How to find, apply for and get your dream job
(About a 15 minute read)
What do you want to do? What would make you leap out of bed each morning, and can you get paid for it? Unfortunately for me, a professional breakfast eater isn’t a real career, so I settled for marketing.
What industry would this new perfect job be in? For me, marketing can be any industry, but I’ve found that healthcare and biotech seem to be relatively stable and pays the best.
Scrap your old CV – trust me on this.
We tend to waffle on about stuff that’s important to us and not to a potential employer. I’m a marketeer, so I try to wow with a graphically designed CV that highlights my ability to sell something (me) along with statistical analysis and excellent copywriting skills – pressure.
An accountant doesn’t need a flashy CV but will need lots of numerical stats that support their bid for the new role.
Less is more – put yourself in the interviewer’s shoes. They’ve probably had to sift through hundreds of CVs so make sure your CV is short and snappy with only the most relevant info listed. A new CV for each interview helps. Have a basic CV outline and add/remove quick information to ensure each CV customised for each role.
Take their job spec and run it through a tag cloud creator. It will highlight to you all the words that they’ve used over and over again. Use this tag cloud to change the terms of your CV to match their job spec. If a job spec mentions’ reliable’ or ‘accurate’ over and over again, use these words to describe your previous roles, experience and skills.
Mirror the CV and add as much as needed to your profile. You’ll see that after you’ve applied for a role, your profile will be viewed by people for the hiring company – this is a good thing. If your CV is the tempting meal booking, your LinkedIn is your entrée (with the main course being an interview process).
Where your CV was short and snappy, you can fill your LinkedIn with all the positive stuff about your previous roles – think STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result). Where your CV gave a few results of your tasks, your LinkedIn can reflect more of the reasoning behind it.
It may also pay to upgrade your LinkedIn membership to a Pro level, enabling recruiters to see you first and shows your willingness to stand out from the crowd.
Hiring you is costly for companies. Not only do they have to pay you a salary, but they also have to search for the right candidate (outbound) or sift through hundreds of inbound applications. They then have to filter them down to a handful for the line manager to filter down more then. Once it’s down to about 5, the line manager will arrange a phone / online interviews. There could be several layers of the interview below.
- The Telephone Interview.
- The Face-to-Face Interview.
- The Panel Interview.
- The Lunch / Dinner Interview.
- Competency-Based Interviews.
- Formal / Informal Interviews.
All of the above interviews take time and, therefore, money for the hiring company so it may be better to speak with agencies who will do the first few layers themselves, then charge the hiring company a finders fee.
Contact the agencies you’ve worked with before. Agencies that you’ve worked with previously may be keen to develop that relationship with you and seek a role for you in the understanding that you use them in your potential future hiring positions.
There’s no limit as to how many agencies you can be on the books for. Let them do the searching and hard graft. They’ll find you the right roles, promote you to the hiring companies and prep you on what the company needs and how to interview. I recently worked with an agency on a position where they wrote up notes and did research on the company and role for me. In my interview, I just had to refer to the agency notes that made me look great to the potential employer.
Be confident and bold. The interviewing company have sifted through hundreds of applications and think you’re right for the role – remember that – they wouldn’t be interviewing you otherwise.
Feel free to be cheeky and reverse the questions – “What’s the company vibe”, “How does this business differ from your competitors – as employers?” or “What’s your favourite thing about working here?”. Some of these questions seem entirely innocent and conversational, but in fact, reverses the conversation and makes them start to sell themselves to you. In my last few successful interviews (With BI and CanTrack), I asked a reversal question. I sat patiently for over 30 mins each while the BUD and CEO, accordingly, waxed lyrical about the great things the businesses were doing.
Research the industry and company.
An interviewer may ask how you perceive the company position in its industry, the firm’s competitors, what its competitive advantages are, and how it should best go forward. For this reason, avoid trying to research a dozen different industries thoroughly. Focus your job search on just a few industries instead.
Clarify your “selling points” and the reasons you want the job.
Prepare to go into every interview with three to five key selling points in mind, such as what makes you the best candidate for the position. Have an example of each selling point prepared (“I have good communication skills. For example, I persuaded an entire group to …”). And be prepared to tell the interviewer why you want that job – including what interests you about it, what rewards it offers that you find valuable, and what abilities it requires that you possess. If an interviewer doesn’t think you’re interested in the job, he or she won’t give you an offer – no matter how good you are!
Anticipate the interviewer’s concerns and reservations.
There are always more candidates for positions than there are openings. So interviewers look for ways to screen people out. Put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself why they might not want to hire you (“I don’t have this,” “I’m not that,” etc.). Then prepare your defence: “I know you may be thinking that I might not be the best fit for this position because [their reservation]. But you should know that [reason the interviewer shouldn’t be overly concerned].”
Prepare for common interview questions.
Every “how to interview” book has a list of a hundred or more “common interview questions.” (You might wonder just how long those interviews are if there are that many common questions!) So how do you prepare? Pick any list and think about which questions you’re most likely to encounter, given your age and status. What are the benefits of hiring someone with your same experience and quality?
Line up your questions for the interviewer.
As an interviewer, I HATE when a candidate hasn’t got any questions for me. People employ thinkers, and by not having any questions, it gives the impression that you don’t care or haven’t researched the role enough.
Come to the interview with some intelligent questions for the interviewer. These queries demonstrate your knowledge of the company as well as your serious intent. Interviewers always ask if you have any questions, and no matter what, you should have one or two ready. The good all-purpose question is, “If you could design the ideal candidate for this position from the ground up, what would he or she be like?”
Suppose you’re having a series of interviews with the same company. In that case, you can use some of your prepared questions with each person you meet (for example, “What do you think is the best thing about working here?” and “What kind of person would you most like to see fill this position?”) Then, try to think of one or two others during each interview itself.
An absolute staple for me is the simple question “Where do you see this business in 5 years?”. It’s the kind of thing they may ask you so turn the tables on them. If you’re asking about the future of the business, it subliminally indicates that you see yourself there in that timeframe.
Practice, practice, practice.
It’s one thing to come prepared with a mental answer to a question like, “Why should we hire you?” It’s another challenge entirely to say it out loud confidently and convincingly. The first time you try it, you’ll sound garbled and confused, no matter how clear your thoughts are in your mind! Do it another ten times, and you’ll communicate a lot smoother and more articulate.
But it would be best if you didn’t do your practising when you’re “on stage” with a recruiter; rehearse before you go to the interview. The best way to rehearse? Get two friends and practise interviewing each other in a “round-robin”: one person acts as the observer, and the “interviewee” gets feedback from both the observer and the “interviewer.” Go for four or five rounds, switching roles as you go. Another idea (but second-best) is to record your answer and then play it back to see where you need to improve. Whatever you do, make sure your practise consists of speaking aloud. Rehearsing your response in your mind won’t cut it.
Score a success early.
Some studies indicate that interviewers make up their minds about candidates in the first five minutes of the interview – and then spend the rest of the interview looking for things to confirm that decision! So what can you do in those five minutes to get through the gate? Come in with energy and enthusiasm, and express your appreciation for the interviewer’s time. (Remember: They may be seeing a lot of other candidates that day and maybe tired and bored – so bring in that energy!)
Also, start with a positive comment about the company – something like, “I’ve been looking forward to this meeting [not “interview”]. I think [the company] is doing great work in [a particular field or project], and I’m excited by the prospect of being able to be a part of future success.”
The interviewer may give you some ‘IOIs’ (indicators of interest) after this initial few minutes. Listen out for them and feed off that positive energy “This all looks great, but…” ignore the ‘but’ and revel in the fact that you’ve nailed the previous point that ‘looks great’. Similarly, I’ve recently asked, “How does that sound? Did that answer your question?”. The response was “Yes, I think it’s obvious that you can do this job, I just want someone with enthusiasm” I fed off this and ensured that the rest of my interview was upbeat and enthusiastic.
Get on the same side as the interviewer.
Many interviewers view job interviews as adversarial: Candidates are going to try to pry an offer out of the interviewer, and the interviewer’s job is to hold onto it. Your job is to turn this “tug-of-war” into a relationship in which you’re both on the same side. You could say something as simple as, “I’m happy to have the chance to learn more about your company and to let you learn more about me, so we can see if this is going to be a good match or not. I always think that the worst thing that can happen is to start a job that’s wrong for you – then nobody’s happy!”.
I’ve used the line a few times “From a selfish point of view, I can see how I’m perfect for this role, so I’m hoping you’re feeling the same”. It’s a toe in the water approach that coaxed them out of their shell and hopefully added ammunition about where they need extra information from you.
Be assertive and take responsibility for the interview.
Perhaps out of the effort to be polite, some usually assertive candidates become overly passive during job interviews. But politeness doesn’t equal passivity. An interview is like any other conversation – it’s a dance in which you and a partner move together, both responding to the other. Don’t make the mistake of just sitting there waiting for the interviewer to ask you about that Nobel Prize you won. It’s your responsibility to make sure he/she walks away knowing your key selling points.
Be ready to handle illegal and inappropriate questions.
Interview questions about your race, age, gender, religion, marital status, and sexual orientation are inappropriate and in many areas, illegal. Nevertheless, you may get one or more of them. If you do, you have a couple of options. You can answer with a question (“I’m not sure how that’s relevant to my application”). You can try to answer “the question behind the question”: “I don’t know whether I’ll decide to have children, I can say that I’m very committed to my career and frankly can’t imagine giving it up.”
I’ve got quite an exciting career, so many people ask me how old I am – expecting me to be in my fifties. Your graduation year gives your age away, so, in this case, we know they’ve not done enough research.
Make your selling points clear.
If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, did it make a sound? More important, if you communicate your selling points during a job interview and the interviewer doesn’t get it, did you score? On this question, the answer is clear: No! So don’t bury your selling points in long-winded stories. Instead, tell the interviewer what your selling point is first, then give an example. If necessary, word out the STAR approach – “This was the situation, this is the task I conducted, this is the action I took, and this is the result”. You can even throw in some learnings if you feel like the temperature is right.
No one likes a complainer, so don’t dwell on negative experiences during an interview. Even if the interviewer asks you point-blank, “What courses have you liked least?” or “What did you like least about that previous job?” don’t answer. Instead, say something like, “Well, actually I’ve found something about all of my jobs that I’ve liked. For example, although I found [job] to be very tough, I liked the fact that [positive point about the job]”.
I always refer to the company as if I’ve already got the job. “I love the campaign we put out last year”, “I love our office space we have here, it’s great”, “We need to be doing X and Y to get the result of Z”. Using the word ‘we’ several times puts them in the mindset that you already work here, and they can picture you (audibly) fitting in.
Close on a positive note.
If a salesman came to you and demonstrated his product, then thanked you for your time and walked out the door, what did he do wrong? He didn’t ask you to buy it! If you get to the end of an interview and think you’d like that job, ask for it! Tell the interviewer that you’d really, really like the job – that you were excited about it before the interview and are even more excited now. If there are two equally good candidates at the end of the search – you and someone else – the interviewer will think you’re more likely to accept the offer, and thus may be more inclined to make an offer to you.
Bring several copies of your CV to every interview.
Have copies of your CV with you when you go to every interview so you can hand them out to anyone who doesn’t have one in front of them. If the interviewer has misplaced his or her copy, you’ll save a lot of time (and embarrassment on the interviewer’s part) if you can pull your extra copy out and hand it over.
Having your CV to hand also works with online interviews. You can ask early on if everyone on the call has a copy in front of them – if they don’t send it across asap (which is an excellent way of getting email addresses for the people who will make decisions about your hiring).
Match your CV with their job spec
Suppose you’ve created your CV bespoke to the role as above, print out the tag cloud and the job spec. I highlight the words in the job spec that scored big in the tag cloud and highlight the same words in my rewritten CV. In a video call, you can hold up a copy of your CV, and the job spec with highlighter scrawls to show them that you’ve done your research and you are perfect for the role. It also subliminally shows the interviewer that you’ve prepared. If you can show them that you’ve spent time matching the job spec to your CV, the interviewer will be impressed. Getting a job should be hard work, and proving it here is an excellent indication that you’re going to work hard for them.
Don’t worry about sounding “canned”.
Some people are concerned that if they rehearse their answers, they’ll sound “canned” (or overly polished or glib) during the interview. Don’t worry. If you’re well prepared, you’ll be smooth and articulate, not canned. And if you’re not ready, the anxiety of the situation will eliminate any “canned” quality.
Feel free to apologise if you feel like you sounded canned – “Sorry if that sounded a bit canned, it’s just a presumed you’d ask me that question, so I had the answer prepared”. It’s not a real apology; it’s a sneaky way to let the interviewer know that you’ve done your homework and understood the types of question that would arise.
Make the most of the “Tell me about yourself” question.
Many interviewers begin interviews with this question. So how should you respond? You can go into a story about where you were born, what your parents do, how many brothers and sisters and dogs and cats you have, and that’s okay. But would you rather have the interviewer writing down what kind of dog you have – or why the company should hire you?
Consider responding to this question with something like: “Well, obviously I could tell you about lots of things, and if I’m missing what you want, please let me know. But the three things I think are most important for you to know about me are [your selling points]. I can expand on those a little if you’d like.” Interviewers will always say, “Sure, go ahead.” Then you say, “Well, regarding the first point, [give your example]. And when I was working for [company], I [example of another selling point].” Etc. This strategy enables you to focus the first 10-15 minutes of the interview on all of your key selling points. The “Tell me about yourself” question is a golden opportunity. Don’t miss it!
If they want to know ‘who I am’ rather than ‘what I’ve done’, my answers always lead back to the role. The answer ‘I play football’ may be accurate, but the response ‘I’m the captain of my team and organise matches’ indicates a level of authority and leadership that they may be looking for in their role. In the same way, ‘I enjoy going to the pub’ sounds dull but ‘I enjoy socialising with friends at the pub where we discuss and debate XYZ’ shows purpose and paints a better picture.
Speak the right body language.
Dress appropriately, make eye contact, give a firm handshake, have good posture, speak clearly, and don’t wear perfume or cologne! Sometimes interview locations are small rooms that may lack good air circulation.
Read and reflect their body language. If the interviewer(s) are sat back during one of your answers and look distracted, throw them a question to get their head back in the room. “how does that sound?” and “did that answer your question?” are informal ways to ensure they’re listening. If they are leaning forward with keen intent, do the same and reflect the energy in your voice.
Be ready for “behaviour-based” interviews”.
One of the most common interview styles today is to ask people to describe experiences they have had that demonstrate behaviours that the company thinks are important for a particular position. You may be asked to talk about a time when you made an unpopular decision, displayed a high level of persistence, or decided under time pressure and with limited information, for example.
- Step 1 is to anticipate the behaviours this hiring manager is likely to be looking for.
- Step 2 is to identify at least one example of when you demonstrated each behaviour.
- Step 3 is to prepare a story for each instance.
Many people recommend using STAR as a model for the story. Step 4 is to practice telling the story. Also, make sure to review your resume before the interview with this kind of format in mind; this can help you to remember examples of behaviours you may not have anticipated in advance.
During the round of the interview, you may see them tick-off qualities as you tell your story. If they’re not ticking stuff off, ensure your STAR is on track, and you’re using the words from your tag cloud are presumably on the paperwork in front of the interviewer.
Send thank-you notes.
Write a thank-you note after every interview. Type each message on paper or send it by email, depending on the interviewers’ preferences. Customise your notes by referring specifically to what you and the interviewer discussed. For example, “I was particularly excited about [or interested by, or glad to hear] what you said about …”. Handwritten notes might be better if you’re thanking a personal contact for helping you in your job search. Whatever method you choose, send within 48 hours of the interview.
To write a good thank-you note, you’ll need to take time after each interview to jot down a few things about what the interviewer said. Also, write down what you could have done better in the interview, and make adjustments before you head off for your next interview.
Don’t give up!
If you’ve had a bad interview for a job that you genuinely think would be an excellent fit for you (not just something you want badly), don’t give up! Why not write a note, send an email, or call the interviewer to let him or her know that you think you did a poor job of communicating why you think this job would be a good match. Reiterate what you have to offer the company, and say that you’d like an opportunity to contribute. Whether this strategy will get you a job offer depends on the company and you. But one thing’s for sure: If you don’t try, your chances are exactly zero.
In a recent interview, I felt like the interviewer was asking too many questions about a sales role. I was interviewing for a marketing role. I tried to steer the conversation back to marketing (and the intrinsic link between them), but a concrete lorry crashed (lightly) into a fence outside my house mid-interview. The driver and workers were ringing my doorbell as I was trying to answer the interviewer’s’ questions, and I was completely flustered. After the interview, I spoke with the hiring manager and explained the situation. Not sure if it worked or not, but I did get the job offer a few days later.
At the end of every interview, they will probably outline the next steps; if they haven’t, then it’s a great question to ask. They may ask you about other roles that you’re interviewing for. In my opinion, it’s always good to be accurate and upfront. If you’re at final stage interviews with a different company, it’s you’re chance to show off the demand for your skills. It may also speed up the interview process if companies don’t want to risk you accepting an offer with a different company – remember, they’ve shortlisted you and need your skills and experience.
In my last interview, I was honest about a few roles I was in for but also let them know that I wouldn’t make a decision about any of the positions until I’d had a definitive answer from the people I was (virtually) face to face with. My honesty with them led to openness from them as they were in daily contact with me, letting me know how the decision process was going until they offered me the job.
For my role with Congenica, I spent days and days researching the position, the genomic industry, the staff, the geographic area as well as Congenica itself. I was asked to prepare a presentation (PPT). Still, I decided to stand out and showcase some HTML, design and copywriting skills by creating an interactive website showcasing my answer to their question. I didn’t mind spending days and days prepping as I knew it would show in my interview and presentation. If I hadn’t invested my time in them, it’s unlikely they’d have invested their time and salary in me.