Monday, 26 April 2010

Guideline 5: Cover Twitter

Cover letters are like teaser trailers for the main event - the CV. A teaser trailer gives snippets of the main story in order to draw in a paying audience to see the movie. Trailers have a very limited amount of time in which to do that, and they must stand out amongst all the other trailers being shown at the same time.

I was helping a friend write a cover letter for a job application. He'd send me a draft, and I'd scan-read it and report back. Then he'd make some changes, send it back, and I'd do the same until either he or I was happy. More often than not I was telling him to cut something out, or reword it to make it shorter.

I think there is a habit amongst recent graduates to try to divulge information in incredibly convoluted language. It's a habit most likely picked up from reading complex academic journals, a habit that does not help when thrust into the job market.

So while I was waiting on another tightened redraft from my friend, I got thinking. I was trying to get him to make the first paragraph of his cover letter short, snappy, and easy to read. What else is short, snappy and easy to read? Tweets, of course.

So I set myself the task of writing my CV in a single Tweet.

There are services and sites devoted to using Twitter for jobhunting; here's a list of some of them, and here's another jobhunting site using Twitter. However, most of them involve normal full-sized CVs, and I'm not entirely convinced of their use (prove me wrong please, if you can!).

I wrote my Tweet CV and I was quite proud of its pith, until I found this competition run in January by workthing (workthing's blog is truly excellent by the way). You can find the winner here and also some honourable mentions and bad examples here. Mine turned out to be rather weak by comparison! I'm going to keep working on my Tweet CV; I could spend a whole lot of time making it perfect.

In of itself, a Tweet CV might not be much use, but I still heartily recommend having a go at writing yours because it's a really good exercise in writing short, snappy, work profiles. The 140 character limit is a great motivator for using language creatively and effectively.

I did then ask myself if this was a worrying degradation of language into soulless 140 character sentences. Is it a gross reduction of one's life into one line? Is this a grassroots introduction of Orwellian newsspeak?

My answer to all of these questions: Not at all. In my final year of high school I was awarded an A for my Advanced English portfolio, which had consisted only of one short poem and one piece of prose written almost entirely in AOL speak. Had Twitter existed in 2003 I probably would have done a piece based on that instead. The point is not to reduce the feeling, or the beauty of the language. The challenge is to compact it without losing meaning, beauty, or indeed originality.

Translating these ideas to the challenge of creating your own Tweet CV should help you to understand the purpose of a good cover letter.

(You could also try expressing your career in 10-line poetry too, if you like...I would just not advise sending that out to employers!)

Kind of related:

These sites don't show you how to sell yourself in one sentence, but they do talk about using social media to win you a job, which after last week's post on how it can lose you a job, I thought would be a positive list to include.

CV or not CV: Twitter tips

Does your Twitter handle belong on your resume?

Is Twitter the new CV?

Tweet yourself to a new job

Want a dream Job? Blog, Tweet or Youtube it!

Friday, 23 April 2010

Guidelines 4: Presenting Presence as a Present

Be really aware of your cyber footprint.

So, you called up about the advertised position and asked a few well thought of questions, handed in your CV and were polite to the door staff on your way in. Your CV shows you have great experience, and it's well laid out and typo-free. Great, your real-life impressions really are great. But how does your reputation stand online?

Chances are you are going to get googlestalked, so start ego-surfing and googling yourself and making sure you look just a good on screen as you do on paper. Just be careful. Could anybody find any tweets about how drunk you got, badly spelled blog posts, dodgy pictures from last Saturday night, potentially controversial outbursts on the comments page of your favourite news site, or posts on frequented internet forums that demonstrate you to be an intolerant bully. Are there any news stories about you? Do you have a profile on your current or past organisation's website?

Employers are looking out for this kind of stuff. I know people who've had to deal with repercussions from their social networking profiles. I know people who have had to sign disclaimers on application forms indicating which social networking sites they frequent, and accepting that these might be checked up on prior to/during/after application sifting.

I haven't had to sign a disclaimer like that, but I knew it would happen anyway. Late last year a former colleague (and current good friend) of mine sent me a facebook message that said:

"YOU: Your name is the most commonly searched for term on the organisation's website. I take it you're job hunting at the moment then!"

And it's nothing less than I expected. I should point out I wasn't still with that organisation while I was job hunting, but that might be something else to consider, if you're currently still employed but looking elsewhere.

I didn't expect my blog to get me a job (that's not why I started it) but I knew it could lose me any potential job. I know that prospective employers have read this very blog and followed me on Twitter and I even know how they found my information online (cheers, statcounter).

All that talk about employers using google to find out about their workers is true. Have a cyber spring clean if you need to. Have it now.

Because it seems to be that "public is the default" these days on web 2.0 sites, make sure you know exactly what privacy settings you have on any internet media you use, and if you use your real name or publish your email address. Make sure you know who you're friends with on facebook or any other social networking site and also what groups and discussions you've joined and participated in.

It's not a case of making everything private and deleting yourself from the internet, but it's just a case of making sure that first of all the information is employer-friendly, and also that it all adds up. If you've made the mistake of exaggerating your skills, experience or interests on your CV or in an interview, and the information online represents something else entirely, this can easily be picked up on and you could be left wondering why you never got that call back.

Basically, stalk yourself online, and make sure you what you find makes you look like the kind of person you'd like to work with.

Want to find out more?

How's your cyber footprint?

Job hunting grads need to tidy up their web presence.

Job hunting in the web 2.0 jungle.

Cyber vetting and your net rep.

Facebook and Twitter hazards.

And... to see how not to do it, there's always lamebook.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Guidelines 3: Two second rule

Imagine yourself as the man (or woman!) behind the desk. Crisp white shirt, smart tie, picture of your family smiling on your desk. On the desk is a messy pile of stapled sheets of white paper. Which one holds the key to your next employee of the month?

I think I read in a jobhunting book once that it is useful to imagine the process of hiring from the perspective of the employer. When you look at it, it can be just as gruelling for the employer as for the jobhunter.

To get an idea, WSJ have a good description of the hiring process here, and here's a checklist that any jobhunter could bear in mind when applying for work. Oh, and here is a useful blog that I'd bookmark, if I were you.

The employer might be spending a lot of money and time on the hiring process, because they want to make sure that they get the right person first time round. The more you can do to help your prospective employer read your application, the more they will like you. The more they like you...well, you catch my drift. So, after having made a good intial impression, you'll definitely want to make a good impression on your application.

And you've got just two seconds to make that good impression.

Is it really true that employers don't read CVs? Is the two-second scan a real thing?

I'm not going to pretend to be an HR expert or anything here, but I've sat on both sides of the jobhunting fence. This is purely anecdotal and there are lots of other resources available online that can say more about this phenomenon, so I'll give you just two key hints here.

But yeah, I'd say about two seconds is all I need to read your CV.

I can tell if you've read the advertisement/job description. I can tell if you have relevant experience. I can tell if you have the motivation. I can tell if you're underqualified or overqualified. And if I can, your employer can too.

Here are my hints to help you shine in those two seconds of fame:

1. Make your CV scan-friendly.

You need a clear and concise layout for your CV. Make use of whitespace and bullet points, only include directly relevant information and make sure that the points you want the employer to notice are the most obvious. Don't include rambling paragraphs with no clear indication of what information you want the employer to infer from reading it. You need to sign point everything (and you'll see that this relates really closely to hint number two).

For example, you might be really proud of your degree, or your knitting group, but if the job description calls for project management experience or analysis skills, then your degree and knitting group are less important.

Unless of course, you outline it something like this:

  • analysis skills: gained through 'data analysis' module as part of degree, and through thorough research for degree thesis.

  • project management experience: initiated and developed successful knitting group and coordinated several events to promote knitting as well as managing a charity knitting campaign that raised £X.

And I should add that it's okay not to have relevant experience, or if you don't have the right qualifications. If you can use language to apply the experience you do have to the specifics of the role, or can demonstrate that you understand exactly what the job requires and can prove that you have transferable experience, you might be okay.

2. Put some imitation in your application.

Keywords, keywords, keywords!

They can be the key to accessing the next stage of the process (groan).

The best trick I learned was to use the exact language of the job description in an application. If the application calls for "superior communication skills" don't write that you are "an excellent communicator" or that you "have demonstrable experience in communications"... you write that your experience/achievements demonstrate... what? You've guessed it, "superior communication skills."

Pick out the keywords from a job description and make a point of including them in your CV/cover letter.

This works on two levels. If your application is read by a computer, there are certain keywords the computer is searching for that will determine if you get through to the next round. If your application is read by a human being, it can subliminally encourage them to put your application into the 'interview' pile. Whether or not that's true, or whether that works, it can demonstrate that you have carefully scrutinised the description and submitted a well crafted, specific and relevant application, rather than a standard, generic CV copy.

I suppose, put simply, you are trying to rewrite the job description while putting your name on it. I'd add two extra hints here: First, do not add anything extra that the job description doesn't mention unless you really think it's relevant and relates to what they are looking for (e.g. don't tell your life story, don't try to explain why speaking four languages might be relevant unless they mention languages, don't say you can play an instrument). Second: don't apologise if you don't have the exact skills mentioned on the job description. Doing that just highlights your weak points.

This is a really basic introduction, but there is plenty of information about this kind of thing. Try these links for more:

10 resume mistakes. These mistakes unpack some of the points I've made here, and mistake number 8 relates to keywords. Ignore at your peril!

Passing the 3 second test.
Hey, it's more generous than me, that's a whole second longer!

Is your resume ready for the 20-second scan?
20 seconds is even lengthier! I'll point out that in section one, about ensuring your application is spelling mistake free, they misname the font 'Arial' as 'Ariel'... Ha. But if nothing else, these sites prove that what I say is right on the money.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Publog transport

I am fairly slow with technology, being only an alpha consumer by desire and not by actual consumption, ha.

But then my 2005 iBook G4 still works perfectly, why would I need anything more?

While most apple fans are blogging iPad e-pistles, I got myself an iPhone with my first new pay cheque and can now blog from the bus home, which on a sunny day like today, is rather fun. Or I could read Pride and Prejudice, skype my far-flung beau, or indeed practice my driving theory test...

But the less said about that right now, the better. And at any rate, I couldn't be bloggin'n'drivin now could I?

Commuter Blues 1

I enjoy my new job and I've already learned a lot in the month and a bit that I've been working there.

I just had the first few days off since I started this new decade. Since I leapt from one job to the next (finishing one on Sunday and starting the next on Monday) I've been ticking along. But it was really lovely to have a few days off, not least because I turned 25 during those few days, and so I caught up with friends in a rolling weekend of vague plans and beautiful tableau situations, of mirth and ice cream, tea and gossip.

But, as I now enter the tumble down from early twenties to late twenties and eventually into my thirties (eep!), I have made a whole-hearted decision to have a quarter-life crisis. I'm already listing what this might entail on my twitter. Does anyone have any other suggestions?

For my birthday a friend gave me a Cath Kidston bus pass cover which seems to embody the essence of my quarter-life crisis. Cath Kidston is a top label chintz emblazoned emblem for the middle-class home-style country-living dream. Having a bus pass though, at my age particularly, has been considered by some to be a sign of life failure. Of course, I say this with tongue placed firmly in cheek.

At the moment my work commute is 60-90 minutes each way. I have done this type of commute before and it's no problem really. It is significantly improved by a large part of it involving a bus rolling past the hills and fields of the countryside as opposed to chugging alongside the choked up rat-race streets of the city. I work like clockwork every morning and read on the bus and get some exercise by walking a good part of the way. But this travelling makes for a long day, and my weekends are spent relaxing and catching up with people in other parts of the country. This is my roundabout excuse for blogging little lately. At least I'm eloquent with it, yes?

And I am TRYING to learn to drive... but more on that later.