Browse Category: Personal Narratives

Interview preparation coaching is personal

There are many brilliant things about my job. Campaigning is great fun and helping businesses and charities develop and deliver their stories is challenging and rewarding. But helping candidates prepare for interviews has to be the best part of my job. Getting the jubilant text or phone call is one hell of a buzz – whether it’s from a graduate getting their first job or an established executive making a successful career change.

What is quite funny is that no-one is ever “cool” about getting a new job. Both first-timers and alleged grown-ups totally lose any semblance of composure when they contact me – they generally sound as if they are bouncing around on a pogo stick. Interview preparation is so personal, so immediate, so black and white – it’s simple. Like sport. You win or lose. You punch the air or you are thrown to the floor. My stomach always cramps when I see an incoming call from a client after they have come out of an interview or in the weeks afterwards – I know that I will either be celebrating or consoling.

Yesterday I received this testimonial from a client – he had applied for a job, got it and also negotiated a great package. In fairness he was a great candidate in every way – but like most candidates he wasn’t great at telling his story at all. He was so delighted when he called me that he sounded like a kid who had overdosed on jelly babies and he gave me a fantastic and symbolic thank you gift as well! I was over the moon too – a happy day all round!

“Peter was an OUTSTANDING and no-nonsense coach. He showed me how to sell my experience at an interview. The interview. For THAT job. Investing in Peter’s coaching obviously worked because I was successful and am absolutely over the moon with my new role. He also guided me through the process of negotiating my salary up which saw an increase of over 35%. I would highly recommend using Peter if you are seeking a new role.”

Head of Public Affairs at a FTSE 100 company.

intensive interview preparation

Intensive Career Coaching – Another interview preparation client gets their first job

It was only Friday when I wrote here about a career coaching client sending me an excited email that they they had got the job. Today I received another email from a client. He had been sent to see me by his parents for my intensive career coaching interview preparation to help him succeed in his first “proper” job search.

Hi Peter,

Just wanted to let you know that you’ve done it again! Went for the interview this morning at half 8, finished by 10 and just got a call ten minutes ago saying that they are going to be making an offer! Thank you so much for your help, it really sorted me out and helped me understand where best to focus my prep work….

This guy had passed a telephone interview, helped apparently by my guide, How To Survive (and Win) a Telephone Interview. Then he was invited to an assessment day and today he had his first face to face interview. Which he got. In fact, he had only just got home from the interview when the phone rang to say the company was going to make him an offer! As he said, winning 1 out of 1 interviews is not a bad ratio!

I often only hear about it indirectly but sometimes, like today, I get a proper insight into how getting That Email can affect the candidate and his or her family. His mother was at the shops when she got the text and started texting her friends in the shop aisle – her shopping basket abandoned at her feet. The father, also a client, was on his way back from a (successful) pitch and decided to come straight home afterwards to celebrate with the family. The girlfriend got a jumbled, excited and exuberant voicemail and text and the dog that the family was dog-sitting started yapping wildly as my client bounced noisily around the house.

All of this, instead of option 2: – waiting 3 days and then getting a “Thank you but no thank you..” email….

I work in politics where spin is too often the order of the day. So I am super-careful about making claims for fear of “over-egging” things. But on days like this, getting an excited email and then having a 20 minute jubilant debrief and rejoicing with the client about their new job and reliving and wallowing in bits of the interview and the interview preparation and the coaching and the “journey” and the excited reactions of family and friends is mega. And getting that email is, for the client, literally life changing. The first job defines your career starting point. It kick-starts your working trajectory. “Start well and build” is what every parent wants for their kids. It is great to be a part of these moments.




standing out at interview

Standing out at Interview – First published in City AM

I found this link to an article I wrote for City AM last year called  “standing out at interview”  in an old blog and have cheekily decided to republish it! I have added the link to the original article at the bottom of this blogpost.

standing out at interviewIt’s  a year later and nothing seems to have changed much on the job market. A friend told me recently that they had sent out 38 job applications and hadn’t received even one acknowledgement – much less an interview. I haven’t seen her CV yet – but she has a 2.1 from a Russel Group university and has a year of decent work and interning experience. Tough gig.

Anyway…. here is the article.

It’s tough looking for a job. Hedge funds are attracting over 230 applications for every place. Standing out against a crowd of that many hopefuls is now more important than ever. But it’s amazing how many credible candidates fall at the first hurdle, making mistakes that a little preparation could solve. Here is some of the simplest advice I give to my clients before they go into an interview:

1. Get inside the employers’ head

What is relevant to them? Are they looking for big ideas, contacts, industry knowledge or the ability to shift large amounts of grunt work? You have to ask these questions if you want to stand out. You have to be able to answer the killer question: “what do you bring to the table?”

Too many job hunters go on (and on and on and on…) about things that don’t remotely interest the employer. Things that are irrelevant because they are “givens” (your 2.1 degree for example) or things you think are relevant, but the employer doesn’t. You have to identify what drives them. These are always tangible skills and strong personal characteristics. They will be looking for someone they think fits into their company culture. Oh, and they tend to choose people they like too.

Make sure you do your homework. Research the company, read their recent news articles, find out about their corporate culture and learn about their plans for the future. Company websites are a mine of information – you aren’t trying hard enough if you don’t read them and tailor your message accordingly.

2. Don’t try to blag it

Once you have done that, you have to illustrate the fact that you can deliver what they want. Blagging will be found out. However valid the “fake it until you make it” motto is thought to be, in today’s job climate, employers want someone who adds value quickly. You have to convince them they should take the risk with you. This means selling your skills. Merely listing your job titles is no help (and painfully dull). Explain what you have actually done and how you were successful. If you ramble on in jargon without any examples, relying on unsubstantiated claims and copy-and-paste style adjectives (hardworking, innovative, creative, team player) do you really expect to stand out?

3. make sure you stand out

The third thing provides the winning ticket: you have to differentiate yourself from the competition. Unless you can do this, your CV will be canned when the employer first sifts through them. Cheek, charm and chutzpah are great in movies and (sometimes) play a role in getting you a job — but you need to get into the interview room first. Finally, if you want to be the person hired, talk about the future and what you want to achieve within that company and for that company. People who focus on the past don’t move forward.

James Bond is fiction. The effortless amateur hero does not exist. Proper preparation is vital. Working out a clear, compelling and concise narrative will make a difference. If you need help, get help. Athletes use coaches. Margaret Thatcher had coaching. William Hague and his team spent 26.5 hours prepping for every Prime Minister’s question time – every week. Even Eric Schmidt of Google says everyone needs a coach.

Here is the original link:

Interviews can give you nightmares

It is often hard to get to sleep the night before an interview. The next day could literally change your life. That is one of the great things about what I do – my clients come to me to prepare for events that could change their lives. Getting a job, getting selected as a candidate, getting elected to office, getting promoted, buying or selling a business, or pitching for and getting a new big counteract – all of these are life changing events for the people involved. It is a privilege to be part of my client’s lives at these important moments – but it is also nerve-wracking.

So what happens if you have an interview tomorrow? What can you do to improve your chances of changing your life?

  1. Re-read the advert, the job description and the description of what and who they are looking for. They have spent time writing that advert – you would be a fool not to take it seriously and not to re-read it the evening before the interview. If I sound like that annoying teacher from school who says read the question before you start writing – good! If you have done research – re-read it. If you haven’t – do some. Quickly. In the interview you need to focus on what is relevant to them – nothing else.
  2. You should know three point answers to the most basic three interview questions: Why do you want to work here? Why should we hire you? and (the most harmless sounding, yet the most dangerous of them all) “Tell us about yourself.”.
  3. Ignore your CV and don’t refer to it. Your covering letter and your CV got you in the room and are your business card and your introducer. But now YOU have to be “in the room” and you need to shine alone. Talk to the other humans in the room like they are humans – have a conversation with them. Keep your comments tight and don’t witter on with unnecessary details and rubbish – but speak to them like one person speaking to other people.
  4. Dress smartly, breathe from the bottom of your belly and smile when you are speaking. Look and sound as if you actually want the job. THis might win you the interview.
  5. Use case studies from your personal experience rather than empty claims. Why should they believe your claims to be hard working, conscientious, honest, brilliant? Claims are discarded – case studies and evidence stick.


Speaking in Public.Take your job seriously, but not yourself.

This YouTube clip is glorious. How could it not be? Two Oscar winners and George Stephanopoulos – perfect! Plus it illustrates two of my favourite tips for speaking in public in less time than I can write this post!

Stephanopoulos is the guy who worked with Bill Clinton before and throughout his entire first term and wrote a brilliant book about it afterwards. But he is just the extra in this ABC news clip! h/t Denise Graveline

It has Jack Nicholson being Jack Nicholson without a script, without a Director and without an Editor. He is naughty, funny and real. He is right at the very top of my very short list of people who I don’t know but who I would love to go drinking with, and I am delighted to see him being just as I imagined. After all, according to his wikipedia page, while at school he was in detention every day for a whole school year.

Then there is “the refreshingly real” Jennifer Lawrence, a gorgeous and successful Oscar-winning actress, being wonderful and natural and herself. She is fun and likable and unedited. I often tell clients that they are world experts at being themselves and mediocre to rubbish at being anyone else – so they should stop trying. Ijust hope that she doesn’t get “training” that mutes or hides her personality.

The worst trait, and the biggest turnoff, that I have to address with clients is pomposity, snobbery and arrogance.

My standard instruction to all my clients is: “Take your job seriously – but not yourself.” Unless you have a monopoly on something that people must have – hardly relevant in my coaching sectors – you cannot flourish unless you are at least competent AND likable.

Anyway, enough of me – watch and enjoy.


Interview preparation

Interview Preparation – Using Keywords in your CV

Interview preparation – You have to GET an Interview first

Interview preparation is all very well. But first, you have to GET an interview!!  Many clients come to me saying that they want interview preparation but often ask: “How do I get to interview in the first place?” The ‘paper sift’ is the most extreme – often reducing hundreds of applicants down to a shortlist of may 10 to 20 people. This is also the stage where generally ‘they’ are looking for reasons to exclude rather than include. You should spend at least as much time on your CV and your covering letter as on your preparation for the interview.

What is the best CV format?

There are millions of gurus who claim to have the perfect CV for a format. I don’t think there is one – but it should be clean and simple and easy to read. No use of block capitals for a start! Then it should outline skills and abilities and achievements rather than just listing job titles.

Key words in your CV – are they the secret to getting interviews?

The other thing you should think about when writing your CV is whether you are using the key words relevant to your industry – the jargon and the trigger words – in your CV. These should emphasise your soft and hard skills.

Of course, you first need to know what industry and which type of job you are targeting. Do some research in  existing or old job adverts and identify the works that are being used. Remember functions and skills count as much as titles and positions. Use these key words in your CV, not excessively or unnaturally, but visibly.

You can use these keywords in a headline profile summary as well as in the main body of the CV.

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