By Julian Smith
I recently wrote a blog based on one of my short presentations I give to job seekers, called ‘show ‘em your PECS!’, so now I thought I’d offer up another blog based on a second presentation I give entitled ‘Julian’s PEARLS (of wisdom!)’.
It’s a tongue-in-cheek title, if you don’t know me personally, but PEARLS is another acronym. It’s easy-to-remember, and simple to apply, and it acts as a check list for your job hunting. If you have no problem getting jobs from interviews, you’re one of the lucky ones – but if you fail to even get as far as an interview, maybe my few PEARLS of wisdom can help…
P is for…Presentation
I don’t just mean how you dress for an interview, but literally, how you present yourself from the minute you make your application. Your CV must be flawless, your cover letter thoughtful and well-written, your application form detailed and correctly filled in. Interviews are a game, and you need to follow the rules set by the interviewers. If they ask for a letter explaining X, Y and Z, then the chances are that they are not looking for originality, but simply somebody who follows the rules. Failure to comply with the rules usually means you’re out of the game before it even got interesting…
When it comes to the interview itself, from your shoes to your hair, ensure that you look the part! As a recruiter, the personal appearance of my candidates is hugely important. I have sat in on interviews where I’ve been distracted by unkempt hair, scruffy trainers or generally dishevelled appearances, and no matter how good the candidate is on paper, their personal presentation can often let them down…
E is for…Experience
The experience you have is what sets you apart from other candidates. You may have more or less experience than somebody else, but it really doesn’t matter, unless you know how to relate it to the job for which you are applying. Most employers will give you access to a Person Specification, or at least an advert describing the ideal candidate. This is the only clue you need to understand what experience they are looking for.
Tailoring your experience to the needs of the employer is one of the principal ways in which you can demonstrate your suitability for the role, as well as your understanding of what they actually need. Always try to give relevant examples (similar roles, organisations or situations, for example) and avoid over-reliance on any one particular example, since it can have the effect of making your experience seem too limited.
A is for…Accuracy
Sadly, spelling, grammar and punctuation are dying art forms, but the way to impress a recruiter is to spend time on your application, and ensure that your CV, cover letter and application form are error-free. Online applications should be completed in Word, and then copied into the online recruitment system, and always give your CV and cover letter to a friend to check.
Lack of accuracy implies either a lack of interest in the role and organisation, or poor attention to detail – either of which will seriously impede your chances of getting very far with an application, so it’s worth spending time ensuring you don’t lose out…
R is for…Research
If I had a Euro for every time a client told me that an interviewee had failed to research anything about the organisation, I’d be writing this from the South of Spain! Research is absolutely critical, and it starts at the point that you are composing your cover letter or supporting statement or sprucing up your CV. You can pick up an awful lot about the culture of an organisation from their website, but why not try reading a couple of their (shorter) publications, annual report, follow their blog or Facebook posts, or perhaps even hunt them down on LinkedIn!
If knowledge is power, then surely it’s worth doing a little research, isn’t it?
L is for…Length (of CV or application)
Take it from somebody who has seen a LOT of applications, CVs and cover letters over the years; nothing makes the heart sink more than a lengthy application. My record for a CV was 13 pages, which I managed to condense into 2; for a cover letter, 5 pages which I condensed to 1.5. If I could do it, why couldn’t they? Nowadays, I simply don’t bother. If candidates come to me with a CV that’s greater than 4 pages, I ask them to send it back when it’s at the desired length: 2 sides for most of us; up to 4 sides for consultants or those with lots of short-term but invaluable project- or contract-work.
When it comes to writing a cover letter, unless they’ve specifically asked for something lengthier, keep it brief, snappy and concise. Write it, and then edit it, and if need be, edit it once again. As a guide, keep in mind that wonderful quote from Seventeenth Century French mathematician and theologian, Blaise Pascale, who wrote in 1656 “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.”
S is for…Story Telling
What better way of introducing story telling than following a quote from Pascale? Story-telling is an essential part of the job-seeker’s mix, since it’s what makes you stand out from the competition. Bear in mind that saying, people buy people, and remember that story telling is about you. Why did you study what you studied or work where you worked? What made you move jobs or change careers? Why are you interested in the role? Where does this role fit into your overall life plans?
Don’t just assume that your narrative is something you talk about at interview; it begins with the CV and cover letter.
Try to show a thread (or several threads) running through the CV, by using similar language and the same style throughout the different sections. Add order to keep chaos in check, by grouping together temporary contracts or gaps in your work history. If you’ve changed sectors or careers, or you have bounced back and forth from role to role, separate your career or work experience into separate sections (Teaching vs Administration, Private vs Public Sector, etc.). Keep it focused and show whatever narrative is possible; after all, you’re the one who’s in control, since it’s your career and your CV you’re writing!
Once you have something on paper which looks like a good narrative, it’s up to you to tell the story at interview…
So there you have it; a few of my PEARLS – and if you like any of my tips, don’t forget that we run regular workshops on CVs, cover letters and interview skills, and also offer careers coaching and 1-2-1s. Feel free to email me, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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