The world and beyond – Surviving in the economic jungle

Advice, tips and tricks on how to engage with the UK jobs market and commercial environment, from a female executive's perspective

Archive for July 2011

Definitive Guide to Job Hunting 23: Beware of Covering letters!

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Word for word, without addition, subtraction or editing, this is a copy of a covering letter I recently received:

“good morning all just a quick covering letter  about me i have worked in the motor trade from leaving school starting as yts in goods  in ward ,andthen to having my own area to work in from age 19 , to the present time i have cover  the follow areas from shrophire staffordshire cheshire derbyshire manchester”

The accompanying CV goes on in exactly the same vein: No punctuation, capitalisation, in fact no common sense.

Needless to say, I rapidly hit the DELETE key.

If you are going to write a covering letter, make sure it adds value to your application. Don’t rehash your CV, all the details should already be in it. And remember that your covering letter might be separated from your CV at some point (On a database, for example) so don’t put anything in it that is crucial to your application without making sure it’s in your CV too. Your covering letter should qualify your application: Why you feel you are suitable, and why they should interview you. Don’t write too much, just enough to make it clear why you think you are suitable for the role, and of course ask for the opportunity to discuss this further in a face to face interview.

Most importantly: Your covering letter, just like your CV, is a reflection of who you are. If you write and send a shoddy covering letter, you are likely to do a shoddy job. So your application is not likely to go very far!

Definitive Guide to Job Hunting 22 – Successful Telephone Interviews

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Often, telephone interviews are used at the first stage of recruitment processes – And the selection process can be ruthless! These are usually scheduled in bulk and the interviewers have to wade through many interviews to find the candidates they want to invite for a face to face meeting, so time is usually of the essence. To facilitate this, they would normally use a highly structured approach to get the particular pieces of information from a candidate required to either select or deselect.

Telephone interviews are also often used where there are large distances involved but generally, the rules of engagement are the same.

Always remember that, because there are no opportunities to include body language to build rapport or emphasise strengths, telephone communication is different to personal conversation. The importance of listening and answering concisely are magnified. So are bad communication habits like using continual filler words or veering off the subject, so be careful!

1. Conduct the call in a quiet place

Select a place where you will be uninterrupted for the duration of the call, free from kitchen noises, crying children, barking dogs or noisy televisions or radios. This will help you to hear them clearly, and for them to have a better sound from your side.

2. Preferably use a landline

Mobile service can sometimes be unreliable and you don’t want to lose the connection in mid flow! Landline reception is also generally more reliable for clarity. If you must use your mobile, make sure you are out of the wind and that you have full battery and a good signal.

3. Give your undivided attention

Tone of voice is magnified on the telephone – If you are distracted by documents or a computer screen it will translate in your voice. Also, listen very carefully so that you can give concise and targeted answers.

4. Prepare, prepare!

Review the company website, make notes as the interview continues and have questions ready. Keep your CV and the job spec at hand. Waffle, time lapses or quiet moments are magnified on the telephone so avoid them by preparing properly and maintaining your focus.

5. Sound enthusiastic and well-mannered

Without body language, facial expression or non-verbal signals to rely on, the interviewer will listen out for vocal signs indicating passion, professionalism and enthusiasm. Allow them to get a sense of your personality but never be too casual in your choice of words or tone of voice. Standing up and smiling is a telesales technique that holds true: the smile translates in your voice. On the telephone, it’s not just what you say but how you say it that is magnified, especially if you are not blessed with a melodious speaking voice, perfect diction or flawless accent. Be aware of these, speak slowly and clearly and don’t rabbit on too much once you have answered the question.

6. Closing and Follow up

The same rules count as for normal interviews: Ask about timescales and next steps, and later follow-up with a thank you message. Here, you can summarise the conversation and reinforce our best selling points.

Definitive Guide to Job Hunting 21: Those awkward interview questions!

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Certain questions seem to be favourites with interviewers, and get asked again and again regardless of the job being interviewed for. But even though they are expected, they can pose problems for even the most experienced candidates.

Here are some examples, along with some recommendations on how to respond most appropriately:

Question: “Tell me about yourself”

Many an interview has been scuppered by this old chestnut! It’s a popular “starter” question – Often asked at the beginning of the interview to break the ice and to get the conversation started. Unfortunately, it overwhelms many candidates, who usually try to answer in a very basic, literal or chronological way. On general questions like this, it is useful to consider what is relevant to the situation and then to put your answer in that context. Don’t start with where you grew up, or relating your life story. Instead, give a summary statement of the skills, experience and accomplishments you have that directly relate to the job, employer or interviewer. Remember, an interviewer wants to find out what you can do, not the rest of your life story! If they were interested, allow them to ask personal questions specifically so that the tone of the interview remains professional.

Question: What is your greatest weakness?

Another dreaded stock question! As with all questions, you want to reply honestly, but you also want to present yourself as a strong contender. Pick a weakness that is a latent strength, or that is not relevant to the position. Or choose something that shows that you have learned something in the past and through which you can demonstrate growth. Do not give a weakness that is key to the position. Knowing your own weaknesses is very important – It indicates to the interviewer that you are mature and self-aware. “I don’t have any weaknesses” is a very arrogant answer and not a good idea! It’s a far better idea to reply with an answer that provides insight into you as a candidate and your relevance to the role.

Question: Where do you see yourself in xxxx years?

This is a hard one if you have not done sufficient research. You don’t have to answer with a specific job title. It’s a good idea to talk about advancing in the overall field or taking leadership roles at organisational or industry level. Of course, the answer needs to be logical for you, the job, the organisation and the industry. It is good to present a reasonable level of ambition, but being overly ambitious can be a limiting factor in certain roles or companies. Pitching your question wrongly can cost you the interview. Take care to research prospects for advancement BEFORE you attend the interview and answer accordingly.

Question: Do you have any questions/ would you like to talk about anything else?

Now is the time to ask everything you didn’t have a chance to before! Or if there are any key points you wanted to discuss. Again, it’s important to pitch this appropriately. If you have nothing else to add or if all your questions have been answered, don’t just answer “No”. Instead, thank the interviewer for being thorough in his explanation and for the opportunity to attend the interview. If you’re still interested in the job, mention that now and reinforce your keenness to proceed. Ask about timescales and what to expect at the next step. But whatever you do, don’t ask the money question unless the interviewer asks!

Question: Why should I hire you?

This is the $1,000,000 question and one for which you must have an answer! It’s the wrap up question – This is where you present a summary of your skills an experience, and what you have to offer the organisation and role.  You should also incorporate anything you learnt during the interview into your reply. For example, at the beginning of the interview you assumed that your project management and analysis skills were most important, but during the interview you also learnt that communication skills are equally as important. So highlight these skills during the wrap up.

Off the wall questions

There was a period when silly questions like” What type of animal would you be” and “Describe yourself as a colour / ice cream flavour” were popular. Fortunately, these have now made way for more behavioural style questions but you might still be presented with an off the wall query to answer. My suggestion would be to play along: Regardless of how silly you think it might be, the interviewer knows his purpose for asking it. If you are really not sure about how to answer, then ask for clarification about what the objective of the question is. Then proceed to answer it as objectively as you can. Keep it relevant to the job and your skills and experience, and in line with the humour if that’s relevant!

Finally, the biggest tip about answering quesitons is to listen to them carefully first. Make sure you have understood it clearly and then set out, as concisely but comprehensively as possible, to provide an answer that is structured and dispalys your knowledge, experience or key skills sufficiently to answer fully.

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