Interview questions

In her LinkedIn post, Smart Answers to Stupid Interview Questions, Liz Ryan made me laugh and sigh with relief. I’ve experienced interview questions that made me feel dumb and it was refreshing to read how she turns the tables.

“Where do you see yourself in five years?” always irked me. Ryan’s suggested response is perfect: “In five years I see myself happily engaged in projects that excite me, working among smart and supportive people. Is that the kind of environment you have?”

I also like the idea of tagging a question onto an answer. This keeps the discussion moving and drives the interviewer to give, not just take, information.

Advice from Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, and Suzy Welch

This LinkedIn post, Dear Graduate, Here’s How to Get in the Game, offers pointers to graduates that extend beyond the usual resume writing and interview skills:

    1. Seek the juncture of your strengths and passions rather than focusing on the compensation. The money will come.
    2. Before the interview, study the company well enough to be conversant on what matters to them.
    3. Benefit from your parents’ experience in communicating with professionals. Let your parents (or in my opinion, a mentor too) help you plan what to say, how to dress and how to follow up after an interview.

Congratulations class of 2015!

How to work a boring 9-5 job without losing your soul or your mind.

Don’t despair if you don’t land your dream job. You’re not alone. In fact, you’re in the majority. It doesn’t mean you can’t be happy though.

Almost L-I-V-I-N

Or 8-4:30. Or 12-9. Regardless the schedule, some jobs seem to kind of suck. It’s not your “dream job”, not even in your “dream” field, but you have rent to pay and wine to buy so you’ve got to deal.

almost livinI’ve been working since high school. Got my first job at 17, working part-time at the local pharmacy. That’s 10 years of experience in dealing with this subject. I didn’t love that job and I haven’t loved a job since.

Working for so long and being the analytical type, I’ve learned a lot. A lot about myself and a lot about others, and I wouldn’t hesitate to call myself an expert at reaping the full benefits of working any job whether you like it or not. I’ve lost my soul at jobs before. I’ve lost my mind too. It sucks.

So, if you’re miserable at work and that misery is…

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You can do it!

two business women shaking hands
Image courtesy of patrisyu by

“If someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you’re not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later.”
– Richard Branson



When I read Richard Branson’s quote, I thought of opportunities I passed on because I didn’t have as much confidence in myself as someone else had in me. Ranging from assignments that had the potential for positive exposure, to freelance work I thought was too much of a stretch, I avoided scenarios where the possibility of failure loomed overhead.

It’s not that I never took a risk or challenged myself, but when I did the decision came from within. External confidence expressed by others was the core of the issue. This reminds me of the Groucho Marx quote, “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.” If someone thinks I’m worthy, does it mean they know me better than I know myself or they’re not as smart as they seem?

Branson’s quote reminds me that high achievers weren’t born that way. Likely, an undercurrent of tenacity, luck and timing propelled them to the pinnacle of success. I would make a conjecture that along the way there were times when these superstars were ill-prepared for the task at hand; that trial by fire set the course for the day; that they exposed themselves to risk; and that someone else took a risk by investing in them, their product or service.

Fear of failure prevails when there is an illusive notion that successful people are on a higher plain, elevated and showered with angel dust by the success fairy who passed over the rest of us. The realization that this is a delusion hits me when I meet professionals who lack professionalism, managers who cannot manage and executives who fail to execute. When I have a negative experience with someone at the top, it serves as a reminder that there’s room for me in the club of success. Maybe, it’s not an exclusive club after all. This is not meant to downplay what accomplished people have attained, but to bolster those who are reticent when invited to join the desired club that would have them as a member.

The next time someone I respect offers me an opportunity that leaves me dubious about my capability, I vow to err on the side of imprudence rather than caution, and tell myself, “You can do it!” How about you?

Keep your W2 forms forever


I realize many of you who read this blog are too young to be thinking about Social Security. Additionally, we have all been admonished for assuming there will be any funding by the time we reach retirement age. However, if you are a U.S. citizen receiving W2 forms, I strongly urge you to never discard them. Learn from my experience. Here’s my story.

Every year, I scan through my Social Security earnings statement, found online when you register on One day, I noticed that my earnings for two years in a row did not appear under the social security and medicare earnings columns. I don’t know why I never noticed the error before, but once I did, I began an expedition that I hope to help others avoid.

I was filled with dread from the beginning because the missing earnings were from 30 years ago. What I was not prepared for was five months of grueling phone calls, letters, faxes and interactions with people who put more effort into passing me off to someone else than helping me troubleshoot and correct the issue.

Image courtesy of jesadaphorn at

Stated on the earnings record statement is the following instruction, which implies help is just a phone call away: “Call us right away at 1-800-772-1213…if any earnings for years before last year are shown incorrectly.” This was the start of my voyage into the sea of bureaucratic roadblocks, which led to the discovery of the error, but not immediate resolution. Apparently, my employer of 30 years ago had a system glitch that resulted in misreporting for some employees during the time period in question.

After learning of this injustice from the human resources department, HR said the best they could do was produce a letter stating my earnings, according to their payroll records, because they do not retain W2s dated that far back. Well, neither do I (lesson learned). After roughly one month of follow-ups and vague apologies, I finally received the promised letter. That’s when the fun really began. The Social Security Administration does not accept a letter as proof of earnings. I won’t bore you with the time invested and rudeness encountered as I exercised tenacity to get this resolved. Trust me, it was a painful process.

Now that I have closure, I feel compelled to caution others. I have heard varying opinions about the recommended time period to retain tax documents in case of an audit, but I have never heard an advisory to hold dearly all W2s received for social security purposes. If you haven’t heard this either, let me be the first to advise. If you destroy your tax papers, separate the W2s and keep them in a safe place – forever. If you are self-employed and receive 1099 forms, I suggest keeping the 1099s and accompanying tax forms as well. Additionally, check your Social Security earnings statement annually.

I know retirement may be far out on the horizon, but just like physical health, problems in earnings records are easier to resolve when caught early.

Key Phrases that Resolve Workplace Conflict

I like these suggestions for phrases that diffuse tension in the workplace. “Don’t make your workplace a battleground” is excellent advice.

Ellie Parvin


Choose your words carefully, as the choices you make have the power to ignite an inferno or damper a flame.



The two employees’ argument echoed through the building. Employee #2 stormed outside to collect her thoughts, get some fresh air and calm down. Later she came back inside and apologized for raising her voice and the comments she made and why. In turn, the Employee #1 did the same and thus the issue was resolved and today I can honestly say, Employee #2 still adores and respects Employee #1 and still feels terrible for losing her cool and yelling back. She even wishes she…

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Turning the table on the interviewer

As a big fan of interviewing the interviewer, I recommend preparing carefully constructed questions for the end of the discussion that demonstrate your knowledge, interest in the position and critical thinking.  Find sample questions in my FAQ page.

Many job applicants squirm at the thought of the dreaded behavioral interview. Turning the table by asking the recruiter to give you examples of various scenarios enables you to probe and evaluate key information about the potential opportunity. These questions also send the message that you are an active participant in the process rather than someone who is meekly waiting in the wings for a job offer. The decision-making process works both ways.

Share your comments after you read the examples of reverse behavioral questions suggested in 7 Lies Employers Use To Trick You Into Working For Them.



Keep your resume updated even after you land a job

Congratulations! You landed the job of your dreams, or perhaps a stepping stone in the right direction. Now you’re thinking, If I never write another resume again, it will be too soon. I know how you feel, but don’t be so quick to bury this job search tool in the bottom of a dusty drawer.

Though some believe the resume is dead, buried by LinkedIn and other sites that offer online profiles, traditional resumes still have value. They are requested by hiring managers for prospective employees as well as internal promotions even if you post your entire work history online. Updating it while details are fresh on your mind is the easiest way to keep it current. You never know when opportunity will strike, either within or outside the company.

The best resumes go beyond generic job functions, delineating key achievements. Add a section to your resume if not already present, entitled Key Achievements or Highlights. Then, when you are assigned to a special project or task team, earn an award for top customer service or sales results, or initiate an idea that improves processes or saves the company money, add a statement or two in that section. Also, remember to add a section for professional affiliations, industry-related enrichment courses and certifications.

An additional benefit to updating a resume is to ensure that career track changes are reflected on paper. For example, if you are a human resources practitioner who started out in recruiting, but veered off into the benefits function, add that dimension to your profile statement and work experience. Depending on your next career step, tweak the resume to place more emphasis on the portion of your job history that correlates with your targeted role.

Save the document to your desktop or a career folder, so it’s handy and not easily forgotten. Even if you hire a professional to develop it, having all the descriptions and dates recorded will expedite the process. Not only will documenting newly acquired knowledge, experiences and successes enhance your resume in real time, but it’s like giving yourself a pat on the back. We could all use a little reminder now and then of what we have accomplished.

Will zero-cost community college become a nationwide reality?

Years ago, at a meeting of parents fighting for the local school budget, I saw one parent wearing a T-shirt that said, “If you think education is expensive, you should try ignorance.” I thought of that while listening to the president’s plan for zero-cost community college. An educated society is in everyone’s interest, not just parents and students.