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Be careful when you take advice - June 16th, 2014

It’s amazing what passes for advice sometimes. And it’s sad that so much of it is accepted without any further thought or challenge.

Before I give you examples, let me be crystal clear about something. I don’t claim that everything I’ve ever said here was carved in stone on Mount Sinai or that this is a one-size-fits-all arrangement. For sure, some of my advice will not work for some readers. So be it; I’m OK with that and do my best to be as valuable to as many as possible. All I do is two things when I write a column: (1) try to give the most solid advice on an issue, and (2) equally important, think it through to understand the consequences of following that advice. In other words, if you do so-and-so, what will happen as a result?

That’s important as a backdrop.

The other day, an on-line networking group to which I belong sent out its regular discussion feed. (How many of those do you get?) I can’t keep up with the torrent of on-line discussions anymore, but this one I read because it was about tough interview questions, always a pertinent topic.

The introduction talked about going into the interview prepared. OK, nice start, but it’s nothing anyone doesn’t know. Then it fell apart, listing 10 questions and 10 corresponding answers. That’s the first flaw. There is no way you can be prepared if you try to anticipate exact questions. The variations are endless. So right there, a critical reader would ask, “What if the question was altered? Then what?” Then the answer you prepared wouldn’t be so right on, would it?

This leads us to understand that we will best prepare for an interview not by anticipating specific questions, but by expecting five general types of questions: questions about you, your job search, your work, your strengths and weaknesses, and hypothetical (What would you do if...?) questions. If you develop a strategy to approach these different types of questions, you’ll be in far better position to answer any of the variations you get.

And that brings up the first major point here: interviewing success is much more about strategy than it is about skills, yet how many advice blogs and columns tell you that? This is so closely analogous to sports, where you go into a game with a game plan, so that as any situation arises, it tends to fall into categories of plays, and you’ve already decided how you’ll deal with it.

Strategies move you forward. Skills? You’ve already got those. It’s about strategizing.

A second point about this discussion is that it presented each question, offered a brief analysis, and then followed that with a suggested answer. Talk about one size not fitting all! Further, I fear that too many people will simply memorize these answers (they were well-written, so they seemed OK if you don’t challenge them) and then spout them out when the time comes.

Another fold in this is that these answers were so cookie-cutter that any interviewer with a week’s worth of experience will spot that.

And then we get to a couple of suggested answers that were, in a word, mortifying. Here are two.

“What do you bring to the table that another person can't? Why are you my best choice for this position?" The suggested answer was, “I'm the best person for the job. I know other candidates could do this job, but it’s my passion for excellence that sets me apart. I always try to deliver the best results.”

Are they kidding? If you don’t see the folly of this answer, here it is. You can say you’re the best (a relative statement) only if you know who the others are – and you don’t. In my decades of hiring, when I heard that, the candidate was cooked: simple as that. Plus, the rest of that answer is sheer fluff, bluster, ego, or a combination thereof. That’s advice?

“Would you be willing to take a salary cut?” Really? That’s’ flea market or garage sale talk, not professional behavior. That’s bad enough, but here’s the suggested answer: "I'm making x now, and the salary range for this position is only y to y. I’d like to increase my income but I'm more interested in the job than the money. I’d be willing to negotiate a lower starting salary with the hope we can revisit the subject in a few months after I've shown what I can do."

Yeah. Good luck. That’s advice? Sell yourself short at the outset, and you’re toast forever. First, that’s appropriate only when the negotiation amounts to a bump in salary and the only question is by how much. But if you followed this advice – and then had to do it again (you will) after this job ends (it will) – you’d soon be working for minimum wage. Second, unless you get that in writing, that promise will fade into history as if it were never made. And third, who says it will go your way anyway?

So be careful when you take advice. Always ask yourself “Then what?” and then follow that thought trail, including with what you read here.

Career Coach Eli Amdur conducts workshops and one-on-one coaching in Job Search, Career Planning, Resumes, and Interviewing. Reach him at or 201-357-5844. Please visit and "like" him at