Now more than ever, it is imperative you stand out as a candidate to succeed when trying to secure a new role. Due to the current uncertainty surrounding the impact of the Corona virus, there have been a higher level of redundancies, meaning there are more active candidates in the marketplace then there may otherwise be. Coupled with this, companies are not hiring as they would be usually, with lots implementing recruitment freezes or recruitment restrictions until it is clear when normality will resume and lock down will be lifted.
There are many ways to help improve your chances of success as a candidate and this starts with your CV, the first representation of yourself which any future employer will see.
A CV needs to be easy to read and understand. Keep it concise, relevant and to a maximum of two A4 pages. Less is more and we advise to keep the format simple, using a traditional font i.e. Arial, size 10-11 and in black. Do explain all gaps in employment and make sure all dates are correct and do not embellish the truth. An experienced interviewer will easily be able to spot any discrepancies. Make sure the format is consistent all the way through and double-check there are no spelling and grammatical errors, you will be surprised how many typos even the most professional candidates forget to correct.
When you are looking for your perfect role your CV must provide an accurate and professional description of your education, work experience and skill set. There are many different formats for a CV but a successful one which will catch an employer’s eye is essential when looking for the next step in your career and to stand out from the competition.
Firstly, your CV should have all of your personal details on it – name, address, contact number and email address, so companies can quickly see how to contact you and see your location.
Personal statements should come next and are a very good way to make your CV stand out. This should include a brief overview of your skills, experience and what you are looking for in your next role. Don’t make it too chatty and make it relevant to the type of roles that you are applying for, highlighting your skills such as time management, being a good team player, attention to detail and computer skills. Try to keep this section to below 150 words.
Education should follow, stating the most recent and highest level first. For example, university name, subject and grade followed by the name of the school or college and any qualifications gained. Try to avoid listing every qualification you have ever received if they are not relevant to your job search. However, please include any special achievements during this time. For example, School Captain and sporting achievements that show leadership and team playing skills. This is particularly important you are still at the start of your career and your employment history is limited.
Your work experience is the most important section of your CV and must be listed one role at a time. Employers often quickly scan CVs and are look for relevant company names and industry sectors, job titles and length of service within each company. 'Hoppy' CVs don't create a good first impression, so if you have worked in several roles within one company it is a good idea to list each job title under the one company name. This also shows you have progressed internally which is also a good sign to future employers.
If you are at the early stages of your career, think of any additional transferable skills that you may have acquired along the way whilst working in your gap year or voluntary overseas projects such as teamwork or client-facing skills.
Hobbies and interests come at the end of your CV but are not always necessary. If you have any particular interests that relate to the companies that you would like to work for then it can be to your advantage to put them in here, however, they can become a talking point at the end of the interview so they need to be something you actually do.
Once your CV has been selected and you are invited to interview, this is when the next stage of preparation and research commences. You only have one shot at making the right first impression so it is worthwhile investing time to get it right, to ensure you are representing yourself in the best way possible and giving yourself the highest chance of success.
Interviewing is a daunting prospect and different companies interview in different ways, and there is no set right or wrong process. We are seeing more and more companies interview using competency based questions to dig deeper in to you as a person and the experience you have gained. Most people shy away from competency-based interview questions, but as long as you are prepared there should be no reason you don’t stand out and use this form of questioning to your advantage. Being directly asked for examples is often easier than the broader question of ‘what do you do in your current role?’ where people forget to give detail or specific examples, or indeed waffle about more irrelevant parts of the role that are not necessary for the role you are interviewing for.
The interviewer will want detailed answers. They will want examples of specific tasks and detail; rather than saying ‘I supported a team’ for example, break this down, how many in the team, which team and what exactly did you support them with? Did you work on specific projects for example and who did you report in to?
Preparation is key. Do your research on the company, the role, and the people you are set to meet. Often employees will have profiles on the website or have a look on LinkedIn. You never know, you could have gone to the same university or grown up in the same town and all this will be helpful when trying to stand out. It is also worthwhile looking online to see if the company has had any press coverage recently. This knowledge will show your interviewee you have done your homework and are serious about going to work there.
Ensure you know your CV inside out - you would be surprised how many people do not! So make sure you know your dates and have clear reasons for leaving each role. Try and keep these positive and remain professional, being negative about previous employers will only suggest you would do the same when you leave the company you are interviewing to join, and no one wants this!
Competency based interviewers often ask you difficult questions. You might get asked about a mistake you made – never answer you haven’t made a mistake, everyone has – the reason you are being asked is that a future employer wants to know how you handled it and what you learnt. Did you manage to rectify it, did you own up and all was forgiven, was it so bad you couldn’t work there any longer? And what did you learn and how would you apply this going forward.
These questions are aimed both at seeing your working style and your personality. Sometimes questions might throw you, but this shows you how you perform under pressure. When asked what your 'biggest achievement’ might be, if you don’t have a work example, do ensure the answer used ties in.
Another common question is the strengths and weaknesses questions. Again here, it is about overcoming the weakness, or why a strength is relevant. We are often taught to pick a weakness that isn’t really one, but people can see through this, for example saying that being early or being a perfectionist is a weakness. Choose something that really is, but why it is no longer, or what you do to compensate or counteract it. Turn a negative into a positive and use it as an opportunity to show your strengths.
At the end of any interview you are often asked if you have any questions you would like to ask. This again is something you can prepare for and you should have one or two questions up your sleeve. If you feel that everything about the role and company has been covered during the interview, ask the interviewees questions about themselves; ‘what do you enjoy most about working here’ for example.
On top of preparing for the interview itself, it is essential that you arrive on time and dressed in an appropriate manner. Some candidates will do a recce the day before the interview so they know how to find the offices and can work out the best route to travel ensuring they don’t have any delays. With regards what to wear, different industry sectors often have different dress codes and you may be unsure what it most appropriate. It is always better to be over dressed then under dressed and no matter what you are actually wearing, it is key that you look polished. Tidy and groomed hair, clean and ironed clothes, polished shoes etc. Try and get a good night’s sleep before hand so you are alert and polite etiquette will also be beneficial and paint you in a positive light; stand up when the interviewee enters the room, give a firm handshake, eye contact and big smile. At the end of the interview, thank them for their time, and if you are given a business card, you may also want to send a quick email thanking them in writing. You want to stand out from others and these little details can make a big impact.