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Job Interviews

Tips and Techniques, Sample Interview Questions and Answers, Sample Interviews Letters and Templates

Job interviews are easier for interviewers and the interviewees if you plan and prepare questions and answers, and use proper interviewing techniques.

On this page are job-hunting and job interviews tips, samples of tough interviews questions, and answers, for interviewers and interviewees. There are also many ideas for group selection assessment recruitment methods, the most effective way to recruit people for most jobs.

If you are finding it difficult to get interviews for local jobs, here's a very direct job-hunting method which can be very effective.

Job interviews are critical to the quality of an organisation's people. Good interview processes and methods increase the quality of people in an organisation. Poor interview methods result in poor selection, which undermines organisational capabilities, wastes management time, and increases staff turnover.

Below are samples of interview questions. Many interviewers and interviewees are keenly interested in 'tough' interview questions and certainly candidates need to prepare answers for 'tough' questions. However, from the interviewer's perspective asking 'tough' questions is not usually helpful. Interviews should not place undue pressure on candidates, because people tend to withdraw and become defensive under pressure. We learn more about people when they relax.

It's better therefore to focus on 'good' interview questions rather than 'tough' ones. Good interview questions encourage candidates to think about themselves and to give the interviewer clear and revealing information as to the candidate's needs, capabilities, experience, personality, and suitability for the job. The best interview questions are therefore the questions which most help candidates reveal their skills, knowledge, attitudes, and feelings to the interviewer.

The UK (consistent with Europe) Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006, superseded by the Equality Act of 2010, makes it unlawful to discriminate against anyone on the grounds of age.

This has several implications for job interviews, documents used, and the training of people who conduct job interviews. For example, while not unlawful, the inclusion of age and date-of-birth sections on job application forms is not recommended (as for all other documentation used in assessing people).

For further guidance about the effects of Age Equality and Discrimination in job interviews, (and in other aspects of managing people), see the Age Diversity and  Equality information. This is important for interviewers and interviewees.

Much of this guidance also applies to students seeking internships and work experience placements. Effective interview techniques, and the processes surrounding interviews, apply to all situations involving candidate selection, whatever the position and situation.

If interviews make you nervous (as they do to most people), take comfort from the interview story about the wrong Guy, which is also a great lesson for interviewers in the need for good preparation and communication, and why high pressure in interviews doesn't get to the truth, it merely forces people to tell you what you want to hear.

Interviewers and interviewees can maybe take some inspiration for how to handle the interview, and personal and organisational values, from the love and spirituality page, which addresses the increasingly important area of bringing compassion and humanity to work.

Tips for Interviewers

  1. You must makes notes of the questions you intend to ask - otherwise you'll forget.
  2. Decide the essential things you need to learn and prepare questions to probe them.
  3. Plan the environment - privacy, no interruptions, ensure the interviewee is looked after while they wait.
  4. Arrange the seating in an informal relaxed way. Don't sit behind a desk directly facing the interviewee - sit around a coffee table or meeting room table.
  5. Clear your desk, apart from what you need for the interview, so it shows you've prepared and are organised, which shows you respect the situation and the interviewee.
  6. Put the interviewee at ease - it's stressful for them, so don't make it any worse.
  7. Begin by explaining clearly and concisely the general details of the organisation and the role.
  8. Ask open-ended questions - how, why, tell me, what, (and to a lesser extent where, when, which) to get the interviewee talking.
  9. Make sure the interviewee does 90% of the talking.
  10. Use 'How?' and 'What?' questions to prompt examples and get to the real motives and feelings. 'Why?' questions place more pressure on people because they suggest that justification or defence is required. 'Why?' questions asked in succession will probe and drill down to root causes and feelings, but use with care as this is a high-pressure form of questioning and will not allow sensitive or nervous people to show you how good they are. Think about how your questions will make the interviewee feel. Your aim and responsibility as an interviewer is to understand the other person - not to intimidate, which does not facilitate understanding.
  11. High pressure causes people to clam up and rarely exposes hidden issues - calm, relaxed, gentle, clever questions are far more revealing.
  12. Probe the CV/résumé/application form to clarify any unclear points.
  13. If possible, and particularly for any position above first-line jobs, use some form of psychometric test, or graphology, and have the results available for the interview, so you can discuss them with the interviewee. Always give people the results of their tests. Position the test as a helpful discussion point, not the deciding factor. Take care when giving the test to explain and reassure. Ensure the test is done on your premises - not sent in the post.
  14. Give interviewees opportunities to ask their own questions. Questions asked by interviewees are usually very revealing. They also help good candidates to demonstrate their worth, especially if the interviewer has not asked great questions or there is a feeling that a person has for any reason not had the chance to show their real capability and potential.

Tips and Techniques for Candidates

  1. Research as much as you can about the company - products, services, markets, competitors, trends, current activities, priorities. See the tips about researching before job interviews.
  2. Prepare your answers for the type of questions you'll be asked, especially, be able to say why you want the job, what your strengths are, how you'd do the job, what your best achievements are.
  3. Prepare good questions to ask at the interview. See the section on questions to ask at job interviews.
  4. Related to the above, request a copy of the company's employment terms and conditions or employee handbook before the interview, in order to save time covering routine matters during the interview.
  5. Assemble hard evidence (make sure it's clear and concise) of how what you've achieved in the past - proof will put you ahead of those who merely talk about it.
  6. Have at least one other interview lined up, or have a recent job offer, or the possibility of receiving one from a recent job interview, and make sure you mention it to the interviewer.
  7. Make sure your résumé/CV is up to date, looking very good and even if already supplied to the interviewer take three with you (one for the interviewer, one for you and a spare in case the interviewer brings a colleague in to the meeting).
  8. Get hold of the following material and read it. Remember the relevant issues and ask questions about the areas that relate to the organisation and the role. Obtain and research: the company's sales brochures and literature, a trade magazine covering the company's market sector, and a serious newspaper for the few days before the interview so you're informed about world and national news. Also worth getting hold of: company 'in-house' magazines or newsletters, competitor leaflets, local or national newspaper articles featuring the company.
  9. Review your personal goals and be able to speak openly and honestly about them and how you plan to achieve them.
  10. Ensure you have two or three really good reputable and relevant references, and check they'd each be happy to be contacted.
  11. Adopt an enthusiastic, alert, positive mind-set. If you want some help with this try the 'I Am' self-belief page.
  12. Particularly think about how to deal positively with any negative aspects - especially from the perspective of telling the truth, instead of evading or distorting facts, which rarely succeeds. See the CV pointers about this - it's very significant.
  13. Try to get some experience of personality tests. Discover your personality strengths and weaknesses that would be indicated by a test, and be able to answer questions positively about the results. (Do not be intimidated by personality testing - expose yourself to it and learn about yourself.) To understand more about personality testing and the underpinning theory - and to find out more about yourself in this respect - see the section on personality theories and make time to read and understand it.
  14. Think about what to wear. See the guidance about choice of dress, clothes and colours for interviews below.
  15. Some jobs invite or offer opportunity to redefine or develop the role itself. It might be a existing role or a new position. If so, prepare for this. Most jobs in fact offer this potential, but sometimes it is a stated requirement. See the notes in the CV section about approaching a vacancy for which the role has not yet been fully defined.

Sample Questions and Answers

These are samples of questions that interviewers ask candidates, with suggested ideal answers and reasons and purposes of the questions, to help interviewers and candidates alike. See also the questions to ask at your job interview for ideas and suggested questions that interviewees should ask the interviewer, which are also extremely important.

There are very many different questions that can be used in job interviews. This page does not attempt to list them all. Instead it seeks to give you an understanding through the examples below and other tips as to what is effective and why, from the standpoint of the interviewer and the interviewee. Therefore, whether you are an interviewer preparing questions to ask, or an interviewee preparing how to give great answers, it is better to read all of this section to help you understand what works best and why, rather than simply select a few 'stock' examples. 

Having a few 'stock' questions and answers examples will limit your appreciation to just those examples. Instead seek to understand the reasoning that determines successful interviews, and then you will be able to formulate your own questions and answers for any interview situations that you face - whether as an interviewer or an interviewee.

question answers examples and guidance question notes
How do you measure talent? 


How do you measure talent in an organisation (or company or team)? 

and in similar vein: 

How do you grow/develop talent in an organisation (or company or team)?
The first thing is to acknowledge the significance and importance of a question like these examples. 

By showing that you recognise the potency of the question (for organisations as well as interviewees), you are half way to providing an impressive and effective answer. 

(This principle of acknowledging very good questions in this way can be applied to any other question that addresses a serious and deeply significant issue, as this is.) 

You can show your recognition with an initial response such as: 

"That's a very significant question. Its implications affect the future health of all organisations - probably now more than ever.." 

Beyond this, the question might initially seem impossible to answer, especially if you've had no real experience of measuring or growing such an intangible and fundamentally important aspect of performance in people and organisations, but there is actually quite a simple way to answer a question like this, for example: 

"The reason why this is such a difficult question for modern organisations to address and resolve, is that while some organisations and leaders know how crucial 'talent' is for their survival and competitive effectiveness, you can't actually measure and grow anything until you can define exactly what it is, which is the real challenge. I believe that you can only begin to measure and develop anything when you can define exactly what it is. Talent is prime example. The concept of 'talent' alone is completely intangible. It means all sorts of different things to different people and organisations. Therefore the key to measuring and growing 'talent' is first to define exactly what 'talent' is - to understand and describe what it means, what it looks like, how it behaves and what it can achieve. And these definitions will be different depending on the organisation. Talent in a bank will have a quite different meaning to talent in an advertising agency, or in a hospital. So that's the first answer to the question: First, you need to define it and agree the definition, which is likely to be quite and involved and detailed task, because it's such a deep and serious concept..." 

Here's how you can develop this answer: 

"Aside from defining what talent is, the organisation needs to acknowledge the importance of talent, (according to the agreed organisational definitions). This requires a commitment from the very top, which must be transparent and visible to all. Then people will begin to value talent more fittingly and preciously. A similar thing happened with the 'total quality' concept, when leaders woke up and realised its significance. But they first had to define it and break it down into measurable manageable elements before they could begin to improve it. Talent is the same." 

If you really want to go for broke you could add: 

"The same thing will happen with love and spirituality in organisations, as is happening already with ethics and responsibility. These fundamentally crucial concepts can only be assessed, managed and developed when they are given emphatic priority from the top, and defined in a meaningful and manageable way. Then they can be grown just like any other organisational attribute." 

A supplementary point is that some leaders simply do not appreciate the really true concept of talent, which unfortunately is a serious obstacle to doing anything useful about talent at all. Where this is the case, the leader must be educated or replaced, because as ever organisations can only do what they leader genuinely understands and commits to achieving. 
See general guidelines above if you've not seen them already. 

These (apparently) tough questions about 'talent' and how to measure and develop 'talent' are presently confounding many of the world's biggest organisations, many leaders, and organisational development specialists. 

These questions about 'talent' reflect widespread modern organisational challenges, and so are useful in interviews, especially for training, HR, management and executive positions. 

Interviewees who can answer these questions sensibly and thoughtfully demonstrate considerable perceptiveness and ability. 

Answers to these questions are relevant modern indicators as to an interviewee's value and potential in the field of management, leadership and HR.
(Prior to a sales or commercial management interview) Prepare a plan for your first 1/2/3 months in the role and present it at the interview. 

This example and guidelines for answers are orientated to a sales or commercial management role, but the same principles apply for many other management positions, and increasingly front-line positions too. 

Market forces inevitably tend to require all roles to be increasingly strategic, therefore this interview question could be used for lots of customer-facing roles as well as management job interviews. 
The level of detail and precision that you can include in your plan and presentation depends on how well you know the market and the organisation. Beware of assuming too much however - it's important to strike the right balance between the need for assessment and action. 

Interviewers want people who will make things happen and introduce positive change, but at the same time who can preserve the good things and avoid problematical fall-out. 

A Gantt Chart is a good way to present this sort of plan. See the project management section, but avoid going into the level of detail suggested for major projects. 

A clear series of bullet points will also be acceptable for most situations. Be guided by the recruiting organisation as to the technology and media to use, but in any event concentrate on the content rather than the bells and whistles. A good candidate would be able to handle this using just a flip chart. 

See also the presentations page for ideas about how to structure the presentation, but again be mindful of the pressure of time: be very compact, concise and efficient in the way you put your ideas across. 

What's required here is essentially a cohesive list of strategic action points, each aimed at producing specific results. Innovation helps provided it's not too off-the-wall. 

Typically it's very difficult (and generally unwise) to enter a new organisation and immediately begin making lots of big changes, unless of course the situation is in crisis; a period of assessment and research is normally sensible. 

Another crucial aspect is the maturity and performance of the team. Look at the Tannenbaum and Schmidt and Tuckman theories to understand the significance of the team's capability. 

Aim for 5-7 bullet points per section of the plan (for example a 3 month plan could be presented as three 5-7 point sections). Each action point with outcomes and reasoning explained. Financials and example statistics/ratios too if you know them. 

Points and areas that could feature in a sales management plan are as follows - either as areas to address, or areas to develop into specific action points, depending on the level of knowledge and experience. These are in no particular order. Priority and mix depends on the situation: 
  • Immediate review of current and projected performance and factors - identify glaring gaps, weaknesses and opportunities - identify and optimise quick gains where possible
  • Pareto (80:20) analysis - products, markets, customers
  • People/team assessment - styles, strengths, performance, responsibilities, etc - psychometrics if possible/appropriate
  • Costs and spending review - optimise and tighten - improve accountability and freedoms within agreed guidelines
  • Customer analysis/visits - protect and consolidate
  • Competitor assessment - identify losses and threats, especially from a major accounts/sectors view
  • SWOTPEST analyses
  • Sales cycle and selling process review - key ratios and statistics
  • Sales proposition, USP's, USB's (see sales section)
  • Performance management, measurement and reporting
  • ICT and internet - internal communications and systems, and customer interfaces
  • Pricing and margins analysis
  • Advertising and promotion and enquiry generation - conversion ratios through the sales funnel
  • Strategy review - distribution/route(s) to market(s), partnerships - suppliers and sales distribution
  • Marketing and sales materials and documentation review, including electronic and online data and systems
  • Sales model - alignment of sales people with markets, sectors, verticals and horizontals
  • Sales skills and training assessment
  • Sales processing and relationships with other departments, CRM (customer relationship management)
  • Sales services agencies/suppliers - telemarketing, A&P, etc
  • Quality/service assessment - especially identify key performance factors
  • Look at/develop inter-functional /departmental communications/cooperation/relationships
  • Motivation, morale
  • Sales planning, aims, objectives, targets - cascading to individual quotas and responsibilities
  • Standards and controls
  • Legal and licensing areas if appropriate, contracts and SLA's (service level agreements)
  • Philosophy and belief, ethics and integrity
The presentation needs to combine relevant hot-spots from the above list, and to suggest a process of assessment and involvement of people, blended with change, so as to identify and optimise key performance factors within strategy, people/teams, skills and processes.
Asking interviewees to prepare a plan for their first one or two or three months in the role is an increasingly popular way for interviewing organisations to get a real taste and sample of how the job candidate would approach the job. 

Seeing lots of fresh ideas is also very helpful in its own right for the recruiting organisation. 

A question like this - usually for a management position, but not always so - is a great opportunity for the interviewee to use  preparation and research in producing a compelling presentation of your value to the employer. 

It's a real chance to show what you can do, in terms of ideas, experience, technical grasp of your subject, and ability to present and enthuse with clarity, logic and passion. 

The guidelines and examples here are for a sales or commercial position, but the same principles apply for any role when asked to prepare a plan and present it at an interview. 

The interviewer will want to see that the interviewee has a good understanding of the key performance criteria for the function or team or department concerned, and can use experience, research and original thinking in creating and delivering a clear, logical cohesive action-plan presentation. 

Thus the interviewer is effectively having to 'pitch' for the job, in the same way that an agency has to pitch for a new account. 

Being asked to present a plan at an interview is a wonderful opportunity to shine, especially for people who do not necessarily perform well under pressure when handling some of the more unpredictable questions that can arise in interviews. Instead, being able to prepare a plan and presentation in advance allows interviewer and interviewee's to assess and respond to each others needs in a far more professional and well-organised way. 

How do/would you optimise performance and lift standards in a team?


Explain your approach to maintaining high standards and improving poor performance in a team. 


(prior to the interview) 

Prepare and give a presentation on how to maintain standards and address poor performance in managing a team.
Aside from the sort of poor performance which requires a firm disciplinary response (see the section on performance management), this question is best answered from the viewpoint of improvement and development, rather than discipline and control. The question provides a great opportunity to refer to lots of relevant theory, and to show you know how to apply it. 

'Poor performance' is actually not a helpful perspective - it's negative. It's best to interpret this as helping people to become the best that they can be, in ways that enable them to align their natural strengths and preferences with the needs of the organisation and team. 

Maslow is certainly relevant - we need to help people self-actualise, which a better angle of approach than 'poor performance'. 

Belbin's model of team roles is a useful reference framework (everyone's good at something - so find out what it is and get them playing to their strengths). 

Also useful in this respect is Gardner's multiple intelligences, and learning styles, along with the other personality styles theory, although don't go into that depth at the interview - just refer to the main principles. 

Aspects of  delegation are relevant, within which Tannenbaum and Schmidt, and  Tuckman's 'storming, forming..etc' model are also useful reference frameworks. 

Adair's Action-Centred Leadership model is a great reference for illustrating the different aspects of teams that need managing and leading. 

The role of every good leader is to develop a successor, alongside which is the aim to develop team maturity so that it can self-manage. This approach fosters high standards and great performance because the team is being empowered. Open, clear, and positive two-way communications help establish team understanding and agreement of aims and direction (and standards).

Involve, consult, enable and coach, rather than decide, direct and control. People perform and achieve best when pursuing their own goals and aims, not the ones imposed from outside. The trick therefore is aligning people with work, so it's meaningful and important. 

An interview presentation (ensure you know how long the presentation should last) is best structured in three parts, plus the intro and the close. Look at the notes on  presentations. Use different ways of communicating your ideas.

Physical props demonstrate points powerfully and involve the audience/interviewers if passed around. Referring to case studies and extracts from biographies of high-achievers will help illustrate that high performance is borne of inner drive, not external control. A good manager is an enabler not a controller.
These questions invite candidates at management interviews to demonstrate their management and leadership abilities. 

All management interviewees should prepare to answer this sort of question. Even if the interviewer doesn't ask the question, there will be plenty of opportunities to use the answers in dealing with other questions. 

Good modern employers will look for positive Y-Theory ideas about managing people. 

More traditional and autocratic interviewers will seek a tougher approach, in which case you can incorporate a few examples of firmness and control within your answers, where situations and scenarios warrant such a style. 

If you are the interviewee don't just use my words - take what's meaningful and workable for you and make it your own. Understand your own strengths and style and show you know when to adapt and use a different approach. 

If you are the interviewer ask this sort of question and look for the candidates to demonstrate that they understand about modern methods of managing, leading and developing teams. You need to recruit managers and leaders who can empower and inspire others, so seek these qualities in people, which will be demonstrated in the answers to this sort of question. 

Have you ever dealt with a customer making an unrealistic demand? 


Can you give me an example where you've had to deal with a customer who has made an unrealistic or unreasonable demand? 


How do you deal with difficult customers?
Obviously if you have a real example with a successful outcome for the customer and supplier then use it (it's a good idea to think about and prepare an example for this type of question in advance).

Ideally, examples should include the following elements: Central to this process is being able to fully understand the customer's position and feelings, without necessarily agreeing with them. Explaining this difference between understanding and agreeing at the interview helps the candidate demonstrate capability to deal with these types of difficult situations.

Good, sympathetic questioning skills and a good understanding of the options available to the supplier organisation in solving problems are also vital for being able to adapt and develop mutually agreeable solutions.

An excellent answer or demonstration of excellent capability would include a very positive result in which the customer's satisfaction and loyalty was increased to a higher level than before the complaint or request (which is actually more easy to achieve than most people imagine).

To show excellent technical skills in dealing with very difficult and emotional customers interviewees could refer to techniques within Transactional AnalysisEmpathy theory, and  NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming).
The interviewer asks these interview questions to give the interviewee an opportunity to demonstrate firstly how they decide what is realistic and unrealistic, and secondly how to explain to the customer why the demand cannot be met, and hopefully suggest an acceptable alternative course of action. Preferably, this should result in the customer being more satisfied than if the issue had not arisen in the first place. 

It is a fact that the greatest customer service challenges also offer the greatest opportunities to delight the customer, and interviewees who demonstrate such a philosophy are generally indicating great potential and value to a prospective employer.
(Any question that invites you to describe, explain, or comment on a 'negative' situation, for example, "Why did you leave your last job?, if the reason was that you were being bullied, or that you lost your temper at your boss and were fired) When asked a question which intentionally or unintentionally exposes a 'negative' situation or experience or reason (for example for having left your last job), you should provide a positive interpretation and reflection of the experience. This means objectively (without emotion or bias) demonstrating understanding of the behaviour (which was directed at you that caused you to leave, or your negative behaviour that caused you to leave). For instance, if you were bullied, say so. However, do not be critical or bitter and emphasise the positives from the experience. If you behaved badly, then you should ideally explain what you did, why, and how you have learned from it and that you will not make the same mistake again.

In general, the approach is the same for most situations when dealing with questions that expose weaknesses or failures or opportunities for bitterness: you can (and should) explain what happened (to lie or distort would be wrong) but do so without bitterness or recrimination. Demonstrate forgiveness, tolerance and self-development achieved from the experience. 

If you were the guilty party it helps to show that you had the courage to take some action to make amends, even for 'lost cause'.
The purpose of these questions may be unwitting, that is to say the interviewer has no idea what they might be uncovering. Or the question might be to intentionally put pressure on the interviewee in an area of weakness, or vulnerability, or past failure or mistake. 

In any case, interviewers learn a lot about an interviewee's emotional maturity (increasingly a much sought-after attribute) when the interviewee is invited to explain, comment, and show their feelings about a past 'negative experience. 

Emotionally mature people are able to talk objectively and honestly about 'negative' experiences, and interpret them into positive experiences. 

A good interviewer can confidently form a good impression of any interviewee who displays good emotional maturity.
How would you respond if you were offered the job? Think before the interview and during the interview: How would you actually respond to this question? If you'd accept the job and you are really happy and free to do so, then say so. You have little to gain from being evasive.

If you have other options or commitments that need proper and fair consideration before accepting the job offer then say so (it does not put you in a very good light if you demonstrate that you are prepared to treat an existing employer or another potential employer badly).

If you need more information (about package, expectations, responsibilities, etc) then say so.

If the interviewer is being aggressive or provocative (as can happen in certain sales interviews particularly) you could say that actually the only way to find out for sure is to make the offer, ie., "...make me the offer and I'll tell you..." (the interviewer will not normally fall for that one of course but at least he/she will see that you can stand up for yourself, which most tough-nuts will respect).
This is not a actually great question to ask (if you are the interviewer) or to be asked (if you are the interviewee) because it suggests that the interviewer might not offer the job to someone who is not certain to accept it. 

This is not great indication of a good, confident grown-up high-quality employer (or interviewer). 

If you are strong and mature you'll be able to deal with an employer who feels the need to ask this question, otherwise you might not find this type of employer mature enough for you.
What would you do if you had to deal with an angry customer? Look at the Transactional AnalysisNLP, and  Empathy pages. A lot of what you need to know is there, depending on your interview situation.

Basically, the answer is to empathise, understand, and as quickly as possible obtain the customer's trust in your promise to try to resolve the matter. Then, set about finding the facts and resolving it, working within whatever policies and processes are in place for the particular problem.

The important thing is to remember the difference between understanding and agreeing. You need to understand without necessarily agreeing or pre-judging the outcome (unless of course you can actually resolve it an agree it there and then). You need to apologise without pre-judging whatever investigation you need to do or arrange. Finally, take responsibility for seeing the issue through to the finish, when at the end of it hopefully the customer is more delighted than they have ever been, (which is often what happens when you do things properly).
This type of 'scenario' question is good because it enables an interviewee to demonstrate experience, technique, and awareness of why a certain behaviour is appropriate for a given real situation that can arise in the job. 

Demonstration of exactly the same experience is not necessary, what matters is the ability to adapt and apply technique and behaviour, which could come from different related experiences, for example dealing with difficult or upset people in any other situations. 

The interviewee must demonstrate knowledge and/or experience of appropriate technique, behavioural and emotional awareness and capability, and the ability to match a good technical emotional and constructive response to a particular emotional (and probably process-based) challenge.
What will you bring to the job or company if we employ you? Imagine what your objectives will be if you were in the role, and orientate your answer towards meeting them, on time, on budget, and with style.

Try to focus on the particular priorities and requirements of the role, the  targets and aims, (which means you need to  ask what they are if your are not told) and also if possible, focus on working style and behaviour attributes that fit the preferences of the interviewer, since most interviewers prefer people like themselves. 

For example (assuming that the points illustrated are relevant): 

"I can see clearly that quick results are a priority - and that's something I'm good at generating, because I have good abilities and experience to interpret situations, and then a strong focus on activities which will achieve change and results in the necessary areas." 

"I'm diplomatic with people too, which means I can generally bring people along with me. However, if needs be I can be firm and determined enough to convince people who need a bit of extra encouragement."
This tough interview question is an opportunity for the interviewee to relate their strengths and capabilities to the priorities of the job function, and to the aims and priorities of the organisation

The interviewee must therefore demonstrate an understanding of both sides of the question - the needs of the employer, and how to apply their own skills, capabilities, experience, style and strengths to the situation. 

It's a good question, and also a great opportunity to show how good you are, and how you will add positively to the mood and attitude of people you'll work with. 

This question invites good specific solutions and suggestions in response to stated organisational requirements. 

As such it will quickly show up the candidates who understand what's needed in the role and how to make it happen. 

Certain interviewers and situations will also be seeking indications of the candidate's personal style when working with others - notably whether the candidate will be an asset to the team in terms of motivation and morale. 

If you are the interviewer make sure you explain earlier in the interview what the situation requires in terms of results, parameters and attitudinal factors.
Tell me about the culture at your last company or employer. If the past culture was good then explain how and why in terms that the interviewee is likely to identify with, for example:

"The culture encouraged people to develop, grow, take responsibility. People were coached and mentored towards quality and productive effort. All of this helped me a great deal because I identify with these values, and respond to these opportunities." 

A good answer, in referring to a non-supportive culture would be to express the positive aspects (eg. lots of freedom for me to take initiative, responsibility, find new ways to contribute, a free market allowing the good workers to naturally excel and develop reputation and internal working relationships, etc.)
The proper purpose of this tough question is to see how you interpret and explain culture, which provides an opportunity for you as the the interviewee to demonstrate how you feel about and react to whatever culture was in place. It's a potential trap for interviewees who would be negative and critical and apportion blame, eg. 'the culture was not supportive and so it didn't help me to perform' (not a good answer). The culture question also invites comments from the interviewee about management style, and again is a trap for negative respondents who criticise their past boss (bad answer), rather than accentuate the positives and demonstrate positive behaviour in negative situations, which is a highly desirable trait.
Tell me about your life at College or University (or even your time in your previous job). The question is an opportunity for you to demonstrate the qualities that the interviewer is seeking in for the job, so orientate your answer towards these expectations (without distorting the truth obviously). 

In your answer, emphasise the positive behaviour, experience and achievements (ideally backed up with examples and evidence) which will impress the interviewer because of its relevance to the role requirements. 

The interviewer is looking for the same capabilities and behaviour in your college (or university or previous job) life that they want in the job. 

Your emphasis should be on your achievements, and how you achieved them, that are relevant to the job requirements. 

Interviewers with special interest in behaviour and personality may also use a question like this to assess your self-awareness and maturity, in the way you consider your answer and relate it to your own experience and development.
A big open question like this in an interviewer is a huge opportunity or huge trap. It can be a tough question if not approached properly. 

Interviewees should have the sense to refer to previous experiences that indicate capability and behaviour of the sort that the role requires. 

It's a trap for interviewees who look regretfully or negatively on past experiences, criticise or attribute blame, or display 'someone else's fault' attitudes. 

College and University are environments which provide lots of opportunity. Good applicants will be able to demonstrate that they have used the opportunity to learn and develop, whether their experiences were all positive and successful or not. 

What do you want to be doing in 2/5/10 years time? 


Where do you want to be in 2/5/10 years time?
It's not easy to answer this in terms of job expectation - no-one can realistically predict what job will be required in 5-10 years, let alone whether they will be right to do it, so I'd avoid specific job aims or claims, unless you actually have a very clear plan, and are seeking a job and career which clearly offers predictable and structured progression. 

For most people and roles, which are largely unpredictable, this question is best and easiest answered in terms of the sort of situation you'd like to be in, which should reinforce all the other good things about yourself, for example: 

"Making a more significant contribution to whatever organisation I'm working for. To have developed new skills, abilities, maturity - perhaps a little wisdom even. To have become better qualified in whatever way suits the situation and opportunities I have. To be better regarded by my peers, and respected by my superiors as someone who can continue to increase the value and scale of what I do for the organisation." 

"I'd like more responsibility, because that's a result of personal growth and progression, and it's important for my personal satisfaction." 

"I have no set aspirations about money and reward - if I contribute and add value to the organisation then generally increased reward follows - you get out what you put in." 

"Long term I want to make the most of my abilities - if possible to build a serious career, but in this day and age nothing is certain or guaranteed; things can change. I'll do my best and believe that opportunities will arise which will enable me to keep contributing, increasing my worth, and developing my ability in a way that benefits the organisation and me." 

Employers will respond well if they see that you are mature, independent, self-motivated; that you will make a positive and growing contribution, and that you understand that reward (financial, promotion, responsibility, etc) will always be based on the quality and value of your input.
This is a common tough interview question, and it commonly trips people up into making over-ambitious claims about their future potential and worth. It highlights feelings of delusion, and a need for security if they exist. 

The question encourages the interviewee to think and express their plans and aspirations, future direction, needs and wishes. Some people find it more difficult to answer than others, depending on their personality. 

Some people are able to plan and see clear steps along the way, which would be more commonly exhibited by people whose work involves this approach. 

Job roles which require a higher level of adaptability and flexibility are unlikely to attract candidates who are meticulous planners. 

The question is a powerful one because it prompts the interviewee to think and visualise about themselves and how they expect and want to change.
Give an example of when you had to settle a dispute between two individuals. This depends on your relationship to the two people, so seek clarification if this is not clear, but broadly the aim is to first take any heat out of the situation by calming the individuals. Then, firmly arrange a three-way discussion later in the day or an early opportunity in the future, in a suitable environment (closed meeting room), at which you can facilitate a proper discussion of the issues, so as to arrive at an agreed positive way of going forward or compromise. It's important to understand each person's standpoint and feelings, without agreeing with them, unless the argument concerns a clear breach of policy or wrong behaviour, in which case the transgressor should be counselled separately, after which the three-way meeting can be held to mend relationships. Arguments come in all shapes and sizes - a more specific answer is possible in response to a more specific scenario. The interviewer is using this tough question to test the interviewee's experience and ability to diffuse conflict, and also to step back and take an objective view, rather than getting involved and taking sides, which is the natural temptation. Objectivity and facilitation are important skills of a good manager, and this question will identify whether the interviewee possesses them. This question will also put pressure on the interviewee's ability to manage people, because it provides a tricky people-management scenario.
What is your ideal job? Mindful of the trap possibilities, the interviewee would always do well to qualify the question by asking for a timescale (at what point in my career?) before answering. This shows that some consideration is taking place rather than a knee-jerk reaction and that the question is producing a serious response rather than a fanciful one.
Aside from this, the best answer to the question, as for any interview question, is to use the opportunity to sell the strengths of the interviewee as a potential asset to the organisation. This would produce an answer that creates a picture of a loyal, results-orientated person, making a significant contribution to the organisation (status and level would depend on timescale).

If the answer is poor, it will trigger a probing follow-up that puts pressure on the interviewee to justify a daft response. If the answer is impressive there probably won't be a follow-up as there's nothing to probe and the interviewer can move on. Wrong answers would include: 'boss of my own company', 'your job', 'the top salesman on half a mil a year', 'CEO of this company' (unless you can justify the claim) a pop star, a railway engine driver, a film star, etc.

Good answers would include: 'A manager or executive with this organisation (function relative to experience and skill set) where I have the responsibility and accountability for using my skills and efforts to achieve great results, work alongside great people, and get a fair reward.' 'I'd like to become an expert in my field (state function if relevant), where I'm able to use my skills and abilities to make a real difference to the company's performance.'
This is a good and tough interview question, and the answer would almost always trigger a more specific follow-up question, asking 'why?', and then probing the reasons for the choice. From the interviewer's standpoint, the question is open and vague, which for certain purposes (see the next para re traps) is a good thing. If the question is intended to elicit meaningful information about the interviewee's career plans, then some timescale should be attached (ie 'what would be your ideal job in 3/5/10 years time?') 
The question exposes interviewees who seek only personal gratification ('outputs') from a role (money, status, esteem, excitement, glamour, security, etc) rather than seeking opportunities to make best possible use of their effort, skills and experience, in contributing to the performance/quality/results of the organisation for which the role is performed ('inputs'). 
The question is a potential trap for people who are more concerned with what they get out of a job rather than what they put into it. Employers do not really want to recruit gratification-orientated people. These people are generally not self-starting nor self-motivating. 
The question also gives indications as to how realistically the interviewee sees themselves. Some people visualise highly fanciful and unrealistic jobs, which is a warning sign to a potential employer. Others visualise jobs that are clearly remote from the job being applied for, which indicates that some falsification or delusion is present.
Why do you want this job? Reflect back the qualities required and job priorities as being the things you do best and enjoy.

Say why you think the company is good and that you want to work for an organisation like it.
Opportunity to sell yourself and show you understand what they're looking for in the role. Make sure you hit both of these hot buttons. It's a touch question if you've not prepared the answer.
What did you achieve in your last job? Prepare a number of relevant examples and explain one (two or three if they're punchy and going down well).

Make sure you feature as the instigator, or the factor that made the difference.

Examples must lead to significant organisational benefits; making money, saving money/time, improving quality, anticipating or creatively solving problems, winning/keeping customers, improving efficiency.
Another tough question which will expose a lack of preparation or relevant experience.

The question and answer show whether any achievements have been made, and what values are placed on work. Shows motivation - whether process, results, accuracy, security, social, etc. Shows understanding of cause and effect, proactive vs passive.
How would you approach this job? How would you do it? Identify the two or three main issues and say how you'll deal with them, which shows you can focus on what's important. Likely to be planning and organising, ensuring all the communications and relationships are working well, reviewing and measuring activities and resources against outputs and improving where possible.

Emphasise your personal strengths that are very relevant to the role requirements.
A tough question if the interviewee has not prepared. Shows if you've thought about what the job requires and entails.

Role and situation needs to have been explained well to enable a good response. Exposes people who can't actually do the job.
What are your strengths?  Prepare three that are relevant to the requirements of the role.

Be able to analyse why and how you are strong in those areas.

Mix in some behaviours, knowledge and experience and well as skills, and show that you understand the difference. Style should be quite confidence rather than arrogant or over-confident.
Shows whether candidate has self-awareness and can identify what strengths are relevant to role.

Shows if candidate has thought and planned. A glaring omission if not planned as this is such an obvious question that everyone should be prepared for.

Strengths should obviously relate to the needs of the employer and the role.
What are your weaknesses? Start by saying that you don't believe you are actually 'weak' in any area. Acknowledge certain areas that you believe you can improve, (and then pick some relatively unimportant or irrelevant areas).

If you must state a weakness these are the clever ones that are actually strengths: not suffering fools gladly; sometimes being impatient with other people's sloppy work; being too demanding; refusing to give in when you believe strongly about something; trying to do too much, etc.
A tough question if answered without proper thought. A trap for the unsuspecting or naive. Will show up those who've not prepared as this is another obvious question to expect. Will also prompt follow-up questions probing what the candidate is doing to improve the weakness, which is worth preparing for also. 
What would your references say about you? Another opportunity to state relevant strengths, skills and behaviours. Potential trap to draw out weaknesses - don't fall for it.
How do you handle tension/stress? Say that you tend not to get tense or stressed because you plan and organise properly. Say you look after the other things that can cause stress - health, fitness, diet, lifestyle, etc.

Talk about channelling pressure positively - thinking, planning, keeping a balanced approach.
Exposes people who can't deal with pressure or don't recognise that lifestyle issues are important for good working. Exposes the misguided macho approach that stress can be good.
What was the last book you read and how did it affect you? Be honest, as the interviewer might have read it too. There's no shame in admitting to lightweight reading material if that's what you like - put it in context, why you read it, and give a positive result, whatever it is.

Be able to give an intelligent reaction to what you've read. Don't be too clever or try to impress.
Will provide another perspective of the interviewee's personality that may not otherwise surface. Opportunity to demonstrate skills , aptitudes, special interests, self-development, analytical ability, self-awareness. May expose feelings or issues that can be probed further. 
What does/did your father do for a living?


What do your parents do for a living? 


Tell me about what your parents do for a living. 


What work are your parents involved in? 
Tell the truth. 

You are you. Your parents are different people. 

Your parents have no bearing on how your value should be judged. 

Avoid reacting in a defensive, judgemental, ashamed or critical way. 

Avoid any suggestion that any parental influence on others has been or could be useful to your own career or success (i.e., references relating to 'old school tie' , or 'it's not what you know it's who you know'). 
This question is not appropriate or helpful in most interview situations, but it can arise, and when it does so it can be quite emotive, which is mainly why it's listed here. 

The question is designed to expose people who are over-protective or insecure, or who might think that they are somehow entitled to privilege because of who their father is or has achieved.

The question can also expose emotional hang-ups or sensitivities if any exist, with a view to further exploration /discussion.

Interviewers should use this question with great care, if indeed there is a good reason for using the question at all.
Tell me about a big challenge or difficulty you've faced; how did you deal with it? Avoid anything deeply personal or seriously emotional unless you are in complete control of your feelings about it. Try to prepare an example that's work-related and relevant to the role.  Can expose emotional raw nerves or sensitivities. Opportunity to show proof of being able to achieve results in the face of difficulty. Is this person actually experienced are they just saying they are. (Experto Credite - Trust one who has proved it)
Tell me about something recently that really annoyed you. Don't get trapped into admitting to a temper or loss of control. Say you tend to get more annoyed with yourself than with other people or other situations. Annoyance isn't very productive, so you tend to try to understand and concentrate on finding a way around a problem or putting things straight. Exposes hang-ups and style of management and communication. Exposes anyone who believes it's okay or even good to get cross with other people. It ain't.
Give me some examples of how you have adapted your own communicating style to deal with different people and situations. Prepare this as one of your strengths, as there's not a single job that won't benefit from good adaptive communication skills. Give examples of how you've been detailed and given written confirmation for people who need it. Give examples of how you verbally enthuse and inspire the people who respond to challenge and recognition. Think of other examples of adapting your style to suit the recipients. Give examples when you've had to be task-driven, process driven, people-driven, and how you change your style accordingly. A chance for you to truly shine. Exposes single-style non-adaptive communicators, who don't understand or adapt to different people and situations. 
Can we check your references? Yes.  Exposes people who are not comfortable about having their references checked, in which case probe. Exposes people who've not had the foresight to organise an important controllable aspect of their job search, which is a bad sign.
What type of people do you get on with most/least? Say generally you get on with everyone. Say you respond most to genuine, positive, honest people. If pressed as to people you don't get on with, say that you respect people for their differences, and seek to understand them, rather than seeing differences to be a reason for conflict or difficulty. Exposes hang-ups and prejudices. May prompt issues to probe. Strong, emotionally mature candidates tend to respect differences and understand weaknesses in others. Weaker candidates tend to be more critical and judgemental about others.
Give me an example of when you've produced some poor work and how you've dealt with it. Don't admit to having produced poor work ever. Say you've probably made one or two mistakes - everyone does - but that you always do everything you can to put them straight, learn from them and made sure you'll not make the same mistake again. A trap - don't fall in it.  
Excellent answer - now can you give me an example that wasn't so good? You may be hit with this if you're too contrived or clever, in which case give an example of something that didn't quite go so well, but make sure you present it positively and say what you learned from it. Don't try to stick to your guns and maintain that you're perfect - show a little human weakness, but present the weakness positively, either as a lesson you've learned from, or an area you are working on - or if it's justifiably beyond the remit of the job, then something you'd seek to delegate or bring in relevant support. Will knock a lot of people off guard, and expose any tendencies to confront or argue. 
What do you find difficult in work, life, or relationships (etc)? Pick a relatively irrelevant skill and say that you don't find it as easy as you'd like, so you're working on it (don't just make this up - think about it and be truthful). Don't own up to a weakness in an area that's important to the role. As with the weaknesses question, you can state certain difficulties because they are actually quite acceptable, even commendable, they'd include: suffering fools gladly, giving up an impossible task, tolerating unkind behaviour like bullying, having to accept I can't help certain big problems in the world, etc.   Another trap to expose weaknesses, and an opportunity to show strengths instead if played properly. 
How do you plan and organise your work? Planning and writing a plan is very important. I think how best to do things before I do them, if it's unknown territory I'd take advice, learn from previous examples - why re-invent the wheel? I always prioritise, I manage my time, and I understand the difference between urgent and important. For very complex projects I'd produce quite a detailed schedule and plan review stages. I even plan time-slots for activities that aren't in themselves organised, like thinking time, and being creative, solving problems, etc. A great opportunity to shine and show management potential. Planning and organising is one of the keys to good work at any level so it's essential to acknowledge this. Exposes unreliable people who take pride in flying by the seat of their pants.
How much are you earning?/do you want to earn? Be honest about what you've been earning and realistic about what you want to earn. Exposes unrealistic people. An opportunity to demonstrate you understand the basic principle that everyone needs to justify their cost. Extra pay should be based on extra performance or productivity.
How many hours a week do you work/prefer to work? It varies according to the situation. I plan and organise well, so unless there's a crisis or unusual demand I try to finish at a sensible time so as to have some time for my family/social life/outside interests. It's important to keep a good balance. I start earlier than most people - you can get a lot done before the phones start ringing. When the pressure's on though I'm happy to work as long as it takes to get the job done. It's not about the number of hours - it's the quality of the work that you do; how productive you are. Exposes the clock-watchers and those who attach some misplaced macho pride in burning the candle at both ends.  Look for a sense of balance, with flexibility to go beyond the call of duty on occasions when really required.
Do you make mistakes? Be honest. Yes of course on occasions, but I obviously try not to, and I always try to correct them and learn from them. Anyone who says they don't make mistakes either isn't telling the truth, or never does anything at all. Whatever, a 'no' here is a big warning signal. (Ack. Linda Larkin)
(Follow above question with) - Can you share your mistakes with others? Absolutely I can - I get the guidance I need, and it may help prevent others from making the same mistake. Shows whether the person can take responsibility and guidance. A mature, positive approach to learning from mistakes is a great characteristic. (Ack. LL)
How to do measure your own effectiveness? By the results that I achieve, and that I achieve them in the most positive way. If there isn't an existing measure of this I'll usually create one. Exposes people who are not results orientated - more concerned with process, relationships, airy-fairy intangibles.
How do you like to be managed /not like to be managed? Be truthful, but express positively. I'm generally very adaptable to most management styles. In the past I've helped my bosses get the best out of me by talking to them and developing a really good understanding. I work best when I'm given freedom and responsibility to take some of the load off my boss's shoulders - they have enough to deal with. Do not respond to the negative and give any example of how you do not like to be managed. Indicates ability to cooperate and manage upwards, also how management attention you'll need. Exposes potential awkwardness. Only the most experienced and capable managers will be seeking difficult dominant types, and only then for certain roles requiring a high level of independence and initiative.
What personal goals do you have and how are you going about achieving them? Prepare for this - be able to state your personal and career goals - keep them reasonable, achievable and balanced. Explain how you see the steps to reaching your aims. An important part of achieving progress is planning how to do it. Be able to demonstrate that you've thought and planned, but also show that you are flexible and adaptable, because it's impossible to predict the future - the important thing is to learn and develop, and take advantage of opportunities as they come along.  Exposes those with little or no initiative. People who don't plan or take steps to achieve their own personal progress will not be pro-active at work either. People who don't think and plan how to progress will tend to be reactive and passive, which is fine if the role calls for no more, but roles increasingly call for planning and action rather than waiting for instructions.
How do you balance work and family/social commitments? Say balance is essential. All work and no play isn't good for anyone, but obviously work must come first if you want to do well and progress. Planning and organising my work well, and getting results, generally means that I have time for my outside interests and there's no conflict. Can expose those with outside interests that may prevail over work commitments (keen sports-people, etc., who cannot put work first.) Indicates whether the interviewee has balanced approach to life. Obsession with work to the exclusion of most else is not generally a good sign. 
Why should we appoint you? You have a choice here as to how to play this: you can either go for it strongly, re-stating your relevant strengths - behaviour, experience and skills, or you can quietly confidently suggest: I don't know the other applicants, so it would be wrong for me to dismiss their claims. However, I am sure that I have all the main attributes the role requires, which, combined with determination and positive approach, should ensure that I'd be a very good choice. (If management progression /succession is seen as a benefit then you must refer to your willingness to develop and take on greater responsibilities in the future.)  Pressure question - opportunity for interviewee to clearly and confidently stake their claim. Look again for the interviewee to state relevant strengths in behaviour, experience and skills. Look also for good eye-contact when pledging hard work, loyalty, determination, etc.
What can you do for us that other people cannot? I don't know the other applicants, but generally I excel at . . . (pick your strengths that most fit with what they're seeking). Introduce some behavioural and style strengths as well as skills, and show you know the difference between them. Pressure question, and one that enables the stars to shine. Look for awareness in the interviewee that they know what their relevant, even special, strengths are, and can link them to benefits that they would bring to the role. 
Tell me about yourself. You must rehearse this one. Have ready a descriptions of yourself and why you're like it. Don't just spout a lot of standard adjectives, say why you are like you are. Don't ramble on and tail off. make a few clear statements and finish. Will show whether applicant has self-awareness - a critical skill that not everyone possesses. Will also show if applicant can think and present a complex case clearly and to the point. Also shows confidence and security levels, and 'grown-upness'.
What makes you mad? Nothing really makes me mad - it's not a good way to deal with anything. Certain things disappoint or upset me - rudeness, arrogance, spitefulness (pick any obvious nasty traits or behaviours, particularly behaviours that you believe your interviewer will personally dislike too.) Exposes poor self-control or unreasonable aversions, fears, and insecurities. Exposes lack of tolerance and emotional triggers. Clever interviewers may infer or encourage a feeling in the way they ask the question that it's okay to get mad. Don't fall for it.
What do you think of your last boss/employer? Don't be critical. If possible be generous with praise and say why, giving positive reasons. If there was a conflict don't lie, but describe fairly and objectively without pointing blame. Exposes back-biting, bitterness, grudges, inability to handle relationships. Exposes people who can't accept the company-line.
If you won a million on the lottery what would you do? Probably save most of it, give some away, maybe a small treat for myself but nothing excessive. I could handle it I think because I'd always want to work, I'm quite sensible with money, maybe start my own business if I could be really sure to make a success of it. Exposes the foolhardy, the irresponsible and the dreamers. Opportunity to demonstrate level-headedness, morality, work ethic, intelligence to know that money doesn't buy happiness.

Stress and Pressure Interview Questions

When dealing with questions that put pressure on you or create stress, be confident, credible and constructive in your answers. Make sure you prepare. 

Stress and pressure questions come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. 

Three commonly used types of pressure questions are those dealing with weakness and failure; blame; and evidence of ability or experience.

Weakness and Failure Questions

Don't be intimidated by these questions - you don't have to state a failing or a weakness just because the interviewer invites you to.

"I don't generally fail" or "I really can't think of any" are perfectly acceptable answers. 

Short and sweet, and then wait smiling for the come-back - you'll have demonstrated that you are no mug and no pushover. If you are pressed (as you probably will be), here's your justification answer, or if you wish to appear a little more self-effacing use this as a first response:

"I almost always succeed because I plan and manage accordingly. If something's not going right I'll change it until it works. The important thing is to put the necessary checks and contingencies in place that enable me to see if things aren't going to plan, and to make changes when and if necessary...".

Alternatively, you could say: "There are some things I'm not so good at, but I'd never say these are weaknesses as such - a weakness is a vulnerability, and I don't consider myself vulnerable. If there's something I can't do or don't know, then I find someone who can do it or does know."

Do you see the positive orientation? Turn it around into a positive every time.

Blame Questions

Watch out also for the invitation to rubbish your past job or manager, especially in the form of: "Why did you leave your last job?", or "Why have you had so many jobs?".

Depending on your answer, you may be seen as someone who blames others and fails to take responsibility for your own actions and decisions.

Employers want to employ people who take responsibility, have initiative and come up with answers, not problems. Employers do not want to employ people who blame others.

So always express positive reasons and answers when given an opportunity to express the negative. Never blame anyone or anything else.

"I was ready for more of a challenge", "each job offered a better opportunity, which I took", or "I grow and learn quickly while looking for new opportunities", or "I wanted to get as much different experience as quickly as I could before looking for a serious career situation, which is why I'm here."

One great technique for exploiting the blame question trap is to praise your past managers and employers. Generosity is a positive trait, so demonstrate it. Keep your praise and observations credible, realistic and relevant. 

Try to mention attributes that your interviewer and prospective new employer will identify and agree with. This will build association and commonality between you and the interviewer, which is normally vital for successful interview outcomes. They need to see that you think like they do; that you'll fit in.

'Prove it' Questions

These can be the toughest of the lot. Good interviewers will press you for evidence if you make a claim. So the answer is - be prepared.

Watch out for closed questions: "Can you do so-and-so?.." , "Have you any experience in such-and-such?..."

These questions invite a yes or no answer and will be about a specific area.

If you give a yes, be prepared to deal with the sucker punch: "Can you give me an example?"

The request for examples or evidence will stop you in your tracks if you've not prepared or can't back up your answer.

The trick is to clearly understand the requirements of the job you're being interviewed for. 

Ask to see the job description, including local parameters if applicable and any other details that explain the extent and nature of the role. 

Think about how you can cover each requirement with examples and evidence. Wherever possible, use evidence that's quantified and relates to commercial or financial outputs.

Companies are interested in people who understand the notion of maximising return on investment, or return on effort. If your examples and evidence stand up as good cost-effective practice, they'll clock up even more points for you.

Make sure you prepare examples of the relevant capabilities or experience required, so that you're ready for the 'prove it' questions. You can even take papers or evidence material with you to show -having hard evidence, and the fact that you've thought to prepare it, greatly impresses interviewers.

If you don't have the evidence (or personal coverage of a particular requirement), then don't bluff it and say yes when you'd be better off saying, "No, however...".

Use "No, however..." (and then your solution or suggestion), if asked for something that you simply don't have.

Give an example of where you've taken on a responsibility without previous experience or full capability, and made a success, by virtue of using other people's expertise, or fast-tracking your own development or knowledge or ability.

On this point, good preparation should include researching your employer's business, their markets and their competitors. This will help you relate your own experience to theirs, and will show that you have bothered to do the research itself.

In summary, to deal with pressure questions: Keep control. Take time to think for yourself - don't be intimidated or led anywhere you don't want to go. Express every answer in positive terms. And do your preparation.

(This item about stress and pressure interview questions was written for the Sydney Morning Herald, extracts of which appeared in April 2004.)

Competency-based and Behaviour Questions

For interviewers these are powerful and effective questions. 

These questions make the interviewee tell you how they would approach, handle, deal with, solve, etc., a particular situation, problem, project or challenge that is relevant to the job role in question. The situation could be from the interviewee's past experience, a hypothetical scenario, or a real situation from the interviewing organisation. 

As the interviewer, you should judge the answers objectively. Avoid the temptation to project your own style and feelings into the assessment of whether the answer is good or bad. 

Look for thoughtfulness, structure, cause and effect rationale, pragmatism. The candidate may not approach the question like you do, but they may have a perfectly effective style and approach to the answer just the same. 

The answers will indicate the interviewee's approach, methodology, experience and competency in relation to the scenario, to how they get things done, and also the style by which they do it.

From the interviewee's perspective, these questions commonly start with a scenario and a question as to how you as the interviewee would deal with it. Or the question might ask you to give an example of how you have handled a particular situation or challenge in the past. Or the interviewer might ask how you would approach a current situation in their own organisation.

In these cases the interviewer will often judge your answers according to how much they agree with your behavioural approach. The questions may initially seem or be positioned as competency-based, but often the interviewer will be treating this really as a question of behaviour and style.

And as ever, without going to unreasonable lengths your answers should reflect the style expected/preferred/practised by the interviewer/organisation. People like people like them.

For instance - a results-driven interviewer, certain high achieving dominant personalities, aspiring MD's, certain ruthless types, will warm to answers with a high results-based orientation (eg '....I focus on what needs to be done to achieve the task, to get the job done, to cut through the red tape and peripherals, ignoring the distractions, etc. Strong incentive, encouragement, clear firm expectations and timescales, deliverables, etc........' - the language of the achiever.

Alternatively, if you find yourself being interviewed by a persuasive, friendly, influential, egocentric type, (lots of sales managers are like this) then frame your answers to mirror that style - '...I use persuasion, inspiration, leading by example, helping, providing justification, reasons, empathising with the situation and people who are doing the job, motivating according to what works with different people, understanding what makes them tick...' - all that sort of stuff.

HR interviewers are often 'people-types' and will warm to answers that are sensitive, and take strong account of people's feelings, happiness, well-being, sense of fairness and ethics, honesty, integrity, process, accuracy, finishing what's been started, having a proper plan, steady, reliable, dependable, etc. - the language of the fair and the disciplined.

Technical interviewers, eg., MD's who've come up through science, technical, finance disciplines, will warm to answers which demonstrate the use of accuracy, plans, monitoring, clearly stated and understood aims, methods, details, checking, measuring, reporting, analysing.

These are generalisations of course, but generally relevant in most interview situations when you are asked 'How would you ...?'.

Obviously be true to yourself where you can. It's a matter of tint and orientation, not changing your colour altogether.

Occasionally you might meet a really good interviewer who is truly objective, in which case mirroring is not so useful - whereas confidence, maturity, integrity, flexibility, compassion, tolerance, pragmatism are, and as such should be demonstrated in the way you answer questions of a balanced mature non-judgemental interviewer.

Interviews can be a bit of a game, so when you see that it is, play it - the more you see subjective judgement and single-track behaviour in the interviewer, then the more advantage there is in mirroring the interviewer's style in your answers.

People like people like them. Which very definitely extends to assessing behaviour-based competency.

Giving Presentations

Being asked to give a presentation at your interview is a great opportunity for you to shine and stand out from the crowd.

While giving interview presentations can understandably be daunting, a little preparation and thought will enable you to use the situation to great advantage. This is chiefly because giving a presentation offers you a much better platform than is normally available when simply answering an interviewer's questions.

A presentation enables you to showcase your attributes and qualities - and often to research and prepare - way beyond the constraints normally encountered in reacting to conventional interview questions.

So if you are asked to give a presentation - regardless of the time available for preparation - welcome the challenge - be prepared, and make the most of the your chance to show what you can do.

Demonstrating an organisational or strategic interpretation and enthusiasm for the role - showing that you can add value beyond what the employer hopes for - is the key to standing out as a star candidate.

Research, preparation, and freedom to create and deliver a great presentation are the main the ingredients for anyone seeking to make an impact in any situation - and all of these are enabled when you are invited to give an interview presentation.

While the guidelines below are chiefly for interviewees they also help interviewers in creating instructions and a basis for reviewing and assessing presentations given by job candidates at interviews.

When you are asked to give a presentation at an interview you should use whatever time is available to consider the following questions in relation to the employer organisation, their market place and how your filling the role can bring them what they need and more.

Here are some strategic questions to consider and resolve as far as possible prior to planning an interview presentation. The scenario is a job vacancy in training, but the principles transfer to any role.

  1. Understand the significance of any particular key words used in the presentation instructions - think about the words used by the recruiting organisation in their letter or specification, for example "...give a technical presentation..." or "...give a professional presentation..." Think about what they mean exactly by a word like 'technical' or 'professional'. Words like these are often especially significant clues to the sort of presentation style and content that the interviewers are seeking. Try to get into their shoes and understand exactly what they are looking for in the successful applicant.
  2. What are the essential competencies and attributes they need in the role? Cover the basics - the job description is usually a good indication, but sometimes you should look beyond this to more of an industry-standard approach, especially if the job description is a little flaky. Sometimes the employer will expect you to help re-define the role - employers don't always know what they want, or the full extent of what the role. Showing that you understand the role is a good basis for demonstrating that you can actually perform in the role.
  3. What gaps/opportunities exist in their knowledge/use of alternative/advanced training design and delivery technology/methods (or other role-relevant issues as appropriate)? Recruiting new people offers employers the opportunity to introduce new ideas and keep up to date with modern approaches, technologies, methods, etc. You should demonstrate that you will be a good source of new ideas and methods when you join them. Addressing this in a presentation enables you to show how you will add value to the employer's technology, innovation, methods, etc.
  4. What particular challenges or crises do they face that you can help them fix? Identifying and solving problems are usually big priorities for new people, if only because everyone else had tried and failed. New blood and fresh enthusiasm are often essential to break deadlocks and find solutions to long-standing problems. So try to discover their big challenges and difficulties, and consider how you'd approach them, without making unqualified assumptions, or running the risk of repeating things they've already tried. This sort of consideration of their challenges and approaches to solutions requires a balanced approach - not being too assumptive or presumptuous, but at the same time demonstrating a level of confidence and determination to tackle problems creatively with a fresh incisive view and impetus.
  5. What specifically can you bring to the situation which will improve their competitive position in relation to their own markets and customers? This element of a presentation demonstrates that you can add value to the organisation in terms of sales, business, profit and ultimately financial performance, (an area of enormous importance for most employers) by your appreciation of how the performance of your role can bring competitive advantage and improvement to the organisation. Consider what you can do that will enable the organisation to retain and attract more customers and business. The ability to translate and express your job in terms of competitive advantage - or in the non-profit sector, in terms of quality of service - is an irresistible proposition for most employers.
  6. What crucial differences/innovations/improvements could you bring beyond even their ideal expectations? This is your personal Wow Factor. The employer will have a baseline expectation of the sort of candidate required to fill the vacancy. A number of candidates might meet this specification. So what can you offer that goes beyond the baseline expectation? What can you do that's different and better than other candidates, in a way that the organisation will regard it as making a significant additional contribution - perhaps in an area or areas which they have not yet even considered? Think about, prepare, and build into your presentation a really special advantage or capability you can offer that no-one else can, and translate this into what it could do for them.
  7. How can you help them better identify, measure and improve crucial performance in their overall learning and development (or other role-relevant functions), and beyond this into their operations? This adds value in the crucial and often neglected areas of measurement, control and implementation. Most employers do not actually measure and appreciate the critical priorities of their operations, and how these key performance areas are affected and enabled (or frustrated) by particular roles within the organisation. As a job candidate when you demonstrate that you can perform the role up to and beyond the organisation's basic needs, and then additionally contribute much needed strategic interpretation and implementation support, you will be presenting a very powerful case indeed that you are the best candidate for the job.

At all times keep this at the back of your mind that unless the vacancy is for a very specific and limited role, then the interview is actually mostly about the recruiting organisation and the interviewer(s), not you.

What this means is that you must present yourself in terms that make sense to and match the needs of the organisation. Everything you say about yourself must be couched in terms of what it will mean for the employer. There is no point in presenting a glowing picture of yourself and your knowledge, experience, capabilities, etc., in glorious isolation. Instead you must prepare and present everything about yourself so that you are irresistibly relevant to the needs and aims and challenges of the organisation.

The interview presentation offers you a wonderful opportunity to do this - to demonstrate that you can enable relevant and effective improvement/achievement for their biggest problems and opportunities, better than any of the other candidates.

Research and understand their issues. Then prepare and and present your own personal added value in relation to their situation.

Here are some more general tips on creating and giving presentations.

Finally some quick ideas for structure, especially when little preparation time is available:

The Rule of Three

  1. Introduction or aims.
  2. The points you want to make (three, subdivided if necessary).
  3. Summary - and ideally an impressive memorable finishing statement.

The Tell 'Em Rule

  1. Tell 'em what you are going to tell 'em,
  2. Tell 'em,
  3. Then tell 'em what you told' em.

(Again, essentially intro, key points, summary.)

Three Big Points

(Especially for surprise presentations when you only have a few minutes to prepare.)

Three big points must address the three biggest outcomes that the organisation needs from the new appointment.

  1. Brainstorm (jot down as many relevant ideas for the three outcomes as you can).
  2. Decide (confirm if at all possible) and reduce these down to the three biggest outcomes that the interviewers are seeking from the person to be appointed into the role.
  3. Then hit them hard with how you will achieve each of the three big outcomes - and also how you (and they) will assess the effectiveness of the solutions. (Assessment is crucial to awareness, validation and control.)

Questions to ask the Interviewer

While this section essentially gives guidance and tips to interviewees these ideas and principles will also help interviewers.

At job interviews it's as important for you the interviewee to prepare questions to ask the interviewer as it is to prepare answers and readiness for the questions that the interviewer will ask you.

If you are the interviewer, ensure you offer the interviewee the opportunity to ask questions about the job, the management, the organisation and the market within which it operates. The questions that job candidates ask at interview provide valuable insights as to their attitude, maturity, capability and strategic understanding of the role and the organisation, so for interviewers, questions asked by interviewees form a significant and illuminating part of the interview process. Listen to and learn from what interviewees ask you - often the questions that interviewees ask will provide more information to the interviewer than anything you ask them.

As the interviewee, take full advantage of opportunities to ask questions. Asking good well-prepared and researched questions is your chance to demonstrate that you are better than the other candidates, and to show that you have a tremendous capability and understanding and potential, irrespective of what the interviewer asks you.

Preparing and asking great questions at your own job interview dramatically reduces any dependence that you might otherwise have for the interviewer to ask you 'the right questions'. It won't matter if the interviewer doesn't ask good helpful questions, or fails to prompt the sort of discussion that allows you to show how brilliant you are - instead, you can control this area of discussion yourself by asking the interviewer great questions that will make them sit up and realise what an excellent candidate you are.

An helpful although not absolutely essential aspect towards asking the interviewer good questions is good research (which follows later on this page).

A key to asking great questions at your interview is to ask questions that impress the interviewer. Most candidates just ask about routine details that they think they ought to know, or which they think of on the spur of the moment, but which will probably be provided in due course anyway in documentation about terms and conditions. This is meaningless twaddle and to be avoided.

Instead focus on the job priorities and scope, on the organisation and ways to make a difference or an improvement. Try to think strategically like a manager, and for very senior positions, like the CEO. Try to adopt the mind-set of a helpful adviser who needs to ask helpful questions. Focus on the organisation, not on your own needs.

Try to prepare and ask questions that make the interviewer think to themselves, "Wow, that's a good question - this candidate has really thought about the role, and understands the sort of issues we need them to handle/the sort of responsibilities/initiatives we want them to take.."

Aim to ask questions that make the interviewer think, (depending on what the organisation and role requires), "Wow, that's an unusual question - this candidate is special - they are demonstrating to me that they understand people/understand about communications/have great integrity/a strong value system/great humanity/maturity/a good strategic mind/etc, etc."

Think before the interview about what the successful candidate will be like - ask yourself beforehand, what great questions would the successful candidate ask? And then be that person.

When you research the job look into the sort of challenges the organisation is facing, and think how this affects the vacant role. What does the employer need from the successful applicant? How might the role be extended to contribute more to the organisation if the job were performed by a suitably positive and capable person? 

The job advert or job specification might give you some clues. Do your research so that you understand as much as possible about the priorities of the job position, and the organisation and its situation, and then think about the ways that the role could be extended to provide greater support towards achieving organisational challenges.

This sort of background thinking will help you to prepare questions that will seriously impress any interviewer, whatever the role. It is possible also to think of good positive impressive questions just by using what you know of the role and the sort of issues that face modern employers. The point is, you need to think about it and prepare beforehand.

For example:

These types of questions are certainly appropriate for interviewees to ask an interviewer at an interview for a junior-to-middle ranking role. For more strategic roles and executive responsibilities you'll need to raise the strategic perspective of some of these questions - use your judgement. Remember, the aim is to make the interviewer think (always relative to the role), "Wow, that's a good question.."

In any event adapt the wording and develop alternative questions to suit your own style and the situations concerned.

"Of the main priorities and expectations attached to this role, which ones are well understood and measurable, and which are not?"

"If the CEO/MD/Departmental Manager/you were to name the three most important priorities for this role/the successful candidate to achieve in the first six months, what would they be, and how would they be measured?"

"I'm aware that this market is fast moving/competitive/mature/local/regional/national/international (whatever your research indicates); how is this affecting the strategic priorities and the demands on the role/vacant position?"

"Communications, internal and external, are clearly extremely important in this organisation; what are the related priorities for this role?"

"I've read that you (the employer organisation) face a lot of competition from XYZ (sector, company, whatever); what do you think are the main ways that the successful candidate can help the organisation deal with this threat?"

"Where are the priorities/What are the issues for this role/the successful candidate in terms of maintaining/developing/improving effective inter-departmental relations?"

"What are the priorities and challenges as regards areas for change and improvement facing the department/organisation/team within/connecting/relating to the role?"

"What is the balance of priorities for this role - short-term efficiencies and performance, or longer-term planning and organising?"

"If someone were to come into this role and begin to make a significant impact on culture and morale, what sort of changes would people/you/the management/the board/the CEO want to see most, and how would this be measured?"

"It's normal that most roles are operating considerably below their potential to contribute to strategic change/organisational performance and improvement; what are the expectations in terms of broadening the scope of this role?"

"How might this role positively impact on/contribute to customer relations/organisational development/culture/staff morale/training and development/legislative anticipation/market development/sales development/business retention in ways that it's not done so far?"

"Where do think there might be opportunities for this role to connect with/cooperate with other functions, and what's stopped that happening in the past?"

"What are the vulnerabilities in processes/people/business retention/grow/ technology, ITC systems within the organisation/department that need to be attended to?"

And so on...

Serious, strategic, thoughtful questions. 

Questions that amaze the interviewer - about things they might not have even considered. In fact the best questions should make the interviewer think, "My God, if this person can have this level of insight, and such a positive enlightened approach at the interview, just imagine what they'll be able to do when they get their feet under the table..."

This sort of positive expansive questioning is not limited to strategic management positions - every job role is potentially strategic - what makes the role strategic is the person doing it, not the job title or status.

And the role can be in any function, any industry, any type of organisation - doesn't matter - every role interfaces in some way or another with people, processes, other departments, customers and suppliers (internal or external), and so has a strategic dimension. recognise the strategic dimension; influence it positively, and you get asked to do it on a wider scale. Asking good questions at a job interview helps the job candidate to demonstrate that they have this potential.

Organisations, and therefore interviewers, want to recruit people into all roles who can come in and make a positive difference. By asking well-prepared and thoughtful questions, you can demonstrate that you are one of these people.

Being an advocate of the maxim 'accentuate the positive' I am usually loath to dwell on negative examples, however in this case I make an exception because this is an important no-go area.

Just as it's helpful for interviewees to prepare and ask good questions, it's helpful to avoid asking routine questions that waste time and can often be covered more efficiently in some other way (by reading a document for example).

Questions not to ask

Contrast the expansive, positive strategic questions above, about job scope and contribution to organisational effectiveness, with these questions below. 

Interviewers will generally react negatively (secretly usually) to questions such as the following examples, so unless you are a very junior person going for a very junior role with an employer who has not prepared in advance this type of routine information, avoid asking questions like these at your interview.

  • "How many weeks holiday do I get?.."
  • "When would I get a pay-rise?.."
  • "What are the lunch times?.."
  • "What sort of car do I get?.."
  • "What other perks are there?.."
  • "What are the pension arrangements?.."
  • "Do you have a grievance procedure?.."
  • "What expenses can I claim for?.."
  • "How soon before I could get promoted?.."
  • "When is going-home time?.."
  • and others like these

Do not ask these questions

These are warning-sign questions to most interviewers. Do not ask these questions at interview unless you want to be seen as someone who cares more about the pay and perks than the job and the organisation, let alone making a positive difference in the place.

Generally speaking, these questions suggest to the interviewer that the candidate is mostly interested in what the organisation can give the employee, rather than the other way around. 

Interviewers want to meet and recruit interviewees who see things in terms of what the employee can do for the organisation.

Find another way to get this sort of information if you really need to know it at the face-to-face interview. Good employers will explain all this to interviewees during the interview or in written terms and conditions, which many employers will send out prior to the interview. As suggested in the tips at the start of this page, ask prior to the interview for a copy of the employment terms and conditions or an employee handbook. If they don't have this or can't send it, and you have a burning question about these sort of 'hygiene factors', the best way to approach it is to ask something like:

"What's the best way for me to see the routine details about the employment terms and conditions relating to this role? Do you have a handbook or sample contract for example? I don't want to waste time here going through incidentals..."

By doing this you demonstrate several important things, that:

  • you regard these things as secondary - implication being that you regard doing the job as the priority
  • you respect the value of time, since you appreciate there are better things to concentrate on during an interview
  • you understand the principle of efficient information management and communication, on the basis that all this detail will be available somewhere to read rather than have to waste effort asking individual questions
  • you are professional - because providing information like this in the way you suggest is the most professional way to do it.

Of course the job-grade and seniority of the vacancy and the size of the employer organisation will affect the significance and transfer of this sort of information. In an interview with a small company (for a junior clerk's position for example), the interviewee can be forgiven for asking these sorts of questions relating to terms and conditions, not least because the company might not be professional or organised enough to have produced a proper handbook or contract. 

Nevertheless, whatever the role and size of employer, the less time spent asking about all this sort of information the better. And certainly avoid the entire area in interviews for professional positions with professional employers, especially in commercially competitive functions and industry sectors.

Asking for the Job

In certain circumstances, especially for sales and commercial roles, there might be an expectation or opportunity for you to 'close' or ask for the job, which is potentially the most powerful question of all to ask.

If you really want the job and can accept an offer there and then, there is often a lot to be gained, and very little to be lost, by asking for the job at the end of the interview, although bear in mind the effect that this tactic has on salary negotiation.

Obviously, it's only appropriate in certain situations; notably towards the end of the recruiting process when the interviewers have seen all the candidates, or if the employer has more vacancies than they can easily fill.

Similarly, it's reasonable to ask for a second interview, or to be shortlisted, if that's the next stage in the process.

Persistence and determination are highly valued attributes, logically in sales and selling organisations, but also beyond the sales functions. In fact some job candidates successfully take the method to extremes and simply do not take no for an answer, virtually camping out on the employer's doorstep until they are eventually brought in from the cold and offered the job. The decision-maker, typically an owner-manager or CEO in such situations, is finally forced to concede that if the person wants the job that badly then perhaps they'll be rather a good bet after all. This sort of determination is often associated with loyalty and commitment - and uniqueness - which can all create a compelling case for decision-makers who are attuned to this sort of style, particularly if other candidates are thin on the ground.

While these extremes are not for everyone, anyone is entitled to ask for a job that they really want. Plenty of offers are not made because the interviewer doubts the seriousness or commitment of the interviewer. Asking for the job at least largely rules out that possibility.

Added to which, certain types of managers and directors (the ones who would normally ask for the job at their own interviews for example) respond positively when an interviewee looks them straight in the eye, pauses for dramatic effect, and says earnestly,

"I want this job. Make me the offer and I'll take it here and now."

It's not really a question, it's more of a statement of intent, and lots of decision-makers like to hear it.

As ever having other options - other interviews lined up, or even another offer - is helpful and can add an extra bit of pressure to your push.

If you fancy using the ploy, it's also worth thinking about exactly what you want to say. Decision-makers certainly like to hear that you like their organisation (that you'd not be inclined to be this determined were it any other employer) and that there are one or two compelling reasons for your wanting to do a great job for them, so it's worth thinking about how you might weave a few simple supporting points into your final coup de grace.

An employer or interviewer who is keen on you, who has satisfied they've been through the proper processes, and who knows or believes that you have other options, will sometimes give you the job offer there and then if you ask firmly and professionally for the job. Which of course saves a lot of time for all concerned, so if you feel like asking for the job - any job in fact - the approach is not limited to sales and commercial positions - then go for it.

Salary Negotiation

The best time to negotiate salary is after receiving a job offer, and importantly before you accept a job offer - at the point when the employer clearly wants you for the job, and is keen to have your acceptance of the job offer. Your bargaining power in real terms, and psychologically, is far stronger if you have (or can say that you have) at least one other job offer or option (see the tips on negotiation). A strong stance at this stage is your best chance to provide the recruiting manager the justification to pay you something outside the employer's normal scale.

If there's a very big difference between what is being offered and what you want, say more than 20%, you should raise it as an issue during the interview for discussion later (rather than drop it as a bombshell suddenly when the job offer is made). Do not attempt to resolve a salary issue before receiving a job offer - there's no point. Defer the matter - say you'll need to discuss salary in due course, but that there's obviously no need to do so until and unless the company believes you are the right person for the job. "Let's cross that bridge when we come to it," should be the approach.

A job and package comprise of many different things - unless the difference between what's offered and needed is enormous (in which case the role is simply not appropriate) both sides should look at all of the elements before deciding whether salary is actually an issue or not.

The chances of renegotiating salary after accepting a new job, and certainly after starting a new job, are remote - once you accept the offer you've effectively made the contract, including salary, and thereafter you are subject to the organisation's policies, process and natural inertia.

A compromise agreement on salary, in the event that the employer cannot initially employ you at the rate you need, is to agree (in writing) a guaranteed raise, subject to completing a given period of service, say 3 or 6 months. In which case avoid the insertion of 'satisfactory' (describing the period of service) as this can never actually be measured and therefore fails to provide certainty that the raise will be given.

If you are recruiting a person who needs or demands more money or better terms than you can offer, then deal with the matter properly before the candidate accepts the job - changing pay or terms after this is very much more difficult. If you encourage a person to accept pay and terms that are genuinely lower than they deserve or need, by giving a vague assurance of a review sometime in the future, you will raise expectations for something that will be very difficult to deliver, and therefore storing up a big problem for the future.

Additional tips and techniques relating to salary negotiations at job interviews.

Second Interviews

At second interviews, unsuitable applicants should have been screened out by this stage. For certain jobs a decision will be made to offer the job after the second interviews; recruitment for senior positions may proceed to third interviews.

Second interview questions should be deep and probing about the candidate and the candidate's approach to work. The questions should concern detailed and testing examples and scenarios specific to the particular job, asking how the candidate would deal with them. This is to discover as reliably as possible how the candidate would approach the job, and what type of person they are - the interviewer needs to be sure they will get on with the candidate you and that they will fit in well.

The interviewer should also probe the type of management that the candidate responds to and doesn't, and how the candidate would work with other people and departments, giving specific examples and scenarios.

Tests and practical exercises using actual work material or examples can be used, which enable a practical assessment of the candidate's real style, ability, knowledge and experience.

The candidate can be asked to prepare and give a short presentation about themselves, or how they would approach the job or a particular challenge. This could involve the use of certain equipment and materials, particularly if such ability is to be required in the job.

The interviewer should also try to get to know more about the candidate as a person - to be as sure as possible that this is the right person for the situation; the interview approach should be probing and gaining practical evidence, proof, of suitability.

A good second interview should establish as reliably as possible the candidate's suitability and ability for the specific needs of the job, which includes the work, relationships, aspirations, and personal background.

There is nothing wrong in the candidate asking the organisation prior to the interview what to plan and prepare for in the second interview - interviewers should regard this as a positive sign, and it may help the candidate to give some clear information on what to expect and prepare for.

Certain senior jobs recruitment will involve a lunch or dinner so that the interviewer and other senior managers or executives can see you in relaxed mode. This is an excellent way to discover more about the personality of an applicant.

Group selection (normally a half-day or even whole day) - see below - is a very good alternative to conventional one-to-one interviews after first interview stage. Group selection puts all the candidates together for a series of activities and tasks, which can then be observed by a panel of interviewers. Individuals can be asked to prepare and give presentations, and various other exercises relevant to the job. One-to-one interviews follow later in the day when the group has been reduced in numbers. Group selection takes a lot longer than a conventional second interview and all candidates should be notified as to the process and outline agenda.

Interview Follow-up Letter or Email

If you are particularly keen to be offered a job and wish to increase your profile and chances of receiving a job offer after attending interview, you can follow up an interview with a letter or email (and then a phone call) to reinforce your commitment and qualities for the job. The sooner the better.

Often jobs are offered to the most passionate and determined applicants, so this should be the feeling that your follow-up should try to convey, without giving the impression of desperation or crawling.

You should seek to focus your follow-up letter or email on the key performance aspects in the role that the interviewer believes are required for the successful applicant.

This type of follow-up enables you to show that you have considered and developed your thinking after the interview (a desirable attribute), and also enables you to re-emphasise your claim to the opportunity, bringing your name to the front of the interviewer's mind again. A good follow-up letter or email also enables you to demonstrate that you are persistent, professional, interested, possess relevant capabilities, recognise what the requirements and priorities are, are keen, and can sell yourself in a determined manner, that probably the other applicants will not do.

Interviewers also respond well to applicants who really like the company, especially if your reasons coincide with the reasons that the interviewer likes the company too, so it can help if your follow-up 'resonates' with the feelings of the interviewer about what is required for the role.

From the interviewer's perspective - if you are an interviewer or decision-maker who receives a good follow-up letter from an enthusiastic interviewee - I recommend you give the applicant extra credit and consideration. They are demonstrating many of the most relevant qualities that you are seeking.


Use and adapt this template example to create your own interview follow-up letter or email.

Dear ........

You interviewed me on (date) for the (role) position.

I really want this job, so I'm taking the liberty of re-stating why I think you should choose me:

(then list 3-5 short points which relate your skills, knowledge, experience, achievements, character, attitude, to the results and effects they'll be seeking from the person appointed. It is very important that these points demonstrate that you have clearly understood and can deliver - specific measurable things if possible - what they need for the role, for example:)

  • You need someone who can produce new profitable business - a minimum (stated target level) a year. My track record proves I can do this. I know already how I will do this for you. Moreover I'll help others around me to do it too.
  • You need someone who is very adaptable. Again my recent career history shows how I'm able to adapt to fast-changing situations - to identify and achieve new aims quickly. Put me anywhere - I'll adapt and create a new plan, and achieve it.
  • You need someone who can hit the ground running - I can do this - I have commitments from personal customers who have promised me business equating to (amount) by (when) should I take on this new role.

You might have seen better qualified applicants, or people with more relevant experience, but when it comes down to it, it's the person with the most passion and determination who is able to make a real difference. I'd urge you to give me the chance to prove I am that person.

Yours, etc.

You could also follow up the letter/email with a phone call to ask what the interviewer thinks, and if there's anything else that you can do or provide to help the interviewer decide.

Persistence often pays off, especially in roles which require someone who can get results by making things happen, which applies to most roles in business and organisations these days, and certainly all management roles.

When you follow-up your own job interview with passion, determination and expertise, the interviewer sees real evidence of how you can perform in the job itself.

The interview follow-up letter, email and phone call is therefore a great opportunity for you to demonstrate many of your attributes for real, in a way that will raise your profile, re-state your credentials and understanding of the role's requirements, and thereby create a clear separation between you and the other job candidates.

Attracting and Recruiting High Quality Staff

Here are some brief but significant points about attracting and recruiting high quality staff.

And while the methodology is especially important for recruiting rare individuals, it actually applies to the successful attraction and recruitment of all staff.

The methodology for attracting and recruiting good quality employees follows basic marketing principles.

This might seem obvious to marketing and advertising folk, and even to some sales-people, but commonly recruitment in organisations is a function of HR (Human Resources) department, or in smaller companies the task is perhaps handled by an office manager. Not all HR people and office managers think like marketeers, and the world is a better place because of this, nevertheless:

If you want to recruit the best possible staff, you must approach the activity as if you were marketing a product or service.

First, it might help if you consider the elements of the recruitment process in terms of marketing language:

  • Your organization is effectively a supplier.
  • Employees are customers.
  • The two simple statements above represent a vital point. Ignore it or reverse it at your peril. (There are unfortunately very many arrogant employers who believe they are doing their employees a huge favour by employing them. The employer - typically the directors and the culture which emanates from them - regards itself as the customer, and the employees as the suppliers. This is a formula for the recruitment and retention of the disinterested and demotivated. Try to see things the other way around: organisation = supplier; employees = customers.)
  • Employment/a career with your organisation (essentially the job or role) equates to the product.
  • The job candidates - your ideal new employees - are your customers, prior to which they are your target market or target audience.
  • The channel(s) or method(s) by which you reach your target audience is/are your route(s) to market. (For example, routes to your target market of potential employees would include headhunters, recruitment agencies, recruitment websites, newspaper or trade journal adverts, job shows and exhibitions, university/college/school career events, referral by existing employees, etc.)
  • The employment opportunity is your product offering, within which your organisation is a vital component (in other words, it doesn't matter how good the job is, if the organisation is a pile of unethical crap, or perceived as such, then the job opportunity will probably be irretrievably tainted).
  • The product offering (job opportunity) must contain at least one and ideally a few USPs (Unique Selling Points) or there is little reason for good people to be interested in working for your organisation compared to competing opportunities with other employers. (Ideally your organisation should be so bloody wonderful that the organisation itself is one of the USPs of the job. USPs must be considered from the perspective of the customer, not the supplier. USPs effectively define the type of customers attracted to the product.)
  • The way(s) in which the employment opportunity (product offering) is communicated to the target audience/market equates to your advertising.
  • If you do not know what your USPs are then you need to research what they are (assuming you have one or two...) by asking your best staff why they continue to work for you so diligently and loyally.

So, having established a few definitions and correlations, here, simply, is the methodology:

  1. Identify/refine your USPs (as an employer - your unique selling points - what makes a job or career with your organisation different and special versus any other). Different jobs will tend to imply different USPs.
  2. Identify your target audience/market (candidate profile, deeper than traditionally defined - this must go beyond job skills and experience - consider lifestyle/life-needs/philosophy/outlook/etc).
  3. Identify routes to market (how to reach the ideal candidates).
  4. Implement activities/a campaign to put your offering in front of your target audience.
  5. Process the enquiries (applicants) with complete professionalism, including very sensitive and respectful treatment of all unsuccessful applicants.

As with marketing, differential in the product offering (employment USPs) and creative and effective advertising/communications are the means by which competitive superiority (versus other employers) is achieved and candidates are attracted and enthused by the job opportunities.

If you are an HR person and all this sounds a little daunting, please be assured that it is not rocket science - it's very logical - and you might have some brilliant marketeers in your organisation who can help with the process.

I'd add that (just like marketing a product/service) it's easy to make wrong assumptions about your organisation's (as an employer) own strongest USP(s), as perceived by the potential customers (the best quality employees), so just as with fundamental marketing, it helps to research and discover what aspects of working for your organisation attract and retain the best staff of the type you are seeking.

Refer to the pages on marketing, and to a lesser extent selling. The essential ideas of marketing and selling apply very directly to attracting and recruiting good quality employees.

Crucially, the foundations - the philosophy, organisational integrity, values, culture, etc - must be right and good, otherwise you are building on sand.

The best employees gravitate towards, and tend to perform best for, the best employers. If your organisation struggles to recruit and retain excellent people it might be little to do with the job or the pay, and conversely, good ethical caring organisations will generally attract and retain great people even if the job and the money are not the most competitive.

Group Selection

The Group Selection recruitment method (also called recruitment assessment centres or recruitment assessment days) offers several advantages over conventional one-to-one interviewing, which because of the limitations of one-to-one interviews, many interviewers find a very unsatisfactory method in recruitment and selection. Group Selection enables a number of people from the organisation to observe a number of job candidates, as they go through a series of specially designed activities.

Group Selection also offers the recruiting organisation an excellent opportunity to present the company and the job in a very professional way, thus appealing to and attracting the best candidates. Also, the unsuccessful candidates leave the process with a very positive impression of the organisation and the experience as a whole.

Group Selection also enables the the best people to show themselves to be the best, often working on real job-related scenarios, which removes much of the guesswork about people's true abilities. One-to-one interviews tend to favour the 'professional interviewee' types, who present very well, but who might then fail to deliver - 'all mouth and trousers' as the expression has it.

There are very many different ways to structure a group selection or recruitment assessment centre/day. The further group selection ideas below will help expand possibilities for this super process.

Screening interviews are useful in short-listing candidates for group selections. For a senior job group selection, screening interviews and psychometric assessments are recommended to shortlist candidates.

Group selection activities are by far the most reliable way to see what people are really like, provided the process is carefully planned, managed and facilitated. If you'd like advice about Group Selection methods or designing a Group Selection day please get in touch. Here's an outline of the process:

  1. Create/confirm job specification, job description, skill-set, and person-profile.
  2. Plan recruitment and induction schedule.
  3. Create and place advert.
  4. Shortlist applicants from written applications or CV's.
  5. Write to candidates explaining selection process, venue, date and time.
  6. Plan the Group Selection day or half-day, to include: presentation to them by senior managers about the company and the role; psychometric tests; activities, tasks and games for candidates to do, including team and syndicate work, and individual presentations; lunch; culminating in one-to-one interviews (usually three or four) involving final shortlisted candidates with senior managers on rotation. See the team building games sections for ideas of group selection exercises, for example the project team exercise and the postbag group selection recruitment exercise.
  7. Management review and decision. (Candidates can be asked to leave and hear later or wait, depending on situation.)
  8. Job offers, acceptance, reference checks, induction.

Recruitment Days

Many of these principles are important for any sort of recruitment process - not just for group selections. Also, many of the group selection ideas can be adapted and incorporated into traditional recruitment and interview processes.

This process grid illustrates the point. In both cases - conventional interviewing or group selection recruitment - the first step (assessment specification) is crucial. Everything else is built on this. If there is no assessment specification, or if it is flawed, then the event will be flawed and so will the outcomes.

Recruitment process 1. Assessment specification 2. Assessment methods 3. Plan event 4. Run event
conventional recruitment interviewing break down the person profile into manageable elements - attach standards or measures or parameters to be able to assess whether met or not design interview questions and other tasks or activities or tests to assess each element of the specification schedule the interview and activities run the interview and activities
group selection assessment days or events design group selection activities to assess each element of the specification schedule the event - including presenting and selling the job to the applicants run the group selection event

 The structure and activities of group selection days are flexible. Keep to the important principles and process above, but other than that try to be innovative and creative, and always aim to ensure that the recruitment process is pleasurable and positively memorable for all job applicants.

When you communicate with and organise job applicants you are continually presented with opportunities to give a powerful and positive impression of your organisation. Treat everyone as if they were a customer, and the experience will produce various good outcomes in addition to successful recruitment.

How you design and structure your group selection day depends largely on the recruitment situation and the characteristics or profile - the sort of person - you are seeking: their skills, experience, the demands of the role, the culture of the employer department and organisation, the role's priorities and success measures.

The group selection activities and content ideas below are just examples. They are not attached to specific assessment characteristics, measures or outcomes, which must be identified before deciding on suitable activities.

Your first step is therefore to understand and specify what your needs are and how to measure when someone meets those needs.

Then you can start designing group selection or assessment centre activities and the format of the event, be it a day or a half-day. There are no fixed rules - a half-day is more suitable for junior roles. Very important roles might justify more than a day - or maybe even a weekend.

The best assessment methods are typically built on the best assessment criteria.

This is a simple statement, but a very important principle: You will more reliably find the right person if you first know exactly the sort of person you are seeking, and how to assess that they meet the selection criteria.

Start by asking yourself (and ask other people with interest in the recruitment):

  • What information is missing or unknown or unreliable about recent or past new starters?
  • What does the current recruitment process fail to discover about applicants?
  • What are the gaps in our knowledge about new starters until now?
  • What discoveries about new starters have caused problems or departures?
  • What discoveries by new starters about the organisation led to problems and departures?

When you understand the gaps or failings in your recruitment, then you know some useful areas to focus on in order to improve your methods.

In addition to filling the gaps and addressing the weaknesses of your current methods you must look at the role(s) being recruited in detail, and establish profiles so you can clearly define (and communicate to others) what you are seeking.

Defining a role or person-specification can be challenging, but approached logically it's possible to define anything.

It's like the 'talent' question - which especially relates to graduate recruitment and young-person recruitment:

How can you to identify, assess and measure 'talent'?

The answer to the sample interview question how do you measure talent? illustrates the main principle: first define what it is - break it down - attach parameters or measures or standards; then you have a basis for assessment or development.

This same principle applies to designing good group selection and assessment centres.

To identify, assess, measure and develop anything you first need to define what it is.

You define something by understanding it and describing it, and breaking it down into elements or component parts: a profile of some sort that is clear and meaningful and usable to those involved.

At its simplest, an assessment specification or personal profile is a checklist, ideally with some measures attached.

So, to run a successful group selection day or recruitment assessment centre, you must first create your assessment specification.

Define and describe the person you need - using as many elements as necessary - and then attach some measures to each element.

Having identified all the criteria that would define a successful new starter for the given role(s), you can then design appropriate and corresponding assessment methods.

This assessment specification can refer to as many perspectives as you need - personality, skills, attitude, experience, values and philosophy, emotional maturity, situation and circumstances - anything relevant to and required by the role and employer.

Some elements of the specification (person profile) will be mandatory ('must have') - others could be optional.

Alternatively decide if each element is 'essential' or 'desirable'.

The skill-sets and training needs analysis templates helps to illustrate this - and will provide a basic format for creating your recruitment assessment specification in the shape of a 'person profile'. You could even use a TNA (Training Needs Analysis) spreadsheet for organising the assessments and results. The process of assessment according to defined elements is basically the same for recruitment as it is for development appraisals and training needs.

How you structure the person profile or assessment specification is up to you. Ideally it should enables you to attach measures and methods by which to assess whether the measures are met.

Having established your assessment specification (or person profile or checklist and measures), suitably broken down into elements or parts - you can design suitable methods, activities, sessions, etc., which will enable the applicants to demonstrate their capabilities, and for you to assess them objectively - against a proper specification, rather than having to rely on your subjective 'gut instinct'.

You might find the training planning format useful for this, especially to understand the process of analysing a capability and then attaching a method of assessment or development to it. Here is a training planner (xls format) and also as a pdf.

Again, the process of assessment in recruitment is very close to the process of training design assessment and development. All require understanding of the whole person or role, breaking this down into manageable elements, attaching parameters or measures, and then designing activities or methods of assessment or development.

It's worth remembering, because it assessment and development are closely linked, that job applicants attending a good group selection or recruitment assessment will also derive a development benefit from the experience.

We cannot fail to learn and develop when we undertake good assessment activities. Keep this in mind. It will help you to design a high-quality and beneficial event.

See also the guide and tips for running a training/information marketing event - they include many transferable elements and ideas for recruitment/assessment events.

Recruitment Assessment Centres

The aim of designing and running a good group selection event - as well as identifying and successfully recruiting the best job candidates for your vacancies - is for all those attending to leave with the feeling that they had a great day, that they learned and developed a lot about themselves, and that you are a wonderful positive employer. Achieve this, and applicants will always look for your vacancies, and they'll tell all their friends too what a fantastically well-organised and positive experience it was - even if they never got the job.

Here are some ideas for creating magnificent, memorable, beneficial and successful group selections and recruitment assessment centre events.

As with the principles above about creating a person profile and assessment specification before deciding on the assessment activities, these ideas are not all restricted to group selections. Many of the concepts are adaptable and transferable to conventional recruitment interviewing processes.

I emphasise again the importance of first creating your assessment specification (selection criteria or person profile or checklist and measures - whatever you call it) before you design your activities.

You must know what you are measuring before you decide how to measure it.

Here are the ideas. You will find many more ideas and methodologies for assessment centres and recruitment group selection days all over this website, especially in the sections dealing with team buildinglearning stylespersonality and profiling systemsappraisals and training needs analysis, and training evaluation.

1. Identify the gap and weaknesses in your existing methods.

Fixing current weaknesses in recruitment - the issues and characteristics that are typically never uncovered - is a great way to start thinking of what activities to put into a group selection event.

How do you know what your current gaps and weaknesses are?

As ever - don't guess. Why guess when you can ask people and find out for certain?

Seek applicant feedback (especially from unsuccessful applicants) as to what skills, capabilities, potential were not exposed or explored by the day's activities, or by conventional interviews.

Additionally, conduct exit interviews especially when new starters leave soon after joining. What mistakes were made? What was missed during the recruitment stage?

Discovering weaknesses with your current methods will help you improve and develop your assessment specification.

When you run any recruitment process you are effectively a supplier, and the applicants are effectively your customers.

You must aim to delight them - to have them leave with a good feeling - that they have been fairly treated. This partly achieved by planning and organising an interesting, dynamic and developmental experience, but mainly it results from giving people clear opportunities to demonstrate how they can best meet the specification for the job.

By providing a complete process aligned to the full specification, you improve the clarity and justification of your decision-making for the unsuccessful applicants. The unsuccessful then understand better why they did not succeed and are less likely to bear ill will.

Paths cross often. Job applicants are all potential customers. Make friends. Be good and fair to people.

2. Consider that different personalities and learning styles respond in different ways - and so need different ways to demonstrate their capabilities.

Again these principles apply beyond group selections - they apply to conventional interviews too.

Consider that different personalities, communications styles, and learning styles among people will cause some assessment activities to be easier or more advantageous for some people than others.

In the future technology will make it possible to tailor assessment tasks and activities according to individual personality.

How far you can explore this currently will vary according to your resourcefulness and access to modern methods and systems, etc.

At a basic level consider using a VAK or Multiple Intelligences or Kolb assessment at the outset of the day, to enable assessors (and to an extent delegates too) to weigh/allow for individual preferences/personality styles/strengths - and also to demonstrate that you understand that different people have different styles and needs, and that you have done your best to structure a balanced series of activities.

At a more advanced level, technology will increasingly enable us be able to build some sort of 'artificial intelligence' into the day/processes/activities, not only to be able to assess people, but also to assess people in a way that is appropriate for each person's personality and natural preferences (see the Benziger Theory if you want to understand this more about natural preferences).

3. 'Life-stage theory', emotional balance and maturity (relative to age), are significant factors in the behaviour and effects of people at work.

Explore emotional maturity and 'life-stage' factors among job applicants.

All the skills and experience in the world won't matter if the applicant's emotional foundation is seriously or temporarily impaired or vulnerable. Emotional problems can often appear as force of character, ultra-competitiveness, egocentricity, wit, wackiness, eccentricity, 'workaholism', etc., which for certain recruitments can be appealing. Be careful. You want someone who will make a difference - but a good difference.

Conversely: genuinely stable, well-balanced and psychologically robust people are an asset to any organisation, pretty well regardless of the role, skills, ambition, and natural (personality) style preferences.

Having a good reference point or discussion framework to explore emotional balance and maturity helps avoid being seduced by extreme behaviour, especially if the assessment specification or role requires strength of character, or other characteristics that verge on extreme.

Exuding more testosterone than Genghis Khan on acid might be good for the ratings on the Dragons Den or The Apprentice (I refer to the panel not the contestants), but would you really want to manage someone like that in your organisation, never mind the damage they'd do to the good folk around them? Entrepreneurial egomania and organisational employment rarely combine happily.

Having a good reference point for emotional balance and maturity also helps remind us during the recruitment process that life and work are (thank goodness) becoming more civilised. Successful workers, good managers and great leaders these days are civilised and emotionally mature.

People with problems can be very successful entrepreneurs, and they can make a big short-term impact in an organisation, but usually they create a lot of fall-out. Emotionally immature people (again this is not necessarily age-related) tend to create mess, casualties, and at some stage need help themselves when problems can no longer be masked. 

The egocentric entrepreneur will typically create their own passive environment (their equivalent of a padded cell some might say), but such tendencies (often typified by bullying or temper tantrums) are extremely damaging to organisations where there are other concerns like staff, customers and suppliers. You don't need these extreme characters if they come with emotional baggage: they don't possess sufficient reserves to really care about you and their fellow workers. So don't kid yourself that a bit of madness or psychosis can be good for a modern organisation; it isn't.

As an aside, this invites a fascinating question: at what point does extreme personality or questionable emotional balance fall within the bounds of disability and equality legislation? Thankfully we have not arrived at the point (yet) where rejecting an applicant for reasons of personality or attitude could be deemed unlawful. No doubt a test-case will arise before too long.

Whatever, however you do it, any group selection should address emotional maturity. I repeat it is not an age thing. It's whether the person is grounded, reasonable, thoughtful, balanced - you know: a grown-up. It's simple but often overlooked.

I value the Erik Erikson model greatly. It provides a super learning and self-awareness discussion framework.

If you are proposing to go into some depth with people ensure the session facilitated by an expert or trained counsellor, appropriate to the personality theory used.

Transactional Analysis is another immensely powerful, helpful and potentially revealing model. There are many wonderful TA practitioners who will be able to help with this aspect - whether from an activities or assessment viewpoint, or both.

If I could do one thing in group selection it would be to explore emotional maturity. This is because, irrespective of age, emotional maturity is the greatest attribute for sustaining successful work and contribution to any modern organisation.

As the modern age and competitive pressures require organisations and their people to be ever-more self-managing, the emotional maturity attribute will become even more significant.

An emotionally mature person will always tend to find solutions and resolve problems - even if they do not have the skills or experience.

Whereas even the most technically skilled and experienced but emotionally immature person is liable, in response to sometimes the weirdest trigger at any unforeseen moment, to implode, explode, rant, rave, suck in unbelievable amounts of management (or boardroom) time, and generally be the biggest recruitment disaster of your career.

You will gather by now that I consider one of the great opportunities at a group selection event is to identify and avoid recruiting emotionally immature people.

Approach the subject with care however. At a simple level simply facilitate a group discussion about emotional maturity and observe people's contributions and reactions.

Seek expert advice and facilitation if you want to go into more depth.

Helpfully emotional balance and maturity links with the next area - integrity and ethics - which is easier to incorporate within group selection and assessment activities.

4. Integrity and ethics - together a crucial factor for sustainable success at work in the modern age.

Integrity, ethics, compassion, humanity are like emotional maturity fundamental to sustainable success in modern organisations.

Therefore find a way to explore these values and philosophical factors somehow at any assessment centre.

Incidentally emotional maturity and ethics, integrity, humanity are linked by the simple concept of consideration for others - the opposite of selfishness and greed, to put it another way. 

See the Erikson life stages section if you want to understand this more clearly. And see the note at the end of the next section about reconciling  money and ambition with ethics and integrity.

Of course these factors (ethics, integrity, compassion, etc) are only relevant to your recruitment if the work environment and corporation require and aspire to these things.

If not, then it's unlikely that a well-run group selection is the answer to current challenges.

On a complex level, ethics and integrity can be difficult to measure and judge, but at the level we need to assess, it's simple.

We all basically know the difference between right and wrong - or the difference between a good act and a selfish one - and the difference between the truth and a lie. Telling a lie in order to gain or save business, or to cover up a mistake is not acceptable. This isn't about having a doctorate in morality - it's basic integrity.

Striking exactly the right balance in very difficult questions is not always impossible - there will always be ethical questions for which there is no right answer, usually because the problem is actually rooted way back when someone else got a far simpler decision wrong. Your aim however is not to resolve the wrongs of the world, nor to find new recruits with such a capability. But you do need to determine whether your new recruits are the right side of ethical and truthful given the standards set by your own organisation.

Ethics and integrity are crucial in the modern age of work and business, and therefore should be part of modern selection criteria.

Moreover today staff at all levels should know that the organisation is honest and ethical, and that the organisation expects the same of its people.

Simple methods of addressing and exploring these issues at a group selection assessment day are for example:

  • discussion about corporate social responsibility, ethical business, fair-trade, the environment, etc
  • discussion about politics, religion, crime and punishment
  • preparation and presentation of an issue connected with the above

N.B. A short note about ambition and money is appropriate: Being competitive and financially ambitious and striving for status and responsibility does not make a person unethical. Wanting to work hard, earn a high salary, achieve status are perfectly normal and natural tendencies in many people (see Maslow's theory for example), and these traits are desirable in many roles. There is a point however at which a person's determination and method of pursuit causes damage, harm, upset or risk to other people or the wider environment, and I suggest that this is when the ethics alarm bells begin to ring.

5. Personality profiling - involve the people - explain and give feedback.

There are many good personality profiling systems available.

Each has a different perspective and value. Some systems are quite similar, especially if based on the same basic psychological theory.

See the personality page for ideas and examples.

Work with a provider or system that will be helpful and constructive to the recruitment process, which means being transparent and inclusive, not secret and aloof, as some systems and providers can be.

Avoid using psychometrics (personality profiling) just for the sake of it.

Always involve the delegates in explaining the system and how it works and what it means. (Remember everyone should leave the event with a positive feeling - that they've learned and developed).

Accentuate the positives. Good systems do not attach 'good' or 'bad' to people's traits.

People are strong in different ways. People approach tasks and responsibilities in different ways. There is not a single 'right' profile.

Used well, psychometrics help us all to see where and how people (including ourselves) can be most effective.

Graphology (hand-writing analysis) makes a fascinating session, and is revealing in many ways. As with any specialised session, ensure you involve a suitably qualified expert to facilitate the session, analysis, feedback and follow-up as appropriate.

Importantly, avoid creating the impression (and of course the reality too) that recruitment decisions are largely based on psychometric testing.

It is sensible to decide before the event the 'weighting' of psychometrics and to convey this to the delegates so they know it's just a part of the picture.

It is not sensible to reject any applicant on the basis of psychometrics alone, and it is daft to give any applicant the impression that this has occurred in their case. (It does happen..)

5. Projects and tasks based on work scenarios enable practical demonstration and evidence of capabilities, style, etc.

You can issue work-related tasks on the day, however you can achieve greater value from issuing practical assignments (formulation of plans, presentations, etc) if you do so a week (or two or three, depending on the situation, the job-role and the timescales) before the actual day of the assessment or group selection.

This increases the range of the task content and the review to a lot more than if the assignment is issued on the day itself.

This also gives the nervous or quieter applicants a fairer opportunity to shine without having to rely totally on the day's 'performance'.

You can relate the assignment task(s) for preparation before the group selection or assessment day and/or on the day to real work situations or not, as appropriate - do whatever helps you best to assess the attributes concerned.

Stipulate the rules - especially if issuing a task in advance of the event - and especially to clarify the situation about seeking support or help for the assignment.

Since much modern work - especially management - is mostly dependent on initiative and resourcefulness and working with others, rather than one's own knowledge or personal ability, do not leap to the assumption that a task must be 'all their own work'.

Whatever you deem it should be, as ever, clarify the expectations; and don't create any rules for which you will be completely unable to assess compliance, or the rule will be meaningless.

6. Extending the tasks ideas - applicants can be asked to engage with existing staff and other people connected with the organisation.

You can make the tasks even more real.

You might for example be able to organise exercises or sessions connecting the applicants with staff around the organisation.

This enables you to see (and for delegates to experience) real engagement with existing staff.

Many failed recruitments are accompanied by a regret on both sides that "..If only we could have known we were simply not going to get on with each other before accepting/offering the job.."

Who says you cannot get people to engage with potential colleagues as part of the recruitment process? You can if it makes sense.

Incorporating reality and actual involvement - so that exercises deal with real situations and real people - can give rise to other helpful benefits elsewhere in the organisation, if it's possible to do this.

Provided it's not seen as an unwanted distraction, existing staff will also enjoy the participative involvement aspect, again if it's possible to organise.

The task doesn't need to be technically demanding if what you are assessing is the 'getalongability' factor, which can be so crucial for team-based roles. Simply, an information-gathering task or quiz about the company can provide an interesting and enjoyable basis for assessing how people actually engage with real colleagues and the real organisational environment.

Feedback from pre-selected staff can also be helpful and can be structured as an adaptation of the 360 appraisal concept.

Involvement and buy-in among existing staff for recruitment decisions - again especially for team-based roles - can be helpful beyond the recruitment itself.

This modern integrated approach can help expose many unknowns that characterise traditional recruitment, in which selection decisions are largely based on hypothetical scenarios and questions. Recruitment becomes less risky the more we work with and observe candidates operating in real situations.

For the more adventurous, you can even extend the engagement to involve customers, suppliers, or even potential customers.

If you want to put a toe in the water why not involve one or two key customers or suppliers in the day?

This level of involvement has positive benefits for company relations too, outside of the recruitment.

Imagine the strengthening of relations with suppliers and customers if the idea were to grow and you were to reciprocate and help each other with assessment days..

7. Other group selection examples and ideas

There are many other aspects and ideas that you can include in a group selection day or event. Above I've focused on the more innovative aspects. There are several basic elements of the day which need to be considered too, briefly summarised here. Again, while this section is mainly focused on group selection assessment events, the principles and many of the ideas also transfer to conventional interview recruitment:

  • Welcome and coffee - introduction and scene setter from a suitable figurehead, or maybe the employee of the month?
  • Warm-up or ice-breaker
  • Company presentations - involve staff outside of the usual team, who'd maybe benefit from the experience and set a great tone
  • Demonstrations and tours - you need to sell the job too, remember, although keep it quick, snappy and dynamic
  • Short exercises to keep people active - linked to assessment specification criteria of course
  • Presentations - although these are very common, so try to inject an innovative aspect
  • Lunch and coffee breaks - breakfasts and dinners too if appropriate - people behave differently when they are 'off duty'
  • One-to-one interviews - round-robins - avoid having people sitting around waiting
  • Staged departures - lunchtime is an obvious break point for some to leave
  • Remember the psychometrics feedback - manage with care; feedback sessions can be part of the assessment activities - it's easy to overlook and forgetting this is not fair.

In summary..

Group selection assessment recruitment events offer dramatically more scope for selling the job, and for finding the right candidate(s).

A group selection event does however require a lot more planning than a one-to-one interview.

You can be very creative when designing group selection recruitment events.

The event reflects on your organisation.

Aim to create a positive experience for people - whether they get the job or not.

The principles and many of the ideas adapt and transfer to conventional interview recruitment.

Whether recruiting through group selection or interviews alone - always ensure you define the requirement very clearly (the person profile, developed into an assessment specification, broken down in to manageable measurable elements) before you design or select your assessment activities and/or interview questions.

Your final selection decision can only ever be as good as your definition of the person you are seeking.

Thank You Letters or Rejection Letters

From the interviewer's standpoint when writing to unsuccessful interviewees, it's essential that you do not write anything that could carry a liability for claims of discrimination, libel or defamation of character. If you are the interviewing manager or have the responsibility for sending interviews rejection letters and have any doubt about local policies and laws concerning interviews rejection letters, consult with your HR department before writing and sending job interviews letters to unsuccessful candidates.

Generally the safest kindest way to write an interview rejection letter is to simply say thank you, and to state that the reason for the interviewee not being successful is due to there being better qualified candidates. Below is a sample thank you rejection letter.

See the notes below also relating to more complex and positive rejections of job applications, notably for additional guidance about giving constructive feedback to unsuccessful applicants.

Rejection Letter Template

Name and address of candidate.


Dear (Mr/Ms/Mrs/Miss Surname)

Thank you for attending the interview (or group selection event) with us on (date) at (location) for the position of (position).

While you presented yourself extremely well and impressed us very much, I regret that we are not on this occasion able to offer you the position, due to there being other better qualified (or more suitably qualified) candidates.

I thank you for the interest and enthusiasm you have shown and wish you all the best for the future.

Best wishes, etc

'Holding' Letter Template

Here's a job interviews 'holding' letter, to be used when the selection decision is delayed for some reason, when it is important to acknowledge and thank the interviewee and keep them informed (and interested) in the position:

Name and address of candidate.


Dear (Mr/Ms/Mrs/Miss Surname)

Thank you for attending the interview (or group selection event) with us on (date) at (location) for the position of (position).

You presented yourself extremely well and impressed us very much, and the interview process is still ongoing. We will be in touch as soon as possible to inform you whether we can offer you the position or not (or when and if we will need to see you again).

I thank you for the interest and enthusiasm you have shown thus far. Should you have any questions meanwhile please let me know.

Best wishes, etc

Other Notes for Sensitive and Constructive Job Application Rejection Letters

Here are some further ideas for job applications rejections, sample letters, and especially how to deal with unsuccessful applicants more sympathetically and constructively. Use or adapt these examples and ideas when informing job applicants that they have been unsuccessful in applying for job interviews, or after unsuccessfully attending job interviews (if you are a pioneering manager working outside of the HR department you should agree things first with your HR department).

This is a challenging area that many employers will not be able, or desire, to explore. Which is fine. You'll get around to it when you are good and ready...

First of all, you are not obliged to give a reason for the rejection. It is not a good thing to concoct a reason, not least because people aren't stupid (think back to your own experiences when you've been given a flimsy excuse or reason), and obviously you should avoid writing anything to a job applicant that could be regarded as discriminatory or insulting.

However, you should try to add a positive aspect to rejection letters if you can. It's good to do so, especially when someone has clearly tried their best. It's a wicked world - why not try to make it little kinder. People remember when they have been treated well; they tell their friends, and they'll remember when and if you meet them again one day. What goes around comes around, as they say.

Employers routinely reject people without a care for the rejected person's sensitivities; it's an assumption passed down from manager to successor. "We've always done it that way - why waste time bothering about people?...".

However, a little consideration can help a lot to reduce the demoralizing effect of receiving a rejection letter...

If the application or interview is a good one, but not quite good enough to succeed, it often makes sense to keep the person's details for possible future reference. If you plan to do this then tell the person. It's a positive aspect, albeit within a rejection letter. Having said this, don't just say it for the sake of it.

Particularly forward-thinking employers (and able managers) can offer to give applicants constructive feedback on their unsuccessful applications (and failed interviews too), and this again is an option that you can choose or not, in which case be mindful as ever about potential discrimination and defamatory risks. Postal or telephone feedback is possible, each of which of course have implications for time and control, and costs, for the employer - it's your choice. If you offer feedback ensure it is fair and that you establish a process for identifying a few constructive points, giving them, and recording them, which can quite easily be incorporated into the normal recruitment process and documentation. You will after all have made the rejection on specific grounds, rather than on a whim, in which case, it's a logical step to then communicate these points back to the applicant. One can easily argue that it's only fair to do so. A simple way to do this is to create a simple list of the most common reasons for rejecting people, and to indicate on the list the reason(s) applicable to each person failing to progress.

Giving positive feedback verbally or in writing, outside of a controlled list of reasons, requires a certain level of skill, so that the feedback is not perceived as a criticism, and so that the discussion or communication (whether verbal or a written response) remains adult-to-adult. Written feedback is safer, but verbal feedback is better, if handled well. The risk is that the feedback leads to defence or argument from the recipient, so it's important to accentuate the positive and be objective and factual, for example: "Clearer presentation of your qualifications would have enabled us to make a fuller assessment," or "The application would have stood a better chance if it had been more neatly presented," or "We needed to see more evidence that you understood the communications and relationships requirements of the role."

Here's an example of a feedback template which can be used by managers who perhaps do not possess sufficient ability to work without one.

Feedback Template (after application rejection)

NB - These are examples of feedback points - amend and add to them to suit your situation.

feedback to applicant..................................................................
recruiting manager to complete
Unsuccessful job applications can be upsetting, so we try to be as helpful as we can in giving a bit of feedback to all unsuccessful applicants. Below we've indicated the main reason(s) why you didn't succeed on this occasion, and we hope that this will help you to take something positive from the experience, and to be successful in the future. In return please feel free to give us your comments about how we conducted the recruitment. It's a difficult process for all concerned and we welcome your views. relevant reason(s) indicated with a tick
Your application letter and/or CV could have been presented more professionally and neatly.   
Your experience was required to be more relevant to the job vacancy.  
We needed to see a clearer understanding of the job's priorities.  
We were seeking, or managed to find, an applicant who had better formal qualifications.  
You were actually over-qualified and too capable for the job.  
We were seeking, or managed to find, an applicant whose current commitments or location or earnings requirements were more suited to the vacancy.  
Please give us your feedback about the way we conducted the recruitment by also completing and returning the attached sheet in the envelope provided.

Feedback Template (after interview rejection)

NB - These are examples of feedback points - amend and add to them to suit your situation.

feedback from applicant................................... ref............................................. date......................   
Please help us to improve our recruitment processes by giving us your feedback about the way we conducted the recruitment. answer Yes or No please give your comments 

(applicant to complete)
Could we improve the way the job was explained in the advert?     
Could we have explained better the sort of person we were seeking?    
Were all of our communications to you clear and professional and polite?    
Were the recruitment arrangements and processes all explained clearly enough?    
Is the opportunity to receive and give feedback helpful to you?    
Would you apply for a job with us again?    
Do you have any other comments or suggestions?  


Giving (one or a few) points of feedback like this keeps the feedback factual, constructive, and provides the person with some helpful pointers for improving applications that they'll make in the future.

Receiving feedback enables you to improve your recruitment and interviews processes. Also, allowing the other person to give some feedback helps them to feel better about their experience, and also leaves them with a much more positive impression about you, instead of remembering you simply as the employer who rejected them.

Giving verbal feedback also provides an excellent opportunity to ask for feedback from the candidate concerning the candidate's experience and feelings about the organisation's recruitment process. Like any feedback about organisational performance this is valuable stuff, so seek it out. It will also lead to a more balanced feedback discussion, allowing the unsuccessful candidate to make some of their own points, which most folk find quite an uplifting and pleasing experience.

In order to offer and give constructive feedback a lot depends on the scale and the size of the business, the people handling the recruitment, the type of jobs being advertised, the type of people applying, the market or trade sector, the employer's attitude towards PR, and not least, how you feel about trying to do good and helping people wherever possible. Aside from simply being a good thing to do for people, a lot of goodwill and positive reactions result from offering and giving good constructive feedback. Unlike most aspects of the recruitment process, you're giving a little bit back, not just taking, rejecting, and leaving people feeling bereft, which is the common application rejection experience.

The employment and recruitment world is a cruel one, so it's good to make it a little happier and more helpful if you can.

Giving constructive feedback to unsuccessful applicants and interviewees is also particularly good to do when dealing with candidates who are already employed within the organisation. This is for obvious reasons, not least: they'll be more likely to stay motivated and feel positive about the organisation; they'll be more likely to present their next application in a better way; and they'll better understand why they didn't succeed on this occasion and hopefully be less likely to blame others for not having succeeded.

See Transactional Analysis - it's a communications and behaviour model that is enormously helpful to handling potentially emotional discussions.

See also exit interviews - it's a different subject and process obviously, but rooted in a similar philosophy: trying to help people where you can.

Sample Rejection Letter

Dear ....

(job title) vacancy

Thank you for applying for the vacancy (above/for ....).

(Or - Thank you or attending the interview for the vacancy [above/for ....] on [date].)

I am sorry that on this occasion you have not been successful, (despite presenting yourself very well).

(If you have no objection we will keep your details on file for possible future reference.)

(When we receive a particularly good application that is not successful - as yours is - we offer to give the applicant some constructive feedback about their application, and we would like to make this offer to you. If you'd like this to happen please let us know by (phoning/writing/emailing - as appropriate) and we will be in touch.

I wish you all the best for the future.

Yours sincerely, etc.

 See also the guide to exit interviews, with sample exit interviews questions, and tips for interviewers and interviewees.

Job Promotion Interview Tips

For interviewers and interviewees, much of the information above in the main job interviews article is relevant to job promotion interviews.

These tips chiefly focus on interviews rather than group selections. Attending group selections for job promotion is a different matter, which I'll comment on briefly now:

Group selection enables the employer's selection panel to observe behaviour and interaction in a group situation. Job promotion candidates in these situations should therefore behave in a way that will impress the selection panel, in areas which the employer logically expects the group selection process or exercise to highlight

Here are the sorts of behaviours that impress when demonstrated by group selection candidates: responsibility, integrity, leadership, maturity, enthusiasm, organisation, planning, creativity, noticing and involving quiet members of the group, calmness under pressure, and particularly discovering and using other people's abilities in order for the team to achieve given tasks.

The remainder of this item concerns job promotion interview situations.

For interviewees, the same principles apply as in new employer job interviews. Interviewers commonly assess interviewees according to their own personal style and approach - people like people like them. For example: friendly people like friendly people; results-driven people like results-driven people; dependable reliable passive people like dependable reliable passive people; and detailed correct people like detailed correct people.

As an interviewer, when interviewing try to see the interviewee according to their own frame of reference not your own - you will make a fairer assessment.

As an interviewee be aware that even the most objective interviewer - even if aided by psychometric job profiles and applicant test results - will always tend to be more attracted to applicants who are like them, rather than applicants who are unlike them; it's human nature.

When as an interviewee you attend promotion interviews, your answers should be orientated to match the style preferences of the interviewer. Try to see things in the way they see them, and express your answers and ideas in language and terms that they will relate to and understand. Don't distort the truth or make claims you cannot substantiate or deliver - show that you understand how your boss and/or the interviewer sees the situation, and how they see that the job needs to be done successfully.

Rebels and mould-breakers are rarely promoted because they are seen as a threat or liability, so if you have rebellious tendencies it's a good idea to tone them down a little for the promotion interview. In the rare case that a distinctly mould-breaking individual is required for the role, such a requirement will be stated, then by all means go for it, all guns blazing.

At promotion interviews, interviewers particularly expect to hear the applicant's practical and cost effective ideas and plans for the new job. As the candidate, be able to demonstrate how well you understand the business and the organisation. This requires that you do some research. Avoid the common tendency to think that internal candidates already know what they need to and therefore have a better chance than, for example, an external candidate. If an external candidate has done their research they will impress the interviewer more than an internal candidate who hasn't.

Doing some research - above and beyond your normal sphere of responsibility and operation - demonstrates your potential, and particularly your capability to make a difference in the promoted role, which for most promotions is a strong requirement. If it isn't a requirement then it's a big advantage over another candidate who hasn't thought outside of the box, so to speak.

Doing good imaginative research, especially looking at organisational and departmental threats and opportunities, also enables you to prepare and ask great questions of the interviewer, which regardless of the way the interviewer handles the interview, provides you with a great way to show your potential.

If appropriate, your ideas can be fresh and innovative (especially if the interviewer is innovative and creative themselves), but you must above all be able to demonstrate a clear grasp of 'cause and effect', and the importance of achieving a suitable return on investment or effort.

Promotion almost always involves having responsibility for making decisions about the use of time and resources. Interviewers need to be convinced that you understand how to handle this responsibility - to identify priorities, to focus effort in the right direction, to manage efforts productively - as if you were using your own money.

Demonstrating clear knowledge and interpretation of policies, processes, rules, standards, and a firm and diplomatic style when supervising others, is crucial for promotion into most first-line management or supervisory roles.

Demonstrating an ability to plan, organise and achieve effective implementation (of plans, changes and objectives) is crucial for promotion into most middle-management positions.

Demonstrating an ability to initiate and optimise strategic activities, giving strong return on investment is be crucial for promotion into most senior positions.

Demonstrating huge personal commitment and enthusiasm, together with complete and utter loyalty to your boss and the organisation, are always essential factors for successful promotion interviews. Loyalty and commitment are essential. The interviewer must be able to trust you to the extent that they will stake their own reputation on your commitment and ability.

The ability to adapt and be flexible as priorities and circumstances change around you, is also essential for promotion into most supervisory and management roles. Interviewers will not promote children or people with baggage or issues - interviewers promote mature grown-up people. People who will lighten the management burden, not add to it.

It is important to convey convincingly that regardless of the challenges that occur on the way, you will always strive relentlessly to achieve your aims and objectives - and that you will never, ever, ever, let your boss down.

If you really believe it and feel it, look the interviewer in the eye and say: "Give me this opportunity, and I will repay your faith in me to succeed in this job."

References and Checking References

As an interviewee it's good to prepare your references in advance, and give the interviewer a list of your referees with names, positions, employers details, and all possible contact details. Try to identify (and agree cooperation in advance from) referees who will be happy to give you a positive reference, and in so doing, who will support your personality, skills, performance and job history claims. Provide as many referees as you need to cover the important aspects of your performance and employment history, plus any specific critical requirements of the new job (accreditation, record, training, vetting, etc). A healthy list of referees would normally be between three and five people. It seems a lot, but it's more impressive than just a couple; it shows you've thought about it beforehand, and it builds in a bit of leeway for when people cannot be contacted or fail to respond quickly for any reason.

Generally the more senior and credible your referees the better. It's perfectly acceptable to list one or two referees from your private life rather than work, especially if they have a job or status that carries important responsibility (councillors, police, etc)

If you know that a particularly significant and favourable referee might be difficult to contact, ask them to provide you with a 'to whom it may concern' open reference letter as to your character and history, signed by them, on letterhead - and preferably use and keep hold of the original copy - ask the interviewer to take a photocopy and give you back the original.

As an employer - employers should always follow up and check successful job interview candidates' references. Not to do so is irresponsible, especially if recruiting for jobs which carry serious responsibilities, such as working with children, disabled people, sensitive data, money, valuables, etc.

You must inform or ask permission from the candidate prior to checking their references.

The extent and depth to which references should be checked depend on the situation and the referees given by the job applicant. Certainly make job offers conditional to satisfactory checking of references, and if as an employer you are not happy about the referees provided then ask for others. Checking references can be a very sensitive area, so care needs to be used. Many referees will not be comfortable providing personal information about a person, not least due to fear of defaming someone and the liabilities concerned. Postal reference checking is an alternative to telephoning, although many referees feel less comfortable effectively making a written record of negative comments, and may be more forthcoming in a telephone conversation.

Refusal by a referee to provide a reference about someone is obviously not a helpful sign, and considerable positive feedback from reliable alternative referees would normally be required to proceed with a job offer following such a response.

Bear in mind also that the referee may have their own agenda. Take care to interpret carefully any personal comments which might stem from personality clash. Try to concentrate on facts with evidenced examples rather than opinions.

References should definitely be checked concerning job-critical areas (relevant to the new job for which serious liabilities might exist if candidate is not telling the truth), as should any areas of suspicion or doubt that cannot be resolved/proven for sure at interview.

And for everyone, irrespective of satisfaction with interview answers, it is important to check some basic facts with past employers to ensure that the candidate has not been telling a pack of lies.

Possible areas to check (a sort of checklist - not a fixed agenda):

  • CV/career history, dates, salaries.
  • Qualifications and training.
  • Personal details, age, etc.
  • Claims about achievements and performance in past jobs.
  • Personality and relationships at work.
  • Domestic situation, financial situation.

Seek local qualified advice from your HR department or adviser if in doubt, and also if you want to use a postal reference checking method, since most HR departments will already have a standard approved document for this purpose.

What to Wear for Interviews

You'll see various research and general advice concerning what best to wear for job interviews. The sort of clothes, styles, colours, shoes, make-up, accessories, etc., are likely to have the best effect. Standard rules for dress code at interviews are mostly common sense: be smart, coordinated, clean, tidy, relatively under-stated - however you can go further than merely adopting the standard recommendations to wear blue or grey suits, black shoes, white, cream, pale yellow and pastel colours for shirts and blouses; and to avoid black (too funereal - unless your interview is with an undertakers), bow-ties, Elton John specs and deer-stalker hats.

You can take a more sophisticated approach to your choice of dress and style at job interviews.

Your best choice of dress, clothes, colours and style at interview should actually depend on the role and what surrounds it.

For example, blue is thought by many people to represent formal business professionalism, which is fine for 'professional' job opportunities, but a smartly pressed blue business suit and crisp white shirt and tie won't help you much in an interview for a role requiring care and compassion, working outdoors in all weathers, managing down-to-earth labourers, being bubbly and creative, or teaching disaffected kids.

What we wear should be an extension of our personality of course, but also importantly, indicates to the interviewer our ability to recognise what the employment situation and job requires.

No-one ever got a job because of the way they dressed whereas lots of people fail to get jobs because 'something' about their appearance put the interviewer off - maybe just a bit - but enough not to get the job.

Dress in a way that projects you personality, sure, but not to the extent that your appearance is inappropriate to the situation. For adventurous dressers, especially going for jobs that might call for a spark of individuality, it can be a fine judgement. A lot depends on the interviewer too - innovative interviewers in industries that are amenable to flair will respond more positively to people who look different. But process-orientated decision-makers in structured environments will prefer people who look safer. If in doubt err on the safe side.

Employers want people who can do the job - that's a given - but they also badly need people who will 'align' and fit in - people who can 'get the beat' of the organisation and department. Empathy, trust, rapport, are all built on this initial platform, and what you wear and how you style yourself provide a great opportunity to start putting these foundations in place with the interviewer. Your interview dress code and visible styling help you show the interviewer (it's a conscious and unconscious effect) that you understand the organisation's style and how to fit in with it; that you can adapt appropriately to your environment - it's a valuable ability and there's nothing to be achieved by creating doubts in this area.

So when you next prepare for a job interview, try to orientate your choice of clothes and style to that of the employer, and also to the way the interviewer perceives the role. Consider also the type of job and the service sector, and particularly the personality, skills and behaviour that is required in the role: For example is the role mainly extrovert or introvert, detailed or conceptual, creative or processing, conforming or innovative, etc., and how does this affect the way you should be styling yourself and dressing for the interview?

If it helps you decide what to wear, think about how the existing employees dress. Does the employer have a conservative attitude and culture regarding dress code, or is the culture more modern and relaxed. It is as unhelpful for you to be dressed too conservatively and professionally as it is to be dressed not professionally enough. Try to get an idea of what people wear in the organisation so that you can reflect, within reason, the tone and style that fits in with the employer and the interviewer's expectations. Do the men wear ties or not? Do the women wear suits? Do they 'dress down' on Fridays? (This is particularly relevant if you happen to go for an interview at their offices on a dress-down Friday, when prior knowledge will help you to tone down a little and avoid sticking out like someone who doesn't fit in because they've not had the sense to find out before-hand.) Go see or ask if this will help you to feel more confident.

On the point of going and seeing, especially if you know very little about the organisation, it's often helpful to get a feel of the place and the people before deciding that the organisation is actually worthy of your talents and commitment. If you live close enough to the organisation's offices or site it makes good sense to visit their reception or sales office as part of your pre-interview research, when you can pick up a few brochures, feel the atmosphere, and form a view of staff attitudes and style, etc. This will also give you a good indication of their dress code, especially if you visit when people are arriving or leaving work. Lunch-time visits are interesting too - at the start of breaks and when people return to work. It's amazing what you can hear and learn sometimes, simply sitting in a busy reception for a few minutes or approaching a reception desk and asking for a brochure.

As regards your own appearance for interviews, consider any jewellery and other bodily adornments too. No-one ever got a job because they wore an outrageously big fat diamond ring, or a nineteen-ounce gold chain over their shirt, but I bet there'll have been plenty of people who've not got jobs because they've erred on the wrong side of this particular judgement.

For the same reason, the number of body piercings displayed at interview is generally inversely proportional to the chances of successfully attracting a job offer, unless the job happens to be in a body piercing studio.

Tattoos are another interesting area. Attitudes to tattoos are certainly more tolerant than twenty years ago: even main board directors these days commonly will be hiding a little dragon or butterfly somewhere intimate on their person, however, given two equally-matched candidates at a job interview or group selection, the one with the short sleeves and naked ladies up each forearm is unlikely to get the nod. Safest bet - especially for customer-facing jobs (literally face-to-face) - is not to show too much tattooed skin at interviews unless you are very confident of yourself indeed.

The reality unfortunately is that most people, including interviewers, will tend to judge you with their eyes, not least because interviewers know that their customers and staff will do too. And, like all business decisions, recruitment decisions reflect on the people making them. Therefore when you are being interviewed the interviewer is not only deciding whether you can do the job, they are also deciding whether choosing you will reflect well or not on their own reputation. The less you challenge this area the more likely they'll feel comfortable deciding in your favour. Use your common sense.

So, if the role and the organisation calls for someone to conform and behave according to strong corporate style and expectations then dress accordingly. If the role and the organisation calls for individuality and fresh ideas then you have more licence to dress more individually, but still beware. It remains that most employers and interviewers, whatever they might say about welcoming fresh blood and challenging new ideas, will always tend to err on the side of caution. Interviewers generally don't knowingly take risks - they prefer safe options - safe non-threatening people, who appear and dress in a safe and non-threatening way.

I'm not saying you've got to become a de-humanised clone for the interview, or that there's no place for individuality, on the contrary actually - you've got to look good (and extremely smart too if it's called for) - and aside from this there certainly is a huge need for individual thought and behaviour and innovation in all organisations - but that's after you've got the job and settled in. You've got to get the job first, and you'll do that most easily by appearing immediately like someone who'll fit in rather well, not by looking like someone who marches to a different tune or has no idea how to adapt to their environment.

Clothes, style, colours, jewellery, hair - anything else that represents you as the applicant (just as the quality and presentation of your CV for example), should project the 'fit' and congruence between yourself and the employer and the interviewer's requirements for the job, and also show that you can understand different situations and behave accordingly. Individuality is great, but the job interview is not really the best place to start displaying a highly individual dress style, unless the role specifically calls for it, which in truth is very rarely indeed.

Look good, but under-stated. Project yourself and your personality in what you wear, but above all show that you are aware of what's going on around you, and that you can adapt to the situation and present yourself appropriately.


A final note about the importance of researching the employer and their markets and issues before interviews.

First, research can enable the least qualified, least favoured, least likely applicant to succeed and beat off the most likely interview opposition candidates. Doing good relevant research is the single most powerful thing you can do to improve your chances of getting the job. It's that important. No research, no views. No views, no value. No value, no job. It's simple: Do your research and apply your experience, capabilities and thoughts in preparation for the interview and you will have good views that will be valued. If you offer good value you'll probably have the job.

Second, the above applies to any organisation or employer with whom you have an interview; any size, any sector, commercial, not-for-profit, even the corner shop. If you want the job - do the bloody research. This is not to say that people who don't do their research don't get jobs, but the fact is that any person who's done good research and thinking will virtually always get the job over someone who has not bothered to.

If you are an external applicant bear in mind that you are likely to be up against at least one good, favoured, known internal applicant, who already knows and understands lot about the organisation. Your aim is to present yourself as a more attractive option than the internal applicant. You will do this by researching the employer organisation so well that you know it better and more incisively and more strategically than the best of the internal applicants. Your objectivity and neutrality, and your external experience, will enable you to see many things that even the best prepared internal job applicants cannot see. Use this opportunity to make a great impression on the interviewer or panel.

If you are being interviewed for an internal job promotion, bear in mind that the best external applicants will be doing all they can to demonstrate that they have a keen knowledge and appreciation of the employer organisation and its markets, etc. If you are complacent and think that you know it all already then you will be bitten on the bum. Someone from the outside will impress the interviewer more than you because they will seem keener, and will be seen by the interviewer to have a fresh pair of eyes too, which can be very appealing to recruiting organisations. When preparing for an internal job promotion interview or groups selection you have a great opportunity to ward off any threats from external well-researched applicants by doing lots of your own research and thinking. This will put you ahead of external applicants because you will also have the internal political and systemic insights that are so difficult for external applicants to discover.

Internal or external job interviews - whatever - do your research.

Doing plenty of good quality creative research on the employer organisation, their history, market sector, products and services, people issues, organisational priorities, strategic challenges, competitors, threats opportunities, challenges, etc., helps enormously to convince an interviewer that your are the applicant who wants and deserves the job more than anyone else.

Imagine you are a strategic adviser - remove yourself from the detail and grind of the job role basics. Go deeper - think about what's going on in the department or organisation at a higher strategic level, or whatever aspect of performance that your capabilities can best understand and influence - think about and be prepared to talk about how you can bring best possible benefit and value to the situation.

Interviewees who possess good knowledge and understanding are able to ask really good questions about the role and the organisation. They can discuss how to develop and improve performance, how to exploit opportunities, diffuse threats, and to help the department and the organisation meet their aims.

You will be asked questions, obviously, many of which will invite you to demonstrate all the fantastic research and thinking that you've done, and the ideas that you have for helping the organisation and its people to perform well and improve.

If the interview is for a customer service or management role particularly, then having some first-hand experience as a customer or prospective customer yourself (if only from the point of view of having made a tentative 'customer enquiry' or requested a brochure) will often provide you with lots of ideas for commenting helpfully on how the organisation performs, and potentially for improving services and quality, or morale or competitive edge - whatever your research and thinking and expertise lead you to conclude. This applies just as much to internal applicants as external interviewees - don't assume you know it all. See things from the outside. See things from the perspective of the customers or clients of the organisation.

All this is part of very necessarily researching the organisation before attending the interview. Interviewers love to meet people who are passionately interested in their business and have taken trouble to do some homework and thinking. If you are an external applicant, doing good research before the interview gives you your best opportunity to demonstrate what you can bring to the role, and that this is more than the internal applicants can bring. If you an internal applicant, doing good quality research and meaningful thinking, especially from an outside perspective (no-one else on the inside will be doing much of this I assure you) is your greatest opportunity to surprise and delight the interviewer about your terrific capabilities and potential, and leave them wondering why you weren't promoted a long time ago.

Be Different

The success rate that people experience when applying for advertised jobs is on average very low. It's not your fault - it's the process: The recruitment process is very arbitrary, subjective, and sometimes little more than a lottery, and often advertised jobs are already destined for an internal applicant anyway, so the external candidates never have a chance from the outset.

Here is a very specific job-hunting method and tool. You can also adapt it and use alongside some of the techniques explained here. 

Worse still, rejections and 'no-replies' can drag down your morale and confidence, and this can turn into a downward spiral.

So do something different. Take control of your own destiny.

Why rely wholly on a process that involves inevitable intensive competition and an arbitrary unknown selection method?

Instead be proactive. Use (or adapt) this simple process for getting a job that's just right for you. If you want to continue to apply for advertised jobs, fine, but follow this plan as well; aside from being very effective in its own right, the method will improve your success rate with the advertised jobs too.

First realise that different people suit different jobs and employers, so you need to know yourself and know your market (your market is the types of employers and the industry sectors that need people with your particular capabilities, personality, and aims).

Knowing yourself and what's out there will enable you to understand which employers and jobs will offer you the best fit.

A dream job is one where the fit is right. This sounds simple and obvious but it implies a lot.

Obviously getting the dream job is another story, about which more follows later in this section.

For the time being though, how do you identify what is a potential dream job?

Think deeply and creatively about what will be the best sorts of jobs and employers for you. They might be quite different from what you've habitually believed or been conditioned to think.

Think and act creatively and inventively on the way you 'package' or yourself - the sort of image and presence you create.

A CV is no longer restricted to hard-copy paper or a digital document.

What about a video CV? What about creating an impressive web presence for yourself?

Being proactive in this way impresses employers and will give you choice. You become the buyer not the seller, because all good employers want innovative proactive impressive people. So become one of these people.

Get to know yourself by seeking feedback from trusted friends. Do some personality tests (there are plenty online now, and free). If you want to go into detail look at the Personality Styles section.

Whatever you do - ensure you know yourself, honestly and objectively - especially all your skills and strengths that will be desirable to employers. Think deeply about your passions, your loves, what you enjoy - these are likely to be or relate to your key strengths and potential. Look at yourself from a deeper and wider perspective than job skills - think about your personality - the situations and challenges you enjoy - the things in life as a whole that you are good at.

Employers of all sorts now want and need people who have characteristics and potential that cannot be represented by mere 'job-skills'.

Employers need people with more important and meaningful qualities; like creativity, humanity, determination, self-reliance, unshakeable dependability, passion, compassion, curiosity, belief, integrity, vision, innovation, ethics, and an awareness of the wider world, health and lifestyle, mind and body, diet and fitness, leisure and entertainment, music and the arts, technology, communications, the environment, the natural world, education, society, people, relationships, and cultural diversity, etc.

Look at the Multiple Intelligences Theory and do the self-test to prompt some thinking about your fundamental attributes and strengths, and start to see yourself in these wider terms.

List your strengths and dreams using this wider perspective. Not just job-skills - instead: life strengths and passions. You will very quickly see a person emerging who is unique, and able to offer uniquely special qualities to all forward-thinking employers.

And then you'll perhaps begin to imagine all sorts of different types of work that will provide a better fit for what you can do, what you love, and the differences you want to make in life.

Use this new view of yourself to create or improve your CV.

Next, draw up a profile of the sort of work and types of employers that will best fit what you can do, what you love, and where you want to go.

When you've thought carefully and decided where the best fit will be for you, again, be proactive not reactive.

Go find the jobs and openings that fit your strengths that are not advertised.

Use your CV and covering letter to package and market yourself (see the CV section on creating a great proactive CV).

Approach a least 20 of the right sorts of employers that you think will want what you can do. Within reason the more the better: 50 or 100 is obviously better, provided the fit is good and the data is reliable. Marketing is a numbers game - hence the more the better.

Finding these organisations and names and contact details takes some effort, which of course varies according to the types of organisations you want to approach. The internet and the telephone make it relatively easy these days to gather this detail, provided you apply yourself to the task.

You might think of a smarter way to create a list of potential employers in one go - perhaps from the local chamber of commerce, or a trade association, a library, a directory, or another information provider - maybe even a list broker. There are many good list providers that have searchable databases on the internet, and while your requirements are modest, many are happy to help and costs can be very low. I've always found Electric Marketing particularly good, especially for lists and details of large organisations and recently appointed decision-maker contacts. It's possible to buy a list of companies and contacts for upwards of 20p a name.

If you are comfortable using MSExcel or similar, put all the names and addresses into a spreadsheet - a separate column per address line. If you buy a list it will already be in a spreadsheet format. This enables you to run a mailmerge with MSWord and saves a lot of time producing personalised letters. Failing that, no problem - it does not take an age to create 20 letters without mailmerge. Running a mailmerge enables 50 or 100 letters and CV's to be sent easily.

Target your professionally written letter and CV at business-unit manager level - it doesn't matter if you get referred to HR - you've made your mark. 'Business-unit manager level' means the overall manager or boss of the business unit or division or site that you are targeting. These senior people know what openings they have and what they need, and they also have the clout to make things happen. And they'll recognise the strengths in your letter and CV and the approach you have taken. The job title of your target contact (business unit decision-maker) will depend on the types of organisations you are approaching, and this requires some thought and research. Seek advice from a list broker if you use one - they are generally very good at advising the best contacts (job titles) for any given purpose. It's certainly worth sending your letter and CV to more than one contact in large organisations. Some detailed research as to structure and key decision-makers is warranted for any large organisations that you believe could offer you the best fit and opportunities.

Present yourself in your CV and covering letter in terms of what you can do for the organisation or business. See the CV section. This aspect is crucial. It's essential to describe yourself in a way that is immediately and obviously appealing to the reader, which means putting yourself in their shoes and imagining what they particularly need. What are the strategic and organisational priorities that they'll need a new employee to address? What are their criteria regarding style, approach, personality, values, etc., that new employees must possess?

It might be that you have to vary the content of some of the letters so that the approach is tailored suitably for each one or type of your targeted employers. Refer also to the business writing tips, the  advertising writing tips and the sales introductory letters. All of these notes contain useful pointers for job seeking. You are after all selling yourself.

You must approach at least 20 organisations because the aim is to get at least two interviews lined up (obviously with different employers or departments). Securing more than one interview is very significant - it puts you in a very strong position. You're doing the buying not the selling. You're the one with the choice now, and most employers will want you all the more if they think you are in demand elsewhere.

The interviews will probably not fall into your lap, although sometimes they do: selecting appropriate target organisations and names of decision-makers, combined with a good CV and covering letter can produce great instant results. For the other organisations who don't respond immediately you'll need to follow up your letters by phone. You will maybe have to send copies. Things get lost, no matter. Be persistent and methodical. Ask the PA's of decision-makers and managers for help rather than try to go around them.

Be persistent. Keep sending letters. Keep notes so you continually improve your understanding of your own personal 'job market'. Keep following up by phone. Keep positive. Refine your list and your letters and your CV as you get a feel for what's working best.

You are managing your own personal marketing campaign and your destiny is in your own hands.

When your letter and CV arrives it is unique and relevant and it's selling you, in terms of what you can do for the organisation. It is not one of a hundred other 'send and hope' applications for an advertised vacancy that's probably going to go to the internal candidate anyway. Your approach is unique, special, and it gets noticed.

Sooner or later you will be offered meetings or interviews. If you follow this process, and the other related guidelines explained on this website, it is inevitable that you will get some positive responses.

You might not actually need or be offered a 'job interview' as such - maybe it will be offered as a 'meeting' or a 'discussion' - it doesn't matter. The aim is to get a meeting or interview with someone, preferably someone who's got a job opening at that time or an overview of several opportunities within the organisation.

Aim to get two or more meetings or interviews. It gives a big boost to your confidence level knowing you've other options, and it has a very positive and helpful effect on the interviewer too. People want people who other people want.

Now you are effectively at the job interview stage, and you must read the various guidance notes about preparing and attending job interviews that are provided on this page. You've completed the most difficult stage of the challenge. You've carved out a unique opportunity for yourself, and whether the opportunity that you'll be discussing is one that is advertised or not, you'll stand out as the leading applicant because of the approach you have taken.

Commonly people who take this proactive marketing route save employers the task of advertising altogether. If your approach and discussions coincide with a vacancy arising then you'll offer an immediate solution that saves the employer weeks of recruitment efforts, management time, and advertising and recruitment agency costs. Alternatively the approach advocated here can often prompt the employer to accelerate plans of one sort or another whereby a role is created specially for you.

All employers need good people. When one comes along, as you will do when you follow this method, many employers will try to find an opportunity to fit, whether they are currently recruiting or not.

This is another advantage of having more than one interview lined up. It adds to the pressure for the employer to make a quick decision and find a slot for you, and also reduces any inclination to advertise the post, for fear of losing you, a star candidate.

Aside from the advantage of anticipating and prompting vacancies and job opportunities rather than waiting for them to appear in the papers or on the internet (like everyone else), you will automatically demonstrate that you possess many of the important attributes that the employer seeks, simply by the way you've conducted your approach and developed the opportunity, for example: initiative, self-reliance, capability to make things happen, to communicate, put a plan together and implement it, etc.

By being proactive and making your own opportunities will make the interview and the whole process much easier for you because you've controlled it, moreover you look like a great fit for the organisation, you've proved you can get things done, and you've avoided most if not all of the competition. And you'll have saved them the hassle of recruiting too.

Anyone can take this approach. All it needs is a bit of thought, research and preparation.

And all you need add is the simple commitment to do it.

So do it.

Helpful Questions and Process for Planning Job Hunting, Career Advancement, or Starting your Own Business

If you are unclear or frustrated in your efforts to find the right job for yourself, consider these points.

You will be able to plan how to achieve your career aims (similar principles apply for starting your own business or becoming self-employed or freelance) by asking and then answering (yourself) questions like:

  • What are the 5-10 main requirements of the position that you are seeking, from the employer's angle (or from the customer's angle if you are considering working for yourself)?


  • How can you demonstrate (to an employer - initially in a CV and short covering letter - and then later in an interview - or to a customer, using equivalent marketing materials) that you offer an irresistible way to satisfy the above requirements, and more?
  • How can you best develop a personal marketing/selling campaign to sell yourself into a position you are aiming for?

If you have skills in selling, marketing, coaching, business management, training, etc., you can approach this question by imagining yourself to be one of your trainees or a client.

In any event, imagine you are advising yourself how to package and market yourself. How to prepare and move yourself into a new situation. Look at the goal planning section.

It's often easier to plan how to achieve personal aims by stepping back and seeing the situation as a stranger would do.

Understand properly where you are, where you want to be, and then plan how to get there. If the step is too great to make in one go (which it probably is if it's too difficult to achieve), break it down into steps or stages. Consider these steps in terms of cause and effect. See the goal planner if you've not already done so.

If you cannot yet meet and exceed the requirements of your ideal employed role (or your target customers/market):

  • What steps are necessary for you to achieve these capabilities and attributes?

Use goal planning methods. Identify causes and effects. Make a plan and implement it. Start controlling your future, rather than letting it control you.

Think creatively, 'outside of the box'. Challenge your assumptions, and especially your fears and insecurities and worries.

On which point, if you are wondering if self-employment or starting your own business might be better than working for someone else:

  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of pursuing a freelance route?
  • How does this compare to an employed position, in the widest sense?

See decision-making and SWOT analysis.

Use whatever methods will help you step back and assess your situation objectively.


  1. Where are you now - your current situation and especially capabilities and attributes?
  2. What is your next important aim for a job or work situation?
  3. What capabilities/attributes do the desired situation require you to have?
  4. What are the gaps between your capabilities/attributes, and the capabilities/attributes required for your aim?
  5. How will you fill the gaps - so that you meet or exceed the requirements? (Use a goal planner of some sort.)
  6. How will you find the right employers (or customers, if you prefer the freelance/own business option) and put your offering in front of them as efficiently and powerfully as possible?
  7. Then implement your plan with determination, enthusiasm and a calm confidence that having used this process you will inevitably achieve your aims.

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