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Playing the game: CV writing and interview tips

By Feb.12, 2015

Article by Craig Dean, CEO Web, Applications UK Ltd

In my time as an employer I’ve probably interviewed thousands of people, which would mean I’ve seen ten times as many CVs. Though the stats tell us we are seeing more jobs appearing, today’s labour market still demands pushing every opportunity to its limit; which means writing better CVs, making the most out of your experience, and preparing as best you can for any interviews you’re invited to.

This is doubly important for students of Computer Science, who have recorded an 11% rise in undergraduate enrolment in the last academic year, the joint highest with Biological Sciences, where the recorded average across all subjects was a 2% decrease.

This tells us that though the overall job market is on the up, when it comes to software development, the long-celebrated surplus of available jobs is starting to narrow. There always has been, and will continue to be serious competition. The astute job seekers (the ones reading this blog) will put themselves ahead of the curve and make sure they’re in the best position possible.

Graph showing percentage change in first year student enrolments

The Golden Rule:

You cannot get a job if you don’t get an interview. You cannot get an interview if you don’t apply.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

There’s an anecdote I’m fond of telling about an encounter with a disgruntled jobseeker at a job fair a few years ago. We ended up chatting, as one often does at those things, and he complained to me that no-one would give him a job, and it wasn’t fair.

I come across a lot of young people in the same boat, and I wanted to offer some advice, so I tried to find out a little bit about what he was interested in doing. Maybe I could help.

“Well, what kind of job are you looking for?”

“Dunno. Something that pays a lot of money.”

Whilst I commend the honesty, this is a textbook example of something a prospective employer never wants to hear. They want their employees to be motivated by the job, not the money. Passion vs. payment: Always keep this question at the front of your mind – What are you giving?

Still, sometimes people have unrealistic expectations. Maybe he just needed some guidance.

 “OK, well what kind of jobs have you applied for so far?”

“Nothing.”

Ok, the golden rule should be obvious. But sometimes it’s not. It’s easy to understand why; we grow up in an environment where people are placed, even paid to be around you, to help you succeed. In the world of work the odds are balanced more fairly. You need to work together with those around you to achieve a common success. A great way to show you are ready to move into a full-time role is to get some work experience.

There’s a similarly simple formula for work experience, and it tells us that the harder you have to work, the more valuable the final product will be to you during a job hunt.

Work experience of any kind is valuable, but thinking of it like this can help us quantify how valuable it is. Example: A bar job might seem pointless to mention on a CV, but it actually can demonstrate some useful information about yourself; In fact, if the company has a vibrant culture, something socially active like bar work might be more useful than you imagined.

Of course, a bar job doesn’t match the value of a summer internship in your chosen field. But it’s better than doing nothing.

 

CVs – Dos and Don’ts

Don’t forget to proofread

Please, please, please proofread your CV. There is no easier way to shorten a stack of CVs by 75% than to cut out all the ones that haven’t been properly combed for fact verification, spelling mistakes, grammar errors, and embarrassing typos.

Of course, proofreading can be an arduous process, but even if it wasn’t absolutely essential it would be a great opportunity to demonstrate a fantastic eye for detail – an invaluable aspect to have in the eyes of many employers. You can always sanity check by letting somebody you trust run an eye over it.

Don’t write a dissertation

It’s a good sign that you have a lot to write. You have tonnes of experience, a wealth of demonstrable personal growth and a portfolio of perfectly transferable skills. You could easily write a ten page CV with the material you’ve got.

So get comfortable, take a seat in front of your laptop with a chai latte, put some soothing music on, open up a word processor and do the opposite of that.

This comes back to narrowing down. Hiring is an expensive and long process, and anything that can boost efficiency is welcomed. No hiring manager has the time to sift through a 5 page dossier. What you have to do is decide what is most important to that employer, and match yourself to that profile. If you have any surplus, it’s a good idea to turn that into a list of things to mention at your interview.

Don’t go crazy on design

A well designed CV is pleasing to the eye and sends the right message, but there is such a thing as going overboard with design on a CV. If a résumé is so intricately designed I’d have to work out how to read it, I simply won’t.

There are essentially two ways you can go – too far, or not far enough. Above all else, readability and clarity is important.

Don’t forget the basics

Believe it or not, I’ve seen more than a few CVs that forgot to put contact details down altogether. Forgetting the basics is an unforgivable mistake to make when applying for a job – it can make you literally impossible to contact.

Do tailor your CV

Every job application is a different story, and every CV should reflect that. I’m not saying you should completely re-write one each time, but as I said above, you need to identify the key aspects of your character that make you suitable for that job. A great place to do this is also a cover letter – never forget to write one.

If they want an outgoing type, talk about your time as part of a society at University. If they want a hard worker, tell them about when you worked a part-time job with demanding hours. You get the point.

Do make the most out of experience

Employers often find that sometimes a candidate with everything we need doesn’t take enough of an opportunity to impress us. Don’t be afraid to sell your work experience. This goes back to my point about tailoring your CV. What they need is right there on the job listing, and you need to tell them how you match up to it.

 

A conversation, not an interrogation: Interview tips

A misconception held by many jobseekers is that employers and interviewers are out to get them. Bear in mind at all times that you are not being set up to fail. Recruitment is an expensive venture – no one is going to invite you to an interview just to wind you up!

Succeeding in an interview situation is all about using the opportunities given to you by the interviewer. This comes down to understanding how to give open answers.

We frequently find that if an interviewer asks a closed question:

“Who’s your favourite Beatle?”

An interviewee will respond with a closed answer:

“Ringo.”

A skilful conversationalist knows how to turn every question into an open one, even one that is closed on the surface.

An open answer reveals multiple things about the interviewee, ticking things off a list of what they want to say.

Let’s imagine the candidate isn’t really a big fan of The Beatles. How can anyone mould an answer to this seemingly pointless question to make themself seem employable?

“Who’s your favourite Beatle?”

“Well, firstly I’m a massive Thomas the Tank Engine fan! I was a drummer in a band at university, and in my spare time I watched clips of famous drummers playing to improve my technique – so it has to be Ringo.”

Note the difference? This answer engages with the interviewer, and tells them several things – the interviewee is dedicated to self-improvement, an insightful learner, and works well in a team. They even managed to tie in a bit of a humour, which is always good currency in an interview.

As I said at the top of the page, succeeding in a job hunt is about making the most out of every opportunity, on paper and in person. Keep that in mind, and you will succeed.

Good luck!

What are your CV writing and interview tips?

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Sources: HESA Statistical First Release 210: Enrolments and Qualifications 1/15/2015, Creative Commons

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