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CV and job interview preparation

The purpose of this article is to give an overview of the basics of CV and job interview preparation.

In a highly competitive job market you must communicate clearly and concisely to potential employers, emphasizing how you meet key job requirements. If you do not have a succinct, customized (to particular jobs) and professional CV and cover letter you will not be shortlisted for interview. If you are called to interview your preparation must be thorough. Unfortunately there are no short cuts.

Put personal contact details at the top and then the following headings : Profile (or Personal Statement), Major Achievements, Skills, Education, Career History, Interests and hobbies, References. This basic structure can and should be altered depending on the particular job. The key is to keep the reader interested as he reads down through the body of the CV. Preparing a CV for a particular job should always be preceded by research into the job and the employer.

The order in which information is presented is critical. If you fail to grab (or if you lose) the attention of reader in the opening paragraph the chances are that the rest of the document will not be read and you will not be shortlisted for interview. Always get someone who will give you honest feedback to review your draft CV.

Quality not quantity should be your guiding principle. Most CV’s should be no longer than two pages, though there will be justifiable exceptions.

Use a bullet point format. Avoid abbreviations and technical jargon unless it is explained. Font style should be clear, consistent and easily read (min size 11).

CV must look professional – probably black type on white paper. Use high quality paper if you are providing a  hard copy.

If sending a soft copy make sure that it prints out correctly. Pay very close attention to grammar, punctuation and spelling.

Make sure that all information is up to date.

Be truthful – make sure that your CV is consistent, or at least not inconsistent with your Linked in or Facebook profile (assume potential employers will cross check).

The key message from the above is that attention to detail is important. You only get one chance to make a good first impression, and getting the basics right is one way to differentiate yourself from others who do not do this.

Profile. This  section is critical. In a way it is a summary of the rest of the CV. It should always be geared towards the job application. It should answer the question ‘ What do I have to offer in terms of experience, skills, personal traits and education that is an answer to the employer’s ‘problem’ ? If you don’t know what the employers issues/needs are ( to which you are the solution!), it may not be clear from vacancy notice, then you are well advised to find out before submitting an application. For example, there may be a contact point for further information in the job advert.

Major Achievements. Put these early in the CV if they are relevant to the application, as you don’t want them to be lost in the body of CV under career history. If you don’t have major ‘stand out’ achievements that are relevant to the job, you will not include this section. But do ask yourself the question ‘What are my major achievements ? It can be all too easy to take them for granted.

Skills. List job related, transferable skills and personal traits possibly under separate headings. They should be listed in the order of their importance and relevance to the particular job.

Career history. Put in reverse chronological order, as the most recent experience will carry the most weight in the selection process, but this may not always be the case. The more you go back in history or have had jobs which are less relevant to the job advertised the less detail you give. Always be respectful of the readers time. Does he really need to know what tasks you performed in a job you had 15 years ago? Having said that there should be no gaps in your history that are not explained.

Interests and hobbies. Reflect on the impression that they will create in the mind of the reader. Having said that don’t be tempted to include particular interests just to create a particular impression, as you may be caught out at interview. While traditionally positioned towards the end of the cv some reviewers will read the interests and hobbies section first to get an overall impression of the applicants personality in terms of organizational fit etc. So don’t be casual about what you say here.

References. Best to say ‘on request’, as it gives you more flexibility.

The cover letter which will accompany the CV should be probably no more than half a page but can be more conversational. It is an opportunity to expand on your key selling points.

Job Interview preparation. The basics in terms of interview preparation are as follows :

Research the employer online, review media comment, especially any recent news, talk to current or former staff to get a feel for the organisation culture etc . Of course, you should already have completed this as part of  CV preparation, but more in-depth research may be appropriate at the interview stage.

See what you can find out about the background, preferences and interview style of individuals in the interview panel. Look up interviewees on Linked in.

Learn the dress code of the organization and dress accordingly on the day of the interview. Even if the code is informal, always dress smartly and be well groomed.

Know your CV and be prepared to answer any questions on it’s contents. Bring any relevant documents to interview that you may need to refer to.

Know where the interview is taking place and arrive 15 minutes early. If you are unsure about the location take a dry run on another day prior to the interview day.

Prepare sample questions and answers and consider having a mock interview.

Most interviews are competency based these days. This means that you will have to quote examples of how you have demonstrated particular competencies that are required and which are detailed in the job advert. In preparing these you will need to describe the situation, the tasks you performed, the action you took and the results you achieved. The emphasis must be on your role, even if you acted as part of a team. You may be asked for more than one example of a particular competency but you can use the same example to demonstrate different competencies.

If you are unsuccessful at interview always look for honest feedback so that you can learn from the experience for the next time.

If you are new to job hunting or have not been on the job market for a long time you would be strongly advised to engage the services of a coach to guide you through the process. This will also be an opportunity to work through any negative emotions or beliefs you may have, with a view to putting you in the right frame of mind for writing your cv and the interview.

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