1 Apr 2019

Marginal Gains...



I'm a big fan of cycling.  Specifically road and track racing.  Actually triathlon too but in today's blog I'm going to be borrowing one of Sir Dave Brailsford's greatest contributions to the wonderful sport of cycling.  The concept of using 'marginal gains' to succeed has been adopted within the business community since he first put it to use when he was with British Cycling and later with Team Sky.  I've adopted it too - for many different areas of my life!  But specifically, today, I'm going to apply it to the world of interviews. 

I'm often surprised and frustrated when candidates let themselves down whilst interviewing by not paying attention to the simple and often most basic elements of interview technique.  It's almost as if people are freely giving away the advantage to other individuals.  These 'basics' are the easiest points to score but also 'offend' the most if you don't get them right.  Of course, there are then the more in-depth areas of the interview to get right but you can gain 'edge' over other candidates in the process, at every stage  and it is the sum of these little advantages (these marginal gains) that will build into something significant that will make you the stand-out candidate.

So.  Where can you make these gains?  They are mostly pretty obvious, however, you'd be very surprised how many people get things wrong.....

Here are some tips:

1. Arrive at your interview a little early.  Not too early but specifically, don't be late!
2. Dress appropriately.  Ask in advance to verify.  I usually recommend smart casual, there are few environments in the marketing world where it's necessary to be suited and booted.  However, being too casual can run the risk of offence (even if day to day attire in an agency is dress down, it still pays to respect an interview with a polished look).
3. Personal Hygiene & Presentation. Be clean.  Give yourself a sniff... A new one for me recently too was a client who commented on chipped nail varnish....they felt that this indicated general 'sloppiness'.
4. Greet the receptionist. Make small talk.  I once got a job by doing this.  The MD of the company saw two strong individuals for 2nd interview.  He couldn't make his mind up so he asked the receptionist who she liked best.  She gave me her vote and I spent 4 years there.  This is also good for settling nerves before you start the interview.
5.  Have a good handshake and look your interviewers in the eye.  Have good posture.
6.  Make sure you have prepared in advance.  Take a copy of the job description, and your CV.  It looks good if you have annotated the description with where you can add value.  Have a notepad with some pre-prepared questions.  Have a strong answer to 'what do you know about us'. 
7.  Whilst most marketing interviews, particularly agency side are not very formal, don't be fooled into thinking it's 'just a chat'.  You have potentially only one chance to 'sell' yourself so don't shoot yourself in the foot.  It's a good idea to spend some time preparing answers to a variety of interview questions in advance.   Having thought about it, you are then able to answer questions much more fluently and with some strong examples that demonstrate exactly how good your skill-set is.  This sort of preparation should serve you well in every interview that you go for - so it's worth doing. 
8.  Make sure you are enthusiastic and engaged.  Come across like you want the job, this job, not any job.  Articulate why you do!
9.  If you are asked to respond to a brief.  Do it properly. Don't do a half baked presentation.   Going the extra yard on a brief can get you the job.  Immerse yourself in what they are looking for.  Make sure you address every aspect of the brief.  Ensure that the presentation itself is engaging.  Don't kill the audience with slides. Make it look professional.   Whilst some candidates can get a bit snappy about responding to a brief, it's a sure-fire way for a prospective employer to see what you can do and how you will approach a task.  It's an investment of time to get a job offer.
10. Before you leave the interview, ask if there is anything else you can say whilst you are there to overcome any reservations that they may have.  Leave the interviewer knowing that you really want the job.
11.  Because we're specifically in advertising and marketing. Have examples of brands you love and brands you hate up your sleeve. Be on the ball with regards to current campaigns in the media and have an opinion on them. Demonstrate that you understand what the brand was trying to do.


Quite often, a candidate who I consider to be a 'shoo in' on paper, is absolutely the opposite in the flesh.  Generally this is for reasons of over confidence and under preparation.  Whilst it does obviously vary according to the role that is being interviewed for, most employers just want good employees who are hard working, engaged, love what they do, are skilled at what they do and who will fit into the business and it's culture.   As with all things, it's about balance.  Employers don't want arrogance but neither do they want a retiring wallflower or someone who is overly self deprecating.  They want positivity and drive, enthusiasm, innovative thinking and someone who is always ahead of the game - pretty much regardless of the actual role.  It's the little things that add up to a clear advantage. Good luck!