Applying for Jobs Application forms Filling out job application forms can be time-consuming and nowadays can seem a little old fashioned. However, some employers still insist on using forms as their primary method of receiving job applications. From an employer's point of view, taking the time to fill out a lengthy form in detail shows commitment and interest, and this method allows the employer to extract more specific information from the applicant than some people include in their CVs. It makes it easier, for example, for the employer to pick out gaps in employment history or to spot that a box asking about a criminal record has not been ticked. Employers may hold your application 'on file' for the purpose of matching you up with any suitable vacancies that may crop up in the future. Under the Data Protection Act they are required to keep the information held in your application confidential, and used only for the purpose of recruitment, and for no longer than is necessary. There are a number of things you should do to make sure your completed form has maximum impact: Read the instructions and make sure you fully understand each question before you fill in the form - any mistakes will severely dent your chances. The form is designed to make life easy for the recruiter, who won't waste time trying to work out where you have gone wrong. They'll simply put you at the bottom of the list, behind the applicants whose forms have been filled out correctly and clearly. Photocopy the form beforehand and use a copy as a rough draft - this will allow you a 'practice run'. Take your time on the section about what you would bring to the job. This is your chance to shine, but usually in a limited number of words - so, you need to be clear and to the point. Concentrate on your achievements that will be most relevant to the job in question. Write legibly if you cannot type the information into the form. It should be easy to read, so keep your handwriting to a decent size and don't be afraid to leave some empty space. Use black ink - it makes for clearer photocopies at the other end. Read your completed form carefully, checking for grammar and spelling errors and, if possible get a second opinion from someone. Keep a photocopy of your completed form for your own records. In addition, avoid the following pitfalls: Don't leave any questions unanswered. If a question is not applicable to you then you need to say so, and explain why. Don't attach a copy of your CV in addition, unless it has been specifically requested. Don't lie, under any circumstances - you'll be found out and the employer will probably never deal with you again. Many employers use information service companies to check out facts included in application forms. Applying for Jobs Your CV Your CV is an essential career document needed to represent yourself effectively in the job market. A good CV will considerably boost your chances of getting a face-toface interview by highlighting relevant skills, experience and value to a potential employer. Each CV is as individual as the jobseeker it belongs to. However, by following some basic principles you will be able to present the information in a clear, concise and persuasive way. You may need to put together more than one CV if you intend to apply for different types of job in different sectors. This will enable you to emphasise the particular achievements, skills, experience and personal qualities that a particular employer is looking for. It is usually possible to tell what an employer is looking for from the job advertisement or job description - alternatively, you may need to research the role and the company yourself to ensure that your CV has the right focus. Content An employer will expect to find information covering the following areas. Personal details - include your name, address, phone numbers and email address. You may wish to add details of your nationality, date of birth and driving licence, but these are not obligatory. Work experience - list the most recent experience first, continuing in reverse date order. Describe your work experience in short sentences using straightforward, positive language. As well as describing the jobs, highlight any general abilities you were required to demonstrate. Education - list brief details of qualifications - GCSEs, A-levels, degree - along with the grades you have achieved or are expecting to gain. Applicants looking for their first job since school, college or university can include their education information above their work experience. Skills - include specific skills such as IT skills or languages. References - it is usual to provide the names and contact details of two referees, one of which should be your most recent employer. Graduates and school leavers with limited work experience can nominate college lecturers, teachers or managers during work experience. Be sure to tell your referees of this in advance. Hobbies - including details of your interests away from the workplace is optional. By adding details of specific hobbies, you are giving an employer a more rounded picture of your personal qualities, but don't overdo it. Let's face it - if your skills and experience haven't already convinced a recruiter to offer you an interview, they won't change their mind by learning you enjoy golf or cinema. Applying for Jobs Presentation of your CV Making sure your CV is well presented is just as important as including all the relevant information. Most employers see hundreds of CVs and yours may get less than a minute of their time. Most people follow a historical CV format, as this is familiar to employers and is easy to write with employment history placed in reverse date order (most recent first). It also gives a good idea of career progression. However, if your career history is fragmented due to career breaks or a period of unemployment, you may consider a skills-based CV that specifically focuses on your abilities and aptitudes. It gives you the chance to describe what you can do, rather than detailing a list of previous roles. Whatever your choice, your CV should look clear and tidy with all the information easy to find. Although it is tempting to make your CV stand out by using, for example, coloured paper or an arty layout, it is best to stick to black print on good quality white paper. Most employers will expect to find the information under clear headings highlighted in bold or capitals, such as WORK EXPERIENCE or EDUCATION. Use clear dates and timeframes, and structure information to make it easy for employers to find their way through your history. Do: Use a confident tone and positive language. Concentrate on your achievements, not your responsibilities. This means listing Things you have done - such as products launched, sales increased, and awards won - not rewriting your job description. Quote supporting figures whenever possible. Make your most relevant experience and skills prominent to encourage the employer to read on. Keep to the point, state the quality not quantity of your achievements List other skills that could raise you above the competition such as languages, driving licence, IT skills. Be ruthless with yourself and keep it to a maximum of two pages. Only very senior, experienced, executives have CVs which merit covering more than this. Check thoroughly for correct spelling and grammar - spotting errors is a quick and easy way for recruiters to weed out weaker candidates when faced with a mountain of CVs to read. Get a second opinion. Include examples of your work, if appropriate. Don't: Leave any gaps in your work record - employers may assume the worst, for example that you were sacked. Lie - many employers can check CV details for accuracy, including educational qualifications, places of study and the veracity of job references. Include a photo unless you know the employer wants one. Fax it without sending a copy in the post as well. Use elaborate fonts, or colours - keep it simple and clear. Applying for Jobs Covering letters The main purpose of writing a covering letter is to encourage a recruiter to read your CV. The letter gives you the chance to demonstrate that you understand the nature of the job being advertised, and allows you to explain why you want to work in that area and show how your skills and abilities fit the vacancy. While your CV tells the employer about you, the letter should concentrate on the position and the company. Remember to fully research the firm, perhaps by visiting its web site, and use this information to help draft your letter. The covering letter is your first contact with a potential future employer and a great chance to market your skills: Do: Include a personalised covering letter with every CV you send out. Keep it short and factual - don't exceed one side of A4 paper. Tell the recruiter where you saw the job advertised and include any reference numbers. Refer to the CV you have attached - it might go missing and they'll think you haven't sent one. Tailor it to each specific application - outline how your experience matches the requirements of each role. Explain why you want the job. Concentrate on telling employers why you would be good for the job, rather than why the job would be good for you. If the job is in a different sector from those which you have previously worked, draw links between the two. Demonstrate that you have done some research into the organisation already - for example mention that you have read the latest annual report or visited their web site.. Include any dates when you might be unavailable for interview. If you are able to take calls during the day, then provide a contact number. Check that you have addressed your letter to the right person, that you have used the correct job title and spelt his or her name correctly. You may wish to state your current salary and your salary expectations for the job. Don't: Simply send out standard covering letters to different employers for different positions. Underestimate the value of the covering letter - you can use it to increase the impact of your CV if your experience is lacking, by drawing attention to your strengths and achievements. Applying for Jobs Speculative letters If you are not replying to an advertised position, it might be worth writing a speculative letter to a company that you would like to work for. In this instance, begin by outlining the type work you are seeking, explain why you want to work for this particular company and ask for your CV to be held on file for any vacancies that may come up in future. Applying for Jobs Interviews It is almost impossible to receive a job offer without first attending an interview of some sort, and who would want to take a job without first meeting their boss and perhaps a few colleagues? The secret of a successful interview lies in preparation, so it's worth spending a little time doing your homework to make it a positive, useful experience. Good employers understand the pitfalls of interviewing, such as the tendency people to recruit in their own image, but the process is slowly becoming more structured, sophisticated and balanced. Indeed, in some sectors the humble interview has been practically elevated to an art form, such as the travel or hospitality industries, requiring jobseekers to sing, dance or even cook in order to better assess applicants. Preparation Research the organisation and its sector - look at the web site, read the annual report, or quiz anyone you know who has worked there. Read at least one decent broadsheet newspaper each day so the employer can see you are up to date with current affairs. Prepare answers to what you think are standard questions. Be ready with a few questions for the interviewer which show that you have done your homework about the organisation and its business and you have thought about the interview beforehand. Check the format of the interview - for example will there be any assessments or skills testing? Dress appropriately (see next section). Read through your CV and application letter. CHECK YOUR SPELLING Take additional copies. Check buses/trains/parking/directions and how long it will take to get there. At the interview Do: Turn up on time and be nice to everyone you meet from the receptionist onwards - you never know who might have a say about you getting the job. Make the most of your research - mention some of the facts you have learned from the media, etc. If it is a panel interview (more than one person) then make sure you talk to everyone, rather than directing your answers at just one or two people only. Find out as much as you can about the job - how else will you be able to decide if you want it should they offer the job to you? For example, you should want to know who the job reports to and why it has become vacant. If the first interview is with a recruitment agency, pump them for as much information as possible about the organisation and the job. Applying for Jobs Don't: Be late - in fact, try to arrive early. Criticise current or previous employers. Answer a question with another question. Interrupt the interviewers - although they may interrupt you. Leave without finding out when you will hear if they are going to offer you the job or if you have made it to the next round of the recruitment process, and what that will involve. After the interview Do learn from your mistakes - make a list of the questions you answered well and those you answered poorly. Think about what you should have said. Interview feedback Good employers are increasingly geared up to provide interview feedback. However, even reticent employers have to hand over any notes taken during interviews to applicants, thanks to a code of practice under the Data Protection Act. Previous legislation meant that applicants could see their interview notes only if they were making a complaint against the employer. Applicants can write to the organisation holding the information, although sometimes a fee will be charged. Dressing for an interview It may not be fair, but it's an unavoidable fact that appearance really counts in interview situations. Looking credible and confident can suggest you're the right person for the job. The key to dressing for interview is to dress appropriately for the company to which you are applying, and to keep things simple: Do your homework and see how the company presents itself on a daily basis, for instance, a suit may be totally inappropriate for a laid-back design agency but for a solicitors office it is a must. Do: Familiarise yourself with the dress code of the company you are applying to if you can. If this is not possible, wear a suit if you have one, or at least smart day wear - it shows respect. If you get a second meeting then you can dress more like those you observe around the company's premises. Try on your 'interview outfit' in advance and make sure you have everything cleaned, pressed and in good repair in advance. It may sound obvious but the last thing you need on the day is a panic over clothing. Pay attention to detail and keep accessories to a minimum. If you going to wear makeup, keep it simple. Applying for Jobs Don't: Overdress – keep it smart and simple Neglect grooming details - unkempt fingernails and dandruff on shoulders can be distracting and off-putting. Wear too much perfume or after shave. Pick very bright colours or patterns - if in doubt err on the side of caution and go neutral. Wear uncomfortable garments - you won't feel relaxed. It's best to pick an outfit you have worn before Applying for Jobs Taking tests Psychometric assessments are often used by employers to gain a better understanding of candidates' potential, and can help individuals identify and develop their skills to match the demands of specific jobs. The results offer an objective indication of an individual's ability, aptitude and potential for acquiring specific skills. While there are a number of different types of tests and assessments, they tend to fall into three categories: ability and aptitude tests; personality assessments; motivation questionnaires. Ability and aptitude tests measure specific skill sets and indicate existing ability or potential to learn skills required for the job. The latter two categories assess individual preferences in behaviour and attitudes or values. They give the employer an insight into how you see yourself that is not always available through interviews alone. In essence, if your preferences for behaving in certain ways, such as working in a team, match the working culture of the potential employer, then you are likely to feel happier and perform more effectively in your job. Graduates and managers at all levels are very likely to come across psychometric assessments when applying for jobs. According to one particular survey, job applicants for graduate or management jobs have a seven in ten chance of being asked to complete a personality questionnaire. The good news is that psychometric results - especially personality questionnaires are never taken in isolation. They are just one part of the recruitment process. Preparing for tests Top tips: Find out what assessments to expect. Practise doing things to a time limit if you have not sat an exam for some time - ability and aptitude tests are timed. Although you might not finish a test in the allotted time, this does not necessarily reflect a poor result. This is how the test is designed. Personality and motivation questionnaires are usually not timed. Tell the organisation if you have any disabilities or impairments that might affect your performance, such as dyslexia or poor hearing. They should be able to adapt the testing process to accommodate you. With each test or exercise, think about what skills and abilities the test assessors and recruiters are looking for, and try to demonstrate them. If you have not done so already, get hold of the job specification or person profile for this position. Check with the recruiter what feedback you can expect. Employers are obliged to give you your results, even if you do not get the job. Applying for Jobs Taking tests Motivation is critical for success so try to keep a positive attitude throughout. Here is a ten-point plan on how to approach psychometric assessments. 1. Try to keep calm and read instructions carefully. 2. Don't 'skim read' any instructions. It is important to be clear about how to answer the questions. 3. Always complete the practice questions at the start of any assessment - ask your test administrator to clarify anything you don't understand before you start the test. 4. Plan your time to answer as many questions as possible. 5. Don't spend too long on a single question - you can always go back to it at the end. 6. Check that the question number being completed matches the one on the answer sheet. 7. When assessing difficult multiple-choice questions start by ruling out those possible answers that are most unlikely to be correct. 8. If you change an answer make sure that it is clear. 9. If in doubt, give your best estimate. 10. If you finish early, use the remaining time go back and review your answers.