Test of hintsmart

101 Job Interview Questions You’ll Never Fear Again



“Well, life all comes down to a few moments. This is one of them.”

—Wall Street, 1987, 20th Century Fox
One moment

Can the path of a person’s entire life come down to what they do in just one or two decisive moments? The guitarist Andy Summers certainly thinks so.

You might not recognize Summers’ name but you’ll know his work. Summers was one-third of The Police, one of the most successful rock bands of all time.

Maybe you’re not a fan, but you would have to agree that Summers, in being a guitarist in a rock band, landed a job that many of us would love to have. His job took him to almost every country in the world. He did creative things all day. He met interesting people and devoted fans. He was paid a ton of money for doing something he loved, something that came naturally to him. Truly, great work if you can get it. So how did he get it?

He got it by boarding a London Tube train and sitting down at random next to a drummer named Stewart Copeland. People don’t usually talk on the Tube, but for some reason those two struck up a conversation that day. It was a conversation in which they told each other what kind of music they wanted to make. Each convinced the other that he was sincere and suitable. They clicked. They formed a band. They met Sting. They went to work.

Take out that last bit about Sting and you’ve got a perfect description of what happens at a good job interview: two people talking from the heart about a common interest, each setting out what they have to offer. (Admittedly, this is different from the ritualized job interview that many of us are familiar with.)

When the time came for Summers to write his autobiography, he called it One Train Later, because if he’d taken the next train along he wouldn’t have met Copeland and none of his enchanted career would have happened. Clearly, it was one of those moments when the entire course of his life could have gone one way or another—just as occurs in a job interview.

Maybe you feel that Summers didn’t interview for his job, that he succeeded by having a skill (in his case, playing the guitar) and by honing that skill with hours of practice every day. You’d be right, but skills are never the full picture.

It’s more accurate to say Summers was fully prepared when his moment of destiny presented itself. He was at a point in his life where he knew what he was good at, and could communicate it to a total stranger in a way that made him seem like the sort of person you would want around.

This is a book about how you can learn to do exactly the same thing.

Knowing your moment

All the evidence is that these moments of life-changing destiny are most likely to present themselves in the form of a job interview.

How you perform in that thirty-to-ninety-minute window will determine what you do for a living, which in turn will shape much of your time on Earth, including:

What you do all day: Approximately one-third of your adult life is spent at work. If you don’t enjoy your work, that’s one-third of your existence hammered, with no refunds and no re-runs. (To put this into even sharper relief, half the remaining two-thirds of your adult life is spent asleep, or maybe lying awake at night thinking about work.)
Where you live and what you see all day: Where we spend our limited time on this planet is determined largely by where we work, with 90 percent of us living within an hour of our job. Your job interview is going to determine what you see out of the window all day, be it city skyline or sunrise over the Pacific at 35,000 feet.
Your income: When a really good PA can earn more than a junior pilot, who cares about sunrises?
Your life partner: If you go to nightclubs hoping to find that special someone, statistically you’ll have more luck working behind the bar than on the dance floor. Nineteen percent of us meet our spouses at work—it’s the most common place for love to start, by far. And should you get lucky with a colleague, you can rejoice in the fact that divorce rates are lower than average among couples who meet at work, probably because they have a common interest.
When you’ll die: There’s a good reason your life-insurance company asks what you do for a living. It’s a proven fact that, whether you’re a personal trainer or someone who sits down in an office all day, your health is subject to the physical impact of your job.
Your social status: You are what you do. Of all the professions, it seems doctors and nurses get most of our admiration and trust. (Politicians and bankers, not so much.)
Your personal happiness: Job satisfaction is, of course, hugely important. Interestingly, more than one study has shown that if you want to be happily employed you should pick up some scissors and learn to cut hair. Most hairdressing salon owners are happier in their work than any of their clients.

So that’s your time, your money, your love life, your horizon, your health, your social status and your happiness—all determined in part at a job interview. If life really does boil down to a few decisive moments, the interview is surely one of them. Like it or not, people who are good at interviews tend to be good at life.

With so much resting on the outcome, it’s no wonder interviewees get nervous. But as scary as it is to meet one’s destiny in a job interview, you are at least told about the meeting in advance and given a chance to prepare. You get more notice of your key moment than Andy Summers got for his. Better still, with interviews you only need to practice a little harder than the rest, not for hours a day like musicians do.

If you think of interviews that way, they’ll suddenly seem less like a trial and more like a lucky big break, a tip-off, an inside advantage, one that you should seize with everything you have.

What have you done for destiny lately?

Learning how to get just a little better at job interviews is one of the best-value things you can do for yourself, pound for pound and minute for minute.

Despite this, most people spend more time preparing their dinner than preparing for an interview. Maybe they’re scared, knowing there is so much at risk. Fear often creeps in whenever the stakes are high, closely followed by procrastination, resulting in many candidates feeling the same way about interview preparation as Orson Welles felt about flying: a mixture of “boredom and terror.”

In truth, almost everybody procrastinates about job interviews—which means less competition for you. Employers rarely complain about having too many great-performing interviewees to choose from. So, for those who would push a little harder than the rest, success at interview is there for the taking.

The best preparation consists of finding heartfelt and useful answers to certain key questions—and there aren’t so many questions that they can’t all be mastered by the average person in a few evenings’ work.

At Reed, we believe that even the most thorny and exotic interview questions are just permutations of a tiny superset of key questions. Get good at these key questions and all the other questions will take care of themselves. If you want to make a start right now, go straight to the “Classic Interview Questions” section in Chapter 2.

How to use this book

It’s important to know that this book will not teach you how to “game” interviews by using canned answers. You will be offered some broad illustrative responses, but I strongly suggest that you don’t parrot those illustrations word for word. Believe me, canned answers don’t work. I employ approximately 3,000 people and most of them conduct job interviews for a living. I can assure you that they hear canned answers every day, as do the employers who make up Reed’s clients—and every single one of those canned answers is played out.

The problem is getting worse all the time, thanks to the Internet being one big echo chamber. The phrase “interview questions” alone is searched half a million times a month on Google, not to mention all the other similar searches, such as “What to say in interview.”

What happens is that candidates click on the first one or two results, memorize the answers and then feel they’ve done all the interview prep they need, when in fact they’ve just made it harder for employers to find out who they really are. It’s as though some people think of interviews as a game of catchphrase bingo, rather than a sincere conversation between two strangers.

Pretending to be someone you’re not is wrong. It is also much harder work for you in the long run. Nobody ever got fired for turning out to be exactly the person they seemed to be in interview, but plenty of people have been fired for spoofing their way into a post they weren’t right for, and, before being fired, they probably suffered for a long time, thrashing away at a job they couldn’t actually do.

The other reason to avoid canned responses is that there is surprisingly little consensus among interviewers about what constitutes a good answer. That much became clear when Reed conducted twenty or so workshops among its recruitment consultants for this book. In those sessions, a bad answer was easily identified but a good one was often a matter of taste and much debate.

But as useless as canned answers are, their example does at least bring us to the heart of this book. Canned answers are bad because they get in the way of letting the employer find out who you are. And who you really are is becoming just as important as what you can do. Go back a couple of decades and a job interview would have been almost exclusively about skills and experience; these days your interview is just as likely to be about your personality and your mindset. As has been written a million times elsewhere, the world is changing very rapidly these days, partly because skills and expertise are becoming increasingly commodified and distributed. In this environment, your personality comes to the fore. What that means for job interviews is that a computer programmer’s ability to convey their hopes and dreams and quirks now has almost as much bearing on their chances of success as their ability to program. Once again, you might not like such a state of affairs—but it absolutely is how things are now. Firms don’t hire résumés, they hire people. They always have, but more so now than ever.

How I wrote this book

I’ve always believed in the idea that a team is a genius. Consequently, it was clear to me that the interview wisdom found in this book should be crowdsourced. And since I’m proud to be the Chairman of the Reed Group, the recruitment agency started in 1960 by my father Sir Alec Reed and now the UK’s single largest aggregator of jobs and job interviews, I was fortunate to have access to the views of a very large crowd indeed. (By the way, what follows is the first and only bit of tub-thumping for Reed you’ll see in this book, although, unavoidably, it can’t be the last mention.)

On any given day Reed’s website features 200,000 jobs from 9,000 employers; we receive more than 150 million visits a year and have over 7 million résumés on our database. More importantly, we employ 2,000 recruitment consultants. These consultants spend their entire working day matching jobs to candidates. In most cases they meet the firm offering the job and they also meet or speak with the candidates looking to win that job. This gives consultants a unique insight into what works, both from the employers’ point of view and from that of the successful and unsuccessful candidates. Consultants will often ring both parties after the interview to find out what was asked and which answers went down well. Just as usefully, they hear about which answers bring interviews to an early and uncomfortable end on a daily basis.

There are literally hundreds of questions you might be asked at interview, but you shouldn’t care about the full set. You only want to know which questions you’re most likely to be asked—and who can blame you? You can’t prepare for all of them.

With so much traffic to Reed’s website, it’s very easy for us to survey a large number of employers about the questions they’re most likely to ask—and that’s exactly what we did for this book.

What follows, then, is the most rigorously data-tested survey of the interview questions that you’re most likely to be asked in 2015. If that doesn’t justify the price of the book alone, write to me at James@jamesreed.com and tell me what would. I’ll put it into the 2016 edition. Equally, let me know if you found this book useful during an interview, and what questions you were asked; you can Tweet me using #WhyYou.

But Reed didn’t just gather questions. I also hit the road to talk to our consultants about what constitutes a good and a bad answer for each. These workshops were among the most fun I’ve ever had at Reed and the wisdom that emerged from them is here on every page. Take it from me: recruitment consultants know interview questions better than anyone.

Throughout this book, you’ll see that each of our 101 questions are headed with two short sections of text—“The Real Question” and a “Top-line Tactic.” These are for your insight and convenience, respectively. The Real Question is essentially the interviewer’s inner dialogue, telling you what he or she is really thinking but is (hopefully) too nice to say. The Top-line Tactic is simply a summary of our recommendation for answering that particular question, expressed in a single sentence. The former is there to help you understand, the latter is there to help you remember what you might say.

The digested read

If you only take away four points from this book, make them these:

The best person you can be at interview is yourself.
The way you talk about who you are and what you can become counts for more than a good résumé or an expensive education.
Every interview question that you can be asked is a variation of a handful of underlying fundamental questions.
To an employer, a job is a problem to be solved. All other concerns are secondary, including yours.

Let’s look at those in turn.

The best person you can be at interview is yourself

This might not sound like new advice and it is often reported as clichéd. It’s not clichéd—it’s vital.

Interviewers are only human. They want to feel an emotional connection with a real person, not a politician. They love it when that connection happens in an interview room, but it happens less often than it might, because an interview room is an artificial environment, one that can easily prompt artificial behavior, stilted conversation and awkward pauses. It’s usually not where you see people at their best, even though that’s what everyone in the room wants to see.

After wading through countless canned answers, awkward pauses and half-truths, interviewers are often left craving a genuine encounter with a sincere human being. If you speak from the heart and don’t exaggerate, bluff or waffle, you’ll be giving interviewers what they crave. They’ll remember you for it, even if you’re not right for the job.

Many interviewers will keep a rejected candidate on file in case something suitable comes up; many candidates have successfully landed a job this way.

Oddly, being yourself in an interview situation is always harder than it sounds. It’s risky too, certainly in terms of getting a job. It’s not risky in terms of getting the right job.

It’s not about your résumé: it’s about who you are and what you can become

Most people start their interview prep by dusting off their résumé and thinking of a few things to say about the sentences on that fabled sheet of paper. But if you’ve been invited for interview, your résumé will suddenly be far less important than it has always seemed to you, because by interview stage, an interviewer has already got most of what they need from your résumé. They’re now in interview mode, not résumé mode. In interview mode, the primary assessment is of you and your personality, less so your work history. Also, your résumé is all about the past, about a world of skills and technology and institutions that are either gone already or perhaps soon will be. The future arrives relentlessly.

All that any business can do about the future is to employ people who can cope with change. If you can lead change—relish it, even—you will be in demand. Employers want people who will thrive in a workplace that might be unrecognizable three years from now.

That’s why anyone who bases their interview technique entirely around the contents of their résumé is looking in the wrong direction. The interviewer will be looking forward, into a future they can barely make out. No one knows what’s going to happen next. The CEO doesn’t know. You don’t know. Your interviewer doesn’t know either. You can expect job interviews to reflect that uncertainty—and to select on the basis of it too.

The good news for you is that future-proofing yourself is a learnable skill that you can demonstrate in interview. It’s all a matter of adopting the right mindset (there’s more on mindset in the next section).

There are only fifteen interview questions that count

No matter what you read elsewhere, Reed believes there are only fifteen questions that an interviewer might ask you.

Sure, there are hundreds of interview questions you might be asked, but every interview question out there is just a variation on one of fifteen themes.

We know because we’ve counted. When reed.co.uk surveyed thousands of employers and asked which question they’re most likely to ask in an interview, the same few themes kept emerging. Many interview questions are just different ways of asking the same thing. Out of the hundreds of questions we received, we found that just fifteen were truly unique. We’ve called them the “Fateful 15,” for reasons Andy Summers would understand—each one has the potential to change the direction of your life for better or worse, forever.

This book is going to help you discover honest, personal and impressive answers to all fifteen. Once you’ve got that knack, you’ll see how those fifteen questions fit into every aspect of working life. So equipped, you’ll be more productive and employable regardless of what happens in any one interview.

Each one of the fifteen has a “question behind the question”—an emotional theme that extends beyond the surface words. It is this deeper emotional theme that you must listen for, and to which you must address your answer.

If you can come up with scintillating answers for these fifteen questions—and learn to identify each one in the heat of the moment—then you will be good at interviews. And as we’ve seen, being good at interviews means being good at life, work and almost everything else. That thought might seem painful and unfair to some, but it’s always been true.

But before we start that, we need to be clear about why job vacancies appear in the first place. It’s not because someone wants you to have a job. It’s because someone, somewhere, has a problem.

To an employer, a job is a problem to be solved

Jobs exist in two completely different universes at the same time.

In one universe—let’s call it the “personal universe,” the one that we experience as interviewees and as people—jobs make life worth living.

In the personal universe, jobs provide us with a home, friends, stimulation, conversation, vacations, a new car and so on. This is the world of work that we recognize and that so many of us crave. Each year the global market-research firm Gallup carries out a survey asking thousands of adults in over two hundred countries a very simple question: “What do you want most?” The most common answer, every year and all over the world, is, “A good job.” There’s something in us that wants to work. Consequently, no one can be blamed for wanting a job and all the life-affirming things that come from it.

But jobs inhabit a second universe too—let’s call it the entrepreneur’s universe—and in this universe a job does not exist to keep you happy.

In this universe, jobs are a by-product of an entrepreneur’s desire to build their own business, a business the entrepreneur hopes will solve all of his or her problems via solving other people’s problems. For entrepreneurs, their business is often all that stands between them and financial ruin, so they fight hard to keep it going. It’s worth remembering that every company, be it Trader Joe’s or your local corner shop, is either run by one of these scrappy individuals or was started by one. Companies differ in the extent to which they retain their founders’ “survive-or-die” ethic, but it’s echoing off the walls in most companies, certainly in the companies that have progressed and survived.

In this universe, your interviewer is best thought of as someone with a stack of problems which they will pay to solve. Collectively, these problems are known as your job and, to be blunt, that’s all any job ever was. It’s a rather stark and unemotional way of looking at life, but it’s no less true for that.

Too bad, then, that many candidates can glimpse jobs in one universe only. They see a job as a means of achieving their personal economic or psychological advancement, and forget that a job is primarily about solving problems on behalf of someone else. This personal bias surfaces in their answers.

It might be going too far to suggest that you should think of your interviewer as a motorist who’s broken down by the side of the road and in need of help, but it’s not a bad starting point. It’s certainly better than thinking of the interviewer as a food truck by the side of the road, as so many candidates do.

A bad interviewee, then, defines a job as something that will solve all their problems. Good interviewees know that a “job” is what happens when you can solve someone else’s problem—so start pitching your answers that way.
Your 3G mindset

The truth is that interviewing—and impressing employers in general—is much less about hard skills than you’ve probably been led to believe and much more about how you think. In this book we’ll spend whole sections covering questions of motivation and personality as well as softer competencies like decision making, leadership, adaptability and trustworthiness. And what’s another word for all these factors, the sum of your approach to your job and your life, the fundamental lens that colors how you view and respond to your work? Your mindset.

Talking about your mindset is central to this book because it is also central to my approach to recruitment. In 2011 I co-authored a book with Dr. Paul G. Stoltz, a leading expert on human resilience. We conducted in-depth research into the preferences of employers globally, asking them to tell us what sets candidates apart in today’s fast-changing, ultra-competitive job market. What we found is covered in depth in our book, Put Your Mindset to Work, but let’s now recap a few key points from it.

How much does mindset matter?

It’s no surprise that employers would prefer a trustworthy person who shows accountability, but the employers that Paul and I canvassed for their views went much, much further when they spoke about how much a person’s mindset accounts for hiring, retention and promotion. When asked if they would choose someone with the right mindset who lacks all the skills desired for a position or someone who has all the skills but not the ideal mindset, an astonishing 96 percent of employers said they’d pick mindset over skills. That bears repeating: 96 percent value mindset over skills.

But how much difference does mindset make? On average, employers said they would trade seven normal workers with a so-so outlook for just one with a great mindset. Having the right approach to your work makes you seven times more valuable to an employer.

In-depth interviews with executives backed up these numbers. Top company boss after top company boss came to the same conclusion as John Suranyi, former president of DIRECTV: “Mindset is everything.”

Caitlin Dooley, a recruiter for Facebook, agreed that workers at the social networking company “absolutely have to have the right mindset, period. That’s what’s driving us into the future.”

If you can wrap your head around just how valuable employers find mindset then you won’t be surprised by some of the other findings from the book. Employers repeatedly said that while the right mindset helps you gain and grow the right skills, the reverse is not true. Great skills do not lead you to a better mindset. No wonder, then, that when times turn tough, those with the best mindset are much less liable to be let go, while in better times, they’re far more likely to be promoted. The right mindset is also correlated with higher earning potential—those with the right outlook generally out-earn those who lack it.

And how about hiring, the subject of this book? What data is there on the impact of having the right mindset on your ability to land the job of your dreams? It’s unequivocal: get your mindset right and convey that to your potential employer and you are three times more likely to get and keep the job that you want.

What mindset are employers looking for?

Now that you know the right mindset can triple your chances of finding a great job, you’ll be keen to know what constitutes the mindset that’s most desired by employers.

The most desired traits neatly fall into three simple categories, which together can be encompassed with the easy-to-remember term “3G Mindset.” The three Gs in question are Global, Good and Grit.

Global is your vantage point. It’s about how far you see, reach and go to understand and address everyday challenges and issues. It’s about thinking big, making connections and being open. Key qualities: adaptability, flexibility, relationship building, collaborative focus, openness, innovativeness.
Good is your bedrock. Whether you approach the world in way that truly benefits those around you determines how positive or negative your contribution will be. Those who aren’t good can have an impact, but it’s rarely for the betterment of others or the organization. Key qualities: honesty, trustworthiness, loyalty, sincerity, fairness and kindness.
Grit is your fuel cell. This is the tenacity and resilience that drives your accomplishment despite adversity and setbacks. Key qualities: commitment, accountability, determination, drive, energy.

Do these three concepts blend into each other? Of course, but that only makes them more dynamic, as each of the Gs reinforces and powers the others. Only all three working in tandem makes for a truly exceptional—and highly desirable—person. Consider which of the key qualities are present in you and try to make it clear from your answers that you possess them.

How does that affect me?

It’s crystal clear that having the right mindset can give you the edge when it comes to securing your next job and can even help you overcome any skills gaps you might have on your résumé. Keep that in mind as you go through this book and start selecting and practicing your own answers to likely interview questions.

You may be asked to talk about a time you missed a deadline, or even to figure out something wacky like how many golf balls fit in a Boeing 747, but underneath all the things you might be asked in the interview room, no matter how different they seem on the surface, runs a constant, unspoken question every hiring manager is dying to get the answer to: Do you have the right mindset to make a truly exceptional contribution here?

Those golf-ball questions are just a proxy to determine whether your thinking is global, i.e. open, innovative and wide ranging. That deadline question is there to test your grit—when the going got tough, how did you respond?

Keep this fundamental truth in mind as you go through this book and prepare for your interview. Try to weave some small proof of each of the 3Gs into each answer you give, while also of course addressing whatever is asked. Bit by bit, you’ll paint a picture for the interviewer of a candidate with that golden ticket to excellence—the 3G mindset. Manage that trick and you’ll triple your chances of landing a great job. Research proves it.
So, you want a job?

If you’re reading this book, you’re either thinking of changing jobs or entering/re-entering the workforce. You’ll find all the tools you need to do that within these pages, but before you get started with the nitty-gritty of preparing for interviews, there is very important preliminary work to be done.

“No worries,” you might be thinking, “I’ve got several job listings printed out and a comprehensive list of my skills right here.”

Those things will be incredibly useful a bit further along in the process. They’re not the right place to start, however. Beginning your job search by combing online job boards or working up a skills inventory is like jumping into the rapids and then trying to inflate your raft while staying afloat; you’re diving into an emotionally draining process without a sturdy understanding of your motivations and goals for changing jobs. You need to know where you’re going, why, and how you plan to get there, before you start assembling your toolkit for the adventure. Not only must you be right for the job, the job must also be right for you.

This may sound like an optional extra, but be warned that job seekers who fail to reflect on why they’re unhappy with their current job and what they need to be more satisfied in their next one often end up jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. Without adequate reflection, you could easily end up spending weeks or months on a difficult search only to end up in a role that suits you even less than the one you left.

Examine your motives

To make sure your efforts pay off in the form of a step up in your career, you must answer a deceptively simple question: Why do you want this job?

On the surface this sounds like the kind of question you should be able to answer in a second, and in some instances, for example when you love your present role and career trajectory but simply hate your toxic boss, it is.

But many job changers simply act from a vague feeling of dissatisfaction, boredom or a nagging sense that there must be something better out there. If that’s you then take some time to dig deeper. Ask yourself: Do I really need to change jobs? Looking for work is exhausting and difficult. Sometimes you’re far better off simply putting some of that effort into improving conditions at your current job. If you feel stuck, for instance, could a conversation with your boss about developing a plan for career advancement be a better first step than contacting a recruiter? No job is perfect, and if your impulse is to jump ship the second things get difficult, rest assured, progress in your career will be limited. Make sure you’re leaving for a good reason. If discussions with your boss prove fruitless, then you have a good reason.

What counts as a good reason? As mentioned above, a truly toxic work environment is a great reason. Flee immediately and don’t look back if you’re the victim of bullying, harassment or verbal haranguing by supervisors. If objective data shows you’re underpaid, and your efforts to get what you’re worth go nowhere, you’re fully justified in starting a search. Maybe your life circumstances have changed and your current job no longer fits your needs, or you’ve been working in a particular industry or role long enough to know it’s truly a bad fit for your skills or personality. Good reasons to leave are plentiful. Just make sure you have one.

Choose a target

Don’t simply run away from your old job looking for whatever random opportunity happens to come along. You need to think not only about your motivations for leaving, but also your desired destination. Once you’ve determined why your old employer is a bad fit, you can consider what sort of job would be free from those drawbacks. This can be simple if you’re making a relatively small move within a familiar industry in order to improve your pay, working conditions or prospects for advancement. However, if you’re looking to make more radical changes, you’ll need to think more carefully. Questions to ponder include:

What part of my job energizes me? What drains me?
Am I creative, independent, a lover of routine? Will my personality align with this new job?
What are my strengths and weaknesses? Are they suitable for the role?
What sort of work environment do I enjoy? Do I like sitting in front of a computer? Do I like to be among people? On my feet? Outdoors?
What sort of income do I need?
What is the outlook for the sector I am considering? Is it growing? Are many jobs likely to be available in the future?

If you’re considering making a big leap in your career, there are plenty of tools to help you assess whether the job you’re considering will be a good match for you personally. A host of both free and paid assessors such as MAPP, Myers Briggs and Career Key are available to help pair job seekers with appropriate careers. Such an assessment is unlikely to provide a silver bullet, landing you the perfect job simply by filling out a multiple choice quiz, but if you’re truly struggling to settle on a career direction, they may provide some food for thought.

In cases where you’re taking a real leap into the unknown, dipping a toe into the water before you make a radical change, either by interning, engaging in a short job placement or a job-shadowing scheme, or speaking with others already working in the sector, can also be valuable. Remember that you will spend something like eight hours a day at your new job. You don’t want to choose it without careful self-examination and a really honest look at your abilities and preferences. Don’t rush this step. If you get it wrong you’re still going to end up unhappy, even if you do everything else in this book perfectly.

Getting there

You’ve pondered, considered, researched and reflected, and now you’ve settled on just the sort of job you’re after. Congratulations! This is more than many unhappy workers do and should stand you in good stead for the rest of your job search (and make it easy to nail any “motivation” questions that come up in your interviews). What’s the next step?

You’ve done the hard work to figure out why you want your target job, now it’s time to figure out why they should want you. We’ve already spoken about the primacy of having the right mindset, but skills still count for something too—and so you need to do a skills audit. Doing this well is a two-part process. The first step is to list all the things you have to offer an employer. Then, you’ll want to look at what employers are looking for from you.

To get started, draw three columns labeled “Knowledge-based skills,” “Transferable skills” and “Personal traits.” In the first column list all the nuts-and-bolts things you’ve learned to do at work, whether that is develop online marketing plans, operate a fork-lift or drafting engaging lesson plans. Don’t limit yourself to your last couple of jobs. Draw on your entire life experience. You can whittle these down later, but for now just do a brain dump and get everything out on paper at the start.

In column two list all the less tangible but still valuable skills you bring to an employer. These are things like your organizational abilities, public speaking experience or attention to detail. Don’t be shy—now is not the time for modesty. Finally, list things that are intrinsic to your personality that employers would find valuable, such as your strong sense of ethics or innate creativity.

These columns contain the raw materials for your skills audit, but think of it as a pile of timber, nails and random building supplies. It’s valuable but formless. To make something useful of these skills, you’ll need to assemble them in such a way that you manage to create the ideal profile for your target job. You’ll need the equivalent of a blueprint—a clear idea of what the companies you want to work for are looking for. Luckily, there’s no mystery here. They regularly make that information public in the form of job ads. Trawl through descriptions of the jobs you’d like to have and pull out all the key skills and abilities these employers are after.

You can supplement this research with other sources. Trade publications or industry networking events are great places to learn what skills are valued in your niche. Online tools like O*NET offer lists of key competencies for many jobs.

You now know what skills you have and what skills the employers you’re targeting are looking for. Hopefully, most of these line up (you might want to consider further training or other professional development if they don’t).

Where your skills match those desired, take a moment to critically rate your abilities. It’s important not only to know which skills you possess, but also what level of skill you’ve attained. Your messy initial list should now be narrowed down to a handful of key skills that your target employers value highly and which you have in abundance. What’s next?

Prove it

You can say you are an absolute rock star when it comes to skills A, B and C, but employers aren’t going to believe you without evidence. So take a look at your narrowed-down list of skills and start picking through your past work accomplishments for stories that prove you can really do what you say you can. The best evidence in many areas of business is quantifiable, so if you want to persuade a hiring manager that you indeed “excel at opening up new sales territories” you need to come up with not only an example of a time you did just that, but also the percentage increase in revenue that resulted from those efforts.

Increased sales or cost savings make for great evidence, but there are other sorts of proof you can offer as well. Have you won any prizes or awards? Completed any qualifications or training? Have customers provided any positive feedback you could cite? Can you provide a portfolio of examples, photos, clippings, models, etc.? Whatever form of evidence you select, you’ll need to build a solid case for each of the key skills you want to highlight.

Putting it all together

At this stage you’ve developed a rock solid product—yourself—and gathered all the information about its benefits and features you’ll need in order to sell it to potential employers. The final stage is marketing it. Put yourself in the shoes of the hiring manager who placed the job ad. If you’ve ever been involved in hiring, you will know such ads usually result in a biblical flood of applications. The job market is never a breeze, even during the best of times, and almost every job posting leads to the company being inundated with résumés of all quality levels. That’s an immense amount of information to sort through.

No wonder, then, that various studies show hiring managers spend only a few seconds reviewing each résumé. Think of these time-pressed managers as akin to supermarket shoppers surveying the toothpaste shelves or the pasta sauce aisle. With hundreds of contenders all screaming for their attention, they have no choice but to lean on branding. Which product catches my eye? Which is most attractively packaged?

Like a breakfast cereal or new formula of cleaning product, your application needs to stand out quickly in a high-information environment. That means the most essential work still remains to be done—you need to condense the skills and evidence you rounded up into a concise, compelling pitch. The experts refer to the final product of this exercise in various ways, but whether it’s your “elevator pitch” delivered at a networking event, a “statement of personal brand” used as a yardstick to guide all your communications, or written down as the “summary” atop your résumé, your pitch needs to serve the same purpose: it must quickly communicate what you can offer an employer and compel them to want to find out more.

What makes for a good pitch? First, it should be short. If you write it down it should take up no more than a few lines. If you speak it aloud, consider thirty seconds your maximum (the term “elevator pitch” was coined because you should be able to deliver it in the elevator before it reaches your floor). Second, it should be free of jargon and crystal clear in its meaning. If a word seems overused, superficial or clichéd to you, a hiring manager will likely agree. Phrases like “results-oriented” and “hard-working” will not help you stand out. Finally, and most importantly, your pitch must highlight not just your skills but also the impressive results that stemmed from them.

Is that a lot to ask of a simple blurb? Absolutely. That’s why it’s essential you write it down, edit it carefully and solicit feedback from professionals you trust. When you’re done, the result might look something like one of these:

Bilingual international sales professional with 10+ years’ experience leading efforts to grow new, global markets. Proven track record of developing and retaining large accounts. Strengths include building client relationships and cross-cultural communication. MBA degree.

Experienced leader of substance addiction counselors with an in-depth knowledge of both the psychological and sociological issues associated with substance abuse. Expertise in both individual and group counseling. Lowered readmission by 25 percent over four years.

Do these pitches contain all the information their writers rounded up when auditing their skills? Of course not; they’re distillations of that fact-finding. But the work won’t go to waste. It means that an interviewer’s request for more information on, say, the first candidate’s “proven track record building new markets” can easily be met with an example, numbers to back it up and the detail to make it convincing. Is there more to say about the second candidate’s impressive 25 percent reduction in readmissions? Certainly. Now the interviewer will be sure to ask for details, giving the candidate an opportunity to shine.

The final ingredients

As this pitch will not only guide your written communication but also your in-person interviewing, it’s also important to practice delivering it aloud. You could craft the finest pitch ever committed to paper and it would be worth precisely nothing if you bumbled your delivery, acted sheepish and inserted “uhs” and “ums” between every other word. Confidence is the final secret ingredient of a great pitch.

As we discuss later, confidence is largely a matter of being comfortable in your own skin—of knowing yourself. The self-reflection and research about your career goals suggested earlier in this chapter should go a long way toward helping you achieve the required level of self-understanding. But if you’re still occasionally bothered by doubts and fears, your best bet is to confront them head on. Take a moment and really listen to the chatter inside your head.

Do you find yourself constantly worrying that your pitch will reveal you as a fraud? Or maybe your concerns are financial, and you need a job quickly so you can meet your next rental or mortgage payment. You might think listening carefully to your inner critic will give it more power, but if you take the time to actually pay attention to your fears, you’re in a better position to overcome them.

Try this trick: Turn each “What if X?” into a “How am I going to handle X?” and come up with an answer. If you’re worried about seeming like a fraud, respond to that fear by deciding what you’ll say if your integrity is questioned. Armed with all your evidence and skills, you should have no trouble convincing any doubter that you can do everything you say you can. And yes, while it would be difficult if your job search went on longer than hoped, perhaps a contingency plan such as taking on a bit of consultancy or temporary work to bridge the gap would help calm your nerves.

Whatever technique you employ, confronting fear and overcoming doubt are the essential final ingredients in developing your pitch. You’ve already gathered the necessary materials by listing your skills, drafted a blueprint to use them by researching the skills required for your dream job, built a sturdy structure by buttressing your pitch with concrete evidence, and made sure the finish sparkled by writing, editing and practicing it. Don’t be like the homeowner whose property fails to sell because dirty dishes have been left in the sink and smelly shoes in the hallway. True confidence is the final bit of polish and staging you need to make yourself irresistible to hiring managers.
What recruitment consultants want

Not every job goes through a recruiter, of course, but if you are thinking of using one then what follows should greatly improve your chances of a successful outcome.

Although recruitment agencies can be a great resource for job seekers, using one isn’t a guarantee of success. In order for your experience with an agency to be productive and pleasant for both parties, it’s important you come armed with a little bit of basic knowledge about how the recruitment industry works and how to get the most out of your agency.

The basics of the business—how do recruitment agencies make their money?

This is a sensible question to ask and has a straightforward answer. Whenever a candidate put forward by the agency is hired by a company working with the recruiter, the agency is paid a finder’s fee. Thus it is in the agency’s interest to get you hired. While you as the candidate should never be charged for going through a recruiter, how an agency makes its money will affect how a recruiter can and cannot help you.

The best way to think of it is that an agency finds people for jobs—not just jobs for people. The recruiter’s role is to find suitable candidates for the jobs he or she is asked to fill by employers. Of course, a good recruiter is likely to have excellent jobs available in a wide variety of fields, and will also actively engage with their clients to search out new and creative career opportunities on your behalf.

What you can expect

Coming into a recruitment agency with the right set of expectations is key to a happy and productive relationship with your consultant.

First, you need to know what you can expect from your recruiter. As with any industry, there are better and worse agencies, and better and worse consultants. A good one will work with you collaboratively to find the right job for you. That means taking the time to share their expertise about the job market and what employers are looking for now and offering you advice on your personal presentation, résumé and interviewing skills to give you the best chance of landing a great job. Again, you should never be asked to pay a fee of any kind for this sort of help.

Job hunting is stressful. It’s good to have an ally by your side, so choose your agencies and consultants with care. Someone who doesn’t take the time to discuss your needs, preferences and abilities is unlikely to pitch you very well to prospective employers. The same goes for your personal connection. If you find your consultant cold, unpleasant, overbearing or boring, chances are employers will too. Are you happy for this person to represent you? Can you develop a good working relationship with them or do they make you feel uncomfortable and undervalued? Appointing a consultant who both listens to and supports you will help immensely in your career search.

With rights come responsibilities

You have the right to expect professionalism and a friendly attitude from your consultant, but as in many areas of life, this is a two-way street. If you want to get the best from a good consultant, you need to be a good candidate.

When you contact an agency, the first step is usually a meeting to assess your skills and desires. It will help greatly if you come prepared with a well-crafted résumé and a good sense of what you actually want out of your job search (see “So, you want a job?” on p. 18). No consultant can help you find what you’re looking for if you don’t have the foggiest idea what that is. Treat this initial meeting like an interview—prepare for it well and present yourself in the best light. This will also show the agent that you can be trusted to represent yourself well if you are sent to interviews.

Don’t be afraid to ask about the recruitment process and how long things usually take. Busy agents who have been through the process countless times often forget that a candidate does not have the same understanding of the recruitment business’s inner workings. If you hear an unfamiliar term, ask what it means.

Part of that two-way street is that, while the consultant will be representing you to prospective employers, you’ll also be representing the agency to those who interview you. How you behave reflects directly on the consultant who put you up for the job. Be professional and do your best at every interview your agency arranges. If you do, they’ll be happy to send you out again.

Recruitment consultants, like professionals everywhere, are incredibly busy and communication sometimes suffers under the pressure of day-to-day tasks. You will help both them and yourself by keeping in touch after your initial meeting. Check in regularly via phone or e-mail to make sure you remain at the forefront of their mind. Attend any networking events the agency arranges. Get in touch if you spot a job on the agency’s website you’re interested in. Also, be reachable. The recruitment business is fast paced and time is often of the essence. When your agent calls or e-mails, they probably need an immediate response. The more promptly you reply, the more likely you are to land a job.

After you attend an interview, your consultant should offer feedback on your performance and advice on how to improve it. Treat feedback positively—it’s one of the most valuable tools an agency can offer you. If you were on your own, you’d rarely receive such useful information. Use it to improve your chances next time. If your consultant is slow to provide feedback, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask.

Agencies are an incredible resource and can provide a great deal of help and some essential support during the extremely difficult process of job hunting, but they are only one weapon in your armory. Even if you’ve found great consultants to work with you should still continue actively to search for a job on your own in order to optimize your chances of success.

Recruiters’ pet hates

The foregoing might be described as the “dos” of dealing with recruiters, but there are also some “don’ts.” Chief among them is lying. It’s pointless to get creative with the truth about your skills and abilities. You will be found out at your first interview, embarrassing yourself and enraging your consultant in the process. Be honest or your agent can’t help you.

A slightly less destructive but still annoying behavior is when a candidate refuses to compromise their unrealistic, sky-high expectations. Someone just out of college isn’t going to be made sales director, nor can even the best recruiter in the business parlay a poor résumé into an amazing position. Be honest about your abilities, both with your recruiter and yourself, and don’t expect an agency to miraculously fix your faults for you.

Remain enthusiastic and reliable. You came in and told the agent how very excited you were to get down to interviewing, and it’s terribly frustrating to arrange an interview only for the candidate to go missing or lose interest. Recruiters dislike timewasters as much as anyone else.

If you keep these points in mind, choose both your agency and your consultant with care, and follow the best practices for candidates outlined above, then your recruitment agency can be a rock solid ally in your hunt for an amazing opportunity.
The day of the interview

Lots of interview advice focuses on the nuts and bolts of the day of the interview—when you should arrive, what color belt to wear, what to eat for breakfast. Not this book. It’s not, of course, that basic logistics aren’t important. Getting them wrong can cost you the job, so I’ll highlight a couple of fundamentals here, but the most important thing about these sorts of issues is simply getting them out of the way.

If the goal of a job interview is to present the best possible version of your true self and make a real human connection with the interviewer, then worrying about whether you chose the right accessories or noted down the second interviewer’s name is unlikely to help you much. When it comes to the day of the interview, the most important thing to do is remove the stressors and mishaps that can stop you from showcasing what you have to offer the company.

So how can you accomplish that aim? In truth, you probably learned everything you need to excel at interview-day etiquette from your mother. Be punctual, but not too early. (Showing up more than fifteen minutes before the scheduled time makes you annoying rather than prompt.) It’s obviously worse to be late, however, so make sure you know where you’re going and how long it will take to get there—if you’ve any doubt, a practice journey to the interview location a few days before the main event could help relieve anxiety. If it looks as though you’ll be early, you can always sit for a few minutes in a coffee shop or take a short walk. Giving yourself some time to calm your nerves might actually be a great idea.

Pack your job interview toolkit a day or two beforehand, not hours before. Include copies of your résumé, references and the job description, as well as the name and telephone numbers of the people you’re meeting on the off chance you run into difficulties en route. Throw some mints into your bag—but make sure you’re not sucking one as you’re called in. With all that done, you’re now free to focus on what really matters on the day of the big interview—confidence and making a good first impression.

What is confidence?

Take a minute and think of some of the people who have impressed you with their confidence. Do they all have the looks of Brad Pitt, the charisma of Steve Jobs, the intellect of Stephen Hawking? Chances are, the answer is no. Every one of us has encountered everyday people without any genius-level talents or incredible natural gifts who seem to radiate an unflappable sense of confidence. What sets those people apart?

It’s not that they’re all extroverts with a knack for sales and a hearty handshake. Many of the most impressive candidates in the recruitment business are the shyer, quieter types rather than flashy self-promoters. But all the candidates who attract notice for their confidence have one thing in common—they’re comfortable in their own skin. They know who they are, what they want, what they’re good at and where they’re weak.

Confidence, in other words, isn’t a matter of bluster, or even of possessing any particular talent. Confidence is a matter of self-awareness and acceptance, of owning who you really are. Knowing that will put control back in your own hands.

Especially, stop worrying that you’re not the “confident type.” Everyone can be the confident type. Thinking of confidence not as a character trait but as clear-eyed understanding of yourself puts you on the road to developing it.

Using this book to prepare your answers to the fifteen fundamental interview questions that you’re likely to be asked will make you think deeply about your strengths, weaknesses, skills and goals—and how they match with the job you are pursuing. That preparation should help you to feel calmer on the day, but even the best-prepared candidates can let the pressure of the big event dent their confidence. There are a number of tips and tricks you can use to fight such demons, but before you try any of them, it’s important you cultivate a base of self-acceptance. If you’re shy, accept the fact. (Presumably you’re not applying to be a TV presenter.) Remind yourself why your character and background make you a good fit for this job. Be proud that you have already overcome a huge hurdle to be invited to interview. The company has asked to see you today because they want to meet you, not some cartoon version of the confident professional. The fundamental basis of confidence is simply being yourself and knowing yourself. Start there.

Now, about those tips and tricks

Let’s be honest, even if your head is in the right place and your preparation is impeccable, your body can let you down. In high-pressure situations our bodies’ natural “flight or fight” response kicks in: you sweat, your mouth goes dry, your hands start to shake, your mind goes foggy and your stomach fills with butterflies. When you’re in this sort of condition, it’s hard to remember and confidently deliver the answers you thought about so carefully earlier.

When it comes to the physical effects of nerves, fight fire with fire. Your body can affect your state of mind in good ways as well as bad. Social psychologist and body-language expert Amy Cuddy has studied how our posture can change our body chemistry and our confidence. “It goes both ways,” Cuddy explains. “When you pretend to be powerful, you are more likely to actually feel more powerful. We know that our minds change our bodies, but it’s also true that our bodies change our minds.” Cuddy discovered that holding what she terms “power poses”—spreading yourself out like an alpha gorilla or Wonder Woman—for just two minutes can actually lower the amount of the stress hormone cortisol in the body by 25 percent.

It might make you feel a bit silly but take a few minutes before your interview to sit quietly and stretch out and expand yourself like you’re the king or queen of the world. Overcome your embarrassment and spend just two minutes focusing yourself, breathing deeply and practicing your power pose. Clenching and unclenching various parts of your body can also help to release stress and relieve the symptoms of anxiety. If you have a smartphone or other gadget on you, paying a quick visit to your favorite humor site is, for once, not a form of procrastination. Making yourself laugh ahead of an interview—even if it’s with silly cat pictures or bad Internet jokes—has been shown to relieve physiological tension.

Of course, all this will work a lot better if you come to the interview well rested and not overly caffeinated. Hopefully, you don’t need to be told that is essential to try to get a good night’s sleep before your interview (and on the penultimate night too—some studies have shown that that has the most beneficial impact) and to keep your morning coffees to a reasonable number. Many candidates find that getting some exercise the day before the interview—or even the morning of it if scheduling permits—helps them feel more physically relaxed. Also, make sure you eat something (skip the garlic!) before you head out, so your stomach isn’t distracting you, or the interviewer, with its rumbling.

Many interviewers are themselves new to the process and/or nervous about their own performance.

You are likely not to be the only one suffering from nerves.

Keep in mind that your mental image of those across the table from you as powerful, competent and collected can be completely at odds with reality.

Focusing on the other performers on stage is a tried and true method for actors to battle stage fright, and it can also work for candidates. Pay attention to the emotional state of the interviewer and try to set them at ease. Not only will this give you something else to focus on rather than yourself, which in itself is likely to ease your anxiety, but it also makes it more likely you’ll achieve a genuine human connection—and that should be the ultimate aim of any candidate.

Meeting the interviewer

We’d all like to believe that the world is fair and rational, but research (and experience) indicates that it’s not. This is true of interviews too. First impressions matter . . . a lot. Study after study underlines this point. One found that a third of hiring managers decide whether to hire someone within ninety seconds of meeting them. Another found students could predict with great accuracy whether a candidate would get a job just by observing the first fifteen seconds of an interview. Fifteen seconds! That’s basically just a handshake and hello. Nick Keeley, director of the careers service at Newcastle University told the Guardian that “three-quarters of interviews are failed within three minutes of entering the room.”

What’s worse, once we make an impression it’s hard to change it. Studies suggest that even if later information firmly contradicts a first impression in interview, we are highly reluctant to change our opinion. Put all these studies together and they add up to one simple conclusion—you need to be on your best form from the moment you step into the building of a potential employer until the moment you walk out the door.

Yes, the receptionist is likely to notice if you opt for Hello! magazine rather than The Economist while you wait to be called into the interview, and the hiring manager is very likely to ask the receptionist if you were polite to everyone you met. Body language matters too. Are you sitting there fidgeting, slouching or otherwise letting your nerves show? Stop immediately. When you meet people, make sure you make eye contact and remember everyone’s name. Obviously, you don’t want to smell of cigarettes or half a bottle of aftershave. And make sure your cell phone is switched off.

What about the old saw about a firm handshake? Turns out that one is scientifically validated too. One study had independent evaluators rank the quality of candidates’ handshakes. A good, firm (but not crushing) handshake, the researchers discovered, is highly correlated to interviewer hiring recommendations.

The dress-code minefield

The most stressful aspect of making a good impression, however, is usually choosing what to wear. With standards varying not only from industry to industry but also company to company, it can seem like an impossible task to get it right.

But the issue is simpler than it first appears. No matter what type of role you’re interviewing for, one rule applies: wear an outfit that is just slightly more formal than what you’d wear day-to-day on the job or expect your interviewer to wear. So if you’re interviewing at a buttoned-up bank, you obviously need to be in your best suit. If you’re trying to get a job at a start-up where everyone comes to work in T-shirts and jeans then wear your best pair of jeans and a slightly smarter shirt.

What if you’re not sure about the day-to-day dress code at the company? The Internet is your friend. A quick glance at their web page may give you some idea. If you’re truly stumped, why not swing by the building one lunch hour and watch people coming and going to get an idea? Don’t forget to take the weather into account as well—profuse sweating or shivering has never helped anyone make a great first impression.

Whatever you decide to wear, make sure you make your selection the night before to avoid stress on the day. Your outfit should be clean, wrinkle free and, don’t forget, comfortable as well. Women should generally keep their makeup and accessories simple. Also, take the sit test. Do you look and feel as good sitting down as you did standing up? You’ll probably spend the vast majority of your interview in a chair so this is important.

Taking the time to choose an outfit that shows effort and makes you feel confident is likely to pay dividends not only when it comes to your demeanor and confidence level, but also in the interviewer’s assessment of your competence. A phenomenon known as the “halo effect” means that when we have a positive opinion of someone in one area—their dress sense, say—we tend to view them positively in other unrelated areas such as competence and personality. Take advantage of this fact.
Interview questions and the interviewers who love them

The Six Cs

There are hundreds of interview questions doing the rounds out there, but don’t be intimidated by their variety: nearly all of them resolve into one of a few broad themes. If you can understand these themes, you’ll find it easier to prepare an answer in advance or, if needed, to improvise your way to a good answer on the spot.

I call these themes the “Six Cs”:

Classic questions (the “Fateful 15”)
Career goal questions
Character questions
Competency questions
Curveball questions
Creativity questions

The main section of this book is organized around the Six Cs, and a category summary opens each chapter.

Rogues’ gallery of interviewers

Finally, before we begin in earnest, here’s a (slightly) tongue-in-cheek gallery of interviewers that you might meet on your travels. You probably won’t encounter anyone in quite the exaggerated form depicted here, but every interviewer can show flashes of these traits, so the next time you meet one in the wild, don’t feel unlucky. Interviewing is difficult and some people are better at it than others. That’s something you should accept from the outset, certainly if you want to come across as a team player. Nevertheless, it helps to know in advance that interviewing makes people on both sides of the table say and do odd things. What follows is a list of odd traits that interviewers have been known to adopt:

The unicorn hunter

Characteristics: The perfect candidate doesn’t exist, but that doesn’t deter the unicorn hunter from looking.

Good points: They know what kind of candidate they want. Namely, one who’s good at everything.

Bad points: Never quite finds the candidate they want, naturally; prone to nitpicking. Rarely makes people feel good about themselves.

Your tactics: Get them to specifically state the competencies required and show how you meet them; constantly suggest the natural trade-offs in your skills and experiences in order to demonstrate the widest range of your good points.

The late-running runaway train

Characteristics: Tumbles in to the room thirty minutes late, owing to three back-to-back interviews that morning. Is not fully in control of their inbox, diary, desk, life . . . you name it, they’re not in control of it.

Good points: Hasn’t had time to notice the gaps in your résumé; is even more nervous and ill-prepared than you.

Bad points: Doesn’t know who they’re talking to, and might be too busy to remember—unless you wow them.

Your tactics: Since they’re “winging it,” they will gladly let you do the talking, so talk. Be effusive and expansive. Show good manners, patience and positivity. Josh the whole thing along.

Method man/woman

Characteristics: Asks every candidate exactly the same questions and in the same order. Loves competency questions. Commonly found in the public sector and very large companies.

Good points: Is often a consummate professional, underneath it all. If they can check off a box, you’re in.

Bad points: Doesn’t give much encouragement; does a bad job of selling the organization to you.

Your tactics: Look for competencies on the job description and point them out on your résumé—twice.


Characteristics: Usually male. Is proud of his many achievements. Does all the talking, but asks no questions. May bring along a silent and junior colleague whose presence is not explained.

Good points: Responds to flattery and questions.

Bad points: Prefers yes-men; hasn’t been rejected or criticized in a long time. Wants you to be as personally loyal to them as to the company.

Your tactics: Offer praise whenever you mean it, and silence when you don’t.

The suitor

Characteristics: Known to hire attractive people.

Good points: Finds you attractive.

Bad points: Is looking for love in all the wrong places. Prone to innuendo. The male of the species will often scare off good female candidates.

Your tactics: Move on, not in.

The B player

Characteristics: The B player likes to hire C players.

Good points: Is keen to teach you, on account of your junior status here.

Bad points: Might actually be a C player, and may prefer you to stay their junior forever.

Your tactics: Give away your ideas freely. Turn up the volume on your personal strengths and professional achievements. It might cost you the job, but you deserve better anyway.

The dues-payer

Characteristics: Defines success in terms of their career path, and their path only. Not keen on career-switchers.

Good points: Is usually a genuine expert on something. Their skills will complement your own, not vie with them.

Bad points: “I spent twenty years coming up through the marketing department. Why haven’t you?”

Your tactics: Compliment their talents, and show how your skills are really just another manifestation of theirs.

The RHINO (Really Here In Name Only)

Characteristics: Pleasant enough, but doesn’t seem to apply themselves to the interview. It’s as though he or she has already given the job to someone else.

Good points: Asks gentle questions, lots of small talk.

Bad points: They really have given the job to someone else.

Your tactics: Even if you feel it’s hopeless, put on the best show you can. Be gracious: the RHINO might get you a job elsewhere at the company. In any case, some RHINOs are really just method men/women, plodding on without thinking to encourage you.

The entrepreneur

Characteristics: Founder and sole owner of the company.

Good points: Above-average energy and IQ, else they wouldn’t have survived long enough to employ you.

Bad points: “You want how much?” Also, is often a nutcase.

Your tactics: Play up your work ethic, your loyalty and your flexibility—but only if you’re genuinely feeling all those things. If not, don’t work for an entrepreneur.

The poker player

Characteristics: Is often the CEO, or will be. A warm and genuine exterior conceals inner steel.

Good points: Expert interviewer and team builder. Effortlessly charming. Knows everyone. Makes you want to work there.

Bad points: With their supreme poker face, you may never know if you said the wrong thing.

Your tactics: Ask not what your employer can do for you . . . just focus on showing what you can do for them.

. . . and finally . . .


Characteristics: Neither too cold nor too warm.

Good points: Never puts a foot wrong; wants you to be yourself, gives good feedback.

Bad points: Rarely seen in the wild, or so says the unicorn hunter.

Your tactics: If you meet one, pat yourself on the back for bringing out the best in people.


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