A while back I took part in a panel testing senior people preparing for interviews for top EU diplomatic jobs.

What was striking if not astonishing was that it was obvious within a few seconds whether the person was going to be a strong candidate or not. There was something about the candidate’s physical ‘style’ and first words that projected confident grasp – or painful lack thereof.

Thus the panel leader asks the obvious opening question. “Tell us about yourself, and why you think you could be the right person for this position.”

The candidate starts with cheery faux self-deprecation, intended to ‘build rapport’: “Oh! I was hoping you wouldn’t ask me that …”

No! From the candidate’s very opening words the panel hears loser. Someone who has wasted a second of two of everyone’s time trying to be amusing and failing, rather than projecting the leadership we are looking by answering the question directly.

What’s the point of any interview? Yes, to find out what the candidate knows. But much more to find out how far the candidate fits.

If this person appears in the office on a rainy Monday morning, will everyone’s heart rise, or sink? Does this person bring problems, or solutions? Are we getting a manager? Or a leader?

This is why it is VITAL VITAL VITAL to start an interview strongly. Many different ways to do this. But they boil down to ‘framing’ the discussion and thereby framing yourself in their minds by using big bold words and giving them the right emphasis.

The aim is simple. When the panel is mulling over their options, you need to stand out for the right reasons.


Tell us about yourself, and why you think you could be the right person for this position.

* * * * *

Thank you!

About me?

I’ve worked in this sector for 18 years. I know my way around.

I’m positive. I’m creative. I enjoy what I’m doing. I motivate others.

Maybe I’m too ambitious sometimes? I try to get the balance right – between being ambitious and being pragmatic!

Why am I the right person for this job?

I have experience. I know what works. What fails.

I get things done. I take decisions. And I accept responsibility for those decisions.

I’m ready for this next step – from manager to leader.

In short?

In me you’re getting Experience. Wisdom. Ambition. Responsibility…

Short simple direct sentences project (and inspire) confidence in the candidate’s ability to see the Big Picture. Note that the candidate answers both parts of the question and tells the panel that that’s what’s being done. That in itself shows the panel that the candidate is smart: listening to the question and showing good intellectual grip by answering it systematically.

All that needs to be delivered with the right tone of voice. Purposeful, measured and positive, but not too cheerful. Show authority.

In a nutshell?

A top interview candidate gets the panel to ‘hear’ subliminally from the very first second or so: Yes! This could be the one we want!

All that said, sometimes the interview panel knows that it needs to make, ahem, just the right choice… This is the girl: