The Definitive Guide to Job Hunting

Advice, tips and tricks on how to engage with the UK jobs market in the 21st Century

Archive for May 2011

Definitive Guide to Job Hunting 16: What to do at Interviews

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A job interview can be an especially stressful and even overwhelming experience.

I was delighted to find that, in my recent issue of Toastmasters magazine, they dedicate several pages on tips for job interviews, with some really useful advice and information on how to create the best personal impression. I liked it so much, I decided to include it in my blog so the next few weeks will be dedicated to Toastmasters, and will cover the “speaking” part of your job interview.

So, how do you feel about preparing for an interview? Are you excited, or maybe nervous … Not sure what to expect …. Maybe you feel like everything is riding on the interview – the job, your career your life.

But they don’t have to be stressful and daunting – In fact you can even enjoy having a good interview! Focus all your energy and take the recommendations from others to give your best possible performance and to present yourself as the candidate of choice.

Start off strong

Arrive at the location early – 10 to 15 minutes before the appointed time. That way, you can put the final polish on your appearance and be calm when you walk through the door. Greet everyone you encounter with a smile and firm handshake.

Don’t assume anything

People often assume that the interviewer remembers what is in the CV and cover letter. Don’t fall into this trap. Ideally, the interviewer would have had time to focus on your application before the interview, but all too often people are busy and this doesn’t always happen.

For example, they might have interviewed several people that day for the same job. Maybe they received your CV from the HR department just before meeting you. Or perhaps they read your CV the week before, and haven’t had time to revisit it since. If you assume they already know what you have to offer, you will miss opportunities to present yourself as the strongest candidate possible.

When you greet the interviewer, offer an additional copy of your CV. They will most likely have a copy and decline, so don’t insist but taking an extra copy proves that you are prepared.

It’s not only about your PAID experience

When discussing your skills, experience and accomplishments, don’t hesitate to use relevant anecdotes from other facets of your life. For example, for graduate roles, classroom activities such as group projects can provide good examples to employers of how you can contribute.

What the interviewer is listening out for is that you really care about what you did, what the situation was and how you handled it. Someone who has experienced a challenging situation and responded to it in a creative, dynamic way is a desirable person in any team.

Next time: How to answer questions

Definitive Guide to Job Hunting 15: The power of preparation

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It is impossible to stress how important it is to prepare for interviews!

On 2 occasions during this past week, different clients have given me similar feedback: “If only John / Jane lived up to the expectations raised in their CV! They knew nothing of our company (In one case didn’t even realise the company had no manufacturing facility in the UK!), didn’t know what our products or markets were and gave weak examples to support the experience claimed in their CV.”

The clients were left disappointed, having had their time wasted. Sadly, this also reflected on my own service delivery, and I was disappointed too because I spend time with all my candidates before interview to give them all the information I know about the company and role. All they have to do is build on the bricks I have already given them.

However, I’ve also heard from a client how impressed they were with the depth of research an interviewee had done, being able to bring up and discuss relevant business issues outside of his CV that proved his abilities. This set him apart from being a borderline “No” based on his CV, to a resounding “Yes!” based on his research and ability to deliver it concisely.

With so much competition for jobs and the tight current employment market, it still amazes me that candidates waste the interview opportunity. The hiring client wants you to do well; he’s already bought into your CV by spending his valuable time to see you. Why not grab the opportunity to amaze him even further with your information-finding skills and interest in their organisation?

Especially in sales or commercial jobs, interview preparation is crucial. A good sales person will know his customers and competition, understand his product’s routes to market, the issues that affect pricing and the supply chain. By proving at interview that you have the ability and knowledge to find this information, and use it to position your own objectives and abilities, you show that you have the natural traits of a good sales person on top of the information you provide in the CV. Of course, not preparing sufficiently proves the opposite and you will get short shrift from line managers who have achieved their own positions through doing exactly the same thing properly.

Definitive Guide to Job Hunting 14: Automotive Graduate Grief

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As the mother of 2 students who will very shortly be entering the job market, I have a very soft spot for Graduate recruitment.  I always try my best to give them all the best possible opportunity of giving the best possible account of themselves. After all, starting a career is the most important element of adult life.

There are so few opportunities that allow graduates to pursue the subject matter they studied, and when these do become available the competition is fierce! So why do those graduates that manage to get through the process let themselves down so badly?

Over the past 4 weeks, I have managed recruitment for an entry-level role into the Commercial organisation of one of the world’s largest automotive component manufacturers. It is an absolutely wonderful opportunity for a fresh graduate to gain immediate and hands-on experience and training, dealing directly with the Vehicle Manufacturers in a Tier 1 supply context. Not only does the role open excellent career opportunities into either the engineering or Commercial routes, the base salary is fixed in the Mid £20k’s and there is a company car offered  in the package.

It wasn’t difficult to get a good candidate pool: Over 300 graduates applied to the online advertisements. It took weeks to screen every one equally, ensuring the base criteria of e.g. a driving license and work visa were in place and then finally, to select the best 14 candidates for telephone interviews.

After all, there is only one job available so the ideal was to pare the list down to 7  for face to face interviews.

They were all given exactly the same preparation. What they didn’t know, was that the instructions were part of the screening process. All they had to do, was call a given number at a specific date and time for an informal chat. They all accepted the suggested date and time and, in some cases, proved some well-placed initiative by asking for information beforehand (An extra tick in the box, there.)

Out of the 14, one emailed the day before to say that he had changed his mind about the location. I appreciated that.

Out of the remaining 13, only 8 managed to call at the time indicated. The rest didn’t call at all, totally wasting the time I had set aside. One chap called me 4 hours later but of course I had to decline the interview. If he couldn’t be on time for me, what would he do with my client? Another one emailed 2 hours after the designated time to say he was sorry but something came up and he needed to reschedule. I could only assume that, as his interview was scheduled for 9 in the morning, he had overslept. Again, I had to decline.

This of course made my job a whole lot easier – The calibre of these candidates, indicated by the tardiness of their response, would have made them unsuitable anyway.

But the whole process makes me question the quality and commitment of the graduate population. Given that so many applied, I am confused about why they didn’t grab this excellent opportunity with both hands. Jobs like this one don’t come about that often, and I feel sorry for those candidates who did not make it through to the telephone interview because they might have been more committed.  Sadly, they didn’t tick the other boxes though.

I wonder whether the universities should give graduates more support in terms of their opportunities and how to maximise them? Lost opportunities can never be retrieved.

Sadly, I don’t think they realise this.

Definitive Guide to Job Hunting 13: Photos in CVs

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Over the several years I have worked in recruitment, the general format and content of CVs have changed dramatically. A relatively recent development is the inclusion of a photograph in the CV.

In Germany, it is highly acceptable (And often expected) to have a photo in the lebenslauf (CV). People get them done professionally and it shows. German pictures are professional, highly corporate and shows the incumbent usually dressed in corporate attire with collar and tie or similar, looking competent, capable and ready for business. A bad photo is not tolerated because it will cost the owner dearly.

I dare say I have not seen the same photo quality here in the UK. The pictures range from corporate and professional, through to wind-swept on a hill-side, in action man mode on a motor cycle, sultry posing with red lipstick, and everything in between. Not to mention the self-taken ones from PC cameras! Job hunting is not a beauty contest, so why on earth would anyone  include a photo on a CV that makes them look like  a pervert in an internet chatroom?

If my customers saw some of these pictures, they would throw the CVs in the bin after picking themselves up from the floor laughing.

So I religiously remove photos from all CVs. Not only because they are at risk of creating totally the wrong impression with the hiring client, but also because they wreck my database. Most recruitment databases are designed to accommodate text documents, and pdfs or large picture files play havoc with the search functions.

My advice to all candidates out there job searching would be never, ever to put their photo on their CV. Finding a job has nothing to do with how you look and everything to do with your skill set and experience. Instead, use the space to maximise your transferable skills and to communicate how you will add value through a concise, sharp personal statement.

The old adage of  “a picture speak a thousand words” does not hold true in this case: Unless you look like Tom Cruise or Angelina Jolie, or work in the entertainment industry, a photo on your CV is a liability.

Definitive Guide to job hunting 12: The importance of confidence

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On two occasions this week I have had the same feedback from hiring clients regarding interviewees: “He looked good on paper but it seems that he has lost his confidence a bit.”

In both cases, the candidates were male, in their late 40′s, previously in senior positions in automotive manufacturing companies. And both were made redundant during 2009. This is not a discriminatory statement: In my view, this directly aligns these candidates with the majority of job seekers currently in the market.

Also in both cases, I have spent a lot of time with the candidates on the phone preparing them for the interviews, ensuring they knew exactly what to expect, what the hirers key desirables were, and how they had to go about the interview to give them the best opportunity to perform. It’s so disappointing, for all parties concerned!

It appears to me that a chasm has developed between the employer and the work seeker. The jobs market is full of depressed, punch drunk people desperate to get back in the saddle and who will do anything to prove that they are hungry to repeat their earlier career success. But the potential employers want to see current contacts, current wins, current success, current drive and motivation.

So often, the interviewer comes away feeling disappointed because the expectation raised on the CV is dashed by the reality of a candidate who might have just done one too many interview. Or been treated badly by just one too many recruitment agent. Or possibly finds it hard to understand why he is struggling to find another job in the first place. Its a self-perpetuating cycle.

In truth, every interviewer WANTS the interviewee to do well. It saves them time and money.  And if your CV didn’t impress them, you wouldn’t get the interview in the first place so it’s really a job half done. All you have to do, is put the final stamp on it by performing well and living up to the expectations raised in your CV.

It is so difficult to deal with the fall out of redundancy and sadly, it shows. If I can give anyone who is lined up for a job interview one shred of advice, it will be to ACT LIKE MAD!

Overcome your fears, your worries, your despondency just for that one hour during the itnerview: It might be the most important hour of your future career.

Be the man you used to be, not the one redundancy makes you believe you are.

Act the part, and you will get what you want.  Act the way you feel, and people believe what they see. And they make recruitment decisions based on that impression.

Written by Cathrine Richardson

May 11, 2011 at 8:30 am

Posted in Recruitment

Definitive Guide to Job Hunting 11: Choosing the best agency

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Whether you are an employer wanting to employ a new staff member, or an experienced senior manager looking for your next career move, how do you decide on which Recruitment Consultant will be able to deliver on your expectations? Shop around before making a decision about who is best set to represent you:

1. Credentials

How long have they been active in your specific business area? Do they have references from similar clients or candidates? How did they perform in the past?

This should not relate to the organisation you are dealing with, but the individual consultant. It doesn’t mean that, because the recruitment company has been recognised with accolades, the consultant you are dealing with is automatically qualified or successful. Winning business awards often depends on putting forward a business case. Getting personal recognition depends on service levels and delivery. These will only be meted out on request and is a real indication of the efficiency and ability of your consultant, and therefore his/her ability to assist you in finding a successful outcome.

Membership of a professional body like the REC or IRP, or qualifications gained through a professional institution like the IRP, is a good measure of a consultant’s credibility and professionalism.

2. Objectivity

Realism and objectivity are two key requirements for success in recruitment. A recruiter who makes upfront assumptions is prone not to listen and will therefore get a subjective understanding of the brief or candidate expectation. Sure, a past track record in a particular market gives a recruiter real insight, but it also creates a hypothetical, internal understanding that they should know all the answers. Each employer and each candidate is different, even if they work with exactly the same services or products in exact markets. A consultant who lacks objectivity, or views himself to be in the hiring position (How often have we heard about the “perfect candidate”?) is unlikely to deliver efficient solutions.

A recruiter who asks questions, listens, processes information and asks again to measure his understanding will be far more likely to succeed for both employer and candidate.

3. Market knowledge – Generalist vs Specialist

A recruiter who works in a vertical market in a specific sector is most likely to have a finger on its pulse, and can therefore be more consultative. This makes for a more proactive approach. A generalist is likely to have broader knowledge and therefore able to give wider advice rather than specific factual solutions.

4. Commitment – Retained vs Contingency

There is a lot to be said for a fee paid up front. This is a contentious issue, especially in middle management level positions where there is competition from a lot of candidates and many agencies might have potentially suitable candidates. The current employer market is highly risk averse and paying a consultancy fee in advance seems to be a very risky move. The reality is that it actually reduces risk in the recruitment process.

A consultant who is confident enough of his own abilities to take a proportion of the fee in advance in return for increased service levels and a guaranteed result is in fact sharing the risk with the client. This in turn, benefits the candidate. Consultants can only work on small number of retained assignments at once, so there is a higher degree of quality in their output. Candidates are assured of an exclusive, managed process where they are fully informed all the time, and the trust relationships developed in this business context for all 3 parties are more open and communicative.

A contingency based process (Where the fee is only paid to the recruiter who delivers a solution) is likely to be a lot more competitive, with several agencies involved. the volumes of CV in the candidate pool is usually a lot higher. This does not neccessarily mean that there is a wider choice for the hirer, as the quality of the candidate pool might overall be weak. That said, the majority of permanent agency placements are made on a contingency basis and there is a large number of highly competenent, capable  consultants in the market who are committed to deliver a high quality of service.

If these 4 elements are in place, it brings the likelihood of success in any recruitment assignment because it manages risk for both client and candidate. By carefully selecting the most competent, qualified consultant(s) to represent your individual needs will bring a higher likelihood of success.


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