Archive for March, 2010

How to deal with illegal job interview questions

In accordance with employment laws, there are certain questions that interviewers should not be asking you.

For example:

  • a question relating to your age that would not be asked of someone younger, or older, than you would be breeching the Age Discrimination Act (2006)
  • a question relating to whether you are male or female, that has no bearing on the role, could be considered a direct breech of the Sexual Discrimination Act (1975)

or,  have you felt uncomfortable with questions about your race, disability or sexual orientation?

I was once asked in an interview for an office job if I was planning at any stage to get pregnant and go on maternity leave as they didnt want someone who was going to be off having children. I was a bit taken aback and asked them if they would have asked that question if I was male and they said, “Well of course not”. I walked out of the be interview. I didn’t want to work for a company like that.

So what is the best way of handling such “illegal” questions? In an interview when you are probably nervous anyway this is added pressure you don’t need. You need to answer assertively to get your point across but without being confrontational.  You could of course walk out, like I did, but if you really want to work for them then responses such as:

“I am sure that question is just a friendly enquiry but I’d prefer not  to answer that as I don’t think it has any bearing on my ability to do the job”

“Can I tell you about my work experience instead?”

Leave a comment about the kind of uncomfortable questions you have been asked that you feel were discriminative (but don’t name the company that asked – I don’t want a lawsuit on my hands!) and the responses you gave. I’m intrigued to know if interviewers are a bit more careful these days or not!




How to deal with recruitment agencies


With over a million people this year expected to find jobs through recruitment agencies then, love ’em or hate ’em, they will invariably form part of your job hunting strategy.

Recruitment agencies work by acting as a filter for employers by shortlisting candidates they recommend for interview to save their clients time and money. Often their fees to their clients (the employers) work on a sliding scale and if you decide the job is not for you then they will have to refund their client a percentage of the placement fee. Therefore it is in their interests to place the right candidate. However, be wary of those unscrupulous agencies that try and fit a square peg into a round hole to hit their sales targets. If you don’t feel the role they are putting to you is suitable, then don’t be pushed into it.

Put keywords in your CV: Agencies receive many CVs from prospective candidates which are entered onto their huge database of candidates and coded up using keywords. When a recruitment consultant receives a vacancy from an employer they then search the database using  keywords e.g. engineer+manager+cambridge specific to the job requirements. This produces a list of potential CVs. If you want yours to be one of these, then you need to ensure that it contains all the relevant keywords you might expect a consultant to use in his or her search.

Meet the agency: As this CV logging process is so impersonal it’s vital to become a human being and not just a reference number lurking on a database. So, make sure that you phone the agency to check they have received your CV (or walk in to deliver it personally and ask to speak to someone) and get the name of the relevant consultant. They are sometimes difficult to get through to (unless you are a client with a vacancy then suddenly they are rushing to the phone!) so having their name really helps get past the administration staff screening calls.

If you can arrange to meet the consultant then you are more readily borne in mind for vacancies that come in. At the agency I used to work for, for every candidate we met we had to canvass call three prospective employers to “sell them in” while the candidate was still there. That may be three more employers than you otherwise would have been able to approach, so meet your consultant!

Be persistent: It may not be in your nature to be pushy, but in order to get noticed and keep your CV on the consultant’s desk you need to phone them regularly to see if there are any suitable vacancies. That way they immediately think of you before trawling the database.

Dress to impress: You should treat an interview with a recruitment agency as you would an interview with a prospective employer. Don’t forget they are the first line of interviews – if they don’t think you are right for the role they will not put you forward. So, dig out your smartest suit, clean your shoes, and sort out your nails! You need to sell yourself to the agency so they put YOU forward. (See the Personal Marketing article on what to wear for interviews)


The Psychometric Job Interview

Psychometric testing is increasingly becoming part of the interview process in both the public and private sectors, with a reported 95% of FTSE companies and 75% of medium and large organisations using them.

These structured tests, designed by psychologists, provide employers with valid and reliable results on a candidate’s abilities or personality traits and provide a fairer, more standard selection process.

There are two types of psychometric tests – Ability tests and Personality tests.

Ability tests can cover technical skills, numeric reasoning and/ or word skills. These tests are strictly timed. Personality tests however, are not timed and have no “right” or “wrong” answers but different personality traits are suitable for different roles (for example,  a sales person would ideally score highly on the extraversion scale).

One of the most commonly used personality tests is the OCEAN personality test which measures characteristics on the followingscales:

  • Openness – (inventive / curious vs. cautious / conservative.
  • Conscientiousness – (efficient / organized vs. easy-going /careless).
  • Extroversion – (outgoing / energetic vs. shy / withdrawn).
  • Agreeableness – (friendly / compassionate vs. competitive / outspoken
  • Neuroticism – (sensitive / nervous vs. secure /confident).

There are numerous tests on the internet that you can google to have a practice if you suspect that you may be required to sit one of these tests in an interview. Personality tests can’t really be practiced but many people become unstuck on the ability tests simply due to the timed element of such tests.

Click here for examples of timed ability tests.

Microphone in hand, we asked a senior HR Manager in the private sector how these were applied in a large organisation:

Would you use psychometric tests as part of an interview procedure? If so, for which type of vacancies?

Ability Testing – We tend to use verbal and numerical reasoning for Senior Management positions.  The ones we use are the hardest ones as they are measured against  other senior managers. We do expect a high score and most of our managers would be scoring in the top 10% and if they weren’t, we’d look more closely at them in terms of their level of intellect.  We also use Ability tests for technical vacancies – mechanical/spatial ability etc.
Personality Testing – We also use personality profiling for senior management recruitment and may also use them for internal promotions.  Personality profiling is far more subjective and is used to start further discussions relating to the candidate’s personality traits that would not necessarily come up through the usual interview process.

Do  you use psychometric testing as an ongoing career development tool?

Not really although this is probably a better use of them.  We can and have used profiling tests that show career aspirations and ideal job fits, as well as ones that can help ascertain learning preferences (i.e. how is it best for you to absorb information).  We have also administered some limited 360 appraisals, which calls for a manager’s direct reports to complete questionnaires (confidentially).  This should show management style, weaknesses and strengths, and ensure that the manager’s view is similar to that of his direct reports.

How reliable and valid do you consider psychometric tests? Can you spot the “socially desirable answers” that someone may give?

Ability tests are fully valid as they are completely objective, providing that what you are trying to measure is relevant – i.e. does someone need to score in the top 10% in numerical reasoning for a marketing role?

Personality profiling is far more subjective and is only about 70% accurate.  This is why anyone interpreting these tests must be qualified and on the register with the British Psychological Society.  There should always be two way feedback on all personality profiling so that the comments shown can be validated with real examples to show they are accurate or not.  I would never share a document with others in the interview process, but would verbally summarise what the profile and my in-depth feedback meeting had discovered.   Any psychometric testing should only be used to validate or expand on areas already established during the interview process and are not the ‘be all and end all’.  There are indicators in all personality profiling that show if someone has answered in a way to show themselves in a better light, faked “good” answers, or have a disproportionate number of ‘middle’ answers.  This is another reason for an in depth discussion.  This is another area of conflict during the interview process as the whole point as a candidate is to show yourself in a good light!

So, there is not much you can do to prepare for psychometric personality testing except be aware of the traits that would be desirable for the role that you are being interviewed for, and be prepared to back those up with real life examples in the interview.  Once you have landed the job however, you may still be expected to complete psychometric tests throughout your career. So,be sure to take the time every now and then to practice timed ability tests!


Networking for introverts


Hmm, now this is  interesting. According to the job hunters’ bible, ‘What Color is your parachute?’ by Richard Bolles:

  • Using the internet as a way to look for a job is, at the very most, 10% effective
  • Mailing out your CV to employers at random is usually 7% effective
  • Answering job ads in the press, noticeboards etc are around 7% to 24% effective.
  • Using recruitment agencies is 5-28% effective

The method he deems as around 90% effective is congruent with the old expression, “It’s not what you know, it’s WHO you know”; otherwise known as “networking”.

Now networking might come naturally to you, but according to the Shyness Research Institute (yes, really!) at Indiana University, approximately 40% of people describe themselves as shy. This can mean that the prospect of “networking” is one that brings many job hunters out in a cold sweat.

So how do you master the art of the “schmooz” and maximise your chances of seizing an opportunity through networking?

1. Start close to home. If you are shy, a bit of a hermit even, there are probably friends and family that you have not caught up with for a while. Dust off your address book, go through the numbers in your phone and make contact to see how they are. Drop a friend an email, arrange to go out for a drink or invite them round for a cup of coffee and practise your small talk. Practising socialising with people with whom you have lost contact to warm up your skills for when you have to meet strangers.

2. Get a gregarious friend. I used to have a friend called Lara who was a brilliant networker. At parties, whether they were hers or not, she would manage to get everyone in the room talking with each other. She would ask lots of questions then, at a relevant point in the conversation, introduce another person in the room-  then discreetly slip away when the new connection was firmly established and moved onto the next wall flower.  A Lara is a great person to know. She takes away your nerves and does the introducing for you. Obviously you can’t drag your Lara everywhere, but watch how they do it and learn their skills.

3. Ask questions and listen. Talk to your new contact by asking them questions about what they do. Most people love talking about themselves and this keeps the heat off you! Ask lots of “open questions” that begin with a who, how, when, where or why. A question that results in a yes/no answer will be as painful as pulling teeth. If you are at an event ask others what they thought of the speaker/programme/show.

4. Watch your body language. Smile, don’t slouch, make eye contact with people, don’t fold your arms or talk too fast. If you don’t know what to do with your hands carry a pen!

5. Don’t scoff all the buffet. It may be tempting at an event to simply avoid people and make a beeline for the buffet. While everyone else is networking you have troughed your way through four platefuls of sausage rolls instead. Not a good start.

6. Be realistic. Talking with two or three people in a room is better than not talking with anyone at all.

7. Watch out for self effacing comments. Don’t put yourself down/belittle your job or achievements/apologise all the time.

8. Be a greeter. If your company is holding an event and you have been drafted in to help, offer to be the person on the front desk. Hand out the name badges, say hello to people, tell them where the bar is. You will get to know who everyone is and soon people will approach you for a chat.

9. Go online. Networking doesn’t always mean face-to-face (although this is the most effective way). Get networking via Facebook and LinkedIn. Join online groups and discussions to get your name about.

10. Get over your fear of rejection. You won’t be interesting to all people, nor will your skills or experience be of use to all you meet, so don’t worry if the conversation doesn’t go anywhere or you never hear from your new contact again. Don’t take it personally!


Creating your own CV website

If  you are job hunting and have a portfolio of work you need prospective employers to see, then you should consider creating your own website.

You can use a website to demonstrate your talents much better than a plain CV. You can include examples of your work and testimonials from clients or previous employers.

This approach is ideal for the following creative professions and in many cases a website is expected from you:

  • Graphic designers
  • Website developers
  • Designers (Interior, Fashion etc)
  • Actors
  • Artists and photographers
  • Models
  • Anyone planning to go freelance in any field

One of the advantages of this approach is that you can circulate the link to your site on the internet – through jobs noticeboards, social networking and emails.

Other advantages include:

  • You can include all aspects of your work using photos, sound and video to demonstrate your creativity
  • You don’t have to carry a portfolio of your work around with you
  • You can include the website link on your business cards at networking events
  • You can drive traffic to your website to save you some footwork in approaching prospective employers
  • Other people may see your website and recommend you to a friend/colleague

There are some things you need to consider though:

  • To do a good job, and unless you are a web designer yourself, you will need to pay a professional to create the website for you. Prices can range enormously so make sure you have the budget!
  • Creating a website is not a five minute job and takes planning, testing and maintenance.  It can take many weeks to establish depending on the complexity of the site
  • You will need to ensure the content is up to date and fresh
  • You will need to include a link to your traditional format CV so will need to ensure that  too looks professional
  • Make sure that the website is clear and easy to read and has no errors, dud links or spelling mistakes
  • You will need to choose domain name that is available and will have to pay a fee to register it. You can find domain name checkers on the internet

Your site should include the following information:

  • Your name
  • Your credentials (qualifications and skills)
  • What it is you do – sell yourself! Don’t just expect your work to speak for itself.
  • Examples of your work and projects you have worked on
  • Testimonials from satisfield employers/clients
  • How to contact you (very important!)

As with your traditional CV, do NOT include any information that could potentially be used by criminals for fraudulent purposes!

Click here to see the Personal Marketing blog entry on what personal information NOT to include on your CV website.


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