here’s what you should sound like in a bunch of conversations with your job interviewer

Last year, I did a couple of episodes of the Ask a Manager podcast that were all about tone — what kind of tone to use in tricky conversations at work, and getting your tone right when you’re a manager. Those are some of the most popular episodes of the show, and I’ve had requests to do more on tone in other situations.

So this episode is all about tone in job interviews – because that’s a time where people often think they should be pretty deferential, but where you’ll usually come across better if you’re not. (Which doesn’t mean you should be adversarial, of course! Just that you don’t need to kowtow.)

You can find transcripts of previous episodes here.

{ 29 comments… read them below }

  1. Detective Amy Santiago*

    I personally find these very useful because I think my voice is generally similar to yours.

    However, I wonder if it would be useful for others if you did an episode where you coached listeners on their tone – particularly some male or NB guests.

    1. LaDeeDa*

      I wish I could nominate someone in my office, this woman’s tone is always abrasive, often it comes across as defensive, and even more often it comes across as condescending.

      When I wanted to get my niece to stop whining, I recorded her voice when she was whining and recorded her voice when she was talking normally– it worked, she was able to stop whining when she heard how she sounded, and was shown the difference.

    2. CastIrony*

      I want to be first in line to be coached! Because I am socially inept (this column helps, especially the examples), I am always worried about coming off the wrong way, and that it’s costing me big time!

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Workload! I’m stretched way too thin and finally realized I need to cut fairly substantially in order to get some balance. I’m cutting some client work too. I’m sad because I have loved doing the podcast … but I also haven’t had most weekends off in years and I am very excited to begin having those again.

      1. Drew*

        I’m very sorry to hear this but happy you’re making sure not to burn out on everything, everywhere. Please know that your podcast has been both entertaining and helpful to so many of us over the past couple of years.

  2. soprani*

    Allison – thank you for all your wonderful interview advice. I just accepted a job offer which is a promotion and a 20% salary bump. I was able to negotiate a higher amount than their original offer thanks to your salary negotiation help.

  3. Job Hunting Sucks*

    I’m curious how one should handle questions about GPA? This is something I get asked frequently, and I would sort of understand if I was a recent grad, but as I’ve been in the workforce for 20 years I don’t know exactly what they’re trying to evaluate? Also, my GPA sucked and I hate to think I’m losing out on opportunities because of ancient history. (These are recruiters asking the question so honestly I feel like they should know better? But I also have less leverage to push back against them since one rarely knows what job or company one is interviewing for – and if there’s even a position at all or if the recruiter is just filling their books).

    1. TeacherNerd*

      I’m wondering if this is something you could directly ask the recruiter(s) about: “Can you tell me why I need to supply a GPA for schooling that was more than 20 years ago? I would hope that my work history would be more relevant at this point.” Because this is off script, it might cause them to reevaluate why they think they need this information – or to make it optional.

      Years ago, after I was a college graduate, with 30 graduate-level credits, and in my mid-30s, in desperation for a paycheck I took a job at a daycare, earning $8/hour, which was a pay raise because of the amount of education I had. The minimum requirements for the position included a high school diploma, a copy of which they wanted me to supply. It had been more than 15 years since I’d graduated from high school, and no longer knew if I even had my high school diploma. I said I didn’t know where it was, but I could give them my college diploma. No, they kept asking for my high school diploma; I kept offering my college diploma. I finally said, “If I graduated from college and can give you a copy of my diploma, that probably means I graduated from high school, right?” Because I’d gone “off script,” the woman I was speaking to didn’t know quite how to respond.

      1. TexanInExile*

        That is one of my recurring nightmares: that I am told I have to go back to high school because I can’t prove that I finished and proof of my master’s degree is not sufficient.

        1. TeacherNerd*

          (Forgot to add that this woman’s response was, “Oh yeah, I guess that’s true!”)

          My husband has a recurring dream in which he goes back to high school (despite having completed a four-year college degree). It would be an odd universe in which a high school diploma is more of a qualification than a graduate degree. (I’m not talking about minimum qualifications.)

          1. The New Wanderer*

            Similar but slightly different context, I was automatically shut out of a job opportunity because I don’t have a BS in engineering. I do have two more advanced graduate degrees and had worked as an engineer (actual job title at a global engineering company) for 12 years doing exactly the work described in the job description. I tried explaining to an HR person but still didn’t get anywhere because 25 years ago I got a BA and not a BS.

          2. LaDeeDa*

            I have a recurring dream in which I didn’t really earn my HS diploma- because I failed some math class or didn’t take one final, which means my undergrad and TWO master degrees are revoked. And then in my dream, I have to go back to high school. WTH does that mean?

        2. tra la la*

          I have had a recurring dream for years where I am called back to my college because my degree was somehow invalid. More recently, this has shifted to a dream where I have voluntarily returned back to my college to get another bachelor’s degree. A couple of months ago I started dreaming that I had finished *that* degree and was counseling other people like me who wanted to return for another degree. So…. somehow my education is progressing??

  4. Manon*

    I really struggle with this AND I have a few internship interviews coming up next week, so this is so helpful! The idea of being an “adult equal” especially is tough for me as a student – I tend to feel like the interviewer has my future in their hands and get super anxious.

  5. Hold My Cosmo*

    Regarding the “my salary is part of my confidentiality agreement” response, I’ve had success tying that into the fact that I work with IP. So, tack on something like “You can expect me to treat your company’s intellectual property with the same discretion that I’m exercising right now”.

  6. Pennycrest*

    Alison, how does this change when applying for an internal job(promotion) and interviewing with your current colleagues and supervisor?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Then you’d mostly want the same tone you use with them normally — although if you’re very jokey with them, maybe a notch more formal than usual. You definitely don’t want to sound stiff though — you know those people! You’re colleagues! You can talk pretty normally.

  7. Jo*


    This was really useful I am interviewing candidates all the time and deference/obsequiousness is a bit of a red flag for me – as I want people that will challenge ideas and can the deference can come across as fake.

  8. Melissa*

    I’m struggling to write thank-you notes after a 30-minute phone interview with three people. Do I send them each a separate note? (Sometimes I couldn’t tell who was talking.) Should it be the same type of note I’d send after an in-person interview? I want to be thoughtful, but I don’t have much to go on — especially as I’m trying to write three different notes.

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