Coercive Control

  • By Carol Johnson
  • 04 Apr, 2017

Coercive control and bullying come and go in the media and I guess we all think that it would not happen to us; that we are somehow stronger, we could soon see what was happening, we would walk away somehow.
However; in reality it is very difficult to do.
For those experiencing this form of bullying and control may end up losing their sense of worth, then begin to question and doubt themselves and generally lose the nerve to fight back.
Sadly, it happens all too often in the workplace and it is very difficult to walk away…why should you give in?
Would you be able to secure another role?
Would you be able to earn the money you need?
Would another organisation appreciate the skills you have to offer and what if you make a mistake and choose the wrong role?
All these anxieties are rife and add to the pressures at work of this constant “drip” of snide bullying and you soon lose your confidence and self-esteem. It can have a massive negative effect on relationships, friendships and your well-being.
We ask ourselves; why is nothing done about these two forms of control in the workplace? How do they manifest themselves? What can be done?
Every week we hear stories from candidates registering with us for new roles. They are apologetic because they have found themselves in such a position, as though it is their fault. At the beginning of this abuse they fought and determinedly vowed it would not affect them, but it does.
The constant negativity they face grinds them down. Their aspirations become almost non-existent; they just need money to survive. Their futures are no longer filled with hopes and ambition, but fear and defeatism.
Coercive control and bullying can reduce the most talented and strong candidates to feel they have nothing to offer; they should just take a ‘basic’ role and forget about having a career. It affects everyone; all genders, all ages, all creeds, no one is immune.
Please share your experience with us and help us to give advice and coping strategies, so that the bullies do not win.
Here are a few scenarios, all true that we know of:
·       Drip feed of personal comments and those relating to your work to destroy your confidence:
“I thought you were going to the hairdressers yesterday”
“You are brave to wear that colour”
“X client is difficult. Hand them over to me if you like”
“You do not mind taking the calls while we go out for lunch (rest of the team), you wouldn’t want to come anyway.”
“Are you putting on weight? ‘X’ has just come back from maternity and she looks amazing!”
“Your presentation was a little rushed; were you up all night with the baby? Have another go.”
“Oh, you have a car I had when I was learning to drive; brings back memories, yes only cost me £x”
“You know you can discuss anything with me; I am here to help”
“Oh, having to leave early (when you’re already stayed late), no worries, I’ll make sure the work is done”
“Your team is out of sorts today; would you like me to have a chat with them?”
“Well, darling, no one can knock your spirit wearing that; not everyone can pull it off!”
Then of course, it’s when they befriend you are use everything you say against you…. “Just looking out for you”
“Go on, have a chocolate; start your diet tomorrow!”
“Little things that mount up.
Talking to others then stopping when you come into the room
Booking all the days after bank holidays, so you do not get a turn
Talking to colleagues in a derogatory manner “Is she in yet?”
“He can never get the hang of parking – look here he goes!”
 “Another late night – look at the state of his hair. Hasn’t he heard of dry shampoo!”
“Great idea for Secret Santa next time”
“Don’t roll your eyes at me”
“Can we have a catch up to discuss your work load; don’t’ worry, it will only take 5 minutes” At the end of the day and it does!
“Have you ever been a Manager before?” (with reference to your management style)
“As a Manager you need to be more like a swan…..complete calmness on the surface of the water but underneath (where no-one sees) peddling for dear life”
“You seem very stressed, hope this does not affect your team/colleagues”
“Are you ok? You look really really tired”
“You do realise that all these extra hours you work will just become expected over time and won’t be noticed or appreciated”
“xxx said they overheard you say at the BBQ the weekend that you were going to get your colleague xxx a big fat pay rise. That’s no way to act as a Manager (outside of work)”
Then of course the big question is, how do these bullies get away with it? Well here are some answers, but we would like you to tell us more. So, the perpetrator is:
Two faced – great with Management but when they are not around, evil.
Say great things to your face, the opposite to bosses behind your back
Gain your confidence, listen to your day to day woes, and then use them against you.
The management team often know who the bullies are but shrink away from addressing them.
Often because they are fearful and often the bullies are bringing in the revenue and create an aura of being irreplaceable and more frightening would cause the organisation harm by going to a competitor.
Often these bullies have been with the company for some time; managing them out will be difficult and could result in a costly law suit.
When they leave, bizarrely they could take others with them.
Then of course, they may have gained the confidence of the Director and could use that information against them.
Of course there is ‘ignoring the problem’ in the hope it will go away.
Coercive control is not limited to employees. They also work on the people who manage them, gaining the upper hand, taking more and more liberties, until they too are reduced to a pulp and neither can challenge or reprimand them.
Let’s be positive; lets us know what form of coercive control you have suffered and coping mechanisms you have used. If anyone has managed to get rid of the awful bully please tell us.
I would ask the bullies to contribute, but as they are cowards, not only do they not see themselves as bullies, they believe they have no problems!..............
……………In fact quite the opposite, they are marvellous!

JU Blog

By Carol Johnson 12 Sep, 2017

Both these transferable skills are important for an employer to know their employees have; it gives them confidence to know their staff will be able to work to deadlines and handle pressure which are elements of almost every job you can think of. Being able to demonstrate you have both these skills is important but even more important, is demonstrating that you can use both, together, to be the most effective and efficient worker you can be. This does not just mean being able to finish tasks on time however, it means being able to plan well, overcome obstacles, progress satisfactorily and meet standards as an employee.

For example, employers may want to know if you have experience in the following areas:

  • Managing short and long-term tasks successfully
  • Meeting urgent and lengthier deadlines
  • Being proactive rather than reactive
  • Adjusting your workload, making compromises and contingency plans
  • Working to particular specifications and allocation of resources

If you cannot think of when you did any of those at work, or you do not have much work experience, then have a think of when could you have demonstrated time management and organisation skills outside of work. For example:

  • Projects
  • Education
  • Hobby
  • Community events

How do these become good time management and organisation examples?

Employers want to know you will be able to find information when they ask for it and that you are able to demonstrate an understanding of the difference between urgent, important, non-urgent and non-important tasks so they can trust you with your workload. As they are transferable skills, you should be able to give a few examples in your CV or interview, so that it gives the employer a well-rounded view of how you manage work.

For example, if an employer asks you to tell them about a time you successfully navigated through a difficult project, they are looking for answers that include how adept you are at adapting to changes or problems during a planned assignment. They will also want to know how you organise your time on the project, how it fits in with other tasks you have and how you have planned contingencies in order to finish the project on time and successfully.

They might also ask you to tell them about a time you have had multiple deadlines to meet; in this instance, they want to know how you schedule and prioritise your tasks so that you can meet targets within timeframes, and to the correct standard.

Another technique is to give you an Administrative (or Filing) Test; this can involve tasks such as demonstrating you can use shared calendars in Outlook or prioritise a work-related to-do list.

What if you do not have any?

If you feel that you have not had the kind of experiences that have required you to use time management and organisation skills, you are possibly overlooking something in your life, outside of work, that you can use! Activities like successfully managing a household, children and budget, developing and delivering a school project, organising a fundraising event or even organising a hen/stag party could be good examples if you have no professional related ones. Activities that demonstrate you can work to a deadline, overcome problems, liaise with other people and have a successful outcome are all relevant but it is important to make sure you then relate it to how you would work in the role you’re applying for.

We’ve already looked at some instances of when good time management and organisation skills are used, let’s look at them in more detail:

·        Managing short and long-term tasks successfully

o  E.g. Demonstrating your understanding for responding to emails in a reasonable timeframe and researching the answer for an enquiry over several days

·        Meeting urgent and lengthier deadlines

o  E.g. Understanding the different way to handle an important enquiry from your manager and a six-month research project

·        Being proactive rather than reactive

o  E.g. Anticipating problems you may encounter and putting strategies in place that can help deal with them if they do arise

·        Adjusting your workload, making compromises and contingency plans

o  E.g. Ability to take on additional tasks, understand their new priority in relation to your current tasks and what tactics you would use to cope with them

·        Working to particular specifications and allocation of resources

o  E.g. Ability to work within guidelines such as a budget or time-constraint, or to be bound by a certain number of staff or supplies

·        Projects

o  E.g. Starting a DIY project at home such as building a patio area before the summer or decorating a room for a new baby that is due

·        Education

o  E.g. Working on several assignments at once that all have deadlines at the end of term, and getting good grades for them

·        Hobby

o  E.g. Organising the materials, cost and time for knitting scarves for friends as Christmas presents

·        Community events

o  E.g. Finding a space to hold an event for a local church, organising the way it would be paid for and being responsible for collecting the donations that will pay for it

Here are some key points on how to give the best answers to a time management and organisation related question:

·        Listen to, or read, the question carefully, what aspects of time management and organisation do they want to know about?

·        Include the goals and outcome when you give your example; did you achieve what you set out to do? What did you learn?

·        If you have any strategies or tactics you use to organise your time, including them in your answer will help back up your example. Skills You Need has a great article on Time Management that shows the Priority Matrix; a fantastic strategy for prioritising.

Do you have any nightmare time management and organisation examples or advice for a strong answer? We’d love to hear from you, leave comments below or share on your Facebook or Twitter!

By Carol Johnson 06 Sep, 2017

Transferable skills refer to the strengths and attributes a candidate has, that are not role-specific but are valuable for the diverse ways they can be used across different roles, departments and industries. Transferable skills are also known as portable or soft skills and differ from, what are known as, hard skills, because soft skills can be developed outside of a professional environment and are just as valuable in one industry, as the next. Hard skills however, are more likely to be developed for the purpose of work and generally do not transfer well into other roles.

For example, a hard skill may be having specialist knowledge of wildlife photography but having excellent soft skills in communication with customers and staff would just as relevant in a retail store or restaurant as a photography studio. The photographer in this example, may have developed those excellent communication skills over a few years, different jobs or even a volunteering position.

Because of the fluid nature of transferable skills, it is possible to see that they are particularly helpful for candidates who do not have much work experience, or are switching careers. Graduates, especially, need to prove they are ready for work after university but face problems when they have a degree but no work experience. For someone who is switching from one career to the next, your valuable transferable skills might help you get your foot in the door if you can prove you are an asset, despite a lack of the specific hard skills required for the role.

Employers look for both hard skills and soft skills in a potential employee and a CV is the perfect starting point to demonstrate that you, as a candidate, are proficient in both types of skills. Most job descriptions will list the soft skills the employer would like to see so next it is just down to the candidate to prove they’ve got them.

Transferable skills really benefit from the STAR treatment (Situation, Task, Action and Result), as they demonstrate your skills best when you can explain a bit about the scenario in which you used the skills, but also, because your example may not be exactly relevant to the role you’re applying to, explaining the results of your actions helps cement your skills.

In this blog series, we’re going to look at 7 of the most important transferable skills, provide some examples of how to get them and look at why they are important.

1.    Teamwork

2.    Time Management and Organisation

3.    Communication and Interpersonal Skills

4.    Problem Solving and Initiative

5.    Customer Service

6.    Information Technology

7.    Leadership

Today we'll be looking at...

1.     Teamwork

There are many, many jobs that require working with people as part of a team; whether it is because you all work in the same department, create a project together or interact with customers as a shop floor team. Demonstrating your ability to work as part of a team gives a prospective employer, a good indication of how well you will work with their existing employees, and, as good team adds value to an organisation, employers know it is important to employ staff with this vital transferable skill.

The interview or CV is a window for the employer to see what candidates can offer as a good team-worker and what experience they have had meeting team goals but the fab part about teamwork is you can gain this skill from all sorts of non-work-related activities as well as professional ones.

For example, employers may want to know if you have experience in the following areas of teamwork:

  • Carrying out an agreed task that contributes to team success
  • Sharing ideas and information with your team, making sure you listen and take other’s ideas on board too
  • Working well with people with a wide range of diversity
  • Inspiring colleagues and giving constructive feedback, as well as receiving it gracefully
  • Tackling problems as part of a group, contributing to the problem solving with the whole team
  • Working on a group project such as a presentation or report, including what you did to ensure success and what you learnt from the project

If you cannot think of when you did any of those at work, or you do not have much work experience, then have a think of when could you have worked as part of a team outside of work. For example:

  • Sports
  • Social clubs
  • Extra-curricular activities
  • Projects

How do these become good teamwork examples?

What makes someone a valuable team-worker is their ability to work with others and contribute an important part of the success of different goals so it is important to use examples where you have taken an active role in the success of the team.

What kind of example you use also depends on what kind of role you are applying for, for example, if you are applying for a role in leadership, you would want to use examples of when your leadership skills contributed to the success of the team.

Although some job descriptions will just list ‘teamwork’ as a skill, some will have more specific requirements so it is important you read the job description and person specification carefully. For example, some roles might require working in a creative team that works closely with a budgeting team so in those instances you might want to use examples of teamwork when you have had to diplomatically mediate between people or handle meeting different types of goal.

What if you do not have any?

If you worry that you do not have any experience of teamwork and you think it is affecting your ability to get a job than the best thing to do is create some opportunities to work as part of a team. You could join a social, youth or sports group that uses teams, volunteer at a local community centre or organise a fundraising group with friends.

At work, you could ask to be involved in a group project or suggest one to your lecturers or teachers so others get a chance to develop their teamwork skills too.

We’ve already looked at some instances of when good teamwork skills are used; let’s look at them in more detail.

  • Carrying out an agreed task that contributes to team success. E.g. Researching what you agreed to, to a good standard and in time for the deadline
  • Sharing ideas and information with your team, making sure you listen and take other’s ideas on board too. E.g. Share a proposal but when someone else has a similar idea, constructively discuss how you can make them both work and accept if theirs is a better plan
  • Working well with people with a wide range of diversity. E.g. Acknowledging new ways of working and points of view that differ from yours
  • Inspiring colleagues and giving constructive feedback, as well as receiving it gracefully. E.g. Complimenting colleagues on a good job and giving feedback in a discreet and helpful manner or passing your suggestions onto the group leader if there is one
  • Tackling problems as part of a group, contributing to the problem solving with the whole team. E.g. When you encounter an issue, discuss it with the group and agree actions before taking them so everyone is informed
  • Working on a group project such as a presentation or report. E.g. Including what you did to ensure success and what you learnt from the project
  • Sports - e.g. Being part of a football team working with a coach to create and accomplish a plan for winning a certain amount of games in a season
  • Social clubs - e.g. Working with your fellow Girl Guides or Scouts to follow an orienteering map from one location to another
  • Extra-curricular activities - e.g. Taking part in setting up a fundraising bazaar at a local community centre
  • Projects - e.g. Creating a group presentation with other students or creating a collaborative report as part of a group

Here are some key points on how to give the best answers to a teamwork related question:

  • Keep it recent

Unless you really do not have any other examples, the more recent the better.

  • Keep it relevant

This is more important than recent; if you have an older example that relates to the role, it is usually better to use that, than a more recent one that is less relevant.

  • Keep it short

Don’t get caught in the trap of waffling about annoying colleagues or team members who didn’t pull their weight. Unless it is relevant, don’t go into too much detail about the project, hobby or problem either – stay focused on the question.

  • End it positively

Always try to end with a positive outcome such as good feedback or a promotion. Failing that, end it with what you learnt from the experience and how it has improved your teamwork skills.

Teamwork is not just being part of a team because your teacher put you in that group, it is about taking ownership for the groups success and doing what you can to be an equal, but equally valuable member of the team.

Do you have any nightmare teamwork examples or advice for a great answer? We’d love to hear from you, leave comments below or share on your Facebook or Twitter!

By Carol Johnson 31 Aug, 2017

There is no doubt that interviews are absolutely integral to the recruitment process, however a badly organised interview process or inferior techniques can put off the best candidates from accepting positions, or lead to a poor decision being made, and the wrong candidate hired.

Johnson Underwood have come across many terrible interview techniques over the years and we’ve put our 10 favourites into a list. Remember, these are our favourite bad techniques, we do not condone using these!

We’re releasing our top 10 over the whole month so without further ado, here are numbers 9 and 10.

9.     Questions based on weaknesses

This question relates to number 6 in this list as it is another technique that puts the interviewer in a position of power over their candidates, makes the candidates feel uneasy and more nervous, and doesn’t give boundaries for when the question is answered or not.

For example:

·        Tell me about your greatest weakness

It is most important to find out a candidate’s strengths that relate to the job role and how they will bring value to your company, it is less important to find out how they may have mucked up in the past. Candidates do not want to talk about how they may have had problems in some areas of their previous roles and it turns the interview atmosphere negative, especially if they are talking about personal issues that they feel unable to fix. The idea of this question is to find out if the candidate lacks a skill or personality trait that will make them unsuitable for the role but what you really should be asking, is if they are willing to train and learn new skills, or if they can give an example of a time when they had a problem, but overcame it in a productive and positive way. Give them the instructions to not focus too much on the problem, when answering, but instead, demonstrate your interest in how they overcame or solved the issue. That will give you a better idea of their personality and skills at solving their weaknesses, which is much better than them just listing a weakness.

·        Tell me about your worst mistake

When this question is asked, the interviewer is hoping to find out how the candidate solved the mistake and moved on, however such a negatively worded question can often throw the candidate off balance and they may end up talking more about the mistake and what was to blame, then focusing on the problem-solving side. They might not even give you an example related to work. So, just ask them the same question but worded differently. Ask them to tell you about a time they worked as a team, or an individual, to overcome a big issue at work, how they approached the problem and what they did to solve it or work through it and ask them to include any lessons learned. Asking a specific question will get you a specific answer and will ensure the atmosphere of the interview stays positive.

10.     Being A Bad Interviewer

This may not seem like a technique you would expect any interviewer to employ but I’m sure most people can recall a bad interview and put it down to the interviewer not knowing what they were doing, or using a flawed technique. There is a difference between an interviewer who has had no training and is trying their best, and one who does not think interviewing is a skill that needs to be worked on and thinks the candidate needs to do the work. Just because you are not the candidate, does not mean you can do/say whatever you fancy, you are representing your company to a potential employee after all, and a bad interviewer can put a fantastic candidate off accepting a job offer. Even a small company should ensure that their interviewer has had some sort of guidance or training on how to interview properly, otherwise candidates will perceive the interviewer and their technique as inferior to other companies they have interviewed at.

For example:

·        Lack of preparation

A lack of preparation makes the interviewer look lazy and uninterested in recruiting or representing their company. This is especially evident if they have not prepared their questions properly, or do not take notes of what the candidate is saying; as the candidates know that not only is it difficult to remember exactly what was said but that also, if an interviewer asks different questions to different candidates, there is no fair competition between the candidates and that gives a very negative image of the company.

·        Relying on candidates to do all the work

Whether it is down to a lack of preparation or not, many interviewers believe that the candidate should demonstrate how much they want the job during the interview and will deliberately act nonchalant, quiet or passive throughout the interview so the candidate has control over how long they talk or how they should behave. This is not a sensible way to get the best answers or behaviour from a candidate and puts more emphasis on elements of the interview such as time and physicality than discussion and showcasing. If you want to know how the candidate reacts when you shake hands, initiate the handshake when they arrive and if you want to know the real answer to a question, ask them one with a clear objective and help them stay on track by engaging with them if they start to ramble.

·        Bad behaviour

Used as an intimidation method, this technique of interviewing demonstrates nothing but a showcase of power, a lack of preparation or a lack of commitment on the interviews and company’s behalf. Chewing gum/eating, getting up or leaving the room, answering a phone or message, yawning, dressing scruffily, asking inappropriate questions, making judgemental comments, not reading the CV and not knowing the job description are all examples of what not to do as an interviewer.  

To finish, as we have discussed the worst interview techniques, I must mention that asking unlawful questions, is not just a terrible technique but can land a company in a lot of trouble. It’s another reason why training your interviewers is so important; they should never be asking questions that could lead to discrimination such as:

·        Are you planning on having any children?

·        What religion do you follow?

·        Do you have any medical conditions?

More information about discrimination during recruitment can be found here.

There will always be a need to improve and change the techniques that are used in interviewing but it’s safe to say that there are four key points to take into account when planning to interview.

1.    The interview technique will allow for specific and relevant questions to be asked, with emphasis given on encouraging the candidate to give examples as well as an overview

2.    Each interview will be well prepared, planned and as similar for each candidate as possible

3.    The interviewer should have had some training

4.    The atmosphere should be positive and welcoming for the candidate


What do you think about these techniques, have you ever experienced them as a candidate or interviewer? Which one do you think is the worst? Let us know in the comments below!


By Carol Johnson 18 Aug, 2017

There is no doubt that interviews are absolutely integral to the recruitment process, however a badly organised interview process or inferior techniques can put off the best candidates from accepting positions, or lead to a poor decision being made, and the wrong candidate hired.

Johnson Underwood have come across many terrible interview techniques over the years and we’ve put our 10 favourites into a list. Remember, these are our favourite bad techniques, we do not condone using these!

We’re releasing our top 10 over the whole month so without further ado, here are numbers 7 and 8.

7.     Asking Irrelevant Questions

This technique is so engrained into interviewing styles that it is easily mistaken for being essential when really, what does knowing that information actually gain? It could be said that many of the questions addressed so far in this blog, could be considered irrelevant but I’ve chosen the following three as specific examples.

·        Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?

This question can be seen as irrelevant because the interviewer really does not need to know where you see yourself in 5 years time. It might seem like they want to know if you plan to stay with the company for a long time, but it is well known by now, that candidates will lie if it thinks they will get the job, so how is asking this question really going to help assess their staying power? You can get a general idea of how long they have stayed at other jobs by looking at their CV, but ultimately, you want to employ the right person who can do the job now, and, if you want them to stay for a long time, that’s up to you as an employer, to nurture and support them in their role so they have the satisfaction and loyalty they require to stay for a long time.

·        Tell me about yourself

 Asking relevant questions and paying attention to the CV should give you all you need to know about a candidate in order to decide if they are able to do the job you’re advertising. If you want to know more about their work personality, ask them questions that will give them the opportunity to talk about their achievements, experiences of teamwork and perhaps break the ice by asking them to talk about one of the hobbies they’ve listed on their CV, making sure that you let them know it’s not an official question. However, asking such a broad, open ended question about a candidate just gives the impression that the interviewer will be judging them and they also won’t know when to stop talking, how will they know when is the question answered?

·        Who do you most admire and why?

Again, this is a personality related question and the interviewer will be judging the candidate on their response. It’s unlikely that the interviewer will relate the answer to work ethics and more likely, relate it to their own personal preferences. There are three main issues with this question and they occur because the interviewer may have unconscious, or conscious, bias.

o  They won’t know who the person is, that the candidate has mentioned, will be embarrassed, and therefore making them less likely to like the candidate

o  They will fiercely dislike the person and judge the candidate as having bad taste

o  They will fiercely like the person and judge the candidate as having better taste than other candidates

Of course, this won’t always happen, the interviewer may be completely neutral and not judge the candidate’s person of choice at all, in which case, why ask the question? You could ask the candidate if they have anyone in the industry that they particularly admire, or have they got a favourite product that is relevant to the role but even then, you are toeing a thin line regarding personal preference and doubt as to what constitutes the right answer.

8.     No questions

With all the issues surrounding the different lines of questioning that have already been mentioned in this blog, you can be forgiven for deciding not to ask any questions at all, and simply observe candidates in action. This is, however, an ill-advised technique as questions give candidates the opportunity to discuss their actions and the reasons behind them.

For example:

·        Observing a group of candidates interact with each other in a problem-solving situation will lead to a number of judgements made about each candidate. By not inviting them to answer your questions about the role they took in the scenario, you are taking a risk that you make an incorrect assumption or misunderstood a great technique that makes them a highly valuable candidate, as something else and you discount them.

By not asking questions you are not giving candidates an opportunity to address your observations of their actions and demonstrating the full range of their skills and knowledge.

What do you think about these techniques, have you ever experienced them as a candidate or interviewer? Let us know in the comments below and stand-by for the next 2 techniques!

By Carol Johnson 11 Aug, 2017

There is no doubt that interviews are absolutely integral to the recruitment process, however a badly organised interview process or inferior techniques can put off the best candidates from accepting positions, or lead to a poor decision being made, and the wrong candidate hired.

Johnson Underwood have come across many terrible interview techniques over the years and we’ve put our 10 favourites into a list. Remember, these are our favourite bad techniques, we do not condone using these!

We’re releasing our top 10 over the whole month so without further ado, here are numbers 5 and 6.

5.     Plants/spies

Similarly, to asking trick questions, this can come across as a handy way of finding out information about a candidate that normal questioning doesn’t, but is really quite an underhanded way of treating someone and doesn’t necessarily give a truthful picture of what the candidate is like. Asking a person to behave in a certain way towards, or around, a candidate, or observing the candidate without them knowing, and then judging the candidate on their behaviour could be considered unfair, and unethical, and it completely falls down when it comes to perceptions.

For example:

·        You have a nervous candidate arriving and they speak to the Receptionist who gives them details of what to do if there is a fire, possibly a security ID and will ask the candidate to wait, or direct them where they need to go. This candidate is probably nervous and thinking a lot about the interview, so any sullenness or agitation could probably be put down to nerves but in reality, the Receptionist has had a long, tiring day, mistake the nerves as rudeness and tells the interview panel that they thought the candidate was rude, which in turn affects their decision making.

·        A staff member walks through the waiting area and drops some paperwork on the floor near the candidate, then stoops down to pick it up, judging the candidate for not helping pick the paperwork up and reports back to the panel that the candidate is lazy and not very thoughtful. In reality, the candidate could have medical condition that prevents them standing up or moving quickly, they have not noticed the situation because they are doing some last minute mental preparation for their interview, or maybe they don’t want to come across as interfering, after all, they don’t know how the staff member may react if they start picking up sensitive documents.

·        A candidate arrives at an unmanned reception, signs in and waits for someone to collect them and whilst they are waiting, the interview panel are watching them or recording them to watch later. Any action the candidate takes whilst they are being observed is judged on and goes towards whether they will be considered for the role or not. This includes adjusting their hair or clothes, pushing the pull door or pressing the wrong buttons a few times and without them even knowing, they are unfairly being judged as vain or incapable of simple tasks which is in no way demonstrative of their actual ability to do a role.

I’m sure by now, you can see what I mean by how subjective and dangerous this technique is. If the interview panel have asked a staff member to judge the candidate’s behaviour and they take offence to anything the candidate says or does, they could be jeopardising the image that candidate has worked hard to present to the interview panel. Staff may be trained to interact with customers but they are not necessarily trained to interview and assess candidate’s personalities based on how many times the candidate says thank-you or asks to use the facilities and it puts the candidate at a disadvantage they are not aware of, sometimes before their interview has even begun!

6.     Acting like an evil overlord

A popular technique in interviewing is for an interviewer to assert their power and superiority by asking questions that are designed to make the candidate feel small, powerless and more nervous than before. A good interviewer wants their candidates to feel like their experience is important and that they are treated well by their potential employers, a bad interviewer will do what they can to demean their candidates and make them grovel for the job.

For example:

·        Tell me why you think you are better than anyone else we’ve interviewed?

For starters, the candidate is not going to have any idea what makes them better than the other candidates because they do not know them, so the only possible outcome from this question is that the candidate should try and reiterate every single point they’ve already made on their CV and in the interview, hoping at least one of them won’t have been mentioned by any of the other candidates. This does not seem like a productive use of interviewing time when all of that information is already available to the interviewer and only seems to serve the enjoyment of the person who asked it, as they watch each candidate squirm.

·        What would your last boss say about you?

A candidates last boss could have been a racist, misogynist or the world’s loveliest person, either way, finding out what past employers think about your candidates is what references are for. If you ask a candidate, they will either feel like they have to lie and say that their boss thought they were wonderful, when in reality they did not get on, or they will talk about how well they worked together and risk being thought of as a liar anyway.

All this technique achieves is ego building and doesn’t really reap the same benefits as asking the candidate to give examples of when they’ve excelled at something, or achieved an award or recognition for their work or relationships with colleagues.

What do you think about these techniques, have you ever experienced them as a candidate or interviewer? Let us know in the comments below and stand-by for the next 2 techniques!

By Carol Johnson 07 Aug, 2017

There is no doubt that interviews are absolutely integral to the recruitment process, however a badly organised interview process or inferior techniques can put off the best candidates from accepting positions, or lead to a poor decision being made, and the wrong candidate hired.

Johnson Underwood have come across many terrible interview techniques over the years and we’ve put our 10 favourites into a list. Remember, these are our favourite bad techniques, we do not condone using these!

We’re releasing our top 10 over the whole month so without further ado, here are numbers 3 and 4.

3.     Asking Candidates to Sell Themselves, Or Items, to You.

This might seem like a sensible question if you are interviewing for a position in Sales however this type of interview technique very rarely showcases any actual skill and is more likely to put the candidate on edge.

Selling products or services is often a much longer process than people realise, even quick sales can involve several conversations, record keeping, a number of different techniques and diverse communication methods, so is it fair to put a candidate on a spot and ask them to squeeze all that effort into a 30 second pitch? Let’s not forget, that this technique is used in interviews for non-Sales jobs as well, to what purpose?

For example:

·        Sell yourself to me

Their CV should already have listed their skills and attributes as their main selling points, the interview’s purpose is to get more information on specific points not ask them to list their CV again.

·        Asking candidates to sell something that is not part of the job you’re recruiting for

If you are recruiting a Salesperson for a bathroom showroom, when customers will potentially be spending thousands of pounds, will asking them to sell you a 50 pence pencil really showcase their skills?

In both cases, a better interview technique is to ask them to provide data, statistics and examples of their successful sales and then ask them to expand on their selling techniques. You could also ask them to describe a particularly challenging sale that was successful or unsuccessful, and ask them to expand on what they learnt.

4.     Role Playing Interview Panels

All interview panels should have more than one person in and a good mix should include a representative from the HR department or someone from a different team who can be objective. What they definitely shouldn’t include, is actors or staff pretending to be someone they are not. If you are expecting candidates to be truthful, it sets a terrible example to have an interviewer behave in a way that is not like them or act dishonestly by impersonating a fake employee, even if the candidate is unaware.

For example:

·        A panel interview where all or some of the interviewers have designated “roles” to play and one of them is the “bad guy”. This “bad guy” will constantly be negative, dispute information the candidate has given, pick holes in their answers and act unimpressed with everything they say. This is to put the candidate on edge and see how they react to unpleasant people putting them under pressure.

Whether they are pretending to be the “bad guy” or they really aren’t very nice, there is no logical reason for having an unpleasant person representing your company to a potential employee. If you want to know how the candidate reacts to unpleasant people, ask them to describe how they deal with folks like that, and let them feel safe enough to give examples of when they have, and haven’t, been successful.

What do you think about these techniques, have you ever experienced them as a candidate or interviewer? Let us know in the comments below and stand-by for the next 2 techniques!

By Carol Johnson 02 Aug, 2017

The 10 Worst Interview Techniques Ever - 1 & 2

There is no doubt that interviews are absolutely integral to the recruitment process, however, badly organised interview procedures or inferior techniques can put off the best candidates from accepting positions, or lead to a poor decision being made, and the wrong candidate hired.

Johnson Underwood have come across many terrible interview techniques over the years and we’ve put our 10 favourites into a list. Remember, these are our favourite bad techniques, we do not condone using these!

We’re releasing our top 10 over the whole month so without further ado, here are numbers 1 and 2.

1.     If You Were An ‘X’ What ‘X’ Would You Be?

As an interviewer, these questions might sound like they are going to give you a psychological insight into the candidate’s personality but in reality, you are going to interpret their answer in the way you think it means, which is unhelpful as everyone has different perspectives. Questions like this can cause candidates to worry, overthink and take a long time to answer on a question that is purely subjective and not really relevant to the job role.

For example:

·        If you were a box of chocolates, which flavour would you be?

This is a great example of a bad question because people definitely have favourite chocolates and, despite not wanting to, they will probably subconsciously judge a candidate if they choose the interviewers least favourite chocolate.

·        If you were an animal what animal would you be?

One person may think that a Lion represents a strong, respected leadership related personality but another may think a Lion represents a lazy, unmotivated personality, and decide that that person will just coast by on the back of the hard work of the Lionesses in your team.

·        If you were a Muppet, which one would be you be?

Someone may think the character Animal represents a vibrant, teamwork related personality and be thinking about the way Animal often brings the Muppets together, however another person may think Animal is a loose cannon; someone prone to flare-ups and abandoning the team when the going gets tough.

You may be interested to know if a candidate will merge into the dynamic of the team, but instead of asking them to compare their personality traits to a vegetable, animal or mineral, why not ask them to give an actual example of a time they demonstrated great teamwork or overcame a problem in a team environment? This kind of example based question is more likely to give you a picture of how they will actually behave with others.

2.     Off-hand Remarks That Are Really Trick Questions

This kind of technique is used to test all sorts of characteristics about a candidate and could be considered as useful but is more likely to be viewed as sneaky and underhanded. Putting someone in a position where they should make decisions or answer questions based on wrong or little information, and then judging their answer based on the extra knowledge you have is not going to teach you anything. Sure, in many cases, people will have to make decisions without the full picture, but it would be better to ask them to give you an example of an actual situation, and get a full answer that you can ask follow-up questions to instead of putting them on the spot.

For example:

·        Interviewer apologises for state of disrepair in the car park and when the candidate says, “Oh that’s ok, it’s no problem” the interviewer judges that answer negatively because there is nothing wrong with the carpark. In this instance, the interviewer has decided that the candidate is not observant enough because they think the candidate should have noticed the car park was fine and the question was a trick one.

In reality, the candidate is probably not thinking about how great/bad the car park looks, and is more focused on getting parked and into the building on time or they might actually think the car park looks rubbish and are just being polite. Either way, throwing an offhanded remark in and judging the answer, is not a fair way to measure a candidates’ worth, a better way would be to ask them to give an example of when they have to had complete complex tasks, paid a lot of attention to detail or assess someone’s skills.

What do you think about these techniques, have you ever experienced them as a candidate or interviewer? Let us know in the comments below and stand-by for the next 2 techniques!

By Carol Johnson 05 Jul, 2017

The Good Recruitment Campaign (GRC) is an initiative set up by the Recruitment Employment Confederation (REC) to help strengthen and develop recruitment practices by employers who are not members of the REC.

The REC was established in 1930 as the professional body for recruitment businesses in the UK and arguably one of the most important facets to their work is the setting of standards and best practice methods. In order to promote recruitment as an industry dedicated to ethical and fair procedures, 82% of the UK recruitment market are REC members and have to demonstrate commitment to upholding the principles in the REC Code of Practice.

To support their work and reach out to non-members, the REC launched the Good Recruitment Campaign in 2014 to “Continuously develop and champion the fundamentals of good recruitment.” (REC 2014). In addition to attracting organisations to the cause directly, the REC would like their members to promote the Campaign through discussions with their clients, both current and prospective. The REC have assembled information and tools to aid members with the promotion of the Campaign, including presentations and fact sheets. They encourage topics that outline the importance of employers acquiring the right talent, using staff to their full potential and explain the benefits that are possible to gain by signing up to the GRC and examples include: The Race for Talent, Candidate Focus and Brand Strength. The material is focused on explaining the benefits of singing up to the campaign, so let’s look at five of them in a bit more detail.

1.     Getting the Competitive Edge

One of the major benefits of an organisation signing up to the GRC is that, because they will be following the GRC Charter and have accepted the principles therein, it could be assumed by candidates that their recruitment practices are going to be fair and ethical. In addition, as part of the GRC, an organisation will be displayed on the register of signatories which enforces the positive message about the organisation to all potential candidates and clients and may contribute to them attracting more talent.

2.     Recruitment Evaluation

When a company signs-up to the GRC they will be sent a Self-Assessment Toolkit with which to measure their current processes and practices against the standards and principles that are upheld by the REC. This can be seen as a great way to instigate new initiatives and projects within HR teams in addition to checking that any contracted partners are working to a particular standard. A company that makes use of the Toolkit could also use it to help start a healthy dialogue with their staff about the processes they went through when they became employees.

3.     Learning and Evolving with Knowledge

What could be considered one of the highlights of the campaign, is the access to the Good Recruitment Hub; an online resources library provided by the REC that contains up-to-date research, advice, guidelines and data for signatories to read and use. It covers issues around youth employment, diversity and inclusion, employer brand, different facets of the resourcing process and more. In a presentation, that is for REC members to show current and prospective clients, the Good Recruitment Hub is described as “A hub where research, data, guides and good practice can be located, used and supplied” including “New research around the importance of supply chain management, candidate experience, and digital work platforms”. This could be seen as an invaluable tool to have at the disposal of any organisation that hires staff.

4.     Cultivating Information in a Community

In addition to having access to the resources that the Good Recruitment Hub has to offer, another benefit is the networking and communication opportunities with other employers who have a similar dedication to recruitment best practice. There are opportunities to attend workshops and networking events and complimentary places at the annual REC Talent, Recruitment and Employment Conference. According to the information available on the GRC members area webpages, over 130 organisations have already signed up to take part in the GRC, including Royal Mail, Npower, Virgin Media and Mercedes Benz, providing an opportunity to start a dialogue and connect with a like-minded community, sharing research and best practice for the benefit of good recruitment and growing awareness of it.

5.     The Good Recruitment Charter

The Good Recruitment Charter lays out the nine key principles that signatories will aspire to as part of the Good Recruitment Campaign. The online version of the guideline’s highlight published examples and guides to aid with understanding and implementation.

The Charter is a tool to be used at all stages of the recruitment process, whether it is solely in-house or in partnership with a third party, and can be used to improve and develop any procedures that are currently in place; with the aim of saving costs, and ensuring that candidates, whether successful or not, have a good experience with the organisations recruitment process.

The nine principles are as follows:

1. Diversity & Inclusion

2. Consistent Practice

3. Candidate Experience

4. Flexible Work

5. Professional Development

6. Recruitment Partners

7. Supply Chain

8. Youth Employment

9. Process improvement

In this blog, we’ve touched on the competitive advantage, access to research and insights, assessment and improvement of recruitment practices and fresh engagement with a new community of like-minded organisations that are benefits of signing up to the GRC. There are also some additional benefits that the REC highlights when promoting their campaign:

  • It encourages effective partnerships between businesses and recruitment partners
  • It produces a more agreeable and nicer experience for candidates
  • It standardises practices of in-house recruitment processes and methods
  • It enables collaboration and relationship building with HR/Recruitment forerunners from key successful businesses

Although it would be a challenge for some organisations to meet the nine principles straight away, it could be said that it would be a challenge worth facing considering the variety of benefits it may bring.

Johnson Underwood are members of the REC, you can find out more about how we champion the Good Recruitment Campaign by calling us on 01604 626162. You can also visit the REC and Good Recruitment Campaign websites to find out more about them.


By Carol Johnson 07 Jun, 2017

In preparation for going to watch Alien Covenant at the cinema last week, I decided to watch all the main Alien films so I would know what was going on. I’ve only recently started working in recruitment, and whilst I was watching Aliens, I started thinking about interviewing the character of Ellen Ripley, for a new job. The answers I imagined her giving me for “Tell me about your most recent role” made me chuckle and got me thinking about how other movie characters would answer some basic interview questions if they went for a new job.

So please read on for my 10 interview questions for movie characters, and beware that there are a few spoilers!

The Lord of the Interviews

My train of thought prompted some great conversations with my colleagues about movie characters they’d like to interview and a debate as to whether you could consider that Frodo Baggins had a bad job, or was it technically a bad volunteering position? Either way, as our first candidate, his transferable skills of perseverance and teamwork would inevitably be called into question when asked, “Tell me about the last time you completed a project from planning stages to successful delivery?” .


Interview with an Alien

Our second candidate is Ellen Ripley; the hero of Alien, Aliens and Alien 3. She starts the first film as a Warrant Officer, and by end of the third film has had to kill herself to stop the Weyland-Yutani Corporation  from taking the Alien queen inside her, to use as a biological weapon. The Weyland-Yutani Corporation  are behind a few of the nasty surprises she gets, as well as contributing to her fear of androids and the loss of her space flight license so it would be hard for her not to condemn them as a former employer when asked “Tell me why you left your last job.” .



Being an astronaut in any film seems to usually spell doom for the character(s) involved but so seems to be any crew of an expedition- characters are either going to die, or be left behind. I love The Martian ’s Mark Watney as an example because his plight is so extreme. He is stranded but very much alive, becoming a survivor but instead of it being in a jungle or desert, it’s a different planet and he can’t just hunt or try to find water, he’s got to create food and water from basically nothing. As a character, I’d love to interview him when he’s decided to go for a new role, and ask, “What was the biggest challenge in your last role?” .


Defence Against the Interview Panel

I think teachers have a really interesting interviewing process; it usually involves a formal interview and then the candidate teaches a lesson with actual students, whilst the interviewers watch. This gives the candidate an opportunity to demonstrate their skills and knowledge as well as discuss them. As a professor at Hogwarts, which suffers from a very high turnover of staff for a particular subject (OFSTED trigger alert!), you are constantly trying to avoid daily interactions with potentially lethal kids, animals and plants. To make matters worse, even if you did manage to teach all your students to pass their exams and have avoided all the trouble all year, the headteacher, Professor Dumbledore, might just cancel all the exams anyway! This would make it extremely hard for our fourth candidate to answer interview questions like “How do you measure your students’ progress alongside the national average?” .


We’re ready to hire you

Working in any science field has its challenges and under-funding problems but as a Ghostbuster, not only does there only seem to be four of you at a time, but you will constantly be having to challenge people’s perceptions and beliefs of the subjects of your study. Not to mention that each time you successfully complete a mission, the clean-up is enormous and the publicity not always good. In all the Ghostbusters films, there are examples of when the team has had to explain their situation to people who disagree with, or don’t believe, them and usually they are proved right because inexplicable evidence suddenly appears. Regardless of the next job any of them went for, it would be difficult for them to answer the popular interview question, “Give an example of when you have successfully explained a complex technical issue, to someone who has not had any experience in that area.” .


Help me, hire you

Our sixth candidate, Jerry Maguire (from Jerry Maguire ), is fortunate to have a fictional moment that many real-life workers dream off- he storms out of work, standing up for his principles and takes a fish with him. He then risks everything to start his own agency and, like many real situations, has a really hard time getting it off the ground and running but I’d love to hear his answer to “Tell me about a time you took initiative with a new concept, how did it go?” .


Mutant and hired

Whether you are born with super powers, accumulate them through an accident, or build them yourself, a superhero’s job is not an easy one. Apart from having the stress of living through traumatic experiences, time after time, you also have to keep up appearances of your alter-ego and their job without showing you’re stressed out, probably injured from your crime-fighting nights and behind with your workload. For example, if Peter Parker left The Daily Bugle, what would his photography portfolio look like? I can tell you it would pretty much just be full of Spiderman photos, so, as our seventh candidate, how would he answer “How do you demonstrate creativity and variety in your photography subject matter?” . Similarly, how would Professor Xavier handle questions like “Tell me how you have maximised the use of current facilities at your school? What were the challenges you faced?” . And how would Clark Kent answer “Take me through your article planning process and three successful deadline submissions.” .

Prepare for interview awesomeness

Hospitality can be a very difficult and demanding industry to work in, whether it is as a career path, or as a stop-gap whilst you study or train to do something different, and people all over the world wait tables solely to get by, so they can succeed at their career aspirations one day. In Kung Fu Panda , the character of Po works in a noodle restaurant before becoming the Dragon Warrior and has picked up some great culinary skills that help him make friends and become a great kung fu fighter. As our tenth candidate, if you were interviewing him, would you believe his answer for, “What transferable skills can you bring from your past roles, to the one you are applying for?” .

The interview questions I’ve used in this article, are all examples of competency based questions; the answers to which, should include the action you have taken and the results of your work, to help give a more rounded, and specific, answer.

I’ve listed the questions below for reference and would love you to leave your comments if you have any ideas for interview questions and movie characters you’d ask them to. I’d also like to know, what is the worst interview question you’ve been asked?

  • Tell me about your most recent role
  • Tell me about the last time you completed a project from planning stages to successful delivery?
  • Tell me why you left your last job
  • What was the biggest challenge in your last role
  • How do you measure your students’ progress alongside the national average?
  • Give an example of when you have successfully explained a complex technical issue, to someone who has not had any experience in that area
  • Tell me about a time you took initiative with a new concept, how did it go?
  • How do you demonstrate creativity and variety in your photography subject matter?
  • Tell me how you have maximised the use of current facilities at your school? What were the challenges you faced?
  • Take me through your article planning process and three successful deadline submissions.
  • What transferable skills can you bring from your past roles, to the one you are applying for?

By Carol Johnson 03 May, 2017

In every industry, there are examples of companies not following rules or people losing out because mistakes have been made and the recruitment industry, sadly, is no different. Even the most experienced candidates can be taken advantage of without realising it, as well as candidates who have never used an agency before and are unsure of how they should work. In this blog edition we are going to highlight some of the rules that agencies must follow and some examples of bad practice that are common to hear about.

The UK Government website has a lot of information about employment agencies and businesses therefore we have included some key information below and linked the keywords back to original pages.

“If you run an employment agency or employment business you have to follow certain rules.

You can’t:

  • charge a fee to a work-seeker for work finding services
  • stop someone from working elsewhere or terminating their contract with you
  • make someone tell them the name of any future employer
  • withhold payments or wages due
  • supply a temporary worker to replace someone taking part in industrial action
  • charge for a uniform without telling the worker in advance
  • make unlawful deductions from pay

 You must also make sure workers are:

The rules are different for entertainment and modelling  agencies and businesses and who pays workers depends on what kind of work and agency the worker is involved in.”

There is an ongoing debate that agencies charging for payroll services could be seen as breaking the law for doing so, as this could be interpreted as being a “work finding service”. For some work (such as nursing or forestry), the agencies need to have licenses too and there are guidelines for protecting the wellbeing of candidates before sending them to a hiring business.

“Before placing a work-seeker with a hirer, you must get sufficient information from the hirer including:

  • the identity of the hirer and, if applicable, the nature of their business
  • the date the hirer needs a work-seeker to start and for how long
  • the type of work, location, working hours and any health and safety risks and controls
  • the experience, references, training and qualifications the hirer needs for the post or are needed by law
  • any expenses payable by or to the work-seeker
  • if you run an agency, the minimum wage, benefits, method of payment, and notice periods for termination of employment (where applicable)”

In addition, if the agency provides other services, such a CV workshops, and charges for them, they cannot make using those other services a condition of the agency finding work for them.

To demonstrate that an agency works to a high ethical and professional standard there is accreditation they can seek and organisations they can become members off, for example the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC).

“REC Members are UK-based recruitment agencies, spanning from large organisations right down to sole traders. The REC represents the interests of its members and the UK jobs market to government through its policy work. The  REC lobbies government directly   and has a foothold with all major government departments.”  

REC- About Us

Recruitment agencies will ask for the following documents when they register a candidate:

  1. Proof of eligibility to work in UK e.g.: passport or full birth certificate
  2. Proof of National Insurance Number
  3. Proof of address

They should only ask to see the original documents, photocopies or handwritten notes should not be accepted. This is part of the compliance procedure that all agencies should adhere to.

There are many examples of low standards or bad practice from recruitment agencies:

  • Radically changing your CV without your permission
  • Asking for copies of the compliance documents to be faxed or emailed
  • Sending workers to a company that has not been vetted properly
  • Not providing a contract within 3 working days of informing the candidate they will start an assignment
  • Not paying the amount that is in their contract or minimum wage
  • Sending the candidate’s CV out to a company without consulting the candidate first. This can result in the CV going to a previous or current employer that the candidate might not want and can lead to the candidate losing their current position
  • There is so much potential to expand on the topics we have touched on in this blog, we would love to hear your comments and questions about these or any other recruitment topics, especially if you have any horror stories to share!

Please see below for links to our website, the REC website and the GOV website. If you are worried about someone or think that an agency, be it small and independent or the major high street corporates or managed services, are not following the rules click here to visit the Pay and Work Rights Helpline and Complaints page on the UK Government website or report them to the REC .

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