Category Archives: Graduate Job-hunting advice

Questioning your Interviewer – Guidelines + Qs.

There are two types of interviewer in this world: HR and The Business. These are two distinctly different people. They typically come from different spheres of interest.

Grasping this notion will allow you to pose appropriate questions at appropriate moments that will both provide you with as much pertinent information as is needed to make a career decision and help you further engage with your interviewers and assessors.

Why is asking questions important?

Astute questioning not only conveys a keen interest and mental curiosity but also demonstrates, however seemingly unnoticeable, an ability to understand how to interact with your interviewer. Some may clock onto this and some may not, but to elucidate, think about what you as a graduate might be tasked to do or even think about what consultants generally do.

They interact with clients and often have to gather information and requirements from various stakeholders each with their own issues, styles and agendas. It is therefore paramount that the right kind of questions are posed and in the right manner depending on who is being interviewed; you wouldn’t ask a techie person about finance stuff and you wouldn’t ask a finance person about techie stuff, at least not in the same way.

Therefore, think about what kind of impression you create by asking irrelevant or imprecise questions; a Partner will not be impressed by a question about holidays or how expenses works. Sure you won’t be rejected just because of this and some may not even bat an eyelid, but it makes sense to bear this in mind as there is an opportunity here to add to an overall great impression by asking good questions, which is simply too easy to pass up.

So what is HR interested in?

HR is usually somewhat divorced from the business. I apologise to those HR functions, resource managers etc. who are very much embedded in their businesses, but typically, questions about culture, day-to-day work activities, working styles, business strategy etc. should be saved for a consultant. HR is likely to regurgitate the info on the website.

Instead, questions around how graduates and consultants get resourced onto projects, salaries, expenses, benefits, logistics and practical matters are far more relevant. Also feel free to probe into the recruitment process: how many positions they have, how many have they filled, do they have a lot of people in process.

-An interesting curve ball is to ask also about why people leave the organisation [HR often conduct exit interviews]-

And the Business?

Funnily enough, this is your opportunity to ask anything relating to the business: working culture/ style; long-term vision; market position; recent projects and client work; why they joined the company; what keeps them there; where they see themselves in 3/5/10 years time; what they don’t like about the company etc.

-don’t be afraid to turn some of the questions posed to you, back on to the interviewer-

Any final questions?

Sometimes, before moving on to broader questioning, it is worth asking if the interviewer now has enough information to make a decision or if there were any areas or competencies they would find it helpful to revisit. Phrased differently, you can ask if they have any concerns about your performance at this stage that you might be able to address. A further spin might be, whether the interviewer has any concerns about your ability to do well at this company.

You might get prompted to provide more evidence or dispel an impression, but sometimes you may just get the ‘that’s fine, I’ve got all the info I need to process and evaluate’ stock answer.

In Summary:

  • Consider who the interviewer is and what their domain is, ie. know your audience
  • Ask relevant and interesting questions
  • The quality of the question will determine the quality of the answer and therefore the impression you create
  • Be precise and confident, not flimsy and lackadaisical in your questioning
  • A good question is an opportunity to be memorable and outshine the competition

It Helps to be Good with Names

Using someone’s name is arguably the easiest and most basic means of initiating a relationship and establishing a rapport. The sooner you use someone’s name and the more often you use it initially, the quicker you break through the fundamental fog of unfamiliarity such that strangers rapidly become acquaintances and acquaintances potentially become friends.

I often expect people to not remember my name, perhaps because it’s not a conventional one or sadly because I’m not especially memorable or a bit of both, so when someone who I’ve just met supplements a question or prefigures some snippet of conversation by using my name, I naturally warm to them. Maybe I even feel obliged to reciprocate. I’m fairly certain, or rather hope that this feeling is not utterly unique and peculiar to myself revealing some sort of low self-esteem insecurity.

Therefore, as I mention under tips in ‘Group Exercises’, when you’re thrown into an assessment centre or group situation where a familiar face is often lacking, take real stock of people’s names and use them. The warmth will flow and you’ll feel more comfortable for it. I can’t make people necessarily remember my name and use it, but by knowing and using others’ I almost feel like I’m establishing a bond whether they like it or not which ultimately contributes to a feeling of ease and familiarity which hopefully translates to confidence.

In addition to creating that rapport, from an external perspective, if you are using people’s names assessors are more likely to adopt an impression of you that leans readily towards a team player, a facilitator and someone who quickly builds relationships; especially if you’re confidently using 4+ people’s names in a group exercise when you only met them an hour ago. If everyone’s bandying names about, then great, this is a confident and comfortable team. If you’re the only one putting names to faces, then you’re a strong confident binding agent. Obviously, using names is only one aspect amidst all the other great team-working skills, but it is nevertheless a simple and very effective ‘tool’ that’s just too easy to leave unused.

But I’m rubbish with names!

Yes, because you choose to be rubbish with names. I used to be rubbish with names. The one change I made, was to make a conscious effort to remember names. Simple. Too often you’re worried about saying your name or shaking hands that you completely blank out the other person’s. Just by concentrating on the person’s name, you’re likely to remember it. Try also repeating it as soon as you hear it. Maybe write it down. Use it when you ask that person a question. Repeating the name 2-3 times within a short space of time, you stand a better chance of remembering it as it typically logs itself quite nicely in your mind from then on.

So don’t neglect the simple power of using someone’s name. Just don’t overdo it and don’t take any liberties with nicknames unless given permission.

[As always, please share your thoughts]

Dealing with Rejection – 3 Easy Steps

You will be rejected. The worst thing you can do is just accept the fact and shrug it off. You need to confront the rejection and own it. Once you recognise your weaknesses and shortcomings you will then be able to positively address any gaps or weak points in your knowledge, experience, skills and technique.

Phase 1 – Ego Recovery

Although it is far easier said than done, you need to deal with rejection and move on as quickly as possible. Half a day to a full day seems to work for me during which time I do something to take me away from the whole affair – a few rounds of modern warfare on the PS3/ gym time/ food all seem to do the trick. Once you’ve calmed down and rediscovered your self-worth, it’s then time to analyze and improve – attack refreshed.

Phase 2 – Gather Feedback

Always take the opportunity to gather feedback even if you were successful. What did you do particularly well and were there any areas that you could improve upon. If you contact someone from HR over the phone, be sure to probe them on their feedback. If they say you lacked problem solving experience, ask for specifics: was it a poor example, what were they looking for etc. Ask them how you can improve.

Phase 3 – Keep Notes

Finally, you must meticulously record your experience and the feedback that accompanies your performance. After 3 months of intense job-hunting I had compiled a small pukka pad of notes around competency questions, company info, case studies, team exercises and tips for improving my performance. It may be tougher to confront your rejection rather than brashly shrug it off and forget about it, but when you’re preparing for your 5th interview you will sorely regret not having made those notes.

Just remember, failure is a necessary stop on the path to success:

“I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
– Michael Jordan

Source: Famous Failures

The Power Tie – With great power comes…

Great Responsibility.

The power tie. Typically a solid colour, plain or with mild patterning. Said to be a sign of immense confidence and even virility, endowing its wearer with the ability to command respect and attention. Find the right tie and the rest will follow.

The colours tend to be red or blue though a striking yellow or gold can work equally well, coupled with a crisp white shirt. George Bush and Obama have favoured the light blue in recent times though both have opted for a deep rich red on occasion. Two extremely powerful men who have and are set to do very profound things.

However, the majority of us will be taking weekends in the country rather than taking countries in the weekend so lets look at exactly what a power tie does and when it should be used. The power tie, is meant to be perhaps the business equivalent to a peacock’s plume – subtly dazzling confidently, making a presence felt and oozing professional confidence. However, it is arguably more about how this bold understated display of power harnessed and controlled in a neatly constructed manner can make the wearer feel as opposed to what effect it has on those transfixed within its sphere of influence.

Theoretically, when equipped with a power tie you can complete any task that calls for confidence, impact, authority and assertion. For example, delivering an explosive presentation, commanding a meeting or blitzing an interview.

So, should you invest in one? Definitely.

(One time I actually changed a punctured tyre without a jack while wearing my power tie…)

I’ve got the power! (tie)

Just make sure you don’t burn it out. Only use when needed.

Interview = Client Meeting + Consultative Selling

Beyond Reaction

Don’t come away feeling like you weren’t able to show your best. Treat the interview as you would potentially approach a client meeting, cold-call or sales pitch. Have a clear idea of what you want to achieve and what you want to demonstrate to the interviewer that will make them want your product, you.

As a recruitment consultant coaching and guiding experienced professionals for interviews with the Big 4 especially, I would often tell them not to rely on being asked the right questions but rather react accordingly and aim to have two or three main examples or anecdotes or selling points that you want to leave the interviewer with knowing regardless, so that the dreaded feeling of ‘yeh it went ok, but I’m not sure if I really had a chance to impress them’ is averted.

Indeed, sometimes the sentiment post interview is so indistinct and inconclusive that feedback from a candidate struggles to get beyond ‘it went ok, yeh it was fine, it went ok’. At least even a ‘it was a grilling, I was really under pressure and I’m not sure it went so good’ is preferable to the devastating mediocrity of ‘ok’.

Too many times I’ve had this feedback and indeed felt this myself after interviews where things have progressed smoothly enough and there were no big cock-ups or faux-pas yet there is a feeling of emptiness and dissatisfaction that persists. Maybe it’s because the interviewer didn’t ask challenging or sufficiently probing questions or perhaps because one’s answers were too narrow and lacked depth.

Especially within consulting and arguably more towards the higher end of recruitment, interviews are often about sussing people out, understanding how they work and what kind of person they are and whether they will fit in and be a real ‘value-add proposition’. [This was a favoured stock phrase of a colleague of mine].

It is not enough to be responsive; act with initiative

You almost need to treat the interview as a client meeting and the interviewer as a potential client (minus the flip-chart or powerpoint). This means three things:

  1. that you’ve researched the company and know exactly what competencies and attitudes they’re looking for; if you have spoken to contacts or employees, then you may also know what really impresses them
  2. you have compiled examples from your experience that emphatically demonstrate these sought-after qualities
  3. you know exactly what your strongest areas are, relevant to the competencies and whittled down to 2-4 points, that you will aim to communicate during the meeting

Eg. I list my strengths as: building strong relationships; communication; team-work and problem solving. So when a question like, what can you bring to the company, or what are your strengths comes up, that’s an ideal place to tick some very important boxes easily.

In order to sell well, don’t be afraid to regurgitate your in-depth knowledge of the company in preparation for the delivery of a relevant and precise competency answer. This is ideal for questions around why you want to work for xyz or why consulting etc. Sometimes a client needs to be reminded about what they want or what they’ve said on their website so that when you give it to them it’s all the more pertinent. For example: from my research into xyz it’s clear that you place a keen emphasis on client relationships and this is something I’ve greatly enjoyed in my previous roles where I’ve delivered to various stakeholders and built relationships with a diverse array of people at all levels, therefore this is an extremely appealing aspect etc etc.

Finally, NEVER go into an interview or an answer half-heartedly. You need to sell passionately because PASSION SELLS. And above all, be confident and KNOW WHAT YOU’RE SELLING.

KPMG talk about Dressing the Part

Perhaps not quite as good as my article Stylin’ & Profilin’, since KPMG N. America talk about ‘slacks’ (whatever they are), but the fact that a Big 4 has produced a video on the topic is a fantastic affirmation of how important it is to take looking good seriously (but not tooo seriously):

Cold-Calling for a Job

The Cold Call

The cold-call, typically the preserve of obnoxious hard-nosed salesmen: double-glazing, insurance, ad sales, mobile phones; all wanting to pressure you into a purchase. However, the cold-call is not always bad, it’s simply a label denoting speaking to someone unannounced who you have no pre-existing relationship with. How else are you going to get people to know you and get to know people?

[One chap a colleague of mine phoned reacted somewhat brashly retorting, ‘if i want a curry, I’ll phone my takeaway ok I don’t need them bothering me – ergo I don’t want you bothering me’ – (or something to that effect). A fitting reply and excellent perspective would have been – ‘If you were hungry and a takeaway unknown to you delivered a delicious curry unannounced wouldn’t you be a happy bunny?’. [Think of yourself as that delicious curry that could satisfy a ravenous employer with a penchant for asian cuisine.]

Why bother?

1. Gathering information

In How to Make Graduate Applications 36% More Effective, I discuss how you can gain valuable insights into a company and market which you can then use to produce strong online application answers and impress at interview by contacting current senior level employees who more often than not are happy to promote themselves to ambitious lively young graduates.

Furthermore, you can understand how competitive the positions are and ask specifically what they’re looking for when they read a cover letter or application in order to decide whether to call someone in for an interview. When I applied to PA Consulting I understood early on that my chances were very slim as they were looking for a very relevant degree (engineering/ science) and ideally relevant work experience since the program I was applying to was heavily oversubscribed with 300 applicants for 3-5 places! A phone call like this, makes job-hunting life a lot more manageable and effective. The graduate recruitment manager was very helpful in telling me what skills they really want to see and gave me a bit of a pep talk about selling my self.

2. Finding out if there are vacancies

Some companies don’t always update their websites with current vacancies ironically perhaps because they get so much interest they don’t even need that level of advertising. Sometimes, they recruit predominantly through word of mouth and via referrals. You may even be able to find out if indeed they are planning to recruit in the very near future, such that positions aren’t advertised yet, but as soon as they come live, you’re there ready and waiting. Maybe you can even sneak a quick one in direct to the hiring manager.

3. Influencing the process

A call to HR before submitting an application may be extremely productive because you’re then not just a piece of paper and words, you’ve given them a voice and markers with which the recipients of your cv and application will undoubtedly use to form an impression of you. A great enthusiastic productive conversation can incite someone in HR to read your submission with purpose. I say this, because as a recruitment consultant, I would often speak to candidates who would call in before they submitted their cvs, and I would come away thinking that they were extremely strong individuals whom if had I just seen their cv, I may not have thought to call them and discuss things further.

Sometimes, no matter how good someone sounded on the phone, even if I knew they could be an excellent consultant in xyz firm, if they didn’t fit the spec on paper, I simply couldn’t present them for a role because clients were supremely fussy when it came to experienced hires. For graduates however, the story is slightly different, as all they’re really looking for a lot of the time is someone who has a good brain and can communicate well.

How to deliver a cold-call

1. Speak to the right person

It is obviously very important that you find the right person – don’t speech off to a receptionist or deliver your sales pitch cv to an admin person, however don’t treat anyone disrespectfully either. Find out who the right person to speak to is regarding your query by looking on the company website and using linked in to find names and job titles. If you want insider info for application forms, the senior the better – directors and partners. If you’re addressing cover letters or want to find out if a company has plans to recruit, ask to speak to the person who heads up graduate recruitment or recruitment in general.

If you’re asked what it’s about, be honest, tell them you’re applying or thinking of applying but wanted to get the name right and/or find out more about the business. Be friendly, tell them your name, use their name – if they like you they’ll put you through.

When I applied to BDO Stoy Hayward, I actually revealed all to the office manager as she sounded like she held all the keys. I treated her with respect and she arranged for someone to call me back! And someone actually called me about 2 hours later!

Finally, a QUICK TIP: try to speak to someone particular to the office you’re applying to – you might end up meeting and working with them!

2. Introduce yourself

Practice a neat concise intro with niceties. Use the person’s name: John, hi good afternoon. Give them all the info needed for them to decide if they want to talk to you in the first 20 seconds: My name’s Bob, I’m a graduate/ post-grad/ undergrad and I’m thinking of applying for the super duper role and was hoping to understand xyz, would you be able to spare 5 mins of your time, it would be much appreciated. As soon as you say you’re a grad, normally this sets people at ease, because it’s NOT a sales call!

Be polite, be friendly, be enthusiastic – engage the listener.

3. End with a positive note

Ask your questions, insert your knowledge when relevant keeping it very brief and always staying alert to the fact that this person probably has a hundred more important things to do, and respond to their answers appropriately so it feels like a proper conversation.

Thank them profusely: I really appreciate you taking some time out… it’s been a huge help… I know you’re probably incredibly busy, but I am very grateful etc etc.

Add some cheek/ charm: Hopefully I might meet with you in the near future… Hopefully if all goes well and everything matches up, I’ll look forward to speaking with you again etc. [insert personal touch far charm-ier than me]

Maybe even ask to add them on linked in And/ OR after the convo, simply send them an invite, again thanking them for taking the time to speak with you. This will hopefully make you more memorable and go some way to potentially building a relationship if appropriate and relevant.

Also, if you had a particularly fruitful conversation and see that it might have value, ask if it would be ok to mention that you had a conversation with so-and-so.

Remember, ‘S/he who dares…’