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Case study: applying for jobs

Suzanne’s case study comes from Chapter 12: professional involvement & career development

1. How do you write (and keep up to date) a good CV?

In an ideal world, we’d review our CVs on a frequent basis and add in particular achievements, new responsibilities and ensure our IT skills section is listing current products we use. But, let’s be honest, this doesn’t always happen. Why not take the approach that your yearly appraisal is the point at which you should dust down the CV and see what’s new? It’s a great opportunity to reflect on your current role and what you’ve achieved over the last year, whether you’ve taken on additional responsibilities and maybe passed a few on to your colleagues so they can be taken off the CV. Have you initiated and completed a project? Spoken at a conference? Had an article published? Joined a committee? Achieved Chartership? These are all important things to be adding to your CV.

To take advantage of the job opportunities in today’s marketplace, you need to be able to market yourself effectively to potential employers. Think of your CV as the equivalent of a marketing brochure that raises the initial interest in you and convinces employers that you are the right person for the job. It is a good idea to reflect on what you can or will do, to think about your skills, especially the soft ones and how they can transfer to different roles and industries.
Before you start trying to write an effective CV, you need to consider:

• What experiences, skills and attributes you have that make you not only employable but the best candidate for the job. Consider what you are good at, what you’re not good at, what you enjoy and what you don’t.
• Use this self assessment to come up with a list of key skills that you a) use the most b) are best at and c) enjoy the most. These are the skills you want to take forward and utilise more in your next role.
• Who you are targeting your message at, who your audience is. Keep your list of key skills in mind while scanning job adverts, ignore the job titles as much as possible and focus on the skills and experience they are seeking, to see which ones match your list of skills.
• Add into this mix the industry sector the job is in – does this type of organisation appeal to you?
Once you have a clearer idea of what your skills are and who you want to market them to, you can start work on crafting the message itself.
2. What are the top tips for an eye-catching job application?

Research the role you are applying for. Read carefully through the job description and person specification. If the job description for the role has a focus on a certain aspect of your past experience, make sure that those aspects of your experience are clear in your CV. For instance you may rightly assume that a librarian would have a very good grasp of what duties a library assistant would have done in previous roles, but your CV may go to the Human Resources Department, who may not have as clear an idea of your experience. Worse still your CV may be filtered out by scanning software that searches for key words from the job description. If you are applying for different types of roles, you may want to have different template CV’s that you slightly tweak for specific roles.

Ensuring you have a good digital reputation could be the key to gainful employment. A job application is not just your CV. It is the email to which you attach your CV, even the email address itself will be noted (sensible name-based addresses are best). As the remit of the information professional broadens, so will your skills-base. If this in anyway involves the web, it means you will have an online presence. Is this something you are happy for prospective employers to see? You can boost your brand and thus your professional image by making intelligent and informed comments on industry sites and discussion lists. If you are engaged in a community or a network, your presence increases and so does your knowledge of that sector or organisation. To me, this is an advantage when it comes to putting together your application.

An extremely eye-catching approach to a job application is to produce a CV and upload it to YouTube. Is the objective to show you, the jobseeker, in real-time as opposed to 2 pages of neatly presented information? Perhaps this is an approach more appropriate to the creative industries of marketing and PR than for the information industry.

Essentially, ensure your online presence is something potential employers want to see.

As my colleague Sue Edgar says, would you employ you?

The best approach to making an interesting application that stands out is to ensure it is clearly laid out, is concise and presents relevant information. It’s also important to ensure that your application doesn’t stand out for the wrong reasons. In a recent LinkedIn poll, employers were asked how they reviewed resumes/CVs. Of the 335 respondents, 28% read the CV completely, 39% read some and skim some and 32% skim it looking for keywords or phrases. As you might expect really but a useful statistic to bear in mind when writing your CV: 71% of hirers might only skim read it. Generally, it seems that those looking to hire skim read through all of the CV they receive to check for gaps, recent job titles and responsibilities, education and skill sets. They then make a second pass through the shortlist, reviewing the CVs and covering letters in more detail. So it really pays to ensure that anyone having a quick scan of your CV can easily see your qualifications, job titles, responsibilities and achievements. Several respondents highlighted their chief bugbear – spelling and grammatical errors. One respondent even said “I toss any resume or letter that has a spelling or grammatical error on it, without regard to any other qualifications. To me, it means the person is not resourceful (not knowing anyone that can proof?), lazy, unprepared, disorganized and a danger to my company.” Sobering thought.

3. How do you prepare for interview?

Research Research Research

As information professionals, you don’t need to be reminded of the importance and power of information. Find out as much as you can about the role and how it fits within the organisation. Don’t just rely on the information that you are provided with before the interview. Tap into your networks, talk to your friends in the industry, use social media to find out more about the people you’ll be meeting and their professional identity and presence.

Easy first step for preparation is to read the three most important documents that you already have at your disposal: your CV, the job description and the person specification.

The more you find out about the role, and the organisation, the better equipped you will be to sell your skills and experience to them. This last point is very important as even if you haven’t had much experience so far, think of what skills you have obtained from study, work or voluntary experience that would be relevant and transferable to this role. This will help you to know what aspects of your experience you want to focus on when answering the interview questions.

You should expect a combination of competency and biographical interview questions. These are both things for which you can prepare and practice, using the job description and person specification documents as your base.

You may encounter interviewers that probe your competencies and questions such as

• Tell us about an important assignment you handled. How did you manage it and what were the results?
• How do you set up the priorities for your day-to-day work?
• How do you update your knowledge and skills?

By giving examples (these may not always be from a work situation) you can make it clear to the interviewer that you have:

• Good project management skills
• Good time management
• Kept abreast of professional trends and technologies

Talking to friends, family and colleagues will help you tremendously – they will be able to boost your confidence by telling you what they feel are your strengths, something we often struggle to do for fear of sounding over-confident.

4. How to conquer your nerves for interview?

The more you prepare before the interview the more at ease you will feel throughout. The right preparation will help you to feel empowered to answer any questions that come your way. What can you do before the interview to help you to prepare?

An interview is an unusual situation and can be daunting, bringing on an attack of nerves. For many reasons, emotions run close to the surface in interviews, sometimes having a negative effect on our ability to remember & communicate all that good preparation we’ve done. My top tip for harnessing that nervous energy is to breathe. Practice your breathing before the interview – breathing from the diaphragm, using your full lung capacity, imagine you are slowly inflating and deflating a balloon. Be able to control the rate at which you exhale means you can control your airflow and thus can speak at your normal pitch and with your usual enthusiasm and vibrancy, rather than that raspy, shallow voice we get when nervous. Taking the time to breathe in between answering questions gives you precious time to think and formulate your answer. What might seem like a minute of silence to you will actually be about three seconds. These few seconds also give the interviewers a chance to digest what you’ve just said and to consider their next response.

Speaking from personal experience, whether I’m going to an interview or delivering a presentation, I feel more confident when I’m wearing something that fits & suits me well. Making sure that you are appropriately attired is important but most of all you must be comfortable in what you are wearing. If you’re afraid you’re going to fall over in your new shoes or your jacket is too tight, you won’t be at ease. Practice wearing your interview outfit – stand up and sit down a few times. The interviewer(s) will start to form an opinion of you from the moment they meet you, so it is important to do everything you can to create a favourable first impression. Look smart. This doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of money on a designer suit, but you do need to give the impression that you have made an effort for the interview. Make sure you look well groomed and clean and tidy. Polish your shoes. Even the smallest things can contribute to their impression of you.

One last thing, remember that the interviewers have to impress you as much as you are trying to impress them. It’s just as daunting (if not a little more) being an interviewer – ask anyone who has sat on the other side of the table and they will tell you they too were nervous. The interview should be a discussion, not an interrogation. Trust your instincts, be yourself and try to smile and relax into the conversation.

– Suzanne Wheatley, Sue Hill Recruitment

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