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?
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
Clients often gave me positive feedback about my customer
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
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
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!
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.