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For many applying for a job is a highly stressful and pressured life event. This is not necessarily a bad thing because a little bit of tension can bring that additional degree of focus that might be the difference between a successful and unsuccessful application. Some compare a bit of tension to the getting the right note from a guitar string. Too much stress and the string will break, but conversely too little and the string hangs loose and useless. Neither situation is favourable and what is needed is just the right amount of pressure.
Whatever the situation, the key to a successful job application has to be preparation. There is no such thing as over-preparation when it comes to a job application – so long as it does not induce additional stress that then can have an adverse effect on your performance in front of a prospective employer.
The Keys to a Successful Job Application.
This article makes the assumption that as an interviewee you already know the basics in terms of what to wear, arriving early and how to follow the interviewer’s lead when the interview is initiated, although further advice can be found in the additional tips section below. Finally before starting to read it is important to acknowledge that while the author stops short of declaring this is a fail safe method of landing a job it does maximise your chances.
Reviewing your CV
For the purposes of this resource it is assumed that you already have a CV prepared and it may even be one that you have used several times in different application processes.
This is mistake number one.
There is no such thing as a one size fits all CV. A CV should be reviewed prior to every job application and adjusted where and when necessary.
Within your CV you have already identified your key competences, qualifications and experience. These are the three pillars that determine the outcome of your job applications. The key to creating a successful CV is making it fit the description of the job you are applying for. Do not misunderstand what this means, but your CV should emphasise the most relevant aspects for the job you are applying for and diminish those that are of lesser importance.
This can be done by taking two approaches:
the order in which you present the information
the space dedicated to the information.
It may be worth considering changing your CV style from the standard reverse chronological to an executive summary format, which highlights the three key components identified above, namely your key competences, qualifications and experience.
What does your prospective employer want? If you apply for a job in sales put all the relevant information about sales first, don’t use such a prominent place for your other skills, for example you admin abilities. In this case admin skills are of secondary importance. Alternatively if you are applying for a managerial job that involves interaction with sales people, do it the other way round. Emphasise your most relevant strengths.
An often overlooked part of your CV is your Hobbies and Interests section. Again as with your key competences, qualifications and experience these can be tailored according to the job you are applying for. Unless you are applying for a position connected with gaming it is probably not a good idea to write that you are an obsessive World of Warcraft player as this creates an impression in your potential employer’s mind that you are up until late in the night playing and then when you come to work you will be too tired for anything. However, on the other hand if you can show your hobbies and interests to either be directly relevant (eg reading around connected subjects to your job) or demonstrate some positive character trait that will add something to your application.
It is wrong to lie on a CV, but it is not wrong to omit irrelevant information and place greater stress on more relevant information.
Finally on your CV, it is standard practice to ensure there are no gaps. A simple approach to this can be to organise according to years if your gaps are only a few months. Alternatively again consider the executive summary approach when laying out your CV. If you are unable to do this then be prepared to explain any gaps – see also scripting below.
Identifying Your Unique Selling Point
At the forefront of your mind when creating your job application you should identify your unique selling point (USP). You will be among a crowd of applicants and you must ask yourself the same question as the interviewers will be asking. Why you? What makes you special? Why you and not the person who was interviewed before or after you?
There has to be something special about you and this is what your USP is. Identify it and make sure it comes out in the interview (see also scripting below). You are competing with other people for that position and you have to make sure you are at the front of the panel’s mind. Your USP is highly likely to be something connected with your talents, character or personality (or both).
When you go to an interview you create your own narrative or rely on the interviewer to create theirs. Yours in infinitely better!
I have already mentioned scripting several times because this is the most important aspect of interview preparation. Let me put it very simply when you go to an interview you create your own narrative or rely on the interviewer to create theirs. Yours in infinitely better!
Many people use scripting to some extent without realising its full potential. A candidate can anticipate the questions that are going to come up and prepare answers. There is almost always a weaknesses question that can appear in many forms (What was your greatest failure and how did you overcome it? / What do you consider to be your character weaknesses? How do you manage difficult people?) and a prepared answer will equip you well. This is such an obvious one that the challenge is often simply appearing prepared but spontaneous at the same time.
Scripting is taking this preparation to the next step. You know what skills and experience you have and how it can serve you in getting a job, but all too often a candidate can leave the interview knowing that they did not communicate everything they wanted to. Scripting is preparing for more than questions or literally creating your own script or narrative.
So how does it work? During your preparation think of the stories and examples you want to use during the interview and think about different ways that they can be added to an answer. Consider this; you are asked ‘Do you consider yourself to be a people person?’ Elaborate your answer with examples when you have dealt with difficult people, not just those who are easy to get on with.
‘Yes I do. People are people and generally because I am a people person it is easy to build relationships create cooperation and get on with other. However, it is unrealistic to expect this to always be the case, but on those rare occasions I do have a difficulty with somebody I am able to manage it by … [give concrete example for example ‘focusing on task and target rather than personality to take emotion out of the situation.’]
In creating this kind of answer not only have you addressed the question that was asked, but you have also answered a question that you are anticipating and not only that but you have reframed the question in a way that is more suited to the way you want to answer it rather than the way the interview would have asked it. Anticipating and reframing questions are the best way to get the answers across that you want to give – you dictate the narrative. Where possible use those concrete examples that you wanted to use. If they are not used they are lost. Find a way to fit them in and make them relevant.
The best ‘scripters’ can take over an interview without the interviewer(s) even realising.
WARNING: When scripting it is important to not look like you are taking over the interview as this can communicate arrogance or even aggression (see Additional Tips below).
Selling Yourself – Going the Extra Mile.
This is not always possible, but why not show some additional initiative and seemingly give something to your prospective employer. Offer to come in for a day to observe and learn. Ask questions that are more analytical in terms of understanding the job. Describe additional research you have done in preparation for the job interview. You may not get specifically asked so build this into your scripted part of your interview.
Much of what is required to conduct a successful interview has been covered above. However there are some additional tips that can be considered. Sometimes getting the simple things right are just as helpful.
This is usually the first thing that happens at the commencement of an interview and most know to avoid the two extremes, namely the ‘wet fish’ and the ‘bone crusher.’ – both of which are self-explanatory. A good firm handshake is all that is required, but it is recommended that you do not use this moment for ‘stroking’. According to psychologists, stroking is the art of using body language to establish the power dynamic in the relationship. Common gestures that demonstrate this are the double hand shake where one of the parties grab the other with both hands, this can either be a sign of warmth or dominance depending on the context (which is obvious in the case of an interview). The upper arm grab in a variation of this as is the less subtle clapping somebody on the back of their shoulder. If you are prepared you do not need to demonstrate this kind of power which could backfire spectacularly and create a wrong impression before even starting.
The above methodology is very assertive and should be matched with body language that is as none aggressive as possible without being weak or passive.
Interview or Discussion?
Using scripting it is possible to turn the interview into a discussion and when this is achieved it by definition becomes a collaborative endeavour, which means you are more likely to succeed in what you.
The Weaknesses Question.
The old way of approaching the weaknesses question was to show how a historical weakness is now a strength (‘In the past I couldn’t do this, but now…’) or to mention an irrelevant weakness (‘I am not the world’s most talented artist, however I can see this is not going to be a problem in this job’).
In recent years a new trend has emerged in that weaknesses should be ignored. You still need to answer the question though.
A standard version of the answer goes something like this. As an outfield football player does not focus on goalkeeping skills nor do I focus on the things I cannot do. He is not a goalkeeper because this is not in his skillsets and rather her concentrates on what he can do well, instead of the things he cannot do. To quote a previous Omega article if one focuses on improving his weaknesses he only becomes average, if he concentrates on improves his key skills he becomes a better specialist or expert.
So why not include both types of answer when addressing this question and as always back up what you are saying with concrete examples.