If ever there was a transferable phrase from Policing argot into the real world, it must be this.

No cough…no job” would be the standard response from the seasoned Detective, when they saw just how little evidence you had to bolster your reasonable suspicion justifying an arrest.

Originally intended to denote an offence lacking substantive evidence, (whereby, unless the alleged offender admitted the crime – the “cough”, there was little or no chance of a prosecution – the “job”); it became a standard response to suspicions about the marital infidelities of colleagues, investigations into disciplinary matters based on scurrilous rumour, and even attempts to find the culprit who “Tippex-ed” the dent in the Inspector’s car.

I was reminded of it whilst recently discussing my experiences as an interviewer/assessor. There’s unlikely to be a chance of a job at the end of the interview, without you ‘coughing” what you’ve done, or can do.

I recalled that the usual interview process was going on, seeking new employees for a pretty major public sector employer, and I was struck at the poor answers that were given to pretty basic interview questions.

Asked to give an example of a time when they stood up for what was right, some interviewees responses were in the vein of “…well, I can’t think of anything right now, but I’m sure I would have done something..”.

One, asked what preparation he had done for the interview, replied “…I checked your website last night, but the internet was down…”.

Another, asked what they would do when faced with a particular moral dilemma, was unable to respond convincingly, instead preferring to respond with “…I would do whatever you trained me to do…”.

Even if you can’t give a specific answer to questions like this, you should be able to respond in a measured fashion. When asked the question about standing up for what was right, a response might be (in the absence of a factual event) “..I cannot recall an occasion that I can discuss here, but I like to believe that, if called upon, I would be the one to stand up and be counted – I am the type of person who … “ . You go on to explain who you are and what you would do, thus, a picture of you are is painted and you didn’t even have to breach a confidence or embarrass anyone from your past.

The ‘preparation for interview’ one should be obvious. A lack of preparation for an interview will always show up. Telling fibs about the internet being down isn’t likely to endear you to your interviewer; equally, admitting you accessed the company website just the night before is probably going to show you haven’t really planned at all.

Likewise, an interviewer isn’t likely to be impressed with a stream of memorized figures and statements from the website alone. You will need to identify what the organisational culture purports to be, what the goals are and how they affect the way business is done: “…I have been planning for this interview for some time and I took the time not only to visit your website, but also I read the piece in The Economist given by your CEO where he laid out his plans for the future. I was particularly impressed by …..”; and so it goes. You (of course) went to the website, but you also looked elsewhere and – bonus – what you saw there allowed you to draw out a particular element that reflects the organisation in a good light. It’s not flattery or brown-nosing, it’s an honest appraisal of how you see the organisation you’ve applied to work for.

Finally, faced with a moral dilemma question, honesty always wins out over giving the answer you think the interviewer wants. If its specifically about the workplace (perhaps witnessing a theft by another employee) and you have prepared yourself, you will be aware that the organisation will have processes for dealing with complaints or gross misconduct and (I hope) you would , where appropriate, seek to give the “offender”  an opportunity to explain themselves before deploying the Big Stick.  If it’s a hypothetical question, then you don’t need a hypothetical answer; you can draw from your experience as an example and give an honest answer in the form of a parable “… well, I actually dealt with something akin to those circumstances a few years ago, I was able to hold my head high because I did the right thing…”.  Then you can go on to paint another picture of what a fine employee you would make, one with integrity and honesty.

Give examples, be ready to explain them – admit what you did and can do: “cough” the job! …. 

Carl Mason