Accelerated Rapport – Part 1

Project 2012: Day 324

Small talk!! The bane of so many people. I mean it’s not real communication is it?

Well, actually…

…in an interview, you have a job to do. One job only. Get to the next stage of the hiring process. That could be short-listed for the next round of interviews, or contract negotiation. That outcome requires you to generate trust that the interviewer considers you, not only right for the role, but the best person for the role.


Trust is a combination of 4 factors: Credibility, Reliability, Intimacy, and whether you’re oriented on yourself or the other party (in this case the interviewer). Now your CV and references will in a large part determine your credibility & reliability, as will your answers to interview questions. Not to mention the questions you ask.

But only building rapport will increase your intimacy factor (and decrease your self-orientation factor). In short, how do you make the person believe you are like them, or at least “in synch” with their way of thinking?

The Cold Read

In the (brilliant) BBC series Hustle, there’s an episode where Alfie, the mentor of a group of con-artists, teaches Danny, the up-and-coming n00b, the Cold Read. In the episode he shows how to observe tell-tale signs on a mark, and use these to build rapport. To become “like-minded,” or “two peas in a pod”

An example would be to observe say someone wearing a divers watch, then ask if they dive? From  here, if you dive, you have something in common that you can talk about – when last did you dive? where? What equipment do you have? Where was your best dive? etc. etc.

Even if you don’t dive, you have something that interests the other party, and you can ask open questions to get them talking about their interest.

Couple of points to note:

  • Don’t pretend to be a fellow fan of something you aren’t. To anyone even vaguely interested in something, it is child’s play to see right through someone who isn’t interested and is trying simply to manipulate you. You can show genuine interest (open questions) without having to be a fellow afficionado. I hate golf, and will never play, but can still allow a golfer to espouse their passion for the sport.
  • Don’t be a “story topper.” The idea here is to allow your interviewer to talk about their interests, and to build rapport by being genuinely interested. Not by having been higher, further, faster, or generally better than them. That simply pisses people off, puts their back up, and destroys intimacy. It’s because your self-orientation factor is too high. So even if you have been higher, faster, deeper, or generally better than the interviewer, allow them their moment in the sun.
  • Be genuinely interested. This is easier, of course, if you have a similar interest. You get enthusiastic about the same rides (or golf courses, or knitting patterns for that matter) but you can be genuinely interested even if you hate the hobby. Read magazines, check out the Internet, follow bloggers or tweeters. In short, show respect by researching and learning about the topic. Then ask open questions, not with the outcome to build rapport, but with the outcome of learning more about the topic. The rapport will build naturally. In short, be interested in the topic, because you’re interested in the person.

One of the interns in my team observed to me that I get a lot of things done in HP because I ride a motorbike. People, especially other bikers, invariably talk about my bike, week-end rides, then talk nostalgically or dreamily about biking. This leads to talking about things other than work, which builds intimacy (friendship by another name), which leads to me having an extended network of all sorts of specialists across our business unit and the entire company.

It was an astute observation, but I pointed out that he was only half right. I’ll pick up on any topic of interest which I have in common, and lead into the conversation with that. It’s not about motorbikes, but about an interest in the person. First. Before the work stuff.

Believe me, it beats talking about the weather or the traffic…

…which is what your competition is talking about.

It’s Not Who You Know–The Secrets of the Credible Reference

Project 2012: Day 149

Credibility, others believing you can do what you say you can, is a cornerstone of trust. This is what accreditations, certifications, degrees, qualifications, CV’s, and today’s topic, references are all about.

Two advantages to credibility:

  • It’s transitive – If I believe that Bob can fix my TV, and Sally trusts me, my recommendation will transfer Bob’s credibility to fix TV’s to Sally.
  • It’s quick to establish – people make “blink” like decisions as to the credibility of someone. Often this is unconscious, based on the language people use, the questions they ask, and other’s reports about them.

Of course, you’ve done everything in your power to establish your credibility for your next role. You have a professional CV, qualifications to the wazoo, and your experience is highlighted on web searches.

Now you want to move beyond “paper credibility” to something much more powerful. A third party recommendation. Someone actually talking about you to your potential manager.

There are three levels of reference from a credibility stand point:

  1. People who’ve worked with you directly, whom the hiring manager doesn’t know.
  2. People who’ve worked with you indirectly, whom the hiring manager knows well.
  3. People who’ve worked with you directly, whom the hiring manager knows well.

So let’s talk about levels of credibility. Think about buying something like a car. You research the models, check out the specs. Then you read online forums where other people you don’t know praise its features. You’re more likely to buy it, than without those endorsements.

Next you speak to friends who all own other types of cars, but know about cars. They speak highly of it. You’re probably even more likely to buy, based on the recommendation of your friends, even though they don’t own this car.

Finally you speak to someone you’ve know for years who has owned this car for the last 6 months. Of course she tells you what she doesn’t like, but then talks about what she loves. And just how much she loves it…

Then you buy the car.

So the point of this post is:

Choose your references strategically.

It’s not about who you know, it’s about who knows you, and who knows them…

Don’t just ask a mate, or a manager you’ve worked with before. Think about someone who knows you well, and preferably someone who knows or has worked with your next hiring manager too.

Here LinkedIn is your friend. As soon as you know your next interviewer, head over to LinkedIn and see who your mutual contacts are. Then ask the one who knows you best if they’ll be a reference for you.

Remember to thank them later.

P12-086: Question Time

Project 2012: Day 86

Ever noticed someone being introduced as a speaker? Their list of accomplishments, and books, are listed, and the MC goes on about how they’re the most qualified person to speak at this event. They’re looking to build credibility. This speaker is an authority!!

Then the speaker gets onto stage and delivers a generic, death by bullet point presentation that anyone could’ve put together.

Even worse is when they introduce themselves. I was at a Mobile event recently where the speaker introduced themselves as someone steeped in experience of using digital technologies for education (it was a mobile event after all). Yet his presentation was boring, illegible, and technologies he presented, out-of-date.


This experience relates to the interview scenario as well, right! Your CV is the equivalent of the MC (except it’s you talking about yourself). In it you’ll have listed your accreditations, experiences, and skills for the job.

So you don’t need to talk about them.



Relisting your experiences does nothing to add to your credibility. In fact there’s a single, old technique that does. We’ve learned this as":

Show! Don’t Tell!


Actions speak louder than words!

But how do you do that in an interview?

Show, don’t tell

The answer is through insightful questions.

Last year I went for an interview as a Consultant Manager at Dell. Although I was offered the job, I took my current CTO role at HP instead. But I had one of the most powerful interview experiences in my career.

In the interview, I was given the chance to ask questions (as you always are). And here’s what I asked:

  • Help me understand how you allocate bonuses to the consultants? How are incentives aligned to utilisation? Do you have to calibrate performance across the team, or other teams across the organisation?
  • What challenges are you facing with pre-sales and allocation of billable time for the consultants?
  • Describe the culture of the practice. Do the consultants work as a team, or more as a group of individuals? How well do they work across other BU’s?
  • What is the training, and career development expectations on the individual?

This approach does three things:

  1. Only someone versed in [Your dream job here] would even know the questions to ask that reflect challenges and opportunities for the role. So it establishes your credibility.
  2. By asking insightful questions of the interviewer you take the focus off yourself, and place it firmly on them. This increases your trust factor, because you’re more interested in helping them than promoting yourself.
  3. You share their problems. The very problems that they’re hiring someone to manage. This is really powerful, and creates an unconscious bond. Not only do you build interviewer confidence in yourself to do the role, but you demonstrate how you’re doing it. Sharing their problems also gives you more insight into the organisation, where the challenges lie, and whether you want to work there.

Wrapping it Up

Asking the right questions will set you apart from the nonces that just talk about themselves. It will give you insight into the manager, the organisation and whether you want to work there. And it will build your credibility.

So what questions can you ask your next interviewer about your dream job?

An Equation of Trust: Secrets to Getting Hired

Project 2012: day 72

This topic clearly speaks to more than finding your dream job. It speaks to new relationships, selling, consulting or influence in general. But in the job hunt, we have to establish trust, and fast.

In The Trusted Advisor David Maister and his co-authors create an equation to help you determine how much someone trusts you in a given situation.

They postulate that

T = (C + R + I) / SO


  • T = Trust (overall trust factor)
  • C = Credibility (You can do what you say you can)
  • R = Reliability (You do do what you say you will, when you will)
  • I = Intimacy (Shared +ve/-ve experiences)
  • SO = Self-orientation


Let’s deal with self-orientation first, as this has the biggest impact on trust. It doesn’t matter how good you are at the role (credibility), how reliable you are, and how well you know the interviewer, if you are oriented on your self, you diminish overall trust.

So consider focussing on the interviewer, the role, the business needs, and how you can add value.

This is pretty tough to do in an interview situation where the questions are designed to get you to talk about yourself. The technique here is two-fold:

  1. Answer questions with outcomes of your actions. Talk about the impact, preferably the business impact, of what you did.
  2. Segue into conversation about the role. E.g. to a question like “Describe the best team you’ve ever been on?” You can talk about the best team, the characteristics of what makes a good team, and then ask “Teaming is clearly important to you, what sort of team does this role work in” or “How does the organisation promote teamwork?”


Credibility is quick to establish. In the job hunt there are a number of things that will establish your credibility for the role. Clearly your CV is a big part of this, but also anything that has set you apart in your field: Books published, media appearances or interviews, even a blog you author.

The other characteristic about credibility is that it’s transitive. If John trusts my credibility, and Bob trusts John, Bob will trust my credibility.

This is where your references, and the recruiter come into play. The hiring manager (by delegation) trusts the recruiter, so you need to highlight your credibility to them. Your references really trust your credibility, so they need to be a credible authority for the hiring manager.

The best combination here of course, is someone in the company who knows you, and is more known (hence trusted) than even the recruiter. If they refer you, your credibility score can go through the roof.

At a recent job interview I was referred by the MD of my last large multi-national tech employer for a senior role to the VP of another company. It turns out that the MD and the VP had been next door neighbours for 20 years, so I really hit the jackpot.

One final word on credibility: Proactive references. Don’t wait for the hiring manager to ask for your reference. Ask your references if they’ll compose an email, or pen a letter, promoting you to the hiring manager. This needs to be professional, non-intrusive, and balanced (i.e. glowing, but with real areas for development too). Again, this boosts your credibility significantly.


Reliability is a tough one, because of two reasons:

  1. It’s not transitive – If I think you’re reliable, you still have to prove it. Even to people who trust me
  2. It takes a long time to establish – someone’s credibility can be established in a single question, their reliability needs a number of promises to have been honoured.

So chances are, whether you’re reliable or not, your reliability score is likely to be low. Especially at the beginning of the interview process.

What can you do about this? Well, firstly be punctual. Every phone call and every meeting, make sure you’re on-time or a little early. Generally in a given hiring cycle, you’ll have a number of interactions.

Secondly, under-promise and over-deliver. Consistently. So make a notes during your interactions, explicitly make commitments, and consistently deliver or over-deliver.

Finally, accept that you may not have time to demonstrate reliability, so work on the other factors.


If reliability is tough, intimacy is tougher. Essentially it’s not necessarily time, but intensity of shared experience, that builds intimacy. Consider soldiers going through boot camp,. Even though the experience is miserable, the intensity and shared vulnerability builds intimacy.

Soldiers who’ve been through combat together, or special forces training, have a stronger bond still.

Clearly these are extreme examples. But this is why often when someone accepts a new role in their company, or moves to another company, they bring members of their previous team with them. Their shared experience leads to a very high level of intimacy (plus they know the person can do the job, and how reliable they are).

The only way you can build intimacy with someone you haven’t met before is to talk about common experiences. In other words, build rapport.

If someone is from South Africa, I can talk about where they grew up, or national service, then talk about the shared experiences from that (both good and bad). Or if they’re a motorcyclist, what they ride, how often, for how long etc.

In one interview for IT consulting, I spent about 35 minutes discussing scuba instruction. I’d noticed the interviewer’s dive watch, and we discovered we were both instructors. Clearly by this stage my credibility for technology consulting had already been proven.

Putting it all together

Use the function above. Give yourself a score out of 10 for each component of trust in any interview. This quickly informs you of two things:

  • How trusted you actually are
  • What areas you need to focus on

When all else is said and done though, by the time you come to interview, your credibility is assured, you can do little to affect reliability and intimacy, so focus on minimising your self-orientation. I.e. focus on the needs of your interviewer.

Definitely, definitely, read:


Do let me know how you’re getting on. I’d love to help where I can.

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