7 Dec 2016

Doing your homework...

I’ve been doing this job for a while now.    Weirdly it’s not too repetitive – all my candidates are different and jobs are evolving all the time, particularly with the constant growth of the digital sector.  One thing that is repetitive is my advice to candidates whenever I send them an email to confirm an interview.  I always say the same thing, ‘Whilst this is a first interview and no formal preparation is required, I always recommend that you do some homework’.  I don’t use email templates so I actually type this quite a lot and every time that I type it, I think to myself, that’s great advice.
Often I ask myself whether it is necessary to state the obvious.   After all, it’s common  sense right?

 Hmm. Wrong.   I frequently see a strong CV and in recruiter speak, can think that the candidate is a ‘shoo-in’ for the job.  Equally, a very wrong assumption. 

Another thought I often have is that ‘people are weird’.  Actually, that one is a fact.

Sometimes the best CVs do not necessarily reflect the best candidates (of course, they can be too).  However, this week, I had a situation where I was as sure as I could be that I’d found the best person for the job - for a mid sized indie agency in Manchester.   I briefed the candidate who assured me they would do their research and left them to it.  BIG MISTAKE.  Everyone needs a bit of coaching, even the most senior of candidates, in fact, often the most senior candidates.  The C word today is Complacency.  The feedback from the client was reasonably positive initially – ‘nice guy, clearly enjoys what he does’ and then not so positive, ‘had done no research on us, didn’t understand our proposition, didn’t show any interest in our offering’.  Ouch.  Any other recruiter might not take that badly but I take it a little personally. It means I haven’t done my job properly.  I haven’t engaged sufficiently with the candidate to ensure that they’ve done their preparation, that they truly want the job.  After all these years, I do believe if you really want the job, you do the homework.  So realistically, I know I can only control so much, I can’t force a candidate to swot up – and indeed, perhaps it’s a sign that they’re not really that bothered if they can’t bring themselves to do the background work.

Here’s my advice for interview prep:

  • Do your homework!
  • Start with the website – Make notes particularly on the case studies.
  • Ask the recruiter for a Job Description and a de-brief as to what the client wants.
  • Research the client social media platforms.
  • Look up the people interviewing you on LinkedIn
  • Do some Googling – just general stuff
  • Take some pre-prepared questions into the interview.  It’s not rocket science, just some simple ones – ideally not asking about sick leave policy or holidays!
  • Listen.  Too often candidates go in too gung-ho in an interview situation.  Try to be calm so that during the interview, you listen and react appropriately to questions. If you’ve done homework, you’ll be able to gain valuable brownie points against the competition.
  • Think about Marginal Gains.  Ultimately when it comes to interviews, clients generally will meet multiple candidates. You need to set yourself apart from the competition.  This might be about:
    • ·         Being up to speed about developments in the business – aware of anything specific and topical
    • ·         Showing excellent social skills – good handshake (don’t underestimate) or small-talk with the receptionist. Looking people in the eye.
    • ·         Being smart/casual/appropriately dressed.  Ask in advance.
  • Have answers to the ‘No brainer’ questions:
    • ·         What do you know about us.    If you fudge this with ‘not a lot’ or ‘only what’s on the website’ – you’re not going to get the job. 
    • ·         What brands do you love? What recent campaigns have you seen that have impressed you?·         
    • Why do you want to work for us?
    • Why do you think you’re a fit for our business?
    • Where do you want to be in 5 years time?

Your recruiter shouldn’t have to tell you all this.  It should come to you instinctively but I appreciate a bit of a nudge might help.  Do not assume that just because you have a ‘good’ CV, you’re going to get the job.  One client recently told me that whilst they did like the high achiever CVs, they often went for the profile of people who ‘tried harder’.  So people who’d come with 3Cs at A level as opposed to 3As.  They valued someone who worked really hard and who hadn’t been spoonfed.  The distinction was made for someone who had been at Manchester Grammar School and who had 3 A grade A levels and a 2.1 from Bristol (or similar).  That person wasn’t perhaps a ‘grafter’ so much as the person who’d got 3C’s from a local state school and a degree from Salford University.
That makes it sound like this is all aimed at entry level or junior people. It’s not really, employers still look at the academic stuff, way beyond your graduation date.  For more senior people, it’s mostly about how you come across, at a more senior level you’ll be dealing more directly with senior level clients and it’s essential that you come across as someone who has compassion, good leadership skills, ability to grow a client and credibility operating at a senior level.  Never assume that employers can mind read – you need to articulate your skills and strengths.


Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.  Do your homework!