All entries for October 2012

October 29, 2012

Top tips to get you LinkedIn

LinkedInWe've been pretty animated by the topic of social media in Careers & Skills recently and I think it's fair to say we're trying to update, upskill and upgrade! Some of us are more keen than others to like it, tweet it and pin it but one thing we're all agreed on is the need to get LinkedIn. So over to Anne for a quick guide to the world's leading professional network.

Managing your professional online presence is no longer an optional extra with 53% of graduate recruiters using social media to check out potential applicants. Students and graduates have woken up to this and are joining LinkedIn in their droves. And you can see why: LinkedIn is an effective way of developing and increasing your online connections. It can help you find people who share - and may potentially advance - your career interests. Over 175m professionals use LinkedIn, with more than 2 million companies having webpages - ignore it at your peril!

If you're a complete novice, YouTube has some great 'tutorials' including this one:

We think LinkedIn is a great way to establish and cultivate a professional profile (and network), but you need to know your way around. Here goes:

  1. Google yourself first. Before you expand your online presence further, see what's already there. Check your digital footprint - what's left behind for others to see? Adjust your privacy settings, and carefully manage what appears online. And remember: tweet in haste, repent at leisure!
  2. Create a professional profile. Do yourself justice - think about the image you want to project. If you have a blog, twitter feed or visual CV, this can be a good way to draw attention to it - just make sure the content is 'recuiter friendly'. If not, the lock down rule applies. Upload a photo of yourself - people are more likely to connect with a real person than a silhouette. Just make sure the photo is professional - no drunken party pics. One of our job search advisers will be happy to check your online profile and see if it ticks the right boxes. This will form part of your application check though, so you'll need to attend the 'effective applications' workshop first.
  3. Generate career ideas. If you're still weighing up your options or looking for inspiration, LinkedIn can help here too. Type job roles in the 'advanced job search' to type in job roles and this will take you to profiles of LinkedIn members. This can give you a great insight into peoples' career paths. You can also use the search to generate opportunities. Looking for an internship? A quick search yesterday (29/10/12) found 106 UK internships, many for summer 2013.
  4. Research companies. Use the LinkedIn company pages to help you find out more about an organisation's size, employees, locations, culture, jobs and more. Find out which companies are in demand, as well as current trends. Use this information to help shape your applications, and put you ahead of the field.
  5. Expand your job search. Increasingly recruiters are using LinkedIn to advertise positions through their corporate pages and groups. LinkedIn enables you to join relevant groups and subgroups of organisations you're interested in. Through these groups and associated news and discussion threads, you can glean a lot of valuable, insider information. Perhaps you're looking for an internship? A quick search yesterday (29/10/12) generated 106 intrernship opportunities in the UK, many for summer 2013.
  6. Build your contacts. Always personalise your request and offer a reason for your approach. Use other contacts to broker introductions for people who are not listed as a level 1 contact.
  7. Mind your manners. There is such a thing as LinkedIn etiquette - follow it! LinkedIn can be a source of opportunities for graduates, but it's considered ‘bad form’ to ask contacts directly for a job. However, it is ok to ask for help, advice or expertise.
  8. Connect with alumni. You may well come across Warwick alumni when researching companies and organisations. Politely request to link (avoid the standard, impersonal message) and you may find they're willing to share job search strategies or application tips. Tap into groups: Advertising Professional has over 80 000 members so there's a pretty good chance you'll stumble across some Warwick grads. Just find your niche.
  9. Get recommended. If you have completed a work placement or internship, and feel you demonstrated your capabilities and potential, perhaps ask your manager for a testimonial. This is a great way to secure a credible, professional endorsement publicly viewable by potential recruiters. Avoid spamming employers with requests though; be selective about who you approach. There are plenty of online guides to help you avoid the pitfalls, but 'how to ask for a recommendation on LinkedIn' is really succinct and digestible.
  10. Manage your Apps. Use LinkedIn Apps to share files, showcase what you've done and promote your brand i.e. YOU!

Put yourself in the driving seat

I think it's easy to exaggerate the influence of social media on employers' recruitment practices. We're still some way adrift of the US, where an overwhelming proportion of employers make positive and negative decisions based on an applicant's digital profile (at least according to a 2009 Microsoft survey), but you won't have the luxury of knowing which employers choose to scour through myriad social networks, and those who don't. Assume they'll be checking and you won't got far wrong. And bear in mind LinkedIn appears very high in Google searches, so if employers do look, you've got a great chance to make a positive first impression!


October 23, 2012

Dream job: myth or reality?

pot of gold

Whenever I hear the words 'dream job' my heart sinks just a little bit; I can't help feeling the quest for career nirvana is doomed to end in disappointment. Reality will come knocking sooner or later. Even the coolest workplaces in the world have their flipside. It's easy though to see why the 'dream job' meme is so pervasive: type in dream+job and Google joyfully spits out 594 000 000 results! And while it's not quite trending, there are plenty of #dreamjob tweets too. Is the fantasy here to stay?

Dare to dream...?

Now, I can see why you might be casting me in the role of careers grouch; surely I should be encouraging you to think big and idealise your perfect job? After all, a life lived without aspiration and ambition can feel pretty soulless. And I do think we should all dare to dream - I still do! But....holding fast to the vision of your dream job can make you hostage to fortune. What if you never find it? Maybe you'll miss out on some great opportunities along the way? What if you do find it and the reality doesn't quite match the myth? It also seems horribly reductive to view your career choice - and options - in such narrow terms. We can't all be Renaissance (wo)men, but there are thousands of jobs out there and you're likely to be good at - and satisfied with - any number of them.

What is a 'dream job'?

I'm reminded here of a useful English maxim, "one man's meat is another man's poison". In short, what works for person x can be the biggest turn off to person y. Well yes, and no. It's certainly true that interpretations vary widely: a dream job may offer work-life balance, the chance to follow your passions or a huge starting salary. Occasionally, it will encompass all of these things - good luck finding that one! However, I think the whole narrative around 'dream jobs' suggests something quite specific and risks fuelling a false dichotomy of 'exciting, fulfilling jobs' and 'boring, monotonous jobs'. Hundreds (probably thousands) of people worldwide are blogging/tweeting/writing about the need for us to 'seize the day', 'follow your passions' and 'pursue that dream' in a bid to throw off our shackles, quit our mundane jobs and continue the search for career perfection. Or something. Add to that the numerous lists and surveys of cool jobs, great workplaces and to top it all the Top 10 dream jobs in pictures and it's not surprising if we're all feeling a little job envy. Now, I may be stretching the point a little: most of us have 'dream jobs' that seem within reach, but trying to find a job that ticks all the boxes still adds a huge amount of pressure to your job search. And worst case scenario sucks all your time - and mental energy - leaving nothing left to tackle the realities of job hunting in a crowded, competitive market.

From dream to reality

Is it time to adjust our sights (and expectations) and start thinking of career satisfaction, rather than career perfection? There's much to recommend this advice on the Grad-Versity blog:

A rewarding career is something that you will not only enjoy doing, but get rewarded fairly for. My personal belief is that if new graduates spent more time looking for a rewarding career instead of their "dream job", it will avoid a great deal of stress and frustration

Careers are inextricably linked to happiness: we spend much of our adult life at work (averaging out at 1647 hours a year!), so there's a strong motivation to find interesting, fulfilling and meaningful jobs. But, you need to be realistic about what this means and consider potential trade-offs. You may have a 'wish list' but the chances are you'll have to compromise on something, somewhere - especially when you're starting out. I think it's dangerous and career limiting to get hung up on the notion of THE perfect job. How long do you sit and wait?

Fantasising about dream jobs is a universal pastime - we all do it. But you may just find the 'right' job is a much better bet.


October 19, 2012

Applications: are you hearing the message?

Megaphone manAs you've probably noticed, the careers fair 'season' has kicked off in earnest. Last week saw the first of our autumn fairsImpact – and Stephanie Baravelli, final year philosophy student (and careers rep) popped along to get the employer lowdown....

As a student, one of the most stressful things we encounter are job applications. The world of graduate employment is a competitive one, and the right application can easily mean the difference between getting an interview or not. So how can you give yourself the best chance of getting through to the next stages of the recruitment process?

We spoke to a multitude of different employers at the Impact Fair, concerning the most important piece of advice they would give to students who are applying, and one resounding message emerged from almost every employer. The key to giving yourself the best chance is a simple one, but is something that many students fail to do and a source of great frustration to employers; read the material provided by an employer and use this to tailor your application to that specific company.

Employers want to employ graduates who match the needs of the company and the team they will be working in. This may seem like an obvious statement, but many students fall at this hurdle by submitting either a destined-for-the-bin ‘general’ application or a more specific application tailored to the field, but not to the company; an IBM representative at the fair said that success “is in the details”. Many of the employers spoken to said that if a recruitment team looks at your application, and can’t see clearly why you would be a good fit for the role, your application is unlikely to go any further.

Fear not though: companies are not trying to catch you out with this process. We asked one employer what advice he would give to students to better their chances; he handed us a booklet and said read it through. It seems many students and grads are failing to do this. It may sound obvious (because it is!) but read the material thoroughly – don't just leave the glossy brochures gathering dust at the bottom of your fair goody bag. Booklets that are handed out by employers at careers fairs or through the careers service contain within them, under all the jargon and superlatives, key information that you can and should utilise when applying. One of the things that frustrated the employers I spoke to most was that they provide so much material for students – including things like details of the company ethos and the person specification – and yet this is seemingly ignored in many applications.

So, for those of you about to apply for graduate jobs, or any other type of job, make sure you are paying attention to what the company wants and tailoring your applications. If the company has put their ethos in bold on the front cover of their booklet, it is obviously important to them, so you need to think how you can show them you understand and embody that ethos. The materials the companies provide are there for a reason – use them, and you are giving yourself a much better chance of making it through to the next stage of recruitment.

And if you would just allow me a quick 'NB' it is this: please don’t ignore grammar and spelling. You may think this doesn't need saying but according to many employers – including big companies like Coca-Cola – spelling mistakes run rampant throughout applications, and are a real turn off to employers. An error filled application makes you seem lazy or careless – or possibly both! Remember that most of the large employers will be looking at hundreds of applications – try to make their jobs easier by running a quick spell check or getting a friend to read through your covering letter. Many of the graduate recruiters will only 'permit' one or two small errors throughout your application: don't screen yourself out on the basis of a few silly mistakes.


October 16, 2012

Avoiding interview pitfalls

interview nervesIf you've been invited to attend a face to face interview, you're clearly doing something right. Selection for graduate schemes (and internships) is multi-stage, so you've already survived the initial screening, psychometric tests and telephone interview. There's now clear blue water between you and the hundreds of applicants who fall at the first hurdle. At this stage you can afford to feel confident, but not complacent. There's still some distance between interview and job offer and many potential tripwires lay ahead. You're probably familiar with the more common interview 'don'ts' - arriving late, answering your phone - but there are more subtle (and less conscious) ways you can scupper the outcome. Try and avoid them.

Think about your body language, I mean really think.

Now you may be thinking this is pretty obvious. And it many ways it is. Most people are conversant with the basics: firm handshake, good eye contact, warm smile. But there are far more subtle ways that you can betray your indifference, nerves or desperation...

  • Posture – sit too close and you risk crowding the interviewer, too distant and you may appear cold and detached. It sounds cliched but sit upright: try to imagine a string tied from the top of your head to the ceiling. This is a great tip that works well for presentations and interviews.
  • Hand gestures – I have to declare an interest here. I am an inveterate 'hand talker' and when animated, excited or nervous my hands assume a life of their own! Small hand gestures can help emphasise your point, but too much and it becomes a distraction. It's an interview not an audition.
  • Arms – try to keep them loose and 'open'. If you fold your arms, it can make you appear closed and unfriendly. You need to establish and sustain a rapport with the interviewer, not frighten them off. Think about the image you want to project.
  • Fidgeting – you may find interview nerves or excitement exacerbate your natural tendency to fidget. Twiddling a pen, fiddling with your hair, tapping your knee - all send a clear sign to the interviewer that you're losing the battle with nerves. It's normal to feel anxious during an interview, but when nerves manifest in overt physical gestures it may cast doubt on your ability to 'check yourself' and work under pressure.

'Do you have any questions?' Is it ok to say 'no'?

This crops up time and again in mock interviews and is a real source of anxiety and confusion. There's no definitive answer; one school of thought suggests that it's better to say 'no' than risk repeating yourself or asking an irrelevant question. I think there's some merit in this but I worry about the impression it leaves the employer. You may have aced the interview but risk ending on a flat note. Is this a wise strategy when the competition is so fierce? So, how should you respond to this tricky question:

  • Keep it generic – this is the safe option but may show a lack of imagination. Typical questions include: "What is a typical day like?", "What words would you use to describe the working culture?"
  • Make it personal – relate the question to your role/progression within the company. Typical questions include: "How would my performance be measured and what are the mechanisms for feedback?", "How much guidance is available to help employees develop and realise their career goals?"
  • Use your research – this is a way to really stand out from the crowd. By thoroughly researching the organisation or company (check our commercial awareness post for useful tips), you're much more likely to come across news and info that you can weave into an intelligent and thoughtful question. Typical question: "I have read x about the marketing strategy of this company. How might this influence the release of future products?"
  • Keep it brief – I would advise 2 or 3 questions at most. You don't want to monopolise the interviewer or appear arrogant.

Know when to stop (talking)

If your interview is scheduled to last 30 minutes and you're still talking after an hour, this isn't a good sign. You need to provide full, comprehensive answers but know when to stop. Respond to the non-verbal cues from the interviewer (or panel) and if in doubt, pause for a moment and ask if they want/need any further detail. Talking a mile a minute is both irritating and counter productive: the salient detail will simply get lost in the waffle. There are a few simple rules you can follow to help you find the balance:

  • Take deep breaths and pause don't leap in. Collect your thoughts, formulate your response and then answer the question.
  • Make it relevant – illustrate and substantiate your answers with one or two good examples. Don't provide a verbatim account of your work/life history.
  • 'Read' the interviewer – is s/he looking bored or engaged. If you catch the interviewer nodding off or checking their watch, you've probably said enough.

Interviewing is a skill just like any other. Practice makes perfect! If you've got an interview coming up why not book a mock interview with us and get those mistakes out the way before the real thing.


October 11, 2012

Application forms: how to complete competency questions

Apply nowIt's the season (again) where many of you are frantically completing application forms for jobs and internships. Charlie and Ioanna, our job search advisers, have taken time out from their busy schedule to give you a potted guide to competency-based questions. Master the technique and you stand a much better chance of beating the application odds....

Application forms – and certainly those for graduate positions – include some competency based questions. Employers use this type of question to see how well you can describe your actions (and the results of your actions) when it comes to certain 'competencies' such as team working, problem solving and leadership. A typical question might be, “Give me an example of a time when you have demonstrated initiative?” Or you may be asked about “a time when you had to support an idea you did not agree with for the good of the team.”

Put yourself in the employer's shoes

As with many of the elements of the job application process, success depends on looking at things from the employer's perspective.

  1. First up, what does the employer want from you? It's crucial you check the job spec. Highlight the key words (e.g. 'initiative', 'motivated') and try to infer other competencies the job may require. For instance, a project management role will look for evidence of organisation, communication and problem solving. Some recruiters are explicit about the skills and competencies they're looking for, whereas others may simply offer clues and expect you to fill in the blanks. If you see a job description that mentions 'brand champion', it's safe to conclude that marketing experience and communication skills will be paramount.
  2. Reflect on situations where you have demonstrated these key skills. Remember, they don’t all have to be in the workplace. Employers like to see examples drawn from a range of activities and experiences. Try not to be too daunted by your peers: yes, there will always be some students that have managed to acquire a seriously impressive portfolio of work experience whilst leading two societies, volunteering every week, working part time and scaling K2...but they're not the majority. Inject some of your personality by choosing an example that demonstrates your passion and commitment. This can set you apart from the crowd. I once listened to a student describe how he had built a drum kit from parts he bought on eBay – he demonstrated initiative, problem solving and persistence. I was completely drawn in by his passion for each element of the building process.

Show you 'CARE'

Employers like answers to be concise, clear and focussed on 'you'. Nothing frustrates employers more than candidates who invoke the royal 'we'! A good way to practise is by following the CARE model:

Context – What was the context of the situation? 10-15% of your answer.

Action – What exactly did you do and how? 60-70% of your answer.

Result – What was the result of your actions? 10% of your answer.

Evaluation – What did you learn from the experience? 10% of your answer.

Ultimately, be guided by the structure suggested in the wording of the question. Some questions have more than one part and you must address each and every one in your answer.

And finally...

  • Be clear, concise and specific – avoid generalisations and skirting around the issue.
  • Be detailed as to what you did and how you did it. Remember, employers are assessing whether you are adequately skilled in the particular competency.
  • Use the maximum available word allowance but don’t exceed it.
  • Tailor each application to the specific organisation. Employers will spot where you fail to do this. Don't be tempted to copy and paste – it will show!

Check deadlines and give yourself plenty of time to draft well considered answers. And remember, try to adopt the sniper, not scattergun approach to your applications. Use feedback from our job search advisers and recruiters (where possible) to update and refine your applications. Time invested at the application stage is time well spent.


October 2012

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