My eldest jumped from the world of education into the world of actually earning a living last year. This was good news as his food consumption, electricity consumption and internet bandwidth consumption had started to outweigh his entertainment benefits so we had to start charging him rent. In what felt like a very short time later, he moved out with a friend of his.
Sometimes as a parent you just can’t win.
Anyway, when he started down the road of trying to get hired as a graduate, he ran into the very common brick wall of trying to get an interview.
Having hired more than a few people in my time, he asked me to look at his CV (resume to those of you elsewhere in the world – I’ll call them CVs for the rest of this post) to see if I had any advice. Any advice? Well, I’ve never been short of an opinion.
It turns out, there were a couple of things that I felt could be improved.
Since then, I’ve spoken to some of his friends who were similarly job seeking. Turns out that a pattern started to emerge, and now that I’m in the depths of the hiring process as InvoiceFair looks to grow, I’m seeing the same issues with experienced candidates.
There are many posts and videos out there on how to get hired by FAANG, GAFA or whatever acronym you prefer for Facebook, Apple, Amazon Netflix and Google (now Alphabet), and occasionally Microsoft.
These focus on the technical test, or answering the esoteric interview questions, or finding the absolute correct answer for those tricky, probing questions that those sneaky interviewers are using to probe your deepest, darkest secrets.
Brilliant… If you can get to an interview, but how do you maximise your chances of getting through the door in the first place? How can you make that first impression if you can’t get the meeting? This is my (uncommonly) short list of hints to get you started.
I’m Interviewing You, Not Your Skills
I’ve used Microsoft Word since 1988 (I whisper the last bit). In the time since then, I’ve seen it add more and more templates, including a few for CVs and Resumes. The effect of these templates (not just from Word, but I would say primarily) is that the vast majority of people have simply filled in the information which followed the Name, Contact Details, Education, Work Experience format. Occasionally there’s a bit on Hobbies and Interests tacked on to the tail end.
This is all good information, and useful, but leaves very little room for any kind of narrative on just who you are. Of course I’m interested in your skills, and of course I’m interested in your work experience, but as a hiring manager, I’m interested in how well you’ll fit with my team, or in my organisation. I want to know you.
I’m amazed at how many CVs I receive and review that give me no sense whatsoever of the person who submitted it. Now I don’t need to know the intimate details of your life, but at the same time, I’d very much like an idea of what motivates you, what you are passionate about and where you want to go with your life / career.
Here’s a final thought on this point. I can be looking at dozens, maybe even hundreds of CV’s for a role. Think about that for a second. That’s a lot of information, and a lot of pages to look at – if ninety-nine out of one hundred of those CVs have the same or similar format with the same information in the same places, and just one has a little more on the person, just a simple paragraph or two on their hopes, aspirations and dreams which CV do you think has the best chance of going to the top of the pile?
Give a paragraph or two on who you are, and put it on the first page – it makes a difference.
The Irish Mammy Rule
I’d like to thank you in advance for your complaints and trolling for this culturally insensitive, misogynistic, arcane stereotype.
But I am Irish, I did have a mammy, so bear with me on this one – you may find it translates well into any mother speaking about their child…
The traditional Irish mammy believes four things about their child:
- Their child has the best job in the world and that job has a global impact on society, the environment, the world of business, education, world peace, hunger and just about everything else in between
- The entire venture would absolutely be crumbling into disarray without the single handed efforts of their child, which may be largely unrecognised by their boss
- Every slightest move made by their child has the strategy of a master chess player, the sensitivity of a child psychologist, the insight of a business mogul and the entertainment value of U2 (or maybe Daniel O’Donnell – look him up)
- Their child is about one step away from beatification and two from sainthood. There is no reasonable possibility that this shining light that is their progeny could in any way do anything wrong
When writing your CV, and particularly when discussing your work experience, look at it like your mammy would, which is to say in the most positive manner possible. For each role, highlight – realistically – the benefits that you brought to this role, what you liked, and what you learned.
For example, I worked with one person who had worked a cash register in a retail outlet. You can identify this as experience in working with a cash register, or you can highlight that you were trusted to handle customer facing transactions where you learned to deal with people whilst assisting them with their purchases. Which would you prefer?
Choose The Right Template
Remember, what you’re trying to achieve is a way to stand out from all of the other candidates who have also applied for the role.
But don’t go too far.
Over the years, I’ve worked with a number of international organisations, and it was interesting for me to see how the many cultures are reflected in the format of the CVs that they submit. Some countries like terse summaries of experience, some like pictures of the candidate, on the other hand some absolutely rail against pictures.
You want to stand out, but you also need to demonstrate a level of sensitivity to the environment into which you are applying. Research this and then format your CV appropriately without losing any of the important information that increases your prominence.
Your CV is a business document. You as an individual have every right to express your identity through clothing, hair colour, musical taste, piercings, tattoos or any other way that floats your boat. That identity can be expressed in the text of your CV, but remember this is a document to maximise your chances of securing an interview. It might seem like a cute idea to adorn it with the logo of your favourite death metal band (I never did), but it might get you quickly deselected as a candidate.
Save your identity for the face to face, that’s when you need to determine whether the hiring organisation is a fit for you as much as they see you as a fit for them.
Be Able To Speak To Everything
If you’re going to put it on your CV, you need to be able to speak to it. This isn’t just your skills, it’s anything.
For example, under hobbies and interests I have this:
I am a keen participant in Martial Arts. I am a 2nd degree black belt in TaeKwon Do (ITF). In the past I have competed at a local, national and international level. I continue to run classes both in the workplace and outside of work – current restrictions permitting.
I enjoy music of all sorts with a bias towards rock. I enjoy live performances whenever I can (and when they are available). I maintain that at some point I will learn how to play guitar.
I have spent an extraordinary amount of time discussing this section in interviews. 30+ years of work, and people still want to know why I can’t play the guitar. I have to admit, at this stage of my life, I’m beginning to wonder myself.
There are things in your hobbies and interests that can work to differentiate you from the crowd. I once interviewed a person because they were a national banjo champion and another who was an amateur magician. I figured if nothing else it would be an entertaining meeting.
Build A Good Relationship With A Recruitment Agent
I’ve been fortunate enough to have relationships with some excellent recruitment agents (actually consultant is a much better description). The best are those that are equally interested in helping their clients achieve their recruitment goals and helping you find the right role.
They are the experts in the jobs market, and as such are a source of excellent advice on every aspect of getting you through the door. They are often the first filter, and their opinion carries weight – so when they tell you something, you should probably listen.
Think of recruitment agent as your coach, the best of them will prep you, guide you and help you put your best foot forward.
I’d love to mention some names, but I risk offending someone with my appalling memory. Let me conclude this point by saying there are a few that I have dealt with for the best part of 20 years at this point, and I have learned to rely on their opinions hugely both when looking for new opportunities and when looking to hire.
Wrapping this up. Don’t lose heart if you don’t get an interview for every job you apply for, the market is funny, and it can take time to understand what works well.
Before you jump into the market, do yourself a favour and spend some time thinking about what it is you want. Recruitment is a two way street; the best interviews I’ve been involved in have been those where it became obvious from early in the process that the role was going to be mutually beneficial.
Best of luck out there.
Image from stockvault.net – Designer Stuart Miles