Saturday, 23 March 2013

How to get your CV thrown out... part 2

This is probably going to be my last post, at least for a while, so I thought I'd revisit the reason it all started in the first place: the do's and don'ts of job applications. I covered a lot of the more obvious points in an earlier post, but there are others that might not spring so easily to mind. 

DON'T PUT YOURSELF DOWN

I've noticed a lot of people seem to start their job applications with 'I know I'm not qualified, but...' There's nothing wrong with honesty, and telling lies about your skills and qualifications is never a good idea (way too easy to get caught out later), but why would you lead with what you can't do? If you feel like you're overreaching and applying for something you can't handle, maybe it's not the right job for you. But if you think you can do it, and still want to apply, try focusing on the skills you do have instead; the lack of relevant qualifications will be clear on your CV but if you've already impressed them by then they might still give you a shot.

BE NICE

Ever heard the expression, 'Nice guys finish last'? Not true. Yes, sometimes you have to think about your own interests before other people's, but that doesn't mean you get to be arrogant or pushy. I keep saying it but remember your application, and following correspondence, is going to be read and responded to by a real person, who might be your colleague one day. So be nice to them! They're not obliged to hire you just because you meet all the criteria. Definitely don't throw a strop if they ask you to complete a task before the interview stage - there'll be a good reason (probably to help them filter applications) and you'll do yourself no favours by being a diva and refusing to do it.

GET YOUR CONTACT DETAILS RIGHT

Make sure the details on your CV are correct and up to date. If you've changed your email address or phone number, you might miss an important message following up on your application or even inviting you to interview. A busy recruiter is unlikely to waste time trying to find out the right information unless they're desperate to meet you.

And it's not just your CV - if you're applying for jobs through a third party site like Reed or Monster, check your account details are correct there too. The messages received with applications are set up so employers can just hit 'reply' to contact you, and they use the email address from your account, not your CV.

MAKE YOUR CV STAND OUT

I already mentioned making sure your CV is well laid out and there are no mistakes. But even if it's perfect you still need to make it stand out. This probably depends on the kind of job you're applying for, but in a lot of cases you don't have to use Times New Roman font; there are a lot of fonts to choose from (just make sure you pick something legible) and don't be afraid to use colour either. In particular if you're applying for a job requiring design skills or creativity, make your CV attractive. It doesn't have to be a straight text document - you can use images or even include a link or QR code to an online resume.

You also don't have to send the same CV to every company; you can adapt it to suit the job you're applying for. In particular, use the personal statement at the start to explain not only what you can do but how you feel that can be valuable in this particular type of role.

BE CONCISE

Recruiters only have a few seconds to spend on each application, so make sure you include the important information you want them to know as briefly as possible. And that's all I have to say about that ;)

I hope these (and the other tips I've shared) are helpful and although I might not be posting again for a while, I'll still be checking comments so please feel free to share any success stories!

Friday, 22 March 2013

Why learning a language is one of the best things you can do

A long (long) time ago, I did a degree in Hispanic Studies and spent a year living in Madrid. Looking back on it now, I can't quite believe some of the things I did while I was there: finding somewhere to live, negotiating the return of my deposit from the terrifying landladies (elderly sisters who lived downstairs) when I found somewhere better to live, taking classes at university, writing exams and - scariest of all - getting a haircut (I can barely explain what I want done in English, let alone Spanish).

But unfortunately I haven't really kept it up in the ten years since then, and these days although I'm still reasonably comfortable reading and writing Spanish, I've lost all confidence in my ability to have a conversation - which, in turn prevents me from practising. It's a bit of a vicious circle. And it's sad because it's an incredibly useful skill to have.

There seems to be a belief among native speakers of English that it's not necessary to learn any other languages, because our own is so widely spoken. A recent study conducted as part of the European Survey on Language Competences (ESLC) found that out of 14 countries across Europe, teenagers in England ranked worst in language learning. And yesterday it was reported that while more English fifteen- and sixteen-year-olds are taking languages at GCSE than two years ago because of changes in the education system, only one in ten of these go on to study them after the age of sixteen. But the fact is that although English is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, there are still great opportunities to be had for those of us who are willing to make the effort to learn a different one, and it's a fantastic way to stand out from the crowd. Here are just some of the reasons learning a language is one of the best things you can do.
GET A JOB

Firstly, and probably most obviously, a second (or third) language on your CV looks good, especially if you're applying for a job with an international company. It means you can talk to clients from other countries and close business deals overseas, and it also makes a good talking point at interview, especially if the language you're learning is a bit unusual. And it shows that you've had the determination to learn it; you don't just know another language overnight and to reach the point where you can honestly say you speak it with any degree of fluency takes effort. The fact that you've put in that effort and stuck with it looks good to a potential employer.

CLOSE THE DEAL

Speaking of business deals, a lot of people think English is the language of international commerce. But how much more impressive does it look to a potential client if you can hold the negotiations in their own language? Between you and another rep, who's offering an equally good deal but hasn't shown them the same respect by learning a little of their language, they're much more likely to choose you.

SEE THE WORLD

Knowing another language gives you opportunities to travel, live and work abroad, and you're more likely to be accepted by the locals if you can at least manage a few words in their language. You'll look less like an arrogant foreigner and more like someone who genuinely wants to be a part of their country and culture. It'll also enable you to stand on your own two feet and not be dependent on others to translate for you, which means you'll get more out of the experience too.

MEET YOUR PERFECT PARTNER

You never know who you're going to meet when you go travelling - you might meet that special someone and even if they speak English, that's no reason why you shouldn't learn their language too. Not only that, but if you have met someone from another country, either on holiday or at home, you'll want to impress their family - they could be in your in-laws one day! It looks great to your boyfriend's mum if you can greet her in her own language, and you're much more likely to be accepted and welcomed into the family than someone who didn't bother.

MAKE FRIENDS

And finally, learning a language is about communication, and as such it's quite a sociable skill. You wouldn't expect to go to a French class and not speak to anyone. Even if you're learning at home on your own, at some point you're going to use what you know in conversation - otherwise why bother? So just the very fact that you're learning is going to broaden your social circle, helping you meet new people and make friends with whom you share a common interest.

There are lots of other reasons to learn a language: it helps you understand your own language better; it improves your memory; it means you can understand what they're singing about at the opera. But the main point is this - learning a language opens doors that might otherwise have stayed firmly shut. It's a way to be noticed and appreciated by employers, colleagues, clients, friends and more-than-friends. And it's also really fun! So maybe it's time I get over my fear and start practising my Spanish again...

Hasta luego!

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

A blog about blogging

Last night I met up with a friend for dinner. We got talking about this blog and at one point during the conversation she said, 'On the Internet, everyone has a voice'. And that's completely true. Whether we're writing a blog, commenting on someone else's, sharing a link with friends or just liking something on Facebook, we all have something to say, and the Internet gives us an easy and quick way to do that. In fact, often having your say online is a lot less scary than doing it in person.

Yesterday's post was about the dangers of this and how, if that voice isn't used wisely, it can get us in big trouble. But today I'm going to turn that around and look at the other side, the way in which we can use the Internet and the power it gives us to make a positive impact, not only on those who read it but on our own futures. Today, I'm going to blog about blogging.


Why do people start blogs? Originally they were online diaries (web logs, hence 'blog'), used by those who were going travelling and wanted to keep their friends and family back home up to date on their adventures. But nowadays they're used for everything from sharing a hobby to giving advice, documenting a life experience or even something as simple as a day-to-day journal.

Some blogs become big news, like Never Seconds, in which ten-year-old Martha Payne from Scotland shared photos of her school dinner every day, and scored each one out of ten. Martha hit the headlines when her school told her she had to stop blogging. Since then she's raised a staggering £129,000 for charity, won several awards and just yesterday she met the president of Malawi. 

Other blogs are read by just a handful of friends and family. But they all have an impact. People subscribe to blogs because they want to read the next update. They comment because they have an example or opinion they want to share. Maybe they don't agree with a post and want to start a discussion. And so the blog becomes not just one person's voice, but a community.

A good friend of mine, Sian, is moving to Turkey next month, and decided to blog about her preparations and the adventure ahead. Over time she realised she had more to say than just talking about the move, so now her blog tells a more general story about her life, her cats, her Bucket List and her travels, among many other things. It's funny and genuine, and I highly recommend that you take a look at To Fethiye and Beyond. And what's great is that through the blog she's met new people with common interests, who she'd never have known otherwise. These new friends come from all over the world and have offered to help her fulfil Bucket List items, and offered her reassurance and encouragement that her move is going to be a good one. Sian's also just heard that her blog won a Best Moments Award - not bad going for someone who's only been writing for six months!

By starting a blog you can also raise your own profile as an authority on a particular subject. Katie, another friend, started Musings of Guitargalchina to blog about films, a long-time passion of hers, just over a year ago. She wanted to get into film journalism and her blog gave her the chance to start writing, developing her style, and meant she had something to show to potential editors. Through promoting the blog to fellow film fans and bloggers, Katie's now written for five other sites and is a regular contributor to three, sharing her thoughts and opinions on the world of TV and film. Her blog has hundreds of followers and she's part of a thriving online community, regularly coming into contact with journalists and others within the film industry. Writing the blog has also given her confidence in her own ability and style.

Maybe you're worried that you have nothing to say. Not true - we all have hobbies and interests, and we all have something to say about them. Or maybe something really annoys you, and you just need to get it off your chest. There are almost certainly others out there who feel the same and will be happy to join the discussion.

You don't even have to write if you don't want to - take pictures, make videos, record podcasts. All these are just as valid and will allow you to get your voice heard. Try to find an angle that hasn't been covered before; that way your blog will be unique and is more likely to get noticed - because after all, as I pointed out yesterday, on the Internet you never know who's paying attention. 

But even if you don't make headlines, it's ok. It'll look great on your CV, and you might make some new friends. Those people will care what you have to say, and that's a great feeling!

If you have a blog that you'd like to share with everyone, please let us know in the comments.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Facebook Fail: the perils of social networking

Who remembers life before Facebook and Twitter? Social networking has become such a natural part of our lives that we now don't think twice about writing all our innermost thoughts online for all to see. I have Facebook friends I never actually talk to in real life and haven't seen since school, but I know everything that's going on in their lives, I've seen photos of their wedding and their new baby and I even know what they had for dinner last night.


Our behaviour on social networks like Facebook has a huge impact on how others see us. The content and frequency of our status updates, the links we share and the photos we post all give an idea of who we are and what we're like. Sometimes it's not accurate; I know quite a few people who have an online persona that's completely different to how they are in real life. And it can be used to our advantage - if we use it wisely. 

But the problem is sometimes we forget who else is going to see what we get up to online. Potential employers now check Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn as a matter of routine before hiring anyone. With some sites like Facebook, there are security settings that mean you can keep members of the public from seeing your profile, but others, like Twitter, are completely public. Everyone can see what you write and how often - if a recruiter knows you're currently working but can see you're tweeting all day, that's not a good sign. Don't be like Connor Riley, who was offered a job by Cisco but then lost it after tweeting negative comments about the prospect of working for them.

Equally, you have to be careful about what you say and do online in case your current employer sees it. Complaining about your job, being rude about customers or just posting content that others might find inappropriate is a risky business. Here are some examples of people who suffered unforeseen consequences from their social networking:

Ashley Payne, a high school teacher from Georgia, was asked to resign from her job because her school saw photos of her drinking on Facebook. They felt the photos 'promoted alcohol use'.

In 2009, Kimberley Swann from Essex was fired after three weeks from her job as an admin assistant; she'd written on Facebook about how boring it was - even on her first day.

Cameron Reilly, a guard at Buckingham Palace, was sacked after he posted rude comments about Kate Middleton, because she didn't look at him as her car drove past.

Three Burger King employees from Ohio were fired after posting a photo showing one of them standing in two tubs of lettuce used in the restaurant. Although it was posted anonymously, the restaurant and consequently the employees were identified within twenty minutes.

All these mistakes were avoidable; just by taking a second to think about who might see their status, all these people could still be employed. But the problem with social media is that sometimes you don't have any control over what happens. Paul Marshallsea from Wales was sacked last week from the charity he worked for after footage of him heroically wrestling a shark in Australia went global. He was on extended sick leave from work and his boss was unimpressed, despite the universal praise he received for his courage.

The short version of this post is: nothing's private any more. Social networking has changed the way we communicate and the downside is once we've written something it's out there and we can't take it back. So check those security settings and think twice before updating your status, because you never know who's looking at them. It could be a recruiter. It could be your boss. Or, worst of all, it could be your mum...

Sunday, 17 March 2013

How to not mess up a job interview

Last week I had a little rant about the obvious mistakes people make when applying for jobs. But sending in your application is just the first step, and there's obviously another huge hurdle to get over before landing the position. Yep, it's time for me to let rip again - this time about interviews. There are times when you know, before the interview itself even gets started, that it's not meant to be, and it seems crazy to have put all that effort into getting your application noticed only to mess it up at the second stage of the process.

BE ON TIME

Nothing is more disrespectful than being late to your interview. Often yours is one of many and if your appointment's delayed it means the rest of the day's schedule is thrown off. It's also just not polite to keep people waiting. Realistically, of course, things happen. I was late to the interview for my current job because of a road accident delaying traffic. If this happens, a phone call to explain and apologise is all it takes. Then when you arrive, apologise again. Being late because you didn't know where you were going isn't an option; make sure you check before you leave home and if you've got a smartphone have the location loaded into your map app just in case.

On the other hand, try not to turn up really early. Our office doesn't have a reception area where people can sit, so often they end up standing around awkwardly while we try to figure out where to put them. If you've allowed lots of time to get there and end up half an hour early, find a coffee shop or just take a walk round the block. Five minutes before your interview time is ideal; it shows you're enthusiastic but doesn't inconvenience anyone.

DRESS SMARTLY

It doesn't matter what kind of job you're going for, or even if you've been advised that the dress code for the office is casual. You should still make an effort with your appearance. It shows professionalism and respect for the people you're meeting. Yes, you may find that you're the smartest person in the room - but what's wrong with that? The golden rule: jeans are not appropriate interview attire! As this article explains, we all judge other people on their appearance, so why would we assume they're not judging us?

BE NICE TO EVERYONE

These people could be your future colleagues, so you don't want to start off by making a bad impression. You may be here for an interview with the boss, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be polite to the receptionist, or greet anyone you see around the office with a smile. You never know, they may even be a part of the interview process who'll later be asked for their opinion. Better safe than sorry!

So you've made it through the door, on time, smiling and looking smart - now what?

BE RELAXED (BUT NOT TOO MUCH)

Interviews are nerve-wracking, so this is difficult, but the more relaxed you can be the more your personality will come across and the better an impression you'll make. A good interviewer will do their best to put you at ease, but it works both ways - if you're fidgeting, shaking like a leaf and avoiding eye contact, it makes everyone else in the room feel uncomfortable too, and that's not going to make them like you.

However, remember it's a job interview so don't go too far the other way. Sit up straight, don't talk over people and definitely don't address your interviewer as 'dude'.

SHOW YOU'VE DONE YOUR HOMEWORK

Hopefully before you applied for the job, you looked up the company and knew a little about them, but before your interview is the time to do some serious research. You can pretty much guarantee that at some point, you'll be asked 'What do you know about us?' and just telling the interviewer what business they're in isn't enough; they know that already. Look up the company website and read it thoroughly, but also do a general Google search. If you can bring up a couple of less obvious facts that you've found this way, it shows you've made an effort and not just checked out the homepage of their website.



TALK LOTS, BUT KEEP IT RELEVANT



Interviewers don't want to listen to themselves talk. They want to hear from you, so avoid monosyllabic answers and expand on subjects to show you have plenty to say for yourself. This in turn will spark more conversations, whereas 'yes' and 'no' answers often lead to awkward silence while the interviewer looks for their next question.

But remember you probably only have a limited time, and they'll have a list of questions to get through, so don't ramble on. Answer the question and try not to go off-topic too much. Confidence is important, but keep it relevant. Thanks to Abby for this video, which takes a light-hearted look at whether confidence alone will get you hired.




ASK QUESTIONS

At some point you'll be asked if you have any questions, so come prepared. The interview is just as much for you to figure out if the company and position are right for you, so make sure you've got all the information you need to make a decision if the job's offered to you. It'll also show that you're interested and not just keen to get out the door.

AFTER THE INTERVIEW

When the interview's over, thank them for their time, and make a point of thanking the receptionist on your way out too. Also a quick follow-up email when you get home will get you big bonus points; reiterate your enthusiasm for the company and the job and one final thank you always goes down well. Try to include the names of the people who interviewed you, it shows you paid attention.

I've just read through what I've written and realised a lot of the points are 'Do this ... but not too much', or 'Don't do this ... but don't do this either'. The fact is that interviews are often about finding a balance and it's not easy. An important part of it is reading the body language and personality of the people you're talking to and adapting accordingly, and that's something you can't prepare for. But get all the other bits right and you'll be well on your way to success. Good luck!

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Why is dressing to impress nothing but stress?

I'm going clubbing tonight (yes, you read that right). This isn't something I do very often and my main concern at the moment is what I'm going to wear. The dress code is apparently 'sexy and stylish', which are not two words I tend to associate with my wardrobe very often. Fortunately the friends I'm going with don't know what to wear either so at least I'm not alone.

This got me thinking about fashion and how the clothes we wear can make a statement. At award ceremonies like the Oscars, all most people really want to know is what the stars are wearing, and they're judged based on that rather than anything they may have done on the big screen. The goal seems to be to make the biggest impact on the red carpet, and often we remember who won in the fashion stakes more than who won the awards inside.

But what about the rest of us, who don't have a huge budget to spend on a show-stealing dress for one night? 

Some people just know what looks good on them and carry it off perfectly. They have their own style and they're completely confident about putting different items together. And because they're confident, it works. If, like me, you're a bit self-conscious when trying a new outfit, it shows in your body language and you'll probably spend the night fiddling with your clothes, convinced they don't look right. Instead of 'do I look good?' the question in your mind will be 'do I fit in?' and you'll be more concerned about blending into the crowd than standing out and getting noticed, whether that's by potential dates or just in general.

So my considered fashion advice would be: wear what makes you feel comfortable. That doesn't mean always wearing the same thing - wearing an outfit you know and love but teaming it with some unusual accessories can make just as much of an impact. The most important thing, especially on a night out, is to relax and enjoy yourself; this is what will get you noticed for the right reasons.

Of course not everyone agrees with me. I'll leave you with a lesson on picking up girls from the legend that is Howard Wolowitz.




Have fun tonight, whatever you're doing! I'm off to raid my wardrobe (again).

Friday, 15 March 2013

Ten things I know now, that I didn't know a week ago

I've been writing this blog for a week now, so I thought I'd take this opportunity to look back over the last few days. It's quite a scary thing starting a blog, not knowing if anybody will want to read it or be interested in what you're going to say, but we're now closing in on 1,500 hits so thank you to everyone who's visited, read, commented and shared the blog so far. I want to be sure I'm posting on subjects that are relevant and interesting, so please do get in touch in the comments section below to say hello and let me know what you want to read more about.

(By the way, I'm told there might be a problem posting comments in Safari, so if you have something you want to say, please try a different browser. I'd love to hear from you so please don't be put off!)

It's been an interesting few days - I've thought about things I'd never considered before and let off a bit of steam on issues I've been raging about for years. Here are a few of the things I've learnt this week:

1. Standing out from the crowd, in all areas of life, is often just a case of following a few simple rules, and is sometimes as easy as doing things right.
2. I'm almost certainly not the only person in my office who sometimes feels they shouldn't be there.
3. Confidence is all in the mind, but the mind can be tricked by something as simple as changing how you stand for two minutes.
4. Interviews for jobs in teaching sound seriously scary.
5. It's possible to spend three weeks locked in a shop window with 300 poisonous spiders and live to tell the tale (although this does not mean I'll be trying it any time soon).
6. Quoting Voltaire in a job interview is a good thing.
7. Practising the 'power pose' in the work kitchen is not a good thing. People will laugh.
8. High street charity collectors are not, on the whole, very popular people.
9. Hiring a billboard costs £500 (you never know when that knowledge might come in handy).
10. And an interesting fact that I just read - apparently when trying out a new pen, 97% of people write their own name (this information is courtesy of the weekly newsletter from Innocent Drinks - definitely recommended, it'll brighten up your Fridays and you'll learn all kinds of random trivia).

Have a great weekend everyone!