Somewhere hidden in this article there is a heartwarming sentence that will make you feel sparkly and happy, but exactly where, well… that’s a secret. You’ll just have to read the article one sentence at a time until you find it. I don’t feel proud of using this sort of underhand tactic to make people read my stuff, but it’s just that this particular article is all about how to write a CV, and that’s not a subject known for its natural magnetism. That sentence though; you’re going to love it; I just know you are!
One reason that people find the subject of CVs so boring, though, is because they fundamentally don’t understand what a CV is. A good CV is an extremely powerful document that can open all sorts of doors for you, doors that lead to rooms of opportunity. In those rooms of opportunity are big parcels of better pay, chairs of challenge and a sideboard of success. Please don’t read the last two sentences and think I’m suggesting you litter your CV with overwrought metaphors; I’m really not. I just got overexcited thinking about what a great CV can do for you, and then my mind wondered on to the following paragraphs in which I show you how easy it is to write one.
Have you noticed how businesses are now obsessed with stories? You certainly will have if you work in marketing. Some years ago, after the internet had become massive, and social media had fully taken hold, companies realised that they needed to be communicating with their potential customers all the time. They got Twitter accounts and
twat tweeted about special offers and slogans and stuff, but nobody cared. They quickly realised that the only way to communicate something memorable is to tell a story. Allow me to illustrate my point with this sociological chart:
If you carefully study this chart, you’ll spend a lifetime and still have no idea what it means. I certainly don’t know what it means. OK, presumably, there are some people who could get some information out of this. But they’re sociologists, and they look at this stuff because it’s their job; you have to pay them to do it. The problem with this sort of chart is that it doesn’t tell a story. Oh, I bet there are lots of stories hidden within it, but you’d have to find them, translate them into words and then tell the story. There are many, many ways to convey information, and they all have their strengths, but unequivocally, by far, the best way to transfer meaning into the brain of a human being is by telling a story. And your CV — if you want to convey the meaning that you are a fantastic choice for this job — should tell a story.
And before we continue, don’t confuse ‘information’ with ‘meaning’. Most of the CVs I see make this mistake. Information is just patterns that represent something. ‘Meaning’, in this context, is information that connects with a human’s consciousness and subconscious and says something…meaningful to them. If you read something that makes you think, ‘Yeah, so what?’, you’re reading information that has no meaning to you. The vast majority of CVs are like this. And a recruiter who’s reading these CVs, if sufficiently motivated, can get the information they need. It’ll be boring and hard work, but they can do it. After all, like the scientists who have to make sense of that thing above, it’s their job. But do you really want the recruiter who’s reading your CV to be bored, and to feel like it’s a chore? No, of course you don’t. So your CV has to be easy to read, meaningful and, above all, it should tell a story. The story is called Why This Job and I are Perfect for Each Other.
Of course, your CV has to follow a relatively conventional format, a format that doesn’t just exist for the sake of formality, but to enable the poor sod who has to read these things to quickly find the information they need. But within that format there is the scope to tell your story.
The biggest mistake people make, by far, is in the Career Summary section. Most people just describe what they had to do in their previous jobs. I mean, so what? What were your achievements? How did you accomplish them? Living in utter peace in a warm house, with unlimited free food, and lots of places to hide, my cats are probably some of the happiest beings on Earth. There you go; I hope you enjoyed that! Here are some more of the most important things to bear in mind when writing your CV:
- Make sure that, in the intro text for each job, you write about how it was a crucial step towards the role you’re applying for; this is how you turn your CV into a story. What skills did you learn? Think especially of the skills you’ll need in the target job.
- Another mistake many people make is stuffing their CV with keywords to get it past the ATS. Yes, your CV should contain keywords, but they should form a natural part of the structure, not just be thrown in willy-nilly. If your CV is hard to read, people are less likely to read it. And as we CV writers often say at industry gatherings, ‘Unread is dead’*.
- Your summary, the paragraph at the top of the CV should also describe who you are in a way that is enticing and memorable. Think carefully about the type of person the recruiters need, the sort of person who could solve your new line-manager’s problem, and try to write yourself as that person.
Following these tips will make your CV more successful, and that will make you more successful. Of course, you can always get a pro to do it for you; that way you’ll have a fantastic document that’s worthy of your accomplishments, without going through countless rewrites and uncertainty. But there is no reason at all to be sending off boring, barely intelligible CVs and hoping for the best.
I leave you with a recent example, written by Your Humble Servant, to help give you an idea of what you should be aiming for.
*If there are industry gatherings for us, I never I get invited to them; I just made that phrase up. Sadly, you’re reading this disclaimer, but I don’t expect most people to.
And Why Your Current CV is Holding You Back
What’s the point of you? It may sound a little rude to ask that, and perhaps downright imprudent to blurt it out at the beginning of a blog post that I’m hoping you’ll read, so let’s try again: What are you for? No… that’s worse, if anything. I’d ask you about your hopes and dreams, but… I just… don’t care. Nobody does, apart from your mum and your friends, and they’re faking it a lot of the time.
This only sounds so terrible, I think, because we now live in a world in which everyone is supposed to be special. You’ve grown up being told that you’re worth it and fascinating and important, and so it can seem a bit much when Mr Random Internet Man contradicts it. You might try and feel better by telling yourself that I’m just a damaged, broken mess who gets pleasure from hurting others. Or you might laugh at me and shout about your qualifications and experience and intelligence and all those other wonderful things. And even if I could hear you, I still wouldn’t care, because, honestly, why should I?
If you’re still reading this, then I guess you know that I can’t possibly plan to write the rest of this article in a similar vein; it’s got to get less offensive and more interesting at some point, surely? Well, yes it will, and to thank you for pushing on this far, I’m going to give you probably the most valuable advice you’ve had all year, in just the next paragraph.
That was a bold claim, wasn’t it? I hope I live up to it! Well, let’s give it a try: in order to be both fascinating and rich, you need to work out what my problem is and prove to me you can solve it. If you can do that, I will find you extremely interesting and I’ll gladly give you some money. Then do the same for lots of other people. Because in order to be fascinating and rich, you need to stop thinking about you and your needs and your hopes and your dreams and your problems and your stuff and your things, because you are the only person in this world that will ever find those things interesting. The secret to true success is really understanding other people’s problems and solving them for a fair price.
And this applies to you whether you’re a business owner like me, or an employee. Don’t be tempted to make the excuse that this doesn’t apply to you; it does, and I know I’ve just repeated myself but that’s how important it is.
You see, the trick to writing a CV, or giving an interview, or engaging in practically any kind of professional activity is a simple one: identifying a problem you can solve and proving you can solve it. And while this may seem simple and, I hope, obvious, I can tell you that doing this is very rare. Most CVs that I see are a jumbled mess of management-speak, qualifications and duties. They’re poorly-written, hard to read and lack a key message. But therein lies your opportunity: the fact that most CVs are like this. With some careful thought and an understanding of the problems you can solve, you can write a CV that really speaks to hiring managers and gets you invited for an interview.
But before I can address how to start doing that, I want to tackle the question of why so few people do this anyway. ‘I don’t know’, is the short answer, but the long answer is speculative.
Certainly, from my own perspective, I’ve never really been trained in how to sell myself. Nobody ever explained the point of a CV. I knew it was a document that you had to write, that it was a total pain in the arse, and that recruiters asked for them. As far as I was concerned, it was just a hoop you had to jump through. And then I started to think about it more carefully. I think that people possibly get so bogged down in formalities and procedure, that they start to lose sight of what a CV is and what it should do.
A CV is, at it’s heart, a list of all the jobs you’ve ever done and what they involved, as well as your qualifications etc. But if you write it because you think that that is the purpose of a CV, then you’re entirely missing the point. The purpose of the CV is to say to the person who would be your next boss, ‘I know what your problem is and I can fix it.’ If you can do that, you’ve got an interview. And that’s why it’s crucial to understand what your professional value is. It’s so important that I’m going to make the sentence a standalone paragraph in italics.
Your professional value is your capacity to solve the problem of someone who can pay you for it.
Forget the formality of the recruitment process. Forget the requirements in the job ad. Forget the myriad doubts that buzz around your head, and ask yourself these questions:
- What is my professional value?
- What problem do I solve?
- Who has this problem?
If you’re in Sales, your professional value is that you increase the company’s revenue; the problem is that there are people who need your company’s products that don’t buy them; this is a problem for the Sales Director.
If you’re in HR, your professional value is that you get the maximum amount of value from the company’s employees; the problem you solve is that people don’t deliver maximum value 100% of the time; the HR Director has this problem.
And here are some things that are not your professional value: your willingness to go the extra mile; your 10 years of experience; the letters after your name; your ambition; your hunger. These things may lie behind your professional value, but they are not, in themselves, your value. The reason being that these things are of no interest to anyone because they are not solutions to their problem.
Yes, companies have policies and recruiters have requirements, but these can easily be overcome and waived if somebody important enough will benefit from it. The trick is to show, through the narrative you create with your CV, that you can solve your next boss’s problem.
And in the next blog post, I’ll show you how to do just that.
This is a question that I get asked quite frequently, and not just by my younger clients. It’s a really good one to ask because it signifies that you are taking your job hunt seriously and planning ahead. Instead of focusing on only the interview stage, I’m going to widen the scope to encompass the whole recruitment process for advertised jobs. Even seasoned professionals may find useful advice and tips here, and the process varies a lot, so let’s crack on and start from the very beginning.
Stage 1: Searching for Jobs
My two personal favourites for this are Indeed and LinkedIn. They aggregate jobs from loads of other sources, including recruitment agencies, so you’re unlikely to miss anything if you stick to just these two. In fact, most postings will be on both platforms anyway, so even using only one of them is a good way to see almost everything without getting overwhelmed.
The trick here is, don’t be too put off by the requirements. Remember, recruiters can ask for whatever they want but it doesn’t mean it’s essential in all cases. Yes, if you’re applying for a role as an airline captain, you’re going to need a pilot’s license, of course; that unspecified degree they ask for? Don’t worry about it. The point is, if you realistically believe you can do this job, and really want it, you owe it to yourself and the company to apply for it. A high-quality CV, cover letter and LinkedIn profile should see you through to the next stage.
A special note now for female readers: research shows that, generally, women only apply for jobs when they meet 100% percent of the requirements, whereas men apply when they fulfil just 60%. So, ladies, just apply and see what happens!
Make sure your CV and LinkedIn profile are as compelling and attractive as possible. It’s a numbers game, so the better they are, the more interviews you win — more success; less heartache and frustration.
Stage 2: Screening
This is usually a phone call but can be a video interview, with or without the aid of artificial intelligence. If it’s a phone call, you’re most likely speaking to someone from HR who isn’t necessarily familiar with your role or function. This means that they’re looking for answers that show you meet some fairly basic requirements. They may ask questions that have been answered by your CV or LinkedIn profile; just answer them anyway as best you can. Obviously be truthful, but you can always round answers up. You haven’t been a project manager for three-and-a-half years, but four.
A video interview, which may use AI as a screening tool, is usually a bit more in-depth, which is why companies are using them, but will still not be the main interview. With that in mind, don’t worry if you haven’t had a chance to say everything that you wanted to say, you’ll get it later.
The trick with video interviews is to get used to treating the camera as if it were a person. Practise by making videos answering common interview questions again and again. The more you do it, the more natural it will start to feel. Also, try and understand that you may be at home, but during a video interview, you are in a professional environment. Dress the part, and speak clearly and in a business-like way. Remember to make eye contact with the camera and don’t look at your phone or another screen. Practise, practise and practise, and then be yourself.
The Main Interview
Well, here we are; you’re rocking the main stage now. This is so important that I’ve written another post covering the main questions and how to tackle them. You need to practise selling yourself for this job, though, not parroting the answer to loads of questions ad nauseam. I can make you an interview god or goddess if you want to invest in learning this most valuable of life skills.
There may a second interview for you to meet other people in the company, who are usually further up the food chain. If you’ve got this far, that means you must have done pretty well; answer questions in a similar way and don’t be surprised if you get asked the same questions again. You may also like to bring out something new by showing them your strategy for getting off to a good start and making meaningful progress straightaway. Don’t overthink it and don’t use Powerpoint unless specifically asked to.
The Thank-you Note
Because you are going to write one aren’t you? It’s a short email thanking the main interviewer for their time and reiterating the parts of the interview where you really saw eye-to-eye. Think along these lines and you won’t go too far wrong:
‘Thank you so much for taking the time to see me earlier. It was great to meet you and xyz in person, and it only reinforced my desire to work at abc. I was pleased to get the opportunity to discuss how I would bring a 30% cost reduction immediately. I also look forward to discussing further your goal of increasing success in the EMEA markets; I believe I have a few strategies that might help.’
Don’t go on much longer than that. It’s a brief note. It’s a nice thing to do and it reinforces your relationship.
So, that’s another job-hunting question answered!
You might also want to check out my top ten interview tips
Ciao for now!
While the world falls apart around our ears, and while that is a terrible thing in many ways, it is crucial that you don’t miss out on the many fantastic opportunities it offers.
I am in the business of helping clients get the job of their dreams, and I am really starting to see two distinct patterns – two separate groups – emerge; this is visible in LinkedIn posts, direct messages and articles.
One group, which is by far the biggest, is talking about the negative effects of this pandemic on the economy, how it is difficult to deal with personally and wondering when it will end. They’re not doing anything wrong; they’re humans and they’re blindsided. They’re also sharing support with others, both verbally and practically. This is good, normal behaviour.
Then, there is a second group. They’re struggling too; they don’t want to see others suffer, and also want to help where they can. They’re seeing something else beyond that, though; Group 2 are seeing opportunities, and they are taking them. And oh my god are they winning.
To be extremely clear, I’m dealing with people from both groups every day. The sole distinction between them is one of attitude. Both groups contain people of all races, genders, social classes, professions and nationalities. Honestly, I don’t know which life events cause you to fall into either Group 1 or Group 2, but there is a divide. This post is designed to help those in Group 1 make the move into Group 2. Group 2 have an advantage, which I’m trying to share — sorry not sorry, Group 2.
Economies are going to shrink; if recession isn’t already here, it’s coming. That’s bad, and people are going to lose out. But, tragic though that is, it’s not the interesting part. What Group 2 are seeing is the shakeup; this is where the action is and where they are.
A whole tranche of job adverts has just landed on LinkedIn, and they’re still coming. These jobs are, as you’d guess, in anything IT related, healthcare and logistics; big, big sectors. Particular professions which are thriving right now: business development, transformation management, programme/project management.
And if you’re thinking, ‘Well, those sectors and professions are not relevant to me’, then you’re thinking in a Group 1 sort of way. Just because your experience might not be in these fields, it doesn’t mean you couldn’t thrive in these roles. In these areas, it’s a job-seekers market, and they’re calling the shots, because the need to have these positions filled is just so high. Group 2 have already discovered this. Take a look for yourself on LinkedIn Jobs.
OK, So What Can You Do About It?
If you’re still with me, then I guess I’ve convinced you that amazing opportunities are there for the taking, all you need now is some advice about how to take them.
Well, like with everything else in life, you need a strategy, and I’m going to outline that in the rest of this post.
Step 1: Search for Some Great Jobs
Go shopping! What you’re focusing on here are jobs you want, not jobs you think you can do. Be realistic, of course; don’t search for jobs that demand hard skills you just don’t have. I want to be an astronaut too, but it’s not happening. Think of professions that you’ve had your eye on for a while but, for whatever reason, it wasn’t the right time. Or that step-up in your own career. You know you could do your boss’s job, but the openings weren’t there. Be ambitious but realistic. Try and find at least twenty different postings.
Step 2: Filter This List Down
Now you need a shortlist. Some jobs were, upon closer inspection, not at all appealing, or you really don’t think you have the skills; get rid of those. Be careful not to return to Group 1 thinking though. I see it all the time: taxi drivers who don’t realise they have amazing communication skills, veterans who could write books about teamwork and supply chain management. I even work with business owners who don’t realise they have a working knowledge of pretty much every aspect of running a company. If you think you can do it, you can prove it. My business is all about helping my clients do just that, so we’ve got that covered.
Step 3: Optimise your LinkedIn Profile
I’m not going to go into too much detail here, as there is loads of advice around about this. I also offer this as a service if you want to get it written by a professional who knows how to write stuff that people want to read.
It should go without saying that you should have a high quality business-like photo, though; it really does matter. You should also make sure your headline appeals to recruiters and is likely to come up in a search. That means, ‘looking for opportunities’ is a really bad idea. ‘Looking for opporunities’ is even worse, but over 7000 people are still trying to use it to get hired. Your headline should include your job title — not your current one necessarily, but the one you’re going for.
Now, make sure your ‘About’ section is clearly laid-out and describes your achievements; things you’ve done which are relevant to your target job are a good idea. Quantify these achievements; you beat your sales target by 60%? Why didn’t you say so?
Step 4: Optimise Your CV
Your CV should have a similar vibe to your LinkedIn profile and, again, there is some great advice about how to write one. And yes, I would say this, but you’re giving yourself a real advantage if you get a pro to write it. We can work magic that no ‘how to’ can compete with.
If you’re going it alone, you need to make sure your CV is limited to two pages and sells your benefits, rather than your features. Managed a team? So what? If you successfully led that team to overcome Brexit challenges and increased sales by 60%, then I’m interested.
The key is to optimise your CV for each job you apply for. Include all relevant achievements and cut out everything else. You’ll know when your CV is done because it will look like everything you’ve done has just been preparation for the dream job you’re now applying for.
Step 5: Apply
Just go for it. See what happens. Get your beautiful CV out there doing its job!
Step 6: Prepare for Your Interviews
Again, there’s advice all over the place about this, including on this wonderful website. Read all of this advice and practise with someone. For the eagle-eyed amongst you, you’ll already have spotted the trend in which I advise that you get professional guidance. That’s because it really is the best way to secure your advantage; If the other candidates are communicating their message really well because they’ve been coached, well, you’re going to struggle.
Have You Moved to Group 2 Yet?
If you’ve read this far, then the answer is probably ‘yes’. Great; now you have your strategy, go out there and use it! And, please, do let me know how you get on.
And How To Answer These Interview Questions Like The Perfect Choice You Are
When you’ve been invited to an interview (congratulations, by the way!), the first thing you’ll ask yourself is ‘what interview questions am I likely to be asked?’ The truth is, you don’t know, and regular followers of me and my blog will know that I’m not an advocate of memorising answers anyway. The correct approach is to internalise the answers to these common questions, and use them as a guide to how you should approach any other question you’ll get about yourself. I’m really referring to the Behavioural Interview in this post, which is what most people think of as the ‘normal’ interview. You can find out about the other types here.
But, hang on, what do I mean by ‘internalise’ the answers? Well, to internalise the answers means to really, deeply understand them, and how they relate to reality, rather than just memorising words. When you internalise an answer, it means that:
- You really believe it
- You can say it in lots of different ways, and in various contexts
- You can back it up with a range of evidence
Learning answers is, in comparison, much flimsier. That’s one reason you often feel nervous when you learn answers; you know that they only work when you are asked a certain question in a certain way. Also, humans don’t remember exact phrases very well, but we do, on the other hand, remember complete ideas—once we truly understand them. So here are the most common behavioural interview questions and how you should approach internalising great answers to them.
Tell us a bit about yourself
Only narcissists like this one, and they totally screw it up by going on at length about everything they feel you should love about them. But, really, this question is a doddle if you know how to handle it.
You need to think of the part of you that is extremely good at this job and really loves doing it. If you’re already fully conscious of this aspect of you, great, you just need to back it up with evidence. If not, you need to do a little preparatory work first.
What are the key responsibilities in the role? We’ll call these ‘Requirements’. Think of times throughout you career in which you’ve excelled at this kind of task. We’re going to call these examples ‘Stepping Stone 1’. Next think of times in which you’ve come to realise how much you love doing these things. We’ll call these ‘Stepping Stone 2’. I’m calling them ‘stepping stones’ because they punctuate your answer and guide you through it.
So, to be super clear:
Stepping Stone 1: Example of you doing a core task in this job well
Stepping Stone 2: Time you realised you really love doing this thing (may be the same as Stepping Stone 1)
Write these examples down. Now when they ask you this question, you need to answer it like this:
Your whole career has been preparing you for this exact role. The time has come for you to apply for it and everything about it is perfect for you, and you believe you are a great fit for the job.
You would describe yourself as a natural leader (or any other Requirement) as evidenced by (Stepping Stone 1). You also realised how much you enjoy this kind of responsibility during ‘Stepping Stone 2’.
Do this again twice, so you are describing yourself as having three Requirements. Easy, isn’t it? Practise a few times using different wording and you’ll start to truly internalise the answer and say it in a really natural way.
The Stepping Stones are there to help you cross the river of uncertainty towards the bank of awesome. If you’re answering this question and you’re not on a Stepping Stone, you’re in the rapids of confusion. It’s time to put this thoroughly exhausted analogy to bed and move on to the next of our common interview questions.
Why do you want this job?
You should see this as an opportunity to talk in more detail about examples of Stepping Stone 2 (Turns out the analogy is back and fighting fit, dear lord. That’s because it’s resilient just like you were that time when you did x, y and z.)
You can add detail, and you can add examples, just don’t go on for longer than about 30 seconds.
‘This particular job appeals to me because it really encapsulates everything I love doing. I realised that when I did (Stepping Stone 2) and it became clear to me that this is the direction my career needs to be going in.
‘I’ve always been a natural (Requirement), and even as a child, I was doing (more Stepping Stones 1 & 2) whenever I could get the chance. It’s also clear from my CV that (Requirements) are when I’m delivering the most value. I am this job and this job is me, as far as I’m concerned.’
The more you internalise this answer, the more you’ll feel it, and you’ll start looking forward to the question.
Why do you want to work here?
This is easy. When you look at the company’s website, they’ll basically just bang on about how brilliant they are. You simply absorb that message, with the cynical part of you neatly in it’s box in the cupboard.
Again, it’s all about finding ways to talk about how everything you’ve done has prepared for this wonderful company and its commitment to x, y and z. Use more Stepping Stones to prevent you getting lost.
You finalise the answer by discussing ideas you have for furthering the company’s agenda (from the website) and that you’d love the opportunity to discuss them further. Don’t overthink these answers; until you’re in the company you don’t have enough information for them to be fully fleshed out. It doesn’t even matter if they wouldn’t actually work, as long as they’re plausible.
What are your greatest strengths?
In relation to this job, that is. All the answers should directly relate to the job but this is one where people really get lost. That’s because their greatest accomplishments are their babies, and they’ve been waiting to talk about the time they won man-of-the-match or completed a half-marathon wearing some sort of hilarious costume or that they’re really good at baking. Stop it. This isn’t about you. Well, ok… it is about you, but it’s about a very specific version of you; the bit that will be doing this job.
So, again, refer to the Stepping Stones. The ones that describe you doing this job very well are your greatest strengths. Internalise this. Again, it’s just so easy!
And then something terrifying happens… (seriously, play Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor as you read the next bit)
What are your greatest weaknesses?
I’ve gone through how to answer this question at length here: https://medium.com/@contact_32090/how-to-answer-the-most-difficult-interview-question-like-a-boss-8fda913d6c6b
Have a look at that and come back.
Wow, I didn’t think you’d actually come back; thanks for that. You really are working on your inability to finish things, aren’t you?
Anyway, do you see what I mean about internalising these answers? This process covers all the important aspects of your dream job and helps you to answer these particular questions, but also pretty much any other question you might get about your ability and desire to do this job. The point is that you will start to really get to know the version of yourself that was born to take this role, and then you’ll be able to tackle any question about that person.
Come and talk to me on LinkedIn for more info and advice about interview questions and anything else in the terrifying world of job-hunting. It’s not really terrifying though; you just need an expert in your corner.
Also, don’t go away without checking this out:
When it comes to job interviews, amongst all the usual confusion is the question, ‘what types of job interviews are there?’ Today we’re going to look at those various different formats and help you prepare for each particular one.
Remember: The interview type will often not be signposted beforehand, so you may have to do a bit of googling as part of your prep; look up the company and industry to find clues about what interview types you can reasonably expect.
Before we go into detail about the interview types, you should also think about using an interview coach. They will help you prepare for absolutely anything those nasty recruiters might throw at you! You should also try to align your desire to get the job with the needs of the company. What does this mean? It means you should try and excite yourself about achieving success for the organisation, and working out how you will do that. Again, an interview coach can really help with this.
Remember that there are no ‘easy’ interview types. They’re all about eliminating people from the recruitment process, so you have to say the right thing to ensure that doesn’t happen to you. OK, with that out the way, let’s crack on with looking at the various interview types.
The Telephone Interview
The telephone interview is usually a screening call to determine if it’s worth inviting you to a proper interview. The person on the other end is usually from HR and is just ticking boxes and writing down simple facts. This means you should give nice, straightforward answers to each question. Don’t lie, but do give the positive version of any uncertainty. For example, if you have three and a half years’ experience in customer service, say you have four.
The difficulty with these interviews is that you never really know when they might happen. If you think you might get a phone interview, be ready for it even before you make your application; they may call you within minutes. You might even get one straight off the back of your LinkedIn profile, so always be prepared for this.
The Behavioural Interview
This is probably what most people think of as the ‘normal’ interview type. Here they will ask questions about things you’ve done in the past. Without going into too much detail here, a really good approach is to identify times in the past in which you’ve done impressive things, and then structure these stories according to ’S.T.A.R.’ This is where you describe the Situation, your Task, the Action you took and the Result.
When you’re thinking about particular accomplishments, you really do need to be referring to the job description, to make sure they’re relevant. If you’re going for a sales position and you once won Salesperson of the Month, that’s great; that time you managed to do a bar crawl covering every pub in your town is best shared with your friends.
The trick with behavioural interviews is to very clearly translate your past achievements into likely successes in your new role. How would you repeat these accomplishments? Could you even top them?
The Case Interview
This interview type is, on the face of it, the most challenging, because the questions appear to be more difficult. As I mentioned above, though, all interviews are hard; it’s not the questions you’re competing with, it’s the other candidates!
Case interviews tend to have a fairly limited range of questions so, while preparing for them is essential, is also not that difficult. You should also make sure your mental arithmetic is up-to-scratch; practise dealing with percentages and fractions, and run through your times tables at the very least! You’re normally going to be asked to solve a real-world business problem, such as considering the financial case for the acquisition of a competitor.
The Group Interview
These are just horrendous cringe-fests and whoever came up with them should be shot. Sorry about that; normal service will be resumed shortly.
Now I’ve got that off my chest, let’s look at how these interviews work. In group interviews, the interviewees are asked to answer questions in front of each other and participate in any number of humiliating exercises. Normally held in the name of efficiency, group interviews also show how well you work with others, so remember to bring your social skills with you. That means listening, letting others shine and co-operating.
There is always one guy at these things (and it is always a man) who takes it upon himself to be the ‘leader’. He tries to crack jokes and organise everyone in a really positive way. He makes everyone else die a little inside and doesn’t come out of this well. Do not be him.
The Date Interview
This is a weird type of interview that is also high in cringe. This is where you meet your interviewers for dinner or lunch. It is most likely to take the ‘unstructured’ form (see below). It is not impossible to plan for but it does take deeper thought. Order something easy to eat and don’t drink too much.
The Unstructured Interview
There is only so much planning you can do for this freeform type of interview, but plan you must. You don’t know what questions you’ll be asked and the format is more conversational than anything else. A lot of my clients are being interviewed in this way, so you need to know how to manage these.
The key to mastering this interview is to answer this question to yourself: ‘How am I going to add enormous value to this company? Think about how you have done it in your present and previous roles; research the organisation to familiarise yourself with their pain points. Look at their strategy. How are you going to further this company’s objectives in ways that nobody else can? If you can internalise great answers to these questions, you stand to do very well.
Why not connect with me on LinkedIn for more info and advice?
Also, be sure to check out my Top Ten Interview tips as well.
One of the most frustrating things about a job interview is that you have no control over which questions you’ll get asked; you had some killer answers to the really difficult ones, and they didn’t even ask you half of them! Angry Emoji! But hey, it’s ok, because you get to ask them questions too! Yay!
Why That’s Actually A Good Thing
OK, I’m sensing that you’re not sharing my enthusiasm. I’m getting the distinct feeling that, like many, many people, that’s causing you as much stress as the part where they grill you. Well, it shouldn’t. This is the bit of the interview in which you have the most control and, if you internalise what an interview is really for, you will be able to ask some amazing questions that score you some nice, easy points. You won’t even need any guidance as to what those questions should be (but I’ll give you some anyway, because hey, why not?).
So what is a job interview really for? Well, many people forget this. There seems to be a general feeling that interviewing for a job is a dark art, involving all sorts of professional rituals and codes, and this can lead to a very fuzzy sort of thinking, a kind of total disorientation in which nothing makes sense anymore. A job interview is, as another professional in my field recently described with distinctive candour, ‘a chance to prove you can get the job done and you’re not a total knob.’ And that really is it.
To not be a total knob, you have to know how to display confidence without arrogance and show that you can really listen. There are other aspects to it as well, and I’ll cover those in the near future. For now, let’s concentrate on asking questions that demonstrate you’d be good at the job.
Try This Simple but Powerful Exercise
So, let’s do an exercise to help you internalise the ideas you need to crush this part of the interview. You’ll need a piece of paper and a pen. Try, for a moment, to forget all the professional rituals, the rules, the protocols, and imagine your ideal job without all that bullshit. The important thing to remember is that you’re really good at this job. You know you are because you’ve been invited for an interview.
The first thing you need to think about is this: when you’re doing this job, what is the ultimate objective, in very simple terms? If you’re in sales, this is easy: sell more widgets; in accounts, you have to make sure all the financial transactions are recorded and reported correctly. Whatever your new job is, distill everything down to a few words that describe why that job exists. So:
1. What is the objective of my new job?
Next, you need to imagine doing that job. You’re really good at it, remember, but there are always challenges. Based on experience and a little imagination if need be, describe what those challenges might be. Keeping the sales example going, I’m going to imagine that distinguishing my widget from those of our competitors might be tricky. But for your job?
2. What is my biggest challenge in this job?
Great, so a picture of you doing this job day in, day out is starting to emerge. Now, what does it look like when you’re having a really good day? For my sales example, again it’s nice and simple: I’m making lots of sales! What about in your job?
3. In my new job, what does a good day look like?
Once you’ve got all these answers, you have a nice framework to help you imagine the whole job. Just to make sure you’re on the right lines, look at the company website and check that the image you have in your mind seems accurate.
Now, this picture is not very detailed is it? You’re trying to see yourself in this new role but new questions emerge, don’t they? Well, you’ve guessed it, these are the questions you should ask in your job interview! They show that you have a reasonable idea of what the positions entails and that you’re already close to doing it really well; you just need a little more information.
Now, going back to my sales example, my notes from this exercise look like this:
1. What is the objective of my new job?
To sell as many widgets as possible.
2. What is my biggest challenge in this job?
Distinguishing our widgets from those of the competition.
3. In my new job, what does a good day look like?
I’ve sold loads of widgets!
The Questions Almost Ask Themselves
You see, in using the framework that I’ve made, I’m naturally starting to ask myself things like:
- Are there other objectives that I need to meet to be really successful in this role?
- What are my metrics? i.e. How do I know when I’m meeting or exceeding my quota?
- What product training is available?
- How frequently do the other members of the sales team meet their quotas?
Just by asking these questions, you’re already gathering the information you need to hit the ground running in your new job but, even more importantly, you’re helping the interviewer imagine you in the position and doing everything you can to succeed! Perhaps you’re still wondering what questions you should ask in your job interview; if so, why not get in touch?
You can connect with me on LinkedIn here.
Also, don’t forget to check out our Interview Tips: The Top Ten
Finally, if you want me in your corner, landing you interviews and then helping you crush them, check out our services here.
Here’s What you Should Do Instead
Go online and search for something like, ‘interview answer’ or ‘what to say in an interview’ and you’ll get over 1 billion results. Some of them will be excellent answers; some of them won’t be. Memorise the excellent ones and, on the big day, say them as if you haven’t rehearsed them and boom! You’ve got the job. Thank you and good luck.
OK, I wouldn’t be writing this post if it were as simple as that.
It’s far simpler. You see, if you’re trying memorise the answer to every question you might get asked in an interview, I think there’s a better way. Yes, rehearse your interview performance (with a coach; this is important!), so that your answers are clear, beautiful and memorable, but don’t rehearse your answers.
Why not? Well there are a few good reasons:
- It’s a waste of time. It’s going to take hours and hours to rehearse your answers to the point that you can give them smoothly in a stressful situation. Who’s got time for that? Nobody — that’s who.
- Unless they ask you the exact questions you’ve rehearsed, your prepared answers are useless. You’ll probably try to force them into the interview at inappropriate times and this will look really obvious — as in cringingly obvious.
- If you don’t have either of the above two problems (vanishingly unlikely), you’ll sound too polished and, again, everyone will be deeply uncomfortable.
So What’s The Answer?
There’s a far better way, and it works with every single job interview. There’s very little memorising involved and all of your answers will be far better. Let’s get back to first principles. What’s a job interview for? Behind all the bullshit, and there’s a lot of bullshit, your interviewer is trying to find out if you’re the right person for the job and, objectively, the best person for the job is the one that creates the most value for the company. There’s a subjective element, too, which I covered in this post, but it really is all about the money. So how does it work, this masterpiece of cunning and devilry?
All you have to do, in every single interview you ever attend, is demonstrate, beyond reasonable doubt, that not hiring you would be more expensive than hiring you. Perhaps you’ve heard this before, maybe it’s obvious, but it’s such an important approach to take when going for job that it’s worth having a method behind it and making it habitual. You just need to work out a figure which represents how much you have contributed to the company’s bottom line.
If you’re in sales, or you manage client accounts then there really isn’t much to it; revenue minus the cost of sales gives you the gross profit. If you don’t directly sell products or services, then you need to think about how your work benefits those who do. If you’re in software, then perhaps you make the product? Maybe you’re in HR and you found the people who do? Maybe you’re one of the unsung back office heroes who keeps it all going? The point is, find the sum in dollars, pounds, euros or yen that your work made possible. You need that number.
The rest of the interview strategy is simple. Answer every question with that figure in mind. How did you make it possible? What did you do that other people might not have done? What obstacles stood in your way, and how did you overcome them? It’s like selling anything; you have to sell the value — the results — to the customer, not the stats. The hiring manager might be impressed by how many qualifications and years of experience you carry, but they only have any value if they suggest you can do the job. Show you can do the job, explain how you’ve done all the important tasks before (or tasks which require the same skillset). Tell the story, make it memorable, make it ring true, make it funny but tell the story of how you have done this job before. Tell the story, again and again, of how you bring in x pounds per year. Don’t become a scratched record and repeat the figure constantly, but definitely make sure it’s noted.
Here’s an example of how I would do it:
Q: Why do you want to work here?’
A: ‘Well, ever since I heard about this job, I’ve really been able to see myself making a big contribution to the company. I believe in the products, and I can see that they bring enormous value to your customers, so I’m sure I could help them see that too. I brought in £750,000 this year, because I showed customers how easily the service would fit into their lives, and the immediate benefits it would bring them. Here, at Widgetally, I know our* customers’ pain points well, and I think that the products solve them brilliantly. From what I’ve seen so far, I love the culture here, I love the products and I think I could generate more than £750,000 in revenue at Widgetally. That’s why I’m really excited to work here.’
*This is a cheeky little trick, using ‘our’ where you might normally use ‘your’ to imply that you already see yourself in the role. It may appear a little presumptuous but can also help seal the deal if the interview is going well.
This answer is so simple and yet it shows that you have a plan for how you are going to get the money in and that having that plan makes you confident. You mention a nice, big figure which is easy to remember and you explain how you think you could improve on that at Widgetally.
Having that number in your head the whole time is such an easy way to guide your answers and also makes the value that you bring memorable.
Again, don’t memorise that exact answer; it has to be in your words (your most compelling, convincing and memorable words, but your words). To perfect this approach, you just have to practise answering a variety of questions, preferably with an career coach, and then practise again. If it’s working, you’ll feel it as you practise, and you’ll become naturally confident and even start looking forward to the interview in which, without question, you’ll perform brilliantly.
Why not connect with me on LinkedIn here?
Also, don’t forget to check out our Interview Tips: The Top Ten
Finally, if you want me in your corner, landing you interviews and then helping you crush them, check out our services here.
Look at this computer, phone or tablet, with its big, stupid screen – will it ever be able to do what you’re doing now? Will it be able to pretend to be working while reading blog posts?
Lee Se-dol has just retired from his job, despite being really, really good at it. As the South Korean champion of the ridiculously complex board game Go says, ‘Even if I become the number one, there is an entity that cannot be defeated.’ So is it time for you to throw in the towel too? Will this silly machine take your job?
I remember listening to my grandad lamenting the rise of technology and how, one day, all letters would be delivered by robots. As a retired Royal Mail employee, he was convinced that the days of the humble human postie were numbered, and that letters would soon be in the hands of street-roaming androids.
This was around the mid-nineties; somebody had just found a use for the ancient but hitherto redundant @ key, and we were all learning to surf the information-super-highway on our multimedia PCs. Silly old grandad! There would be no mail at all! Robots represented an old-fashioned view of the future; soon there would be paperless offices for those few people who weren’t working from home. Physical deliveries were dead.
Well, that didn’t happen. While the number of letters being delivered did decline, parcels weren’t going anywhere. OK, yes, dear reader, you clever clogs – parcels were going to lots of places. You know what I mean. The point is, a young man called Jeff had just established a little online bookshop and had plans to grow it into a behemoth that would deliver everything you’d ever buy. And Amazon are doing all within their enormous power to replace the extant human workforce with robots. Turns out Grandad had it pretty much spot on. He misunderstood the future so badly that he ended up being right, in a stopped-clock-right-twice-a-day kind of way.
He wasn’t saying anything new, of course; people have been worried about machines taking away human jobs since the Luddites, those angry nineteenth century Yorkshire folk who vowed to smash the machines that would replace them. Since about that time, others have been arguing that new tech doesn’t mean fewer jobs, it just means different jobs. So far that seems to have been borne out, despite the fact that machines are, surely, supposed to give us more time.
British economist John Maynard Keynes famously forecasted, back in 1930, that we would all be working fifteen hour weeks a century later. 2030 isn’t too far away and Keynes’ prediction looks unlikely, so perhaps the Luddites really had nothing to worry about. It seems that Keynes assumed that our increased productivity would be used to do the same amount of work in less time whereas, actually, we’ve chosen to work just as many hours, and make more stuff instead.
We could argue all day about which choice was the right one but that would be moot because, at the level of the individual, there was no choice; we decided collectively that we would work as hard as possible to obtain as much stuff as possible. Again, there is scope for a debate about how much we were manipulated into that by marketers, but that scope is beyond this post. We’re lying in the bed that we made. The question is: will the current trend persist? Will we continue to find new forms of employment that would be as unimaginable now as SEO Specialist was in the 1980s?
According to PwC, there will be three waves of automation and 30% of jobs will be affected by the mid 2030s. Their report seems well researched and isn’t making any particularly wild claims but, by the same token, it’s not saying anything that interesting either: a lot of existing jobs will be automated away and there will be new ones in their place. The change that we have seen since the invention of the steam engine will continue. By changing, everything stays the same.
But can that really last? I agree with PwC that there are three waves of automation but I don’t agree about the timeline nor the identity of those waves. I would characterise the situation like this:
- Phase 1 (1750–1998): Some physical processes automated (some factory work, lighthouses, streetlights)
- Phase 2 (1946-): Information automated
- Phase 3 (1997???-) Intelligence automated
Phase 3 is a little complicated because, by some accounts, we’re already in it. The first completely autonomous car is around the corner, we’re told, and will be parking in the driveway any minute. This is the era of Artificial Intelligence and toasters are about to start talking.
The next major event will be the singularity, brought about by an intelligence equal to our own, yet able to replicate itself and evolve arbitrarily quickly, thereby spawning an army of exponentially intelligent robots, an occurrence which Stephen Hawking described as ‘either the best or worst thing’ for humanity. So when is the singularity due?
Nobody knows. The problem is that intelligence – real human intelligence – is incredibly complicated and we really don’t give ourselves enough credit for how mind-blowingly amazing we are. We are impressed by the things computers do because they are so much better at certain types of tasks than us. These things don’t require intelligence though, just perfect memory and the ability to move electrons around in a programmable and predictable way. There are only two types of entity that can process information in a way that makes sense to us: humans and computers and, because we use our brains to do those things, we intuit that computers must be doing it with something like a brain as well. This, sadly, isn’t the case.
In their book Rebooting AI: Building Artificial Intelligence We Can Trust, Gary Marcus and Ernest Davis analyse the current state of AI and show that, far from being just around the corner, computers with capabilities akin to human-style thought will never be possible if research continues in its current form. The problem is, they argue, that the field has got too hyped-up over ‘Big Data’ which is only a tiny aspect of the challenge. Because of the internet, Google, social media and all the various other sorts of connectivity, algorithms now have access to enormous datasets which previously weren’t available; this has resulted in some truly impressive feats, but these are really just, in the words of the authors, ‘parlour tricks’ rather than genuine intelligence.
To get an example of what they mean, let’s think about Google Translate. While it’s difficult to understand exactly how Google works its magic, we do know that it is based on ‘bitexts’. These are pairs of the same text in two different languages. Imagine, for example, an English book that has been translated into Spanish. In the English text, we see the phrase, ‘There is an apple in the fridge’. The Spanish translation, in the same part of the book, would read, ‘Hay una manzana en la nevera’. Type one of those sentences into Google and the other one will pop out, as if by intelligence. And, well, who’s to say that isn’t intelligence? Isn’t that pretty much the same process as that which goes on in the mind of a bilingual human when they translate that phrase? Not really; it’s a tiny part of what happens, but there is so much more and, as I said earlier, the sheer amount of processing that the human brain will do with a phrase like that is mind-blowing.
If you say to someone, apropos of nothing, ‘There is an apple in the fridge’, in a context in which there is no obvious reason for you to say such a thing, that person will be confused and will probably politely ask you what you are talking about. The first thing they’ll think is something like, ‘Why is this person saying this to me? What is their motive? Perhaps they think they are talking to somebody else. There is no fridge, and if there were, there probably wouldn’t be an apple in it.’ Your poor, confused acquaintance will just walk away. When humans talk to each other, we communicate with regard to context; there is agency and thus motives behind our utterances. We use empathy to ensure that our messages are likely to be understood. When we hear the words of others, those words carry meaning, and that meaning is shaped by a lifetime of experience and our brains’ uncanny capacity for forming connections between everything in the world, by our imaginations, by our almost intuitive understanding of cause and effect, by our empathy and various other faculties.
What is an apple, anyway? It means so many things, depending on the words and context around it. It’s a fruit, which has a biological definition but, to me – probably you too – it’s a vaguely healthy, sweet thing that you can eat. It’s juicy, which means it contains sugary liquid, but not in the same way that a bottle of maple syrup does. Apples can be found in orchards, supermarkets and lunch boxes. Apples are crunchy, which is deeply satisfying, but my teeth squeak when I bite into them, which I find…distressing in some way. A princess ate a poisoned one in that fairy tale – which one was it? Snow White, I think.
How would a computer understand this very human conception of ‘apple’? Even if a computer comprehends the physical structure that gives an apple its crunchiness, would it associate it with the similar feeling of stepping on newly fallen snow? What would a computer do if you told it that there was an apple in the fridge? Into which variable of which program would it slot that information?
It’s not impossible for a computer to learn all of these connections, forged through human experience, it’s just extremely complex. If you ever dabble in programming (assuming it’s not something you do anyway), you’ll be amazed at how specific your instructions have to be for the computer to be able to handle them; ‘Just get me an apple, or something’ is a distant dream, and that’s a direct instruction – something computers are relatively adept with. When that does happen, what next? Well, as Pete says in an old episode of Friends:
So, you know, that’s why within a few years, voice recognition is gonna be pretty much standard on any computer you buy. So you can be, like, “Wash my car”, “Clean my room”. You know it’s not gonna be able to do any of those things, but it’ll understand what you’re saying.
That episode aired in 1997 and, rather than being a few years off, even the understanding part isn’t quite there yet, over twenty years later.
Inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil predicts that computers will have human levels of intelligence by 2029, and that the singularity will be with us by 2045, so why the disparity? Why does Kurzweil believe this will happen when Marcus and Davis don’t?
It appears that the argument is partly based on which type of artificial intelligence we’re talking about. Kurzweil is extrapolating from the enormous progress we’ve made in the last few decades. Back in 2014, he wrote in Time Magazine that, ‘A kid in Africa with a smartphone has more intelligent access to knowledge than the President of the United States had 20 years ago.’ While this is true, and astounding, it is not really on the same path of progress that would lead us to human-like intelligence. We haven’t even really begun to travel down that path, the path towards AGI (Artificial General Intelligence), argue Marcus and Davis:
The central problem, in a word: current AI is narrow; it works for particular tasks that it is programmed for, provided that what it encounters isn’t too different from what it has experienced before. That’s fine for a board game like Go – the rules haven’t changed in 2,500 years – but less promising in most real-world situations.
The problem is that engineers are getting very good at extremely narrow forms of AI, but nowhere near the broad, general intelligence we humans have.
I’m not a futurist, and I won’t hazard a guess about when we’ll see AGI, but I do think Marcus and Davis make a lot of sense. We may get AGI, but not by making computers better at Go. I don’t think that means that Kurzweil is mistaken though, but that, for his prediction to come true, we’ll have to start researching in a completely different direction. That, by the way, is the intention of the authors of Rebooting AI: that we start researching what makes up that most elusive of things we call, almost arrogantly, common sense.
So where does this leave you and your job? Should you, like Lee, bow out now? Well, if Gary Marcus and Ernest Davis are right, the answer is an emphatic ‘no’; we haven’t rolled our sleeves up to even start understanding common sense yet, not in any meaningful way. I hope they are right, too, because I envision a beautiful partnership between humans and machines and, if computers get too clever, too soon, we’ll never be able to live it. I see a glorious, new, golden age of art.
I Don’t Know Much About Art
I’ve often wondered what art is and, while I’m not absolutely sure, I think I have an acceptable working definition that will do for now:
Art is a glimpse into the inner life of another person – a celebration of all that it means to be human.
I hope that doesn’t sound too pretentious, because I think there really might be something to it.
The art form that I most identify with, that moves me the most, is music. Quite how music works, I don’t know, but there is definitely an element of pattern recognition, and our subconscious understanding of maths going on. When we hear two notes in harmony, we are hearing the interlacing of two mathematically related sound waves. The brain notices that pattern, and the beauty of it means something to us.
Similarly, when we read a poem, the recognition of connections between two apparently unrelated objects, memories or feelings, means something. The links can be strengthened by the sounds of the words, the stress of the lines, and by rhetorical devices that bypass the conscious brain and speak directly to the subconscious.
The ability to instantly recognise patterns, see connections that are almost impossible for the conscious mind to grasp, to understand the motives of others, to fathom long chains of cause and effect – all of these things are unique to humans. They evolved to help us survive, adapt, procreate and thrive, and they are incredibly powerful tools. When they’re not involved in the serious business of surviving and thriving, humans play with these faculties; humans create art.
Art is how we reveal the inner workings of the human mind and see into the minds of others. If animals made art, it would be totally different, because the inner life of other species is totally different. If we can be freed from the mental drudgery that computers deal with so well, we can focus on doing the stuff that only humans do well. That will be, if you can forgive my idealism, a wonderful time to be alive.
I see a future, though I can scarcely begin to imagine the specifics now, in which we humans can do our jobs in partnership with machines. They can take care of the remembering, the writing down, the coordinating, while we take care of everything else. If your job involves the slightest hint of creativity, of empathy, of that most elusive thing, common sense, you already create art. Machines could free you to take your work to previously unimagined heights.
In almost every job, there is art, and art is what humans do best. People have always invented tools to help us do the things we’re no good at: hunting, ploughing, finding websites about underwater baseball. We’ve just used the time that our tools have liberated to do the things we are good at: drawing on cave walls, forming bands and putting pictures on lattes. In the future that I think lays before us, thanks to our friends the machines, every one of us is an artist.
As I write this on Friday afternoon, I am rubbing my hands with glee, not because it’s the weekend, but because I have a spicy little experiment for us all to try, starting this Monday morning. I would love as much participation as possible; partly because I’m trying to extend my global reach and impact like some sort of intercontinental ballistic missile, but also for a slightly more noble reason: I would like to see if we can create, from nothing, some business buzzwords or ‘buzz phrases’ (going forward, I’ll use ‘buzzwords’ to include phrases too).
Business buzzwords are fun, aren’t they? They seem to operate by different rules to the rest of language. In the outside world, any new word or expression that isn’t pretty damn lean, memorable, and expressive just comes out stillborn; in business, though, the clunkier the better. ‘Joined-up thinking’? ‘Joined-up thinking’? Did the twit who coined that not know the words ‘integrated’ or ‘cohesive’ or even ‘connected’? It’s not even a smart-arse type of thing to say; it sounds like something a four year old might learn at school. ‘Going forward’ is similarly awkward; business loves unwieldy phrases.
Also, why weren’t organisations doing this anyway? If they’ve only recently discovered the benefits of joined-up thinking, they need to be quiet about it, not put it on their website. And yes, local authorities: are you now admitting that your services haven’t been cohesive before?
Thanks for Touching Base with me. Ew.
If it’s a metaphor that has no obvious analogical quality, it’s even likelier to flourish. How on Earth does ‘touch base’ mean what it means? If I understand baseball at all, and I’m not sure I do, the bases are absolutely not places to have a meeting. If two hitters are on a base at the same time, it’s a foul. So why do we say ‘touch base’ to mean ‘meet up’? It’s absurd. ‘Circle back’? Why? Why are we circling?
It has been written about a million times but I think we need to stop ‘reaching out’. The imagery is all wrong for a business context. It implies grabbing and feeling; it’s creepy. I see someone walking past dungeon cells, while the creatures inside reach out to touch them. Maybe that’s not the image everyone gets, but it can’t be that different; in what other context would anyone reach out? It’s either prison cell bars restraining the reacher or something less physical, something more conceptual like, I don’t know, an actual restraining order? Maybe no image is implied, in which case it has zero value as a metaphor. People don’t reach out; zombies reach out.
At this point, I’m aware that some readers may be feeling attacked and all who-are-you-to-decide-what…etc, etc, and here I hold my hands up. Of course I have used these expressions and worse, no doubt. That’s the nature of language: it evolves and permeates society. It’s just that business language seems to do this more quickly and powerfully, especially when it’s harmful. It’s a disease and, on the principle that the best way to eradicate disease is to study it up close, I’d like to see what it takes to make up some bad business buzzwords that survive out in the real world.
In order for our experiment work, we will need to use this procedure:
- Think of a new buzzword. Give it a business-like meaning.
- Write the new buzzword and meaning in the comments so that it is clearly date-stamped.
- Use the buzzword.
- If you hear or see your buzzword being used by anyone else, come back to the comments and make a note of it.
Thanks for your Participation
Together we can do this. We do need, however, to give our buzzwords the best chance and, in order to do this, we need to understand how successful business buzzwords start and how they spread. As we’ve seen, they don’t have to be catchy or resonant; they don’t need to be intuitively illustrative. They just need to be uttered authoritatively yet casually. Everyone hearing your new buzzword must strongly suspect that they are the only person in the room who doesn’t know what it means, that everyone else has heard it before. There need to be a lot of people present and the situation should be quite formal, so nobody dares interrupt you or challenge your buzzword.
Realistically, we’re looking at meetings, presentations and conferences; that’s where our buzzwords have the best chance of escaping ridicule and instantly becoming accepted. Here are some tips to really ensure we achieve success:
- Attribute phrases to someone else. ‘It’s like Geoff said, we need to run the dogs back to the farm; we’ve already got the low hanging fruit.’
- Use a noun as if it were a verb, even though a perfectly good verb exists already. ‘They’re diversioning the budget.’
- Use your new buzzword at least thirty times after having been to a conference abroad. That way, your colleagues will think that the buzz started there.
Think about the possibilities. If you manage to invent a business buzzword and get it adopted, you’ll be able to put this achievement on your CV!
Why not connect with me on LinkedIn here?
Also, don’t forget to check out our Interview Tips: The Top Ten
Finally, if you want me in your corner, landing you interviews and then helping you crush them, check out our services here.
Don’t Approach Them until You’re Sure You’re Ready
The most important thing to understand about recruiters is that they are employers. Whether your recruiter is on your potential employer’s payroll or part of an agency, they have some influence over the decision to offer you the job. That means, like in all other aspects of life, first impressions count.
The better your CV and LinkedIn profile are, the better the recruiter can help you. If your CV and LI Profile are dull, uninformative or confusing, you’re not going to get very far. You’ll never be top of the pile and it will just take so much longer for them to find a role.
So make sure your CV and LInkedIn profile are spotless.
You also need to approach recruiters who will treat you well. I have a growing list of recruiters that I recommend, as they are known to be respectful and conscientious.