OFFICE CHAT AT this time of year often turns to New Year resolutions. Some of these are short-term, designed simply to offset the fortifying effect of the Christmas holidays, while others are longer-term goals towards health and happiness.
For many people, and for many reasons, a new job is top of the to-do list. It’s no surprise that the month of January sees the highest level of movement in the recruitment sector.
Even the most determined employment seekers, however, can fall at the first hurdle – be it securing a first interview or progressing to a second – and this is nearly always down to a simple lack of preparation.
Whether you’re targeting an intern position or a CEO role, all prospective employers are looking for the same things: how do you perform under pressure?
How accurate is your thinking? Do you have the right skills? You need to be ready with the right answers – and here’s how.
Respond to the spec
Having a comprehensive, error-free and up-to-date CV is the first step in catching the eye of an employer. However, many candidates fail to adapt their CV to match the job specification advertised.
Bunging out one generic CV in response to a variety of job opportunities never works, and seasoned HR personnel will spot a one-size-fits-all approach every time.
Do your homework
If you’re trying to land a job or placement, learn everything you can about the company and its personnel. Is the company a subsidiary? Privately held or publicly listed? How many employees? What is its mission and vision? The more you know, the more confidence and knowledge you will display in an interview scenario.
It is also important to check out the company’s social media platforms. What is their tone like? In turn, make sure your own online presence presents you in the best light as some employers may vet candidates through their social media sites prior to making a job offer.
Communicate with connections
If you know somebody who works, or has worked, with the company, pick their brains!
What’s the company culture? Does it value innovation and risk-taking? Is it all about teamwork? Are employees recognised for their contribution? Does it pay its bills on time? Is it a good company to work for?
“So… tell us about yourself” is a tried and trusted opening gambit, mainly because it gives an opportunity to see how you handle yourself in unstructured situations. The recruiter wants to see how articulate you are, how conﬁdent you are, what type of impression you make.
They also want to learn about your career, of course, and get a sense of your professional capabilities.
Lots of people have trouble answering the “tell us about yourself” question. However, with the right preparation it gives you a chance to get off to a positive start by describing your main strengths – and how they are suited to the job on offer.
Why do you want to work here?
Think of a story to explain how you ﬁrst became interested in the company. Point out any similarities between the job you’re interviewing for and your current job. Prove that you aren’t simply ‘shopping’ in this interview.
Make your passion for your work a theme that you allude to throughout the interview.
Life outside work
Employers are generally not looking for robots; the best employees are well-rounded, multi- faceted people with lots of different interests and activities. Here’s your opportunity to showcase that side of your personality: sports, culture, charity work, whatever your passion.
This is especially important for graduates who may worry that they don’t have enough experience behind them. Referring back to projects you were involved in (both at second and third level), work experience and extra-curricular activities can be very important.
Don’t forget too that college is a huge life experience in itself.
Ask the hard questions
Approach the interview as a conversation rather than an exam. Easier said than done, but when you’re asked if you have any questions – and you will be – you should take the opportunity to show that you’re a strong, intelligent person who is looking to improve.
Don’t be afraid to ask about employment policies, benefit schemes, even pension plans – chances are the interviewer will admire your resolve for asking the questions that are avoided by the majority.
If at first…
You will experience failure. Count on it. And learn from it – every application/interview process is a chance to improve the way you market yourself so if you are not successful, make sure you take something positive out of the experience and move on to the next one.
Leslee O’Loughlin is Group HR Manager of Enterprise Rent-A-Car, one of the UK and Ireland’s largest graduate recruiters which this year plans to employ up to 55 graduates in Ireland to join its Management Trainee programme.