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  • Writer's picturePaul

Hello, come in, sit down....

Interviewer: "How would your current boss describe you?"

Candidate: "Not...normal."

They said that good judgement comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgement. This post touches on things to remember when going for an interview but also some learnings as an interviewer. Please feel free to let me know what you think.


So, you've been invited to an interview. A lot of candidates don't fully appreciate how close they are to getting the job at this stage. And even more don't realise how easy it is to muck it up.

Don't be too grateful to be there

I once interviewed a candidate for a sales role who looked great on paper. His background wasn't exactly textbook but he had a strong track record of success and the potential to bring something different to the team.

He thanked me twice for having invited him for interview within the first five minutes. This seemed excessive. Maybe he was just a very polite chap.

When he thanked me a third time, I had to politely pause the interview. If an interviewer says, "Thanks for coming to see us" then it's perfectly appropriate to say, "Thanks for having me." But then leave it there. Overthanking gives the impression you feel surprised that you were invited in the first place as this might be a bit beyond you. And confidence in the world of sales is arguably as important as in the world of dating. Where excessive thanking is ill-advised. As my wife constantly reminds me.

Dress smartly, unless reliably advised otherwise

There are very few occasions when dressing smartly will stop you from getting a job. Inversely, there are many occasions when dressing too casually will prevent you from even being considered. It pays to consider what the upside and downside is of a decision. If an interviewer thinks you're too smart then they'll just tell you what the dress code is if you're successful or coming back for a subsequent round. If they think you're too casual then they'll question your decision-making and attitude.

Watch your language

"She was a great candidate...just didn't seem to swear enough"-said nobody, ever.

Sometimes interviewers drop in the odd swear word. Don't be tempted to join in: they already work there and know the environment in which they're operating already. Slang and overfamiliarity are best avoided too-certainly until you get a solid feel of what your potential next employer is like.

I once offered a candidate a drink of water before interviewing him. "Thanks, Chief" he replied. Had I been working as a chief at the time then this would have been perfectly normal behaviour. However, having decided against the police force as a career and not being the leader of a tribe either, his choice of nomenclature was misjudged.

That was Strike 1.

Strikes 2 and 3 followed shortly afterwards by him saying "Yep, yep, yep" whenever I said...well, anything and then his unforgettable response to the question of "How would your boss describe you?"

"Not...normal, "came the slightly disconcerting reply. While this is apparently an attractive interview answer from Dominic Cummings, it was a no from me.

Realise you're being assessed from the moment of your arrival

I once needed a team member who could find new opportunities, develop business and show some drive in doing so. At quarter past the agreed interview time, there was no sign of her.

I called the recruitment partner to find out where she was. He agreed to call me back when he had found out. 60 seconds later he said, "She's there. She's sat in reception."

Our office at the time had a shared reception but a separate door for our business that you just had to knock on if it was closed. I headed to reception to find her sat there looking uncomfortable. I ascertained after saying hello that she'd been sat there for half an hour. I asked her if she had realised that our office was literally right next to her. "I did...I just wasn't sure whether I should knock or not."

There was something quite ironic about the fact that I needed someone who could open doors for the team metaphorically and had found a candidate who was apprehensive about even knocking on one.

Answer the interview questions like a STAR

Your interviewer may seem to want a long term exclusive professional relationship but at this point, I'm afraid they are seeing other people.

And if your interviewer is any good, they'll be asking the same questions to all of the candidates they're seeing. Some of these will not be good at answering questions like a STAR.

e.g Can you give me an example of when you used data to produce an exceptional result?

Answer a) (the bad answer)

Yes. When I worked at Di Canio's Digestives we used it all the time to sell into Cottee's Supermarket. I used to use it in presentations and am pretty confident in using all the big ones really. I suppose the best example is when I used it there to get our premium range in which was really successful and helped us really kick the relationship on a notch.

Now, although this is not a good answer the worst part about is is that a couple of small changes would make it a great answer. The STAR technique helps you structure any interview answer.


(I worked at Di Canio's Digestives and was in charge of the Cottee's account)

T is for TASK

(One of my key objectives for the year was to sell in our premium range of products. We had five and I wanted to get a minimum of 3 listed in Cottee's.)

A is for ACTION

(I assembled a team of people to put together a presentation based around some external data. One set that I used demonstrated that 70% of U.K consumers enjoy a premium biscuit twice a week and that the market was worth £80m/year. As Cottee's accounted for 10% of the market and did not have a premium offering, I was able to demonstrate that the opportunity could be worth around £8m/year to them and even more if supported by shopper marketing.)

R is for RESULT

(I agreed the listing in a trial selection of 150 of the biggest stores. Run rates were even better than forecasted and we were soon rolled out to the entire estate generating £30m in year 1 for my company. Given this was doubled the revenue in this account and all at a margin that was 2% points above our average, this was regarded as a great result)

The candidate that used the STAR technique will be remembered much easier than the one who didn't. It's concise, it answers the question and the interviewer will secretly thank you for making their job easier.


Again, this section could be huge so I'll just pick out a couple.

Ask the same core questions of each candidate.

When assessing the candidates you've already seen, it's far easier to compare people when they've all had the opportunity to answer the same questions. If you're too much of a loose cannon then you'll make life harder for yourself.

If adopting a persona for a role play, remember to switch back to you

Particularly in entry to mid-level sales positions it's common to participate in role plays. Some interviewers love this as it's the closest they'll ever get to professional acting. Which is fine if handled professionally. At times, it can be appropriate to have a good cop/bad cop set up where one interviewer infamously behaves quite harshly as an aggrieved customer or hardline grocery buyer. This can be very useful to test the temperament of the candidate. Do they lose their cool? Do they listen to the customer's complaint and handle it calmly and professionally?

Early in my career I went for a job as a National Account Executive and was given a role play whereby I had to conduct a price increase. NAEs seldom get to undertake such activities in practice but it's good practice to find out what they're made of. One of my "buyers" was relatively tough but fair and the other in the scenario was much tougher. The bad cop. And a senior member of staff at my prospective employer's company. He hauled me over the coals for a good twenty minutes and I gave it my best.

We then ended the roleplay. And he continued behaving aggressively whereas the other interviewer became much more personable.

As the truism goes, an interview is two-way. As much as an interviewer is trying to work out whether the candidate is a good fit, the candidate is trying to work out whether the company is somewhere that they would enjoy working. So, if you're interviewing, remember to show your true character rather than seeing it as an opportunity for your inner thespian to thrive.

Be on time

Timeliness is a two-way street. You may be running a company that has some very big issues that need attention now. But your time is not more valuable than the person you're interviewing. Who knows what arrangements they may have put some significant effort into in order to meet you on time. They deserve the same courtesy.

What's the biggest interview lesson you've learnt from either side of the table? Let me know in the comments below.

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In June 2019 after the best part of 17 years working in FMCG, my wife, my two children (three and one at the time) and I left the U.K to travel the world. We sold our house and most of our things. Car


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