Interview Superpower is out now!
“Worth reading for any interviewee, young and old.”
…..Former COO, Nomura International
“Spot on, effective, and funny.
Sage knows his onions! Highly recommended.”
Managing Director, Epson
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“Fortune favours the prepared mind.”
(goes Louis Pasteur’s old chestnut)
And it’s true, very true. Preparation is the key.
But once you’ve done that, and are ready to show up and make your pitch, why not stand out in the interviewer’s mind while you’re at it!
Crammed with tips on how to walk tall, feel good, and ace any interview you face.
The book also shows you how the interview is a two-way process, and how to engage more fully with the people involved as well as the technical requirements.
The curious fact is, most people who conduct interviews aren’t qualified to do so and don’t necessarily know what to look for or what makes the best fit for a role. They’ll believe they can judge character or competence, as we all do, but often what steers their opinion is separate from the task at hand.
This guide takes a close look at this human element, and on how your pitch, your manner, and your presentation all stream in to the emotional and intuitive antennae of the interviewers. A good deal of the actual business that decides your success goes on beneath the glossy interview room surface.
Nobody likes an interview. Inspections, they should be called. You’re put under a microscope, judged by someone else, and usually for something you badly want. It’s hard to decide if they’re civilised or barbaric.
But they are a part of everyday life—for work, school, even for love (many a date can feel like one).
The modern interview has evolved to fit busy schedules and to filter candidates quickly and accurately. Questions are asked, coffee is drunk. Sometimes mistakes are made, but in general interviews help the world spin around and keep us busy humans hiring and aspiring.
This guide gives you insider knowledge of what interviewers are looking for, with tips and pointers to help you prepare, approach and win the interview game. Because, make no mistake, there is a game aspect, as in almost all negotiations, and knowing more about how it’s played makes it easier to crack.
There are no end of books and websites teaching interview lore, many of them excellent. This guide doesn’t profess to cover everything. Use it in conjunction with your other resources. But its intention is to go to the heart of the matter: being human in an increasingly automated world, and making that work in your favour to win the role, place, promotion or raise you want. Its engine is emotional intelligence. You are the driver.
Simply put: Be yourself, be concise, be confident, and prepare. Realise you have a lot to offer.
The book is in three parts. The first part is about getting ready, ticking off the checklist of stuff we need to do to prepare in an efficient and personal way—the interview is about you, and fashioning the best or most appropriate version of you is the aim.
The second part explores the day, room, and interview itself, when you’re on best behaviour for something you really want, with tips for making it work to your best advantage, and even enjoying it while you’re there.
Thirdly, we take a deeper look into what’s going on behind the scenes in the interviewer’s mind and within the institution you are trying to join. There is more detailed discussion of the brain’s tricks and ways of seeing. To some extent these can be skipped if you are in a hurry to cherry-pick information, perhaps with an interview coming up soon, but they do contain valuable nuggets for understanding what is going on, of how humans appraise other humans, and this can greatly boost your confidence and success in dealing with the people and situations you encounter.
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An interview is a two-way process. It’s your responsibility to make sure the firm is right for you—and if it is, they will appreciate your efforts to find out.
The crazy thing is, we are often in such a rush to give a good impression—’pick me, pick me!’—that we fail to look closely enough at the institution we are trying to enter, and who we want approval from.
What if they don’t like me, our mind says. What if I get it wrong? What if my hair is not right/sticks up/falls flat? What if I forget all the key points I prepared—that I rehearsed over and over and I know by heart, and which I know are my best-selling features? What if the interviewer is in a bad mood! Maybe they woke up too early, had a bad night, argued with their partner? They may have already decided who they’re going to pick and are just stringing me along…?
They’re Just People
Imagination is a fine thing when it’s fired up. These are good questions, great and useful questions, but they are best left outside the interview room. And this is where solid preparation pays off.
As the old saw goes, worry is a deposit on a bill you may never have to pay. So, let your fears bubble up if they must; look them in the eye, let them clamour around you. But then ignore them. Get on with your business. Send those fears back gasping for breath to the depths they came from.
As we will discuss later, there are ways to soothe your nerves before the interview, during your preparations, and on the day itself.
The curious fact is, most people who conduct interviews are not qualified to do so. Perhaps, especially at the outset, you will have someone from HR who knows what they are doing, what to look for, how to gauge if a candidate is a good fit, but the majority of others who get a look-in along the standard interview course are no expert at all. They’ll believe they can judge character or competence or suitability, as we all do, but often what guides their opinion is quite separate from the task at hand.
This guide takes a close look at this human element, and on how your pitch, your manner, and your presentation all stream in to the visceral, emotional and instinctual antennae of the interviewers. A good deal of the actual business that decides your success goes on beneath the glossy interview room surface.
We’ll look closely too at the view from the other side of the desk, the interviewer’s side, where there is one element in particular that trumps all others: evidence.
The Importance of Evidence
Evidence is the gold. Evidence you know what you’re talking about. Evidence you have done what you say you have done and can do it again. Evidence that when thousands are spent to set you up in your role, you’re going to stick around and make a decent go of it.
The canny interviewer wants you to show them, to prove to them, you are the person for the role. And then they can take that evidence and show it to whomever they report to and the whole process will rumble on.
The peculiar thing about evidence is, it can be quite slight, something you might usually pass over or deem unworthy of sharing. It might be an insignificant sliver of action from your past, but these can show initiative or depth, such as, say, the time you were able to use your Italian to help out your boss when a new client visited the office who couldn’t speak English.
Or, it could be a grand and planned manoeuvre that proved a success. Like when you climbed Mount Everest with a fridge on your back for charity.
To what degree these are relevant to your new role is for you to establish. But your 30 minutes, 60 minutes or whatever time you have to make your first impression, are yours to show you can really do what you say you can do.
As with most things worthwhile, moderation is a good guide. Don’t plan to spiel a verbal film reel of all your greatest achievements. This would be raving. Avoid.
First impressions count. But so do relevant, demonstrable skills and a cheerful, positive attitude.
The classic idea from Hollywood of an elevator pitch is part of the bundle too. You need to be able to describe yourself and what you do in a few sentences, which you can deliver in a minute if you need, or expand into a few minutes, and which will form the basis of selling yourself to whichever lucky organisation you have decided to try for.
We will also be looking at how you bring up the subject of money when you want to, as it’s often a shy and sometimes prickly elephant in the room; see the Money Talk chapter.
Persuasion’s Little Helpers: Cognitive Biases
A range of biases spring into action as we make our swift, complex, first impressions in a first meeting. We are wired to make micro-observations on the fly, at lightning speed. What the other person looks like, sounds like, how they carry themselves, their body language, smell, neatness or lack thereof, and a host of subtle “tells” that, while comforting, are often simply wrong!
Understanding what’s going on here is invaluable. These numerous tiny influences each act like emotional or psychological pixels in the image others keep of us, and the decisions that arise therefrom.
In the last hundred years, we have come to fathom the human brain in astonishing depth. From Freud’s radical theories of desire to the marketing algorithms that rule the online modern world, why we do what we do has never been better understood or more manipulated by those who know what they are up to.
This guide is peppered with allusions to this new science. It is a vital addition to the interviewing toolbox. For our purposes, we are mostly concerned with “cognitive biases”, the subtle ways of thinking that skew the reality of what’s happening in the room to fit pre-existing ideas or assumptions an interviewer may bring. A glossary at the back lists the more common ones.
Attractive or well-presented people, for example, are often assumed also to be capable or good-natured though this may not be the case at all.
The term was coined by Edward Thorndike, a psychologist working in the US military in the 1920s. He found that officers tended (wrongly) to believe men in their command with better physiques were also more intelligent.
Thorndike devised tests to study this distortion. And he found the reverse was also true: when we think someone is terrible at one thing or looks a mess, we often assume that sums them up and bin their prospects accordingly.
You can see how this might play out in an interview. The impression you make can be swayed by all sorts of unrelated and relatively superficial features of your general presentation. Your looks, manner, appearance etc. have an impact beyond what you might expect. So, polish that gold circle and let it shine.
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Start with your CV
Everyone has a CV. Most look the same. Most are boring. Some get read in detail. A few make it through. As with every aspect of the interview process, especially at the start, hiring managers are looking for a reason to say No, simply because they have so many applications to wade through.
MAKE IT GREAT: Short, Pithy, Personal, Terrific.
I’ve looked at thousands of CVs. Anyone in HR has. We know you’ve done a lot in your life but we don’t have time to hear about it all. We want a one-page précis angled towards our business and with a hook or two to make you stand out.
Make it interesting. Don’t put cheese and cycling as your hobbies, put marathons or flying or tango. And above all, less is more. Keep it short, make it powerful. Think Bruce Lee, not the Magnificent Seven. The less you say on your CV, the more you’ll have to talk about in the interview room.
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Chapter 1: Introduction
PART 1: PREPARE
Chapter 2: Preparing for Your Interview
Chapter 3: Types of Interview
Chapter 4: Confidence
PART 2: ENGAGE
Chapter 5: Interview Day
Chapter 6: The Usual Questions
Chapter 7: Star Stories
Chapter 8: Unusual Questions (Including Illegal Ones)
Chapter 9: Money Talk
PART 3: UNDERSTAND
Chapter 10: Core Desirable Attributes
Chapter 11: Relationship Management
Chapter 12: Psychological Advantage
Chapter 13: Cognitive Biases
Chapter 14: Follow Up
Chapter 15: Psychometric Tests
Chapter 16: Student Life: 7+ / 11+ / 13+ / College & University
Paperback out July-2021
Available now to download on all devices: PDF / Kindle / EPUB