Conference and Academic Papers

20181108 How not to stuff up your job interview

Industrial Talk

Tunku Abdul Rahman University College
Main Campus
Jalan Genting Kelang,
53300 Kuala Lumpur,

How not to stuff up your interview

Nigel Morris-Cotterill

Arranged by
*Radziah Nasir*
*Programme Leader*
*Department of English Studies*
*Faculty of Social Science and Humanities*

8 November 2018

Good morning.

All my life, I have taken risks.

I have walked into situations where I might have fun and situations where I might not.

I have walked into situations where there was the prospect of gain and where there was the certainty of loss.

I have walked into situations that might be interesting or might be boring.

I have walked into situations where I might be tested or might be over-skilled.

I've walked into situations where I knew I was placing myself at risk of physical harm and those where I was taken by surprise by something extremely scary.

All of these things have one thing in common: when I opened the door, I had absolutely no idea what was on the other side. Even when I knew there was a risk, the nature and the extent of that risk was unknown.

That is what attending a job interview is like. On the other side of that door, the next phase of your life will be determined. And when you open the door to your interview, you have no idea what is on the other side.

Most of you will be applying for jobs where there is a preliminary interview with someone from whatever they are calling personnel departments this week, or with an employment agency using whatever name they have adopted for their trade this month.

After that initial filter, you will meet a decision maker. Some of you may apply for positions where there is multi-stage interview process. The first type is a biathlon, the second is an Iron Man competition.

Be under no illusions: job interviews are a hostile environment. Do not assume that a nice office with colourful sofas and bubble-tea machines are welcoming. Even sharks appear to smile.

So, what we are going to do here, today, is to prepare you for that for which there can be remarkably little preparation.

Before we start, I'm sure you can join in the chorus that seems to be on almost every American TV programme these days, attributed to Sun Tzu but it's not in any of the authoritative versions of his work I have. It's also been attributed, in one form or another, to dozens of management speakers, military leaders and, of course, Mike Tyson who famously re-wrote it to say "Everyone has a plan until they are hit in the mouth."

Perhaps he should have said "Everyone has a plan until I bite their ear off."

That doesn't mean you should not have a plan. What Sun Tzu actually said is "According as circumstances are favourable, one should modify one's plans."

How many of you have tried to set up a friend with someone, or been the one that's been set up for a blind date? What's the first thing you do? Do you try to find them on Facebook and see if you can link to an Instagram account?

It's not creepy, it's not like stalking. You are gathering information on the person you are going to meet. In fact, it's prudent, it's sensible.

One of the things that interviewers always find strange about candidates is that they know so little about the company they are saying they want to work for.

For example, the first paragraph of my LinkedIn profile says in very clear terms that we do not accept unsolicited job applications and we do not make recommendations or introductions. And yet I get a steady stream of messages from people who say "I would very much like to work with your esteemed company."

They stand zero chance of acceptance, not only because they have wasted my time when they have been told, expressly, not to do so but because.. we are specialists in compliance and if someone can't do as they are told then clearly compliance is not in their skillset.

There's another thing: they don't bother to read articles I have written on LinkedIn. I know that because one of those articles is specifically about addressing people you don't know by their Christian or given name. As soon as someone I don't know addresses me as "Nigel," they are binned. Why? Is it because I'm snobbish? No. It's because they are making a presumption of familiarity that does not exist and, statistically, those who do that are going to want something, even if it's only to sell something to me. That means they are deciding to use my time for their advantage. Time is a finite, non-renewable resource. It is precious. It is the ultimate scarce commodity. When we had a company here, we advertised via a well-known jobs platform for staff with very specific range of skills. We had more than 900 applicants of which precisely zero met all the criteria. Only a handful met even one of the criteria: most met none at all.

If you walk into an interview and make those mistakes, you will fail.

This all points to one thing: research your target, make sure you fit within the criteria your target sets.

Remember: despite the current vogue for misuse of language, you do not interview for a job. You are a candidate and when you are sitting in the room you are the interviewee. The person doing the interview is the interviewer and it is that person that interviews. You are interviewed for the job.

Having said that, acceptance is a two way street. You might not like the person who interviews you, or you might not like what you see when you walk around the office or the factory, you might decide that giving you a brightly coloured cubicle and an inclusive environment where you can play table tennis and have free-flow cappuccino is, really, like a big casino where there are no clocks and no incentive to go home.

Workplaces are not families: families are the people you go to to get away from work. And sometimes it's the other way around.

So, while the working environment is important, what is more important is making sure that the company respects what has become known as a work-life balance. Does the company expect to have your mobile phone number? Does it expect you to belong to workplace WhatsApp groups? If it arranges so-called Off-Sites, for example a weekend's team building course, whose time is spent? i.e. if you attend company functions out of office hours, is that counted as work hours and therefore you get time-off in lieu?

These are examples of questions you should know the answer to before you open the door to the interview room because they have a direct impact on your non-work life.

So, there you are. You've decided this is an interview you want to be in, that you have checked the company and you are reasonably satisfied you want to join and you've opened the door and walked into.... what?

Before we start with your contact with the jobs market, there are some essentials.

First: once you have a job, it's easier to get a job. Getting even a part time job gives you experience in interviews. But that's not the only reason.

The best employees I had in KL were a programmer who, after university, got a job working in McDonalds while he looked for the job he really wanted. Choosing him against the dozens who were sitting at home waiting for something to drop into their lap was an easy decision. He had demonstrated a characteristic that showed that he would make things happen instead of standing still.

Also, a salesman who had decided to move from a small town to KL and had taken a job selling tickets for conferences. She built up our Asia business from zero by sheer hard work and I knew, from her decision to leave a well-paid job in a small town and taking grunt work in the big city that she intended to be successful. And she was and today, now working overseas, she holds a senior position for one of the world's biggest computer services companies.

So, get a job. Any job. It doesn't matter if it's working in a shop, waiting in a restaurant or, as one of my relatives did, working on the dustbin lorries. I worked in a horrible chemicals factory until I landed an absolute dream job in London. My son did all kinds of things before getting a recording contract.

Next, on the question of jobs, do not expect to start at the top.

A degree does not qualify you to do anything in the real world.

Do not expect to be doing important work in your first job. Do not feel you are being wasted .. you are absorbing everything that will stand you in good stead as your career progresses.

Do not get frustrated by your lowly status: the worst managers are those that never learned the basics.

Build your value in the early years. It might sound strange but right up until I retired from law, the times I enjoyed the most were those where I would spend hours, often working through the night, preparing bundles of documents for trial, a job that most partners think is grunt work and hand down to clerks.

In fact, it's the most valuable part of preparation because you get to see every document and to assess its value.

Sadly, in these days of electronic discovery, that no longer happens and when you see hearings today, the inability to quickly locate documents and take the court to them is a retrograde step.

I tell you this because even supposedly menial tasks can have enormous value.

Make it plain in your interviews that you want to learn and you want to learn everything, including the most basic and mechanical tasks because if you don't know how to do those, you will not have a full understanding of the job and, equally importantly, in future as you progress up through organisations, you will not know how to most effectively delegate.

Equally, it doesn't matter how menial the task is, it's your job to do it.

So if you are told to count rubber bands, you count rubber bands - but there is no reason why you should not say "yes, I'll do that. Can you tell me why we do this so I can learn the purpose of the tasks I'm given."

Do not say "but can.." because that is a conditional and it implies that you will do the task only if that condition is satisfied and that is tantamount to a refusal.

And so onto your first contact with the jobs market. It will usually be via either an employment agent or the personnel department of a company which has advertised either on the internet or in a newspaper, for example.

Let's deal first with employment agents.

First, those who call themselves "headhunters" are usually lying. Someone who advertises on behalf of a company and receives and filters applications is not a headhunter. A headhunter is someone who actively researches potential candidates and makes a direct approach to them for a specific position where a fit is considered likely. Headhunters rarely, if ever, advertise the jobs they are looking to fill.

Worse, many of those who say they are headhunters are filling up their day at your expense: they might have found you on a jobs website and contacted you speculatively asking for your CV even though they do not have a job in mind.

Don't ever deal with those: almost universally, what they are doing is padding their workload so that they can tell their client that they have considered x applicants when, in fact, you were never under active consideration at all. Some will call you in for interview.

There are some who are honest and say "we saw your CV and although we don't have anything for you at present, we'd like to meet you as a kind of pre-clearance so that if something comes along we've already got the preliminary stage out of the way."

That's fine.. if they pay your expenses. If they don't pay your expenses, they are highly unlikely to be genuine in their approach.

Personnel departments used to be a small office at the end of a corridor. Over decades, they have given themselves grand names, created terminology and buzzwords and have taken over the functions of other departments including, often, training.

Now, they often have the nicest offices and the newest, flashiest technology. And they are, often, power hungry and brutal. Hiding behind all their soft words is a large, heavy boot.

Should you be scared of the employment agents and personnel departments?

No, you should not.

You should simply be aware that what's behind that door is not someone who is on your side.

They are, only, on their own side. Employment agents are paid only by results, if you are not what they think their client will accept, they will dump you like a date with bad breath, but with less grace.

Personnel departments need to be sold to: they are interested, primarily, in whether you will fit in i.e. not cause disruption amongst the existing workforce or policies and secondly in what you will cost, bearing in mind that cost goes far beyond salary.

Both of them provide the first line of defence of companies against engaging the wrong staff.

In fact, and you should view this as a good thing, it's their job to reject the vast majority of those who apply to join the company.

It's your job to make sure you are in the minority that goes onto the next round.

Being in the minority that goes onto the next round with your first contact, be it in writing, by phone or in person.

Bear in mind that it's not only the first contact with the company, it's also the first contact with each group of people as you progress through the system.

Do not use slang, jargon or SMS style abbreviations.

Use correct English, if that is the medium of communication.

Don't use Manglish.

Find out how to say what you want to say and say it properly.

English is a language of infinite shades: Malay and Chinese far less so. So be cautious and make sure that you are saying exactly what you want to say.

Do not use "send" when you mean "take;" do not say "bring" when you mean "take."

A good guide is to find the Economist's Guide and to follow its principles.

It's free on their website (…) and there is a paid-for more recent version.

As I'm sure those of you who read it will realise, the standard of English it uses far exceeds that of most media, even other British media.

Also, use ENGLISH not American or Australian spelling. If you are in America or Australia, then you should use American or Australian, as appropriate. Similarly in a country that has adopted one of those: the Philippines, for example, is very American especially in formal documents.

But in Malaysia, it's English. Actual, real English from .. well Britain. But be cautious: much English as it is presented today is very sloppy and sometimes the meaning is not clear; or sometimes it is very clear but what is being said is not what is being meant. Sadly, too, we are seeing English being rapidly infected with poor phrases and grammar imported from American. The lesson is to be cautious and to prepare carefully.

And be consistent. Centre is RE not ER for example. So is litre. Use "impact upon..." not "impact the..." Realise that to "protest" something is not the same as to "protest against" something. In fact, it's often exactly the opposite. In English, one would write "adviser" not "advisor."

In writing learn the rules as to when to use double consonants and when to use one alone (travelling v traveling, for example) because that makes a difference to how the word is pronounced and, especially if the interviewer has English as a second language, he will read your words, in effect, aloud in his head. You absolutely do not need your interviewer to be making double-takes because he has to re-read words because they don't work in his head.

To a degree, the message is the medium and the medium is the message.

When you are asked a question or start a statement never, never, ever start with "so."

The word "so" means "in consequence of" or "therefore." If someone asks you what your specific skills are, starting with "so" is not only nonsense, it's annoying and distracting and that militates against your chances of success.

You have one job and one job only: to present yourself in the best possible light, in every possible way, so as to get an offer or an invitation to the next round. Anything in your presentation, documentation or speech that detracts from that reduces your chance of success.

Marketing people say that you have a maximum of two seconds to engage your target. Actually, they don't have that quite right because that implies that the choices are binary - engaged or not engaged. Not engaged is not the same as resistant. So the choices are

- engaged i.e. the panel welcomes you,

- not engaged i.e. the panel is ambivalent but are open to being engaged, and

- resistant i.e. the panel would prefer it if you leave immediately but they have to be polite and go through a perfunctory process knowing from the outset that they will not offer you a job or invite you back for the next round.

Sometimes, the panel, or someone on the panel, has already decided you don't have a chance. We cannot know why that is: it might be prejudice, it might be that the job has secretly been promised to someone else or it might be that someone on the panel thinks the post is irrelevant and no one should fill it.

But it might also mean that they have looked at your application and come to the view that you have not set the groundwork before you walk through that door; if this is the case you are likely to be met with resistance, even if you have managed to get that far.

Against that background, what questions should you ask at the time the interview is arranged, i.e. before you attend for interview? This is part of your research process. I can't tell you that because every job in every company is different.

The second most important question is about what to wear. If you don't want to ask, or if the answer is vague or unhelpful, or if the company's social media pages do not give suitable hints follow this:

There is a huge debate around this subject all over the world. Some say that an interviewer should not be influenced by the candidate's clothing. Others say that the candidate should express himself freely. Still others say that the candidate should dress in a manner consistent with the style of the company he wants to join.

I'm the worst person in the world to advise on this because throughout my working life I have used clothing as a weapon. I have worn certain clothes with the specific intention of causing a degree of instability in meetings, I have worn accessories with the intention of distracting a judge or endearing myself to him, I have worn scruffy clothes to sit on highly professional platforms at high-level conferences for the precise purpose of proving that, when it comes to assessing a person's merits, presentation is not a guide.

But, in relation to employment interviews, as an employer, I always tended to a combination of two views.

First, I want candidates to recognise that if they work for me, when they go out, they represent me, my companies and our ethos. It's basically the same basic principle as the idea that pupils represent their school whenever they wear the uniform and must abide by standards set by the school.

Secondly, I would not expect a student to spend a lot on an outfit for an interview.

My basic rules would be:

First: do not wear clothes that make a statement, no matter what that statement is. While some employers might agree with your statement, many more either won't agree or will not approve of the making of it in office hours. So, statistically, you should leave your opinions, beliefs and culture at home.

Maybe, once you are in the workplace, there might be wider acceptance, even a welcoming but at interview time, play safe unless your research into your interviewer reveals a preference that accords with your own. Then you might find dressing to that preference works in that specific instance.

For the avoidance of doubt, I'm not saying to dress in a way that offends your beliefs or culture: but there are ways of dressing which respect those but which do not say "this is what I stand for above all else."

For men: no shorts, jeans or casual shirts. Do wear proper office shoes with socks, office trousers and an office shirt. They should be clean and, ideally, not crumpled.

I do not, in this climate, expect a jacket and tie but, ironically, local bosses generally do for any executive post.

Wear a subtle watch and, if you choose, a wedding ring.


If you carry a handbag, and many men do - I have since the 1970s - that's fine but be aware that you may have nowhere to put it in the interview room. Women can wear them on a strap; on a man it looks silly.

These days a plain, dark backpack that you can put on the floor next to your chair is a very acceptable alternative.

Wear after-shave or cologne if you wish but do not wear strong smells.

Do not put anything in your top pocket, be it shirt or jacket.

And think.. interview kit can be expensive, especially if you have to buy a suit and a bag.

So share: a group of you who have similar sizes can go to shops like Marks and Spencer and buy one pair of identical trousers each and one jacket between you. Single breasted jacket sizes aren't especially noticeable for e.g. a 36 inch v a 38 inch chest.

And as you will each only wear it for about an hour per interview, sharing really isn't an issue.

You could even try it with shoes. Before you say "ewww" - remember that many, many people rent their suits for weddings and rent a dinner jacket for formal events. And when they go bowling.

Many women rent wedding dresses and evening gowns.

It's not ewww.. it's sensible.

And, while everyone would notice if multiple women attended for interview in identical clothes, absolutely no one is going to see beyond the colour of a man's suit so just choose a plain dark grey or blue without stripes or patterns and you are good to go.

Do not wear a bold tie: your objective is to get the panel to look at your face, not below your chin.

For women: a plain colour straight skirt or pair of tailored trousers and an office-shirt style blouse or a below the knee dress are ideal. You can pair that with a jacket if you wish. Do not wear a tight skirt. If it pulls over your tummy or bum or, worse, shows a visible panty line, it's too tight. You'll look like an aunty trying to fake being young. Just don't do it. And don't wear yoga or ski leggings, either. Again, just don't. Unless you wear a skirt over them and if you do, not a micro-mini.

Stick to neutral colours without bold patterns. If you have long hair and choose to wear it loose, wear it down or in a pony tail. Do not use pigtails or tie it up as if you are working for an airline.

At a push, a French plait can work but it's a pain to do well and the last thing you need on the morning of an interview is to have stress over your hair.

Wear a subtle watch and wedding and/or engagement rings only. If you really must wear earrings, keep them small. Wear court shoes. The same goes for perfume as for colognes.

Never, ever, turn up in training shoes or flip flops. Do not display tattoos or piercings unless they carry a religious significance and their absence would be noticeable.

Keep jewellery subtle - you want the interviewers to look at your face, not at your bling. As a woman, the last thing you want is a man staring at your chest trying to work out the design of your necklace. Which I guess also tells you what you should think about with necklines.

Both men and women should pay attention to their nails: they should be clean and tidy and, ideally, a little bit shiny. A buffing block is a few ringgit at Body Shop and it lasts for years. Hair should be clean. If it's dull and lifeless and dying at the ends, get it trimmed.

Make sure your shoes are clean, including the soles and the heels. Shiny is good, mirror finish is a bit over the top.

If you smoke, do not smoke on the day of the interview and do not go where others smoke until afterwards. Do not let your clothes or your breath send out a stinky message. It's probably best not to eat at a fried food stall just before your interview, for the same reason.

Control your sugar intake, too: be a bit cautious with how many teh tariks you have on the way to the interview. You do not need to be bouncing off the walls.

Don't turn up at the building wearing a cap or a hoodie, for example. Remember that many companies have CCTV outside and in their lobbies. Your attitudes, style and behaviour can be examined from long before you appear in the interview room.

Also, remember that while you can check up on the company on social media, they can check up on you, too. Review your social media content before you start the process of looking for a job.

Photographs with bull-horn signs, tongues out, loutish or loud or otherwise inappropriate behaviour are unlikely to improve your chances.

Turn off your phone when you enter the building, not outside the interview room door. Put it in your bag and forget about it the whole time you are there. Turn it on after you leave the building.

Consider that your interview has started as soon as you get up in the morning. Everything you do from that moment on is focussed on one thing: don't stuff up your interview.

Details matter.

Every single detail matters.

Expect to leave the interview drained. If you don't you didn't work hard enough.

If you walk around the corner and burst into tears of relief, be pleased that you put everything you had into getting that job.

Once you are out of sight of the building, its cameras and staff you can collapse with whatever legal substance or activity helps you recover.

If you smoke, DO NOT join the office smoking party in cancer corner outside the building: you have no idea who they are and whether you might inadvertently prejudice all the hard work you have done before. Don't go into the coffee shop or bar nearest the building. Find one, say, 500 metres away.

One last thing on this area: you must be relaxed and able to focus on the task in hand. It is a terrible idea to drive yourself or, worse, ride a motorbike.

Use a train and/or Grab, sit in the back, read your notes to attune yourself to the things you want to say in response to expected questions and the questions you want to ask.

And be early. There's a saying that being on time is late. There's good reason for that: you need time to settle yourself before the meeting.

If you are kept waiting, don't get agitated. Sit back, plant your feet on the floor and breath in and out, slowly and deeply.

Some people like to keep others waiting. It's an immature power-play and is a sign of weakness that such people feel the need to establish their authority over you in such a juvenile way. So, don't let it get to you.

Don't think it means they are especially important. In fact it shows a lack of respect to you and you should think this: if they show me so little respect now, at our first meeting, what will it be like if I work for them?

Of course, there may be legitimate reasons for delay and it would be wrong to assume that all delays are a power play. In fact, I was late arriving this morning because my satnav took me a long way around and added more than ten minutes to a journey that I have made many times before in far less time. Good excuse but not a good reason, I feel.

However, I had planned to be here much more than ten minutes before we started and so I still had ten minutes to spare when I walked into this room which gave me time to prepare.

If what to wear is the second most important question, what's the first?

I would say that the most important is to always find out who will be on the interview panel. Get their names and job titles. Look them up on LinkedIn but do not try to connect before a position is offered. See if you can find them on social media. Do not "friend" them. Read what they say about themselves, their company and what opinions they express and causes they support or oppose. Look at their photos. Why? Because, as you walk across the room, you can work out which of the panel is whom and, because you know their functions, you know which one is most likely to be the decision maker.

It is important to try to know who holds the authority. Often it will not be the one in the middle of a panel of three who drives the interview. Often it will be the one who sits quietly, not making many notes (that's what the others are doing) and who does not ask many questions. When that person does speak, you will note that the others become almost subservient.

That is the person you most need to impress. You should make certain that at least some of your answers are directed to him.

It is important that no member of the panel feels left out. Get a group of friends and practice, three on one side of a table, one opposite. The one sitting alone should learn to look at the eyes of each of the panellists in turn while answering. Somewhere between half and one second is good: any less and you look shifty, any more and you look a bit strange.

Now we'll look at how you react to them and they react to you.

DO NOT MUMBLE. Do not speak fast. Speak clearly but not loudly. You could try, in advance, finding out how to project your voice. Projection can fill a room but it is not shouting. It's all about where you generate the sound and how you power it. It's not difficult and if you learn it you will sound confident even when you are not.

Do not confuse confidence with arrogance. Do not walk into the room as if you own it.

Do not try to dominate with your presence or your voice.

Equally, do not be subservient and do not be obsequious. You are meeting potential employers, not royalty.

Non-verbal communication is incredibly important. It's a much bigger topic than simply "body language."

Non-verbal communication is part of a broader suite of communications tools.

Everything from the way you open the door to the way you walk through it and the way you cross the room until you walk out and close the door behind you is under scrutiny. To repeat, you should assume that you are under scrutiny from the moment you arrive at the company's premises - everywhere that is except when you go to the loo for the final pee before the interview. And even then, someone might be watching how long you spend in there.

As I said earlier, an interview is a hostile environment. You will be asked questions that are designed to make you think carefully about your answer.

First rule: tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth but don't babble. Answer questions accurately and concisely.

Second rule: expect standard questions such as "why do you want to work with this company." Be honest. Say, for example, "I have certain skills and interests and I'm told that those skills are most suited to x area of work. Your company is one of several that I am applying to to find a suitable position where I can develop those skills and contribute to the company but, obviously, I want to work in an environment which suits me and to which I am suited. I hope to prove my value and to have offers from more than one company so that I can compare them and make sure I join the one with the best fit."

Any company that thinks such an answer is a bad answer probably has very little concern for the welfare of its employees.

As an employer, I wanted my staff to want to work for me as much as I wanted them to work for me. Staff who don't want to come to work in the morning are worse than useless but they are hard to get rid of.

Third rule: don't cross your legs or your arms. They create a barrier that tells the interviewer that you are either hiding something or you are likely to be unresponsive to instructions.

Men, don't spread your legs.

Don't slouch, even if the interview is conducted in easy chairs or on sofas.

If it's on bean bags, well, who knows? I'd never get out of the damned things and I'd be rolling around on the floor for hours until someone rescued me. Interviews should never be like that but some some idiots think it's a good idea and you should be prepared for it if you are seeing a company that thinks it has a trendy image to uphold. From my point of view, it's a sick joke and shows disrespect for the candidates.

Making eye contact is vital. When people introduce themselves, look at them. Look at them when they speak to you and look at them when they say goodbye.

There is a lot of nonsense talked about body language but there is also some truth.

Fidgeting is bad, even when you are nervous. You can practice not fidgeting but it doesn't always work. I can tell you this: if, right now, I were sitting instead of standing, my foot would be shaking. It does, all the time. It's not a nervous twitch, it's just something my right foot does when I sit down. Apparently it burns calories.

Not enough, obviously.

But, if I were in an interview and there was no table to hide it behind, I'd plant my foot flat on the floor and leave it there. You might not notice but I've been fidgeting the whole time I've been talking to you. But because I'm standing I can disguise it: I walk around, I pick something up, I put it down. Am I nervous? No. I'm just never still, unless I specifically decide to be. In court, I would always twiddle my pen, in meetings I do the same. But, if I want to impress, I know that it's a distraction and it prevents my message getting across effectively. So I don't do it.

Don't stare around the room. Pay attention to the panel. This might be difficult because you are in an alien environment and your natural inquisitiveness is to gather information.

So, look around, not obviously, when you walk in and before you sit down. Once you have sat down your only focus should be the people in front of you for, like it or not, they hold your future in their hands. Exactly what that future is or might be you don't know but you do know one thing: you want to pass this stage of the process, even if, later, you decide to reject that employer.

There's much talk of micro-expressions, mostly by people who don't understand what they are talking about.

First, let's be very clear: when you are sitting in an interview in front of three people, you are not going to consciously identify their micro-expressions, much less be able to interpret them. So, here's the secret - you already do it a thousand times a day without knowing that you do it.

Micro-expressions affect us on an emotional level not a rational level. Psycho-scientists go into great detail over expressions they have identified in photographs and produce reports on what each expression means. But most of that is debunked when reality kicks in. For example, surveys show that racial characteristics blur our understanding of facial expressions: even the colour of a person's skin can change a person's perception of an expression. In one survey, it was established that many people see black Americans as looking angry but the same face, tinted white, is seen as avuncular.

Micro-expressions, on the other hand can give away a lot.

There is a school of thought that says that there is no such thing as sad eyes. Well, if you look at the eyes without the context of the face, that might be true. But actually, eyes do respond to stimuli. You think I'm talking about light and dark and, yes, that's true but also the pupils respond to, amongst other things, sexual interest.

The pupils dilate, if you really want to know and it's been known for decades.

In 2012, at the height of pop-psychology, a study at an American university reported research that the reaction of the pupil was a reliable guide to sexual orientation. It sounds like a masterly statement of the obvious: dilation occurs when you find a person attractive, and sexual orientation is actually irrelevant to the process but may be useful if you are out cruising.

But here's the thing: pupil dilation is actually a response to anything attractive. So, if your movements in the interview are open and welcoming but, I strongly emphasise, not flirtatious, that can generate in the interviewers an automatic reaction which - and here's the science bit - has a physical manifestation that goes beyond pupil dilation.

At one end of the spectrum there is, of course, sexual arousal but that's not where we want to be. We want to be at the point where the target, that is the interviewer, becomes hyper-aware of your best qualities. It can increase the heart rate and change breathing patterns but that's a bit more extreme than we are going to do.

What we are going to do is simple: sitting in the chair, lean just a tiny bit forward, keeping your eyes and chin level. With one open hand, hold it palm out, elbow bent so that it's only slightly extended, towards the person who asked the question and move it slightly, forward and backwards. Here it sounds ridiculous; in the right environment, it catches the corner of the target's eye while you are holding his expression with your eyes. It says "I'm already part of this team, all you have to do is say "yes.""

There is much talk about whether a person who looks up and to the left is lying. Actually, that's not what the principles say. The principles say that a person who looks up and to the left is constructing an answer. Whether that answer is true or false is not indicated. A person who looks up and right is using the rational part of his brain to recall facts in order to recite them. The person looking up and to the left is searching his brain to gather data which will be analysed and built into a reply.

However, universally (almost) raising both eyebrows means "that's unacceptable," raising one means "that's questionable" and frowning means "did you really say that?" A lifting of the chin means "Really? Maybe you should expand on that" and a shrug and a slump in the chair pretty much means it's all over bar the platitudes.

If the interviewer sits forward, that's either engagement or challenge. You can't decide in isolation: a strident voice means challenge, a warmer voice means engagement.

Silence is a weapon. Interviewers like to know if you can handle it. So handle it.

Without being arrogant or aggressive, keep eye contact but not staring him down.

But don't fidget or look around the room. And don't break the silence. Look at the other panellists and it's likely one of them will think that it's a silly game and speak.

If the silence goes on for more than a couple of seconds - and even such a short period will seem like a lifetime in an interview - then you can break it if you are careful. You could ask "is there anything else I can help you with?"

A word about corrections: if you give a response and afterwards realise it was wrong, incomplete or unclear, ask to return to the question and your response. Do not delay.. it will prey on your mind and distract from your performance as the interview progresses. Explain why you want to go back: for example, you might say "I'm sorry but I need to return to the answer I gave about x.. I think I could have explained it better. I should have said...."

Remember.. if you were writing a report, you have the chance to edit. There is no reason why you should not edit previous responses in an interview so long as you do it properly. It demonstrates honesty, clarity of thinking and the ability to perform under pressure.

Associated with that point is that you should not jump in with an answer until you have decided what that answer should be and how to best communicate it. Adrenaline will make you think much faster than you think you are thinking and even a fraction of a second will seem a long time to you: it won't seem long at all to the interviewer.

Don't be shy about discussing terms. You are selling a service and you are entitled to know the price you can get. If there are bonuses or commissions, make sure the structure is fully explained.

You should also ask about career progression, how long people stay with the company, what training and education is available. These are points of engagement not challenge. You are showing that this might be your first job but you are already looking to the future with the company.

And take notes. You'll need them later.

As you walk out of the room, walk normally.

DO NOT THINK "I bet they are looking at my arse."

OK, now I've put that thought in your heads, that's exactly what you will think.

So, think it, and find it funny and stand tall as you walk, no matter how badly you think the interview went.

After the interview, write a letter. A real one. On paper. In handwriting. Addressed to the panellists. You can do one addressed to them all or one addressed to each. If you address one to each, make it clear that you have written the same letter to each individually. Say something like "I am writing to each of you following our meeting earlier yesterday." Get the dates right.

Thank them for the opportunity, thank them for all the information they gave you. Confirm information such as hours, pay, time off, benefits and so on and then say that you look forward to hearing from them with what you hope will be a favourable response.

If you want to sit around the corner in a café or library and write your letters, do.

Have that delivered at the very latest early the very next morning, even if you have to send it in a Grab or similar. You want it on their desk before they start work.

That single thing acts as a reminder, demonstrates diligence, courtesy, professionalism, business-attitude. And for the vast majority of jobs, you will be the only one that bothers and so, if the letter is done properly, it's your secret weapon. Everyone needs a card up their sleeve, a little trick, a differentiating factor. Everything you do has the potential to be that differentiating factor. A hand-written thank you note adds something special.

As a final point, I will return to how you leave the interview.

It's often said that you only have one chance to make a first impression: it's also true that you only have one chance to make a final impression.

If you have put your bag on the floor alongside your chair, pick it up before you stand. Put your notepad in it. This shows confidence and organisation and an ability to plan and execute a strategy. It sends a subliminal message.

Stand, facing the panel and straighten your clothes. If they stand and offer to shake hands, do it, with each in turn. Shake the hand of the one who is in charge last. To each, say Thank You and nothing else. If they do not offer to shake hands, do not offer.

Stand straight, chin level, and turn. Do not struggle to put your bag on your shoulder. Carry it. Do not lean forward as you walk. It makes your bum stick out. Shoulders back, chest out, buttocks taught. Keep your feet pointing forward, not turned out.

Remember the basic rules taught to all catwalk models: teeth, tits and toes.

If you tip forward, lift your chin, stick your bum out and walk with your feet pointing out, from the back you will look like a duck and that is the only thing the panel will remember from the whole interview.

When you reach the door, turn. Say thank you. Nothing more. No "thank you for your time," or any of the valueless phrases that permeate pseudo-psychology sales, etc. talks.

Brevity and accuracy of language and precision in the message is something that most of those you are competing with will not do. Make that your weapon of choice.

Thank you.