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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