Month: October 2011

Billy Bragg…songwriter, activist & national treasure


I’ve been a fan of Billy Bragg all my adult life – which is pretty much all his adult life.  The photo above was taken today & features my rather tatty but much prized Billy Bragg t-shirt bought in 1985 & survivor of so many wardrobe clear-outs.  I almost threw it away when we moved from London to Northern Ireland but I couldn’t bear to.  It reminds me too much of the miner’s strike & the stuff that went on back then.

Yesterday, the Learning Pool crew was breakfasting in the Gibson in Dublin following the Deloitte Fast 50 Awards ceremony on Friday night.  I don’t have to tell you how late we went to bed.  Suffice to say it was a similar time to when I often get up.  At breakfast, Billy Bragg was at the next table.  I couldn’t let the opportunity pass.  I did, however, have the decency to wait until he’d finished his breakfast & read the newspaper before I approached him for a chat.

He was exactly as I imagined he would be & I was delighted to hear he was heading over yesterday afternoon to the Dame St protests in Dublin to show a bit of support & play an impromptu gig on a makeshift stage assembled by the protesters & activists.  Good on yer Billy & good luck with your Irish tour.  Might see you Friday night at the Empire in Belfast.  Details are here if anyone else fancies it too

Billy Bragg stories welcome via the comments as always.

How to present yourself well at job interviews


In my job I do a lot of interviewing, both for Learning Pool & for other organisations that ask me to help them out with this from time to time.  It’s taken a lot of effort to find and assemble the 50 or so perfect (ish) people that form Learning Pool’s current #teamlovely.

There are no doubt thousands of books written on this topic but having been involved in two sets of interviews this week alone, these are my top tips for interview success.  You will have loads more tips of your own & I hope you’ll share them with us in the comments section below.

·         Do take a few deep breaths before you go into your interview & try to remain calm; we know you’re nervous but you have to be able to manage your interview nerves

·         Don’t bring in a load of files & papers & copies of cvs to your interview – it’s distracting & makes you appear disorganised/forgetful/dishonest (as in you can’t remember stuff about your own career!)

·         Don’t take notes or write stuff down – again – it’s distracting

·         Instead, do really focus on what the panel are telling you or asking you; 30% of the people I interviewed this week (yep – you heard that right) asked for the question to be repeated when they were already half way through answering it.

·         Do manage your time well.  You will know in advance how long your interview is likely to be.  Don’t ramble on for ages when answering what are clearly icebreaker questions designed to make you relax a bit or you’ll have no time left to get onto the stuff you want to tell them about yourself.

·         Do really do your homework about the organisation & think about the job so that you can pre-empt the questions you might be asked – not to stalker level obviously, although if you have carried out research that’s that thorough, don’t tell the interview panel – it will scare them.

·         Do be friendly & chatty but don’t be too over familiar or go too overboard in your enthusiasm for the organisation

·         Do pre-prepare enough questions so that if some of them get covered off in the course of the interview you still have one or two left

·         Don’t ask about money in the first interview stage unless either the panel brings it up or you’re there for a sales job

·         Do think carefully about why you want the job & why you want to join that organisation as they will probably ask you – saying it’s because it’s close to the train station isn’t a good response.

I’ll leave you today with some of the weirdest interview behaviours we’ve witnessed lately:

·         The guy that drank about 3 pints of water

·         The girl that told us she would do ANYTHING to get the job – Paul’s face was a picture on that occasion

·         The guy that turned up dressed head to toe in white, including a hat

·         The girl that couldn’t stop crying – that was difficult to cope with

·         The girl that didn’t appear to have read the job description at all – despite having submitted a detailed application form

·         The guy who was so argumentative that we had to stop the interview & start over again

Looking forward to your stories, as always.

Sales Language – what you should & really shouldn’t say


Words are important & when you work in sales, you should think carefully about the language you use. 

Everyone will remember the damage caused to his family business when Gerald Ratner referred to the products sold by Ratner’s jewellers as “total crap” & rather famously announced at an Institute of Directors gathering that their “earrings were cheaper than an M & S prawn sandwich but probably wouldn’t last as long”.  What was the outcome of this foolish outburst?  £500m was wiped off the value of the firm, Ratner eventually resigned as CEO & the company rebranded itself in an attempt to sweep this incident under the carpet & away from the minds of British jewellery buyers.

Selling is a complex activity & there have been countless books written about the psychology of selling.  This blog couldn’t be long enough to cover them all but I do want to draw your attention to the sales book we like and use at Learning Pool.  It’s by a very practical man called Geoff King and it’s called “The Secrets of Selling; how to win in any sales situation”.  We like it because it’s easy to read, it makes a lot of sense to us and it’s straightforward to act upon Geoff’s advice.

The book covers some cool stuff like how to deliver the ideal handshake (I know – in a book), how to tell if someone is lying (useful in all sorts of situations that one) and how to spot a false smile.  It also deals with the 3 Twelves (I love this) – first impressions when you meet someone.  Some of you have probably heard this before but they are:

  • the first 12 words you say (always give these some advance thought – don’t just blurt out the first thing that comes into your head when you meet someone for the first time – make sure you say something about them & not about you)
  • the first 12 footsteps you take (give the other person enough space, don’t crowd them)
  • the top 12 inches (your appearance from the shoulders up – the rest doesn’t really matter except for your shoes – they need to count.  I think this is why some women wear those bright scarves around their necks – I can’t think of any other sane reason why).

My favourite chapter is the first one and it covers what to actually say in sales meetings.  It contains the following table of words not to use & what to say instead:

  • Don’t say ‘cost’ say ‘amount’
  • Don’t say ‘contract’ say ‘agreement’
  • Don’t say ‘pitch’ say ‘presentation’
  • Don’t say ‘buy’ say ‘authorise’
  • Don’t say ‘cheap’ say ‘value for money’
  • Don’t say ‘change’ say ‘improve’

An additional hint from me.  Remember that your prospect is usually considering buying something from you to either remove some sort of business pain or to gain competitive advantage over someone else.  They may be in this situation because of something they themselves have done or failed to do & the psychology around this may be delicate.  For this reason don’t ever mention “problem” to them about the place they are in.  It has very negative connotations.  Instead call it a “situation”.

Bags of advice in Geoff’s book.  I recommend you read it if you want to improve how you interact with people in sales situations – either buying or selling.  Look forward to your comments/experiences/stories/any howlers that you’ve witnessed as always.