Monday, 29 March 2010

Guidelines 2: From this moment on

Before leaving my old job I helped to recruit a new me. It was actually quite useful to see the job hunting run from the other perspective. So this week I thought that I'd share what it's like to be on the other side of the CV...

First of all, first impressions do count. You are being judged from the moment you engage.

Yes, it's true. Whether you call up and enquire, or walk into your potential employer to ask about a position, or hand in a CV, you are being sized up for the role. In those few seconds. And it can't be helped.

It's not necessarily a conscious thing on the employer's part, or on the part of the employees you might speak to instead, so it's important to make a conscious effort to make a good impression the first time you make an interaction. Whether you meet the boss or the cleaner, they're judging you and they'll probably pass those judgments on... even if it's just "he seemed nice" or "I loved her shoes."

Think about what you want to say before you pick up the phone and ask about the job, and speak clearly. Ask about a specific job role, saying "I've called about the job" wouldn't be much use if they are advertising several positions.

Don't walk in and ask a current employee about the position and then insult the manager/boss/owner. You don't know work relationships yet, and you probably have no idea who you are talking you. Someone did this to me while we were hiring and I was slightly gobsmacked!

Do feel free to be friendly with the current employees, regardless of their role. You might be working with them one day. If they seem amiable and available, feel free to ask them about the job/business. If they seem busy and stressed out, come back later and don't bug them. Try to preempt when it might be less busy for them. For a sandwich bar, late afternoon is best, for a restaurant, in between settings is best, for an office position, you may have to do some research to see if there are big events or news stories taking place that might be taking up the employees' time, or you might just have to hedge your bets and take a guess. They'll let you know... the number of times I was working in the deli and another business called us to talk shop and I had to say "you've called a sandwich bar at lunchtime, could you please call back at 3pm?"

Show enthusiasm about applying for the job. Whether you are calling up, handing in a CV, or just asking if there are any jobs - stride in, smile, and show them that you'd enjoy working there. That's the best impression you can give.

If all that sounds obvious to you, of course, then you're halfway there already...

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

U are my favorite

Email that I received this week from my partner:

"So I just realized something. I submitted a job application and I had to send a writing sample from my degree coursework. I just realized, and had to correct it before I sent out this application, that all writing samples I have sent out with job applications could have actually cost me jobs. Why? Because ALL spelling is in BRITISH English!"

When employers are swamped with job applications, yes, it can come down to details like these.

Still, it's not as good as one job application my mum received when she was hiring for a position, it stated that the applicant was qualified in "fist aid".

Monday, 8 March 2010

What's luck got to do with it?

Am I lucky? Was it luck?

While I might feel "lucky" for want of a better word, I believe there is more to it than luck. Not, of course, to say "I'm bloody brilliant and why wouldn't anyone hire me", not at all, but I think there are certain things that can improve your chances of getting the good news phone call. Note, I say improve, not guarantee.

I know where to look for jobs related to my career aspirations. Politics/public sector graduates like me have a few websites to source employment opportunities, internships and other experience. Namely these are sites like guardianjobs, w4mp, eurobrussels, euractiv, publicaffairs. However, I also kept an eye on various other sites - individual companies/organisations, local job sites, even jobs direct. If I found a good job on these sites instead, I targeted it first.

Why? Because jobs advertised on specific sector sites are (probably, I admit I'm using no insider knowledge here) advertising to a specific market. Most of the positions are based in London (I'll get to that) and the applicants probably had very similar CVs and career aspirations as me. That makes it difficult to stand out. It makes the competition a lot tougher.

I did consider that not being London-based would be a disadvantage for someone in my position. I live in rural Scotland. However, there are opportunities to be found. Maybe I am lucky to some extent that I live near enough to a variety of good Universities where I secured some interviews for relevant jobs, and also it seems, a good pool of regional offices.

I had applied for various positions in London/Brussels, with mixed results. I had made the assumption of tough competition and oversubscription; of course it is hard to speculate that if the local jobs I had applied for had been in a different setting would I have had similar results? But by keeping the notion of the big city in the back of my mind, rather than being the focus of my job hunt, I had some ego-boosting local experiences instead. And I discovered that ego-boosting is just as important as getting an actual job.

The other thing that is vitally important - experience. Most grads get that 'degree is not enough' tagline shoved down their throats enough times, but it's very true.

Here's a timeline for you:

- I studied that 'useless' subject Film and TV at Uni (alongside Politics).
- I used that as a hook to getting to write film reviews for the student magazine. I wasn't even very good, but it was a new magazine and I got there first.
- I learned a bit more in the subediting/design side of the magazine.
- I got summer job helping with a summer newsletter, giving me office experience.
- I got a Politics degree, and with office experience, got admin jobs with government in specific policy fields... which, strangely (or not so strangely) relate to where I am now.

I absolutely didn't plan it that way. I remember one evening sat on my stoop in the city, watching the moon in the sky and the traffic passing by, crying down the phone to a friend. She was in a 'perfect' job, earning above the national average, had a car and a flat and was generally enjoying life. I was struggling to pay my rent, exhausted from studying and working and all of the rest of it, and not even sure if it was all going to be worth it. I was jealous of her life while mine seemed so uncertain and messy.

"It's all in your head" she reassured, "you worry it's not worth it, that you don't know where you're going, but I promise you that on the outside you appear sorted. You've got good work experience and everything will fit together. It will."

It hadn't surfaced in my mind at the time that the very friend I was confiding in had had her own roundabout way to her current position. She'd started a Post Grad course and dropped out during the final furlong, moved back in with her parents and spent some time freaking out about her next step when an opportunity arose (incidentally related to a summer job she once had).

This all demonstrates how you can use one thing to lead to another, or how you can let your interests lead the way down a windy forked career path.

Recently there have been further difficulties in taking that path - recession and a bad job market. I don't want to use the "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade" line, but things I had thought were disadvantages: living far away from big cities/urban hubs, and having previously taken temporary office roles, I inadvertently managed to use to my advantage.