Aberfield MD Phil Reed advises PR jobseekers on how to polish up their CVs and impress at an interview
Our growth over the past 12 months means we’ve been bringing new people into the team, and that means lots of CVs and interviews with potential candidates.
The reality is that few CVs, and even fewer interviewees, truly stand out. Inevitably, those that do get the job offers.
The web is awash with advice on how to write a CV or how to impress at a job interview, but most of that advice comes from recruiters, academics or psychologists – not from the people sifting through the CVs and conducting the interviews.
So, from the perspective of a potential employer, here’s 10 things to think about the next time you apply for a job (and particularly if you apply to Aberfield!).
Focus your CV on the employer
No two PR agencies are the same. We have different clients, different specialist skills and different approaches to PR (some more than others!). That means we have different priorities when we’re recruiting, and certain things in a CV will jump out more than others. So if you want to stand out, do your research and make sure it’s clear why you’d be a great fit.
Sociopaths need not apply
Why do most CVs include a phrase on the lines of “works equally well on his/her own or as part of a team”? What’s the alternative? “I’m a sociopath, so please keep me away from others”? Please don’t tell us you’re a great team player. Just demonstrate it, both on the page and in your interview.
Make it about the ‘what’, not the ‘who’
Focusing on your achievements will make you stand out in your CV and in an interview. Rattling off your list of current responsibilities doesn’t tell us how good you are. Highlighting what you’ve achieved does.
Interests should be…interesting
The section of your CV listing interests and hobbies can make you sound more interesting – or not. Sadly, 90% of CVs we receive list “socialising” as an interest. What, you don’t enjoy being on your own? And we’ll translate “love travelling and experiencing different cultures” as you’ve been to Thailand or Costa Rica on holiday. If you can’t make your interests sound original and…err…interesting, don’t bother. But expect to be asked about them at an interview.
That’s a question no-one ever asks. Why have you been invited to an interview? What was it about your CV that stood out? Knowing a bit more about why you were shortlisted can help you prepare, so don’t be afraid to ask. Pick up the phone, or drop them an email.
Do your research
At the interview, when you’re asked (as you inevitably will be) what you know about the company, a couple of facts gleaned from the website’s home page won’t cut the mustard. Checking out the website is now a given, so tell us things that aren’t obvious. Read about the agency, its people, its clients. Use social media. Check out its competitors. And use that research to tell them why you’re a great fit.
First impressions really do matter
It’s a cliché, but that’s because it’s true. I’ll be judging you from the moment we shake hands, and I know you’ll be doing the same. Of course, over the next hour or so my opinion might change (it often does), and so might yours, but it helps to get off to the best possible start. So smile, make eye contact and be outwardly confident – even if you’re a bag of nerves inside.
It sounds obvious, but I’ve interviewed people who’ve claimed to have been made redundant from a previous job when, in fact, they were asked to leave due to performance issues. It’s the same with glaring gaps or inconsistencies in a CV. Do you seriously think we’re not going to get to the truth? Be honest. If something didn’t work out, tell us why – and tell us what you learnt.
Expect the unexpected
Interview questions can range from the bog-standard “Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?” to the vomit-inducing “If you were an animal, what would you be?”, and everything in between. Unless you’re being interviewed by a David Brent wanabee, assume the questions are simply a way of getting behind the CV and finding out more about the candidate’s personality. So use every weird and wonderful question as an opportunity to let your personality come out.
Try not to make it an interview
The best chat show interviews are those that sound like a conversation, not an interrogation. It’s no different with a job interview. It’s tough to do – you’re in unfamiliar surroundings, with people you don’t know, and you’re probably nervous – but if you can make it sound more like a chat (tip: ask questions as you go, not at the end) the better impression you’ll make.