The title of this blog article is the best advice I can give any career seeking school leaver or graduate at the moment. Why? Because it works!
I know that the kind of jobs that you may be aspiring to and may have geared your education towards may not be thick on the ground at the moment and that getting a chance to be interviewed can often feel like constantly hitting the same brick wall but that does not mean that settling for second best and going off the radar of all employers is the way to deal with it. There are loads of cracking job and career opportunities out there but the candidates that get them are the ones who are prepared to do the leg work, build the relationships and get noticed...
Go to everything...
Look on-line, in printed media and through social media for every opportunity to get out into the world with a smile on your face, your best interview gear on and your CV in your pocket. The numbers game of on-line applications, posting your CV on one of the big sites or connecting with an agency is of course worth it because they might find you what you want. But I strongly encourage anyone, of any age, to get out there and find opportunity for themselves.
I am not of the Norman Tebbit school of 80's thought when he encouraged people to get on their bike and find work, patronising as it was, instead I am very much of the school of thought that you live, in person, being brilliant and smart and excited and interested is going to have a far greater chance of being spotted.
Why? Well despite many 'big' employers computerising their recruitment filters to the point of programming key words and qualifications into their selection programmes on-line; there are still vast numbers of employers, decision makers, recruiters and event organisers that understand about personal brand, making an impact, the personal touch and impressing someone with actions and words and not just qualifications and experience.
In my experience SME's particularly take great heed of their 'gut feel' for an individual candidate. Because every single one of their staff matters to them, as there are fewer, then meeting people is a way they still find their stars of tomorrow.
So prepared with a CV that does all of things I have spoken about at length in the past as 'the flier for the brand of you' (see previous blogs) and with a brave attitude to talking to anyone because as I have said in the past 'you never know who the person will be that gives you a break' you should get yourself along to everything that might lead somewhere; careers events, networking events, industry events, university and college events and national employment events at the big venues like the NEC.
Prepare your 'pitch', know what your USP's are and be ready to really sell yourself when you get the ear of someone who wants to listen and is interested in what you have to offer. As a recruiter of 20+ years standing from my point of view you being there already puts you in credit with me and then if you have a positive attitude, something to say and some energy and interest then you are really beginning to get my interest...
Speak to everyone...
Be that person who is interested in what every employer does, find out more, understand when you hear an opportunity that you like that you need to act and project the professional image that you want to promote going forwards; set yourself dress, speech and manners standards and let those things as well as your skills, knowledge and competencies be your message to employers...you will be saying 'I mean business!'
Networking is a very inexact science and actually the more you try and apply scientific methods to it a) the more mercenary you appear and b) the more you remove the random factor... but talking to people and asking questions and being open and honest about what you aspire to does work..
My two best job / career conversations? One was with a lovely Australian lady in a bar in Paris at Christmas time and the other was with a chap by the coffee machine during lunch at a careers event...you never know, who or when but you need to be there to benefit and to be on duty for your brand at all times to get the most from any good fortune.
I think it was Gary Player (the very good South African golfer for you Tiger Woods generation people) who said 'the more I practice the luckier I get' that's kind of my point in a nutshell!
It is easy to ask 'how great was I' when you have achieved something - that is the kind of feedback that we all love and can cope with comfortably. The problem is and this will not be a surprise to you, the most important feedback that you ever hear is actually when you have failed to achieve something that you wanted to achieve.
So you have created a brilliant CV because you have read my blogs about personal brand and your CV being your marketing flier and worked on it. Fantastic! The problem is that the interview you tried so hard and worked so long to get has resulted in them declining your application. They have given you some 'feedback' although it is pretty brief and useless because it reads 'there was simply another candidate who performed better than you did / was more suitable for the role / had more relevant experience' - so what next?
Well thanks to the fear that seems to purvey many HR Departments that all feedback will lead to a tribunal that is likely to be the best you get when you ask for it the first time. It is no good to you and leaves you standing still. You need a bit more than a standard wording in a standard letter. So do not be afraid to ask for it. This does not mean creating a problem for the employer but just asking them very clearly what you need to work on to be successful next time.
If you have the reflective learning and self-appraisal habit already then you will have made notes after the interview to describe how you felt you performed, what questions you answered well and which need work and how you think the recruiter rated your performance. So why not ask them specific questions like 'I felt that I came across as being very nervous and under confident, is that something that the interviewers report mentioned?' They might try to deny you detail at first but by being specific, constructive and polite you can make progress, especially if you make it clear to them that you felt you had been fairly treated and that you are asking for feedback to just help you to perform better next time!
I have a good example from a few years back when I was a Recruitment Manager in industry; a young man who had received a decline letter with respect to his application to be a Sales Advisor rang up my team seeking further feedback. Sadly our feedback policy was also to say little and summarise the result as I have done above saying it was either experience or someone else out performing him. But he was not content with that, he felt he had performed well and argued that if he was never told how or where he fell short that he would repeat his errors next time. Quite rightly he persisted and found out my e-mail address and connected. I called him and he was so passionate about getting his performance right, so clearly disappointed that he had not got the job with us and so polite and professional despite his emotional state that I listened, talked to him and decided to meet him as I had not been involved in the initial recruitment process.
Well the bottom-line is that I was very frank with him, he did not get the job because someone else with the proven track record, industry experience and industry qualifications did. In terms of his performance it was good and the only feedback remark from the report that he might be able to use was that he needed to slow down and be a bit more measured in his communication style. I recommended him for another position within the company, he was managing within 3 years and has gone on to have a very successful career. All because he asked and the fact that he asked and manner with which he asked told me a lot about him.
Feedback is a used and abused; it was corrupted in the 80's and 90's when very earnest looking managers fresh from their training course on staff development and motivation used it during meetings where everyone felt awkward and no discernible progress occurred. But now it is crucial to help all of us in developing and understand how the world experiences us. Asking for it is brave especially in a recruitment scenario because it might feel like saying 'I know I have failed but can you tell me in a bit more detail why I failed' but really it is simply that you are saying 'I am honest with myself, I want to improve and by giving me honest and constructive feedback you can help me to do that.'
Feedback and reflection are the fundamentals to you being able to evolve, learn and grow. To nail an interview you need to understand your past failures and do something about them. So don't let people off the hook if they don't want to help you - insist that they give you something that you can work on and take it on the chin!
Being an employer is tough. Being an employer that is looking to find new talent is even tougher. How are you supposed to be able to find, indentify and engage with the right sort of people that can do the job, fit in with your company culture and add that something special to take your brand forwards??
Well it's your job as a candidate to know your brand, assets, competencies and skills and then show them off in the best possible way. Impact is the key word here. I have recruited for a wide range of roles and when you have a pile of CV's either on your desk or in your In Box you have to sift through them and they have to talk to you in order to stand out and be the one that you select. Pink paper and funky fonts aren't necessarily the answer but you might find some inspiration from the brilliant CV's that have been compiled here:
Of course it's 'horses for courses' and the guys that put those CV's together were looking for roles that might not be the kind that you are in the market for but my point is that they have gone to town in making sure that they use their CV as a marketing flier for their brand and to succinctly communicate what it is essentially about them that the recruiter / employer should see immediately and understand.
Put it this way; you are walking down the High Street or through the shopping mall / arcade and someone thrusts an A5 flier into your hand. That glance, that moment that you spend looking at it is everything; you decide if the flier is talking to you, if you are interested and if you want to associate your brand with it - either by buying, attending or supporting whatever it is that the flier is talking about. Try and take that experience, that choice that you make into your thinking for how you want your CV to be received.
What does the headline are your flier / CV need to say / do to engage the reader. That 'handshake moment' is everything. Just like when you meet someone for the first time a whole myriad of thoughts speed through your mind, you are weighing them up; face, handshake, eyes, clothing, smile, words, body language...now think about how without many of the impactful weapons I just listed you can make an impact with the reader of your CV in the same way. They will be looking at type face, layout, words, vocaulary, easy of reading, relevance, personality and potential.
Forget bland and conservative unless you know that the people you are trying to impress want exactly that! Think about how you can reach out in your opening 'Personal Statement' and grasp their attention, introduce yourself and get them wanting to read more...
You are your own career manager, your own brand manager and your own PR company and your CV is the marketing flier that will create interest in what you are and what you can do.
Worth pondering on next time you are updating your CV or perhaps worth implementing now and getting together a CV that you can be proud of because it represents you in everyway it needs to rather than being a functional document with generic facts and statements and won't stand out.
Some basics; bullet points (make it easy to find the good stuff), tangibles (make it easy to demonstrate walking the talk), vocabulary (makes you stand out because you don't over use words like 'passionate') and layout (visual appeal leads to interest and engagement....
We can help with CV rewrites and reviews either face to face on on-line; it is the key that opens doors!
Wanting a job, understanding the qualifications required, seeking out some really strong industry background material and focusing on the leading players the sector are all very laudible activities in the process of getting yourself hired to work in your dream industry but sometimes you need to be able to not walk the walk or even walk the talk but simply talk the talk.
OK so let's think for a moment about how not being in control of language makes us feel. Being in another country and not talking the language fluently can be pretty stressful and confusing and creates a real barrier immediately to successful communication indeed being in another part of your native country and being exposed to another dialect or accent can be pretty difficult sometimes; so imagine that stress and that feeling of not being understood and put it into the context of the interview process.
I have interviewed many many people. I have seen some awesome talent and heard some impressive interviews but what can really make the difference; especially when we are focusing on second or even third jobs, is the candidates comfort and fluency in the language of both industry generally and especially the sector for which I am recruiting. Does that sound daunting, sorry. Actually it is perhaps more accessible and easy to obtain than just having to have ten years experience in the industry.
Advice. Well read lots of industry related material; trade magazines, blogs, postings, on-line reports and web-site information. Gather the clues of what that industry uses as a palate of words.
Linked-In. Join groups in that industry, see what the hot topics are at the moment. Interviewers love hot topics, they are industry relevant and give you a chance to show them that they know your / their stuff. Also ask questions on the group forums - the people providing the answers will be surpirsingly generous, people want to attract talent into their industry it is a tiny bit of reflected glory and they are also looking after their own interests by attracting the best people into their industry!
Mirroring - use the same language as the job ad and interviewer(s). If they call a sales lead an 'in' then you should too. It makes people feel relaxed if others use the same jargon - there is a also power thing involved but essentially you can do yourself a favour by adopting their language / jargon lead! You can generate a genuine sense of belonging and of being of the same 'career tribe' and that creates a buy in that can really benefit you.
The second strand of this process in the language of the specific employer that you have targetted. Do they call they customers clients or customers? Do they call their employees employees, partners, staff or people?
Their web-site will of course always give huge clues on this and my good friend Linked-In will help too. Same advice as above; find people that work within the culture and experience their vocabulary and learn from it.
Remember three things; the interviewer is nervous too and that they are usually very proud of their employer and of the industry they have invested their career in and so using every chance to call things the same name as they do with as much underpinning research and understanding as possible can surely only do you good!
So spend a little time as part of your preparation for interview routine focusing on this bit, often ignored or not sufficiently prioritised but a great way to build bridges, earn trust and demonstrate cultural fit; through language.
That's it I guess - talking the talk.
I have been thinking this week about this word employability. It is being mentioned in the loftiest political circles as well as in schools, colleges and universities, its also being considered by employers and I am told that even parents are managing to suppress their understandable distraction with qualifications, to mention it.
But what does the word actually mean, shall we dwell for a moment on finding a working definition and then using that to inform our thinking further?
Good old Wikipedia says....
While there is no singular definition of employability, a review of the literature suggests that employability is about work and the ability to be employed, such as:
1. The ability to gain initial employment; hence the interest in ensuring 'key skills', career advice and an understanding about the world of work are embedded into the education system.
2. The ability to maintain employment and make 'transitions' between jobs and roles within the same organisation to meet new job requirements and
3. The ability to obtain new employment if required ie. to be independent inthe labour market by being willing and able to manage their own employment transistions between and within organisations.
I must say that for me, the first bullet is the most resonant just now. I’d really like to focus on the sentence ‘an understanding about the world or work’ and it being ‘embedded in the education system’; for me this is the crux of the whole employability debate.
But who is responsible for this huge undertaking?
Can we expect the educators, that have been driven for a long time by their performance being judged purely in terms of the academic, to be able to change over night?
Do our parents need to acknowledge that the A Level / Degree certificates are no longer enough for a career, unlike back in the 70's / 80's??
Is it the employers; should they offer more internships, placements and apprenticeships to young people?
Do commercial expert consultants like Consortio need to be welcomed in to the debate and have their knowledge and experience celebrated instead of being seen as competition by everyone...?
Or maybe should young people take responsibility for their own career and employability skills from an earlier age?
Tough questions.....my view is actually a bit of all of the above because none of the stakeholders in the process are able, on their own, to solve the problem in its entirity and indeed none of them have the know how to be the sole solution. So cooperation, mutual purpose and communication are key to bringing all the stakeholders together and to move the issue forwards quickly.
We know that we, at Consortio, are an important part of the solution.
We know that everyone needs to be part of a coordinated plan.
And we definitely know that unless we solve this sharpish that we will be failing our future talent and impacting our future economic capability.... serious stuff!
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