Copeland Coaching | Interviewing Archives - Copeland Coaching

Answering Illegal Interview Questions

February 27, 2017 | Posted in Advice, Interviewing, Newsletter | By

I often get asked, “What should I do if I’m asked an illegal question during an interview?” This is such a tough one. First, you’re caught totally off guard. And, you know the question isn’t right. You know it. But, you only have a moment to think about what to say, and the mold is set. So, in that moment, what should you do?

If you’ve never been asked an illegal interview question, you are fortunate. They are incredibly tricky.

To demonstrate the point, I’ll share with you a time when I was asked multiple illegal questions, back to back. You see, not everyone can guess my age very well. So, sometimes interviewers have questions about me. During an interview, the hiring manager said, “Do you have children? Are you married? Do you plan to have children?”

Yes, this really happened. When it happened, I was a little surprised. But honestly, I wasn’t as surprised as you’d expect. The reason is because I’ve been asked this sort of thing before.

I’m honestly not sure why these questions still pop up at this point in time. But, I can only assume that human resources isn’t training hiring managers well on what they can and cannot say. My guess is that they don’t spend much time on it because frankly, it seems obvious that this question isn’t appropriate.

But, I digress.

So, back to the point. How do you answer an illegal question?

Some interview coaches would tell you that you should say something light, yet quick witted, such as, “I think you’re asking if I’m committed to my job – and I am!” Answers like this can avoid the question, while at the same time, sticking up for yourself in a non-confrontational way. If you’re up for it, this can be a great option.

But, what I always think is this. Is it more about how I answer the question? Or, is it more about the person asking the question? I mean, when I’ve been asked “Do you have children? Are you married? Do you plan to have children,” it’s a sign to me. It’s a sign that I would prefer not to work for this hiring manager.

And, I’d also like to keep the tension in the interview low, so I can keep a good relationship with the company – in case I ever want to interview there again (for someone else). For me, I choose to politely answer everything I’m asked.

But, I make a mental note of what was asked. I think about it afterward and decide how I want to use the information I’ve been given. And, honestly, I’d much rather know in the interview that you (the hiring manager) aren’t going to treat me fairly than find out after I’ve been hired.

So, thank you ‘illegal-question-asking-hiring-manager’! You’ve helped me to avoid a huge career pitfall!

I hope these tips have helped you. Visit to find more tips to improve your job search. If I can be of assistance to you, don’t hesitate to reach out to me here.

Also, be sure to subscribe to my Copeland Coaching Podcast on iTunes or Stitcher where I discuss career advice every Tuesday! If you’ve already heard the podcast and enjoy it, please consider leaving a review in iTunes or Stitcher.

Happy hunting!

Angela Copeland


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Unreasonable Interview Expectations

February 22, 2017 | Posted in Advice, Career Corner Column, Interviewing, Media | By

Sometimes, interviews can be the worst. I mean, truly. Doesn’t the hiring manager realize that you have a job, life, spouse, children, and existing commitments?

You spend months and months trying to get your foot in the door for a job interview. You spend all your time filling out applications and updating your resume. You call your references, and update your LinkedIn and Facebook accounts.

Then you wait, and wait, and wait.

Until one afternoon, a recruiter calls you. They came across your resume and they have a few questions that they’d like to ask you – today. Suddenly, you’re in a whirlwind of interviews. It’s like interview hell.

Not only do you already have plans, but now you have to cancel those plans and secretly make new plans to sneak out of work. You have to figure out how to wear a suit to your job, without anyone noticing that you’re dressed up.

The hiring manager often wants to speak with you on the phone first – almost immediately. And, then they want you to come in person a few days later, for hours. They’re in a hurry after all.

So, what can you do? Well, honestly, you can push out the interview a few days. Heck, they will probably even meet with you next week. It would certainly be more convenient if you could keep your current commitments and interview a few days later.

Unfortunately, this strategy can cause you problems in the long run you may not have considered. The thing is, even though the hiring manager’s expectations are unreasonable, they’re the decision maker. And, they will often pick the first good person – rather than wait around for the very best person. Plus, even if you are the best – if you aren’t excited about the role – they will assume you aren’t really interested.

I once had a job interview that included building an entire website to showcase my programming skills. At the same time, I was scheduled to be an extra in a movie. So, I politely asked the hiring manager if the website could be turned in just a few days later, to allow me to do both. He was completely understanding.

Seems reasonable, right? Well, I built the website and turned it in on time. I worked hard on it, and was very proud of my accomplishment. The hiring manager responded to me with something along the lines of, “Thanks! This is really great. It’s even better than the website made by the person we gave the job offer to.”

Holy cow! Can you believe it? After agreeing to let me finish building a website from scratch just a few days later, the hiring manager hired someone – who wasn’t me!

I could go on about this, and how unreasonable hiring managers are. But, the truth is, they’re like your customer. And, the customer’s always right – even when they’re not. You’ve just got to decide what’s more important to you – getting the job, or keeping your plans.

Angela Copeland is CEO and founder of Copeland Coaching and can be reached at or on Twitter at @CopelandCoach.

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Will I scare the hiring manager away?

February 13, 2017 | Posted in Informational Interviewing, Interviewing, Job Posting, Newsletter | By

You know the drill. “If you’re interested in a job, apply on our website. If you’re a good fit, we’ll call you.” That’s what the company’s telling us anyway.

So, what’s wrong with this approach? And, what should we really be doing?

This is a great question. The first thing that’s “wrong” is that applying online almost never works – really. There’s a good chance the applicant tracking system (the online website) the company uses doesn’t work. It’s not the company’s fault. They’re probably relying on a third party product they purchased to help them to manage their hiring process. But, when you put your resume into one of these systems, there’s a pretty slim chance that it will make it to the hiring manager. And, even if it does, there’s a smaller chance the hiring manager will select you.

Why is that? Well, when a hiring manager is hiring, they try to think of someone they already know. Or, they may ask around to find a friend-of-a-friend. They’re definitely not going to look at online applications first.

So, if you don’t know the hiring manager already, what can you do? I often advise job seekers to find a way to connect to the hiring manager. Perhaps you reach out to them on LinkedIn. Or, maybe you find their email address and send them a note.

As you can imagine, reaching out to a total stranger can be a scary thought. I often hear questions like, “Won’t I scare the hiring manager away?” This is a good question, and in all honestly, it’s possible that you might. But, let’s consider this.

  1. The hiring manager may never learn your name otherwise.
  2. You could be just who the hiring manager was looking for. And, they may be grateful that you reached out.
  3. The hiring manager may network in the same way. Being a competitive job seeker may be the way they became the boss.
  4. Nobody has ever not been hired because they were too excited about a job.
  5. What do you really have to lose?

So, let’s look at it this way. What’s the worst thing that could happen? The worst thing that could happen is…. Wait for it…. Your email is ignored.

Yep. Almost always, the worst case scenario is that the hiring manager ignores you. Is it because you “scared” them away? Probably not. It’s more likely that:

  1. They were busy.
  2. They misplaced your email and forgot to respond.
  3. They gave your application to HR, and asked them to add you to the list for consideration (but never emailed you to tell you).
  4. You weren’t a good fit for the role.

Picture this: You’re a perfect fit for a job. You are so excited that after you apply, you reach out to the hiring manager directly via email. You send a killer cover letter about how excited you are about the role, and you attach your resume.

In this example, what are the chances that the hiring manager responds by thinking, “Man, that person is the perfect fit. I mean, their resume is just what we were looking for. And, they’re super excited about the job. And, they’re proactive too. But, no. Let’s not interview them. It’s totally weird that they sent me an email. I’m sure we can find another equally qualified candidate in the stack of applications from the internet.”

I’m exaggerating, but you get the idea. The chances that this occurs is slim.

So, get your courage together and test out contacting the hiring manager directly. You’ll show that you’re excited, qualified, and proactive – all great qualities to have when you’re interviewing for a job.

I hope these tips have helped you. Visit to find more tips to improve your job search. If I can be of assistance to you, don’t hesitate to reach out to me here.

Also, be sure to subscribe to my Copeland Coaching Podcast on iTunes or Stitcher where I discuss career advice every Tuesday! If you’ve already heard the podcast and enjoy it, please consider leaving a review in iTunes or Stitcher.

Happy hunting!

Angela Copeland


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Overcoming legal issues in your past

January 25, 2017 | Posted in Advice, Career Corner Column, Interviewing, Media, Unemployment | By

Questions around past legal trouble has come up multiple times recently, so it’s worth addressing. A reader writes, “I’m a job seeker with a felony record, and a college degree. I can’t expunge the record, and I’m not sure what to do. Where should I begin?”

First, I’m sorry to hear that this is a common issue being faced in the work world. It can be difficult both from the employee and employer perspective. One common scenario is someone who made a mistake at a young age who has learned from the experience, has grown up, and has moved on. Unfortunately, their past legal record has not.

In the competitive job market we’re in, even if those past issues should be in the past, they may still impact your ability to land gainful employment. People hire people, and people have biases. Given this challenging reality, here are a few tips if you find yourself in this situation.

First, check to be sure there’s no possible way to clear up your record. Then, begin to work on your job search strategy.  Much like someone just starting their career, you will need to prove yourself to a future employer. And, one very good way to do that is through relationship building.

Start out with a list of potential employers. Consider targeting employers that are relatively small, so you may be able to connect with the owner, executives, or hiring managers more easily. Look for opportunities to network within these companies, and within your target industries. You want to get to know decision makers.

Consider volunteering your time in the community. Work on projects that demonstrate leadership, and personal growth. Include these accomplishments on your resume. They will help to build a positive brand, and show the person you are now.

The overall goal is this: Rather than be another number who applies online, you want to be someone the company already knows and trusts. If they know you, when they have a job available, they may even call you before the job is posted. You want to be someone they know can get the job done.

And, when asked about your past, be honest, but brief. Share as much information as the company needs, and if they ask more questions, answer them honestly. Then, explain how you have learned, grown, and moved on. The most important thing is that your future employer trusts you, and by being open and honest, you are more likely to build that trust.

This situation is a difficult one, but it’s not impossible. Remember that every job seeker has something in their past that worries them about getting a new job. It may be their age, their lack of a college degree, or something else. Rarely does anyone have a perfect background. I realize that this is more difficult than the other examples, but relationship building with decision makers can make it much easier. It make take more time and more effort, but it’s worth it in the end.

Angela Copeland is CEO and founder of Copeland Coaching and can be reached at or on Twitter at @CopelandCoach.

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The real reason the company never called you

January 18, 2017 | Posted in Advice, Career Corner Column, Interviewing, Media | By

Interviewing for a job is an incredibly personal process – at least for the job seeker. If you’re looking for a new job, you know the frustration when a company doesn’t call you back. It stings like rejection. It can leave you reeling – wondering what’s wrong with you.

First, let me say that I don’t think companies truly understand what this experience is like. If they did, they would take the time to let you know when they’ve moved on to another candidate. They would thank you for the hours you put into their process. They would treat you like a person worthy of respect.

But, given the reality of things, this often doesn’t happen. So, let’s talk about why you may not have been hired. It may be less personal than you realize.

First, think back to how you applied for the job. Did you apply online? If so, it’s possible the hiring manager doesn’t know your name. That’s right. They may not know you have applied. That sounds counter to what companies are telling us when they say, “Apply online and if you’re a fit, we’ll call you.” But, put yourself in the shoes of the hiring manager. If you were looking to hire someone, where would you start? Chances are good you’d think of people you know. Then, you’d look to friends to recommend their friends. You wouldn’t pay attention to online applications unless you didn’t have someone in mind.

If you were selected for an interview, and gave it your very best, you may wonder why you didn’t make it through to the end. Often, when a manager decides to hire a new employee, they have a candidate in mind. That person already works for the company and they can easily move into the new spot. They have experience and insider knowledge. Unfortunately, this doesn’t stop the hiring manager from interviewing others. And, you can bet that in no interview will the hiring manager ever say to you, “We appreciate you coming. Unfortunately, this interview is for show. We already know who we’re really going to hire.” You have no way to know when this is happening.

One last reason you might have been hired – the job is not available. Of course, it was available at some point, but there are a number of situations where a job will be put on hold or canceled. For example, if the hiring manager is promoted, or leaves the company, the position may be put on hold. Typically, the company will want to backfill the hiring manager’s position first. Rarely will the company reach out to you to tell you the hiring manager has quit or was fired, so it’s doubtful that you’ll know this either.

As you can see, none of the things listed above are really about you. They aren’t about your experience or whether or not the hiring manager liked you. So, take heart. Keep applying, and keep networking. Eventually, you will hit one out of the park.

Angela Copeland is CEO and founder of Copeland Coaching and can be reached at or on Twitter at @CopelandCoach.

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