All entries for May 2012

May 31, 2012

Five cover letter essentials

There’s a lot of good, detailed information out there to help you draft a cover letter – not least on our website – but it’s often difficult to synthesise and digest the really key points. Given that many of you will soon be picking up your job search, I’ve decided offer up my own ‘cover letter essentials, packaged in bite-size, and hopefully digestible, form.

There’s no question that recruiter subjectivity plays a part in the selection process, but you can’t always second guess employers – what you can do is present a compelling and persuasive case. Don’t spend all your time on your CV and neglect the cover letter – it’s not an optional extra. If you want to make the short list, read on:

  1. Have a beginning, middle and end. Sounds obvious? You’d be surprised how many people choose not to follow this basic principle. A cover letter is not a rambling stream of consciousness, but a short, concise argument. After all, you’re trying to convince the recruiter you’re worth a second look. Establish what you’re applying for, why you’re applying and how you meet (or even exceed) the role requirements. Once drafted, read your letter aloud – is it coherent and convincing, or weak and woolly?

  2. Personalise it. Adjust what you write to reflect the needs of the company or organisation you’re applying to; employers are looking for enquiring and motivated applicants, not lazy ones! Don’t send a bland, generic letter – you might as well withdraw your application. A recruiter can tell in seconds whether you’ve bothered to research their organisation. Try and find an interesting angle that shows you’ve gone the extra mile in your research.

  3. Showcase your skills and achievements. Employers are not (generally) driven by altruism - they have a bottom line: can you do the job and will you add value? Make sure you address the job spec and provide evidence – with examples – to support your claims. Focus on tangibles, not vague statements. Show and tell. Leave the recruiter in no doubt as to your potential: if you don’t sell, market – and yes, even brand – yourself, no-one else will.

  4. Complement your CV, don’t duplicate it. A cover letter should ‘animate’ your CV and paint a more complete picture of you as an applicant – and potential colleague. A CV is a factual document, and offers little scope to demonstrate your written skills and personality – let your cover letter speak.

  5. Find the right tone. A good rule of thumb is professional, but still personable. You should use a more formal, business-like tone than you would in conversation but try not to sound robotic. Convey an understanding of the environment by using the relevant terminology, but go easy on the management speak. It’s not buzzword bingo!

I think it's worth ending this post with a great video from YouTube. It's Australian so you might hear the odd 'resume' but the message is pretty universal....

May 28, 2012

Have you considered working in Europe?

European UnionWarwick is very much an international university, both in student composition and global outlook. Many of you will be looking for opportunities abroad as well as in the UK, so why not consider mainland Europe? Harmen Rijks, from Eurojobs, gives the lowdown on working in Europe: where to start and what to do.....

You've nearly finished your degree, but haven’t had much time to think about what's next. What are you going to do after graduation? Newspapers are full of horror stories about high youth unemployment levels, countries nearly going bust, degrees not worth anything anymore, a lost generation, etc. Doom and gloom galore. Or is it?

Not really. The media has a habit of painting a very bleak picture. When you look beyond the horror stories you’ll discover that there is a huge demand for graduates, not only at home in the UK, but also abroad – in Europe and beyond. Most European societies are ageing so there are increasing opportunities for people willing to look further afield.

One of the biggest benefits of European integration is that it's relatively easy to find a job in Europe. People often have a real misunderstanding of what it takes to move into Europe for work. You often hear the same things: I don't speak the language, the red tape is overwhelming, will they recognise my degree, how do I go about finding a place to live. But these barriers are often more perceived, than real.

Where do you start

Firstly, you need to find a job that you're interested in. There are plenty of sites where you can search for jobs in Europe: Eures, the EU's equivalent of Jobcentre Plus,, Europe's biggest pan-European job site, or EuroBrussels for jobs in and around the European Parliament.

Make sure you apply using the correct CV format. As with everything in Europe, even CV formats are becoming standardised, but it can make your life easier as they're pre-formatted and will help you select the required information. Be succinct, don't embellish your achievements and do check for spelling and grammar mistakes. It's also worth checking the CV and cover letter guides in Going Global – even though fewer countries are included – there's some useful contextual information.

Speaking the local language is often not a problem when you're applying and vacancies are frequently advertised in English. Many international companies with offices all over Europe use English as their "lingua franca", as their employees often come from a variety of countries. Speaking English as your mother tongue is often seen as an asset outside the UK. However, it does help if you speak a little of the local language. Locals do appreciate it when you make the effort to speak their language – if only to start the conversation, but don't be surprised if they then switch to English. Unless, of course, you are fluent!

Here comes the paperwork....

The EU has made this easier now. If you're a European Union passport holder you can work anywhere in the EU without having to get a work permit. If you're from outside the EU it'll be a lot more difficult, but there is a European student scheme which allows Canadians, Australians, Americans and New Zealanders to work in Europe for up to two years after graduation. A number of EU countries have implemented this scheme, but each with slightly different requirements – check with the country's embassy beforehand.

Degree harmonisation is something the EU has been chipping away at for years now and this is finally trickling through. English degrees are generally recognised as being on a par with (or better than) 'local' degrees. There are, however, some degrees – especially medical ones – where you would have to sit a language exam before you're allowed to practise.

So there is nothing really stopping you from exploring Europe professionally. It's a lot of fun, good for your CV, and will open up many more opportunities for you down the line.


Harmen Rijks (BSc, MBA) is the Managing Director of, the oldest pan-European job site. Harmen is a trilingual Dutch national and has recruited, worked and lived in a number of European Countries. He currently lives in the UK and blogs regularly about European employment topics.

May 22, 2012

Can you blog your way to a job?


The Careers Blog is a mere three weeks old – with a following that is steady, rather than stratospheric – so commenting on the career benefits of blogging may seem a little premature. Fortunately you don’t have to take my word for it. I spend a lot of time online at the moment, so it was inevitable that I’d stumble upon (in the old fashioned sense) a post merging together my main preoccupations – careers and blogging. Step forward, ‘7 Ways Blogging Can Improve Your Employability'. It’s no secret that having an active, online presence is a virtual pre-requisite for entry to some careers (PR, journalism), but it seems blogging can open doors in other, unexpected ways. Krishnan Nair was struggling get a foothold in the legal sector, despite numerous applications, and decided to channel his frustration by blogging. Fast forward a year and Krishnan has turned a pastime into a career: 'How blogging helped get my career started'

Blogging is not an instant ‘quick fix’ to your job search woes, but done well it can generate interesting career opportunities and get you noticed. Just make sure you observe a few cardinal rules:

  1. Choose your topic carefully. According to NM Incite over 181 million blogs were tracked in 2011 so there’s no room for a bland and boring blog. If you make your content interesting, engaging – and even entertaining – readers will find you.
  2. Think of your blog as a professional platform. It’s fine to let your personal and professional worlds collide occasionally, after all your followers will expect to see a glimpse of the ‘real you’. But don’t post anything that detracts from your purpose. Not many bloggers can transform the trivial into the meaningful – it’s probably best not to try.
  3. Post regularly. If you start a blog commit to it. This doesn’t necessarily mean daily posts, but you do need to post regular updates. Consistency is essential if you want to develop and maintain a readership.
  4. Communicate in a clear and compelling way. Use the blog to showcase your writing style and skills.
  5. Own it! Don’t hide behind anonymity. Link to your blog from Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn (you should be visible here too) and mention it on your CV. But only if you've followed points 1-4...

Employers regularly scour social media sites looking for reasons to screen out potential employees. A well-written, well-researched and heavily networked blog can attract their attention for all the right reasons. There are myriad benefits to blogging, which the well connected folk at Give a Grad a Go have summarised as:

  • Enhancing your personal online brand and Google-ability
  • Demonstrating skills such as writing, design, photography, and analytical thinking
  • Showing your ability to take initiative and commit to a project
  • Connecting you to a whole network of other bloggers

Blogging isn't for everyone – if writing is a chore, and you dread commitment, it's possibly not the medium for you. There may be other job search strategies you can use to accomplish your goals. However, if you're reading this feeling excited and motivated, then maybe you've found the ideal platform to show your skills and shape your future. What's stopping you? Get blogging!

May 17, 2012

Handling interview rejection

Interview rejection

It’s hard not to feel discouraged when you’re hoping for ‘yes’ but hear ‘no’ . Whether you’re an interview veteran or a relative novice, rejection can be a bruising experience. It can also feel personal and strike at the very core of your confidence. Anger, frustration and resentment are all normal responses; there is no rule book for how to handle disappointment. Give yourself permission to wallow for a day or two, lick your wounds and then move on. Whilst it’s tempting to dissolve into self-pity (and we’ve all been there…) it certainly won’t move you closer to interview success.

Don’t take it personally
Easy to say, hard to do. We’re all programmed – or perhaps conditioned – to seek approval, and the interview process can make you feel really exposed. After all, it’s an opportunity to project your ‘best face’. Stop yourself at this point. The job interview is not a measure of your professional or personal worth. Start with the positives: you were invited to interview, others weren’t. You’ re already grabbing the attention of employers in a crowded, competitive job market. Yes, you may have fallen at the final hurdle, but you have to accept this is part of the process. Interviews are designed to eliminate the majority of candidates. Some you win, some you lose.

Don’t blame others
It’s easy to write off your interview failure as the employer’s fault. On paper you were clearly good enough, so what went wrong? Sometimes, nothing. The other candidate may just have been a better ‘fit’. Recruiters are assessing candidates against job criteria, but they are also looking for individuals to complement their team. Often this is an undefinable quality and employers themselves can’t always describe what ‘it’ is.

You also need to be really honest with yourself and try to separate your emotional response to rejection from a detached, objective analysis of your performance. You may simply have interviewed below par. Feedback can be helpful, but don’t feel too despondent if an employer says no – you can always talk it through with us. Maybe a mock interview would help you to address any shortcomings and refine your technique?

If you blame others for your failures, do you credit them with your success?

Focus on the positives
Acknowledge and ‘own’ your mistakes but don’t ignore the positives. You may have felt the interview was a disaster, but this is often a heightened perception of events. If you dwell on the negatives, you can create a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. Once you’ve had time to digest the outcome, make a list of the things that went well. Perhaps you established a good rapport (a definite plus!) or the mental agility to think on your feet. Unless you’re incredibly lucky (or phenomenally good…) you’ll probably be interviewed many times throughout your career; draw on your past experiences to help you shape a job winning formula.

Keep it in perspective
Yes, it can be a crushing blow particularly if you’ve had a number of rejections in quick succession, but try to see it as a normal feature of your job search. If you are applying for graduate positions, then chances are you’re competing against people with a broadly similar profile. There’s a limited pool of ‘graduate track’ jobs for bright, ambitious individuals, so most of you will face initial disappointment. Make sure you have other applications in the pipeline and don't invest too much in one application or interview.

And finally, plan a great comeback - don't let the fear of rejection stop you!

May 13, 2012

Mythbusters: Assessment Centres

I've had a few student encounters recently that have highlighted some common misconceptions around jobs, careers and life in general. Given my own shortcomings in addressing the 'Big' questions, it's probably better to stick to familiar themes. So, welcome to the first post of my new 'mythbusters' series, in which I'll be exposing and challenging popular career myths.

Myth: You need to beat the other candidates to succeed at assessment centres

Employers are recruiting against a standard – there are not normally any 'quotas'. If you – and your fellow candidates– demonstrate the required competencies, there's a strong chance you will progress to the next, or final stage. Have a look at chapter 6 of the AGCAS film, 'At the assessment centre', which gives a great insight into how group activities/discussions are assessed.

Assessment centres can feel highly charged and very competitive, with candidates jostling for top spot but dominating group discussions and tasks could well get you noticed for all the wrong reasons. Recruiters are not looking for autocrats – they want team players who can co-operate, collaborate and communicate. I've seen a number of comments online referring to the 'testosterone' fuelled environment of assessment centres, questioning the merits of a selection process which seemingly favours the alpha male, 'greed is good' stereotype. In reality though, most recruiters view such behaviour negatively –don't be tempted to mirror what you see.

There is a fine line between being assertive and aggressive; If you're only interested in self promotion and fail to recognise (or acknowledge) the contributions of the other candidates, your interpersonal and management skills may be questioned. Graduate recruiters are certainly looking for evidence of leadership skills, but you can demonstrate this quality in far more effective ways than simply 'shouting the loudest'. Consider how you can add structure to group discussions and exercises; if you feel the group is losing sight of the objective, try to steer them back on course. By skilful management of group activities you can demonstrate a whole range of competencies – communication, problem solving, initiative – without undermining your fellow candidates.

Stand out for the right reasons:

  • Introduce yourself and refer to other candidates by name. Not only is it more courteous but it shows you're paying attention!

  • Volunteer and contribute, but don't monopolise the discussion or exercise. Encourage others to join in, and acknowledge their input.

  • Try to establish rapport with your assessors but don't overdo it. You wont score points though brown nosing.

  • Avoid being negative or critical. Companies want team players, not individualists.

May 2012

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