How to land a great job in two weeks (and how a mirror can help!)

By Neil Patrick

I have had an interesting few days. Two weeks ago I had a wonderful challenge land on the doorstep quite literally!

It was in the form of my step daughter, who had struggled through her first year of university due to some unfortunately timed health problems and had been forced to admit defeat and abandon her degree, return home and try and find a job.

She wasn’t in a great place mentally. She felt as if all her aspirations had gone up in smoke and that she didn’t have enough good work experience to land a great job, or even a not so great job for that matter. Not an ideal place to be in when you need to find work fast.

She’s independently minded too and likes to do things herself without help. Given what I write about on this blog and my great contacts, you’d have thought she’d be enthusiastic to take advantage of my assistance, but no, I had to persuade her to accept it!

But I am pleased to report that she relented and we set about the task together and now, just two weeks later she is starting work at the end of August. She has a brand new job, but not just any job, a good job with a great firm on our doorstep and a job that I know she’ll excel at.

She applied for just one job, went through a four stage selection process and beat about 200 other applicants.

The four stages were:
  • Online application 
  • Telephone interview 
  • 3 hour assessment centre 
  • Face to face panel interview 
So I thought I’d share the process we used to get the desired outcome from start to finish in just two weeks.
Research the market

We started by deciding what sort of firms we would target. The criteria in this case were:
  • They must be nearby (less than 20 miles away) or the travel costs and time would be a problem.
  • They should be expanding so that she’d have career growth opportunities
  • They should be a recognised market leader
  • They should have a good track record of investing in their people and helping them develop.
This was actually a rather quick step. We easily found the firms locally with a bit of help from Google and the local press online that were accredited as Investors in People and who were getting media attention because of their success.

We also found that the better firms had good websites which provided information on the type of people they were wanting to hire. We read this information closely to focus our search down to the best targets. 

Know a lot about the employer and job you are targeting

This was a quick process too. Once we had the (very) short target list, I showed her how to use advanced searches on Google to quickly find the right information about these firms. As it turns out, I happened to know the firms we’d identified quite well. I hadn't worked for any of them myself, but I knew people that did and I knew they'd help us with some inside information.

But being the independent woman she is, she decided that she’d do all her own research and turned up some recent facts and contacts, that I wasn't aware of. This was to prove invaluable later in the process, enabling her to prove that she was serious about wanting this job. She'd also be able to talk intelligently about the business, which would both impress her interviewers and make the experience less stressful too.

Get the application right

The first step was an online application. But before we even began to complete this, I sat down with her and her own draft of her resume and rewrote the whole thing. It was not looking good when we started. She had been working in a bar for the last year and had previously worked in high street fashion stores. Hardly the sort of job history that would make her look like a high flyer. Plus we had to address the potential negative that she’d become a college drop out.

But after I’d rewritten her resume, things were looking much better. It wasn’t any magic on my part, I simply went through the job description and highlighted all the keywords that were in it. Then I went back to her draft resume and rephrased her descriptions of what she had done, so that it was describing how she’d already done these things in her previous job. I should point out that everything we said was completely true, there were no exaggerations or fabrications.

Only once we’d done this and she had verified with me that the facts were all totally accurate did she take this information and place them into the online application. 

Excel at the telephone Interview

Within 24 hours of sending the online application, an email came back asking to book a telephone interview. Things were looking up!

This was going to be important and so we sat down for a couple of hours and discussed all the points we wanted to get across in the telephone interview as well as the questions I knew would be asked, like, ‘Why do you want to work here?’ and ‘What do you know about this business?’.

We rehearsed how she would talk about her failure to complete her degree. We distilled this into a little story that explained her history in a way which minimised the negatives and maximised the positives. She was preparing her own version of her life history which was showing she was now the perfect person to be hired for not just any job, but this job in particular.

We also rehearsed all the things she was going to want to talk about during the phone interview, to ensure we got over the points we wanted – she would be actively influencing the discussion, not just passively reacting to the questions. She prepared a little list of bullet points of topics that she’d talk about at the appropriate time.

We also practised delivery. For her, we decided, she’d perform best by standing in front of a mirror whilst on the phone and that she would smile frequently during the phone interview. These three things - standing, watching you own face and smiling are actually audible during a phone conversation. If you take these steps, they will introduce a subtle but noticeable change in your voice. You’ll sound positive, happier, more energised and more focussed.

After the phone interview, I asked how it went. She was happy, it had gone well and she’d actually enjoyed it! The next day, she was invited to attend an assessment centre the following week. 

Stand out for the right reasons at the assessment centre

We were still along way away from our goal. But again focus and preparation were the keys.

We went back again to the job description and isolated the behaviours and personal characteristics the firm wanted for the role. These would form the basis of how she was to present herself and behave during the assessment centre.

Based on this we then prepared: 
  • The most suitable outfit for the day 
  • The precise schedules and travel arrangements to guarantee she’d not just arrive on time, but with plenty of time to get relaxed and perhaps talk to some people in reception. 
  • How she would interact with the other candidates and organisers. In this case we decided that she’d not try and dominate but would instead be helpful and friendly with everyone there and take the initiative to engage with the others who would mostly all be feeling at least a little nervous and anxious. 
We also practised rhythmic breathing so that if her nerves were starting to get the better of her, she could get them back under control 

Have the final interview thoroughly rehearsed

Towards the end of the assessment centre exercises, she was asked by one of the organisers to leave. She was crestfallen. In fact, the reason was that she was being whisked away was for a final interview and the organisers didn't wish to alert the other candidates to the fact that they had in fact not been chosen.

The final interview was her chance to ask all the carefully selected questions we had worked out in advance. Again, all designed to prove to the employer that she was the perfect person to hire.

The final interview was she says quite easy! But that’s because we’d prepared and rehearsed every step in advance and left nothing to chance.

The following day, she was telephoned and offered the job, together with a starting date of the end of August. So in two weeks, we’d turned around her life from university drop out to a new career. We applied for a total of one (very carefully chosen) job, and got one offer. That’s all we needed.

Total time investment by both of us I estimate was about 50 hours, which I think would be impossible if we were going after more than one job. And yes she had to beat 200 others, but I would estimate that from the 200 or so online applications, about half would have been telephone interviewed, and half of these invited to the assessment centres which were run over three days.

At every stage, even as late as the assessment centre, candidates were in their own words ‘winging it’. Reminds me of the old cliché, ‘failure to prepare is to prepare to fail.’

Mission accomplished!


  1. Great story and lots to learn from it.

    1. Thank you Karin. Pleased to report that one year on she still has the job! Oh and has even had a pay rise too! :-)

  2. Great outline of the process and how to win! I am still surprised she was able to land a phone interview without a referral...any idea what it was about her resume that stood out to the recruiter?

    1. Thank you for posting here. To my knowledge, there was no recruiter involved. The job was advertised on the company's own website. And since they had around 200 applications, I guess they could make a good argument that they didn't need one, at least for this particular job...