesn’t?), humor me for a moment while I tell you why this handy tool can potentially revolutionize healthcare, or at least put some money back into your pocket.

Not to be confused with an FSA, (the HSA’s outdated and overly restrictive stepsister), HSAs are like a 401(k) for healthcare. You sign up for an HSA-eligible health plan (with a high deductible and no ‘first dollar coverage’, which means you pay for everything but preventative care until the deductible is met), and you fund your HSA to help pay for your medical (or dental, or vision) expenses. Unlike FSAs, the maximum yearly contributions are higher ($6,550 in 2014), and your balance can earn interest and/or be invested (gains aren’t subject to taxes as long as you use this for qualifying medical expenses). If you’re lucky enough to work for an employer offering an HSA, you can enjoy convenient pre-tax contributions (which can be changed at any time) in your paycheck, or you can open your own HSA account at a bank or brokerage house and claim the deduction at tax time. The money is yours to keep (this plan is not use-it-or-lose-it like the FSA) and can be taken with you if/when you leave the plan or your employer.  You or any immediate family member can use the balance, even if you eventually aren’t on an HSA-qualified plan (though once you try it, I think you’ll stay).

The logic is fairly simple. You will enjoy lower premiums because HSA-eligible plans have high deductibles with no first dollar coverage (except preventative coverage – a nice bonus). You can take the savings from the lower premiums, and fund your HSA with it. When you have a claim, you swipe your debit card (which is loaded with your HSA balance) at the pharmacy/doctor and that pays for the claim…..pre-tax! If you have more money in your HSA than you do in claims cost, then that money is yours to keep. That sure beats just sending it off to the insurance company every month in the form of a premium payment. I face intimidated employees all day long who are afraid of making a jump to a high deductible. I like to highlight that the difference in cost of the non-HSA plan is more than the deductible on the HSA plan. Why pay $3,100 extra in premiums to avoid a $3,000 deductible? Think of it this way: with that kind of premium savings, each month that you don’t have $250 in healthcare spend is money in your pocket that you get to keep!

If your company doesn’t yet offer this plan, don’t hesitate to speak up and request it. Employers enjoy lower claims experience on these plans, which leads to lower premium increases from the insurer. Employees benefit from another pre-tax savings opportunity. Win-win for everyone!

If you have any questions, or just love talking about healthcare, feel free to leave a comment below or contact me at

About the Author: 

Susanne Baskin is the Benefits Manager for MATRIX Resources. She has 18+ years of experience in Human Resources and Benefits Management in the financial, banking and staffing industries. For more information on the subject, you can contact Susanne and the HR department at

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Hiring Manager