By Martin Brooks, Programme Director, Boulden Management Consultants
“You never get a second chance to make a first impression”
At 10am 8th May 2015 (the day after the UK general election) I was invited by the BBC to do an interview explaining why I thought the public had just voted David Cameron Prime Minister. I was asked; how he had performed better than Ed Miliband, what did Ed Miliband do wrong and how did their communication and impact skills lead to the result that was unfolding that morning? Ed Miliband had interviewed for the job of Prime Minister quite well, but David Cameron had used a better range of well executed communication skills. This helped him perform better in his interviews, look like the better candidate to the electorate and gave him a better chance to land the job of Prime Minister.
One reason for studying the party leaders is to translate the communication skills they use into techniques that can enable anyone to communicate with greater impact, especially if there is the prospect of a promotion or a better job at stake. After all an interview for a job is a highly competitive scenario; very often the person that lands the job will be the one with the best ‘impact’, which helps the interviewer make their decision to hire one person over the other candidates. So in many cases having good experience or interviewing “well” is not enough to land your next job – you have to make a “better” impact than every other candidate. In essence your job as interviewee is to make to make it easy for the interviewer to decide you are the best person for the job. If the interviewing panel is still considering other people after you have finished your interview, you have failed in this central strategy. Here are three ‘tips’ for making this happen (i) Anticipate difficult questions (ii) Make eye contact (iii) Reframe your weaknesses.
In the first televised debate, in the 2015 UK election, both main party leaders had to handle tough opening questions from the legendary hard-hitting interviewer, Jeremy Paxman. David Cameron was completely blind-sided by Paxman’s first question about Food Banks. He didn’t know how many there were in the UK, how many people were using them and how their use had sky rocketed during his first term as Prime Minister. Similarly, Ed Miliband couldn’t (or wouldn’t) give an upper limit on the number of people per year he would want to immigrate to the UK, despite Paxman asking him the same question a number of times.
Look at your CV critically and put yourself in the shoes of the most aggressive interviewer you can think of and think about the toughest question you could face. Then think of an even more difficult one. Ask a trusted friend or colleague to look at your CV and ask them to create a really tough question for you. Ask yourself these questions and film your answer on your smartphone and then play it back and critique your answer to see how you could be even more convincing under the pressure of some tough questioning. Look at your body language, listen to your voice quality, think about the structure of what you are saying and the words you choose to express your thoughts and see where you could create a “better” overall impact whilst answering the questions. Then, to fine tune your skills, repeat the exercise until you are happy with your responses. Think of other, tougher questions and repeat the process until you are confident you have covered all potential job-threatening questions. This process will not only boost your confidence, but also improve your chances of landing that job.
Both the party leaders were questioned on their first “difficult” topic for approximately two minutes by Jeremy Paxman. Both leaders struggled to deal with the questions, but crucially David Cameron looked the more confident and credible. Closer examination of his behaviour reveals why. In those difficult first two minutes of the interview, Ed Miliband, broke eye contact 29 times. David Cameron by contrast only broke his eye contact 4 times – a huge difference.
Practice making strong eye contact when answering tough interview questions. Eye contact is also vital to secure that all-important confident first impression. Of course you don’t want to ‘stare’ unblinking at the interviewer and there is a balance to be struck, but breaking eye contact a lot can be interpreted as a lack of belief in the answer you are giving, or make people doubt your truthfulness.
In his first televised appearance, David Cameron was blind-sided by Jeremy Paxman’s first question about Food Banks, but he learned from this mistake. In a later debate, he took this issue and turned it to his advantage. Whilst answering a completely different question, a member of the audience shouted out about Food Banks, immediately David Cameron jumped on the issue and said that the best way for people not to have to use Food Banks was by having a job and his government had created almost two million jobs in his first term as Prime Minister. In a heartbeat he had taken an issue that had previously been a disadvantage and turned it to his advantage.
It doesn’t matter how comprehensive your experience and skills are – everyone has a weak spot in their CV; everyone has something that isn’t to their advantage; everyone has had some “failures” in their career. The ‘trick’ to handing this is to consider how those ‘problems’ can be framed as strengths. Rather than hope to avoid a potential ‘problem’ in your interview, consider how you can turn it into the reason the interview panel should pick you. Plan to talk about how much you have learned from the experience. In an instant you have shown humility, an ability to both learn from past mistakes and to think positively about an event – all attributes many employers are actively looking for.
Use these three tips to boost your confidence, impact and chances of landing that job at your next interview.
Try watching Harvey MacKay’s interview tips on You Tube…
Happy, impactful and successful interviewing, Martin Brooks.