Archive for the ‘Interview Technique’ Category

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!




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!


How to answer the weakness question!

It’s a question that always seems to arise in an interview and one that few people prepare themselves for. The dreaded “What are your weaknesses?” question. It may be dressed up as “What are your areas of development?”, but it still means the same thing and has brought many an experienced interviewee out into a cold sweat.

You don’t want to show the interviewer your warts as, after all, you really want this job. You want them to know what you are good at, not all the things you can’t do.

So, what is the right way to go about answering this question and still paint yourself in a good light?

Keen to seek the perfect answer, we put the question to a group of job hunters of all levels of experience. The best answer came from the President of an Environmental Service Company. This, is brilliant advice:

“I’m no expert, but here is how I think one should handle this type of question.

1st – identify one of your true weaknesses, everybody has them,
2nd – identify what you’ve done to overcome the weakness or attempt to avoid it or minimise the effect,
3rd – weave yourself a storyline to be used in the interview, make it short and concise so that you can quickly move on to the next question,
4th – include a real world example,
5th – overall be honest with yourself and with the interviewer…after all, the question isn’t intended to actually determine your weakness, it’s intended to see how you handle the question. The worst thing you can do is lie or give a trite answer like “I have no real weaknesses” as a good interviewer will see right through it. Also, if your real weakness is one that truly threatens your chance to be good at the job, maybe, for your own sake, you should be looking for a different job. The honesty part helps you most of all.

Here is my storyline, and it is all true…”I’m a knowledge hound, when I get involved in a new area, I dive in and learn everything I can until I am completely confident in my knowledge. I also enjoy teaching folks and sharing my knowledge. Sometimes, if I’m not careful, I can come off as arrogant. To protect against coming off as arrogant, I have developed a few techniques.

Firstly, I try to ask a lot of questions. This helps keep the conversation two way instead of it becoming a lecture, it also helps me focus on the exact information the other party would like to learn.

Secondly, I developed a specific technique as a result of a specific incident in a sales call. I was once accused of lying. A very technical customer said that it was impossible for me to be able to answer all of his questions, so I must be lying to him in at least one of my answers. After that, I was always sure to intentionally leave at least one question unanswered. I would tell the customer that while I couldn’t answer the question right now, I could get him the answer. Then I would call the customer within an hour after leaving the sales call, and provide the answer. This would work doubly well in that I would never be suspected of lying merely because I was able to answer all the questions, and it would show my commitment to getting the customers’ questions answered by using my network of resources.”

The main thing to remember when answering this question is to ensure that you explain to the interviewer what it is you need to do, or are doing, to overcome that weakness. This tells the employer that you are proactive, you seek to strengthen your skills and would develop within the role.

Everyone has weaknesses, but not everyone has a plan as to what they are going to do about it. Make sure you do!


Funniest and Worst Interviews – Part Two

More fine examples of the funniest and worst interview experiences from the Linked In/Personal Marketing survey!

  • I had a candidate cry during an interview. The question that started his waterworks was “So, tell me about your last job.” Ouch.
  • When I asked the candidate what he considered to be his greatest strength, literally after about two loooong minutes of complete silence while he thought about it, he told me it was his ‘communication skills’. I had to do anything I could just to prevent myself from laughing!
  • I remember interviewing one person for a Technician/Engineer position, he had very little clue about imperial measures, but even though we are officially metric, we use imperial measurements extensively, so I asked him..”How many feet in a yard?”…his answer was “well, it depends on how many people are in the yard”
  • Candidate’s question at interview with client, for a Chief Operating Officer position: “How long is the waiting period before psychological counselling will be covered by the group insurance?”
  • Candidate said:  “I was I didn’t want to come off as hyper so I smoked some weed before the interview.”
  • So today, I asked, “Why do you want to work for our company?”. Her response was, “Well it is a big building”… and she left it at that. Later on, I then asked her another standard interviewing question, “What are some characteristics you would use to describe yourself”. Her response was, “Umm, well, I can’t think of anything”. Last question was, “are you currently working full-time?”. Her response: “Yes, except for the 2 days I don’t work”…
  • The candidate who told me how he coped with workplace stress by going home and crying into his pillow.
  • We had one candidate clip his TOENAILS in the interview. He thought he was alone in the conference room which he was, but the room was monitored. We know this because we had closed circuit cameras in the conference room. He was there waiting and just by chance the receptionist peeked on the monitor to see if he was OK, and there he was, foot on the table, clipping away.
  • Half way through the interview day the candidate asked how much longer she would be there. She said it was close to her nap time and she needed a cigarette. It was 1130am.
  • I once had a female candidate turn up with a hairy chin. “You’ll have to excuse the chin”, she said. “I am just off to get it waxed at the salon after I’ve finished here”.
  • After the interview concluded, I went back to my office to find it stinking of  urine. I looked at the chair the applicant was sitting in, and you guessed it… a puddle.
  • One of my favourite closing questions is often, “When preparing for this interview what was the one question you hoped I wouldn’t ask and how would you answer it?” The candidate responded with a really tough question, one I would never have thought to ask. So, I then I inquired, “and what is your answer?” His response was, “I wish you hadn’t asked me that.”

Funniest and worst interviews

Always striving to help the job hunter, Neet Ideas posed the question, “What is the worst/funniest thing you have experienced from a candidate in a job interview” to the business networking site LinkedIn  “Corporate Recruiters” group.

Consisting of 34,000 HR professionals and senior managers, here is a selection of the group’s answers!

“I explained to an applicant that if he were to be hired, he would be required to go through a background check involving a drug screen and finger printing. He stood up and told me he would not allow his “sample” to be taken because he just knew we would use it (as he declared himself a genius) to clone him.”

“I was conducting an interview with a young lady who showed up in a pink jogging suit with the word “Juicy” across the rear end of the pants. Moments after the interview started, the receptionist knocked on my door and said, sorry to interrupt, but the candidate’s young children were in the lobby asking for their mother.”

“Met a girlfriend in an interview: Best. Turned out to be a psychopath: Worst”

“When hiring for my own team, I took a female candidate to lunch. She proceeded to order chicken wings and then went to work systematically cleaning all the meat off of every bone, whilst licking her fingers, as she told me about her background.”

“The interview was going along very well until he told me that the lunch he had was causing some problems with his teeth and if I minded if he could stop and take care of it. I thought, sure, he could take a short break and maybe go floss his teeth or something of that nature. But, no, he just opened his mouth stuck his fingers in there and pulled out his teeth, both the top and bottom set and then to top it off, he put the whole set right on top of my desk.”

“The funniest thing I have ever experienced was; I had a candidate ask me what the dress code was for the interview. I replied “Well, formal is good”. I show up at the client site to meet the guy, and in walks the man in a full blown tuxedo.”

“I had a candidate come from Philadelphia to NY for an interview. The receptionist called me and told me the candidate was here — with his dog. I asked if he was blind and she said he definitely was not. I came out to see him and he said that he drove in from Philly and brought his dog along for company. When he got to the parking garage, the attendant wouldn’t allow him to leave the dog in the car, so he brought him up. At first, we put the dog in a large coat closet off the reception area. The dog started to howl and we had to take the dog out. We put the dog in the mail room and found that one of our mailroom clerks was allergic to dogs. The clerk blew up with a huge rash and had to be sent home. The receptionist then said she loved dogs and we could leave him with her. To avoid the dog’s snapping at visitors, we tethered him to a huge palm tree in the reception area. The dog then started to yelp at the receptionist and visitors, straining at the leash, until he managed to pull the six foot 250 pound tree across the room. While caring for animals is an admirable trait, we nonetheless reluctantly decided not to make a job offer.”

“I was interviewing a candidate, finished my section, and went to get the hiring manager. On my way back to the room, building security rushed past me heading in the same direction. Looking out the front door I saw police cars pulling up and officers jumping out. As I got closer to the room where my applicant was, I realised that security and the police were heading there too. While he was waiting for me to return, the applicant had presssed the red panic button on the wall, which automatically summoned security and rang at the local police station. When I asked him why he pressed the button, he replied that he wanted to see what it would do, and when nothing happened, he pressed it a few more times.”

“When the candidate came in, she was asked one of our typical questions that referred to having to “wear many hats in order to meet all of the needs,” which was analogous to asking about their multi-tasking ability, and ability to do many things at once. The candidate immediately began talking about how funny her hair looks in hats, and how she doesn’t usually wear them because they’re not flattering on her, but she would wear one if she had to for the job…. etc., etc”


Wet Lettuce v The Bone Crusher: Handshakes

It makes no difference if you are a man or a woman. Offer a limp wet lettuce as a handshake and the interview could well be on its way downhill. Likewise, pumping their arm up and down like you are Willy Wonka won’t do much for your chances either.

In fact, one MP has even suggested that those who administer “bone-crushing” handshakes to prove the strength of their personality should be charged with assault.

So, how do you create a confident, not weak and not arrogant, first impression from the outset?

  • Make sure that you are holding your coat/bags in your left hand so that you are not fumbling about
  • Make sure your hand is clean and dry but DO NOT rub it on your trousers or skirt in front of the interviewer!
  • Let the interviewer start and finish the handshake and mirror their grip
  • Do not crush the interviewer’s hand as this can come across as over-dominant not assertive
  • Do not just stick out a wet floppy hand as this will make the interviewer’s skin crawl and make you appear weak
  • Do not hold their hand in both of yours, or go for a “mwah” kiss on the cheek (different rules in Europe)
  • Do not touch them on the arm, or anywhere else, while you are shaking their hand
  • Do not pump their arm enthusiastically. The handshake should go up and down around three times only!
  • Make sure that you stand up to shake hands. It’s only polite!
  • Make eye contact and smile with the other person as you shake their hand. (But not a crazy smile!)
  • Practise your handshake before the interview with friends and get their opinion

Often only western cultures shake hands so be wary of cultural differences. In the Far East a bow is the usual form of greeting, and in the Muslim world offering the left hand is considered a great insult. Shaking hands with a Muslim woman if you are a non-related male is a taboo. So, don’t take offence if you are not offered a handshake – it could just be a cultural thing!

First impressions are made in the first ten seconds of a meeting so get the handshake right!


What to wear for an interview

There is no doubt that first impressions count in an interview situation. Apparently, it only takes three seconds for a prospective employer to make assumptions on your personality, suitability for the role and how you will fit in with the rest of the team based on your appearance.  So, it’s important that you make that first impression a good one.

Remember these top tips:

A suit is always a safe bet, regardless of the type of job you are going for. Make sure that the suit fits and is clean! Make sure the jacket and trousers/skirt match.

For men:

  • Wear a long sleeved shirt and not one made of nylon. Nylon can look cheap and shiny and also make you sweat a lot in the interview.
  • If it is a new shirt then make sure you iron it and it doesn’t have creases from where it has just been removed from the packaging!
  • Wear a tie, but do not wear an outrageous one to show how “zany” you are. The interviewer will assume you are a complete clown.
  • Don’t wear white socks with a business suit. Or brown shoes with black trousers! It may be fashionably acceptable now to combine brown and black, but some interviewers are “old school”.
  • Make sure you are clean shaven, or if you have a beard, that it is neatly trimmed.


  • No short skirts or low cut tops and unless your job interview is within an industry that encourages it, don’t dress like a fashion victim.
  • No midriff on show and make sure your shirt/blouse is not straining across your chest!
  • Keep accessories and make up to a minimum. You want your personality and experience to shine, not interrupted by the clatter of bangles and jewellery.
  • Avoid red shoes! I used to have a boss who would instantly dismiss female candidates in red shoes, “Red shoes and no knickers”, she would say and cross them off her list. I am sure that is not the case, but I made a mental note never to wear red shoes in case that is a common expression!


  • A lot can be assumed from a person from looking at their shoes and their fingernails as to how much attention they pay to detail.  It’s always the first thing I look at and I know many other interviewers check these out too. So, make sure that your shoes aren’t scuffed, no matter how sharp your suit, and that your nails are clean and trimmed.  Chipped nail polish also looks slack too.
  • Don’t marinate in perfume/after shave before your interview. If you wear a certain scent for a long time you may need to apply more before you can smell it as you become so accustomed to it.  However, that quantity to everyone else can be choking and VERY off putting.
  • Tattooes and body piercings will always stereotype you, no matter how individual they make you feel. Make sure you remove these/cover them up to project a more professional image.
  • Make sure you have had a shower and have freshly washed hair. It may seem like common sense but I’ve seen some absolute specimens roll in for an interview!


Be confident! Part Three – AFTER the interview

Hopefully you were successful and landed the job but what should you do AFTER an interview to stay confident if things didn’t go so well?

1. You may be feeling disappointed but first thing is DON’T take it personally! Stay positive.

2. Ask the employer/recruitment agency for feedback. Although is may be tough to hear it’s vital to know where you can improve for interviews in the future. Keep persisting with recruitment agencies as they can be slow to return feedback calls to candidates that didnt get through.

3. Don’t beat yourself up over things you should have said/could have answered better etc. Yes it’s good to know what you can improve but if you dwell on it, then it will be at the back of your mind for the next interview. Let it go and move on!

4. Don’t keep letters of rejection. I knew one guy who kept all his rejection letters in a file. Why do that ? Just to depress yourself?

5. Pick up the jobs paper, hit google or call round agencies to ensure that you are continuing the search for the next opportunity. Don’t sit about feeling sorry for yourself.

6. Read through your list of strengths and achievements and remind yourself of all the things you are good at.

7. As my Dad always says “What’s meant for you won’t go by you”. Obviously this job was just not meant to be and you’ll find a much better one soon!

So, stay positive and keep looking!

Good luck!



Be confident! Part Two – DURING the interview


Here are some top confidence tips to not let nerves get the better of you in the interview:

  • Firm handshake.  You have probably heard this a million times and may need to practice beforehand. Do not crush the interviewer’s hand but also do not offer them a wet lettuce of  a handshake. (Make sure you wipe any clamminess off on the way in!)
  • Make a mental note to yourself of the interviewer’s eye colour. Not by staring in a weird psycho way, but ensure you make eye contact with him/her.
  • If you are offered a drink just ask for water.  If there are two interviewers you may find yourself making awkward conversation while one of them is off boiling the kettle which may unsettle your nerves. Plus, spilling water down yourself is better than getting coffee all down your front!
  • Interviews general compromise three elements:

Ability – this is the preparation prior to the interview (see Part One blog note). You know your abilities and have examples of experience.
Personality – make sure that you smile (but not like a Cheshire Cat), ask lots of questions and don’t butt in when the interviewer is talking.
Enthusiasm – avoid being negative about previous employers or moaning about anything! They want to see that you like the sound of the job, like the company and want to hear what YOU can offer them.

  • Watch the pace and tone of your voice. Don’t talk too fast or you will find you have reached the end of one sentence before you know what to say in the next. Then you end up talking rubbish. Make sure you don’t sound montonous or waffly.
  • You may get asked “What are your strengths?” – an easy question to answer if you have prepared well, but many people fall down and splutter when asked “What are your weaknesses?”. Obviously you don’t want to reel off a load of things you are not very good at but choose a couple from your preparation list and ALSO tell them what it is you are either doing at the moment to overcome this weakness (which is why I prefer to call them “areas of development”!) or what support you would need to improve in this area. It shows that you are aware of where you need to improve. Nobody is perfect.
  • Make sure you say “I” instead of “we” when talking about your past experience and abilities. “I did this…I did that…” rather then “We….”. You need to show that YOU were the one that did these things and not dilute it by suggesting that you were just a passenger.
  • Ask some “killer questions” at the end of the interview. Don’t rush straight in talking about salary but ask questions about the company’s future plans, career progression, market trends. Anything that will make you sound engaging and interested in what they do.
  • Finally, thank the interviewer/s for their time and shake their hand/s again.

Coming soon: Part Three…AFTER the interview



Be confident! Part One – BEFORE the interview


Robbie Williams hums the Rocky theme tune to psych himself up – but in the real work it takes a little more than that!

What can you do to ensure that you don’t become a bundle of nerves and instead exude an air of calm, clear headed confidence in the interview room?

Preparation is  key!

  • Look the company up on the internet. Understand what they do/make,  who their market and competitors are. It will impress your interviewers that you have shown an interest as they will probably open the  conversation with “OK, so what do you know about us?”. Nothing is worse than an interviewee saying “Ummm…nuffin”. It means they haven’t bothered.
  • Obtain a copy of the job description, read through it and note examples of tasks/achievements in previous roles where you have demonstrated the skill required. If you have facts and figures then even better!
  • Write a list of your strengths and weaknesses. You will feel boosted by reading your list of strengths. With your list of weaknesses write down what it is you need to overcome that weakness. Is it training maybe, or practice?
  • Many interviews  tend to be based on a “behavioural interview” type.  This is to assess how a person copes with situations and means that the interviewee has to give specific examples. To prepare for this, get a piece of paper and write examples under the following headings:

Influencing – can you think of a time where you have persuaded someone round to your way of thinking? Where you have convinced others of a good idea?

Communication – practice your answers without waffling or talking too fast and think of examples of written communications you have used. How effective were they?

Change management – demonstrate that you can cope with change. Many companies  are undergoing major restructuring and so require the work force to be flexible and not negative about progress.

Teamwork – where you have worked well in a team? What was your role in that team? With many workplaces being open plan, employers often look for people that will “fit in” and work easily with others.

Planning and organising – how do you prioritise? Most jobs you will have to do numerous tasks at once – can you demonstrate how you have handled this in the past? You may be required to drop everything and refocus your attentions on another task – do you have any examples of this?

Problem solving – think of  an example where you solved a problem effectively. Did you save a sale/customer/a life/the company money?

Working under pressure – as resources get tighter pressure on workers is higher than ever before. How do you cope with stress? Can you think of an example that shows that you are cool under pressure?

  • If you don’t have much work experience then think of examples from other areas of your life.
  • Think of some good questions to ask at the end of the interview.  Intelligent questions such as, “Where does the company see its services/products developing over the next two years?” rather than “How long will I get for lunch???”

So now you are prepared. You know what your strengths are and you have identified your weaknesses (or “areas of development” as I like to call them.  I’ll come to why this is important in Part Two – DURING the interview).

One more top tip:

Think of a time that you felt on top of the world! A time when you achieved something that made you feel so proud and happy that you couldn’t stop beaming from ear to ear. Think about how you felt and, at the same time, squeeze your earlobe and hold for a few seconds. Do this every day in the days running up to the interview. Then, as you are sitting waiting for your name to be called and the butterflies start setting in, gently squeeze your earlobe. All those feelings of confidence and achievement that you have “locked in” will come flooding back and you will sit upright and feel calm and positive. Try it!

Coming soon….Be Confident! Part Two – DURING the interview!


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