My Interview Technique Tips

Interview technique

I have interviewed many people over the last 20 years for a variety of roles from developers and designers to accountants and customer support agents. The one thing that always strikes me is the way that people prepare for interviews is changing and not for the better. If you are one of the people who I have interviewed and didn’t get the job, some of this article might give you an insight into why. Not just because there was someone better or that was more suited to the role, but maybe it was your interview technique that let you down.

Do your homework

My father always said that “prior planning prevents p*ss poor performance” or the other quote from Benjamin Franklin “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail”. Both have the same meaning, you need to do some planning and some research before you go to an interview.
What I have seen more and more over the years is people turning up to an interview with nothing prepared. No notes, not even a pen (in a digital age we don’t use pens as much but at least look like you might take a note, jot something down if something useful or interesting is said) you need something to show that you did a little research and planned for the interview, not just turned up.

I once had feedback that although I was prepared for the interview I had treated it like I would any company and didn’t seem to be invested in the business. All my answers were generic and didn’t talk directly about how I could affect that particular company rather than what I could do in general. That stuck with me and I wouldn’t make that mistake again. It also showed the level of interest anyone should have when they go to an interview and not just read the homepage of the company’s website and wing the rest.

Too many candidates recently, when asked the usual question of “what do you know about our company”, started the response with “obviously you do…”. Whilst it might be obvious what the business does what we are looking for is beyond the obvious, how much more research did you do, how much do you want to work here and how much do you just want a job, any job, not specifically the one you are being interviewed for.

Make an impression

I am often as guilty as anyone of picking a favourite interviewee from the CVs and the impression that you get as to the suitability of the person for the position. I don’t tend to interview people that I wouldn’t give the job to, so everyone has a fair crack, but you can have an idea of who would be the best candidate based on their skills from their CV and of course the job specification.

It is fair to say that some of the time the best person on paper doesn’t perform in interview and therefore the job goes to someone else, that happened recently when the person who I thought would be better bombed and the other candidate blew me away.

The contrast between the two candidates couldn’t have been more stark. One was fully prepared, had lots of notes about the business and had delved deep into the company structure and business operations. The other walked in with nothing and answered the question regarding their knowledge of the company with “obviously you do…” but has nothing else, no depth and no real understanding of the business and how it operates. I don’t think I have been more disappointed in a candidate having had high hopes from the near exact match of skills and experience to the job description, to the reality of them in person.

My first impression of both was widely different from my expectations and it can be really difficult to come back, as an interviewee, from a really bad first impression, no matter how good you looked on paper.

Dress to impress

One thing I haven’t done in a very long time at work is wear a tie, I don’t see the point. I know people who work in finance who have no choice as it is often a company policy, but there are few organisations or industries where the wearing of a tie means anything anymore. It is also no longer a sign of a person’s stature or position within a company, I know enough business owners who don’t own a suit let alone a tie.

For an interview you should dress appropriately to the job and industry you are working in. Long gone are the days when you must wear a suit to an interview, unless that’s what is expected within that particular position. I think looking smart and feeling comfortable go together, why come to an interview in a suit to a company where everyone, including the directors, wear jeans and a t-shirt? There is no way of telling what everyone might wear so dressing smartly never goes a miss, but smart jeans and a shirt, especially in design, advertising or marketing jobs where I have worked for the past 20 years are the way to go.

Better to be smarter than scruffy, make an effort, because the way you look and dress will help to form that first impression before you had chance to open your mouth. It isn’t usually a deal breaker, but it won’t help if you look (and smell) like you could do with a good wash. I once second interviewed someone who, after I told them to be a little less formal, looked like they had stayed out all weekend in the same clothes and smelt like they had too!

Know your CV

I have spoken before about the length of a CV, I still can’t understand why universities insist on telling people that the optimum length of a CV is 2 pages – it isn’t. The optimum length of a CV is as long as you need it to be to sell yourself sufficiently to get an interview.

For reference my CV is over 4 pages long and I usually get an interview for the jobs I apply for so if size matters I would go long!
I have started asking a question that seems to baffle some candidates, “tell me something about yourself that isn’t on your CV”. I like this question because it shows how people react to a question under pressure that they haven’t been asked before. It’s an ice breaker, something to put you at ease. The responses I have had range from being asked if I meant personally or something work related to being told recently that this was the problem with having such a comprehensive CV, everything was on it.

The problem with the last statement, not just because the CV in question was two pages long, half of one page was wasted with a list of skills that meant very little to the job they were applying for, is that there was no depth to the skills that this candidate had, everything was on the CV.

I made the mistake many years ago of having every bit of experience I had (which wasn’t much at the time) included on my CV. The problem in interview was the interviewer wanted more, some depth, they wanted me to demonstrate that I hadn’t just done a task once therefore I was an expert but had done something multiple times with different outcomes and could choose the right path for a specific situation.
Doing something once gives you a baseline experience, it doesn’t make you skilled in the discipline nor should you try to use those infuriating scales to show how skilled you are in a subject when you are clearly not. Giving yourself 4/5 for time management, unless you work in time management is just filling space and doesn’t show anyone anything other than you rate yourself highly.

We will be the judge of your skill levels based on the job specification, not on your own handy guide that is usually woefully inaccurate. It can be handy to see the disciplines that you are highly skilled in, maybe just a list, but to rate yourself out of 10 is a little self-indulgent. As with most things this is my own opinion and I am all too aware that other recruiters and employers will find this useful. If you do use these ratings at least make them relevant to the job you are applying for and don’t rate everything the same, be more self aware.

Show me the money

In a results driven world I would like candidates to give examples of how what they have done has made a difference, both on their CV and in an interview. Candidates seem to have forgotten that the reason they are coming for an interview is to show that they can meet a need (the job opening) and that they can make a difference to our business.

Candidates often fail to do their homework not just on the company but on themselves. It can be incredibly difficult working in an agency to know the results and the effect the work that you have done for a client has on their business, but it is important to at least try to get feedback from others within the team or from the client themselves. If you can’t then maybe you should look at how you think it made a difference or why the work was done in the first place.

Too often there is little or no information on a CV about the results, it’s not all about increasing turnover or adding to the bottom line, a piece of copy written might have increased conversion rates, subject lines on an email could have increased open rates, changing suppliers of milk could save a couple of pence per bottle saving the company enough for a night out. Anything is better than nothing when showing what has made a difference.

There also needs to be more importance placed on what a candidate can do and what they can bring to the company they are having the interview at, rather than bringing out standard answers and being told that “clients never tell us the results”.
The other thing that becomes a regular occurrence is saying that “I’m not good at selling myself”. This might be true but that is exactly what you are there to do in an interview and if you struggle to remember points you want to make, write them down before hand and bring some notes with you.

Getting a new job and being good in interviews isn’t all in the preparation, but it will go a long way to helping you to secure you your next position.

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A New Venture- Ghost Bingo

I’m not overly sure how I got myself into this, but I find myself the owner of a new bingo website, Ghost Bingo. In a previous post I spoke about affiliate sites and my dislike for them and what they represent but now find myself needing the affiliates to promote my own website as a way of getting traffic quickly. Obviously I want to get as much traffic of my own, but with a lot of investment needed to get Ghost Bingo up and running I need to recoup some of that money as soon as I can.

So what is Ghost Bingo? We have been working with Cozy Games over the past few months to white label their bingo platform, used by a number of bingo sites. The website is basically free online bingo with the addition of slots and casino games. You can also play scratch cards if that’s your thing. You could describe the site as no deposit bingo, where you don’t need to make a deposit to play, we of course want your money so have other deposit offers to entice you to

The best thing about the website is that we offer £10 free to anyone who registers, to play with across the website. There are also a number of bonus offers for people who deposit cash into the website to play with. You must be over 18 to play on the website and there are minimum wagering requirements on the free money added before it can be removed, we don’t just give you a free £10 to withdraw from the website. A full rundown of the offers we have are below.

New player offers
– £10 no deposit free bingo
– New depositing players can claim a total of 1150% in welcome bonuses over the first three deposits made
– The first deposit bonus is 500%, then 350% on the second and 300% on the third. The bonuses give you plenty of additional money to play for quite a long time if you take it steady
– There is also a daily login bonus of £1 for the first seven days from registration
– The Minimum deposit is £10 and the maximum is £50

Other Promotions
We have a number of other promotions on the website that you can take advantage of, these include;
– 45 days of Christmas. So it’s only November but we like to give prizes, £100k in gifts and jackpots with over a million bonuses to give away
– Free Bingo Tournament – win cash bonuses by playing free bingo
– Daily Raffle – Every deposit of £10 is includes an entry to the daily draw and 10 lucky winners will each receive £50 Casino Cash. There is a leader board to see how many entries you and everyone else playing has in the raffle.

If you are an affiliate or have an affiliate website we are also on the Cozy Partners affiliate network allowing anyone to sign up, promote the site and claim a percentage of every deposit made on the site. As I have said before I am not a fan of affiliates and think we should all be looking at our own SEO, this article is of course part of my own SEO effort to get links to the site, promote it with other people and hope to make a small amount of money out of it.

So if you have a spare few minutes and like playing free bingo, why not give us a go and please do let me know what you think. www.ghostbingo.com

Update – I no longer own this website, I sold it when I changed jobs as I didn’t have the time to put into it. More crazy ventures are on the way!

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Agency vs Client Side

OK so it’s only been 6 weeks since I left agency land for my new life client-side, but it hasn’t taken long for me to look at the differences and comment on what everyone who works in an agency thinks of people who work client side.

For a start it’s bloody hard work! OK the hours aren’t as long and since I started I’ve managed to be home most nights before I would have even thought of leaving the office when I worked agency, and my new office is further away. Some of this will be to do with working in manufacturing where the factory stops at 4.30 and most people have left the building by 5.00.

So let’s wind it back a bit, until the middle of September 2016 I worked at an advertising agency called Uber in Sheffield, nothing to do with the taxis, as the Head of Digital. I was responsible for running all digital projects within the agency including design and build, social media, ecommerce, email marketing and online marketing, together with managing the team. Prior to that I worked as a Project Director at McCann Manchester and also used to run my own digital marketing agency. All in I have spent the last 17 years in digital roles in agencies across the North of England.

Client side I am now the Head of Digital Marketing for a company who sell household goods, best known for ironing boards and covers. Within the organisation we have another brand that sell garden furniture and barbecues. I manage all websites, staff including customer services, all online marketing and for good measure am helping to push the brand and offering into mainland Europe, before we leave the EU.

Anyone who has worked in an agency with digital people / ecommerce managers within a client-side business and wondered what they do all day, because let’s face it we all (when I was agency) think client-side is an easy ride! Well it isn’t.

I haven’t worked this hard in a very, very long time.

Working in agency for so long has meant everything is basically second nature, yes things have moved on a hell of a lot since I started my digital career building Virgin Holidays websites using frames and tables back in the late 1990’s but the fundamentals of project management and working within a digital / advertising agency environment haven’t. It was easy and looking back now I think I was just a little bit bored.

Moving into client side digital marketing isn’t just about having to learn the business, the products, pricing strategies, online marketing and promotional strategies, new people, new ways of working, using a PC again or how to fill in your expenses using a different form. I am now a retailer, I run an online shop that turns over multiple millions of pounds across several platforms including Amazon and eBay, using technology that I no longer have my own internal development team to support. I am in the hands of the agency. The agency that don’t work in the same way that I have worked for the past 17 years.

We always used to say it’s a different pace in agency than in client side, agency is a million miles an hour, always chasing around getting things done for a client deadline that they made up to make you work faster. It’s true, things don’t get done at the same pace, because there truly is so much to do, so much to consider, more people to consider, more people to consult, it’s not just about the bit of work that we give to an agency to complete, even as an online business the website is only a small part of what I do because I now have to create the content brief, not just the content, I have to prioritise the photo shoots to the products that sell over those that maybe don’t. New products are arriving all the time, what do we do with those, how much will they sell for, do we put them in a promotion, the list goes on and on and on… Then there’s the new website.

OK so it might just be the company I have joined, the way I have decided to do things and some legacy things that just need sorting out, but next time you think client-side is the poor relation to agency remember that you only see a very, very small part of what goes on behind the scenes, there is so much more to this than you think!

I don’t think I would ever go back to agency, never say never and all that but I found myself in a quiet moment the other day asking myself why I didn’t do this earlier.

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Affiliate Marketing Review

I have been asked by a mutual friend to look at an affiliate website to see what I think of the way the site works in terms of making money. The website is called Best Bingo Apps and is nothing more than a website built with the sole aim of making money by sending people to other company’s websites.

This is the basis of affiliate marketing and is one of those things that I’m not sure I totally agree with, adding more content and websites to the internet just to make money from someone else. I guess the likes of Tombola, Sun Bingo, Foxy Bingo or Sky Bingo would mind, they get pre-qualified leads that they only pay for if the visitor signs up and deposits money to an account.

What bothers or worries me is why the companies themselves aren’t creating the right content to mop up these people themselves? Why don’t they cut out the middle man, let’s face it affiliate marketers are just that, middle men, and do it for themselves?

I think it is probably more to do with the time vs reward scenario, it takes a huge amount of time and effort to rank websites for high ranking keywords such as bingo, so the affiliate marketers will look to longer tail keywords to create traffic and rankings, for this example the website is targeting keywords including bingo apps as well as the company name followed by bingo apps.

I guess that this technique for an affiliate marketer will bring in traffic and allow users to look at a range of bingo apps. If a company such as Mecca Bingo tried the same tactic they may get the traffic but not the amount of sign ups that justify the cost and effort of going down a niche path rather than dedicating their SEO budgets to the main keywords including brand and full product specific keywords (Bingo not just bingo apps in this example).

There is a place for affiliate only websites in helping companies to attract more visitors and customers, but if the affiliate websites take over the internet to the determent of the main company websites I think there is a problem.

Like I said earlier, I think there is a place for affiliates and after all for companies it is a great way of knowing your cost per sale, but some industries and keywords are just saturated with affiliate based or comparison websites where we as customers should be searching for and getting results for the website that we ultimately end up at. That however, is down to the internal marketing team of those companies that the affiliates are targeting to do something about it and create an SEO strategy to keep their websites one step ahead of the affiliates. After all, if you get the customer yourself through your own SEO you don’t have to pay anything to the middle man affiliate.

To sum up, I think there is a place in the market for affiliate websites such as Best Bingo Apps, they provide a way of getting customers from niche or long tail keywords outside of the core SEO strategy of the companies that they target. It’s when the affiliate overtakes the companies in the market in which they operate that I have concerns.

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Why costing with an hourly rate undervalues your project

Over the years agencies, in particular advertising agencies, have used an hourly rate to charge for the work that they do. Hourly rates are usually based on the employee’s job and a mixture of overheads and profit.

The way some agencies work is to take the amount of time taken at the end of a job and multiply the time by the hourly rate.

The other way to get a cost for a job is to multiply the number of hours we estimate a job will take and times it by the hourly rate.

What this does is to make the hourly rate into a multiplier and time into a commodity, a bag of sugar as I call it. So then you have no differentiation based on your skills and experience, just an hourly rate based on overheads and time based on how long it took the last time you did the job. Of course you can change the hourly rate based on the experience and seniority of the people involved in the project, but it still doesn’t give you the results it should.

Using a bit of algebra I am going to demonstrate why what we have done, as an industry, is undervalue the work that we do, the skills that we have acquired and the experience that we have that makes us all good at what we do.

I know that my oldest daughter, who has in the past questioned why we learn things like algebra at school, will appreciate this, so this one is for you AJ!

Take time (t) and for any given project multiply it by the hourly rate (h) to give you a project cost (p). The first time you work on a specific type of project and I don’t mean when you first leave collage, I mean as a whole, a project or project type that you haven’t done before the amount of time you need to complete the project is determined by the amount of time the project takes (if you have no experience of a type of project the first time you do it will determine the base level of time required).

Obviously consideration will need to be made for the amount of time required to learn any new skills but basically we can say that:

The time taken for project 1 – t=t

But then undertake the same project again the time taken can be expressed as follows:

Project 2 – t=t-x

Where x is the amount of time saved because of your experience.

Undertake the same project again and you can further reduce the amount of time taken due to repetition. The time required for these projects can be expressed as

Project 3 – t=t-x-r

Where r is the time saved due to repetition.

If you use a job costing system, as the basis for collecting time on a project to multiply the time taken by the hourly rate you will only ever charge the time taken, not the net worth of the project.

What I mean by this is why do we charge less for a project because we are better at it and more experienced, rather than the other way around. Again you could argue that the hourly rate is increased to take into account the amount of time we reduce on a project because of the experience that we have, but does it really work?

In reality you are likely to have the project scenario above quite often within the lifetime of a client. Anything that requires repetition or you learn to do quickly or more efficiently, banner ads, emails and simple website changes spring to mind immediately.

The one true question shouldn’t be how long, therefore how much. It should always be what is the commercial value of this project. You could say that the value is the time taken the first time you undertook the project. Maybe as a project it should be more than that as it is worth more to the client than you are charging.

The danger is that we charge based on what we think clients will pay, not what they are worth – my dad would say anything is only worth what someone is prepared to pay for it – but this is kind of short sighted in the fact that in reality you get what you pay for as the adage goes, buy cheap buy twice.

Costing projects is never going to be an exact science but if you only use the time you spend multiplied by the hourly rate you are undervaluing not just what you do, but yourself and the experience you have gained over the years.

So the message is simple, stop basing project costs on an hourly rate and time taken, it’s a starting point, a guide if you will, but it shouldn’t be the be all and end all of the equation. Take into account previous iterations of the same job, look at what you charge other clients, what have you charged in the past. Only that way will you get a better picture of what a job is actually worth.

At the end of the day, when all is said and done, if your client won’t pay the costs you put forward are you prepared to work for a lesser hourly rate, do you reduce the amount of work done, or do you just accept that the commercial value of the project to your client is less than you believe it is?

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