I pressed the phone hard to my ear and leaned forward, trying in vain to reduce the 6,000 km gap and said “Sorry, could you repeat that question please.”
I was in Sumatra and the interview team were in Canberra, Australia. It was the early days of satellite IP telephony. Sometimes it worked well. One of the interviewers replied, “Of course. Can you … when … risk management … And how … main … Thanks.”
I had only the vaguest idea of the question but this was the fifth time they had repeated it. I blathered something I hoped was appropriate. It sufficed. And they continued “That’s …. Tell me about … a difficult client who … " and so it went on. It was my first interview for a government job. Senior risk advisor for the Australian Department of Health and Ageing and the worst interview of my life. We said our farewells, and I got back to my current job, chalking it up as an epic fail. But the rejection letter never came. Despite the phone, my interview technique had done what it was supposed to do. It turned the interview into a job.
In an earlier article, I outlined an application letter to help turn a job advertisement into an interview. The following is the next step.
WHAT IS A JOB INTERVIEW?
Employers might ask you any number of interview questions; but all they want to learn is, “Should we hire you? Or one of the other applicants?”
There are only two significant reasons for attending a job interview. The interviewers want to find the best employee. You, the applicant, want to turn the interview into a job offer. All else is a footnote.
As simple as that is, interviewing is a high-stakes conversation for most people. While the average interview lasts for forty-five minutes, it could be the most harrowing forty-five minutes of your life. Interviewers no longer ask “How well do you cope under pressure?” They decide for themselves by applying pressure at interview.
If you have ever left an interview, wishing you had done some things differently, you are not alone. If you are getting interviews but not converting them into job offers, you need to improve your interview skills. This requires preparing yourself to respond to any and every question or interaction in a way that makes their decision obvious. In your favour.
Stand out; for the right reasons. Canned interview answers won't cut it, nor will making up answers as you go along. You need to be both authentic and strategic to convince the employer you are ‘The right person’.
DON’T GET WEEDED OUT
I have interviewed many people, and it's uncommon to find someone who is fully prepared. As the roles become more senior, applicants are more capable, but I’ve seen interviewees for senior roles who made up answers as they went along. Confidence is a good thing. Overconfidence, not so much.
As per my comments in my article 'How to write a job application letter that gets you to interview' avoid anything that could give the interviewer(s) a reason to exclude you.
Interviews involve an unequal balance of knowledge. The interviewers understand the vacancy and the company better than you. But there are ways to offset the relative balance of power, even to tip it into your favor.
WHAT SORT OF QUESTIONS MIGHT YOU FACE?
Interviews are not the best way of selecting the best employee, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t popular. The best guide to future performance is past performance. At the interview, the best questions give you an opportunity to describe how you performed in the past.
A typical question: "Can you give me an example of a time you had to deal with a difficult client or colleague?" Other questions seek to probe your self-awareness and your strengths or weaknesses. "What is your greatest weakness?" for example, is looking not only for your weaknesses but how you manage them. The correct answer by the way is: "If I have any weaknesses; which I doubt; it is my excessive modesty." Just kidding. Don’t ever use that one.
When asked what his greatest weakness is, an under-prepared Mr A might respond with "Gee. That's a tough one. I’m not sure. Let me think ... ."
Examples of answers by the more self-aware and better prepared Ms B might include:
“My work/life balance is my main weakness. When I sink my teeth into a project or role I enjoy, I can be very passionate and want to see it through to the end. In the past, my family life has suffered but I’m careful now when planning my schedule and hitting deadlines without compromising my health or family relationships.”
"I try to learn my weaknesses and resolve them quickly. Everyone has blind spots, but if we are vigilant, we can spot them before they become a problem. At the moment, I’m managing an $800,000 IT project that was falling behind schedule. My weakness was that I was doing everything as per the plan but couldn’t understand why the project was delayed. My typical response if I can’t work things out myself is to think of a few solutions then ask a mentor for help. One of my mentors pointed out that although I was promoted because of my technical skills, I didn't have any project management training. I started a Diploma of Project Management and now understood that my shortcoming was in resource management. I was telling the team what the deadlines were, but not giving them the resources. The schedule pressure was only creating unnecessary errors by the team. Now I ask when they will finish rather than tell them when to finish. If I need a task to finish sooner, I allocate more resources. I don’t tell the team the deadline, just adjust the resources. Now we are back on track and I will have a diploma within two months. I'm sure more blind spots will surface but I'll fix them as I find them."
Both of the Ms B answers use a consistent format. What is the issue? What did she do? What was the result? The interviewers must understand the context before they can understand your response and they need to know if it turned out well.
I'll outline a specific method to give great answers. But first, let me draw your attention to two key points from the second response by Ms B. She manages not only to deal with the question, but to mention in passing the following impressive information.
She is self-aware and looking to discover blind spots then fix his weaknesses.
She has managed $800,000 projects with successful outcomes
She uses mentors and seeks help when he needs it.
Her managers regard him as proficient
She will have a Diploma of Project Management soon.
She has a system for identifying and correcting any deficiencies.
She turned their question into an opportunity for a monologue describing how great she is.
The interview starts the moment you receive an invitation to interview.
Don’t be scared to let them know you want the job.
Good communication is more related to receiving than transmitting.
"FIGJAM" is the only message. For those of you who aren't familiar with this Australian slang, don't worry, I'll explain it. It's the heart of an interview technique called SOAR which I will explain below.
Last but not least, be memorable.
1. THE INTERVIEW STARTS THE MOMENT YOU ARE INVITED TO INTERVIEW
I landed a brilliant management role some years ago, just because I was polite to the receptionist.
You only get one chance to make a first impression. And it isn’t just when you walk into the interview. The ‘interview’ starts when you receive a response to your application. And it doesn't finish until you receive an offer for the job.
This is true whether you‘re walking around looking for a cafe job or you’ve emailed a multi-page application. Every contact counts. From the moment that someone acknowledges your application, you are being interviewed.
Always convey a positive message. Just imagine yourself now saying "Safety induction training for new staff was a big part of my last job" three times. The first time with enthusiasm, a big smile and positive energy. The second time with a flat tone. This will express 'hey, it was ok but didn't excite me' and the third time with a frown or a scowl on your face. Same words. Very different message.
For entry-level jobs, the first non-verbal cues can be enough. Most of my early jobs came via a 60-second interview where I walked up to a business or construction site and asked the boss "Do you have any work?". I’d answer questions such as “Do you have a drivers license?” or "Are you 18?”. (I looked young so had to answer that question until my 20s). My first construction job was in Darwin in the remote north of Australia and I stretched the truth regarding my age by several months. In hindsight, it was an obvious lie, but the boss took pity on me. "Come back tomorrow at 8:30" and that was my first job interview for a full-time job.
A lot of early jobs came that way, albeit with more confidence from me and no need to lie about my age but these were basic jobs laboring, dishwashing or driving trucks. In later years, I sometimes 'enjoyed' 2 or 3 interviews for management jobs. And as a manager, I have spent more time on the other side of the table having now interviewed hundreds of people.
Even a rejection letter can turn into a job. How? Respond with something like: "Thank you for getting back to me. I appreciate your time in considering my application. Please contact me if for any reason, your preferred candidate doesn't work out and when other opportunities appear. If acceptable to you, I will keep in touch and send you my CV as I update it. I'm keen to work in your industry and your organization in particular, so please bear me in mind for vacancies there or with colleagues from similar organizations."
2. LET THEM KNOW YOU CARE
Be enthusiastic. Be excited. It stands out.
Don’t jump for joy or bounce on the furniture. But if you’re enthusiastic, let it show.
Feedback from my bosses is that my enthusiasm at interview was one of the reasons I was offered the position. The way you describe what you would do if given the responsibility, how you solved earlier problems, what inspired you to apply for this position, and everything you say should show enthusiasm.
After interviewing, hiring, and firing, hundreds of people, I can tell you what every manager will confirm. It is possible to train individuals for skills but not for attitude or enthusiasm. You, the potential employee, are the only person who can bring those qualities.
Key points to remember:
Your body language, tone of voice, words or phrases you emphasise, eye contact, attire and general demeanour matter.
Everyone you meet and every question you answer, provides an opportunity for conveying the idea you are interested, positive, honest and committed.
3. GOOD COMMUNICATION IS MORE ABOUT RECEIVING THAN TRANSMITTING
Paradoxically, people judge you as a speaker in proportion to the time they spend speaking. That’s correct. The more they speak and you listen, the more likely they are to consider you to be a great communicator. So avoid dominating the conversation with long answers. Keep it concise and let the interview panel do most of the speaking. If they want to hear more words of wisdom from you, they will ask. Trust me on this. It is true in interviews, on dates, and in general conversation.
If you let the interviewers do most of the talking, not only will it be easier for you, but you’ll gain more information to help you shape your answers. And on a related point, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, most people’s favorite word is their own name. Remember the interviewers’ names when introduced and keep using them in conversation.
4. FIGJAM: SOAR LIKE AN EAGLE
FIGJAM is an Australian acronym for “F#*k I'm Good, Just Ask Me." It is a lighthearted expression of triumph after completing a task successfully or a disparaging name for an arrogant individual.
In interviews, the equivalent might be to start with a monologue on how great you are, your achievements, projects you managed, your communication skills, etc. This approach isn’t recommended but you do need to communicate your best qualities; without being arrogant. A subtle version of FIGJAM!
How To FIGJAM The Right Way
SOAR is an acronym which provides a framework for your answers. It presents them in a way which looks as if you are just answering the questions but you are actually FIGJAMing. SOAR stands for:
Situation - what was the context and WHY was it challenging?
Options - what options or choices did I consider - and WHICH did I reject/choose?
Action - WHAT did I do?
Result - HOW did it turn out? Hint: pick a situation that turned out well It can include commentary on what you learned from the experience.
NOTE: If you didn’t have any options just use S.A.R.
How To Implement SOAR
Before I go to an interview, I write out a list of what I’d want the interviewers to know about me. This is the FIGJAM and is a quick brainstorm of my best skills and traits. At this stage they need not apply to the job. If you’re a great potter or karate exponent, just include them. There may be stories from your volunteer experience or sports club. Anything which shows your brilliance. For example, you might want them to know:
Easy going; gets on well with people
A talented project manager
Copes well under pressure
Calm in a crisis
Has a great sense of humor
Competent at x and y and z and…
A great communicator
Experienced in <the skills they need>
A good listener
A skilful leader
The list should include the things I’d say if I could just blah, blah, blah … HIRE ME! and then get the job.
Write of a list of examples (just bullet points) of when you were successful at each one of the above bullet points and a job/project/task that illustrates the point. For example:
Project Management… Think of examples of successful projects. Pick a couple that went well (eg: under budget).
Get on well with people … etc.
Once I've done that basic brainstorm, I turn it into bullet points that respond to the criteria. I don't think of their questions but focus on how wonderful I am, and what I want them to know. I might start with a list of what I'm trying to say and an example that proves it:
I'm a great project manager who has managed concurrent projects for major companies. I have a Diploma of Project Management and lots of experience!
I can handle the pressure and have managed programs of up to $60 million worth
Smart with finances. Led the team that built a $56 million budget, business case and successful funding proposal in under three months for the Australian Trade Commission.
Great leader. I've managed teams of up to 200 people
I've travelled extensively and am experienced working in multicultural environments. I've worked in Africa, Asia, Australian and Central America.
You should know that I'm a great communicator. Have written four books and presented at conferences on four continents.
Master of Risk Management degree, have traded options professionally, and conducted Enterprise Risk Assessments for $30 billion organizations.
Modest? No. This is not the time for modesty. The total opposite. Nobody but you will ever see it so just FIGJAM to your heart’s content. It is good for your confidence and essential for the next step.
If you run out of ideas, take a look at your CV. Include experience with volunteer organizations and courses or awards.
This applies to jobs at any level. Even if you were just the dish washer at the Magic Apple Wholefood Cafe, you can tell them you are a hard worker and adaptable. Tell the story of the two people before you, who found the work too hard and quit after just one shift. You could say you did so well you were entrusted with increasing opportunities such as procurement management (OK, so it was just picking up the fruit and vegetables from Perth market at 5 a.m., 3 mornings a week based on a list provided by the owner, but I was pleased to be entrusted with more hours).
The next step is to take key points and turn them into Situation Option Action Result paragraphs. Sometimes a sentence is enough. You might write several paragraphs. I try to link them at this stage to a specific question.
CORE ATTRIBUTE - I GET ON WELL WITH PEOPLE
I could use this story as the basis to answer a range of questions such as:
Are you a self-starter?
What do you do when you meet a problem?
Do you get on with people?
What experience do you have working in remote areas or country towns?
How did you get started in the mining industry?
When I was in my late teens, I travelled across the north of Australia. Despite being one of the highest periods of record unemployment in Australia, I easily found jobs. In the Northern Territory, I ended up in Tennant Creek, a remote mining town, where I wanted a job in the mines. I knew no one in town and I had only $20 in my pocket so didn’t have a lot of time or options.
The the local paper wasn’t due out for another week so I started at the employment agency. There were a few jobs but none offering an immediate start so my best option was to knock on doors. The mines were 30 miles of so out of town but the commercial district was the main street.
I started at the nearest shop and asked if they had any jobs. The first dozen places had no work. I thanked them with a smile and asked “Can you think of anybody else who might need some help from someone keen to work?"
Eventually someone suggested I try the newsagent. The response was the same there: “Sorry, no work.” but I asked if I could check again in a few days, adding, I was keen to work. The proprietor rubbed his chin and looked to the rear of the shop. It turned out he could use help to tidy up the back courtyard. I sweated for two hours in the 40 degree heat, stacking and tidying as fast as I could, accepting $10 cash with a smile. He then offered me part-time work unloading planes. It had taken less than 3 hours to find regular work. Just by being polite and persistent and asking for help when I needed it. I lived in Tennant Creek for a year, during which I had many casual gigs before landing a job at the underground gold mine.
PROJECT MANAGEMENT EXPERIENCE
Below is an example of a story that, with some minor refocusing for emphasis, can be used to answer any of the following questions:
Can you give me an example of when you had to deal with a difficult person?
Do you have much project management experience?
How do you handle pressure?
What size budgets have you managed?
Have you worked with multiple concurrent projects?
Have you worked in a multicultural environment?
When I was Facilities Manager for Woodside Energy, I was responsible for property and several services contracts. The North West Shelf Gas Project is Australia’s largest natural resources project and my responsibilities included a $16 million annual budget, part of which included capital works and upgrades. In my first year in the job, several major projects which had been put on hold for a variety of reasons, fell due. I ended up with four concurrent capital works projects worth $1.8 million that had to be done before the end of the financial year, less than 6 months away.
I had a demanding case load managing six contracts with a workforce of over 200 people. I didn’t have the bandwidth to manage those projects and my day-to-day responsibilities. I considered hiring a project manager to address them but the four projects involved air conditioning plant replacement, an $800,000 office refurbishment, security upgrades, and site works. My investigations confirmed that we couldn’t find a project manager with the skills at short notice so I sought quotes from contractors skilled in each of the four areas. I analyzed each project using a bottom-up method to develop precise costings.
I took the program management oversight role to manage these concurrent projects. I then hired a junior project coordinator to help with the most complex project. This was the office refurbishment. I outsourced the other three projects to supervisors in our service providers, albeit still kept program oversight with weekly meetings. The refurbishment project was more complex as it involved temporary relocations of 110 staff so that I could complete major upgrades. It was a challenging timeframe and this project, even with the help of a project coordinator, took up 40% of my time for 4 months. The gas plant operates to demanding timeframes and each cargo load is $20 million worth of gas so there was little latitude for disrupting staff to temporary offices. I had to be sure they could maintain their work programs including night-shift and weekend activities. The management team is a mix of nationalities with different backgrounds and expectations of how things should be done. Mid-way through the project, the operations manager, despite an earlier agreement, threw a spanner in the works. He refused to let his people be moved, due to their operational requirements. I had tight timeframes, and this would have delayed our refurbishment into the next financial year. The Ops manager was competent and dedicated but like some of his colleagues, was very direct, even blunt. He was known for being difficult. I met with him, then with his team, to discover the specific issues they were facing, and with minor compromise on everyone’s part I could get our project back on track.
Three out of four projects were on time and under budget. I received a commendation from the Plant Manager and the resulting positive relationship with the Operations Manager made me the liaison person for our department to the operations department.
OK, so this is quite a long story which, at 500 words, would take 2 to 3 minutes to tell. In telling it as an answer to a question, I would use it as the framework but use my own words to tell a shorter version that focusses on the specifics of the question that was asked.
The example below is in response to a question I expected based on a job at which included "designing and implementing a major risk management system" in a complex organization. It also outlines a great example of communication, consultation, and working in multi-cultural environments.
Describe an implementation strategy you adopted, what problems you encountered and how did you resolve them.
One example is when I was working as Head of Security for PT Koba Tin, a major Indonesian tin miner operating across 400 square kilometers on a remote island near Sumatra. Despite daily theft, assault, fraud and the occasional riot, the company had a poor security culture. Despite the high levels of crime, there were no strong drivers for improving the security risk management system. The mine was operated by a Malaysian management team with Indonesian workers and cultural differences were evident. I was part of the Senior Leadership Team reporting to the President Director so I was accountable, but also had a lot of autonomy.
It was tempting to mandate new procedures, hire a trainer, or pay a consultant, but our budget was tight. After consulting with the other Heads of Departments, I decided that communication and training was the best approach.
I based my strategy on gaining management commitment through consultation and integrating security into daily operations. Gentle changes reduced the risk of alienating staff or the other Heads of Departments. I aligned the management system model with the framework of the Malaysian parent company but adapted it it to meet international standards and local sensitivities. Implementation involved delivering extensive company-wide briefings, starting with the Senior Leadership Team and the relevant workgroups. I also assessed existing systems and did a gap analysis which identified the need for competency development for security staff and introduction of an integrated resourcing strategy. I delivered the same briefing session to every workgroup there, until I could have done it in my sleep. Along the way I built a business case for $200,000 of vehicles, radios, and technology.
The President Director and Heads of Departments approved the management system and funding without any revisions. It was later mandated as a template for documenting management systems in all departments. A Training Needs Analysis (TNA) at the start of implementation lead to development of an annual Training Plan for the entire organisation. A subsequent review of resourcing also led to the go-ahead for a $280,000 capital expenditure for CCTV and Access Control Systems which paid for itself in 8 months.
How Long Should The Stories Be?
I rarely bother writing out full details of each story. Often I just use a few bullet points and skip the ‘Options’ part. They serve as memory joggers to coordinate my answers. For example:
Q: Give an example where you have had to implement an unpopular measure and how did you do it?
S: Training at PTKT was poor and many security officers didn’t know how to use their equipment.
A: I applied leadership by example and also explained the ‘why’. Then I developed a curriculum, delivered ‘train-the-trainer’ programs for supervisors and held my workgroup leaders accountable for the outcomes.
R: Three months later the CEO gave me a written commendation for the improvements in the security teams. I also learned that explaining the ‘why’ was very effective if combined with accountability.
Don’t just repeat them verbatim. They are memory joggers to use as a framework for your answers.
Re-read the SAR list several times before the interview.
Use your own words to answer the questions and tailor them to each specific question.
Last But Not Least
Set the context. It becomes a humdrum discussion if the interviewers don’t understand your context. The background is the dramatic spice which gives the tension a good story needs. Make it entertaining and if you can, include humour, but make sure the interviewers understand why the situation was a big deal.
Interviews are designed to discover who you are. Showing your problem-solving abilities are definitely part of that. There are many ways to solve a problem so try to describe alternative solutions you considered and discarded.
Try to put the listeners in your shoes. The stories should be interesting enough that you could tell them to your friends during a dinner conversation. And the trick is to show; don’t tell. Let people fill in the facts in their imaginations. What do I mean by this?
“The company was going broke. Morale was low and our sales were terrible.” It’s factual but dull.
“We rarely saw the CEO and when we did, he was always shouting. The company had a $200,000 overdraft. Our warehouses were full of stock gathering dust, and most staff were busy polishing their CVs.” This statement lets the interviewers fill in the gaps and draw their own conclusions. It is more engaging and your audience will carry the story with them for longer.
It’s important to give details and show you were driving the project, not just a passive observer. Include numbers where you can or at least quotes from senior managers or clients. The details have power. Show the benefits with quantifiable data. A “20% cost saving” or “sold $70,000 of stock” will have the interviewers nodding their heads and jotting notes. Saying I “reduced costs” or “made a big sale” will pass through one ear and out the other.
DON’T FORGET TO ASK ABOUT …
Compile a list of questions to ask the interviewers, well before the interview. You can google some ideas for your questions but make sure you bring some with you to the interview.
I usually have roughly 20 questions and I save them until the end of the interview. Most of them will have been answered by then but you’ll have a few left to ask.
Two questions I’ve found worth asking but are rarely discussed unless you ask them are:
What is the biggest challenge facing your company/workgroup/business right now?
What is the first project/role/task you would have me work on?
There is no need to ask about salary unless you have a particular reason to. Let them decide that they want to hire you before you negotiate salary. It might not be negotiable but if it is, you’ll have a stronger negotiating position after they agree that they want you.
It is important however, that you know how much you want. They might ask what your salary expectations are. Responding with “Er, um, dunno” is not going to help your cause. You have a few choices. In order of priority, these would be my answers:
“I’m looking for a role which challenges me and helps me evolve professionally. The role is more important than the salary but I want to earn a good income so I can afford to invest in my education. What salary do you have in mind?”
If you already know the range from the advertisement or conversation, you might quote something close to the highest number. For example if the advertised salary range was $28,000 to $32,000, you might say something like “A salary in the low $30’s with the opportunity to show my capabilities and earn promotion.”
If you don’t have a salary in mind, ask for 33% more than you are making now or made in your last job. I’ve found that moving from one job to another, I’ve usually targeted a 33% pay rise.
Your questions are an opportunity to find out if you want the job, and what it entails. They also show you are interested. So don’t waste the opportunity to look intelligent and enthusiastic while you discover more about the position and the company.
CLOSE THE DEAL
When the job interview draws to a close, shake hands with a confident grip, thank the interviewer(s) for their time and ask about the next steps. Don’t be afraid to ask for the job. End with a statement in your own words which conveys “I am excited about this opportunity. It is a great company and I believe I am an ideal fit for this role. I look forward to hearing from you”.
After the interview send a thank-you letter or email. Restate your interest in the job and remind the employer of one or two of your specific skills that will benefit the company.
Follow up. If you don’t hear a decision by the indicated date, follow up with the employer. If you don’t get the job, ask the interviewer their reasons for choosing someone else and if they can suggest any improvements for future interviews.
THE NON-INTERVIEW INTERVIEW
Sometimes you can create an interview where no vacancy exists. The goal is to be memorable.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re applying as a waiter, a CEO, or some other role using your law degree. But, by way of example, let’s say you’re walking from cafe to cafe looking for casual work. Compare the following two versions of a response to “Sorry, we don't have any vacancies."
PERSON A: "OK. Thanks. Bye."
PERSON B: “Oh well. Thanks for your time. Can you suggest any cafes that are hiring? I've worked in a couple of cafe's locally and in London and enjoyed the work. I’m also a half-decent barista. Can you suggest anyone who might be hiring? <PAUSE> Would it be OK if I left my phone number with you and dropped by every few weeks, to see if any opportunities have turned up?"
Who is more likely to find a job first? Person A or B?
Person A is polite and made an effort. But that’s the best you could say. Person B is more engaged, has left their name and phone number, and asked the powerful question about other work opportunities that the cafe owner might be aware of. They’ve also received the OK to drop by to keep checking for work and hence build a relationship over time. They have also laid a potential conversation-starter by mentioning that they have worked in cafes overseas.
Person B has just made themselves more memorable by the mention of London. They said that they've worked in cafes but didn't say what they did. They might have been a kitchen hand, dishwasher, waiter, barista or whatever but it’s intriguing; without offering enough information to exclude them. Person B doesn't know if the cafe owner is most likely to need a waiter, barista or dish washer, so wisely didn't mention their specific experience, other than a hint of being able to make coffee.
MANAGEMENT JOBS DON’T JUST LAND IN YOUR LAP - OR DO THEY?
One of my best jobs seemingly landed in my lap. This particular role did more for my career in terms of my professional growth than any job until then.
I'd been travelling around Australia in a camper van for 8 months just going from beach to National Park to beach to National Park, etc. (you get the idea) and found myself in Karratha, Western Australia.
I needed to recharge the bank balance and liked the feel of the place. It was a town of 10,000 people, one of the most remote in Australia. The nearest traffic lights were 1,100 km (680 miles) drive to the South.
Despite, or because of its remoteness, the Pilbara is a beautiful region where the desert meets the ocean, and it remains one of my favorite parts of the world.
I found a few casual jobs to pay the bills. Along the way I heard that security officers at the natural gas plant and iron ore facilities were paid $80,000 per year. These were movie-star wages as far as I was concerned back then. They were doing emergency response, ambulance, and firefighting, which explained the high salary but only added to my interest.
I decided to put my efforts into landing an emergency response security officer (ERSO) job. I never did succeed in that ambition. But I exceeded my wildest dreams. I became Manager of the ERSO teams at Australia's largest resources project, the $24 billion North West Shelf LNG project.
One evening I received a phone call from the manager (the one I was destined to replace). He asked what my plans were. I had no real plans of note but answered that I liked Karratha and was enjoying my time there. "Excellent. Meet me for breakfast in the Karratha International hotel at 6 a.m. tomorrow morning. My boss is in town from Perth and you'll be interviewing for my job." Nobody was more surprised than me. I'd been hoping to land a basic ERSO job but the manager’s role? Not even on my radar.
To understand what happened, we need to go back a few months in time to this conversation. I had wandered unannounced into the security offices at the LNG plant to drop off my CV.
Me: "Hi, I was wondering if you have any jobs for security officers?"
Receptionist: "No. Sorry. Don't need anyone."
Me: "Is the manager around so that I could say hi and leave my CV?"
Receptionist: “He's out of the office for a meeting. And we have a long waitlist for these jobs. No one ever leaves either. Sorry, but I'd hate to give you false hope."
Me: "OK, thanks. I can understand. Could I leave my CV with you? Just in case? I worked in security for several years in Sydney and am a member of the volunteer ambulance here. I also have some IT experience."
Receptionist: “Hmmm ... do you have any experience with access control systems?"
Me: "Yes. I was Operations Manager for a security company in Sydney and used to program the access control systems for our clients." I didn’t mention that they were extremely basic electronic access control systems, but luckily I wasn’t asked for that detail at the time.
We chatted for a few moments longer, and as we made our farewells, the receptionist’s parting words were: “Tell you what, the manager will be back in 20 minutes. Why don’t you come back then."
I returned 21 minutes later and had that conversation with the manager. I listened closely and took it all in; the company, the job, the working environment, etc. Over the coming months, I filled in gaps in my CV with short courses and sent an updated CV every time I completed a course.
My list of First Aid courses, Restricted Radio Operators Certificate of Proficiency (RROCP), fire-fighting credentials, etc. grew every month. I used every reasonable pretext to ensure my name was kept in mind. When I had that breakfast interview a few months later, I was the only person they interviewed.
I should add that I wasn't short of work during those months and it wasn't the only position I applied for. My networks with the Volunteer Ambulance Service and Army Reserve kept me in employment and provided additional qualifications, but the job at the NW Shelf was a turning point for me in ways I could never have imagined.
SOME THOUGHTS ON NON-VERBAL COMMUNICATION
You may have heard 93% of Communication is non-verbal? If that were true, we could dispense with subtitles on foreign films. The original source of the 93% comes from a study designed to decide a persons intention from just a single word. The 93% statistic is correct; in the context of the research. People make their first impressions of you based on non-verbal cues. Do they like or dislike you? Are you a friend or a foe?
The most influential studies were by Albert Mehrabian in the 1970s and involved participants being asked to assess the positive, negative or neutral content of various words read in either a positive, neutral or negative tone of voice. Mehrabian’s research suggested that:
Words (the literal meaning) accounted for 7% of the overall message
Tone of voice accounted for 38% of the overall message
Body Language accounted for 55% of the overall message
The 93% applies to initial impressions. At first meeting, people will judge your intention towards them based on your body language and tone of voice. The main communication is, do you like them, dislike them or are neutral? It might convey whether you feel positive, negative or neutral towards a person.
If you consciously use non-verbal communication as a communication tool, you'll be a much more effective communicator. You’ll win more jobs and have more options in life. Now, none of us can force our body language to lie for any length of time so don’t try, but here are a few things to be aware of. They also apply in everyday life.
Point your feet towards the person or people you are communicating with.
Make (appropriate) eye contact. Not too short, nor too long.
Develop a firm, friendly handshake with eye contact, a smile and a confident "pleased to meet you”.
Mirror the other person’s body language. If they sit with hands interlaced on the table, adopt a similar posture. If they sit upright or lean back, you mirror that posture. It builds rapport and helps people feel connected. Don't make it obvious and don't be an exact copy. And don't follow the other person’s body language as soon as they move; leave a natural pause before you change your posture to match. The main thing is to fit in. Don't stand if everyone is sitting, don't be the only person who is leaning back in their chair when everyone else is leaning forward, etc.
Sit or stand slightly to one side of the people with whom you are communicating. Being too direct can be confrontational.
Be aware of subtle cues of discomfort. When the interviewer starts crossing their arms, pointing their feet towards the door, or exhibiting pacifying behaviours such as stroking their arms, legs, or neck, it just means they are uncomfortable for some reason. Maybe you've used up your time, the temperature is too high/low, the topic of conversation is uncomfortable for them or any other number of reasons.
Build rapport, make a good impression with everyone. The person who contacted you to make the appointment, the receptionist, the interviewers, the scribe at the back of the room taking notes, everyone. They all have a say in whether or not you get the job and you should remember to give them the attention and respect they deserve.
This section alone could turn into a book and maybe it will one day. For the moment, my article 'Non-Verbal Communication' is a good start. I’ve also added some recommended reading at the end of this article.
Remember, the only purpose of an interview (from your perspective) is to turn your job application into a job. Specifically, you’re there to turn that job interview into a job offer. All else is fluff and indulgence.
This is an excerpt from a book I’m writing. It’s working title is “Triple 3: How to increase your income 33% every 3 years”. The book is based on my experiences and there are a few more articles at this link.
At some point, early this century, I noticed that my income was increasing 33% every time I changed jobs, which was every two to three years. With hindsight, I noticed that some (not all) of the things I’d been doing, were contributing to this increase in income.
Many of my efforts led to nothing. A number of strategies that worked well, were relatively simple. Targeted education, networking, joining professional associations, and more were straightforward things that anyone in any industry could do.
And so, Triple 3 was born as an idea for a book. If you’d like to hear when the book comes out, subscribe to my (very infrequent - I promise) emails. In the meantime, if you click on the Triple 3 (333) link at the top of my website, you’ll find a few articles that will end up in the book.
And if you have any career or income questions, drop me a line. I’ll do my best to answer in an article. Hope that helps, and best of luck with your own ‘Triple 3’ if that is one of your goals.
REFERENCES AND RECOMMENDED READING
For more about first impressions, here is a great infographic by Jennifer Gladstone ’25 Incredible First Impression Biases When Hiring’
I can also recommend the following excellent books which can make you more than proficient when it comes to job interviews:
Here's another great resource I came across today, thanks to TLDR newsletter (thanks guys). There are many books on Amazon for example interview questions but here is a resource of coding whiteboard interview questions that people can use to prepare for job interviews. If you're looking for a job in IT.