Linda Buckham is Head of the University of Sussex Careers and Employability Centre. Her 21-strong team help their students make the best use of their degrees and personal attainments when choosing careers and applying for jobs. It involves a lot more than you might think, particularly in today’s very competitive jobs market. Their work includes helping their students to adapt to the world of work and to make good decisions when opportunities and challenges come their way. Confidence is key when looking for work, and their job is to nurture the confidence that comes with being well prepared. I was lucky enough to grab an interview with Linda about what it takes to make yourself as employable as possible.
RTBB: What are the first things employers look for on CVs and how can we make sure we’re getting them across?
Linda Buckham: First impressions are very important, so you should pay attention to your presentation – it’s what people will notice before they read a word of your CV. Good layout and structure ensures that a CV is easy to read, so you need to plan it out. Once you have the reader hooked they will be looking to see you meet their specific requirements but, more importantly, they will also want to know what separates you from the crowd and demonstrates your unique selling-points (what is commonly referred to as USP). Spending time on this stage is really important.
RTBB: What are the main mistakes people make on their CVs?
LB: Employers want a tailored CV – sending the same one for every opportunity gives the impression that the candidate has not taken the application seriously. Candidates should follow the criteria the employer lists in the job details and make sure that they demonstrate their key skills and experience with good examples. Many people do not think enough about, ‘telling the truth but making the truth fascinating’ (as the famous advertising guru David Ogilivy once said). Employers get really bored with reading some of the bland statements that do not demonstrate any evidence of achievement that are included on CVs!
RTBB: How can job seekers make their cover letters and applications stand out?
LB: Again, tailoring all parts of the application is essential. Candidates should read the job details and make sure that they have matched their skills to the employer’s criteria. Also, they should consider the employer’s culture – what kinds of words and language do they use? Candidates can then borrow some of this language for use in their applications. Remember that the covering letter is a good opportunity to write about your motivations for the future and how these fit with the employer. Have an enquiring mind and think about the employer and the kind of challenges that they are facing. Thinking about how you can contribute to this can help you to present a thoughtful application, so make sure you do some research about the companies and individuals you are approaching.
RTBB: How can we prepare for an interview?
LB: Prepare thoroughly! Start with practising how you will make a good first impression, as that way you will start on a high. Think of 10 points you want to get across – interviews are a two-way process and candidates need to make sure they promote themselves well. When you are preparing, say your answers to questions aloud as this will help you make them sound good for the real thing. Revise all your best examples – you are the expert on you, but you might not remember it all on the day without a significant amount of preparation and practice.
RTBB: How can people make a good first impression when meeting potential employers?
LB: Introduce yourself well; make eye contact, smile and shake hands, then say your name clearly and with gusto. Be pleased to be ‘you’. Dress appropriately for the sector but more formally than you would for the job itself. Keep clothes and make-up low key as you want the interviewer to notice you, not your clothes.
RTBB: During the interview, how can candidates make sure they sell themselves?
LB: Be enthusiastic and keep your energy level good – speaking too softly and slouching in your chair won’t come across well! Ensure you talk about your achievements and give solid examples. Describe your skills and experience clearly and give the listener a structure to follow: e.g. “I have 2 examples of where I …”. Top tip: Make sure you use ‘I’ not ‘we’ if you are used to working in a team.
RTBB: What qualities are recruiters mainly looking for in interviews?
LB: Employers are looking for good interpersonal and communication skills as well as academic qualifications and work experience. Often called ‘employability’, these softer skills are increasingly becoming the way employers differentiate candidates. Someone who matches the criteria for the job and who fits in well with the culture of the organisation is most likely to be successful. Employers will also look for an ability to learn and potential to develop.
RTBB: How important is it to maintain an online presence?
LB: In some roles an online presence is essential; for others, less so. If you know the sector you are applying to you will know which this is. Your professional online presence should be that – professional! It’s very different from Facebook or other social media and should present you as if you are already part of the profession. Remember that you learn lots from being part of an online community; it’s not just about self-marketing!
RTBB: How can people make sure they separate their professional and personal lives online?
LB: Have two different sites, one for each part of your life. Both parts of your life are important but keep them separate online and do not confuse them. Keep your privacy settings on Facebook very secure. The photos you have on your professional sites should be work-appropriate.
RTBB: How can job seekers utilize social media on the journey to a career?
LB: In so many ways. For starters, much career research can be done online. Many employers, professional bodies and organisations have a social media presence. Join their groups and follow them. Linked In is the place most professionals use. Have your own page as well and join groups. YouTube might be good for demonstrating your skills; you could have your own channel so you have control of your presence. Twitter can be good for marketing yourself and you can follow other people who work in your chosen industry. Your own blog can show your writing style and relevant interests. Follow other blogs and contribute to them in the areas of work you are interested in. Use the same name and have a consistent identity in all these places so people are sure it’s you! Make obvious links between all these media so people find you in all areas.
Don’t lose hope, there are so many ways you can stand out from the crowd. Maintaining contacts is also of utmost importance – stay on people’s radars and they will think of you when the next vacancy turns up. Make yourself known and don’t be afraid to show off!