Preparing for Interview Questions

An often overlooked part of the interview process is fielding questions and, being heard to ask a lot of questions yourself. Granted, the lions share of the interview maybe dedicated to selling your experiences against a raft of different scenarios you may find yourself in should you get the role, however, you'll be kicking yourself IF you walk away from the interview not having clarified anything and everything.

I'm as guilty as anyone of not having my questions written down beforehand, relying on a) a good memory and / or b) I will make some up when I get there. Trust me, use a pen and paper in advance of the interview. Jot down a few things that you want to know, need to know or, seem even remotely relevant to the position for which you've applied. Although the 'there is no such thing as a stupid question' is kinda true, use the questions you ask to demonstrate you've researched the role, company or even, the person that's interviewing you.

Though it's one step short of stalking them, get a print out of their linkedin profile - highlight any key points on their profile(s) that may be of interest or you feel that are pertinent to bring up during the interview. It's often surprising how many shared contacts you have, things you've both done, people you've worked with or work for let alone projects you've been involved with etc etc

Even today, didn't quite have my thinking cap on for the ... where do you see yourself in three years? ... If we rang some of your past colleagues or co-workers, what would they say about you? ... When you get up in the morning, what task do you dislike the most? ... What do you see youself achieving in the first six months? ... Given the amount of stakeholders you'd be dealing with, who would you tackle first and how would you approach this? 

When on the train back from London this evening, the post mortem will continue - what went well and what could I do better next time? 

Dealing with Conflict

Having been asked this question at a recent interview and being the reflective, diligent man I am, thought to document a 'proper response' should I ever need one again.

Granted, I may not have answered it as best I could first time around however, this is what I should have said (though nearly did).

A little common sense and pre-emptive action BEFOREHAND can often defuse possible conflicts before they get out of hand however the following list of tips will help you manage and resolve touchy situations should they arise.

  1. Ask questions before you allow an escalation.

  2. Analyse expectations.

  3. Recognize differing perspectives.

  4. Identify mistakes as honest / unintended mistakes frequently result in conflict.

  5. Watch out for emotional triggers.

  6. Focus on preventing escalation (see 1 above).

  7. Take action to control the situation.

  8. Commit to working it out.

  9. De-escalate the conflict.

  10. Stay calm at all times (that’s me that is).

Anything to add? Anyone?

30/60/90 day plans

If asked to prepare a 30 / 60 / 90 day plan for a forthcoming job interview, it CANNOT be general - it has to be crafted for the particular employer you're going to meet, see or discuss. Such 'tailored ' presentations are the platform to show the hiring manager how seriously you’re taking the opportunity, what you have to offer and the real difference you're intending to make when you're handed the job. The more it speaks to the hiring manager’s needs, the more effective it is.

The plan doesn’t need to be a 30-page report outlining every element of the company’s sales strategy and every data point in the company report, it can be a simple PowerPoint presentation attached to an e-mail or, printed for discussion during the next or final interview round. Quite simply, it should focus on what you're going to do to make money for the company in months one, two and three hence, the 30 / 60 / 90 day plan.

Considering trends and market conditions facing the company in question, you may have also picked up insights from earlier research, past telephone interviews, earlier face to face interviews or, reaching out to current / past employees of the company. Such insights will really bring your presentation to life. WITHOUT such tailoring, it will be a real turnoff if you were to show something generic.

Heather Huhman outlines the gals that should be incorporated into your own, customized plan - breaking it down into three distinct phases:

  1. 30 days – the learning stage

  2. 60 days – adding the Y-O-U

  3. 90 days – the transformation stage

While the likes of 'Understand your boss’s expectations of you', 'Begin forming professional relationships with co-workers', 'Learn about your customers and clients',  and 'Investigate the overall company culture' all make perfect sense, I'd try to think more along the lines of action oriented planning; what EXACTLY will you do, WHO will you meet and WHAT are you looking to achieve BY WHEN?

Though you may actually get some of the detail wrong, you're trying to signal intent; you may incorrectly assume somethings are not already in place and they actually are. Such things - about what exists and what doesn't - can be ascertained when you start in the role and have direct access to all of the company crown jewels.

When I last prepared such a presentation for my role with the Trader Media Group way back in 2009 (mindful that this was for a Senior Product Management position), here's some of the things that I considered to be important at that point in time (BEFORE joining the business a few weeks later):

First 30 days

  • Corporate Strategy & Business Objectives; what’s expected of me?

  • Existing product(s):

  • Insights from within the team; internal perspective – ‘online behaviour’

  • Reqs. gathering from outside; external perspective – ‘offline behaviour’

  • Technology; hosting/colo, access/bandwidth provision

  • Information architecture; structure, tasks & flow between pages

  • Company ‘systems’ & training: processes, policies & procedures

  • Relationship Building; customers, advertisers & team members

  • Relationship Building; sales teams - ‘Your needs are my needs’

  • Relationship Building; print & production teams

  • Baseline KPIs; both financial & non-financial measures

  • Implement a new ideas scheme

  • Establish social media ‘presence’ (via twitter) & a news agenda

  • Review & update my personal development plan

The next 30 days

  • Sharing lessons learned to date; implement critical change(s)

  • Re-check expectations and prioritise any ‘loose ends’ or ‘niggles’

  • Outline product & content roadmap; clear rationale & priorities

  • Reporting; interactive and/or diagnostic control systems

  • Further Relationship Building; 3rd party suppliers & ext. agencies

  • Review competitive landscape; report on latest developments

  • Begin forging plans for research, focus groups & industry forums

  • Focus on Sales Productivity; thoughts on SFA and/or CRM?

  • Measure success of any/all changes already made

  • Establish & facilitate inaugural JAD Workshop

  • Review & update my personal development plan

The last 30 days

  • Focus on implementation inc. business processes & systems

  • Content, search-engine rankings and design - refine, test & improve

  • Resource Plan:

  • Team structure, budgets, forecasts et al

  • Pricing; modelling different upside & downside scenarios

  • ‘Co-opetition’ opportunities; online partnerships?

  • Link building, affiliates, sponsorship and/or co-branding

  • Offline communications:

  • Advertising, sales promotion, PR, direct mail, merchandising & WoM

  • Viral Marketing:

  • Pass along emails, send-2-a-friend, media mentions & incentives

  • Review & update my personal development plan

Looking back, the 'pre employment plan' wasn't far off the mark actually in terms of what actually was done. For a greater detail on how 'the plan' unfolded (in terms of onward development and embellishment), please see Putting Lipstick on a Pig

As a part of the 10 slide presentation, I used a few slides to wrap up some of the trends and / or market conditions facing the business at that time:

The Future (1)

  • The rise and relevance of Hyper-local information

  • Mobile ‘access’; real-time & location-aware

  • Targeted advertising; specific demographics perhaps

  • ‘Sharing stuff’; harnessing the power of social networking

  • Advertisers conversing through social profiling, not just selling

  • Seeking the leaders of all social networks; the influencers

  • With the rise of the social entrepreneurs; niche networks?

  • Social network interconnectedness; widgets et al

  • Newsletters, Expert Tips & published articles

  • Crowd sourcing or else!

The Future (2)

  • Building a network of genuine, passionate friends & followers

  • Not forgetting the ‘spectators’; those on the long tail (or not)

  • Mapping & POI layering; ‘more than just’ navigation

  • Offers, coupons, vouchers and/or category sponsorship

  • Using the most effective and audience-friendly ad products

  • A five-second pre-roll combined with a ten-second lower 1/3 ad unit, according to "Project Inform," a study by MTVN & marketing researcher InsightExpress

  • What is happening to print? What is the outlook for print?

  • ‘Being’; a multimedia content company (21/7/09)

Final Thought

  • I think I understand the role

  • I am willing to do what needs to be done

  • The key: measurable success

  • The goal: ongoing improvement

  • The main driver: revenue

  • I can deliver the pieces; goals & targets

  • Thanks for your time

If you agree, disagree or want to ask - what the hell are you talking about; let me know.

Improving Email Open Rates

Email open rates are often the key metric used when discussing the effectiveness of an email campaign; you obviously need them to open your email before they can perform any result action(s). Without an open, there is no close; click, call, purchase, view, download etc.

So called ‘experts’ suggest a ‘GOOD OPEN RATE’ is somewhere between 15% & 25% for marketing emails; maybe higher for transactional emails. After a few recent ‘25% as a benchmark’ campaigns, I thought to dust of my ‘email marketing 101’ checklist as a means of getting more ‘bang for my buck’ (having been asked by your sales colleagues to ‘GET MORE LEADS’ :-))

However, a note of caution on open rates; it's not that email open rates are entirely useless as a statistic or metric; knowing what you've done AND how you’ve done it will no doubt impact how the campaigns are deemed to be a success or failure HOWEVER … I’ve tended to get the most success when using open rates as a means of comparing one email / campaign against another. As the above article points out, ‘don’t be discouraged if your email tracking software says that your email open rates are very low percentages. It's likely that they aren't as bad as it seems’.

Didn’t have the time or inclination to explain that today although, here’s a few simple, top tips to improve your / my open rates:

  1. CHECK you’re using the most appropriate "From" name and email address. While being reflecting the brand and being relevant to your offer, try to reference the appropriate team / department i.e. ‘sales’ related messages should come from, a newsletter from or maybe, promotional updates from TICK.

  2. REVIEW the Subject line; keep it short and sweet. Test it on friends or colleagues to get feedback. Don’t mislead - be straightforward, avoid vagaries. You may want to include your company or newsletter name. This certainly makes it easier when you reference back old emails or need to assess the effectiveness of past campaigns or, are hell bent on changing offers from season to season or, from month to month. A reminder of WHO YOU ARE helps (re) establish a certain level of trust between you and the email recipient PLUS, many email programs show only the subject line when viewed on a smartphone, so including the company name is important. TICK (though will try a few different ones as I continue to test & learn).

  3. PERSONALISATION. Where possible, include the recipient's first name and any other pertinent information; location etc

  4. Cut the Crap. Avoid typical spam words (FREE, ACT NOW etc), using plain language where possible – an email caught by a spam filter MAY never be read, so choose your wording wisely. TICK (first names being used).

  5. Copy Writing is a Skill. Try using an incentive to get the recipient to open the email. Imply scarcity to encourage immediate action however avoid putting a date directly into the subject line. It may become out-dated, more quickly that you think. HALF TICK - ALWAYS make some improvements here in the main body of the email(s).

  6. Vary your send times. Rather than 0900 / 1730, try some unconventional send times to see whether you get a boost in open rates; later in the evening or early morning rather than the typical ‘work times’. HALF TICK – will try a few different ones over the coming weeks.

  7. Don’t Bombard Your Audience. Find the right frequency of communications; separate your target list(s) into different groups that might warrant emails at varying frequencies. TICK.

  8. TEST and LEARN. Consider a series of A/B tests; trying different subject lines for example. Establish what works best for your specific situation / target audience. The trick is to be sure your email content and the offer can match your well-constructed subject line, personalization, and all of the front-end work. MASSIVE TICK. I could wax lyrical and often do about the ‘test & learn’ mantra set out in the AutoTrader decree (having worked there for more than three years). A great principle to live – and die – by.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Maps and the Geospatial Revolution

How many Coursera courses can be studied at any one time? 

Mores the merrier. 

Heres another ... 

Lesson 1: The Geospatial Revolution

Opens on: July 17, 2013 at 12:00 AM UTC

  • How We Navigate

  • Making Decisions

  • Sharing Stories

  • The Changing Nature of Place

  • What is Geography?

  • Maps to Tell Stories, Maps to Provide Context

  • The Earth is Round and Maps are Flat

Video Assignment: Geospatial Revolution, Episode 1 (Full Episode)

Mapping Assignment: Investigating Global Population and Ecoregions

Discussion Assignment: Privacy and the Geospatial Revolution

Quiz # 1: Due by July 23, 2013 at 11:59 PM UTC

Lesson 2: Spatial is Special

Opens on: July 24, 2013 at 12:00 AM UTC

  • Thinking like a Geographer (by thinking Aspatially)

  • Spatial Relationships

  • Understanding Scale

  • What About Time?

Video Assignment: Geospatial Revolution, Episode 2, Chapter 3 (Powering    Business)

Mapping Assignment: Changing Landscapes, Sharing Maps, and Fun With Projections

Discussion Assignment: Change Matters In Geography

Quiz # 2: Due by July 30, 2013 at 11:59 PM UTC

Lesson 3: Understanding Spatial Data

Opens on: July 31, 2013 at 12:00 AM UTC

  • Where Are We Now?

  • The Earth From Above

  • Who Makes Spatial Data?

  • Describing Spatial Data

Video Assignment: Geospatial Revolution, Episode 4, Chapter 4 (Mapping    Power to the People)

Mapping Assignment: Mapping Hazards (And Understanding Spatial Data While We're At It)

Discussion Assignment: Where Do Disasters Happen, And How Can Maps Help?

Quiz # 3: Due by August 6, 2013 at 11:59 PM UTC

Lesson 4: Doing Spatial Analysis

Opens on: August 7, 2013 at 12:00 AM UTC

  • Overlay (and Beyond!)

  • Making Surfaces

  • Mapping Rates vs. Mapping Totals

Video Assignment: Geospatial Revolution, Episode 4, Chapter 3 (Tracking    Disease)

Mapping Assignment: Real Time Data, Social Media Mapping, and Finding The Best Place For Things

Discussion Assignment: Mapping Social Media: What's It Good For?

Quiz # 4: Due by August 13, 2013 at 11:59 PM UTC

Lesson 5: Making Great Maps

Opens on: August 14, 2013 at 12:00 AM UTC

  • Who Wants A Map?

  • Where Will It Be Seen?

  • What Is Its Purpose?

  • Designing a Layout

  • Symbolization

  • Choosing Colors

  • Data Classification

  • Text on Maps

Video Assignment: Geospatial Revolution, Episode 4, Chapter 1 (Monitoring    a Changing Climate)

Mapping Assignment: Storytelling With Maps    

Discussion Assignment: Telling Stories With Maps

Final Exam: Due by August 25, 2013 at 11:59 PM UTC 

Let me know how you get on. 


Powerpoint slide sorter scrolling broken

Having problems scrolling in PowerPoint? The latest BETA driver seems to help (version 313.96).

  1. Open the NVIDIA Control Panel.

  2. Go to Help --> Updates

  3. Go to the preferences tab.

  4. Check the box at the very bottom that says "Include beta updates."

  5. Hit Apply, then go back to the Updates tab and click "Check for Updates."

  6. Finish the update like normal.

  7. Hope this helps!

Alternatively, download the patch from the NVIDIA website HERE

Thought the install failed for me, it 'seems' to have fixed the issue in PP.


Competitive Strategy

Addicted to Coursera as I am ...  learn how firms behave in situations in which strategic decisions are interdependent, i.e. where my actions affect my competitors' profits and vice versa. Using the basic tools of game theory, we will analyze how firms choose strategies to attain competitive advantage. Started Jul 1st 2013 (6 weeks long).

Have a look at the FREE course yourself - Coursera Competitive Strategy

In the first week, competitive situations in the form of games. Start out using two toothpaste manufacturers; actions that these two toothpaste manufacturers can take, in particular 'advertising' or 'not advertising' in a matrix, and use that matrix to analyse what might be optimal strategies in this context.

This is an introduction into two very important concepts of game theory: Nash Equilibria and Prisoners’ Dilemma. We then go one step further; change a game from a simultaneous game (two players make decisions at the same time) to a sequential game (one of the players moves first and the second player then follows).


  • Introduction

  • Simultaneous Games I: Game Setting

  • Simultaneous Games II: Eliminating Dominated Strategies

  • Simultaneous Games III: Nash Equilibrium

  • Simultaneous Games IV: Prisoners’ Dilemma

  • Sequential Games I: Game Setting

  • Sequential Games II: Backward Induction

  • Sequential Games III: Credible Threats

  • Wrap Up

Additional readings

  • Camerer, C. "Redirecting reserach in business policy and stragegy". Strategic Management Journal 6(1) 1985. pp. 1-15.

  • Dixit, A. and Skeath, S. "Games of strategy". Norton & Company 2004, second edition. Part II.

  • Saloner, G. "Modeling, game theory, and strategic management". Strategic Management Journal 12(S2) 1991. pp. 119 - 136.

Week 1 done. In the bag and the weekly quiz completed. Yee Har. 

Wanted Sense of Inclusion

Linkedin ask for my thoughts, via a survey. Insightful as I am, pleased to oblige. Part way through the survey, only to find out that - whatever I said and however I said it - my names not down and I'm not coming in.

Damn you Linkedin. 

Left wondering, what was that all about. 

linkedin survey.png

Putting Lipstick on a Pig

Although perfectly understandable given TMGs strategic drive to be a 100% digital business, it was sad to see the closure of its free, general classified offering 'ADTRADER' last week.

Having been hired by the Trader Media Group (Trader Publishing Ltd. to be exact) back in 2009 to turn around the fortunes of the flailing 'magazine with a website' proposition; with the help of the existing team, a few new hires and the guidance from a external consultant (who I will be forever indebted), AdTrader soon became a 'website with a magazine' - New product strategy, new pricing structure, new product staircase, new multi-media sales packages, new Online Ads process, SEO front and foremost, SEM to support, revamped the print filler to drive online migration, partnerships, training etc etc

A job well done by all concerned, working tirelessly over the tail-end of 2009, into 2010 and beyond. A return to growth, profitability and stability.

While its still fresh in my mind, thought I'd map out the steps undertaken within the high-level work plan to turn this whole thing around. While sat in the Madejski Stadium one evening, a mission once described by an ex-colleague as 'putting lipstick on a pig'.

As best I remember, it went along the lines of ... 

Develop a new / validate the existing direction:

– External assessment including market sizing, understanding buyer and seller behaviour, competitive analysis

– Benchmark/case studies of similar products in their print to online migration to understand and define key success factors and migration path

– Internal assessment including strategy, current business and product plans, business models, proposition and pricing, revenue and profit driver analysis (likely segmented by geography and medium), circulation and usage assessment

– Value chain analysis

– SWOT analysis

– Development and assessment of numerous strategic alternatives

– Selection of one strategic direction

– Define required capabilities vs existing capabilities

Develop an execution based business Plan with 5-6 Key areas of focus:

– Key areas of focus identified

– Key initiatives under each area of focus detailed including quantification (as appropriate), implementation plan (responsibilities, timeline) and metrics (target performance financial and non-financial KPIs)

– Reporting framework developed to measure and monitor performance to plan

Think you'll agree, a simple however effective template for anyone starting a new role and - looking to make an immediate impact with say a 30 / 60 / 90 day plan - could follow. 

Let me know what you think. 

AdTrader Closure.JPG

Zynga misses a trick

Addicted as I am to playing Zyngas 'Word with Friends', they have no doubt missed a trick with the recent attempt to further gamify the game. Yes, they have leaderboards. Yes, they have points (on points). Haven't yet found badges though its surely just around the corner. 

However ... 

If 'playing more' was the objective of the added PBL (points, badges & leader boards) elements within 'Words With Freinds', surely, this was a great time to push / promote / market the small premium to remove the ads.

I'd have defo paid the £2.99 to stop the ads and therefore speed up the playing experience - not all of which function correctly as display ads BTW. 


Words with Friends.PNG