In a job interview, curiosity and helpfulness stand out

Jeanine “JT” Tanner O’Donnell is a career coach and the founder of the leading career site Dale Dauten is founder of The Innovators’ Lab and author of a novel about HR, “The Weary Optimist.”

Dear JT & Dale: Is the interview prep any different when interviewing with someone who would work on the same level as you or below you, versus interviewing with someone who would be your manager? I know the purposes of the interviews are slightly different, but is the prep/interview different? – Larosa

JT: First, it’s actually very normal for a good company to have you meet with someone on the team who would be your peer prior to offering you the job.

DALE: Yes, it’s a great sign that you’d be working for first-rate management-you want to work with people who care about team dynamics and, specifically, who seek opinions from all levels of employees. Plus, it’s great for you to get a better sense of the team and your place in it. It might even be true that the teammates’ impression of you is more important than that of the manager. So, how do you impress these potential co-workers? Curiosity. Curiosity is respect. Ask questions.

JT: Here’s an opportunity for someone you’ll work alongside to affirm that you’ll be a good team player, and here are some specific questions I would ask this person to make sure they sense your respect and curiosity:

1. How did you get your job at the company, and what do you like about working here?

2. How will the job I’m applying for connect to or impact the work you currently do here?

3. What do you think I can do in this job to successfully integrate into the team? Is there anything I can do in my role that will help you do your job?

4. What do you look for in a good teammate?

5. What advice would you give me to make sure I succeed here?

DALE: I love those, and, in particular, the ones that boil down to “how could I help you?” Isn’t that what we all want – someone looking to give help?

JT: The questions are designed to let potential co-workers know you are sincere in your desire to find a way to become a successful part of the team, and that you acknowledge that they were there first. But, most importantly, have fun and make a friend! This could be your future colleague, so enjoy the process.

Dear JT & Dale: I have been at my current job for 10 years. I know every potential employer is going to want references from previous employment. I know my supervisors from previous companies no longer work there, and I do not have current contact information for them. What is your suggestion on how to handle employer references? Refer the potential employer to HR? – Sean

JT: Honestly, you need to track down your former managers on LinkedIn or some other way. You need those references, even if they aren’t at the company anymore. Plus, it’s a good reason to reconnect; they might need you as a reference, too. And yes, you’ll likely have to send the potential employer to HR, but HR has no sense of your work ethic; hence, that’s why you should track down the old supervisors.

DALE: Good advice, and your situation makes for a good cautionary tale about keeping in touch. This is one of the great advantages of LinkedIn: not just finding people or being found, but not losing them. LinkedIn sends you updates on everyone you’re connected with – the system will tell you when someone you know changes jobs or has a work anniversary. These are opportunities to send a quick note of congratulations. But don’t just limit your connecting to former supervisors-include any former co-workers that you can find. Indeed, that may be your solution to your current reference needs. If you can’t find any former managers to vouch for you, you can send prospective employers to HR, but you could also say, “Here are two people I worked closely with who could tell you about my work ethic and character.” Even if they don’t contact those former co-workers, it’s impressive that you made the effort and it demonstrates that you don’t have anything to hide.

Jeanine “JT” Tanner O’Donnell is a career coach and the founder of the leading career site Dale Dauten is founder of The Innovators’ Lab and author of “The Weary Optimist.” Please visit them at, where you can send questions via email, or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803. (c) 2022 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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