How would you answer these questions at the job interview?

  • Did you get fired?
  • Did you not get promoted in seven years due to poor performance?

It’s easy to get tongue-tied when you’re on the receiving end of these questions. However, Dan Broden reminds us that job seekers can deal with these questions elegantly. He recommends two different types of phrases when answering a negative question.

When You Can Comfortably and Credibly Deny the Negative Question

Consider beginning your answer with these phrases:

  • No
  • Not at all
  • That’s not accurate
  • I disagree
  • Absolutely not
  • It’s quite the opposite
  • To the contrary

When You Cannot Comfortably and Credibly Deny the Negative Question

Begin your answer with these phrases instead:

  • We see it differently
  • I wouldn’t use those words
  • I wouldn’t put it that way
  • That’s not the way we see it
  • I take issue with your contention
  • That hasn’t been our area of focus

What Happens Next

After using these phrases to assertively respond to the question, bridge to a message that provides more context for your assertion.

Photo credit: Model UN


I’ve been reading Lou Adler’s Hire With Your Head. Adler has a good section detailing how ten nervous traits can be interpreted negatively by the interviewer. Here’s the list of nervous traits, along with the corresponding negative interpretation.

  1. Shallow responses can be interpreted as being not very intelligent, no sense of humor, or lack of judgment.
  2. Sweaty palms can be seen as being weak, soft, or nerdy. Definitely not someone you’d want making a presentation to a customer or executive.
  3. Twitching can show that a candidate is nervous, uncomfortable with people, and possibly not a team player.
  4. Too chatty can be perceived as being dumb and superficial.
  5. Lack of confidence can appear mislabeled as passive.
  6. No eye contact can be interpreted as untrustworthy.
  7. Saying stupid things can demonstrate that one is a real jerk, a weak team player, or insensitive to others.
  8. Lack of warmth can be seen as arrogant.
  9. Superficial questions shows that a candidate has wrong priorities or no character.
  10. A dry throat, strained voice, or coughing can show that one lacks confidence, is unprepared, or doesn’t possess insight.

Photo credit: Freddie Peña

Lindsey Dal PortoLindsey Dal Porto is the technical recruiter and sourcer for BetterWorks. BetterWorks is an enterprise goals platform for driving operational excellence and providing powerful insights about how work gets done.Before BetterWorks, Lindsey worked at FitBit and Living Social. Lindsey graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a bachelor’s degree in political science and Italian. I had a chance to chat with Lindsey about a unique recruiting tool she uses called the Legends List and how candidates can get on that list.

Lindsey, thanks for taking the time to be with us today. Can we start with a little background on yourself?

I’m one of many recruiters here that works for a small startup, BetterWorks. There are 35 people at the company, and I’m in charge of recruiting all of our engineers. Before that, I was at FitBit and KIXEYE, which was a gaming studio. Before that, I was an outdoor active travel trip leader. I took a lot of people on biking trips around the world. I’m from the Bay Area, and I went to school at Berkeley.

The reason I reached out to you: the Entelo blog referenced a fascinating concept called the Legends List. Can you tell us more about it?

Legends List is a list of people who I want to keep on top my network. It could be candidates that I work with in the past. It could be people that I meet at a meet-up. It could be network or industry professional. It could be people that I’m introduced too. It could be other industry professionals such as other recruiters of agencies who do something totally different than I do. So the people in my list is a way to maximize my recruitment funnel and to help me do my job as well. It contains people who are very well networked, and people who are very well vested. It includes people who I am looking for. It includes people who I can learn from and teach to. It consists of people where we can have a mutually special relationship.

Can you give us some examples?

The other day I meet a guy who has a company. We had a great conversation, and I put him down on my Legends List. He’s one of the top candidates I want to work with. Maybe down the line, he and I can connect. I’ve also got top candidates who I want to work with. Let’s say I’ve got a candidate who turned down our [job] offer but continuously sends us referrals. They are definitely on my Legends List. There are some brilliant senior engineers at KIXEYE that I am constantly reaching out to for referrals.

It sounds like you are collecting legends from a variety of different sources. What is your Legends List process like?

It is a monthly process for me. I have a calendar reminder to check my Legends List, which is an Excel document. I recalibrate it during that monthly process. For each person, I include names, emails, who they work for, etc. One of the most important things is to figure out what’s the best way to follow up, which is different for each person. I also include in my spreadsheet how I met that person.

The personal connection is important. Even the year I met them is very helpful. I think that if you take the time to follow up, even twice, you’re already going above and beyond what [other] people usually do.

During the follow-up, what kind of things are you reaching out to them with?

Let’s say I met someone who I really want to bring on our team. I think they are a fantastic engineer. They have a great background. I’m not going to hit them up on Facebook just to bring them on the site to be with our team right away. Instead, follow up with a simple “Wonderful to meet you,” “Let’s keep in touch,” or “Keep me posted to how things are going.” Or perhaps it’s “We have a company game night. We’ll love for you to come.” Even stuff like, “What is [a common acquaintance] up to?” or “How is life treating you?” helps. Making a personal connection with people is the way to go.

Your description reminds me of dating. Does that analogy apply?

That’s so funny you say that! I think it’s so similar. Taking the time, the extra 5 minutes out of your day to really tell them something meaningful. You don’t want to give them the feeling that you’re emailing 20 people an hour. Even something as simple as “Oh, I love your website, those pictures of Southeast Asia you have there were awesome” letting people know that you invested your time into them. Because ultimately, people love to be flattered, and they love to be complimented.

Who makes it to your Legends List? Do they have to be software engineers? Can they be a non-software engineer? What’s the criteria? Do you have different tiers? Are there A-list people? B-list people? C-list people?

No, they don’t have to be technical to make it to my list. Some folks – I’ve worked with in the past. Other folks – we’ve made an offer, and they’ve turned it down. I add a lot of people I’ve met at Meetups. I also like It is one of my favorite recruiting tools. You have pay fee, but it is people who are active in the market.

Do you share your Legends List with others?

My network is very open, but I don’t necessarily show people my list.

You don’t want to show your scratch notes.

Exactly. I love introducing people to others in ways that is a little bit less invasive. With that being said, I refer hopeful candidates that I’ve not been able to hire. Actually, I just talked to an engineer about 2 weeks ago. I thought [he] was a great candidate, so I sent him to a couple of different recruiting agencies that I’ve worked with.

How many people are on your Legends List?


Do you recalibrate or take people off the Legends List?

I do review the Legends List from time to time. It makes it easier to manage, and it keeps me on my toes a little bit more.


One of the biggest challenges for any hiring manager is identifying ambition and passion in a candidate. Aaron Hurst, founder of Taproot, has identified a clever interview question to evaluate those two traits: How would you describe your ideal retirement?

Hurst classifies answers into three buckets:

The TGIF Crowd: This group sees work as a means to an end — nothing more, nothing less. They’re always looking forward to the weekend and would almost definitely quit their jobs if they won the lottery.

The Status-Seekers: These people see work as a way of gaining social status and prestige. They’re working to give themselves a positive identity and to show their peers how well they’re doing.

The Purpose-Driven Employees: These people find work meaningful in and of itself, and see their careers as a way of creating good in the world. They can’t stand the idea of not working.

Which bucket are you in?

Photo credit: Taproot Foundation

Introducing JobScan

December 4th, 2014 by lewis

When a job search tool, JobScan gets 1.1k Facebook likes, they must be doing something right. JobScan is easily one of my favorite job search tools out there. With the proliferation of applicant tracking systems like Taleo, it’s important that your resume reflects the same keywords listed in the job description. JobScan is a free tool that helps candidates do just that. I had a chance to chat with James Hu, the founder, about JobScan and he was kind enough to provide some additional context below. Try it out!

Jobscan tool aims to better equip job seekers by analyzing job descriptions and helping applicants easily identify what skills and keywords are most important to a given employer. By ranking the most important and most frequently-occurring keywords per job description, this tool can help give applicants a competitive edge in their job search efforts. Here’s a testimonial from one of our customers, fresh from my email inbox.

“Jobscan allowed me to customize my resume for a specific job well beyond what I had considered as sufficient. After using this tool, I was able to land the interest of several potential employers within a short time for several positions at various firms. I highly recommend Jobscan for everyone!”

Marcus W.  Electrical Engineer, Houston, TX


JobScan screenshot

JobScan screenshot

Black Friday Sale: 30% off Lewis C. Lin Books

November 28th, 2014 by lewis

If you’ve been wanting to get a paperback copy of either one of my books, today would be a great day to do so. is offering a 30% off coupon.

Use promo code: HOLIDAY30. Ends Nov. 30 at 11:59pm PT. Paperback only.

Decode and Conquer: Answers to Product Management Interviews
Rise Above the Noise: How to Standout At the Marketing Interview

7 Questions to Ask A Hiring Manager

November 21st, 2014 by lewis


Last month, we featured Edmund Lau’s questions to ask after the interview. Today, Business Insider featured some excellent questions to ask after the interview, and I couldn’t resist featuring them below.

Questions to Ask After the Interview

  1. “If you were to rank all the people who have done this job in the past, tell me about No. 1 and why you would put them there?”
  2. “You’ve described this as a place that welcomes innovation. Can you tell me about a time when you failed at something, or when someone else in the organization failed at something? How did the organization deal with it?”
  3. “‘Fast-forward a year, and imagine that you’re looking back on this hiring decision. The two people you hired have exceeded your highest expectations. What did they do that impressed you most?'”
  4. “What qualities did the person who held this job previously have that you’d like to maintain? What are the most important qualities that the person filling this job should have? What’s your definition of success?”
  5. “As CEO of the company, what worries you and keeps you awake at night?”
  6. “The smartest question, hands down, was a candidate who asked me to describe the skills and characteristics of those considered ‘high potentials’ at our company/organization, meaning, those who are known to have excelled through key results and behaviors. In essence, they wanted to know more about my views on the exemplars of my organization.”
  7. “How does a leader come into a company like Accenture that has such a strong culture and make an impact, and how does the organization help enable success?”

Photo Credit: Ethan @ SportSuburban

Questions to Ask After an Interview

November 5th, 2014 by lewis


Looking for a list of questions to ask after an interview? Edmund Lau featured an excellent list at the end of his Quora post on this topic. I’ve featured my favorite end-of-interview questions from his blog post here:

Working at the company
What’s your typical work day like?
What’s the process of taking an idea you have from an inception and shipping it to production?
What fraction of your time is spent building new things versus maintaining old ones?
How do product / business / engineering decisions get made at the company?

Team culture
What’s one thing you really like about working at the company and one thing you’d like to improve?
What’s being done about the thing you’d like to improve?
How would you describe the culture of the company?
What are the core values of the company, and what are some examples of how they’re reflected day-to-day?

How did this particular product feature get designed and launched?
Why did you decide to launch this particular version instead of this other one?
How has the product evolved since launch based on user feedback?

Career growth
What’s the most unexpected lesson that you’ve learned on the job?
How is knowledge across projects documented and shared at the company?
What is the onboarding or mentoring process like (if any) for new hires?
What opportunities have you had to work with different people and projects during your time at the company?

Corporate challenges
What are the biggest obstacles to this company becoming massively successful?
What are the current priorities and focus areas at the company?
Where would I be able to add the most value?

Addendum: Business Insider featured another set of excellent questions to ask after the interview. I’ve excerpted my favorite ones here.

1. What can I help to clarify that would make hiring me an easy decision? —Dan Pickett, cofounder of Launch Academy

2. How do you see this position evolving in the next three years? —Jared Brown, cofounder of Hubstaff

3. What’s the most frustrating part of working here? —Avery Fisher, president of Remedify

4. Who’s your ideal candidate and how can I make myself more like them? —Phil Laboon, president of Eyeflow Internet Marketing

5. How did you get your start? —Jayna Cooke, CEO of EVENTup

6. What keeps you up at night? —Kofi Kankam, CEO of
7. What concerns/reservations do you have about me for this position? —John Berkowitz, cofounder and Chief Revenue Officer of Yodle

8. How will the work I’ll be doing contribute to the organization’s mission? —Dave Kerpen, founder and CEO of Likeable Local.

Photo credit: Ethan Lofton


The New York Times is reporting that Microsoft is laying off more than 5,800 employees tomorrow. The last time Microsoft had such a brutal set of layoffs was back in 2009. Apparently this latest round of cuts was foreshadowed by Microsoft CEO in his internal strategy memo on July 10.

We’ve worked with a lot of current and former Microsoft employees on their next role. If you’re affected by the job cuts, we’d be happy to chat with you and give you a free 15 minute interview analysis.

Photo Credit: LeWeb

Skip the Jargon at Your Next Interview

May 21st, 2014 by lewis


Just because your co-workers use jargon, doesn’t mean you should too.

Here’s a great reminder from Richard Branson, Founder at the Virigin Group, on why you should do away with jargon. My favorite quote from his article:

Some people love speaking in jargon, using fancy words and turning everything into acronyms. Personally, I find this simply slows things down, confuses people and causes them to lose interest. It’s far better to use a simple term and commonplace words that everyone will understand, rather than showing off and annoying your audience.

Don’t get lazy, and don’t try to impress with fancy words. Take the time to simplify what you’re saying, using words that the listener knows well. The interviewer will appreciate the effort you’ve made to make their lives easier.

And with clearer speech, you will make a bigger impact and stand out from others.

Photo credit: Andy Mabbett