'You should listen, ask questions and radiate a positive attitude'

Rita Clifton is UK chairman of Interbrand, the branding consultancy, and a former vice-chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi. She is a supporter of the Cultural Leadership Programme's 'Women to Watch', celebrating women's achievements in the cultural and creative industries (www.cult uralleadership.org.uk/w2w )

What did you want to be as a child?

A ballet dancer.

What did you realistically think you'd end up doing?

I had absolutely no idea, but my father was a shopkeeper and my mother worked in a shop, so I thought I'd do that, although that wasn't the stuff of fantasy. At the age of 10, we had to decide whether I was to go to the Royal Ballet School or grammar school. My father looked at my legs and said: "It's probably a good idea to go to grammar school." You need long, thin, gazelle-like legs to be a ballet dancer and I didn't have them.

You studied classics at Cambridge University. Was it worth it?

I didn't have a huge motivation for classics, I just saw it as a passport to Cambridge. No one in my family had been to university, but my teacher began to drop hints when I was 15, and I thought it sounded fun. I was intimidated at first, but in the end it made me more ambitious.

You then joined an advertising agency?

Yes, because it looked like a sexy business. My first accounts were a toilet cleaner and a dental cleaner, and that brought me down to earth with a bump. But then I was headhunted to join Saatchi & Saatchi and I became a strategist.

How did you work your way up to vice-chairman?

I worked really hard and just got on with it. You need a positive attitude. The world can be an unpleasant place, so be nice to people.

Does it bother you that your title was vice-chairman, when you're a woman?

No, and making a point about it has the opposite effect – just get on with the job.

Do you consider yourself successful?

I've never seen myself as successful; you become complacent if you think you're successful.

Any regrets?

I worked hard, long hours and I had children and that was a challenge. You do think: "Cor blimey, I've no chance to think or to rest", but I don't regret a thing.

What are your interview tips?

Find out about the company and its clients, ask people in that industry what they think and ask competitors – don't just look for the obvious stuff on Google. Look appropriate to the role, listen, ask questions and radiate a positive attitude. If I ask you what you've done in the past, don't bitch about how someone got in the way of your career or how you worked for a rubbish company. Instead, tell me what you've done and how you did it.

Who are your heroes?

Sir David Attenborough is my life hero. I had a terrible crush on him when I was eight, and Dame Marjorie Scardino, the chief executive of Pearson, is a fantastic female role model.

What's the best perk of your job?

I know people who are very rich and very miserable and stressed, and that's no way to live. I genuinely enjoy what I do, and everything else is a bonus.