As the exam season draws to a close again the prospect of a summer break of festivals, drinking and debauchery in a sunny climes approaches. For others the ordeal of trying to persuade an employer that four years of not getting up before 11am, Jeremy Kyle, beans on toast, cheap beer has prepared them perfectly for the rigours of paid employment begins.
I’m no expert but I did fill out numerous applications, send in dozens of CVs before I secured my training contract. I made mistakes in interview and buggered up selection procedures. I have also reviewed CVs and interviewed prospective employees for my current and former employers, and recently spent a happy few hours reviewing applications and CVs for a friends start up business. As a result I thought it might be helpful to share a few tips and pointers. It’s not a definitive guide and intended to be light hearted.
Your application form and CV are your shop window, your chance to show your prospective employer who you are and what you can do. It’s not going to get you the job by itself, but hopefully it will get you through the door. Whatever job you apply for permanent, temporary or a training contract I can guarantee that you will not be the only applicant. You need to make sure that your application gets onto the possible/maybe pile, and not the to shred pile.
Read it through first – in the same way you read through the exam paper before you put pen to paper (you didn’t you), read the form through fully and understand what they are asking you before you start committing thoughts to paper. An application form full of mistakes, crossing out and tippex will not make it through the first paper sift.
Follow the instructions – if the application form says complete in block capitals in blank ink then use block capitals and a black pen. If you can’t get what is likely to be the first instruction on the application form right then the employer is going to immediately be reaching for the shredder and the pro-forma “Thank you but no thank you” letter.
Education and Training – make sure you specify your qualifications properly and honestly. It’s an odd fact of life but your qualifications mean less and less as you go along. Shocking when you have spent a small fortune getting them and will spend a large part of your working life paying for them. They are a benchmark that your prospective employer will use to make sure you meet the requirements and they will judge you on the grades and the institution that granted them. I doubt you will ever be asked to prove that you have them. Nobody has ever asked to see my degree or LPC certificate but they look nice on my Mum’s sideboard…but if they do you need to make sure that you can back up that Double First from Cambridge.
Employment History – the same thing applies here, make sure it’s right and make sure it’s honest. Be prepared to explain any gaps or short periods of employment. If you are applying for a training contract or pupilage then your employment history is not so important but make sure you include it if asked. The fact that you have had a job, any job suggests you know how to get up on time and turn up where you are supposed to when expected. If you have had work experience and or mini-pupilages then make sure they are there noted and what you did.
When describing what you did then again make sure its relevant to the position you are applying for. If the application asks the reason for leaving think about what you put down. You may have left because the boss was a egotistical maniac who expected you to salute his picture each morning, or the job was so mind numbingly tedious that you had to poke yourself with knitting needles just to get through the day, but that may not be the best reason to put down. You want to be a lawyer, think of a better way to put it.
Greatest Achievement – Greatest Failure – How would you do things differently? – there are always questions like this on every application form.
Trust me, whilst it is undoubtedly impressive that you and your rugby mates managed to drink the entire contents of a barrel of Guinness within an hour and still managed to sing the whole of Delilah without any mistakes (that was a good night) it’s probably not what they are looking for.
The question is looking an ability to analyse the situation, for you to understand what you did right and what you did wrong and for you to recognise how you could correct the problem. I am always happy to see someone that says they would seek help and take advice.
Oh, and sexual conquests is another no no in this section. In a recent application for my friends company with a question similar to the above, Barry put…
“Getting a date with Charlotte for the third year Summer Ball was perhaps my greatest achievement of my university career after three years of no action whatsoever. Throwing up over her designer dress and breaking her arm was without doubt my greatest failure as she wont answer my calls anymore. In hindsight I could have dealt with this differently by not mixing beer and tequila.”
Whilst I have every sympathy for Barry, we’ve all done similar and my friend was considering giving him an interview just to find out how he broke her arm it wasn’t really the point of the question
Interests and Skills – this is the catch all part of the application form and CV. Skills should ideally be relevant to the position you are applying for but you can add in things here that make you more rounded and give you an added dimension to you. Again, as with the other sections honesty is the best policy. The ability to order beer in Italian, French and German does not make you multi-lingual.
On a personal note I don’t think that socialising is an interest either. If I see that on an application form then it means one of two things…you go out too much or you are in reality a weirdo and the fact that you can now stand in a pub and have a conversation is a major life acheivement and needs to be recognised. If its the former then you are always going to be hung over, if it’s the latter are you the best person to be meeting new people.
In the same way without qualification the following are not interests but basic childhood developmental milestones…Reading, Walking, Eating, Writing and Meeting New People.
If you put any of those down as your interests then qualify them…Reading 19th Century Russian Romantic Fiction. Walking : in the past year I have completed the Three Peaks Challenge, The Great Wall of China and both levels of the Bluewater Shopping Centre. It means you do something that you can talk about in interview.
Remember when you put your interests down there’s a good chance one or more of the interview panel may share that interest and may want to ask you about it at the interview. Nothing worse than asking someone about an interest in interview and finding that they in fact know nothing about it and simply put it on the application form to look impressive.
Some things may be your passion in life but also may not need to be disclosed on your application form. When advertising for a secretary at my old firm one application came in and under interests it simply had S & M. It’s not something I was that keen to find out in her interview.
The Personal Statement – this is something that often appears on CVs and application forms. A short and pithy statement that sets out who you are, what you have to offer and what you hope to achieve. This needs to be confident and self-assured but not arrogant. It also needs to be honest, but not too honest.
I have seen a statement that recently that in essence said he was a straight talking individual that basically upset most people he came into contact with but only because they felt inadequate to his superior intellect. This may well have been true but didn’t get him an interview.
Also, unless you can back it up please don’t compare yourself to any character from mythology or fiction in the way that plonker from the apprentice did.
The CV format – any employer is going to get dozens of applications and you want yours to stand out but don’t let it stand out for the wrong reasons…here is a top ten of things not to do…
1 Weird Coloured Paper – white or cream is the way forward
2 Stupid fonts – when trying to read a lot of CVs trying to decipher a flowery font is really, really annoying
3 Curriculum Vitae – you don’t need to put this at the top…it’s obvious what it is.
4 Spelling – make sure any spelling mistakes have been corrected. You used a word
processor to write it, the software has a spell checker…
5 Text speak – NO! NO! NO!
6 Contact Details – make sure they are actually on the document, they really are quite important
7 References – if you put a referee down make sure they know you have, that they know you and that they actually exist. Oh, and your Mum/Dad/Gran or Boyfriend are not suitable referees!
8 Length – ideally two pages, three at a push but certainly no more
9 Photos – this is tricky, I don’t think you need to have your photo on a CV. You will be employed for what you can do not for what you look like, unless of course you are applying to be a model. If you do include a photo make sure it’s appropriate, something like your passport photo. Male or Female a photo in swimwear is rarely appropriate!
10 Social Network Details – NEVER EVER PUT THESE ON YOUR CV! If they are on there then there is a good chance that your employer is going to look at your Facebook Page or your Twitter Feed. Can you honestly say that what you or your friends have posted on there you don’t mind a prospective employer seeing.
Right, you have completed the application form and crafted the perfect CV all that remains is to send it off. It may seem silly but make sure you send it to the right place, before the deadline and addressed to the right person. If it doesn’t get there it won’t be considered…you have to be in it to win it. If you post it, then make sure it has enough postage, it’s not a good start if the employer has to take a trip to the post office and pay the excess postage just to get your application.
Finally, take a copy. You want to be able to remember what you said on the form if you get an interview…
Next time, the interview process.