Going into an interview for a executive role can always be a bit unnerving… what will they ask me? have I done enough prep? will nerves get the better of me? can I really do this? so with all these thoughts in your head the last thing you want is to get hit with a complete googlie! (That’s a cricket term for my transatlantic friends – means one out the blue).

One of my coachees was asked ‘What’s your view on the Syrian Refugee Crisis?’ Neither of us had anticipated that one. In broad terms it had nothing to do with being a CEO of a UK non profit. But in another sense it had everything to do with the role. I can’t tell why the interviewer asked that but if I had to guess I’d say:

  • to test the candidates ability to think on the spot
  • to test the candidate’s ability to deal with the unexpected
  • to see if the candidate was alive to the issues of the day – had an external focus
  • to see whether they had the courage of their convictions and were prepared to offend, sildenafil be controversial or just flannel
  • to see what their values were

All of those things are entirely legitimate things to test.

But how should you handle such an unexpected question?

  • have an opinion! but make it a balanced opinion and have some facts to support it (if you can) consider the issue from a number of standpoints. You can spend your time simply talking about how complex a problem it is
  • be articulate, click just pause before you leap into an answer – its OK to say ‘that’s a toughie’, or ‘there is no easy answer to this’, use that time to think  about your response. Our world is full of complex issues that can’t be dealt with in a slick phrase
  • be values driven and true to yourself, if they want to hire you it should be because you share the same values not because you have blagged your way by saying what you think they want to hear
  • be confident, when you are put on the spot it is all too easy to fall apart, plough on and sound like you know what you are talking about. There’s no right or wrong.. just what you think. So know what it is that you think.


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Everyone wants to feel confident in an interview. Even if they can’t actually feel confident they want to appear  confident. And one of the ways you can do that is by shutting up!
You’re probably thinking.. ‘but I need to talk, purchase  to tell them my ideas and my experiences.. why would I shut up?’
You need to say your piece and then shut up. One of the things that confident people can do is cope with a bit of silence in a  conversation. Nervous people keep talking and keep repeating themselves and saying the same thing and go on and on and on. If you truly knew that you had given a spectacular answer you would stop, view pause to let the impact sink in, no rx sit back confidently and wait for the next question.
Many coaching clients come to me and tell me that they waffle in interviews and we work on techniques to help them stop the waffle.. so what’s the trick?

  • Be prepared to stop talking and allow a little silence.
  • Check when you have finished that the interviewer has heard enough and you have
    covered all the bases: ‘was that enough? .. does that cover it?’
  • Know exactly what your story is and then when you have said it shut up. If you are well prepared and know what you want to tell them before the interview you will feel more confident to stop talking, you will know that you have said it!
  • Watch the body language of the interviewer, that will help you know when they have heard enough and want to move on. If they start interrupting you.. that’s a dead give away.

It is not a case of ‘less is more’ in the interview, but it is a case of ‘enough is enough’. Just know when to stop!

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I was coaching someone who almost gagged when we got to talking about the ‘what are your strengths?’ question.. they really struggle to say that they are good at anything. In spite of some really significant achievements and accomplishments.  As we unpicked this reticence I discovered a deep fear of being seen as a boast or braggart.

This set me thinking and I did some research into the subject of boasting; why are we so averse to blowing our own trumpet? (or tooting as the Americans call it.. divided by a common language!) There is a strong religious element to this; major religions –Islam, more about Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity all value humility and consider boasting a vice. As the Bible puts it ‘let him who boasts, boast in the Lord’. I think there is an element of social control in the culture of  disapproval of the person who is self congratulatory. Our rulers prefer a bit of submission and self deprecation, those who know their own rights and value may be less submissive. Our parents were often quick to condemn the show off or sing one’s own praises. It is considered impolite to draw too much attention to ourselves, after all ‘children should be seen and not heard’ is still a value instilled into people when they are young.  ‘Pride’ we were told ‘comes before a fall’.

But there is also an issue of emotional  intelligence attached to talking too much about oneself or one’s achievements. It is a narcissistic and inconsiderate behavioural trait that tends to alienate others. The dictionary defines boasting as ‘to talk with excessive pride and self satisfaction about one’s abilities or possessions’ and lists a whole selection of pejorative adjectives as synonyms. When we boast we are often saying ‘look I am better than you’ and that does not endear us to others.  But the drive to tell everyone how great we are comes more often from a real lack of self esteem. People stroke their own ego in order to convince themselves of their own self worth. As one modern dictionary put it:

“Boasting is someone attempting to hide their dumbassness by repeatedly lauding their one and only (generally small) victory to their friends or a random crowd of strangers, depending on who is handy.”

So: no –one likes a braggart and boasting can reveal a real lack of confidence –where  does that leave interviewees and ambitious careerists?  with a problem? In the modern world it is critical to build a brand, to have strong networks who promote you. As Margie Warrell puts it

The old adage “it’s not what you know, but who you know” no longer holds true. Nowadays, it’s “who knows what you know.”


If in the interview you do not put forward your accomplishments then you will never get the job. Lack of enthusiasm, hesitancy and lack of confidence in your own abilities are key reasons people get turned down by interviewers. So what is the solution? Here are some tips for interviews and networking to help you promote yourself without  being annoying.

  • Don’t promote yourself but promote your value. Reframe your experience and expertise in terms of the value that you have to contribute. Describe how you could solve a problem or overcome and obstacle and describe it in terms of how you would work with others to do so.
  • Tell a story. Human beings are conditioned to like stories ad there is nothing so powerful  as a well told story (using STAR) that shows your enthusiasm and your skills. You don’t need to tell people that you are really good at something if you just describe an occasion when you have excelled with that skill.
  • Be relevant. Don’t jump into a conversation announcing your greatest triumph but listen to others and when an occasion arises tell others factually what you have achieved. Keep your story relevant to the conversation.
  • Tell it once. Part of the reason that people dislike braggarts is that they go on and on about their achievements (or those of their grandchildren)  and don’t know when to shut up. So tell your story once and then move on to ask others about their experience. Or in an interview, wait for the next question.
  • Don’t use hyperbole. People who boast tend to over dramatize their stories, keep it factual and keep it to the point. Try not to use emotive language or exaggerate the difficulties that you overcame. Be realistic about achievements.
  • Share the glory. Make it clear that although you have used first person singular , you could not have achieved this without the help and hard work of other team members. When networking give others their due praise and credit. Promote them and in return they will promote you.
  • When asked about strengths you do not have to say that you are the best compared to others,   tell them what you think you do best. That is what the questions is asking about. What are your strengths? not  ‘what are you better than anyone else at?’. Your don’t have to say “I’m really good at…”, say “what I do best..” Everyone has things they feel most comfortable doing or most at ease doing.  Find a way to express those things that you feel comfortable and confident using and practice it.
  • Never steal the credit from others when it is not due to you. You never know who or what the other person actually knows.
  • Express empathy with others. Always give the interviewer time to talk, finish their question and be sensitive to them.

Share your good news with those you trust but share your emotional intelligence with everyone. Facebook and LinkedIn and Twitter give us a channel to share everything with everyone but need to be used sensitively ‘wow I got a huge raise’ is not going to go down well with people in your network that are hard up and struggling, especially if they think they deserve it more than you do. So watch what you say and where  you say it but don’t hide your light under a bushel. Follow these tips, promote yourself appropriately and promote others equally.

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Navigating through the application

I often get asked about all the different bits of paperwork: “Yes, ambulance I know I need cover letter, pill  all the advice is that hiring managers  hate getting just a CV and nothing else  but what should it say?  And is it the same as a supporting statement and why do they need two things? And why if I have done a  CV do I any of that?”  Or if the adverts says “Please explain why you are applying for this vacancy and you feel your transferrable skills, order relevant experience and achievements match the competencies for this role. Please make reference to the job description. What do I do then?”  Recently I came across another  requirement: a two page autobiography saying what had driven you career and what you are proud of”

Yes, it’s a minefield and very confusing. And what should I send and if I am applying on line where do I put it?

Ok let’s think about it. What does the future employer want to know and how are they going to find it out? They want to do three main things:

  1. What experience have you got? And the more senior you are the more likely they will be looking for experience and someone who has already been successful in that sector and that sort of role. And they are going to find that out in a CV that is rich in achievements and examples of your success in just the things that they want you to do.
  2. What motivation have you got for this role? That is where your ‘cover letter’ comes into play. Your cover letter will tell them what interests you about the organisation, about the role, what the challenges are of the role and what makes you think that you can solve those challenges. The fact that you have thought about who they are, what challenges they face, what the job involves, all demonstrate that you are interested.
  3. What skills and competencies do you have that would make you suitable for them in this role? And here we are at the supporting statement, of the statement of suitability or whatever they have chosen to call it the ‘How I meet the person spec’ bit. But you may argue, surely that is all in the CV? They know I can lead, they know I can sell, they know I can open up new avenues of business… as my bullet points of achievements tell them that, my list of key skills (or motherhood words as I call them) tell them that. Well yes they may be able to infer your skills  form the Cv but not the style. They can’t tell how you achieved those things. And saying that you have financial skills is assertion not evidence. And in many sectors evidence is king and assertion is the fool outside the castle gate.


cover letter

So your Cv is a summary of your achievements and your cover letter is your demonstration of your  motivation and  statement demonstrates your competence. It is longer. It is the flesh on the bones of those achievements. It is the evidence of the skills and your style of achieving. It is the demonstration that you understand the processes that go into achieving those things and that your approach and style matches theirs.

So if you are asked for a CV… send a CV and a cover letter

If you are asked for a CV and cover letter, I think you should merge your cover letter and supporting statement into one document and send them that

If you are asked for a CV and supporting statement, I think you should send them the CV, the cover letter and the supporting statement

And if you are asked for an autobiography… get your thinking cap on… refer to my article on answering the interview question on ‘give us an overview of your career’ and tell them exactly what you need them to hear!

You need to answer those questions.  Once you know what they need to hear worry less about the format and get cracking on the superb content!.




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