Look, I know it is not a problem you are probably going to have to solve very often. But I remember reading a book on interviewing 25 years ago, when books were still paper, and thinking what a ridiculous interview technique. But it was quite popular at the time, and some employers still use the “impossible to solve” question as a technique to see how candidates react under pressure.

It’s a load of nonsense of course, because if you’ve ever been asked something similar before you are prepared and you will know how to react. And if you haven’t, your mind will either freeze or you will mumble some reply. Whatever you decide to do, your answer cannot be right but you will be judged on how you handle the situation.

So prepare for the unexpected, it may just come at you. And decide how you would deal with this situation.

If I was asked a similar question, then I would do what most people should do, ask for more information. “What type of battleship is it?”, “How big a forest?”. Even if the interviewer gets back to you and says sorry, I have no more information available, it buys you time to think and that, if nothing else, shows that you are calm under pressure.

By the way the interviewer in the book said the best answer that he had heard was “Change my brand of vodka”. 

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This is one of those questions that you are going to be asked in interview – if you haven’t thought about it and haven’t prepared, then be prepared to dig yourself a big hole.

Because this is an obvious question – any interviewer will want to find out what you know about the company as well as your motivations for making a move. Often it is one of the first questions that is asked. Asked early it can throw a candidate off balance.

Preparation for an interview today is much easier than it used to be. All knowledge is out there – if you are serious about the opportunity it would be damning if you did not know much about the company. So do your homework –  who is it owned by, how are their franchises doing? And you should probably have visited at least one of the locations.

In your answer, you need to demonstrate that you have done this. Above all, you need to have thought a little bit about what their problems are and how you can solve them. Remember, recruiters are always looking to solve a problem, whether it’s a regional director who needs to sort out a dealership’s financial performance, or a recruiter who needs to find credible candidates for their regional director. They have a problem, you should present yourself as the solution.

You should probably also touch on your reasons for wanting to move on. These should be positive, and never, never negative about your current employer (or anyone else you have worked for, for that matter).

Like most of these questions, think about it beforehand. Don’t be thrown when you are asked it as soon as you sit down. “I don’t know, the agency fixed it up for me” is not going to get you very far.

Good luck!

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The next time you go into an interview, remember this headline. Many candidates don’t.

If I open the interview with “I don’t want to go back into your dim distant past, but you joined XYZ 10 years ago-tell me why you left them” I do not want you to say “it’s probably best that I put it in context and explain why I joined the motor trade 20 years ago….”

If I asked “What turnover did your parts operation have last year?” I do not want somebody to say “Before I tell you that, let me explain why the market was so bad, why six people left and why the manufacturer tucked us up….”

If I ask you question, please answer it. I don’t need to know justifications, I don’t need to know context. It is my job as an interviewer to request context, it is not your job as an interviewee to provide it and asked for.

If you are going to provide context, and I do accept that some of you just cannot help it, then do it quickly. Time in an interview is important, and it is important that interviewers get the opportunity to ask the questions they want to ask, if they don’t they won’t want to ask you back even if you are the best person for the job.

If you really want to put it in context “I joined XYZ after being made redundant from ABC, and in reality I made a bad choice. I left them because I could not see the future and joined RST, who had a much greater career opportunities.” Or the parts manager could say “We turned over £2.6 million last year, that was 10% down on the previous year, would you like me to explain why?”

In other words as an interviewer I don’t want to sit in front of a politician. If I ask you a question then answer it. If I see you was evasive, refusing to get to the point, I probably won’t want to repeat the experience.

Nor will I want my boss to do so if I’m screening candidates on their behalf.

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If you are asked this question in an interview, a little tip. The right answer is not “Retired and relaxing on a Caribbean beach drinking piña colada”.

I keep on harking back to this fact, but every recruiter wants to solve a problem. That problem might be to get a department, dealership or job role filled with someone who is going to make a real difference. You could be following somebody who is very successful, you might be rebuilding something from scratch. But they need their problems solved.

So you have to demonstrate to somebody that, whatever you’re doing in five years time, it will be as a result of having done a great job in this role. Obviously you will have researched it thoroughly, you will understand the franchise and the structure of the business and should be able to demonstrate that you have the necessary skills and track record to come into their business and solve their problem.

Be very careful about the ambitions of your interviewer. A slightly cliched answer could be “doing your job”. The insecure interviewer might see that as a threat, while those who are ambitious would always want to recruit their successors and would be impressed by it. Decide who you are talking to if you are going answer like this.

In this situation think about that great JFK quote (slightly altered) “Think not what their company can do for you, but what you can do for their company”. (The actual quote is “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”). 

Good luck.

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Or rather this is your last chance to make a first impression. So when you turn up to a meeting be prepared, and realise that in many businesses the interviewee is not the only person who will be making a judgement about you.

So make sure that you treat the receptionist well, however much pressure you are feeling under. Have a couple of bits of polite conversation ready. “Isn’t it hot again today?” “When is this weather ever going to end?” “Did you see the football?” “Thank you for the directions, it was very easy to find”.

It really doesn’t matter, it is about engaging with people. And I know some of you find it hard, but we all feel more at ease with people who talk easily to us, who treat us as equals, who value a conversation with us.

And when you meet the interviewer? A firm handshake (not a bonecrusher, I can promise you people will avoid ever shaking hands with you again, ask your friends honestly if you think you might grip people’s hands to firmly) look them straight in the eye, “nice to meet you” “thank you for inviting me” or however else you want to confidently announce your presence.

In case you do not think this part is important, recognise that the interview is an inter-reaction between people. All of the statistics will tell you that 80% of decisions are made within the first 10 seconds, and within about 3 seconds people’s minds are fairly well made up. Get the first bit wrong and it is really difficult to recover. Get it right and it is more difficult to mess up.

Unfair perhaps? But inescapable.

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It is amazing how uninspiring interviewers can be. And how unoriginal. But in something like 28% of interviews this question will still be asked.

Perhaps an appropriate answer might be “The ability to answer dull, boring and uninspired questions like this with great enthusiasm”. In reality, however, what the interviewer is expecting you to say is that you are very good at your job, very focused on your career, you hit every target, you take your job seriously or some other cliché.

But just like any other interview question, if you prepare thoroughly you should expect this. Work out genuinely what your greatest strength is at work (because having a golf handicap of two or playing county tennis is not likely to endear you to most franchise directors or general managers who probably expect you to live for work not for play).

So if you have never missed a target for the past four years, or if you have inspired your team to double their turnover or focused your team on customer satisfaction so that they are now no longer bottom of the country but in the top 10%, any of those might be good starting points. Just note the basic principle, as in all interviews, that when you answer you should be specific, preferably with something measurable, and almost certainly something that is seen as affecting the bottom line.

Expect the worst, plan for the best. Or rather, expect the worst questions and plan for the best answers.

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We sometimes get candidates who we know should get the job but who fall down at the interview stage.

Quite often they are unused to interviewing and panic. Sometimes, while we know they can do their job, they are just not very good at getting it across to prospective employers. Sometimes they commit one of the cardinal sins of interviewing.

Whatever the reason, they have not performed. So to help all of our candidates, and anyone else who is interested, we have produced an interview guide. This will hopefully point you in the right direction. It should certainly stop you turning up late, looking scruffy or bad mouthing your old employer. It might just give you some ideas about better preparing and performing at interview.

You can find it here.  And before you go, this is not the only guide we produce. You might have seen our CV Guide here, and we are just putting the finishing touches to our Guide To Assessment Centres.

We’ll let you know when it is finished.

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Or rather, as an article I saw today put it, how do you treat your Silver Medallists?

Because actually this is probably the most important population for your career brand. People who are good enough to be considered in the final shortlist, interested enough in your company to turn up, but the you have to let down.

Many employers are terrible at this. Take feedback we had recently for a candidate – the client had promised to give them fairly detailed feedback after the assessment centre. This is an actual quote when we asked what feedback they had “I have spoken to the recruiting manager, could you tell him he wasn’t suitable for the position?”

The HR Director for one of my best clients, a manufacturer, used to get back to all candidates on the shortlist, and in fact any that he had interviewed at any stage of the process, and print a nice, but standard rejection letter. But at the bottom, on every single occasion, he wrote a personal note thanking them for their attendance, and hoping that he might see them again soon.

What do you do? Do you just abandon them, or do you get back to them quickly and let them know they haven’t been successful? Do you say that you are still interested in them and would love to be able to keep in touch in case something more suitable appears in the future? Because if that is genuinely how you feel, then that is the approach you should take.

Let’s face it, if they were good enough to get onto the shortlist they are probably good enough to be considered again. And if they’re that good then they are going to get listened to by others.

So treat them right. And keep in touch.

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Employers, what are you doing? You cannot automate everything. Talent management does not become a process. Talent is about people.

Take a look at this tweet I saw a couple of weeks ago daft recruitment, it is typical of the processes that there are out there today. Many of you employers don’t even have the good grace to reply to highly qualified candidates who have just spent 45 minutes filling out your application form and telling you about their career aspirations.

Football has every single statistic about performance going, and yet humans are still heavily involved in recruitment at every level. We all know that the fees gained by their agents are outrageous, but that is because they recognise the importance of human intervention.

And yet you all want to recruit the very best in the business, you tell me you do. But you rely on systems that look at people’s social media profiles, Twitter feeds and LinkedIn entries and make a judgement about them. You ask them a series of connected, difficult questions and reject those who don’t quite get it right.

You hold assessment centres two days before the end of March (yes it happens surprisingly often) and then exclude those sales managers who can’t make it. Would you want to recruit a sales manager who could make the end of March?

And then after that you give most of them no feedback, and if you offer them a job it takes two weeks often to get anything on paper (or email) down. Two weeks? At which point another, more switched on group has taken them out of the market. Would you let your sales team take 14 days to send out an order form?

It is time to get back to the human, I don’t care what science tells you about a better way of recruiting, you can use it as a useful aid, but do not use it as your main means of filtering.  You are so scared of making the wrong hire, you don’t make any. In footballing terms you are so scared of missing, you don’t shoot.

Apart from anything else, there are people out there who know how to play the game and they tend to attract the best people.

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Apparently this is the most feared question in interviews, and features in more Internet searches than any other interview question.

And it’s surprising really, because if you think about it it is the one question that you should know all the answers to. But then most candidates are worried about how they express themselves and how they present themselves in the best possible light.

Well here’s my first tip, don’t talk about yourself, talk about the things you’ve done and achieved, the things that you are most proud of. And give due prominence to the most recent events. It is absolutely fantastic that you got the best A-level results in the country, but if that was 40 years ago I don’t think it is going to impress many employers.

On the other hand, if you have taken your current dealership from bottom of the manufacturers league to into the top 10 in the last two years they may well sit up and listen. If you just tell them you are an inspirational leader they probably won’t take your word for it and ask for some more proof. Achievements, figures, objectively measured results are what matter.

The key thing is to expect this question, it will get asked at least 50% of the time in interviews. Prepare and practice your answer and you will be rarely under pressure when you answer it.

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