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August 12, 2011

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Career development – Just the job

In the May issue of SHP, Stephen Asbury gave his views, as an employer and recruiter, on what comprises a ‘killer’ job application.1 Having explained how to get that all-important invitation to interview, he now provides advice on going all the way to getting the job.

As the managing director of a company that has gone through the hiring process on various occasions in its 13-year history, I believe the interview starts at the point when you are selected from your written application and invited to meet with the employer to talk further about your suitability for the vacancy. Every interaction thereafter is ‘on the record’, and applicants should expect to be under constant evaluation.

The moment you receive that call, e-mail, or letter confirming that you have been shortlisted for interview, your focus should change from what you said on paper to how you will live up to the claims of your CV and covering letter.
Accept that the interview has started, even though it may be several days or weeks away. In my opinion, the first thing you should do is reply to the organisation, confirming (if you can) that the appointment offered is acceptable, with your thanks. I suggest keeping this very short and right to the point – this is no place for new information, or waffle.

The most important thing throughout every stage of the recruitment process is to avoid being rejected – you have to make the ‘last three’ in the mind of the recruiter before you can be offered the job and subsequently appointed. If you haven’t done so already, clean up your social networking sites (or check their privacy settings). Employers do look on the Web for further information about their prospective employees. What they find may influence – positively or negatively – their opinion of you before you even enter the interview room.

On interview day, interviewers hope to see all the candidates they have shortlisted. If you change your mind about attending the interview – perhaps because you have secured an alternative job – have the courtesy to let the company know in good time so it can consider inviting other applicants. It doesn’t want its valuable time wasted, and your paths may cross again one day.

Confidence comes from preparation – everything else is beyond your control. Nothing boosts the former like the latter, and the door of opportunity won’t open unless you push it. You can only prepare before, not after – and you only get one chance to make a good first impression.

Read the interview invitation letter very carefully. There will likely be facts or clues as to how the interview will be conducted. You may find out how many people will be interviewing you, and who they will be. If the interviewers’ names are there, you can search the Internet for further intelligence and background information on them. If the duration of the interview is indicated, you can estimate how this time might be used. Unless the letter advises otherwise, this is a good guide:

  • Welcome, introductions, small talk – five minutes;
  • Opening questions about you, which will be taken from your CV and which you should know inside out so that you can prepare for the likely questions – 10 minutes+;
  • Specific questions about the job, and your ability to do it – 20 minutes+;
  • Opportunity for you to ask questions – five minutes; and
  • Summing up and next steps – five minutes.

Once, when we were recruiting for tutors, we also asked our interviewees to give a short presentation (around 15 minutes) so that we could see their skills as a trainer first hand.

Think about each of these sections of the interview, and how you will prepare for them.
Check when and where the interview is to be held. Use a map or the Internet to locate the building and the travel time from your location. Think about likely travel delays, and allow for them. Being on time is critical – aim to be there at least half an hour beforehand, and head into reception about 10-15 minutes prior to the time of your appointment.

What to wear and getting there
Good advice is ‘keep it simple’ and dress for the work you seek. This is no time to experiment with your wardrobe. Wear a dark suit and a white shirt, or blouse. A sharp tie or scarf will make you look very distinctive. Get a haircut if you need one, and shine your shoes. There are some good ‘dress for success’ tips on the Web.2

I’m no fashionista, and there’s a fair chance that your interviewers will not be, either. We had a chap show up in a pink shirt and a flowery pink tie. My colleague interviewer and I could not decide between ‘inappropriate’ or ‘hideous’ as our overall visual impression. Either way, it didn’t help and after conducting all of the interviews, he was the first we rejected – it seems we remembered him for all the wrong reasons!

If you are driving to the interview location, park in a designated car-parking space and report to reception. Sign in neatly, and smile at the receptionist, perhaps saying something pleasant but neutral. This is important – interviewers (including me) often ask the receptionist for their views on those who have attended. When our receptionist, Cherry, said that an earlier candidate had been rude to her, we ruled him out right away – if he could not be polite in our office, we imagined how he might deal with our clients.

What to say
Re-read your CV to anticipate the likely questions you’ll be asked. Common interview questions include:

  • Why do you want to leave your current job?
  • Why did you leave ‘x’?
  • Why did you not stay long at ‘y’?
  • Why do you want this job?
  • Of your achievements, which have made you most proud?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

Well thought-though answers will help, although you should deliver them as though they are spontaneous.

Another question you can prepare for concerns recent developments in the news related to your prospective job, or in your prospective employer’s business. Watch the newspapers, and the company’s website. This often catches applicants out; once again, the key word is ‘preparation’.

Listen carefully to the question, and ask for clarification on any point you do not understand. If unsure, give a short answer and say: “Does that cover the information you were seeking?” This gives you an opportunity to rephrase, if necessary. Speak slowly and purposefully, with pauses following major points. Pause briefly before answering, so that you can make sure you know what you are about to say. If you do not know the answer to a question asked, say so and move on. You will be able to shine on other matters.

Remove ‘clutter talk’ from your answers – there is no need to say: “Gosh, that’s a tough question, now let me see…” Remember to direct your answers to all members of the interview panel, and share your gaze around.

Concluding the interview
You will almost certainly be asked if you have any questions. This is often a formality, but does give you the opportunity to ask one – or maximum two – questions. Think about these in advance, and if you fear you might forget them, write them down and refer to them at the appropriate point. We had a candidate who said: “I did have a question, but I cannot remember it.” This created a lasting negative impression for us, and we did not offer her a position.

Good questions include:

  • What are the next steps in the recruitment process?
  • Could you describe the opportunities for the advancement of my career with your organisation?

Finish by thanking the interviewers for their time, and confirming your interest in the role (if, indeed, you remain interested). This is your last chance to make a good impression.

Sign out, and thank the receptionist for their help. Relax and reflect on your performance. You may have to drive home, so be sure you drive safely. Don’t worry if it has not gone well – we all make mistakes. If you are undertaking IOSH CPD, it might be a good idea to record your reflection, and think about any things you would do, or say differently next time. Much can be learned about interview technique; in my opinion, the best book on the subject is by James Innes.3

If it feels appropriate to do so, write a short e-mail to thank the interviewer for their time and to reconfirm your interest in the role. If you are unsure whether or not to send such an e-mail, I suggest that you send it. One of the candidates we recruited did precisely this, and it provided reassurance to us that we had identified a polite and courteous individual; he joined us recently.

Employers offer jobs to great candidates – those who can apply properly, and who can measure up to their written submissions, and live up to their CVs. I am an employer and, in these two articles, I have shared with you my honest views concerning what it takes to successfully negotiate these two steps of application and interview. Appointment to my company follows for those of you who can navigate these to my satisfaction. Good luck in your job search, and I hope you find the job you love.

Do’s and don’ts when being interviewed for a job


  1. Acknowledge receipt of the interview invitation right away with a short e-mail confirmation, and your thanks. It is also a good idea to reconfirm with another short e-mail the day before. Most candidates do not do this, and this is a perfect opportunity to ensure your name is at the forefront of the mind of the interviewer.
  2. Get up to date – keep an eye out in newspapers and the organisation’s website for breaking news. This is a common interview question, for which you can be brilliantly prepared.
  3. Spend a little money – a trip to the hairdressers, and a new tie or scarf always feels nice for the big day, and these seem to convey a certain ‘air’, which interviewers notice.
  4. Arrive half an hour early. This will give you time to get a coffee, settle down, and arrive in reception 10-15 minutes before the due time.
  5. Turn your phone off. Your ringtones, buzzing and beeps distract all of us, and show a lack of forethought.
  6. Offer a firm (but not crushing) handshake, and say something positive – “It’s a pleasure to meet you” is generally acceptable. Limp handshakes create a poor first impression. Practice shaking hands – aim to make first contact between your and their flesh between the thumb and index finger.
  7. Take the chair offered, and follow the interviewers’ lead – stay on ‘respond mode’ until you are given the chance to lead and/or ask questions.
  8. Prepare a presentation/take a copy of a report or a sample of something if you have been asked to do so. If you are planning a PowerPoint presentation, check how you are to present; can you just take a memory stick? And have a contingency plan – what will happen if your stick cannot be read, or if the projector bulb fails? Perhaps a hand-out might be a good thing to have in your briefcase?
  9. At the end of the interview, thank the interviewer for their time, and ask about the next steps. Another firm handshake as you leave, and an e-mail within 24 hours to reconfirm your interest in the role concludes a job well done.
  10. If you change your mind about attending the interview please have the courtesy to let the interviewer know. They have set time aside for you, and if you do not attend, this time is wasted. Remember, you never know when your paths may cross again in the future.


  1. Arrive late – not even by a minute. It WILL be noticed.
  2. Be brisk or unkind to the receptionist when you arrive and sign in. We call this the “Cherry test”. At each break in the interview proceedings, I ask our receptionist, Cherry, which candidates she has liked today. Her view can (and does) influence mine.
  3. Get any facts wrong. In our recent interviews, a candidate was adamant that the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations were dated 1989, even when I tried to help by suggesting that “it might be a typo”!
  4. Don’t give job-losing ‘my point-of-view’ answers. I once had an interviewee declare “any employees who do not wear their PPE should be sacked for their own safety”. You must moderate your views and neutralise your emotions.
  5. Write badly on whiteboards, or flipchart paper. If you need to use these media, write very clearly, and if you draw a model (e.g. HSG65), make sure it is neat and accurate.
  6. Talk too much, specifically on non-related subjects. You are taking up valuable interview time on low-value rubbish. The interviewer will have an interview plan, and will be keen to keep to it. Everything you say should have a clear purpose and be part of an answer to the interviewers’ question.
  7. Interrupt the interviewer unless absolutely necessary. Wait your turn.
  8. Dwell on negatives – steer clear of things you cannot do (your focus must always be positive).
  9. Be argumentative – you will NEVER win an argument with an interviewer.
  10. Bullshit. If you don’t know the answer, say so. The interviewer will move on, and you’ll have other chances to demonstrate your knowledge. Remember Tebbit’s law: “When in a hole, stop digging.”


Health and safety experts required down under

The Australian government has recently made changes to its skilled migration programme, which should mean qualified health and safety professionals from the UK and Ireland will now find it easier to obtain a visa to work in the country.

The Skilled Occupation List now includes ‘occupational health and safety advisor’ and ‘environmental health officer’, and the new test gives more weight to proficiency in English and high-level qualifications, rather than trade skills. The age limit for skilled migrants has also been raised – from 45 to 50. The changes are part of a major overhaul of Australia’s skilled migration programme.

The skill level for OHS advisor is “commensurate with a bachelor degree, or higher qualification” but five years, or more, of relevant experience may substitute for a formal qualification. Potential migrants must have their skills assessed by the relevant Australian national assessment authority before they can migrate to the country.

Applicants are also advised of the benefits of membership of “a relevant industry association for your occupation”, as this could help with employment prospects, networking and professional development.

The Australian government plans to allow around 126,000 people to settle in the country under the skilled migration programme during 2011/12.

To find out more, visit

1    Asbury, S (2011): ‘Situations vacant’, in SHP May 2011, Vol.29 No.5, pp34-36 –
2 networking/a/dressforsuccess.htm
3    Innes, J (2009): The Interview Book: Your Definitive Guide to the Perfect Interview Technique, ISBN-13 978-0273721758, Prentice Hall: London

Stephen Asbury is managing director of Corporate Risk Systems Limited. The company can be contacted on [email protected] or visit its website at

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