Friday, December 15, 2006

Effective answers to commonquestions

By now, as well as recognising the basic ingredients of a good
interview response, you should also be able to put together your
own effective answers. You should know how to:
• find out as much about the job as possible before finalising your
• use the four steps to bring together the major parts of your
answers, including what you did, how you did it, the context in
which you did it and the outcomes;
• put all your information together so you can articulate clear and
coherent answers which do not meander all over the place;
• answer a broad range of questions, including those concerning
duties that you have performed before, duties that you have not
performed but whose skills you have mastered and duties that
you have not performed and don’t yet have the skills for;
• use your body language and other interpersonal communication
skills to establish and maintain rapport.
There’s no simple formula for a good answer
It is important to reiterate at this juncture that, even despite useful
guidelines on how to answer questions, there is no single blueprint
or structure for an answer that is applicable to all interview questions.
Sometimes it may be appropriate to give a three-part answer which
includes the context, what you did and how you did it, and an
outcome. At other times it may be more appropriate to talk about
your ability to do the job, your cultural fit and motivation levels.
Often, it may be more appropriate to mix and match from the above.
At the end of the day, it is up to you to recognise a suitable structure
or approach for each question. And one approach may be just as
good as the next—remember, there’s no perfect answer. Practice will
give you the ability to provide the best possible response.
This chapter presents some good and not so good answers to
common interview questions, as well as brief explanations of why
they work. By learning to recognise a less effective answer, you
should be in a better position to avoid it.
Question: Why did you choose this job?
Good answer
Ever since I can remember, I’ve been interested in this line
of work. What attracts me to it is the opportunities it gives
me to interact with people, solve problems and work
autonomously. I love the fact that one day I could be out on
the road helping clients with their problems whereas the next
day I can be in my office working with a team of people
trying to solve a complex technical problem. I very much
enjoy working in a service industry such as ours where I can
satisfy clients.
Not so good answer
Actually I stumbled into it quite by accident. I always wanted
to be an actor, but getting work was next to impossible.
I suppose the reason I’m still in this line of work is because
I’ve picked up all the skills and knowledge and know my way
around the traps. I’ve been doing it for a while now and I
suppose you could say I’m an old hand and know how to
deliver the goods.
The first answer responds to the question promptly and then proceeds
to highlight the main duties of the job—interacting with people,
problem-solving, etc.—as the reasons why the candidate chose the
job. Just as importantly, we get a strong sense of the candidate’s
high motivation levels and the desire to give good service. It also
implies that the candidate enjoys working in a team and can do the
job, thus addressing the three things employers want to hear.
In the second answer we have to wait until the third sentence
before the question is addressed—far too late. Despite the candidate’s
experience, we get a strong sense of indifference towards the job.
We’re left with the impression that it’s just a job, whereas the first
answer is brimming with enthusiasm.
Question: What factors do you think determine a person’s progress
in an organisation?
Good answer
In my view, there are three things that determine a person’s
progress in an organisation. These are, first, an ability to do
the job well, including a willingness to learn new things and
adapt to changing circumstances; second, to be able to fit in
with the culture of the organisation (i.e. be able to get on
with colleagues); and third, to have high levels of drive and
motivation. Certainly these are the three things that I insist
upon for myself in the workplace. If at any time I feel I’m
not at my very best in all three areas, I stop and ask myself
what I can do to improve matters. I don’t think anyone can
truly be happy in their work if all three areas are not being
satisfied. So far they’ve held me in good stead.
Not so good answer
Keeping on the boss’s good side is probably the number one
thing I can think of. It doesn’t matter how good you are—if
you don’t get on with your boss, I think your days are
numbered. Of course, it also helps to be good at your job,
but being able to play the game—that is, navigating through
the minefield of organisational politics—is I think more
important. I realise this may sound somewhat cynical, but
all of us know that to get to senior management one needs
to know how to play the game.
A question such as this should immediately be recognised as an
opportunity to highlight your strengths. The first answer talks directly
about the three things all employers want to hear—ability to do the
job, cultural fit and motivation (see Chapter 2)—and then goes a
step further and states that all three are qualities that the candidate
offers. The second answer is far too cynical and fails to emphasise
the candidate’s strengths. There is little doubt that an ability to ‘play
the game’ can have a bearing on a person’s progress, but to throw
all your eggs into that basket is a fatal mistake.
Question: Why would you like to work for our organisation?
Good answer
Yours is the sort of company in which I could maximise my
contribution. All my research has revealed that you are not
only market leaders in service standards and product
innovation but that you also have a great work culture.
Everyone I’ve spoken to has talked about the high levels of
support, training and recognition employees receive. You offer
great career prospects, interesting work and family-friendly
policies. Above all, I’ve always been very keen to work for a
company that offers challenging and cutting-edge work.
Not so good answer
I know your organisation really looks after its people—
everybody I talked to wants to work here. You pay well and
look after your employees. You’re a large company, which
means that my prospects for career enhancement would be
increased and hopefully I wouldn’t be doing the same kind
of work all the time. I like the idea of getting rotated and
learning new things.
The tone of the first answer is set in the opening sentence, where
the candidate talks about wanting to contribute—which is the sort
of thing that excites employers. The answer recognises all the good
things about the company, but very importantly links these plusses
to contribution on the part of the candidate. In other words, it’s
not just about what the candidate can get from the company but
also what the candidate wants to give back.
The overriding problem with the second answer is that it’s all
about what the candidate can get out of the company. No overt link
is made between what the company offers and how these factors
can increase the candidate’s contribution.
Question: What do you want to be doing in your career five years
from now?
Good answer
I’d like to be doing what I’m doing now—that is, enjoying
my work, working hard and contributing to the best of my
abilities. Of course, I’d expect that in five years time my added
experience would hold me in good stead for greater
responsibilities, which is something I look forward to taking
on when the time comes. The most important thing, however,
is to be happy, productive and a valued member of the team.
Not so good answer
Basically, I’m ambitious and hard-working, so I expect to
further my career considerably. My aim is to work hard and
get as far as I can. I think I’d be looking at some sort of man-
agement position with greater responsibilities and of course
greater rewards.
There’s nothing crushingly wrong with the second answer; in fact,
it makes several good points—namely, it gets right to the point and
promotes the candidate’s hard work and ambition to get ahead. The
reason it is not as good as the first answer lies in its limited approach:
the candidate’s primary goal is one of promotion only. The sub-text
is that if there’s no opportunity for promotion, the candidate might
leave. On the other hand, the first answer acknowledges the
importance of hard work and promotion but very wisely goes on
to say that getting promoted is not the only thing that matters. The
first answer is less egocentric and more aware of the importance of
making a contribution to the company.
Question: Describe your ideal job.
Good answer
This job that I’m applying for contains many, if not all, of
the ingredients of my ideal job. It contains a lot of variety,
is intellectually challenging, will allow me to work on my
own as well as in a team environment (the best of both
worlds), and will also allow me to offer creative solutions to
clients. I’ve always thrived in challenging and results-driven
environments and this job offers me all of that.
Not so good answer
My ideal job would be one in which I’d work hard but I
wouldn’t be too stressed out all the time. It would have lots
of variety and a good amount of challenges with plenty of
opportunities for advancement. It would include great people
to work with as well as a good boss.
One of the reasons the first answer is so effective is that it links the
candidate’s ideal job to the actual job in question. Telling an
interviewer that the job you’re applying for is one you consider
ideal makes a lot of sense. Note that all the main ingredients of the
job—variety, challenge, working solo as well as in a team environment,
and providing creative solutions to clients—would have come under
step 1 in the four steps.
Once again, the second answer is not a fatally flawed one. Its
major mistake is mentioning stress. The instant you mention stress,
the interviewer’s alarm bells will start ringing. They’ll want to know
how much stress is too much and what things stress you out—not
what you want to be talking about in an interview.
Question: What motivates you?
Good answer
There are lots of things that motivate me in the workplace,
but three of my biggest motivators would have to be problem-
solving—especially highly technical problems that require
specialised knowledge; learning new things and keeping up
to date with all the changes in my field; and working in a
cooperative team environment where we’re throwing ideas
off each other and coming up with creative solutions. I love
the camaraderie that goes with that.
Not so good answer
Probably my biggest motivator is having a fun job, one I
really look forward to and excel in. There’s nothing worse
than turning up to a job you don’t enjoy day in day out.
Also, I love having great work hours. I don’t mind staying
back occasionally and lending a hand, but I wouldn’t want
to be doing that all the time. I also love working in the city
because it’s easy to get to from where I live and it gives me
easy access to great shops and restaurants.
The first answer would only be an effective one if the duties mentioned
in it—solving highly technical problems, keeping up to date with
the latest innovations and enjoying working creatively in a team—
were all part of the job description . . . the point is that an excellent
strategy for answering the motivation question is to go to the main
duties of the job and talk about those (see Chapter 7).
The second answer begins well but fails to mention what
constitutes a fun job. Thereafter it is a fatally flawed answer. Working
hours and location of work may very well be motivating factors,
but they should never be mentioned because they fail to demonstrate
how you will add value to the job.
Question: What qualities do you think are important to be
successful in this field?
Good answer
The qualities necessary to be successful in this field would
include the skills and knowledge to actually do the job properly.
I’m not just talking about all the technical skills, such as
knowing how to operate the various software programs and
a comprehensive knowledge of the relevant legislation and
how to apply that legislation, but also an ability to get on
with people, possess great communication skills and know
how to plan and organise your work whilst working under
considerable pressure. I also think high levels of motivation
and drive are very important. These are all qualities that I
possess and can bring to this position from day one.
Not so good answer
The qualities necessary to be successful in this field would
include a detailed understanding of all the various software
programs required to complete operations. Not only does one
require knowledge of how to operate the software but also
how to fix things when they go wrong and something is
always going wrong. The same can be said for the complex
legal technicalities. As you well know, in our industry the
devil is in the detail and a superficial understanding of the
legislation can lead to a lot of trouble. As well as having a
thorough understanding of all the programming requirements
of this job, I also have a comprehensive knowledge of the
legal subtleties.
This type of question invites you to go directly to the main duties
of the job you’re applying for and use those as your answer (it is
the same strategy that’s used in answering the motivation question).
The first answer does just that. It is superior to the second response
because it covers more bases. As well as talking about the technical
skills, it also talks about getting on with people, planning and
organising, and good communication (the generic competencies).
The second answer is not a bad one, but it falls into the common
trap of only focusing on the technical side of the job.
Question: Tell us about a time you handled a difficult situation
with a coworker.
Good answer
Last year one of our colleagues was displaying a lot of aggressive
behaviours, including dominating team meetings, belittling
other people’s ideas and not cooperating. I approached the
rest of my colleagues about him and soon realised everyone
was feeling the same as I was. We decided not to take the
matter to our manager until we had the opportunity to talk
to him first. So we decided that at our next meeting we would
raise these issues with him. I was chosen to initiate the
discussion. At the meeting I avoided personalising the problem
and I avoided using inflammatory language. I also adopted
an upbeat and optimistic tone. The results were better than
we anticipated. He thanked me for the delicate manner in
which I raised the issues and also thanked us all for talking
to him first before taking it further. After our meeting, his
behaviours changed markedly for the better.
Not so good answer
There was one time when one of my colleagues was not pulling
his weight, nor was he being at all cooperative with other
members of our team. The manager failed to pick it up because
some members of the team covered for his mistakes and he
would always go out of his way to be extremely friendly when
the manager was around. So one day when he was being
uncooperative I pulled him aside and let him know what I
thought about him. Ever since that day his behaviour towards
me changed. He went out of his way to be friendly towards me
and he made sure all the work that I needed was done properly.
Unfortunately, his behaviour towards the other members of
our team did not alter at all. The lesson I learned was that you
have to stick up for yourself because no one else will.
The first answer demonstrates an ability to consult with colleagues,
the capacity to solve a problem on your own rather than immediately
escalating it to management, and an ability to communicate highly
sensitive information in an appropriate manner. It also demonstrates
a great outcome for everyone involved. The second answer is too
narrow in its focus. It solved the problem only for that individual
but fails to address the broader issue of team harmony and
Question: Tell us about a time you had to meet a very tight
Good answer
When I was working for the Interplanetary Commission, I
was required to meet multiple tight deadlines. I was able to
consistently meet all my deadlines by adhering to sound
planning and organising principles. These included planning
my work well ahead so there were no surprises, ensuring that
everyone in my team was well trained and well aware of their
responsibilities, always having various contingency plans for
when things went wrong, and never accepting more work
than we could handle. The effectiveness of these practices
was highlighted by the fact that my team never missed a
deadline and was seen as the standard-bearer for performance
within the organisation.
Not so good answer
The way I meet tight deadlines is by making sure that I stay
back and put in the hard yards. When something unexpected
arises or we are experiencing a particularly busy period, I’m
not one to shirk my responsibilities. If it means staying back
to complete the work on time, I’ll do it. In my view there’s
no substitute for hard work.
The first answer adheres to the classic components of the four steps.
It starts off by providing a context (step 3), then follows up with
examples of how deadlines are met (step 2) and finishes by stating
positive outcomes (step 4). It gets right to the point, provides multiple
examples of how to meet deadlines and states great organisational
outcomes. The second answer is commendable because of the
candidate’s willingness to work hard to get the job done, but it is
too one-dimensional. Meeting deadlines requires more than just
hard work. It also requires an ability to work smarter.
Question: What sort of manager would you like to work for?
Good answer
I’d like to work for a manager who knows how to do his or
her job properly as well as knowing how to lead staff. It’s
important that managers know how to do their job well,
otherwise they can lose credibility amongst their staff and a
manager without credibility will soon lose the respect that is
needed to be an effective leader. My ideal manager would
understand and practise sound leadership principles such as
consulting with staff, acknowledging people’s hard work,
providing regular feedback and not intimidating or bullying
people. My view is that a good manager is a firm but fair one
and knows how to gain the commitment of staff.
Not so good answer
I think it’s important for a manager to have good people
skills. The best manager I worked for was able to get on with
her staff in the workplace as well as outside. She was a good
friend to all and everyone knew they could turn to her in
time of need. She never turned anyone away and always tried
her best to look after us. More people turned up to her farewell
dinner than to the general manager’s.
The second answer is too narrow. Good managers need to be more
than just liked by their staff. They also need to be good at their jobs
and firm with staff when and if the need arises. It’s possible that
well liked managers may be operating inefficiently in order not to
lose popularity amongst staff. The first answer is a more complete
one. Not only does it acknowledge the importance of getting on
with people, but it also acknowledges the importance of being firm
when the need arises as well as having good work skills.
Question: Have you performed the best work you are capable of?
Good answer
Yes I have, and I’d like to think that I do it on an ongoing
basis, not just on so-called important occasions. Performing
the best work you are capable of, in my view, requires high
levels of motivation and a willingness to work hard and learn
from your mistakes. These are qualities that I bring to the
workplace every day, and I believe the proof of this can be
seen in the quality of my work and the praise I have received
from former employers. My work on the Odysseus Project,
where I exceeded all my targets and played an important role
in bringing home the goods, is an example of my daily work
rate and contribution.
Not so good answer
Yes I’ve managed to perform at my best on several occasions.
I tend to be at my best when the pressure is on. If I know
there’s a lot at stake I roll the sleeves up and really give it all
that I’ve got. If that requires working late and on weekends
then so be it, as long the job gets done. I love a challenge
and enjoy delivering the goods under pressure.
The strength of the first answer is its argument that performing at
one’s best is something the candidate does all the time rather than
an occasional approach reserved for special circumstances. It also
lists the qualities required for someone to perform at their best and
then goes on to give a specific example. The second answer is
commendable for the candidate’s willingness to roll the sleeves up
when there’s a lot at stake; however, an employer would like that
sort of dedication all the time.
Question: How do you deal with criticism?
Good answer
I view positive criticism as being the same as constructive
feedback—something which is designed to improve my
performance, which is important to me. If I’m criticised about
an aspect of my work I try my best to locate the source of
the problem and do my best to rectify it. Viewed in that light,
criticism can be a great learning tool. On the other hand, I
do not take kindly to criticism that is not constructive, where
the main objective is to hurt or undermine the other person.
In such cases I’m inclined to approach my critic in an open
manner so we can work things out. I don’t think there’s a
place for negative criticism in the workplace—it just under-
mines morale.
Not so good answer
I don’t like people criticising my work. No one’s perfect and
I never go around criticising other people’s work. Let he who
is without fault cast the first stone. Of course, I expect my
team leader to criticise my performance if I make a mistake,
but I think it’s important that the criticism be delivered in
the proper manner, with no belittling or bullying. I’ve seen
too many people get crucified over minor mistakes which
undermines their commitment to the organisation.
The first answer’s strong suit lies in its ability to distinguish between
constructive and negative criticism and its statement of how the
candidate would respond to each of those. The second answer’s
weakness lies in the candidate’s reluctance to be criticised by
colleagues. Even though the part about belittling and bullying is
good, one comes away thinking that the candidate may be a little
too sensitive to criticism.
The above answers have been written to give you an insight into
what an effective interview might sound like and the reasons
employers prefer to hear some answers rather than others. Used in
conjunction with the information provided in previous chapters
you will be able to construct your own original answers that will
impress even the most hardened interviewers. Note, however, that
while there’s nothing wrong with copying key sentences and phrases
from the good answers, they have not been designed for rote learning.
These good answers are meant to provide guidelines for what effective
answers might sound like; they’re not meant to be entire answers
to your interview questions. Your own answers will be better because
they will stem from your hard-earned experience.

Performing well at interviews is not as difficult as many people
think. The key to success lies with correct preparation and practice.
Knowing what to prepare and how to prepare, then giving yourself
the opportunity to apply your newly acquired skills, is a tried and
tested formula for success. Remember, great interviewees are not
born with effective interview skills—they develop their skills by
following this formula.
Completing this book means your awareness of the realities of
the interview process has increased significantly. It’s also highly
likely that your interview skills have already inproved. It is important
to note, however, that the more you think about your answers and
the more you practice them the better you will become. Great
interview skills are not developed overnight; they improve with time
and correct application.
Nine key points to remember from this book
1. Don’t waste your time looking for quick fixes—they don’t exist. They
could even make matters worse. Great interview performances come
from proper preparation and practice.
2. Avoid memorising other people’s answers.
3. Remember that interviews are about more than just giving good
answers; they’re also about building rapport and trust. And building
rapport and trust is contingent upon more than simply words—body
language and attitude are very important.
4. All interviewers want to know three things:
• whether you can do the job;
• how motivated or driven you are; and
• whether you’ll fit into the existing workplace culture.
5. Using the four steps gives you a simple-to-follow system by which
you can organise and bring together large amounts of disparate
information about your work achievements, to help you form clear
and articulate answers.
6. The vast majority of jobs have skills or duties that overlap. These
• being a good team player;
• planning and organising your work effectively;
• good interpersonal communication skills;
• ability to cope with change in the workplace; and
• ability to provide effective customer service (including to internal
Awareness of these allows you to anticipate the nature of some of
the questions you may be asked.
7. Do not fall into despondency if you have a bad interview. Everyone
has them, even good interviewees. The key is to learn from it and
get yourself ready for the next one.
8. Often, interviewers are not experienced and can ask questions that
are not well considered. Your job is to know how to handle both the
novice as well as the experienced interviewer.
9. Believe in yourself. Now that you know what to do there’s no reason
not to.
Good luck.

Avoid uncertainty

One of the golden rules in interviews is to avoid doubt or hesitancy
as much as possible. Saying you can accomplish something with
hesitancy in your voice or using tentative language is almost the
same as saying that you cannot really do it. Steer away from
expressions such as:
• I think I could . . .
• I’m not sure about that but perhaps . . .
• Perhaps I would . . .
• Maybe I could . . .
• I feel that I would be able to . . .
Confidence is one of the keys to establishing rapport in an
interview. Interviewers love hearing confident answers because it
helps them to overcome their doubt about the interviewee’s abilities.
Even if you’re asked a question about a duty you’ve never performed
before, it is better to say you’ve never performed it but feel confident
about accomplishing it because of all the skills and knowledge you
bring to the job, rather than admitting to never having performed
the duty and expressing a string of uncertainties. Remember, how
you say things is more important than what you say.
Compare the following answers from two candidates, both of
whom are responding to the question ‘How do you think you would
cope with managing a team of professionals?’
Candidate one: I’m not entirely sure whether I could manage
a team of professionals. I’ve never done it before so it would
be a whole new experience for me, but I think with a bit of
application I could manage it. Certainly I’d like to have a go.
It’s an area that I’m very interested in.
Candidate two: I’m confident that I could do a good job.
I’m comfortable with working with high achievers, I have
good interpersonal communication skills and managing people
is an area I have a lot of interest in. Even though I’ve never
managed a team before, I feel ready to meet this new challenge
in my career.
Essentially, both of the above candidates are saying the same
thing. Both are admitting to having no experience in managing a
team of professionals, yet both are interested in taking on this new
responsibility. The beginning of the first candidate’s answer would
probably cost them the job, however. I doubt many interviewers
would be seriously listening to anything after that first fatal sentence.
There is an attempt to recover in the last two sentences but it’s too
late by then. On the other hand, the second candidate inspires
confidence right from the start. There is a complete absence of
uncertainty in this answer, even though the candidate admits to
having no experience in managing professionals.
Many interviewees struggle with using highly positive language
when talking about duties they’ve never performed before. This is not
unusual, given that in non-interview contexts most people use tentative
language when talking about things they’ve never tried before. Your
aim should be to leave all tentativeness outside the interview door. If
you’re not going to be confident about doing a good job, how do you
expect the interviewer to be confident about you?

Positive statements
An effective way of getting yourself accustomed to using positive
language is to practise using positive statements before the interview.
Make a list of positive statements relevant to your situation and
start saying them aloud. You may feel a little awkward in the
beginning, but repetition will soon take care of that. Keep on
practising until you feel very comfortable. Here are some beginnings
to help you get started:
• I can definitely do/finish/write/analyse . . .
• I am confident about . . .
• I feel very comfortable at the prospect of . . .
• I am very secure in the knowledge that . . .
• I feel at ease about doing all those things you mentioned . . .
• I am positive about taking on . . .

Start humble and finish humble
The very best interviewees are able to reconcile two seemingly
irreconcilable behaviours. They are able to sell themselves at an
interview—that is, wax lyrical about all their fine achievements—
yet at the same time avoid sounding over-confident or arrogant.
The art of remaining humble whilst selling yourself is essential if
you are to succeed in interviews because no one likes to work with
a person with a bad attitude. Here are some tips on what you can
do to get it right.
• Avoid criticising others. Even if you had the misfortune of working
with the world’s most incompetent team it simply does not go
down well to be harsh on them in an interview. If you do there’s
a good chance that the interviewer may think you’re trying to
big note yourself at the expense of your colleagues. Even if the

interviewer is fully aware of how incompetent your colleagues
were it still does not pay to be critical. In fact, the opposite is
true. The more you avoid criticizing them the more humility
will the interviewer see.
• Third-person statements. Instead of using first-person statements
(‘I’ statements) all the time, such as ‘I did so and so . . .’ and ‘I am
a very good at . . .’, it is often better to use third-person state-
ments. The advantage of these types of statements is that they
allow you to quote what others have said about your achieve-
ments, rather than what you think. Here are some examples:
My boss frequently commented on how quickly I was able
to get through my work. (as opposed to ‘I was often able to
complete my work very quickly’)
My colleagues, very generously, voted me the most valuable
team player.
Clients often gave me positive feedback about my customer
service skills.
The team I worked in consistently gave me top marks for my
personal communication skills and willingness to help others.
• Credit others. Despite what some people may think, in the vast
majority of cases getting something done within the workplace
requires the assistance and cooperation of others. Acknowledging
the valuable input of others when it comes to your accomplish-
ments is a great way of achieving interview humility. Here’s what
an answer might sound like:
Successfully completing the project on time and within budget
meant a great deal to my employer. Had I not delivered the
goods, there was the possibility of people being made redundant.
However, I would like to stress that the only reason I was
successful was because of the valuable help I received from my
colleagues. Without their unstinting support I would have failed.
Without acknowledging the input of colleagues, this answer
runs the risk of sounding somewhat arrogant, but the crediting
of others ensures that the speaker comes across as humble without
reducing the magnitude of the accomplishment.
• Avoid repeating your key achievements. In a normal social context,
we don’t like people going on about their achievements ad
nauseum—one mention is generally enough. The same applies
in interviews. Whilst it is essential that you learn how to talk up
your key achievements, you should only state achievements once.
If you repeat them, you risk giving the impression that you either
don’t have many to talk about or that you’re showing off.
• Avoid ‘big noting’ yourself. This may sound a little strange coming
from an interview skills book, but it is crucial if you are to avoid
portraying yourself as too big for your boots. ‘Big noting’ your-
self means actually saying that you are good or great, or any
other descriptor you care to choose—for example, ‘I am a fan-
tastic communicator’. It should be left up to the interviewer to
infer this by listening to you talk about the sorts of things you’ve
done in this area. In other words, instead of describing yourself,
say what you did and how you did it and let those actions speak
for themselves. Here are some examples:
Avoid: I was a great manager of people.
Do say: By applying sound principles of people management,
I was able to lead my team effectively.
Avoid: I’ve got great customer service skills.
Do say: My manager often commended me on my customer
service skills, in particular my understanding of our products
and my ability to link this knowledge to the needs of our
Avoid: I am hard-working.
Do say: In my previous job I always made sure the work
was done properly before I went home. If that meant staying
back, then that’s what I did.
• Avoid criticising the boss. We all know that there are mediocre to
poor managers out there, and undoubtedly many interviewers
have had the misfortune to work for them. Despite this, another
of the golden rules is: never criticise your bosses. The reason for
this is simple: the interviewer does not have the benefit of
listening to both sides of the story and therefore is not in a
position to know who was really at fault. In other words, when
you criticise your boss, you are effectively creating doubts about
yourself in the mind of the interviewer. To criticise more than
one boss is virtual interview suicide.
If you’re in a situation where the poor performance of your
boss prevented you from accomplishing key achievements and
you’re faced with a persistent interviewer who insists on getting
to know the ins and outs of what happened, instead of blurting
out something critical about your boss, like ‘We didn’t achieve
our targets because our team leader couldn’t tie his shoe laces’,
you could try something like this:
Unfortunately we came up short of reaching our targets. One
of the reasons for this was because certain members of our
team lacked the necessary experience to overcome some of
the obstacles we encountered. Had we had the right experience,
I’m sure we would have succeeded.
Avoid saying anything that may remotely sound like the
I had an awful boss.
My boss was a real Nazi.
I couldn’t stand my boss and he couldn’t stand me.
I wouldn’t feed my ex-boss.
My boss suffered from an extremely low IQ.
Nobody liked my boss because he looked like a monkey.
Recruit your voice
Interviewees who know how to use their voices properly enjoy an
advantage over those who do not. Your voice is the vehicle by which
you deliver your sentences, and you neglect it at your peril. A good
interview voice is clear and emphasises important points without
too much of a fuss. It is confident and in control, but never
overbearing. It rises to the occasion subtly and imperceptibly fades
when it has to but always keeps your attention. It is pleasant to
listen to.
Here’s what not to do:
• Avoid a flat monotone—in fact, avoid any sort of monotone.
• Avoid shouting or raising your voice too high—you’ll more than
likely frighten the interviewers or have them shouting back at you.
• Avoid an overly soft or shy voice. You don’t want the interviewer
straining to hear you.
• Avoid extreme changes such as very loud to very soft or very
emotional to very measured.
If you’ve been told, or you suspect, you have a flat or uninspiring
voice, practising is the key to changing it. Enlist the help of a good
friend or vocal coach.
Building rapport with a panel of interviewers
Everything mentioned so far about building rapport and trust through
correct use of body language and the way you say things applies
when you are interviewed by a panel of interviewers. Some people
feel higher levels of intimidation when confronted by more than
one interviewer, but there’s no reason for this. The questions are
not inherently harder and, if you’ve done all your preparation, there’s
a greater chance that your wonderful answers and effective interview
techniques will be noticed. There are, however, some simple rules
that you need to be aware of before attending a panel interview.
1. Try to remember everyone’s name and use it at least once during the
interview. However, avoid over-use of names because it can sound
condescending. If you’re one of these people who has difficulty
remembering names, or if the panel is a large one, it is a good
idea to find out the names of the interviewers before the interview.
Simply make a phone call or send an email seeking their names
and learn them (it is a lot easier attaching a name to a face if
you already know the name). Remembering the names of all the
interviewers on a large panel is impressive and can make an
excellent impression. If you happen to suffer a blank and forget
a name, stay silent. Do not blurt out a name in the hope that it
is the right one! Getting names wrong can spell disaster.
2. Look at everyone equally. By looking at someone, you are acknowl-
edging their importance, and by looking at everyone you are
signalling strong social skills.
There are two common mistakes interviewees make when
looking at panel members. First, they tend to look only, or mostly,
at the person who asks the question. This is a natural tendency
but should actively be avoided because it means you are ignoring
the others. Second, when interviewees know which member of
the panel is highest on the organisational hierarchy, they tend
to focus most of their attention on that person. This too can be
seen as a natural tendency, but it can be a dangerous approach.
Quite apart from the fact that you are effectively belittling the
other panel members, you can never be entirely certain who
amongst the panel has the real power in making a final decision.
It is not uncommon for bosses to defer decisions to one of their
staff. By focusing mostly on the boss, you may be ignoring the
real decision-maker.
3. Be very careful not to disregard or pay less attention to panel mem-
bers who seem not to like you or seem to be ignoring you. It just
might be that one of these panel members is the ultimate deci-
sion-maker. In everyday life it would be fairly normal to ignore
those who ignore us or who seem not to like us. But in panel
interviews you ignore at your peril. If you are confronted by a
seemingly difficult panel member, you must try your very best
to overcome your natural tendencies and give that person just
as much attention as you do the others. To do this you need to
be in control of all those subtle negative body language signals
that we send out to people we don’t warm to (often we do it
One technique you can employ to help you overcome this
problem is to imagine that the fractious panel member is purposely
being difficult (playing bad cop) in order to test your interpersonal
skills—that is, how you deal with difficult people. If you can see
it as a test or a game, then hopefully you can depersonalise it and
see it as just another challenge that you have to overcome to win
the job. And you never know, it might just be a test after all!
Telephone interviews
More and more companies are starting to realise that, because much
of their work is done over the telephone, it makes sense to interview
candidates using this medium. If you’re wanting a job in sales,
customer enquiries or any sort of call centre, it would be a good idea
to prepare yourself for a telephone interview. Some companies are
generous enough to inform you exactly when they will ring you, but
many do not. The number one complaint I hear about telephone
interviews is that the call invariably comes at a time when people
are not ready for it. One minute they’re engrossed in a personal
conversation, the next they’re talking to an interviewer who insists
on asking them a range of ugly questions. Given that you cannot
put your life on hold for that one telephone call, it makes a lot of
sense to prepare a summary of your answers and leave it next to your
telephone so that when the call does come, you’ll have the main
points of your answers right at your fingertips, and can read them
out if you have to. This simple strategy is not meant to be a substitute
for proper preparation, but it can help you to focus very quickly.
It’s all in what you say and how you say it
In terms of content, the answers for a telephone interview should
not be any different to the answers you would provide in a normal
interview. The fact that a telephone interview does not provide you
with the opportunities to ‘distract’ the interviewer with your dazzling
smile and wonderful body language means that there is even more
emphasis on what you say. The idea that you do not have to prepare
as much because you will not be sitting face to face with the
interviewer is a dangerous one.
The big difference with telephone interviews lies in the voice.
Whilst voice is important in all interviews, it naturally assumes far
more importance in a telephone interview. In fact, one could say
that voice is the body language of telephone interviews. Here are
some more things to avoid when being interviewed over the
• long pauses;
• too many ‘umms’ and ‘ahs’;
• coughing or sneezing directly over the mouthpiece;
• background noises including television, music, screaming kids, etc.;
• long sighs.
Negotiating a salary
Often interviews contain a discussion about salary expectations. If
handled correctly, this can go a long way towards helping you
maximise your earnings. Here’s what to do.
Give a good interview
It is crucial to understand that salary negotiation starts the second
you walk into the interview room, not when the discussion turns
to money. In other words, one of the most important things you
need to do to maximise what the employer is willing to pay you is
to really stand out during the entire course of the interview. Clearly,
employers are much more predisposed to giving away more of their
money if they think they will be getting value.
Do your research
Trying to negotiate your salary without having done basic research
is a bit like trying to hit a target blindfolded. Your research should
focus on two areas. First, find out what the market is paying for people
such as yourself. You will need to take into account all your
qualifications, experience and key achievements. Importantly, you
will also need to take into account the industry you will be working
in because some industries pay more than others for people of
comparable experience and abilities. The same goes with location.
Salary survey firms, good recruitment consultants and relevant
professional organisations can usually provide you with reliable salary
information. Be sure all your sources are credible and that you use
more than one. Your case will quickly collapse (as might your credibility)
if your sources are found wanting—and they will be if you’re facing
an experienced negotiator who knows the market. Never go on hearsay
and never quote what your friends claim they earn.
Your second area of research should focus on the company itself.
You may not be able to get all the information you want, but this
should not stop you from trying (just don’t make a nuisance of
yourself). Things to investigate include:
• Remuneration policies. Sometimes, especially with smaller com-
panies, there is a noticeable absence of such policies. However,
if they do exist and you’re able to access them, you may be able
to use this information to your benefit. For example, if you know
that the company reviews performance and salaries every six
months, you might be able to negotiate a deferment of a higher
salary until you’ve had six months in which to prove yourself on
the job rather than accept a lower amount for an indefinite period.
• Levels of pay. This can be tricky because information regarding
people’s pay is often shrouded in mystery. But if you are able to
get an insight you will at least know what you’re up against.
Knowing, for example, that the company is inclined to pay its
employees above market value can be a very useful piece of infor-
mation when negotiating salary.
• How well the company is travelling. Companies which are doing
well are generally more inclined to pay more than companies
which are struggling financially. The last thing you want to be
doing is selling yourself short for a company that is riding high.
• How desperate they are to fill the position. Some jobs are harder to fill
than others, whilst other jobs are crucial to the success of the com-
pany. If your research indicates that the position you’re applying
for happens to fall in either of these categories, then it is reason-
able to assume that you have greater leverage in your negotiating.
Avoid mentioning money up front
An important principle in negotiating salary is leaving the discussions
right to the end. The idea is to make as good an impression as
humanly possible before talk about money arises. This is no different
from any salesperson trying to sell a product. Price is only mentioned
after all the great features and benefits of the product are discussed.
To talk about price before highlighting features and benefits doesn’t
make for a good sales approach, nor does it make for good salary
negotiations. First talk about your skills and knowledge and how
they can benefit the business before quoting your price. If you
happen to come across an interviewer who wants to talk about
money up front, try (politely) to convince them otherwise. You can
try saying something like: ‘I’d prefer to leave discussion about salary
until the end of our talk. I’d really like you to get a better under-
standing of what I have to offer the company and for me to learn
more about the job before money is discussed.’ If that doesn’t work
and the interviewer is adamant, then you’re left with no choice—
but avoid quoting a specific amount. Instead, quote a range (see
below). Doing so will leave you with room with which to manoeuvre
later on.
The first principle of quoting employers a range of money that
you’re willing to consider is realism. Quoting unrealistically high
amounts will more than likely damage your credibility and can undo
much of the good work you put have in. The following guidelines
are designed to help you work out a range.
Establish your bottom line
Give serious thought to determining what your bottom line is—that
is, the absolute minimum amount you’re willing to work for. Three
factors you should take into consideration include:
• your cost of living, taking into account expected rises;
• what the market will bear given your levels of experience. Do
not go below the bottom point of the market range. If the market
range is between $45 000 and $65 000, your bottom line should
not go under $45 000. On the other hand, if circumstances are
favourable enough, you can exceed the top point;
• how much you want the job. People are often willing to settle
for less because of a variety of important personal reasons such
as more suitable hours, minimal travelling time or because the
job represents the first step to a career change.
Work out a range
Once you’ve worked out your bottom line, it is important that you
stick to it. Accepting a lesser amount will more than likely lead to
disappointment later on. Your minimum amount will represent the
absolute bottom point of your salary range. How wide you wish to
make the range should be contingent upon all the factors discussed
above, but mainly on what the market is paying and your levels of
experience. Here’s one possible approach. Let’s say you’ve decided
that your absolute minimum amount is $50 000. You have lots of
experience and you know both that the company really likes you
and that they have been experiencing difficulties filling the position.
You also know that the top end of the market in your industry is
$60 000. In such a favourable situation, it would not be unreasonable
to quote a salary range starting above your minimum and going
above the top end of the market’s top end—say, $55 000 to $65 000.
If, on the other hand, you know that there is tough competition
for the job and your experience is not outstanding, then quoting
$50 000 to $58 000 would make more sense.
Another, less conservative, approach to establishing a salary range
in the above favourable scenario would be to have the range but
quote a higher minimum—say, $60 000 to $65 000. The advantage
of this second approach is that it increases the chances of getting
the employer to automatically pay your quoted minimum and it
fully recognises your powerful bargaining position. A less than flush
employer (but one that you’re keen on working for) may be frightened
off by your expectations, but you should be able to overcome this
by agreeing to drop your quoted minimum.
There are no hard and fast rules about establishing either a
minimum amount of money you’re willing to work for or a salary
range. The above guidelines are simply illustrations of possible
approaches. The most important thing is to do your research first
and then avoid quoting employers unrealistic amounts.
Avoid under-selling yourself
Some people tend to under-sell their services. Experts agree that
common reasons for this are a lack of confidence, low self-esteem
and the failure of some people to correctly perceive their true worth
relative to others. Whilst it is not within the scope of this book to
take an in-depth look at overcoming low confidence levels, two
important observations need to be made.
One reason a large number of the people I have dealt with
undervalue their worth is because they tend to compare themselves
with an ideal of perfection rather than with other people. If you are
in the habit of measuring yourself against a textbook ideal, you are
likely to be setting yourself up for continual disappointment which
may be contributing to less-than-ideal confidence levels. The
workplace is awash with real people who make mistakes, struggle
with motivation, don’t have the right answers, are overweight and
have wrinkles. Whilst it is a worthwhile pursuit to continually strive
for some sort of ideal, it is counter-productive to measure yourself
against this ideal when making a value judgment about your worth
as an employee.
The second observation regarding people who undervalue
themselves is that they often fail to recognise their key achievements
and contributions to the workplace. This may be because they’ve
never worked for an employer who gave them their due, or simply
because they’ve never really taken the time to stop and think about
their contribution. I am continually amazed at the responses of
these people when I ask them what their key achievements have
been. More often than not I receive a blank stare, a shrug of the
shoulders and the timeless words: ‘Not much really. I just do my
work.’ Yet, after a little prodding and encouragement, a veritable
flood of achievements comes gushing forth from the same people.
Eyes light up at the realisation that they’ve been contributing
significant things all along but just never saw it that way. An important
contributor to this sad state of affairs is that many companies do
not measure the outcomes of the work their staff do and thus have
no means of passing the relevant information on to them. If you
have a haunting feeling that you may be in the habit of under-
valuing yourself, it may be time to sit down and have a long hard
think about what you’ve really achieved in the workplace.
If you do your research properly, including what the market is
paying for people such as yourself, and you take an honest look at
your skills and experience relative to others, you should be able to
avoid under-selling yourself. The overriding principle that you should
have in the back of your mind is the concept of a fair day’s pay for
a fair day’s work. Anything over that is a bonus; anything under it
should be avoided.
Cultural differences
Several years ago, I was talking to a successful recruitment consultant
about cultural differences and how they impact on the interview
process. Many of this consultant’s job candidates came from Asian
countries where relationships and expectations between employers
and employees are often different from those in the West. One of
these differences is in the area of negotiating salary during the course
of the interview. In the West, if asked what their salary expectations
might be, most people would quote a figure hovering around the
mid-range of the current market value of the job. Highly experienced
people may seek more, whereas people with less experience would
probably ask for a little less in the hope of securing the job. To
people familiar with Western negotiating values, this approach makes
a lot of sense; however, it is not necessarily how things are done in
other countries. In some Asian countries, it is not uncommon for
interviewees, when asked what their salary expectations are, to
purposely undervalue themselves in order to give the employer the
opportunity to offer them more, thus allowing employers to
demonstrate their generosity and magnanimity. Failure to comply
with this negotiating model could be seen as an act of radicalism
or even rudeness, thus cancelling out any chances of being made a
job offer. In the West, however, such an approach to salary negotiation
could easily lead to the interviewee selling their services well below
market value, and thus creating resentment later on. To avoid such
problems, the recruitment consultant who first told me about this
cultural difference started coaching her job candidates on how to
negotiate their salary.
In today’s multicultural society, there are many subcultures
coexisting side by side. If you happen to belong to one of these
subcultures, and are not entirely certain as to the dominant cultural
norms of the country you live in, it is important that you make the
effort to acquaint yourself with these norms, otherwise you may
inadvertently be sending out the wrong signals or selling yourself
short. Cultural differences do not just lie with negotiating salary.
Potentially they cover a broad range of behaviours, including the
things we have covered in this chapter. Sometimes these differences
can be subtle, but often these subtleties can make a powerful
impression on the interviewer. For example, some non-Western
cultures demonstrate their deference to the employer by averting
their eyes and not speaking until spoken to. To the culturally unaware
Westerner, such outward showing of respect may be interpreted as
the behaviour of an overly passive person who lacks confidence.
How to respond when you’ve been sacked from a
previous job
On the whole, employers do not enjoy sacking people. Firing someone
is fraught with difficulty and often causes a great deal of angst for
both parties. Unfortunately, however, there are employees whose
actions give employers no choice but to exercise the ultimate sanction.
However, there are also instances in which employees are sacked
through no fault of their own. These unfair dismissals can come
about from a variety of reasons, including grossly incompetent
management, very poor job design (some jobs—especially new ones—
have not been thought through and often set people up for failure),
poor recruitment practices or lack of training.
The issue here is how someone who has been unfairly dismissed
responds to the barrage of questions at their next interview. In
particular, how do they respond to the ubiquitous question, ‘Why
did you leave your previous employer?’ when we can reasonably
assume that telling an interviewer that you were sacked (albeit
unfairly) may border on interview suicide? As already mentioned,
interviewers tend to be a cautious bunch (generally with good reason)
and have only your word to go by when you try to explain how
hard done by you were. Unfortunately, some recruiters (especially
in an over-supplied labour market) will demonstrate considerable
reluctance to hire someone who was sacked from their last job, even
if that person was blameless. Much of their reluctance stems from
a fear that the formerly sacked person won’t work out in the new
job. In such a scenario, the recruiter may end up looking incompetent.
The cold, hard reality is that people who have been sacked from
their last job generally start the interview race some distance behind
the rest of the field. However, all is not doom and gloom—it just
means they have to try that much harder. There are several things
such interviewees can do to increase their chances of success.
Describe what happened in detail
One option is to draw a very clear picture of the circumstances that
led to your dismissal. One of the keys here is not to use pejorative
terms. Avoid descending into abusive language or insulting your
former employer, hard though it may be. Just stick to the facts and
present your case dispassionately, using measured language. Four
things you could include to bolster your case are:
• Similar experiences with other employees. This is a powerful argument.
If others were treated in a similar way to you, then that is
compelling evidence condemning the employer.
• Broken promises. Employers who dismiss employees unfairly usu-
ally make lots of promises which they break.
• Examples of poor management practices. These could include any
number of things, including: no training where training was
essential; significant changes without any warning; zero consul-
tation or feedback; abusive behaviours; or major changes to your
job duties without any warning or consultation.
• What you did to save the situation. This would include attempts
you made to improve matters, including suggestions you made
or any actions you took.
Here’s what a good answer to the dreaded ‘Why did you leave
your former employer?’ question may sound like:
Unfortunately we parted ways because of a string of negative
incidences. My former employer was under some pressure
and had great difficulty in coping. He often took out his
frustration on his staff, including using abusive language and
making all sorts of threats. As a result of this, many of his
staff were terrified of him and were actively looking for other
work. In fact, staff turnover was very high. He was also in
the habit of making important commitments but very rarely
keeping them. One example of this was a promise he made
that we would receive training on new machinery. This training
would have improved our productivity levels significantly
and made everyone’s life much less complicated, yet the
training never arrived. When I approached him about the
matter, he told me to mind my own business. When I tried
to explain to him that my concern was for the welfare of the
business he got very angry and dismissed me on the spot.
Compare the above answer to the following:
I left because I got fired, which was the best thing that could
have happened to me. My former boss was terrible. As well
as having no idea on how to run a business, he had no people
skills whatsoever. He was a bully and an idiot and could not
cope with pressure. No one could stand him and those who
weren’t jumping ship were looking for other work. I got fired
because I told him we needed training on new machinery—
training he promised we would receive and which would
have improved our productivity levels significantly. Last I
heard he was going broke, which surprises me not at all.
Even though both of the above answers say essentially the same
things, on one level they are complete opposites. The first answer
is dispassionate, avoids using abusive language and makes a
compelling case before raising the dismissal. By the time the first
speaker gets to the dismissal, there’s a good chance that he has
recruited the sympathy of the interviewer. Whereas the second
answer, apart from being abusive and emotional (which would worry
any interviewer), begins perilously because it mentions the sacking
in its opening sentence. Mentioning the dismissal in your first
sentence simply does not give you the opportunity to soften the
Avoid mentioning the sacking
The second option involves keeping your mouth shout. Given the
stigma attached to sacked employees, it makes little sense to mention
the sacking and inevitably frighten the interviewer, especially where
your employment period was for a short period of time or performed
in the distant past. At the risk of offending those who enjoy occupying
the moral high ground, it is my view that there are times when
certain things need not be revealed to interviewers. At the end of
the day, all employers are entitled to know only whether you can
do the job, whether you will fit into the culture of their organisation
and what your motivation levels are like.
Group interviews
An increasingly popular form of interviewing is the group interview,
in which a collection of interviewees come together and are given
a set of tasks to work through as a group (though some tasks may
require that you act by yourself, such as giving a presentation).
Examples of group tasks can include any exercise that requires
problem-solving, coming up with creative solutions, planning and
organising, defining and setting goals or resolving conflict. Whilst
the group is working through these tasks, the situation is monitored
carefully by an assessor, or a group of assessors, whose job it is to
observe how you interact with the group and what your contributions
are. Based on your observable behaviours—that is, what you say, how
you say it, what you do and how you interact with the others in
your group—the assessors will draw conclusions about your suitability.
In a way, the group interview is the ultimate behavioural interview.
The key to group interviews is to ensure that you demonstrate
the required behaviours and avoid undesirable behaviours.
Desirable and undesirable behaviours at group interviews
Be sure you contribute. Your contribution should be designed to facilitate
the smooth functioning of the group and the completion of the tasks. Avoid
any behaviours that might undermine these two primary objectives.
Undermining behaviours can include anything that can reasonably
be seen as aggressive or overly dominating behaviour, such as:
• intimidating others;
• insisting on your own way;
• not listening to or dismissing other people’s contributions;
• hogging the limelight.
Equally as bad are overly passive behaviours. Sitting there and
not contributing, or contributing very little, will do you no favours.
It is important that you have the confidence to make a contribution.
Don’t sit there thinking, ‘Oh my God—what if they all laugh at my
suggestion?’ It is far better to make a less than spectacular contribution
than to sit there in silence.
Listen to and acknowledge what other people say. If someone
makes a good suggestion, acknowledging it will win you brownie
points. But avoid acknowledging for the sake of doing so. And, what-
ever you do, do not pay homage to every single suggestion.
Where possible, help others—but do it properly. Avoid embarrass-
ing group members or taking over their task.
Don’t lose sight of the purpose of the task. If you see the group
straying from task, try to bring them back on course by reminding
them of the objectives.
Try to work out what behaviours the task has been designed to
elicit. For example, if you think the task has been designed to draw
out behaviours relating to solving problems within a group, then
your job is to demonstrate those behaviours. These might include:
• getting everyone to agree on what the actual problem is (problem
• initiating a discussion on possible causes of the problem;
• finalising the most probable cause/s;
• suggesting a brainstorming session on possible solutions;
• getting agreement on best solutions;
• drawing up a plan of action designed to implement solutions;
• remembering to avoid dominating procedures.
Hopefully I’ve convinced you of the importance of establishing
rapport and trust and that winning a job depends on more than
just answering questions correctly. While all of us are different and
bring different communication styles to interviews, the experts agree
that some behaviours are more effective than others in terms of
building rapport and trust. It is important to familiarise yourself
with these behaviours so you can maximise your effectiveness.
You may find some of the techniques described above a little
difficult to master in the beginning. That’s not because they are
inherently difficult—in fact, most of them are straightforward. The
challenge will be in unlearning current behaviours, but with a little
perseverance you will be amazed at how quickly you can begin
changing; it really is worth the effort to keep at it until you’ve
mastered all the techniques.
Suggested activities
To help you achieve mastery of these techniques, here are some
suggested activities to help you along the way.
1. As mentioned above, begin modelling the behaviours of people
whose interpersonal skills you admire.
2. Start getting some feedback on how others see you. The chal-
lenge here will be getting honest feedback. Because people
hesitate to give negative feedback it is worthwhile making the
effort to find someone whose opinion you trust and explaining
to them the purpose of the exercise. It helps to a) be as specific
as possible with the behaviours you want to change and b) mon-
itor your progress. You could monitor your progress by having
your helper allocate you a score, say between 1 and 10, every
few weeks against each of the behaviours you want to change.
3. You can practice many of the techniques in most social situa-
tions. Next time you’re having a conversation with someone
give some thought to your body language. Does it lend itself to
improving communication, rapport and trust? And what can
you do to improve it? After a while you’ll find that this kind of
self-awareness becomes second nature.
Summary of key points
• Building rapport and trust requires three things: answering questions
intelligently and honestly; ensuring all your non-verbal communication
(body language and personal appearance) does not give cause for
apprehension in the interviewer; and conforming to acceptable
interview behaviours, such as never arguing.
• Be aware of first and last impressions—people tend to better remember
what happens at the beginning and end of any interaction, including
interviews. Smiling, using appropriate facial expressions and nodding
your head at the right time all give a positive impression.
• For telephone interviews, recruit your voice; it replaces your body
language when talking on the phone.
• Remember the key do’s and don’t’s: give credit where it’s due and
avoid criticising others, including previous bosses; use positive
statements but avoid big-noting yourself; mention any shortcomings
or hurdles you’ve overcome but avoid embellishments.
• When negotiating your salary, do your research first—don’t undersell
yourself, but be realistic in what you ask for. Avoid discussing money
before you’ve highlighted what you can bring to the company.
• In panel interviews, make sure you familiarise yourself with everyone’s
name. In group interviews, be pro-active in demonstrating behaviours
the interviewers are looking for.

Handling objections

Employer objections usually take the form of ‘I like you but . . .’
statements. For example, ‘I like you, but my main concern is that
most of your experience lies in retail which is not relevant to our
needs.’ You will encounter objections most often when going for
promotions or jobs in different vocations or industries. Whilst there
is no one correct way to deal with objections (they all need to be
dealt with confidently and convincingly), there is a three-step method
that you may find useful:
1. Agree with the objection: ‘Yes that’s correct. Most of my
experience does lie in retail.’ Agreeing tends to soften the inter-
viewer. Disagreeing will probably make you sound unreasonable,
if not desperate.
2. State why you think the objection does not represent a prob-
lem: ‘I’d like to point out that in retail most of the work I’ve
been doing is directly relevant to this job. Even though the
industry is not the same the skills are. For example, the skills
required in delivering high levels of customer service and
resolving customer complaints are the same as those you require.’
3. Affirm that the difference is not a problem and finish on a pos-
itive note: ‘In fact I see bringing in a fresh perspective to your
business as an advantage. I believe I can introduce new ideas
that will drive your business forward.’

Dealing with the weakness question: What to say

An effective way of dealing with the weakness question is to locate
the weakness (preferably a skills deficiency) at some time in the past
and then describe the steps you took to overcome it (similar to
overcoming shortcomings, see above). The idea is that you show
the interviewer that you are able to overcome your weaknesses. It’s
also good to try to finish your answer on a positive note. Here’s
what an exchange may sound like.
Question: Tell us about your weaknesses.
When I was working for Chaos several years ago, one of my
weaknesses was in the area of making presentations to clients
and internal staff. Not that my presentations were disasters—
far from it—but they lacked the polish of other more
experienced presenters. So I approached a presenter whose
style I admired and asked her if she could give me some tips
on how I could improve my skills. Fortunately, she was very
happy to help me, including sitting in one of my presentations
and giving me feedback about my weaknesses. I took her
feedback on board and made several changes, which led to
my presentations improving significantly.
If the interviewer is not happy with this type of answer because it
fails to talk about a current weakness, simply provide a skills-based
weakness that is not going to undermine your chances of winning the
job—in other words, a weakness that is not very relevant to the job.

Dealing with the weakness question: What to say

An effective way of dealing with the weakness question is to locate
the weakness (preferably a skills deficiency) at some time in the past
and then describe the steps you took to overcome it (similar to
overcoming shortcomings, see above). The idea is that you show
the interviewer that you are able to overcome your weaknesses. It’s
also good to try to finish your answer on a positive note. Here’s
what an exchange may sound like.
Question: Tell us about your weaknesses.
When I was working for Chaos several years ago, one of my
weaknesses was in the area of making presentations to clients
and internal staff. Not that my presentations were disasters—
far from it—but they lacked the polish of other more
experienced presenters. So I approached a presenter whose
style I admired and asked her if she could give me some tips
on how I could improve my skills. Fortunately, she was very
happy to help me, including sitting in one of my presentations
and giving me feedback about my weaknesses. I took her
feedback on board and made several changes, which led to
my presentations improving significantly.
If the interviewer is not happy with this type of answer because it
fails to talk about a current weakness, simply provide a skills-based
weakness that is not going to undermine your chances of winning the
job—in other words, a weakness that is not very relevant to the job.

Dealing with the weakness question: What not to do

The ‘What are your weaknesses?’ question is not an ideal one for
interviewers to be asking. Some of the problems inherent in this
question include:
• Many interviewees do not recognise they have a weakness in the
first place.
• Others perceive they have a weakness but in fact do not have
one at all.
• Some interviewees mistakenly see this question as an opportu-
nity to demonstrate how honest they are and say much more
than they should.
• Many interviewees are extremely reluctant to be forthcoming
about their weaknesses in an interview.
Despite these problems, many interviewers persist in asking about
your weaknesses. Your job is to learn the best way to handle such
questions. At the very least, you should be minimising the potential
damage and at best you should be turning the question around and
demonstrating to the interviewer that you’re the sort of person who
can not only overcome weaknesses, but by doing so achieve your goals.
One of the worst things you can do in response to answering
this question is to say you don’t have any weaknesses. This would
signal to the interviewer that you had lost some of your grip on
reality and/or that you had a monstrous ego, neither of which would
do you any favours. Here are some other things to avoid:
• Do not offer more than one weakness and do not set off on a
monumental discourse about your failings and their possible
origins. Stick to one weakness unless pressed for a second.
• Avoid talking about personality/character type weaknesses such
as impatience, quickness to anger or intolerance of mistakes.
Generally speaking, these types of weakness frighten employers
more than skills deficiencies. Where the latter can normally be
rectified with a bit of training, personality/character type weak-
nesses may be less easy to remedy and more difficult to deal with.
• Avoid clich├ęs such as: ‘I work too hard. I don’t know when to stop.
I don’t know how to say no to work requests.’ The problem with
these answers is twofold: first, a lot of other people use them, which
means you’re failing to stand out from the pack; and second, all
of the above answers may signal to the astute interviewer that you
have a serious problem with managing your workload.
• Do not mention things that are really going to hurt you. Mis-
takes you have made in the dim past should remain in the past.
Don’t go digging them up—especially if you’ve learnt the error
of your ways and have moved on.
Hopefully, you will not be applying for jobs for which you are
unsuited in the first place. If, for example, you have a great fear of
heights and part of the job involves working in high locations, then
you shouldn’t be wasting anybody’s time by applying. However, if
the same job also requires skills that you have in abundance, feel
free to ring first and tell them about your situation. The employer
may value those other skills and be willing to at least talk to you.
Warning: If you have committed a legal offence that may be
relevant to the job you’re applying for, you should investigate what
your legal obligations are in terms of disclosure before attending the
interview. Avoid going on hearsay. Disclosure laws are sometimes
changed and may differ from state to state.

Overcoming shortcomings

Not talking about negatives is different to talking about overcoming
shortcomings. For many high achievers, work is largely about
overcoming shortcomings in their skills and knowledge in order to
achieve their aims. Rather than being frightened by new things,
they embrace them as learning challenges and look forward to
overcoming them. Often the difference between a highly effective
employee and one who is struggling has little to do with talent and
much to do with this attitude towards learning.
Employers like nothing more than hearing about how you
overcame a skills or knowledge deficit in order to complete a project.
Overcoming deficiencies demonstrates to the interviewer that you
are the sort of person who is able to learn on the job and, as a result,
get the job completed. Here’s what an ‘overcoming a skills/knowledge
deficit’ answer may sound like:
After receiving the assignment, we soon realised that some
of us on the team did not have the required knowledge to
maximise our contribution. My deficit was in understanding
how to use several complicated software applications that
were crucial to the quality control side of the assignment.
My challenge was to learn how to use these applications
within a very short space of time and reliably apply this
knowledge. Because we were working under a very tight
timeline and the rest of the team were relying on me, there
was very little margin for error. Fortunately, I was able to
apply my newfound knowledge, as did the other members
of the team, and we successfully completed the assignment.
This answer not only tells the employer that you can learn complicated
information whilst working on an assignment, but that you can
also do it under pressure and deliver the required results.

Interview behaviours

Body language and personal appearance represent one side of the
equation to building rapport and trust during an interview. The
other, equally important side, is how you behave and express yourself
during an interview.
Never argue
One of the worst things you can do at an interview is argue with
the interviewer. Even a very polite argument should never be
considered. Arguing will more than likely convince the interviewer
that you are argumentative by nature, which is not a trait that excites
employers. This is a point some interviewees forget—especially when
they’re convinced they’re in the right or the interviewer says
something that is evidently wrong. Also, some interviewers (usually
inexperienced ones) tend to downplay some of the things interviewees
say and add their own information or even make corrections (or
what they believe to be corrections). Encountering this type of
interviewer can be a very frustrating experience. It is at times such
as these that your smile can turn into a grimace and the rest of your
body can look like it is ready to launch into battle. However, the
effective interviewee will maintain discipline and continue to smile,
nod happily and utter little gems like, ‘Yes, that’s right,’ and ‘I
couldn’t agree more’.
You may be thinking, ‘I would never want to work for an inter-
viewer who is so disagreeable, so why should I be so agreeable?’
Whilst this is not an unreasonable thought, there are good reasons
to ignore it:
• The interviewer may not be the employer or your direct supervisor.
• Bad interviewers do not necessarily make bad employers.
• The interviewer may be inexperienced, nervous or having a
bad day.
Always do your very best at an interview, no matter how
objectionable you may find the interviewer. The whole idea of
attending an interview is to be offered a job. It’s up to you on
whether you accept the offer or not later on.
Avoid embellishments
It is tempting to exaggerate past achievements—after all, interviews
are all about making a good impression. The problem with inflating
past achievements is that you can easily lose your all-important
credibility, or be caught out later because you’ve said something
different. Embellishments can easily be seen through by experienced
interviewers, who will probably not tell you that they think you’re
gilding the lily, but instead will discount you for the job. This can
be a disaster if the interviewer is working for an important
employment recruitment firm which handles a large percentage of
the jobs you’re applying for. It can also be a disaster if you’ve
succeeded in winning the job and fail to live up to the hype you
were responsible for starting. It is best to stick to reality.
Avoid negatives
There is no point in attending an interview if you’re going to sit there
and highlight many of your flaws and defects. Here are some examples
of negative statements that send interviewers ducking for cover:
• ‘I would have been able to finish the project had I not been
clashing with my teammates.’ (You may have been working with
the teammates from hell, but the interviewer is likely to ques-
tion your team player abilities.)
• ‘I love working in call centres, but sometimes customer inquiries
drive me batty.’ (A good call centre operator can deal with all
types of customer inquiries, including the stupid ones.)
• ‘I generally enjoy managing people except when they start com-
plaining about their work. I don’t like whingers.’ (Most people
complain about work from time to time—the job of a good
manager is to listen and help, not think of staff as whingers.)
• ‘I don’t like things changing all the time. Just when you learn
one thing you need to unlearn it and learn something different.
There’s too much instability in some workplaces.’ (Unless you’re
applying for a rare job where things always remain the same,
this answer—given today’s rapid rate of change—could easily
enter the hall of fame for bad answers.)
• ‘I don’t like pressure.’ (Avoid this one unless you’re applying for
a fantasy job you’ve created in your head.)
• ‘I don’t like being told what to do.’ (You should be giving
serious consideration to starting your own business.)
• ‘I suffer from high levels of stress, so I need a stress-free job.’
(Another fantasy job.)
• ‘I don’t like working overtime.’ (A lot of people don’t like work-
ing overtime but it’s not the sort of thing to say at an interview.
Unless pressing commitments don’t allow you to, most jobs
require people to stay back sometimes.)
• ‘I get annoyed when people don’t understand what I’m talking
about.’ (Perhaps you’ve got a communication problem.)
• ‘I don’t know why, but people seem to be frightened of me.’
(Perhaps you’ve got a problem relating to people.)
• ‘I’m a slow learner.’ (Ouch!)
Negative statements frighten interviewers a great deal—remember,
they’re a conservative bunch. Being critical about your past
performances is tantamount to giving interviewers a reason for not
hiring you. Also, negative statements—because they scare
interviewers—tend to invite follow-up questions, which is the very
last thing you want happening at an interview. The whole idea is
to say things that will invite positive questions—that is, questions
that allow you to talk about all your strengths and wonderful
Some people think that pointing out negatives is a way of
demonstrating their honesty to the interviewer. Unfortunately for
them, the interviewer will only be thinking of ways of terminating
the interview. Other than things that will have a direct bearing upon
the job (such as a problem back in a job which requires heavy lifting),
it is no one’s business what your foibles may be. What you may
perceive as a weakness about yourself may not be regarded as one
by others. At the end of the day, interviews are about making the
best impression possible.

Dress and appearance

Some people persist in thinking that their appearance has very little
to do with their ability to perform in a job, and so give little
consideration to how they dress for an interview. Whilst the logic
in this thinking may be unassailable, it is a dangerous thing to do
because it fails to take into account that interviews are largely about
managing perceptions. Interviewers have certain expectations about
dress codes. Failing to meet those expectations is dangerous.
The rule of the thumb for dress and appearance is to err on the
side of caution. On the whole, interviewers tend to be cautious and
conservative when hiring someone. The last thing an employer
wants to do is to hire the wrong person. Reliability, loyalty,
consistency, trustworthiness and dependability are qualities that all
employers seek in employees, no matter what type of job it is. Your
task at the interview is to signal to the interviewer that you have
all those qualities, and dressing appropriately represents a good start.
Here are some tips:
• Always make a point of wearing clean clothes and shoes.
• Jeans (or anything else) with holes in them may make a posi-
tive impression on the dance floor, but are unlikely to inspire
an interviewer.
• Avoid excessive jewellery and makeup.
• A designer stubble may make you look manly and represent the
latest word from the fashion gurus; however, it’s likely to make
the interviewer think that you didn’t think the job was impor-
tant enough for you to bother shaving.
• Avoid extreme hairstyles.
• Avoid displaying too much skin.
There is a sensible school of thought that advocates dressing
according to the nature of the job you’re applying for. So, if you’re
applying for an accountant’s position, you wear a business suit,
whereas if you’re applying for a labourer’s position on a building
site, a business suit is inappropriate. All this is true; however, the
above tips on dress and appearance remain important.

Hands and arms

A good handshake is a firm one. If you are a young male, avoid the
primal urge to crush the hand bones of the interviewer. Remind
yourself that the purpose of handshaking is to establish rapport,
not to demonstrate how strong you are. Avoid also the limp
handshake, the long handshake (remember to let go) and the three
finger handshake.
If you suffer badly from sweaty palms, bring a handkerchief, but
if your sweat glands are running riot it would be a good idea to
warn the interviewer first before drenching their palm.

Body language issues

The way you sit communicates a great deal about a whole range of
issues, including how important you think the interview is, how
nervous (or confident) you are, and your understanding of the
underlying power relations. Some people’s sitting position exudes
over-familiarity and even arrogance, whereas others communicate
a serious lack of self-belief.
The golden rules in sitting are: avoid anything that will distract
the interviewer from concentrating upon the content of your answers;
and avoid making the interviewer feel uncomfortable. Interviewers
generally do not feel comfortable if you sit in an aggressive way
(leaning forward too much) or in an overly passive way (leaning
back and crossing your legs at the thighs). In short, good sitting
goes unnoticed by the interviewer. Here are some tips on what you
should avoid:
• Leaning back. Gives the impression that you’re not taking the
interview seriously.
• Crossing your legs at the thighs. Too familiar, especially at the
beginning of an interview.
• Sitting with your legs wide apart. Far too familiar for an interview
situation, and can be both distracting and uncomfortable for the
• Leaning forward too much. May make some interviewers feel
uncomfortable, especially if you’re physically big and talk loudly.
• Slouching. Gives the impression that you’re not taking the inter-
view seriously and will likely slouch in your duties.
Tips on good sitting practice include:
• Straight and upright body. This is a neutral sitting position that
interviewers expect to see.
• Male legs. Males can keep their upper legs facing straight forward
and adopt what is commonly referred to as the starters posi-
tion—that is, the dominant foot flat on the ground with the
other foot having only the front part touching the ground.
• Female legs. Females can cross their legs at the ankles and posi-
tion the legs slightly to one side.
Facial expressions and eye contact
Facial expressions are extremely powerful communicators. If you’re
sitting correctly, the interviewer should spend most of the interview
looking at your face and eyes. The two golden rules of sitting also
apply here: do not do anything that will distract interviewers or
make them feel uncomfortable. Anything that is overdone will almost
certainly give the interviewer pause for concern, whether it be too
much smiling, nodding or eye contact.
During the course of an interview, it is very important to control
your facial expressions, especially if you feel the interview is not
progressing to your satisfaction or you’re hearing something you
don’t like—otherwise you may be communicating unwanted
information to the interviewer.
Failure to control your facial expressions will undermine your
credibility by sending conflicting signals to the interviewer. For
example, say the interviewer suddenly tells you that the job will
include a new and important duty that was not mentioned in the
job ad and your immediate gut feeling reaction is, ‘Oh no I didn’t
prepare for this new duty, and what the hell are they doing changing
the job at this late stage and I know nothing about this new bloody
duty!’ But you say (or try to say), ‘New duty, that’s fine. I’m used
to taking on new duties. I’m a fast learner and enjoy the challenge.’
In this situation there’s a good chance that the terror registered on
your face will undermine your words and leave the interviewer
unconvinced despite a reasonable answer.
Controlling one’s expressions is harder to do than many people
realise. Often our faces work independently of our wishes. And
usually they communicate our deepest (darkest) feelings, which it
may not be in our best interests to reveal. But with a bit of knowledge
and practice we can go a long way towards controlling what our
faces say.
Becoming aware of the communicative power of facial expressions
represents a good start to controlling unwanted communication.
Next time you feel that your face may be communicating something
that you don’t want it to, stop and force yourself to change it. You’ll
probably find it a little awkward at first, but with a bit of perseverance
you should be able to control it at will. With enough practice, it
will become second nature.
If you were standing outside a room seconds away from being invited
in for an interview and I happened to be passing by and you grabbed
me with a desperate look in your eye asking me for one piece of
advice, I would say, ‘Don’t forget to smile’.
Smiling is a highly effective communicator and sends all the
right signals to the interviewer, especially for building rapport.
A smile can often achieve what the best of answers cannot—softening
the interviewer. Very importantly, when you smile at people it usually
makes them feel better, which tends to draw out their better nature—
exactly what you want to be doing at an interview. It also signals
to the interviewer that you have well-developed social skills, are a
nice person and do not suffer from anti-social tendencies. Here are
some tips about smiling:
• Be genuine. Avoid grinning or putting on a forced smile. There’s
nothing worse than someone trying to smile but only succeeding
in demonstrating the art of teeth clenching.
• Don’t overdo it. Overdoing it may run you the risk of appearing
Avoid mimicking the grim-faced interviewer
It is not uncommon to mimic others’ facial expressions (and body
language), even though we often don’t realise we’re doing it. If you
encounter the grim-faced interviewer, try not to fall into the trap
of being grim-faced yourself. This is not as easy as it may sound
because human beings, being what we are, usually require positive
feedback in order to continue behaving in certain ways. In other
words, if you smile and the other person refuses to smile back, there’s
a good chance you will stop smiling. So: do not allow a dour
interviewer to put you off. Stick to your guns and produce your
warmest smiles, no matter what!
Nodding your head
Nodding of the head represents another extremely powerful
communicator. When you nod your head at something, people say
you are telling them that you agree with them, and you do so
without interrupting, which is an ideal rapport-building technique
when the interviewer decides to expound on a topic. But be careful:
as in smiling, the danger with nodding your head is overdoing it.
Eye contact
The key to successful eye contact is avoiding extremes. Overdoing
it can put people off, as can making hardly any eye contact at all.
Staring will almost certainly raise a big question mark about your
social skills. Even worse, it may frighten the interviewer. Not making
enough eye contact will more than likely signal that you lack
confidence and perhaps suffer from low self-esteem issues. Bear in
mind that interviews are largely about imparting impressions. You
may in reality be a confident and outgoing person who enjoys a
great social life, but if you fail to make enough eye contact with the
interviewer, you will probably fail to communicate that reality.
Like so many of the non-verbal communicators, appropriate
levels of eye contact during an interview differ between cultures. It
is important that you ascertain the cultural norm before walking
into an interview.