Browse Category: interview preparation

Interview coaching works

Interview coaching works. Fact.

Just ten minutes ago I was writing a blogpost on women in leadership positions. Then the phone rang. It was a client I coached last week and over the weekend who had a job interview yesterday with one of the best law firms in the world. I froze. I always do. A call from a client the day after an interview demands one of two things from me. Commiserations or congratulations. They either get the job or they don’t. It’s binary. Nothing vague about it. My only hope was that because it was the day after the interview it was good news.

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The purpose of brain-teaser interview questions

“How many people are using Facebook in Los Angeles at 5:30pm on a Thursday?” Google

“How many planes are currently flying over Kentucky?” Best Buy

In many industries brain-teaser interview questions have become the norm. Mostly used by creative, innovative, or tech-savvy companies, they are believed to be used to find out whether a candidate is able to think creatively and on their feet. It may show that a candidate is able to problem solve in a logical, timely, and coherent manner, all while under the pressure of a job interview.

But do brain-teaser interview questions actually help find the more qualified candidate for the job?

Trying to answer a near-impossible question where there is no right answer is not a pleasant task for a job candidate. It can make it seem that the candidates are being set-up to fail, with the interviewers demanding impossibly high standards. Often all these questions do is pile more nerves onto an already nervous person, denying them the ability to clearly explain why they are best for the job.

But it is also an opportunity for the interviewers to see if you are able to think creatively and on your feet.  Often a candidate will go into a job interview with a pre-prepared script of what to say. Asking the same routine questions allows a candidate to stick to their prepared piece. This can make it less of a conversational interview, and more of a one-sided presentation.

If ever faced with this question, take your time and consider it carefully. In a situation where ‘Don’t know’ is not an option, interviewers are looking for creative, unique and entertaining answers.


Image courtesy of KROMKRATHOG /

Attitude wins every time.

Marketing Graduate Tweet
Attitude and effort and sheer up-for-it-ness count. This morning I saw and retweeted a brilliant tweet that symbolises this perfectly.

Graduate jobs are scarce and there are more graduates than ever before. So thousands complain about not being able to find a job and some blame their unemployment on the shortage of jobs. This guy didn’t moan. He dressed up. Wrote a marketing message. Got up early. And stood where employers would flock past in droves.

The person who tweeted the picture said “Saw this guy at Waterloo getting approached by loads of businessmen. Hope he gets a great job.” I do too! He has attitude – the good type.

Rob Halfon MP was born with a moderate version of spastic diplegia, a form of cerebral palsy, and underwent several major operations as a child, causing osteoarthritis in his early thirties. He isn’t great at walking. Which is pretty rubbish if you are campaigning to become an MP in the UK where door knocking and shaking hands and meeting people is required and expected. So Rob drove every morning to a busy road in his constituency. He stood with his two crutches and held a sign that said Vote Conservative. Every day. In all weathers from 07:00 to 09:00 and again from 16:30 to 19:00.

The first few days he got abuse from cars driving by. Including a van with 3 guys in it who threw a water bomb at him and waved a giant inflatable “Up Yours” sign at him. ‎

After a couple of weeks some people started hooting at him and waving. He kept standing there every day. He was starting to feel a bit more positive. Then, during Week 5, the white water-bomb van with the three guys in it screeched to a halt in front of him and a big burly tattooed guy jumped out and ran over to him. Rob really didn’t know what to expect. The guy shook his hand and confessed to having been one of the guys who had hurled abuse, and a water bomb, at him in the first week that he stood by the side of the road. He said “I am sorry. If you want to be my MP that much and you are willing to stand there every day you must be alright. You have my vote mate – good on you!” Then he shook his hand, jumped back in his van and raced off to work. Rob won the election. He also intends to do exactly the same in the next election. And the one after that. He has the right attitude too.

My mother was incredibly supportive but she pushed me hard. At my studies and in my sport. I wasn’t a natural sportsman. I was a chubby kid at junior school and was bullied a lot. But I lived in a country where rugby was a religion and I lived for rugby at high school. But that wasn’t enough. All the other kids were faster and stronger than me. I had a brilliant coach called Bro Pritchard who pushed and encouraged us all. Like my mother he said “heart matters”. I started to run. I ran every day. I had to – just to be considered for the rugby team. I had to work at it to get fit and to stay fit. Even during the off-season I had to do serious laps and cross country runs while the skinny, fit cool kids were eating ice creams and burgers and mucking about. I did it because I wanted it. By the time I was 18, I was Captain of my Schools First XV and played for the provincial U20’s rugby and had played 3rds for a men’s club at the age of 17. I was part of the rugby world and played and practised with provincial and national players including my Club Captain John Morgan who played for Wales B at the same time as J.P.R. Williams. All that lonely running was worth it.

My father was Managing Partner of Ernest and Young in Zimbabwe. He said that he hired people based on how much they wanted that job with his company. Not any job or any company – his company.

Morals of this blogpost.

  1. If you want to hunt ducks – go where the ducks are.
  2. Be different – do what other people don’t do and can’t be bothered to do.
  3. Show you give a damn and you have a positive, can-do attitude and you will stand out!

What to ask to understand a company’s hiring procedure

There will probably be an opportunity before your first interview to ask about the company’s hiring procedure. If there isn’t – you should ask, nicely, anyway. It’s a fair question and this knowledge could help you, will give you increased confidence and calm your nerves.

Here are some questions to ask to understand a company’s hiring procedure:

  1. ID-100205959Can you describe the step-by-step hiring procedure?

Most employers and almost all large employers will be happy to explain the procedure to you. Every company has a different way of hiring people and this of course depends on the level you are applying. Barclays used Topgrading for Associate Director and above – am not sure if they still do. You may have competency and group tests and telephone interviews before you even meet someone for a real interview. Then you may have one or several interviews and you may be interviewed on your own or in a group. You may be interviewed by one person or you may be interviewed by two people playing good cop/bad cop or you may be interviewed by a panel. I have been interviewed by a panel once – it was terrifying to start off with – I wasn’t prepared for that and wish I had been.

  1. Will I be taking any tests?

Some companies require job candidates to take certain tests before they are offered the job. This can range between psychological, aptitude, technical, intelligence, maths, abstract reasoning, or physical (drug) test; or a combination of these. By finding out what tests you are taking, if any, where the tests will take place, who will be conducting the tests, and when the tests will happen will allow you to prepare yourself and relax in the knowledge that there will not be a surprise exam. You may also have written tests. This can be a problem for people with dyslexia and an issue that I have worked on with clients increasingly over the years. Dyslexia is bad enough at the best of times but when time pressure is added it gets worse. I have a good friend who has dyslexia and have an idea, as much as anyone can who doesn’t have it, how frustrating it can be. One of my clients had been applying for positions at law firms but kept on having to do (hand)written exercises. We worked on his confidence and then he approached the firm, explained the situation – was given an extra 10 minutes to do the exercise and, most importantly, was allowed to use a laptop which obviously included spell check. He got the job and he and his family were over the moon – but that wouldn’t have happened without asking the questions first.

  1. How long will you make to reach a decision?

Some employers will make a decision on the spot, while others may take weeks. Knowing that a decision will take a week when you think you will find out immediately can spare you the nerves of not knowing when you will find out. This is the least important question to ask – but it will stop the nerves jangling for weeks afterwards.


Image courtesy of nongpimmy /

How to write an amazing covering letter

A (decent) covering letter (in US English a cover letter) is an important element of applying for a job. OK – forget important, it’s huge. Hundreds or thousands of people apply for the good jobs these days so the covering letter is more important than its been in decades. It gets them to read your CV. So it’s almost more important than your CV – because if it’s rubbish, they may not even read your beautifully crafted CV.

ID-100130292Because a covering letter is free form and doesn’t follow an official structure like a CV, it may seem daunting or scary to write. Get over it – a good cover letter should be your standard practice. It’s a competitive job market – play up or sit and watch.

Some tips for writing a successful covering letter.

1. Short and sweet

The company you’re applying for may receive hundreds of cover letters for one job. Short cover letters which are straight to the point will jump out. Don’t bother with the formalities, go straight into why you would be good for the job.

2. New information

Do not just repeat your CV, it’s unnecessary and a waste of time. Instead highlight and expand on parts of your CV which are relevant to the job you are applying for.

3. Make it personal

If you have a connection or history with the company, mention it. A covering letter should make you sound interesting, not generic and stale. It would also be good to reveal some of your personality and your motivations.

4. Talk about the company

Show that you are enthusiastic and interested in the job by researching the company. Perhaps mention why you would fit into that company specifically.

5. Don’t talk about the job description

Do not use the job description as a check box to go through and say how you can do each task. Instead indicate what the general responsibilities are and explain how your experience shows that you can carry them out successfully.

6. Use short sentences

Short sentences (2 clauses max) are easy to read. Don’t use big words but sprinkle over some of the company’s jargon from their website or literature. Some jargon – do not horseshoe everything in.

7. Avoid cliches

I hate cliches. You should too. Do not use them. Just a few of the worse: cutting edge, 110%, world class.


Image courtesy of photoraidz /

What not to do in a job interview

Doing well in a job interview is not a science. Connecting with your interviewer, showing your positive personality traits, and proving that you are the right person for the job is not a simple process that can be copied and pasted time and again. Much of it is chemistry and getting on with people -= after all who would hire someone they didn’t like? In fact liveability is essential unless you have a monopoly on something essential to the employer. Which is generally a hypothetical case.  

ID-100222712So what are the other things that individually can affect your performance in a job interview? Screw up on all of them an you just book a seat at the job centre. So..

What not to do in a job interview:

1. Be unprepared

Always bring copies of your CV, cover letter, and relevant qualifications. Research the company, its ethos, and its plans for the future will always be a positive. There is literally no such thing as being over-prepared for a job interview – visible preparation and effort can swing the balance your way.

2. Give a bad handshake

A bad handshake can taint the first impression of you. Offer a confident and strong handshake, while maintaining eye contact and smiling. Some people don’t notice these things – but for those that do, its a deal breaker.

3. Dress inappropriately

Again, your appearance and what you wear when you walk through the door shape the interviewer’s first impression of you. Being dressed too casually will make you look like you are not taking the interview seriously. When in doubt, be overdressed, not underdressed. In fact, there is no such thing as overdressed.

4. Forget about your body language

Slouching, fidgeting, looking bored and uninterested, or not maintaining eye contact may lose you the job. Carefully consider what your body language says about you. You want to look engaged, attentive and friendly throughout the interview. If there are two interviewers – one may be asking questions while the other assesses the non-verbal noises you are making.

5. Not bothering to follow up

A company may interview tens, maybe hundreds, of people for a job. Who is the interviewer more likely to remember, the candidate who sent a follow up thank you email, or one who did not? A follow up email (or even better a letter – handed in at reception as you leave!) does not need to be long, but makes a huge differentiating impact. Stand out and be hired


Image courtesy of pakorn /

An effective CV is more than just titles

ID-100195340 (1)CVs used to be a collection of titles and dates. That’s not good enough anymore. When you are writing your CV you need to convey what you have achieved, what you started with and what you ended with. Context and colour is everything.

If you just list your job titles and dates employers will reason that you had a position but did nothing with it. A job or a position is an opportunity to achieve things for the company. If you don’t outline what you did and what you achieved, in context, you won’t even make a paper short list, let alone an interview.

The paper sift, the pre-interview elimination process, is the most brutal. Most people prepare for interviews either by getting interview coaching or running through potential questions and answers. But you have to get in the room first. So focus on that first!

A recent client of mine was one of 20 who got a job offer from a large consulting company. Over 4000 people applied, but they probably only interviewed 100. Do the maths – your chances of getting excluded on the basis of your CV are huge compared to the chances of failing at interview. Your preparation and your coaching should reflect that.


Image courtesy of photoraidz /

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