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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Why you can’t really break the internet

I’ve read a lot of articles recently and heard a few reporters comment that people like Kim Kardashian have ‘broken’ the internet. Of course they haven’t because for some of the reasons below it isn’t actually possible to ‘break the internet’.

I know that in the context of celebrities (and I use the term loosely when writing about anyone with the surname Kardashian) and the context of viral media content, ‘breaking the Internet’ means engineering a story to dominate Facebook and Twitter at the expense of more newsworthy things and not actually breaking it.

That’s basically because in the real world, you can’t break the internet, why? Because the internet isn’t a single entity that can be broken in the same way that you can break your smartphone, laptop or tablet device. The internet is a complex mix of elements, maintained and owned by multiple organisations across the globe. You may be able to break a website in the sense that you can take a website offline by using a DDOS attack (Distributed Denial of Service) in the same way that the BBC website and iPlayer were taken offline recently using the same technique. But you simply can’t break the internet, not all of it, not at the same time.

The simple reason is that the Internet is a collection of computers, servers, hardware, cables and the like – not to be confused with the World Wide Web (the WWW bit) which is all of the websites that sit on top of the Internet. Every website, email, e-commerce shop etc lives on a part of the internet that is situated in different places, in different countries across the world. So breaking this simultaneously would be virtually impossible.

Like anything that is getting old in a technology sense, (think how long your shinny new iPhone is going to last until Apple brings out another 2 updates), some parts of the Internet are getting on a bit. Routers that should have been retired years ago have failed, which can leave any website vulnerable to getting ‘lost’ as nothing on the internet either knows where it is or knows how to get it the site even if it does. Add to that regular shark attacks on the cables that run under the Atlantic connecting us to the USA and there is an very realistic possibility that some parts of the Internet will at some point break. For real.

The biggest cause of concern that is more worrying is that the Internet is running out of addresses. It’s like the Royal Mail running out of Postcodes or the changes we had to make in the UK to the phone system because we were running out of phone numbers, something that will happen again in the next few years if things don’t change. For the Internet the problem is IP addresses. An IP (Internet Protocol) address is the identifier for every device that goes online, so it follows that the more devices that there are online the more addresses we will need. Using the current 32-bit number, which gives around 4 billion IP addresses, will eventually run out, especially if you think there are around 6 billion people in the world who may all need an IP address at some point.

So can you break the Internet, no.

Will it break itself, possibly. But as it is made up of some many parts I doubt it will all break at once, or be broken for long if the likes of Google, Facebook and Amazon to name but a few have anything to do with it.

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Have Amazon dropped the ball?

I often use Amazon as an example of a company that is a pioneer in the way that we use the web today. From an ecommerce perspective, our expectations of where elements are placed on the page have come from using the likes of Amazon for books, CD Wow (remember them?) for CD’s, Play.com for DVD’s and Ebuyer or Dabs for computer components. Most of the ecommerce websites today can thank these (and others) for researching and developing how we browse and shop on the web today.

Whilst the competition has floundered, with the closure of Play.com and before that the removal of it’s own products leaving it as just a market place, Amazon must have been rubbing it’s hands with glee. After all, their aggressive pricing policies and free delivery had us turning to them for more than just books, you can now buy almost anything on their website, either directly from Amazon or from a multitude of sellers in the marketplace.

But all that has changed.

No longer is Amazon the cheapest place to buy products, especially one of its staple products, CDs and DVDs. The shop itself has become a jumble sale, allowing the likes of you and me to add products at will, regardless of whether the same products exist on the site already (I know, I’ve done it). Not only that but the super saver free delivery option has gone unless you spend over an ever-increasing threshold, currently set at £20.

You could point to the drive towards getting more people to use the Prime service, which gives not only free next day delivery, but also access to the online streaming service, as a reason for the shift in policy on delivery charges. I can only guess that the powers that be want to take the money up front (currently £79 per year) for delivery that they previously gave away for free. After all they will need the money to pay for Jeremy Clarkson et al’s massive wages for the eagerly awaited Top Gear follow up reported to have been snapped up by Amazon Prime.

Having spent the best part of fifteen years going to Amazon to find almost anything on the web at a good price with free delivery, I now find myself drawn further towards that other stalwart of the web, EBay. There was a time when EBay was just other people’s junk, second hand tat that you could pick up for a few pounds in the hope that it is better than the pictures make it look. These days you can pick up almost anything, brand new, at a decent price (if you know where to look).

Like other market places you still get products that are vastly over priced, so it is worth shopping around to find the best deal and always check people’s negative feedback. And with PayPal (even though it has now split from EBay) you get the piece of mind that if the DVD you bought doesn’t turn up or turns out to be fake, you are protected as a buyer.

So have Amazon really dropped the ball? (No rugby World Cup 2015 pun intended) Or is their inflated product pricing and delivery policy really a masterstroke to move the company into being a streaming media provider (Prime Instant) rather than a physical product store?

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Have You Ever Had a Paper Round?

It might seem like a bit of an odd question to ask at an interview for a web developer or social media manager within an advertising agency, but it is a question I have been asking over the years for a very good reason.

Firstly it isn’t really the question that is important, more the meaning. What I am really asking people is are you a self starter, did you do something when you where younger that set you apart from others, made a bit of money and showed that you are willing to work hard even from a young age.

Of course in a digital age when most people I know read the news online, through their smart phones, tablets or computers, there is less need for people to deliver newspapers. Indeed my wife used to deliver milk (and no it wasn’t a question I asked before I married her in case you were wondering), again showing at a young age it isn’t just newspapers that needed delivering. Not that you can consume milk online but you can buy it and have it delivered with your weekly shop making the daily milk delivery as rare as the paper boy.

These days I do get odd looks now from the twenty somethings who usually ask “what’s a paper round”. Maybe I will have to change the question to “have you ever had a Saturday job?” It would seem that most 16 and 17 year olds would say no, judging by the recent research conducted by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, suggesting that “Only one in five has a part-time job while in college or doing A-Levels”. The BBC newsbeat team have reported the reductions in their article here, which is what prompted me to write this post.

Although never a deal breaker, I can safely say that the overwhelming majority of people I have employed over the past 15 years have either had a paper round, milk round or some sort of work outside of their school / college time. Also speaking to people who are in positions of authority within companies, either clients or other agencies, I have found the a large amount of them will have done something at a young age, paper round, milk, round, working in a shop on a Saturday morning etc.

It has become more and more important as an employer to see people who have more than just academic skills, but also have real world employment skills too. Even graduates or placement students (working for a year as part of their degree) will have more valuable skills to an employer if they have done something, preferably to do with the job they are applying for, than those who just studied and got a better degree.

So I will be telling my kids, one of which is almost a teenager, to go out and find something outside of their studies that will help them in later life, you just never know who might be asking if you have ever had a paper round.

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Every Little Helps

I shop at Tesco’s for 90% of my groceries. I get my TV, phone and broadband from Sky. I use Money Supermarket to get my car insurance. I use my iPhone to entertain me from games to music to web browsing.

I do all this not just because it’s convenient, but in doing so I can save both time and money.

I’m sure I’m not alone. This is the way of the nation and probably most of the western world. Large organisations have adapted to and built around what the consumer needs. Sure, there is opposition. What about the independent traders, the experts, the local farmer? Most people agree there is a need to support these people but circumstances dictate how we live and really, why make life harder than it needs to be?

Of course I’m using this comparison to illustrate how integrated agencies operate and flourish in today’s financially tough, time-restrictive climate.

But, like the opposition to supermarkets and shopping malls, integrated is seen as a naughty word. Is a marketer seen to be lazy, weak or soft by going to one agency that can fulfil all their needs? Or are they busy, budget-conscious and focused?

The debate surrounding using either a specialist digital agency versus an integrated one has raged for many years and probably won’t go away anytime soon. What we have seen over the years is trends pointing first one way and then the other.

In the early days of the Internet there weren’t many specialist digital agencies so there wasn’t any choice, digital campaigns were done by advertising agencies or repro houses (remember them?).

Once there were enough people with Internet experience small, independent, digital agencies were born and the shift towards using these specialists for digital work was complete.

More recently there seems to be a shift back to the integrated agencies who can offer digital not only as a bolt on, but as a segmented, stand alone offering within the business. This is of course nothing new but there is a growing feeling in the industry that this is the way things are going and may be the way things stay.

The big question is why?

In the beginning digital only agencies were small niche businesses focussing on one thing, website design and build. This is long before you had to put any effort into online marketing to rank highly in Google.

The move from niche to mainstream happened quite quickly as the Internet took off and more businesses wanted a web presence. Good digital agencies then offered ancillary services including online marketing (Search Engine Optimisation and Pay per Click), email marketing and online advertising.

It has been this move from niche to mainstream that led the traditional advertising and marketing agencies to look at these businesses as a threat to their share of client revenue, especially with the increases we have seen in spend on digital activity over the past 10 years.

It makes perfect sense to use specialists where only a specialist can give the required results. However as a marketer it also makes more sense to keep your budget, timescales and more importantly your brand consistency in one place.

This is true not only of integrated campaigns, but also for individual projects too. I think it is safe to say that the majority of major brands now have their own website, be it good or bad, so are generally looking for campaign work rather than a complete digital overhaul or new build without any precedent.

What has been happening in recent years is that specialist digital practitioners, who have worked in pure digital agencies, are helping traditional advertising agencies embrace the digital ‘revolution’ by adding a digital capability to their offering. This allows clients to keep their campaigns in one place rather than having separate agencies for on and off-line projects.

Don’t get me wrong; there is a time and a place for everything and specialist agencies are no different. I do think those that will flourish at least in the short term are the niche agencies that offer services like Social Media and Search Marketing.

Both of these can be handled by integrated agencies that have the people and capabilities and will probably be swallowed up in the same way as traditional design and build has.

Having said all of this, some will be nodding in agreement; some will say that integrated agencies have been offering digital capabilities for a long time. This is very true and whilst some have always had their own specialists, a lot of them used to outsource the digital parts of campaigns to the niche digital agencies. Some of them still do.

There is nothing fundamentally wrong with that and is one of the other ways in which specialists will survive, by going back to being the niche design and build agencies that they started out as.

Integration can be seen as shorthand for choice, convenience and collaboration. It is the binding together of resources, knowledge and skill. It also brings consistency. With brands fighting it out across multiple channels, brand consistency is paramount.  In the current climate, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that if you can’t offer an integrated, collaborative solution then you are in danger of not having the ability to fully deliver the whole package.

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