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Stuart McAdam

Successful Career Management


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Does the real you show up at interviews?


Some of us may feel our interview techniques let us down; here are some thoughts on how to break this pattern.

A counter-intuitive suggestion

Interview practice is essential. However if you invest some time to reflect on your career to date and create a “Big Fat CV” (BFCV) rather than a crisp version, you may be surprised at the positive impact on your interview performance.

In an era of increasingly rapid communication the desire to get your CV in front of the widest possible market as quickly as possible can be overwhelming. As can the advice that a CV must not exceed two pages. Yet many CVs are inadequate – they do not enthuse or engage the reader. Generally this is because we all tend to periodically add a paragraph or two to reflect recent changes and delete some older stuff to “make room”. The current emphasis upon “power words” can accentuate this effect as can outsourcing the production of your CV to a third party. Anyone who suggests the first step is to create a “short, compelling CV” is selling you short.

Moreover many come into interviews underprepared. The process of creating your “BFCV” will help you:

  • Develop an accurate record of your employment history
  • Record the information you need to illustrate qualitative and quantitative elements of  your achievements to date
  • Explore what you liked and disliked about each of your jobs and employers
  • Better understand “where am I now; and how did I get here?”
  • Understand  the past and present of your career and contribute to more effective identification of expectations for the future

This awareness will prime you for subsequent interviews and alerts you to areas where your achievements were more significant than you had recalled. It’s also easier to prune a long document and refocus it, rather than create a bespoke version from scratch when under pressure.

What’s toxic online disinhibition got to do with all of this?

Just as your CV is an important part of your personal brand so is the way you describe yourself on professional network sites and social media. In the absence of face to face contact some people have a tendency to perceive online communication as separate from the rest of their activities and may feel unchained from normal social behaviour, which can lead to including information that may not have shown them in the best light!

The web allows access to information on a particular organisation which enables today’s job seekers to conduct due diligence to a level unimaginable a decade ago. Equally employers are now able to check out candidates on social media sites to gain an insight into their particular lifestyle. So be aware that these days we are “on show” throughout the entire recruitment process.

Ring ready or ring rusty?

Senior people with a strong track record can perform spectacularly badly during their first few interviews, having spent most of their career asking the questions rather than being challenged on motive and intent. So rather than simply anticipating the questions you expect to be asked, explore the real you by considering the following:

  • Language – is your career story plausible; are reverses explained; and are your responses to questions indicative of empathy with the needs of the role you would be moving into?
  • Patterns – frequent moves or no moves at all require explanation and context. Successively bigger roles in one organisation or regular moves based on being headhunted?
  • Cause and effect – did you move or were you pushed? What was the difference you personally made? You may feel you are currently working for the organisation from hell; expect to be questioned on what led you to move there in the first place and what this may signal about your judgment.
  • Trajectory – ever upward with no blips or a phased progression based on seeking appropriate opportunities? Have you reached your ceiling? Or are you someone who moves on “just in time?”
  • Understanding – what are the lessons you have learned and the impact of this learning upon your approach to managing and leading? Learning from failure can be a key asset. So if things were difficult you need to be able to explain the circumstances and the outcomes.
  • Rationale – Why the interest in this role at this time?
  • The narrative/story –do you succeed in demonstrating your credibility as someone worthy of consideration for this or other roles? It could be that you trigger a thought on the part of the interviewer about your suitability for jobs in the organisation.

Remember that demonstrating competence is about showing what you’ve done in the shape of results, outcomes and learning. Always remember the takeaway – what impression will remain after you have left the room?

Fancy reading more from Stuart? We've got a free copy of his book, Successful Career Management, to give away – comment below to claim your copy. First come first served!

One Response

  1. I suspect no-one tells the whole truth

    We tell enough of the truth to get them to hire us, but I don't know anyone who's so perfect, so completely on the ball, that they've never made a mistake, never displayed bad judgement.


    I generally describe the person I am on good days.  I don't tend to describe the person I am at 8:30 in the evening, when I'm still at work after a 13 hour day and the blasted thing still isn't right.  I don't describe the person who just came out of a two-hour meeting wanting at least 90 minutes of his life back.  Or the person who's still trying to explain to a helpful, but essentially clueless manager why we don't do it that way.


    I won't lie and I won't claim credit for something I didn't do, but I'll spin whatever i can.  I'll say I have a liking for small Scottish micro-breweries, but leave out tales of howling drunkenness.  I'll say I rebuild motorcycles, and not mention the speeds i do once they're built.


    I think we all present a version of ourselves that's at least slightly "edited for content" in the workplace, because it's the workplace.  I don't see why interviews would be any different.

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Stuart McAdam


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