I was recently criticised by a friend. I was bemoaning the standard of job applications and candidates I was getting for a role I was recruiting for. Her – not unreasonable – pushback was: How can they be expected to know what you want, if you don’t tell them in the first place. And, while I would argue there needs to be a degree of common sense in such things… I can’t deny that very few first – or even second or third – jobbers are properly prepared by schools and universities for what it is that recruiters are really looking for.
As such, I’ve risen to her challenge and decided to write this post. This, essentially, is what I wish I had known when I started out in pursuit of that elusive first job. That’s not to say that this is only relevant if you’re at the start of your career journey. To my mind, it doesn’t matter whether you’re applying for your first role or your fifty-first role: this is the stuff that you need to get right.
Forget the CV…
Well, that’s not entirely true. You need a CV, and it needs to be a decent one. For CV tips, you might want to take a look at this blog post devoted to the art of CV writing. However, particularly for those entry level jobs, your CV isn’t going to be the game changer. Your cover letter is. I can’t tell you how tired I am of receiving bland, impersonal cover letters, which are exact duplicates of that used for 100 other applications. Your cover letter needs to stand out from the crowd, and it needs to reflect you.
Mention the company you’re applying to by name. If you can find out the name of the hiring manager, even better. Talk about why you’re a perfect match for this role. Not the last role you applied for, or the one before that: this role. Match your skills back to those outlined in the job advert. And don’t be afraid to do something different. Here at Benefex, we get approximately 100 applicants for roles every single day. The candidates who are progressed through to interview are those who have been unafraid to stand out from the crowd and show us just how much they want to come and work for us.
Research, research, research
The very best employers out there will be inundated with choice when it comes to candidates. If you want to work for one of these employers then it’s not going to be enough to simply turn up on the day without having put in the ground work first. Take the time to understand what it is that the organisation you’re applying actually does. How are they positioned in the market? What are their strengths and their weaknesses? What opportunities are available to them? Go to interview armed with this information, able to talk knowledgeably to the interviewers about their business and ask questions based on the information you’ve gleaned. Even at this very early stage, you’ll already be head and shoulders above most other candidates if you do.
One of the hidden things recruiters will be looking for is how you communicate during the process. Outside of the formal interviews, we will be looking at how responsive you are to emails, how you communicate both in writing and over the phone, and how easy you are to get hold of.
Help us to help you by responding as quickly as you can, and, wherever possible, by showing a degree of flexibility. Recognise that we will at any one time be juggling a number of different applicants for different roles. Where you’re able to be flexible about your availability, it helps us to see you as quickly as possible.
Think about your responses
I could write a whole blog post on the interview process itself – and probably will! – but there are some basic rules of thumb which should be covered off here. While you can, and should, prepare for your interview, avoid learning stock answers by rote – these don’t work and you will end up coming across as extremely stilted.
Panel interviews can be trickier, but the primary thing to remember is to ensure you look at and respond to all of the panel members. There is nothing more frustrating than a candidate who never looks at you; and this is made several times worse when you are the only woman on the panel!
Don’t lie. If you don’t know the answer, that’s fine. Don’t be afraid to say so, or to ask for some more time. We don’t expect interview candidates to be perfect. We do expect you to be honest.
Don’t forget the basics
I’d fear I was at risk of stating the obvious here if I hadn’t seen it missed so many times. Arrive for your interview on time. By on time, I mean, leave home so that you arrive at the interview venue at least 20 minutes ahead of your allocated timeslot. This gives you time to orientate yourself, prepare, and ensure you’re not running into reception flustered and late.
Look your best. While not all offices will have a formal dress code you need to ensure your clothing is clean, tidy and appropriate for the role you’re applying for.
Avoid smoking prior to your interview, or applying particularly strong perfume or aftershave, which can be an unwelcome distraction.
Bringing notes with you to refer to is fine, but as with your clothing, think about their presentation. A notebook or folder is fine. A tattered piece of paper which you unfold from your jacket pocket, less so.
Treat everyone – and that’s everyone – that you meet during the recruitment process as you would expect to be treated yourself. I can cite multiple occasions where I’ve rejected candidates because of the way they’ve spoken to the person I’ve asked to come out and greet them.
Finally, and most importantly, be yourself. And remember that, contrary to what you might have convinced yourself… we don’t want you to fail. Our objective is the same as yours. We want to find the right person for the job. You want to be the right person for the job. So conquer those nerves, nail your preparation, and prove to us that there’s no better person out there to do this role than you.