3 common interviewing mistakes and how to avoid them!

Contributed by
Mandy Hamerla
Mandy is the founder of HR Refresh, a popular resource for entrepreneurs and business owners that want modern HR support in a flexible, affordable & convenient way. Mandy specialises in helping entrepreneurs to hire their first employee and then become brilliant at managing people (and avoiding costly mistakes).
She also offers a done-for-you HR service, for busy people that want to outsource HR.
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Everybody wants to hire the best people, so it can be worth spending time on creating a compelling job advert or working with the right recruitment agencies to attract quality people to apply for your role.
However, once you’ve managed to get a short-list of candidates, the ultimate decision of who you hire is down to you!
Your interviewing skills and technique are critical in ensuring you make the right decision!

Get it right, and it can be game-changing for your business.

Get it wrong, and you’re facing lost productivity, and ultimately the cost of replacing the individual, not to mention all the time and energy you spend worrying about what to do. So, for that reason, I wanted to share the 3 most common mistakes I see business owners make, plus my top tips on how to avoid them.

1. Asking interview questions with no purpose

Many interviewers waste theirs and their candidate’s time asking poorly thought out questions.
Some even google a list of generic questions and ask those!
So, to increase your chances of hiring the right person, it’s worth investing time to plan your questions in advance, for each candidate you interview.

Think carefully about the knowledge, skills, expertise and character traits you need for the role, and develop your questions around these.

Also, make sure you ask questions to see if they can thrive in your working environment and team. Cultural fit is just as important as the skills they have. 

My top tip: Go back to your job description and highlight 3 things that the person needs to do brilliantly for it to be game-changing for your business.
This could be Facebook ads for a marketing person; tech recruitment for an HR person or Mailchimp campaigns for a PA. Then make sure each question has a purpose and enables you to gather evidence to prove they have this skill-set and the right attitude to match or not.

2. Too much talking, not enough listening

Sometimes nerves can take over and you can end up talking just for the sake of it. I’ve even seen some people talk more than the candidate does.
By listening actively you’ll be able to pick out the bits of your candidate’s answer that you want to know more about, or where you want clarity, or where some examples would be useful if they aren’t being specific.

This isn’t about trying to catch the candidate out, far from it. It’s about helping your candidate to give their best, and it’s about making sure you have all the information you need to make the best recruitment decisions.

 My top tip: At the beginning of the interview, rather than spending time explaining the company and role, put the onus on them and ask them questions like ‘what do you know about our company’ and ‘what’s your understanding of the role’ to see how much they want to work for you vs. just getting any job. This will help you start as you mean to go on.  

3. Over-selling the role

There is a common temptation to enthusiastically portray their company in the most positive light.
But the worst thing you can do is over-promise and under deliver.

Obviously, you want to sell what your company has to offer, but it’s a careful balancing act. There is nothing worse than a candidate starting a new job with sky high expectations and finding that the reality of the scope of the role, and opportunities for progression, falls a bit short.

My top tip: Before the interview, think about what’s the potential negative aspects to the company / job. Perhaps the location is difficult to get to, or perhaps they will be working on their own for the majority of the time. Ask questions that test how they will cope with this, such as ‘describe a working environment that you haven’t enjoyed’. You don’t need to promote the bad bits, but don’t try to hide them either.

Now, you can feel more confident and empowered to make better hiring decisions. I hope these tips help you to develop the interview style the works for you and your company.

– Mandy

Recruit, retain and motivate from your insides.

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Contributed by
Sarah Hodgkins
Former interior designer Sarah set up Charlotte Designs 13 years ago. The company designs and paints murals, trompe l’oeil, faux and metallic finishes for homes, schools and businesses throughout the UK.
If you would like to discuss your office interior with someone who is a curious mix of artist, designer and marketeer, let’s have a coffee.
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There are lots of news articles at the moment around the state of the job market. There are apparently parts of the country which are at full employment and skill shortages in certain areas are beginning to emerge.

As we climb out of recession, the economy has turned into an employees’ market. I was speaking to one of my clients, a recruitment company, a couple weeks ago and they were saying that candidates are asking, where the prospective employers’ offices are and what are they like, before they will even go for an interview.

This mural celebrates the company’s location and branding

So does your work environment really make that much of a difference? Research on this has been carried out on this, both sides of the pond and the undisputed answer is ‘Yes!’

A Robert Half survey has revealed that over a third of executives see the working environment as the most crucial factor in keeping an employee satisfied in today’s business world, compared to just 9% in 1993. And with the internet awash with pictures of Google, Hootsuite and Facebook’s funky office murals, it is understandable that young people particularly, want to see themselves in similar environments.

I went to see another company this week who have already invested considerably in their office interior and have further grand plans. They are a young, dynamic technology company whose success depends on them attracting the brightest, smartest people. Their philosophy is that if they can provide a cool work environment, they will be in a better position to recruit the people they need, than their competitors.

Technology has blurred the lines between our work and private lives, our work fulfills our need to belong and gives us a sense of identity.

What our work environment looks like, says a lot about our employer and ultimately about us. So, the bottom line is, if you want to grab the attention of the best people, your work environment has to reflect you, your values and attract the kind of employees you want to engage.

A stylish office mural celebrating the company’s business and branding

The solution doesn’t have to be a major office refit, there are lots of low cost solutions that you can implement on a budget. Establishing and celebrating your brand identity is crucial, and it should be obvious where you are and what you are about from the moment you walk into your workplace.

Find out what it is that attracts people to your company and celebrate it.

What you want to promote will depend on you and your market, but you should feed your employees, clients and partners with information about you and what you are about. Murals are a cost-effective way of doing this; whether it is your history, location, customer list or culture, shout about it, be proud of who you are.

Contrary to what you might think, being distracted at work is not always a bad thing. If the object of your distraction is a work of art, it can actually boost productivity, lower stress and increase well being.

There is a real tendency to opt for sanitised, lean work spaces, designed to encourage staff to just get on with their work and avoid distraction, but there isn’t a branch of science in the world which believes this approach boosts productivity or makes for happier workers.

“If you enrich a space, people feel much happier and work better; a very good way of doing this is by using art.”

Says Dr. Craig Knight, who has been studying workplace interiors at the University of Exeter for 12 years.

Trompe l’oeil window with coastal view

A recent study puts natural light as the second most important consideration in an office. Windows and natural sunlight boosts vitamin D production, which puts people in a good mood.

Windows also gives people a view outside, which reduces the feeling of being cut off from the world, and encourages creative thinking. If you are not blessed with a beautiful view from your windows, consider painting one.

So, if your business depends on its people, and let’s face it, whose doesn’t, why not create an environment that people will be falling over themselves to work in? It will reap its rewards.

– Sarah

Shawshank Redemtion – A story of sacrifice and hope.


Contributed by
Antoinette Honegan
Antoinette is a registered nurse, having sent nine years in healthcare, she is now spreading her wings into the world of the entrepreneur.  She has set her sights on disrupting our thinking on personal/sexual health hygiene, so watch this space.
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Most of us spend more time at work than we do with our families.

In fact, on average we spend 90,360 hours of our life working. So surely it stands to reason we should expect to be in an environment that doesn’t stifle and demean us at our very core, or is that just me?

I recently read an article called, ‘Employees don’t leave companies they leave managers’ and I thought that’s my reality.  The article stated that 75%(!) of workers who left their jobs voluntarily did so due to their managers and not the position

Moreover, the number of people I could call on that have their tales of woe is more than I could count on both hands.

It then begs the question, why do we put up with it?

I suppose any number of reasons would suffice: job satisfaction, money, security, holiday and sick pay or the painstaking minefield that is job hunting. Some days, it’s that niggling thought that there’s nothing better out there.

I’m now at that crossroad, where familiarity has bred contempt, and I no longer can survive in the toxic environment, which I feel a particular management style has fostered.

So here are my options!

I stay, but how would that work?

I could speak to my manager; after all, she may not be aware of the situation. Of course, that gorgon Medusa is aware, but I’m taking the high road here!  We’d have a respectful, civil conversation; we’d both agree on some boundaries and the best way we could improve team morale, and thus productivity.  You have to mention the buzzword ‘productivity’, or it all falls apart.  I walk away unburdened and rewarded for being proactive.

After all there are benefits to staying in a job that I hate

  • I learn more about myself
    • Loving the hell I am in is not the same as being stagnant and resentful. It’s about taking time to raise my personal awareness, look outside my box and see if there is anything innovative I could do here. Let’s face it, running is not for everyone.
  • Practice the art of choice
    • Not letting the situation dictate my experience might lead to something more when I focus less on the hate!
  • Stop fighting it
    • We all have jobs or roles at one time in our lives that are being done out of necessity rather than love. We stifle our own creativity by resisting and so by focusing more on the wider goal can I be more engaged?

The other option is to go.

Yes, the writing is on the wall, and I would be fighting a losing battle. They were stifling my creativity, and I have long wanted to be a bullfighter; the world is my oyster.  I could take that round the world trip that has been on my vision board for the last ten years.  Who are am I kidding? The reality is after a week; I’ll stop crying into my cocoa puffs and get back out there as I realise there is no end to my transferable skills.

Could there be a third option?

Yes, the nuclear option. I’ve always fancied myself as a samurai warrior; after all, I’ve watched Kill Bill. The scene where O-Ren-Ishii dashes across the table and takes the head of one of her disrespectful bosses seems mighty appealing right now.

Then again that might not be the best plan of action in hindsight, considering I might need a reference.

Leaving or staying is not a choice for everyone and so, I believe one should explore all possibilities before coming to any decisions.

– Antoinette

Workplace culture – Why should I care?


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Contributed by
Lal Tawney
Lal is a strategy specialist and transformation expert with vast experience across the education and financial services sector. His recent projects cover customer journey design, operating model design, and organisational digital enablement.
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Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast


“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” is a famous quote from legendary management guru and writer Peter Drucker. This clearly positions culture as more important than strategy. In my view and my experience, having a clear, strong strategy is fundamental for all organisations. However, having an appropriate culture is a surer route to success. So on the flip side, great strategies can be resisted by strong cultures.

So What Is Culture?

Culture is not as easy to define in the same way that strategy can be defined. Organisational culture covers a number of points including:

  • The way things get done around here
  • What behaviours are important or highly rated
  • How do colleagues treat each other
  • What’s allowed and what’s not allowed.

Culture is part of the fabric of the organisation.

I’ve worked for a number of corporate organisations and I had two very simple reasons for understanding the culture:

  • How do I get things done? (Meeting the organisations aims)
  • How do I get ahead? (Meeting my personal aims)

For those who want to understand culture in more detail, Johnson and Scholes identified a number of linked elements that make up culture, but interestingly, they didn’t specify any one gold standard.

Where Does Culture Come From?

The Leaders.

Leaders are role models. Leaders can be the both the people in positions of leadership or authority, but can also be the people with “personality power” i.e. the informal leaders. Culture is established through the examples set by these leaders.

Recently, Ingvar Kampard the founder of Ikea died. He once said about Ikea “If we want to be cost-conscious, we should do it, not just talk about how cost-conscious we are.” Kamprad was one of the world’s wealthiest people. But instead of a chauffeur-driven limo, he drove an old Volvo and whenever he travelled by plane, even long haul, it was in economy. Rather than travelling by taxi, he was known to use Stockholm’s subway and public buses to take advantage of his pensioner’s discount. He was key in setting the culture at IKEA.

Apple’s organisational culture involves a policy of selecting only the best of the best workers. Steve Jobs was known to readily fire employees who did not meet his expectations. This tradition in Apple’s organizational culture continues under Tim Cook. Excellence is emphasised as a critical success factor in the business, especially in product design and development.

There are also numerous examples where leaders have allowed the culture to “go bad”. The “emissionsgate” or “dieselgate” where Volkswagen had intentionally programmed turbocharged direct injection (TDI) diesel engines to activate their emissions controls only during laboratory emissions testing.

How Do We Recruit With Regard To Culture?

Every recruiter will produce a job description with requirements for skills and experience. As important, is how does the new recruit need to fit with regard to the existing culture? There are two ends of a continuum here from “fit with existing culture” to “disrupt the existing culture”.

So when hiring, being clear on how the new recruit “fits” is as important as the skills and expertise required.

Many retail stores will look for a fit with culture. Pret A Manger is absolutely clear about its store staff fitting in with the existing culture.

The three core behaviors are

  • Passion
  • Clear Talking
  • Team Working

Their training booklet includes three columns headed ‘Don’t want to see’, ‘Want to see’ and ‘Pret Perfect!’. To ensure “fit”, all candidates (for any position within Pret) are sent to work on the shop floor for a day. If the candidate is applying for a position in a shop, then the team who works there gets a say on whether said candidate will fit in with the team there.

It is not surprising that most people have a natural tendency to want to hire like-minded people for their organisations. However, at the other end of the continuum, sometimes a “change agent” or “disruptor” is needed to move the organisation forward.

In Summary

Strategy and culture need to be work together and need to be aligned – so you have to consider how you leverage your cultural strengths to enable to make your strategy happen. Leaders at all levels have a role in defining the organisational culture, and when recruiting the killer question is “how does the new recruit need to fit with regard to the existing culture?”

– Lal

Workstation health – top tips to be sitting pretty

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Contributed by
Sally Guest

Sally is a registered osteopath, sport scientist and clinic director of MK Osteopath & Associates based in Central Milton Keynes. Sally leads a team of experts in musculoskeletal injury and has been providing the people of MK with solutions to their pain and discomfort for more than 18 years. Osteopathy is a safe and effective system of assessment, diagnosis and treatment of most aches and pains, not just spines!
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Whilst sporting injuries had always been the primary source of business in our clinic we have seen a sharp rise in complaints arising from tech use, screen scrolling and generally sitting behind a desk for too long.

Chances are, if you’re reading this blog then you’ll probably be reading from a screen, laptop, tablet or even mobile device. Take a second to think about how you’re sitting, are you slumping? Are you leaning to one side or perching on your chair? How do you feel, is anything aching or sore? Is there a burning sensation in your shoulders or your back? Are you relaxed, hungry, thirsty, angry or stressed? Take a deep breath, lower your shoulders and let me give you a few quick tips.

We can’t reduce the pain of Mondays but we can reduce your desk ache!

Are you sitting comfortably?

Do you have a decent chair?
This is important but don’t go rushing off to buy the most expensive executive chair you can find, it’s worthless if you haven’t set it up right.

Start with the seat cushion, can you tilt it? You should have your hips slightly higher than your knees, (which helps to prevent that familiar slump position we all know well) your feet flat on the floor and your low back supported either by the curve of the chair or by putting a small cushion or rolled up towel in the curve you have created by tilting your seat.

If you have arm rests, use them. Ditto for a headrest, if you can support your neck and your low back, when it comes to the point where you’re engrossed in your work and your body relaxes you will now be relaxed in a supported position.

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Are you drinking enough water?

This tip kills two birds with one stone.

We all know the health benefits of upping the H2O (eliminates toxins, balances hormones, boosts immunity, increases energy, gives you glowing skin, reduces dehydration stress) but how many of us really get enough hydration? We are not designed to sit all day so why not get up and take yourself to a cold tap to refill your reusable water bottle a few times a day?

I bet you haven’t moved at all while you’ve been reading this?!

These 4 desk hacks will help you bring that movement back.

  • Schedule movement – Remind your body it can move. Setting timers on your desktop or smartphone can help you make those habits stick.
  • Every time you look at the clock, longing for lunch time or home time – roll your shoulders
  • Every time your inbox pings with yet another email – stand up to read it.
  • Every hour, on the hour – reach up to the ceiling with both arms, take a deep breath and stretch. Do this and blood will flood your tissue with lots of lovely oxygen and ease away the tension. Expanding your lungs may boost your brain power. Your shoulders will thank you for it later.

We see patients who don’t have the luxury of leaving their desks for hours at a time and the most successful results we have seen come from simple changes. Follow these simple steps (and you might even find your concentration improves too!)

– Sally