Job seeking can feel like a full-time job. It can be tiring, confusing, even dispiriting – but it can also take you to jobs which are both financially and emotionally rewarding. By following a few tips from Loot Recruit you can bag a job you’ll love. We’ll help you to brush up your CV, write cover letters which are relevant, confident and eye-catching and sail through the interview.
The most important aspect of your job hunt will be your CV. This is the first thing that employers see and they will use it to decide whether to interview you.
The curriculum vitae is extremely important as it is the first point of contact between you and a potential boss. It offers a glimpse into your personality and skills - the basis for the decision on whether or not to bring you in for an interview, so you've got to sell yourself.
Employers and recruiters receive many CVs every single day. To make sure yours gets read – let alone taken up – you have to make sure it looks the part. Statistics show the average recruiter only looks at each CV for 20 – 30 seconds, so you need to make sure yours is clear and stands out.
You need to target your CV to the industry and role you are applying for. It can be as simple as altering the opening profile and reviewing the skills to make it obvious that your CV is specific to a company or industry.
There is no ‘one size fits all’ with CVs – you will have to tailor it to your industry and your experience, but there are a few things to bear in mind.
Different types of CV
There are two main types of CVs: chronological – where you list your jobs, skills and education in order (starting with your most recent); and skills-based – where you group your skills and use examples to explain when you used them.
Chronological CVs can be useful if you have quite a bit of experience to list, but if you’re just starting out or you want to change direction, then a skills-based CV might be the best way to prove you can tick all the relevant boxes.
Have a look at some of the tips below to see what the best way might be to present your own experience to a prospective employer.
Have an opening statement of 50 words or less stating who you are, what you have experience in and your objective for your next role. If the recruiter has to hunt for the information they may not bother – so make sure you really spell it out for them i.e. ‘qualified web designer with extensive experience in CSS, html and xml seeks role in London-based startup’ or ‘recent literature graduate with third sector experience seeks entry-level position in a Leeds-based charity’.
According to Peter Panayotou, senior consultant at the Write Stuff, the CV is exactly that - a sales document. The secret, he says, "is to put in lots of action words and inspirational language… For example, rather than saying 'a graduate with a degree in this, looking for a job in this' - you need to say something like 'an accomplished graduate with extensive experience in this, looking for a dynamic position in a forward-thinking international company'."
Unless your career spans many jobs and many years, it should fit on two sides of A4. Any more than that and you’re giving your possible-employers a whole essay to read.
Within those two pages make sure you mention your responsibilities, skills and achievements. Name what skills you used (were you a team player? A negotiator? An ideas generator? A salesperson?), what tools you used (such as powerpoint, a JCB, or British Sign Language) and any measurable achievements (increased turnover by 20%, completed project ahead of schedule, children achieved higher grades in the class you taught, etc.). Sub-headings and bullet points can help you to organise these.
Spelling mistakes, bad punctuation and inconsistent layout are all the kinds of things which get CVs thrown into bins. Run spellcheck on your CV and get a friend to have a look at it too – two heads are better than one.
These are always important and even more important if you’re just starting out, or trying to move to something which is slightly different to your previous job. Support your examples of achievements with skills which you can use in your future role, such as problem solving, commercial awareness, technical abilities, IT knowledge, analytical talent, or accuracy to detail
Don’t leave gaps!
If you have spaces in your employment history, or if your CV is a little on the light side, bulk it out with volunteering and training courses. This will help get you to acquire the skills, knowledge and references you’ll need to help get your dream job.
"I always recommend something like voluntary work because, as far as the CV is concerned, it always looks much better if you have something on there rather than nothing at all," says Peter Panayotou, senior consultant for the CV advice service The Write Stuff. "The other thing is training - any kind of training that you can do in the meantime."
You’d be surprised what can count – that youth group you help run, or organising your local football group’s games – these are all positions of responsibility which you can put down as unpaid work and you can get references from them.
Get a friend to help
It’s easy to be wax lyrical about how great a friend of yours is but it feels a bit weird and awkward when you have to explain how great you are – so get a friend to do it for you! If you’re both job-hunting why not meet for a coffee and go through each other’s CVs? Help them list, detail and prove the successes of their experience – big them up big-time – and get them to do the same for you.
Of course you should always use your CV to sell yourself – but saying anything untrue is a serious offence. If you are found out before you are offered a position then the employer will not give you the job. If you gain a job by deception then you put yourself at risk of dismissal should your employer find out you lied about your experience or qualifications.
Be prepared to re-write your CV for each application
Your resume should change depending on the nature of the vacancy. "If [you] are replying to a job advert, the CV should reflect the requirements of the organisation as described in the advert or company website and provide evidence from actual events/experiences that [you] have what the company is looking for," says Margaret Holbrough, from London South Bank University.
This can seem long-winded but it’s worth it to get the right role. Most jobs will take up eight hours a day or more – so it’s worth the investment in time to make sure you spend those hours doing something you really love rather than settling for what comes easily.
Below are some of the types of headings you could use to organise your CV.
If you have work experience or volunteering experience which is important for the job you want to do as your paid jobs in the past, we recommend a ‘related experience’ heading. You can use this to list relevant paid employment, too. List other jobs which are not relevant to your current search under ‘other employment’.
If you’re still in education or have only recently graduated you should place this section near the top as it’s likely the most impressive/important part of your CV. If you’ve had two or more jobs since then this should come after your related experience.
Don’t just list your degree: break it down for employers so they can see how relevant and useful it will be to the role. You need to flag up your unique selling points and emphasise achievements within specific areas such as a relevant final year project, an industry placement, or particular expertise in a specific subject.
Skills accrued during your period of study need to be included too. For example: problem solving, commercial awareness, technical abilities, IT knowledge, analytical talent or accuracy to detail.
Awards/Achievements in Work
Volunteer experience /community involvement
Make sure you demonstrate how you measure up to the job specification or advert to make a concise and relevant application. For example, if the job spec says ‘must be proficient in Microsoft Office’ you could say ‘in my previous role at Maisy Bloggs Ltd I used Microsoft Office daily.’
Make sure, as on your CV, that you make it specific enough to demonstrate where you’ve excelled and give examples. For instance ‘a team player’ is a fairly stock phrase, but saying ‘I used my negotiating and networking skills to help pull the team together to clinch a deal with a blue-chip client’ demonstrates an outcome (the deal) as well as the skill.
Be clear about your strengths, but avoid coming across as arrogant. For example, you could say you ‘consistently deliver high-quality work and meet multiple deadlines on time’ – which would come across better than saying you are the hardest worker in your office.
When writing covering emails you need to be that bit briefer than you would be in text. It’s less comfortable to read long paragraphs on the screen and most people scan emails rather than reading every word.
Email is generally a less formal method of communication but remember that you’re still applying for a job, so remain as polite and respectful as possible. If you have a recruiter or company contact’s name, make sure to address the email to them specifically. The subject line should be descriptive, such as ‘Application for the Web Editor Role’ and use short paragraphs and bullet points if appropriate.
You should prepare thoroughly so you can stroll into a question-and-answer situation knowing full well the ins and outs of the company you want to work for. Memorising some statistics in regards to its operations is bound to go down well.
Most interviewers will have a printed out your CV, but just in case you should always bring along a copy. Also, where appropriate, you should bring along examples of your work to demonstrate your skills.
Do your research
Though you should always do this when applying for the job in the first place, it’s almost impossible to do too much research on an organisation when you have an interview. See what you can find out from their website, any news articles and a Wikipedia page if there is one. Find out what skills and methods the organisation uses. Finding out who their clients are can be a huge help too. Find out when they were founded, what their goals and measures of success are, what their turnover is and figure out (as best you can) where your role will fit into all of this.
The research not only means you can demonstrate that you know about the company and are enthusiastic to work for them – it also means you can tailor your answers and responses to questions into areas you already know they are interested in.
Dress to impress
This doesn’t mean you should necessarily be power-dressing for every interview – if it’s a job in a daycare centre then turning up in a three-piece suit would probably not be appropriate to the role.
What you should do is make sure you always look neat and presentable. It’s often a good idea to cover any tattoos you can, don’t have many piercings on show and don’t wear excessive amounts of jewellery. However, if you’re going for a job at a tattoo parlour: the opposite may be advisable.
What’s important is that you do your research on the company and dress appropriately for it. A new IT startup company will have a very different attitude to presentation to an investment bank. If you’re going through a recruiter it would be a good idea to ask them if there is a dress code and what they recommend.
Arrive on time, or early
Arriving late doesn’t make a good impression on a prospective employer. Plan your journey and aim to arrive ten minutes early so that you have a buffer zone if something unexpected comes up. If you are delayed and know you are going to be late, be sure you call ahead to apologise and let them know.
Make a note of the name and position of the person you will be meeting and always be polite and friendly to everyone you meet. Greet people with a firm handshake and a smile. If you have more than one interviewer be sure to speak to all of them equally.
The interview itself
Some organisations will include a proficiency test of some sort as part of the interview process. If this is the case they should have let you know beforehand so you could prepare.
Most interviews will start by covering your CV and will ask you to talk them through your experience. Make sure to play up specific skills, abilities and sectors which you know they will be the most interested in.
Be prepared to account for any oddities in your CV. If you have had a career switch or have any gaps explain why and be careful to put a positive spin on it. Remember that your interviewers are people too, so if you left a job quite quickly because, for example, you became a carer, or you moved house to a different city, most employers will respect this. If you changed industries, explain why – if, for example, you realised your interests lay elsewhere, or you’d climbed as high as you wanted to, then say so and explain that you are now pursuing what you’re truly passionate about.
Positive body language is also vital, especially when trying to convey that you’re eager, confident and really want the position. Paying attention to how you’re coming across can be difficult when you’re nervous already, so perhaps try a practice run with a friend and ask them for feedback.
In the meantime, here are some pointers:
Many interviews these days use competency-based questions to gain examples of your working life and the style you work in. For example you may be asked:
Tell me about a time when you used your skills to overcome a problem at work. If you can’t think of examples from your working life most employers will accept examples from the rest of your life. Be careful to bring it back around to your own skills and how these would help you in the role you’re interviewing for.
Why do you want to work for our organisation? This is the time to let your research shine – tell the interviewer (or interviewers) what you know about the organisation and the role and explain how this is a good fit with what you enjoy and what you have done in the past. If you have any gaps in the match-up, this is your moment to explain how you’ll overcome them such as “I’ve never worked in journalism before, but I love writing and I’m an absolute newshound, so I think I’ll really enjoy it and pick it up quickly.”
What are your strengths? Most employers will ask this, so be prepared to explain not just why you’re good, but why you’re uniquely good and what makes you stand out from other candidates applying for the same job.
What are your weaknesses? For goodness sake don’t say you’re unpunctual, addicted to Facebook, have anger management issues or pinch office supplies! Make sure your ‘weakness’ is something with a correspondingly positive spin – such as being a perfectionist, being very independent or being so darn enthusiastic that you take on too many projects.
Questions to ask your interviewers
Most interviewers, towards the end of the interview, will ask if you have any questions for them. A few incisive questions can demonstrate knowledge and enthusiasm like nothing else – but if you find yourself drawing a blank (or if it’s difficult to research the organisation) then here are a few questions to cover most bases:
Could you describe a typical day in the role? This question will open up a fuller view of the organisation’s way or working and crucially what you’ll be doing in your day-to-day role. From the answers your interviewers give you, you will probably be able to ask more detailed questions and gain a deeper understanding of the role.
How does this role fit in with the rest of the team? The answer to this question will give you some more insight into who you will be reporting to, who you will be managing and how the role fits in elsewhere. Most companies have slightly different job titles to describe similar roles so you can’t beat a simple explanation of where you’d stand in a certain role.
How would you describe the organisation’s working style? This is important to find out whether you’re a good match with your prospective employer and it’s also a chance to demonstrate that you’d fit in. If you like what you hear, let them know by saying something like ‘that sounds great’ or ‘oh, my last place did something a bit like that, I really enjoyed it.’
Do you think that I can do the job? This is a slightly scary one, but it’s a good way to tackle and iron out any doubts your interviewers may have. If they say something like ‘we like your CV, but we’re not sure you’ve got enough experience in coding’ – this is your moment to explain that you do. For example, it could be that you haven’t been coding for very long, but you’ve been doing it every day at work recently, or you’ve just started a course to brush up your skills. It’s better to take the plunge now, when you’re still there and able to tell them more, than leave the room with your interviewers harbouring some doubts.