Category Archives: Covering Letters

All aspects of content and presentation and how to tailor for each individual application without re-writing the whole thing every time.

New Year, New Fear

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New Year, New Fear

In the eight-week run up to Christmas, I attended no less than eight job interviews. That’s one per week! (For those of you whose brains are still reeling from the impacts of the festive season.)

“Well, that’s great!” Some of you may be thinking. And yes, in some respects, it is. It means that my CVs, covering letters and job applications are good enough. They are working as they should. Writing CVs, covering letters and applications is one of my strengths; of this I am sure.

“But hang on a minute, if you attended eight job interviews that means . . . ”

Exactly, I didn’t get any job offers! And herein lies the problem. It’s all well and good writing job applications so good you beat hundreds of others to the interview stage, (for one job I was informed there were over three hundred applicants), only then to be told,

“You don’t have enough experience.”

I made my experience clear on the job application though? And this wasn’t just one or two times I heard this. It was every time. Feedback following every single interview I’ve had so far (and it’s more than the eight preceding Christmas), has been,

“You interviewed very well, but we hired someone with more relevant experience,”

Well, I can’t do anything about the experience I currently lack – unless someone gives me a break so I can get it! So where do I go from here?

 

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Sell-fie

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Sell-fie

I’m posting about the entire process one has to endure to find themselves in the world of employment. Whether it be forging a new career, starting on a new venture, or just a job to tide you over, we must all try to sell ourselves! I, like most, often find this a particularly tricky issue despite being able to do this for others so easily. Having had some experience with creative CV writing for others with success, I understand the basics of what is required to grab the attention of employers and make a job application really stand out. However, when it comes to me, I often struggle to think of a single USP on the spot, despite having several filed away in there somewhere . . .

This begs the question:

“How can I sell myself successfully?” 

For that is essentially what we have to do. We need to make it transparent to a potential employer why they should hire us and not someone else. What we have, that no one else does, has to be displayed like a Peacock to grab their attention. For those of you like myself; reserved, quiet, introverted, anxious, this does not come naturally! For most it is quite unnatural to think of ourselves as being better than others, in fact, quite often, it is the exact opposite. This means that sometimes the more modest of us lose out to our more flamboyant competitors.

I believe that clear and transparent communication is the key. Quite often, how we perceive what we are communicating to others is quite different from what they actually hear. It is natural to think that your interviewer knows more than you do, after all, if they are your superior, surely they must do to be hiring you? I have learned that this assumption is not always the case. Always explain fully how you demonstrate a key skill or USP through an example in detail and why it is relevant.

I’m discussing feedback for an unsuccessful interview (it happens to us all from time-to-time); the interview feedback was positive and the reason the candidate was not offered the position was because there was another candidate who had several years more experience (not much can be done about that). Constructive criticism given post-interview, was that they did not give specific enough examples when answering questions about how to demonstrate necessary skills and experience. They had rehearsed their responses and were sure they had linked relevant work experience and how those skills are transferable to the current role, with a supporting example! On paper, it all seemed flawless; but clearly this was not how the interviewers (there were three of them) perceived the responses.

This just goes to show the discrepancy between what the two parties were hearing. Also the importance of understanding exactly what it is the employers are looking for. Sometimes, it just is experience, and no matter how creative your responses are, all you can do is keep seeking more experience! Whether it’s voluntary, taking a step down or making a side-step. However, most often there are ‘buzz words‘ employers are looking for that they must hear to grab their attention.

“Where do I find these ‘buzz words?’ you may be asking. The answer is: Do your research! It may seem obvious but I have found that more often than not companies use their favourite buzz words and phrases within the first two paragraphs of their home and about section. Linking your ethos and values to this can really help to support an application and when being interviewed.

Another really important point is – keep it relevant. If you are lacking a bit in experience and don’t want to make this too obvious; when giving examples of your transferable skills, check that you have supported their relevance with a clear example that relates to the job role you are going for! The best way to do this is to read and highlight the job description/profile you have been provided with. Often employers will list the most essential skills first and quite often will indicate whether a skill is essential or desirable by marking it ‘E’ or ‘D’. Be prepared to have at least three examples rehearsed and choose whichever one is most appropriate during the interview.

If you can, support your previous successes with facts and figures where appropriate. If you improved the efficiency of the company’s CRM system by 80% then jolly well say so! Take pride in your success and of course, do keep these honest and be prepared to show evidence – don’t manipulate them as this may come back to bite you when the employer checks with your references and this won’t bode well with either party – you want to keep your referees thinking highly of you, just in case you don’t get this one.

A few ideas from my own personal experience and that of clients. I do not allege to be an expert by any means and if anyone else has anything useful they would like to share – please do so. It would be very much appreciated in the fast-paced and competitive job market of today!

Interview Expectations: Attitude and Enthusiasm

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I have now been employed as a marketing assistant for two whole weeks and I’d just like to share a bit about my journey getting there. The role is based at a large, UK wide company who have been established for over 20 years and run direct response marketing campaigns.

I’ve been searching for a permanent role  in marketing since the beginning of last year, after developing an interest during one of the modules I was studying as part of my Creative Writing degree. I’ve been invited to many interviews and even secured a role with a start-up digital agency for a couple of months at the end of March last year. I thoroughly enjoyed it my time there and hoped it would develop in to something more, but as with a lot of start-ups these days, the role didn’t last for very long due to funding issues.

This left me in a bit of a predicament as I’d just moved to Portsmouth and needed a job, any job, immediately to earn enough to pay the bills, so that’s what I did back in June 2011. It’s taken from then until now to secure my most current role.

I didn’t have any issues getting interviews, and the feedback back I got interview after interview was the same, “interviewed well, but not enough experience,” it became a broken record to my ears. OK, so I didn’t have traditional industry experience, but I had demonstrated a genuine interest and commitment to the field, surely? It’s not like I was going for megabucks, in fact, I felt I had rather modest expectations considering my qualifications. I mean, how am I supposed to get the experience if I’m not given the chance to prove myself in the first place?

Then I got it, my ‘big’ break! And in doing so I discovered the truth. My new manager is a very upfront and honest personality, no sugar coating and very frank about absolutely everything – just the way I like it. One of our first conversations was about why she had decided to give me this opportunity. It wasn’t because of my qualifications, knowledge,or experience; in fact, she admitted to me that all of the previous interviewees had more to offer on paper than me. The reason that she decided to give me the opportunity is because, having come from a paperless background, she started from the bottom and worked her way up and feels that attitude and commitment are more important than qualifications and experience. And she felt during my interview that I really wanted the role, showed the right amount of enthusiasm and would give 100%.

To be honest, this was a bit of a blow to me at first because I felt so transparent. She had sussed my situation almost immediately and had just admitted that on paper I was probably the weakest candidate if measured by qualifications and experience alone, a harsh reality to digest when you’ve got two very good degrees under your belt and spent a lot of your personal time attempting to build your knowledge base around a subject. But I accepted this reality and appreciated her honesty.

 

As such she has now taken it upon herself to train me as her intern and I can’t thank her enough for this opportunity. OK, so it’s not a permanent role, I’m getting minimum wage and have taken on a lot of the jobs nobody else wants to do (reports, photocopying, printing and the like) but it doesn’t matter. For the first time I am doing something because I WANT to do it, not because I NEED to (well there is that as well, unfortunately we can’t escape the fact that these days money does make the World go round just a tiny bit). I finally have a job that I want to become permanent and stay long-term, where the days fly by,  that motivates me to get out of bed in the morning and best of all, where I feel appreciated and rewarded. That’s something that qualifications and experience will never be able to buy.

‘Can-do’ Attitude

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It’s everywhere! This 5 letter phrase that is used in abundance by all sorts of employers when describing essential qualities and attributes in a potential candidate. So, what does it actually mean? According to the online dictionary this simply means being confident and resourceful in the face of challenges. Seems pretty obvious to me really, I mean, why would anyone want to employ someone who is timid and doesn’t have a clue? Anyway . . .

I thought I’d start by sharing something a bit personal about me that kind of relates to this . . . over 8 years ago I attempted and failed 5 driving tests, I also failed my theory test the 1st time! Yes, I know, she who can get 2 degrees blah blah, heard it all before, very funny. Well it was when the hazard perception element was 1st introduced and no one really knew what it was all about and I did it wrong! Nevermind, I passed with flying colours the 2nd time. Anyway, point is, I have always used the phrase “I can’t pass my test.” This, in itself, just sets me up with the right attitude for failure before I’ve even started! It is such a negative stance to take, implying that I am incapable, that it is an impossible feat I will never achieve, and I have now come to realise, 8 years later, this is simply not the case!

So, following 20 weeks of group therapy (I’ll write a post on that later – yes I am a rather complicated individual I know, even I can’t keep up!) and certain job interviews that I have been invited to, I have decided to give it another a go. However, this time I have decided to approach the matter of the test with a different stance, instead of using the phrase “I can’t pass my test,” I am now saying “I HAVEN’T passed my test,” just changing this one word changes this whole phrase from having a profoundly negative effect, to a positive one. Haven’t implies that I will, in the future, at some point, which is exactly what I intend to do.

So far I have had 2 driving lessons, and during my driving lesson today I had a bit of an experience . . . that is, I nearly drove in to a bush! It was an honest mistake, and rather hilarious. The last time I drove all those years ago it was in a car without power assisted steering . . . Today, I was creeping out of a car park on to a busy road at snails pace, turning left, so I was looking to make sure that nothing was speeding round the corner as I pulled out, and I forgot there was a low pavement and bush on the other side. As I pulled out I turned the wheel just a tad too much. The instructor just put the brakes on and grabbed the wheel exclaiming,

“Whoa, there’s a bush there . . . you’re doing the right thing by looking in that direction . . . but you just turned the wheel a tad too much and I don’t really want you driving my car in to a bush.”

“Ooops, sorry,” I replied, and we both burst out laughing. . . Oh dear! He continued to reassure me that I did the right thing by making sure that there was no oncoming traffic, and it was simply a matter of learning the feel of the car and polishing my skills again.

Now, before, all those years ago, I would have taken this to mean that I’m useless and shouldn’t be allowed to drive anyway, but this time, I just brushed it off and have been having quite a laugh about it with the instructor and my friends. Of course it was more important that I was making sure that there was no oncoming traffic, I did do the right thing! If I’d been on my own, OK, I’d ‘ve felt a bit silly and embarassed, perhaps scratched the car a bit . . . but nothing that would have been life threatening! Whereas if I’d been concentrating on the bush and not the traffic  . . . well. I’m astounded by my change in attitude over the years, a positive change I feel is for the better, and I will continue to see it that way.

So, in the context of the “can-do” attitude, I can pass exams, I can get an honours degree, I can get a masters degree, I can swim, I can dive off the 10M board, I can ride a horse, I can write a novel, I can jump a horse, I can remember my 12 X tables, I can make a cup of tea, I can get up in the morning, I can remember where I left my keys, I can cook dinner, I can reach the top shelf (OK, it may involve climbing but I can still do it unaided – there’s a can-do within a can-do -ha!) I can open jars, I can undo a tin of baked beans, I can tolerate my mother for more than 5 hours at a time (Love you really Mum), I can read, I can write, I can learn French and I can drive in to a bush . . . how’s that for a can-do attitude?