Finding your dream career isn’t easy. guest editor James Caan gives you guidance on getting ahead of the game...
Job hunting can be demoralising, but it’s important to remain positive. The key is to stay motivated, believe that the right opportunity is just around the corner and be proactive about finding it.
Treat periods of unemployment as a golden chance to spend time polishing and updating your CV, perfecting your interview technique and researching what you really want to do.
James has the following advice:
Where does your passion lie?
‘One of the first pieces of advice I would give to someone looking for their big break is to analyse their personal passion, skill set and qualifications.
‘In other words, think carefully about what kind of work you want to do or what sector you want to work in.’
Balance ambition with realism
‘Once you have a general idea of what it is you are looking for, then take a closer look at the sector you have chosen and get an idea of exactly what is available.
‘There is nothing wrong with being ambitious and setting your sights high, but you should still be realistic. In most sectors, there will be more candidates than jobs, so competition is bound to be fierce.’
What environment suits you?
‘Next, narrow down your search and concentrate on specific organisations. Get an idea of their culture – this is every bit as important as things like pay.
‘Does their environment suit you? Some organisations are very corporate and traditional, whereas some are a bit more quirky. Some are more autonomous, while the flexibility of hours can also vary from company to company.’
Ask a lot of questions
‘Ensure you are networking and speaking to people who know what the employers are looking for.
‘See if you can speak to current employees or recruitment agencies – they will know exactly what is required to work at specific companies.’
‘Send in your CV and covering letter, then follow that up with a personal phone call. You don’t want to be overly pushy, but remember that managers generally respect people who are determined. Let your passion shine through in every aspect of your communication with them, whether it’s written or verbal.’
Sort your CV and covering letter
This is your first point of contact, so it needs to project the right image. Keep your covering letter brief and to the point, and use professional language. Immediately tell the employer why you’re writing.
If you were referred by a mutual contact, say so. If you’re responding to an ad, note the source and job title. And if you’re approaching a company speculatively, explain why you want to work for them.
Next, in one or two short paragraphs, highlight any qualifications, experiences and accomplishments you have that are relevant to the job and give examples. Finally, be positive about the company, the role and what you can bring to it.
Employers want to be able to quickly assess what relevant knowledge, skills and experience you have, so a CV should be short and easy to read. Experience should be listed in reverse – starting with your most recent job and working backwards – and show a clear employment history, with greater detail about the more recent jobs and very little about the earlier ones.
Don’t leave gaps. If you’ve had a break in employment, explain why. This is where volunteering or work experience can come in handy, to show that you are proactive and keen to use your time wisely.
Layout is important, too. Your CV should present the relevant information in a way that’s easy to access. Studies show you only have about 30 seconds to grab an employer’s attention, so don’t waste it.
Finally, make sure your contact details are correct, your email address isn’t a rude or jokey one, and that there are no typos – read it through several times, and get someone else to do the same.
James says: ‘Take a detailed look at your CV and make sure that it sits alongside the kind of job you are hoping to land. It’s important to tailor your CV to particular roles. For example, you may have decided to pursue a career in a sector where you lack experience, and all of your prior jobs may have been in a very different sector.
‘Don’t just present your CV as it is – you need to demonstrate what transferable skills you have picked up in your jobs to date.
‘If you are truly determined to get your first big job, you need to prove you can be a success. Even things like working at your local shop or library provide you with skills that can be used in a variety of jobs and industries.’
These events give you direct contact with a large number of employers.
‘It’s important, especially in this economic climate, to get as much advice and information as you can. Fairs are a great way to network and get your face seen by companies; they also enable you to learn about a company before applying for a job,’ says James.
So what are they all about? Some recruitment and career fairs have a broad range of exhibitors, which is great if you haven’t decided on a particular career path yet, while others focus on specific industries, such as law, finance, engineering or charity. In recent years, these niche fairs have grown in popularity.
While some fairs are dedicated to graduates, many offer the opportunity for school leavers, and first and second-year university students, to find out what employers look for from applicants and to enquire about internships.
Adults already in the workplace, who are looking to change career, can also benefit from recruitment fairs, especially the niche ones.
Visit thejobfairs.co.uk or contact your local Jobcentre Plus for details of fairs and recruitment drives in your area.
Use The Professionals
One of the most effective ways to find a job is to use a recruitment agency. They are specialists in tailoring people to positions, and will have a wealth of experience and contacts that would take you years to gather by yourself.
Compile a list of agencies that specialise in your chosen field, and decide what sort of role and salary you would like, in an ideal world. Make contact, and ask to talk to someone who focuses on your area.
Send them an up-to-date CV and let them know of any other qualifications or work experience that may be helpful.
When they put you forward for a job, find out as much as you can about it. There’s no incentive for an agency to send you to an interview that’s unsuitable, but don’t be afraid to turn the interview down if you know you don’t want the job.
A good relationship with a recruitment consultant is all about communication, so keep in touch regularly. You both have the same goal: they want to find you a job, and you want to find a job, so if you keep in touch, it’s a win-win situation for both of you.
Smartphone, Smart Job Hunter
These essential sites and apps will get you off to a great start
Official Jobcentre website, with good search options, including filters for date added, part-time or full-time, temporary or permanent, and search radius.
Has lots of jobs and really good search facilities, including location, job type, sector, salary and date added, to make hunting less time-consuming.
Features thousands of vacancies. It has useful articles about different careers and
good search facilities.
Should be your first port of call if you want to join the NHS. As well as listing current vacancies, you can save, manage and view your applications online.
Enables you to limit search results by location and salary. Arguably the best jobs section of all the national newspapers, with clear sector heads and filters.
Offers good search options, and you can only view the most recent job posts – a great timesaving device if you’re on there regularly.
Job Search app
Allows you to search for jobs in more than 50 countries, including the UK. You can also create, edit and upload your CV, and apply for jobs directly via the parent site Indeed.co.uk.
Delivers a personalised feed of suitable vacancies as push notifications (manual searches can be done, too). You can apply directly through the app using ‘Apply for Me’. It’s a free app; the ‘Apply for Me’ function costs 69p.
Gives you instant access to search and apply for thousands of job openings from your iOS device. Track jobs you've viewed, applied for and emailed about, or share jobs with friends using your favourite social networking site.
LinkedIn Job Search APP
Brings the web’s fastest-growing job search engine to your smartphone. Updated daily, it lists only jobs that are found on company websites. You can receive alerts, and can email relevant jobs to yourself and friends. And it’s free.
Lets you upload your CV and apply for one of the 50,000 jobs from your smartphone – for free.
Allows you to sync all your job search activity on the web and on the app, as well as integrate with LinkedIn.
Connects your account with Facebook and Twitter. By detailing which type of job you are looking for, the app will send perfect matches to your email, mobile phone or Twitter account.
Discovers jobs that have not been advertised on traditional job boards. This app drives you directly to vacancies on employers’ websites.
Pocket resume APP
Lets you create, maintain and email your CV from your mobile device. This app simplifies the painful task of putting together a CV by doing all of the layout work for you.
Smash the Interview
Pat yourself on the back. Interviews are a great opportunity, as even if you don’t get the job, the experience will help you in the future
Getting that all-important interview is your chance to shine. ‘I think it’s important for candidates to stand out from the crowd and bring something different to the interview,’ says James Caan. ‘I see candidates who appear to be the same all the time. Research is a fundamental part of the interview preparation – you should be able to provide informed answers if you are asked about the company.
‘It is also vital to have thought about your own questions. A prospective employer wants to be convinced of your interest in that specific role and needs to know you’re not just hedging your bets.’
Here are James’s top tips for making a fantastic impression…
‘What really matters is how you project yourself and how you engage with the interviewer – if you’ve done your research, know that you can do the role and do it well, what have you got to be nervous about?
‘Smile, maintain eye contact, and draw the interviewer into what you’re saying by explaining the value you have brought to other companies through specific achievements - but tell them as stories, not as a series of boasts.’
Demonstrate how well you will fit in
‘The interviewer will be wondering: “How will he/she fit in here?” So your job is to work towards a specific objective in the interview to deal with some fundamental points:
• Have I done my research?
• Do I know enough about this company to show I am really interested?
• Can I demonstrate my ability and enthusiasm to do this job?
• Do I look like I would fit in?
• What have I done that demonstrates I am competent for this job?
‘If you have any gaps in answering these points, do more research ahead of the interview.’
Go the extra mile
‘Consider what you might take along to the interview to enhance your presentation. This could be credentials, certificates, awards or reference letters.
‘For me, I like to see examples of candidates’ work, whatever the job. Bringing along a document that proves how you handle tasks may only take a minute or two within the interview, but the overall lasting impression you leave behind with the employer could be vital in getting you the job.’
Ask killer questions
‘During the interview, aim to ask the interviewer as many questions about the job and the company as they are asking you. You are trying to maintain a balance of power.
‘The interview should be a two-way dialogue, not an inquisition. If you get to the end of an interview and almost all the questions have been asked by the person at the other end of the table, then quite frankly, it is highly unlikely you will get the job. Not only does it make you seem unconfident, but it gives the impression you’re not actually that committed to getting the position.
‘If you really want to work for somebody, then it makes sense to find out as much about them as possible – in particular, things that you can’t glean from a mere job advert.
‘Here are some questions you should be asking at every single interview:
• What are your short, medium and long-term goals?
• What’s the culture like?
• What are the opportunities for progression?
• How will I be measured?
‘Try to avoid the trite tactic of asking a question back when asked one. Work out what lies behind the question – what does the interviewer really want to know?’
‘There are standard questions you will always be asked, such as: “Why do you want to leave your current employer?” Get ready for these, so that you can respond naturally and confidently.’
Nerves are OK
‘Don’t worry unduly about showing nerves: they prove you really want the job. A little dash of self-depreciating humour can help to relax the mood.’
Take a break
‘If you are feeling fazed, try to take some time out. The easiest way is to ask if you can use the bathroom, which gives you vital time to reprogramme and reposition yourself, so you can return to the interview back on track.’
Decide if it’s right for you
‘Try to get a feel for the company’s culture while you are in the building, and ask questions to find out more about it – you want to know if this is a place you feel you could actually enjoy working in.’