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New Job

Maybe you are newly on the job market… a recent graduate without a job, a school leaver at the end of the summer, ready for work, recently redundant, or bored with your job and looking for a new one.  Or maybe you have been looking for a job for a fair time and are hoping for a new tip that could make the difference.

The Perfect CV

The perfect CV or job application does not exist.  The best one for this opportunity, at this time, with your skills, experience and personality is what you need to create.  Yes; you read that correctly – each CV and each application needs to be tailored to the role you are applying for and the culture of the organisation you are applying to.  This is not to manipulate the truth, but to make the relevant truth easy for selectors to find and appreciate.

What General Principles Apply?

There are some general principles, and these are important.  They will dictate in part the base document you create and in part how you adapt it each time.

Character First

There is an old saying: ‘hire for attitude: train for skills’ and many organisations apply that ethos.  What is becoming more evident is the desire to place character before capability.  Where there is an over-supply of skilled or experienced candidates, what really matters is character.  How can you use your application documents to demonstrate your character strengths?

As an aside, what can you do while you wait for that job, to develop your character?  Working at this is, itself, a sign of character and an important asset in your job search.

Stand-alone CV?

Your application documents no longer stand alone.  If an employer is interested in you, the HR department or interviewing manager may well punch your name into a search engine.  There is a debate in the HR profession around the ethics and the reliability of this, but the safest thing is to assume it will happen.  So do it yourself and find out what they would see on their screens.  If it is not good, fix it.

Pay particular attention to social media and use professional social media websites like Linked In to your advantage.



Printing your CV on Day-Glo paper may be good for attracting attention but will not attract an interview.  However, a well-laid out, carefully prepared and proof-read document with a little design consideration may help.  Look at the corporate style of the organisation you are applying to: download their brochures and reports from their website.  Are they traditional or modern in their design ethic?  Do they like dense information or a lot of white space?  Don’t copy their style, but do reflect it.  A small number of excellent applications will beat a vast number of low quality all-the-same ones – and save you on postage.

The Core Message

What is your SHA?  Your Specific Hiring Advantage – for this job, for this employer.  Build your CV and application around that one message.  Keep the content concise and relevant and address any criteria or clues you get from the job details, the advert, the organisation’s public image.  Two good pages are perfect.  Any more and it won’t get read.

A Really Good Cover Letter

… will grab attention on line one and leave the reviewer eager to read your CV and subconsciously biased in its favour.  The confirmation bias means if they like your cover letter, they will look for the good in your application and CV.  If the cover letter fails to impress (or worse) then they will notice every tiny flaw in your application and it will be scrapped (emotionally if not physically) long before the bottom of the last page.  Hone your cover letter to perfection – don’t treat it as a last minute rush job.  That would waste all of the other efforts you have made.

Be Honest

‘Character first’ was the first tip – and it is the last.  If they have the slightest reason to doubt your honesty, you are burnt burger and in the bin.  Avoid exaggeration and provide evidence.

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The New Manager’s Guide to Interviewing Part 1: Preparing the Ground

One of the most daunting tasks for a new manager is conducting their first job interviews.  The stakes are high: get it wrong, and you may be stuck with a capable – but not that capable – colleague for years.  Get it right, on the other hand, and you have not just added a huge asset to your organisation, but you will probably make your own life easier.

So what can you do to improve your chances of securing the right candidate?

In a series of three articles, Management Pocketblog will offer you:

  1. Preparing the Ground
    Increase your chances of success well before the interview
  2. Getting it Right
    Hints and advice for conducting and effective interviews
  3. Polishing your Process
    Tips and tricks of the trade

Preparing the Ground

Your interview can only be successful if you get the right candidates in front of you, so your process needs to start right back at the beginning – thinking clearly about the role you need to fill.  Avoid the lazy option of re-issuing an existing job description and start afresh.

The Job Requirements

Look at your requirements in terms of the job, your organisation’s short and medium term plans, the team of people that is there, and what you believe it will take to do the work to the highest standards.  This is time consuming and will doubtless require consultation and negotiation.  But if you get it wrong, two risks emerge; either:

  1. You get someone who fits the job description (JD) perfectly, but it is the wrong JD, so you have the wrong person.
  2. You get the right person despite the poor JD, and then other candidates can legitimately claim that the interview process was unfair, in not selecting against the published JD.

Handling the Advertising and Admin

How you advertise the vacancy and handle enquiries will tell candidates a lot about your organisation.  The impression that they form may be fair or false, but it will influence everything from how candidates present themselves to you at interview to whether they accept a job you offer.  So, if you get that wrong, a good candidate may mis-judge you and perform poorly or may succeed at interview, only to turn you down.

How many times have you phoned a business up and had to wait for a grumpy person to take your call and then lose you in the system?  Would you want to work for that company?  No?  Neither will the best candidates.

Do your Reading

When applications and CVs come in, take the sifting process seriously.  Evidence-based sorting and shortlisting is not just fairer than impression-based selection: it gives better results.  So before any responses come back, devise a set of criteria to rate or rank all applications.  Do so on the basis of the factors that matter most to this role, and choose a small number of factors.  Keep the process simple and then evaluate each application scrupulously against these criteria.

Ideally, have two people do it independently and average the scores.  Before doing that, examine any applications where the two give substantially different scores.  Work together to examine the evidence in the application and decide which of you mis-read the application.

Prepare for the Interview 1

Create an interview process that focuses on the most relevant skills, experience and characteristics for the job.  Avoid clever tricks (more in the next blog) and questions designed to catch the candidate out.  Instead, presume that each candidate is ideal for the job and design a process that allows each to show how she or he fits perfectly and what extra qualities they bring.  Some will fail to give you the evidence that convinces you, and you will exclude them.  This approach is better than risking catching out a perfect candidate with a clever trick, while the so-so candidate sails through by playing it safe.

Prepare for the Interview 2

In the perfect world, all applications would be rendered into uniform, relevant data only briefs before interviewers read them ahead of the interview.  This means that, in preparing,you only see the relevant information and are not distracted by irrelevancies (for example, gender, age, and sometimes layout and handwriting).

Whether you have the resources to do this or not, read the information that you have carefully and highlight the most salient details, which you wish to explore in the interview.  Highlight those sections and note your questions.  Avoid putting smart remarks like ‘obviously a lie’ on them, as these papers may be disclosable under the Data Protection Act and so open you up to tribunal or worse.

If you do suspect a problem, use phrases like ‘explore in detail’  instead.  You need to know each application and CV thoroughly before the candidate walks through the door.

Next Time…

… we’ll be looking at the interview itself.

Management Pocketbooks you may enjoy

The Interviewer's Pocketbook

The Interviewer’s Pocketbook

The Managing Recruitment Pocketbook

Or, if you are expecting to be on the other side of the table…

The Succeeding at Interviews Pocketbook

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Seven Ways to Interview Well

Going for a new job?

Maybe it’s the next step in your career ladder: maybe it’s the first.

Maybe you’ve chosen to shop around: maybe circumstances have forced you into the job market.

Whatever your circumstances, the ‘job interview’ is going to be an important stage in the process.  For some it is feared, while for others it is a chance to show off.  However you feel about job interviews, you will need to use it to your advantage and do it really well.


1. Homework is not just for school

There may have been an excuse for not knowing all about your potential employer before you arrived at the interview twenty years ago, when a trip to the library and a review of the papers came up blank; but no more.  If you have not reviewed their website, checked out key people on LinkedIn, and searched for relevant press coverage, you are just preparing yourself to be tripped up at interview.

Don’t just focus your interview practice on yourself and how you will respond: learn about the people who may be interviewing you.

2. Look good – Feel good

Interview dressing is not about being fashionable or elegant, it is about showing that you know how to present yourself appropriately in the business environment of your prospective employer.  This will be different if you want to work in a retail chain, an architect, a fashion house or a law firm.

My top tip is to hang out opposite the entrance to where you want to work, or their local branch, or one of their top competitors.  Watch the people going in and out, to get a sense of the prevailing dress code.  If in doubt, when you call to confirm your interview, ask about dress code.

3. First Impression

Nothing conveys your qualities as quickly as your very first encounter with your interviewer/s.  A good posture, eye contact, a pleasant smile and a good handshake will say: ‘I am confident and looking forward to our meeting.’ On the other hand, slouching, evasive eyes, a frown or grimace and a limp handshake will say ‘I am fearful and I don’t want to be here.’

It’s all obvious stuff, but you’d be surprised how many people fail at this step.

4. Short and Sharp

Keep your answers short and sharp – around three minutes will create a good balance between terse and wordy, and will demonstrate you are in control of your thoughts.  Practise answers to obvious questions like:

  • ‘why do you want this job?’
  • ‘why should we hire you?’
  • ‘what are your strengths?’
  • ‘… and your weaknesses?’

A god way to control your answers and show structured thinking is to apply the ‘rule of three’ that make a good speech effectively:

  • ‘There are three reasons I what this job…’
  • ‘I think there are three things that distinguish me from the other able candidates you will be speaking to…’
  • ‘My three greatest strengths are…’
  • ‘The three aspects of my professional skills I’d like to develop most are…’

Then summarise each in around a minute.

5. Telling Tales

Human beings love hearing stories: it is the most powerful rhetorical form.  And if you are wondering how or why they are relevant in a job interview, the answer is simple.  When I conducted interviews, the most important thing for me was to hear evidence for the loose assertions most candidates offer.  I wanted to hear what had really happened and also get an insight into how candidates think and deal with challenges.  Package your experiences into compelling 60-90 second stories.

6. Structured Response

You are bound to get some questions you haven’t prepared for. – despite the presence of books that seem to offer a comprehensive list.  You need to think on your feet and structure your answer to show the rigour of your thinking and the flexibility of your mind.  Try the AREA approach:

  • Give a clear Answer to the question
  • Explain your Reasons for that answer
  • Cite Evidence or Examples to support your answer
  • Reiterate the Answer before you .

7. Show you are a 3G Candidate

Research by Harvard Business School guest lecturer and founder of Peak Learning, Dr Paul Stoltz, employers are really looking for a 3G mindset.  Your job is to figure out what that means for your particular prospective employer and to find ways to demonstrate it in yourself.  A 3G mindset, according to Stoltz, combines:

  1. Global: Able to think about the ‘big picture’ and look above the detail when you need to.  To understand the connectedness between parts of the job role, the organisation and the business/social environment.
  2. Good: The desire to do good, be good and serve.  This is about integrity and sensitivity to others – colleagues, partners and customers.
  3. Grit: The resilience, tenacity, and determination to persevere and see the job through, in the face of adversity.

Some Management Pocketbooks you Might find Helpful

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Generation Y at work

Last week, I got side-tracked in my quest to learn how Generation Y (born between around 1980 and 2000) will handle the challenge of management in the workplace.  The oldest and most talented of them are stepping up to that challenge already and we can expect a significant cohort of new Generation Y managers in our workplaces over the next few years.

Back to that highly salient topic…

Continue reading Generation Y at work

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