You can impress without a suit

(credit to the original writer – Momo)

I’m writing this as part of a dissection and elaboration of Momo’s article. so this is part one, focusing only on “Lesson 1: You can impress without a suit.”

There are basically three things that define how a strong impression is made:

Personality is a combination of a lot of things: The way you talk. The way you laugh. How you project yourself to people. Your quirks and gimmicks. Your tone of voice. Your manners. That hat you always wear. That flowery pattern on the elbows of your shirt. What people will remember you for.

Passion is what gets you excited. Hopefully it will be something not related to work. Truth be told, the most interesting people I’ve met are passionate about things entirely unrelated to their field. What people will want to ask you more about.

Potential is what you can do for others. This is arguably the most important thing to let others know about you. How can you help others? What makes you be the answer to someone else’s question? This is what people will recommend you for.

I’ve been very lucky in my career, in that i fell into an industry that was growing and i was actually quite good at. And that industry was good to me, giving me an amazing foundation and lots of opportunities. I’ve also been really lucky to have lots of opportunities to try new things and experience new things, and my LTC strategy helps promote this mind set. I’ve even been lucky in where my career has taken me. London has always been know as a hub for creative thinking and amazing story telling; i reach Shanghai just as it became one of the worlds leading centers for startups and innovation.

This might all seem like a bit of boasting, but what it comes down to is that these cumulated experiences have helped develop Personality, Passion and Potential. I feel that all three really boil down to a reflection of persons cumulative experiences.

These experiences don’t need to be profession per-se, though it should be obvious that at least an iota of knowledge here would be beneficial. so lets look in more detail at how experiences help shape and develop Personality, Passion and Potential.

Personality – experiences generally challenge our status quo in positive and negative ways, this forces us to adopt and compensate, how we adopt both physically and mentally has a huge impact on our view of the world and how it works, defining our personality. as such, the more experiences you have and actively pursue, there more you find out about yourself and, consequently, the more you develop your own unique sense of the world, how it works and your place in the world, that in turn, develops your personality.

Passion – as with personality, exposing yourself to experiences helps you develop tastes and preferences, from here, its easier to find your passions and put you in a position to pursue those passions.

Potential – having and pursuing experiences also helps condition your mindset towards one that is forward thinking and actively seeks new experiences, this helps you develop a mindset of potential, one here you feel comfortable looking for new and interesting ways to support your passions or get things done.

So, how does this all help you ‘impress without a suit’? simply put, experiences help you to foster creativity and innovation, experiences help you actively focus and pursue the opportunities that are aligned with your passions, making you better suited to them, experiences help you to have deeper and more unique perspectives about those things that you’re passionate about…. naturally all these things contribute to helping you come across as more capable, knowledgeable and passionate

The Contrarian position

The first time i encountered this was during an interview for a large corporation fairly early in my career, and it always stuck with me as one of the best interview techniques i’ve come across, since that interview, its been one of the tools i’ve used regularly to vet candidates that apply.

I’m calling it the Contrarian position. What it involves is, while interviewing the candidate, especially those in strategy and decision making positions, you ask them a fairly obvious question about the market, one where the answer should be pretty straight forward and logical, e.g. ‘why should you use facebook for marketing’ – regardless of the candidates response, take the opposite position and challenge them.

The Contrarian position is really effective as it basically forces the candidate to demonstrate they can hold their position against a senior figure, and in addition can justify their position, with conviction and facts. in other words you can actually SEE the candidates personality when assessing their ability to hold their position, argue their point and analyze the problem.

Cv’s and Fluff

Having done several hires from Director level down to Intern level. I’d say that Cv’s are generally useless proportional to the position level and years experience.

We often hear about companies wanting to hire for cultural fit, and that ‘personality’ is valued more than academic ability, yet, the CV will never be able to reflect this information.

CV’s are useful as an initial elimination, especially for the more specialised and technical roles where you know that a specific, trainable skill set is required – C++ programming skills, medical degree etc.

However nothing beats interviews for assessing the viability of a candidate, so long as you know how to look beyond confidence and inspect the candidates competence.

More to the point, personally i find that the more senior the role, the more i rely on personal recommendation and referal, its rare that i’ve found a Director level + candidate simply from a CV, more often they’ve been passed to me by personal referral, i think this is the highest quality of candidate, when someone i trust or i know within the same industry passes a recommendation, even more so, when that person has a reputation of their own.

So as a hirer, i’d say keep any eye out for personal referrals. As a candidate, i’d say, focus on trying to get someone to refer you, and make sure your CV shows actual competency and result, NOT, bravado and confidence.

Highly confident versus highly competent

I’ve previously held C-level positions and been in charge of a staff roster of over 100 people, and when you get to around 10 staff, you’ll very quickly start to see relationship dynamics and fractions start to form.

I don’t believe office politics can entirely avoided, but the right hires and hiring with very clear vetting certainly helps.

As a leader you need to focus on deliverables and as such you need to hire based on people who are not only capable or delivering results, but also willing to deliver those results.


The hard part is knowing the difference between highly enthusiastic or confident, versus highly capable – the adage ‘never judge a book by its cover’ comes to mind. Too often senior staff can get blinded by over enthusiastic positive personalities, just because they see opportunity doesn’t mean they have the ability or know-how to achieve it. Just because someone believes in your vision doesn’t mean they know how to help you achieve it, this is where bravado, and overconfidence can create the illusion of competence.

As a leader, its your job to filter the over confident and find the competent.  As an OPs guy, I’ve strived to understand the ‘how’ of teams that i lead, what do they do, how do they do it. When i lead a team of programmers, i try and learn some basic programming. When i lead designers i try and understand their design process. Even a rudimentary level of understanding will give you enough that when you interview and assess candidates you’ll be able to see if they are simply overstating their abilities or if they actually know their craft.

Simple interview questions that highlight HOW they would get things done make all the difference between selecting the overconfident candidate that will appear capable over the competent one that will help you deliver results.

Here’s an example interview question i’ve used for a digital strategy candidate- “where do you see digital ads progress? and how would you go about tracking and assessing the validity of the data?”

this question can really only be answered by someone who has a reasonable understanding of both digital ad landscape (strategy capabilities) and tracking/ anti-fraud solutions (reasonable technical capabilities) . The “how” element in the question is the clincher – their answer here tells you their thinking process and how much they actually know.