Planning Your Job Search
27 Aug 2020
In the summer of 2020, Eimear Walsh, Associate Director of Brightwater took part in a webinar series in association with the Rotary Club and Mentors on “Planning Your Job Search”. A seasoned recruiter, Eimear gave some great tips and advice on how to start your job search and what to consider when creating a CV, a cover letter and social media profiles.
In this series, she covers the following topics:
- Getting Job Ready – How and When to start your Job Search
- Your Profile – CV, LinkedIn and Social Media Presence
- Interview Preparation
- Day of Interview
- Handling Post-Interview Feedback
The Current Jobs Market in Ireland
After a disruptive 1st half of the year, Eimear is quietly confident about the jobs market. “The market is actually really busy right now” she says, “Obviously March / April things slowed down with many of our clients putting roles on pause as they focused on getting their employees set up and working remotely. However, over the past 8 weeks or so, we have seen a 11% increase in the number of new roles registered with us across a range of areas”. Brightwater specialises in a number of disciplines including Financial Services, Accounting, Legal, Human Resources, Engineering, Supply Chain, Business Support and IT. The technology space has continued to be very busy with many tech firms being more advanced with remote working technologies.
Is it a good time to look for a new role?
“September is traditionally a really busy time for job seekers and employers and we believe this year won’t be too different” Eimear says. She also notes that a job search can take anything from 3-6 months depending on the level of experience.
What to consider before looking for a new job
“Do think very carefully about why you want to look for a new job at this point” Eimear advises, “it could be because you’ve been made redundant or you want to move for career progression or you’re unhappy in your current role but there are a couple of things you need to consider before starting to even apply for jobs”.
- Current package – what’s your base salary and all your benefits? Use this as a guide to look at other remuneration packages
- Notice period – what amount of notice do you have to give in your current role? Consider the timing of your start date in the new role and check that you can realistically do that with your notice period.
- Bonuses – are you tied into a bonus scheme and will you have to forgo that bonus if you leave to take up another role
- Exam Support – check your contract to see if you have to pay back any support your employer may have given you. Some employers put in a “Claw back” clause in case employees leave
“Once you’ve considered everything, then you’re ready to start your job search” Eimear says, “September is an ideal time as employers will be back from holidays and are now looking to bolster their workforce before the busy end of year quarter”.
Recommended CV Content & Formatting
Do Bad CVs really exist?
“Your CV is the first impression you give to a potential employer” Eimear points out, “so it’s imperative that you get it right. It’s primarily a sales tool used to sell your skills”. In the example of the bad CV Eimear shows in the video, there are plenty of mistakes so how do you get around it?
Checklist for CV
- Be truthful with content: Always check the detail on your CV and be mindful of the small details. We’ve had clients rescind offers because details of exam results have been exaggerated either deliberately or by accident
- Use of photo: This is more commonly used in Europe but not in Ireland. It’s not necessary unless the employer specifically requests it in their job advertisement.
- Final proof: always have someone proof it once you’ve completed your CV
- Spell check: every system has a spell check tool, use it!
- Font: make sure the font is clear and professional. Traditionally the more popular font is Times New Roman, size 12 but Calibri and Arial are commonly used as well. The trick is to always keep it professional and to one font only.
- Email address: always make sure your email address is professional. First Name_Surname is probably the best option
- Academic results/qualification: Put the most relevant and recent ones first. If you have a professional qualification or a Masters and an undergraduate degree, then there is no need to list your Leaving Cert results
- Pronouns: Use 1 pronoun throughout the CV, preferably not in the third person. Use “I” or “me” or “My”
Should you include hobbies?
“Hobbies aren’t necessary but they do show a little bit of personality” Eimear says, “It’s nice to get a glimpse into the person but always be truthful and prepared with an answer so if you say you like reading, be ready to talk about the last book you read or your favourite genre”. She also advises to keep the description of your hobbies concise, “list a few things but remember that your CV should really only be 2/3 pages long so you shouldn’t take up space listing off a number of hobbies”.
Example of a Good CV
“Again your CV is your primary selling tool” Eimear says. In the example of a good CV in the accompanying video, Eimear shows how presentation is everything. Use of the same font throughout is aesthetically pleasing and makes it easy for potential employers to find relevant details. (Please note that the example used here is not a real CV so there are no GDPR violations).
- Contact details: “Firstly the contact details are easy to find/read as they are concise and are at the top of the CV” Eimear points out,
- Professional Profile:this is a very short summary of the skills of the person. It’s important that this profile is tailored for each individual role that you are applying for.
- “Major achievements”: this is a way to clearly highlight what you have achieved and what value you could bring to your new employer. It’s outlined in bullet points so it’s easy to read.
- Education/Professional Qualifications:education and qualifications
- Experience: List of all of your jobs in reverse chronological order (this means the current job first and work backwards)
- Gaps explained: Always explain any gap in your CV. Unexplained gaps set off alarm bells with employers.
- Interests and hobbies: Brief summary (and keep it truthful) of your hobbies to show your personality.
- Other skills: these may be relevant to the job eg. computer skills, a driving licence etc.
Using LinkedIn and Social Media
How important is it to have a LinkedIn profile?
“At least 80% of professionals are on LinkedIn so it’s important to have a presence on the site especially if you’re looking for a new role” Eimear advises, “your profile should support your CV, rather than replace it”.
What information should be on your LinkedIn profile?
In contrast to your CV, your LinkedIn profile should have your photo on it but do keep it to a professional photo. Include your experience and relevant skills as well.
If you are looking to make a career move, then tag the “open to opportunities”. This will allow potential employers and recruiters to find you. However, if you have a niche skill or you know that your skills are in demand, this may lead you open to being inundated with requests to connect from recruiters. Eimear’s sage advice would be to pick 1 or 2 recruiters to work with, make sure they’re specialists in your field and make sure they’re someone that you’re happy to partner with in your job search.
Using “Keywords” in your profile is also a great way of ensuring that your profile stands out. “Again this depends on your industry” Eimear says, “the use of AI in the background will pick out key words such as qualifications, languages or your exposure to different systems. Be smart about picking the most relevant key words for your particular set of skills, consider what employers may want in a particular job and how you could add value to them”.
Networking – LinkedIn is hugely beneficial to anyone looking to network in a particular industry. Eimear’s advice would be to connect with former colleagues, college alumni, professional associations so that your profile can get maximum exposure. “The more connections you have, the more visible your profile is” she explains, “it’s also a huge advantage if you get an interview somewhere, you can check if someone you know works or has worked there in the past and can give you the inside track on the company”.
Presence on other social media channels
Eimear is succinct on this point, “Keep it professional or keep it private” she advises, “always be incredibly careful and check your privacy settings”. Employers will never say that they discriminate based on people’s social media presence but they do check information so if potential job seekers don’t want their profiles to be checked, then always keep your privacy settings on high. “There are always exceptions to the rule” Eimear says, “if your job is in marketing or communications for example, then your presence on social media channels is key but just keep it professional”.
Making an Application
What approach works best in job applications?
As an experienced recruiter with over 15 years’ in recruitment working with both employers and job seekers, Eimear’s advice when it comes to sending your CV is to tailor your approach. “Never spray and pray with your CV” she says, “take the time to research your specific roles and apply with a cover letter and your CV”. It’s also important to follow the application process that the employer has requested. “Many employers now have different processes” Eimear explains, “that could be via an online portal, through LinkedIn or via different job sites so work with the employer and do what they say when it comes to applying for roles”.
Using LinkedIn versus Emails
Using your LinkedIn profile to apply for jobs rather than sending your CV is a relatively new thing. Your CV will sell your skills and experience much better so unless a company specifically requests a LinkedIn profile, then send in a CV. However, Linked In is great to see who you might know working in a company you want to apply to. If you know someone working in a company, be sure to ask them about the hiring process and if they can recommend you for a role. Remember that companies do run referral programmes, offering staff incentives for referring candidates. A personal recommendation is a strong tool to use and if nothing else they might be able to get you more details on whether the role is suitable for you or not.
In what format should your CV be saved?? In Word or PDF?
There is a constant debate around saving your CV in Word or PDF formatting. Eimear is still split on the topic. “PDF applications are now definitely much more popular” she explains, “one major advantage is that your data is protected and your document cannot be altered. However some company portals can’t accept a PDF and will only consider Word Docs. If you do send a CV in any format, do make sure to save the document with you first and surname, in case it gets separated from a cover letter or your application”
Once you’ve gone through the job application process and have secured the interview, then a little interview preparation is in order. Simple rules would be to research:
- Research the Company – this is not just about looking at the website. Understand the culture of the company by reading recent publications about them, look at news stories and look at their social media channels. Everything is on line so it’s easy to find out any information about the company
- Research the Role: Eimear would advise candidates to look at the job description side by side with their CV and do a “join the dots” exercise. “this is a great way of being able to highlight your fit for the role” she says, “recruiters too will be able to give you information here to help you prepare for the interview.
- Know your CV: It is essential that you know your CV inside and out, not just the key skills and achievements but also dates when you moved roles, exam results etc. Be able to talk in-depth about your experience and what you do on a day to day basis. This is a great exercise in being able to articulate how your experience and skills can bring value to your new employer. Again practice makes perfect so keep practicing talking through your CV.
- Research the Interviewers: You can look at the company website or LinkedIn. It’s a good way to figure out if you have a connection with them be it shared qualifications or colleges attended. It also allows you to understand their role within the company. If you’re working with a recruiter, then they’ll be able to give you some help here too on the interviewer’s preferred questions. All of this preparation will allow you feel more confident and comfortable going into the interview.
Common Interview Mistakes
“At Brightwater, we get feedback from employers all the time so we know what are the most common interview mistakes” Eimear says. Below are a list of the most common mistakes made in interview so try and avoid them where you can.
Short limited answers: “Yes” and “No” answers are not sufficient. Interviews are not a place for one word answers so always provide an example to back up a yes no question.
Real-life experience: Always flesh out your answers where you can. Ensure you answers are “real”, again using examples, without giving away any confidential information, demonstrating your skills and what you have brought to the table in terms of value.
Avoid using internal jargon or acronyms: These may not mean anything outside of your own company. Similarly, if the interviewer asks a question using an acronym don’t be afraid to ask them exactly what they mean to avoid confusion. It will also buy you some time to prepare your answer while they are still talking.
Selling yourself short: In the interview you will often get no more than 30 to 40 minutes to really sell yourself. So look at the key things you’ve achieved and be ready to list them out. Have you won an award, have you been promoted, why did you get that promotion ahead of others? Again, this is where if you are working with a recruiter, they will help you tease this information out. This is why it is so important to practice talking your answers out loud and have your key points ready.
Job Interview Tips
- “Preparation is key and so is practice when it comes to interviews” Eimear says, “we always give the same advice when it comes to tips for the actual interview itself”.
- Be on time – always be on time for an interview, even a few minutes early. Punctuality does leave a lasting impression so give yourself enough time to get to the location.
- Be alert – take in everything that an interviewer says.
- Be prepared – different interviewers follow different styles of interview. It could be a competency based interview, it could be a technical interview or it could be a casual conversation about your CV and what you can bring to the table. It’s very important to know what style of interview you’re going to have and if you’re working with a recruiter, they’ll have that information for you. If it’s a competency based interview, (which is the most common style of interview amongst employers now), this simply means a way of asking questions that requires the interviewee to give real life scenarios of how you have handled situations. This could be “how have you demonstrated leadership?” or “how have you handled conflict in the workplace?”. All of these seem simple enough but it can be surprisingly hard to come up with examples on the fly. You need to prepare at least 5- 10 different questions and scenarios prior to the interview
- Be yourself: This is important. If you’re not yourself, you may not sell the best version of yourself in the interview. You need to get your personality across in the interview so the interviewer can gauge if you’re a cultural fit as well as a technical one. It works both ways, you also need to be able to get on well with the interviewer particularly if they’re going to be your line manager.
- Check your background – is everything tidy in the background and are you happy with what the interviewers can see? It may be wise to do a practice run and check angles with a friend prior to the actual interview.
Tips on how to handle a remote interview
- Remote interviewing is not a new thing. International clients and those with headquarters in other countries have been doing remote interviewing for years but the pandemic has forced more employers to conduct interviews virtually. “Probably about 95% of Brightwater’s clients are carrying out interviews remotely” Eimear admits, “so people have become accustomed to it but there are some practical things to consider prior to a virtual interview”.
- Technology: It’s the basic things that people need to get right. Familiarise yourself with the technology and test it, download what you need to prior to the interview. Make sure you have both picture and sound on. Check that your wi-fi is running at top speed and that your laptop/phone is fully charged. Eimear’s advice would be to also have an emergency contact on hand in case things go wrong.
- Your surroundings: As many of us are at home at the moment, make sure your housemates or your family know you have an interview. Ensure you’re in a quiet space and that any pets are kept out of the room.A virtual interview does allow you the advantage of having your CV and notes beside you but be careful that you’re not obviously looking at them during the interview.
- Dress professionally from top to bottom. Many of us have become accustomed to wearing “Camera Top” outfits, ie smart from the waist up and jogging pants from the waist down. This is not a good idea for virtual interviews. Things may go wrong ie you spill water or you need to adjust the camera for the interviewers so dressing professionally will avoid any embarrassing situations. It will also help you feel more professional which will be a huge help in the interview. Always check the dress code with your recruiter or the person arranging the interview; is it a corporate or semi-smart dress code? It’s always wise to err on the side of caution though.
Job Interviews - Leaving An Impression
So FINALLY you have gotten through the interview, now is the time to leave a lasting impression. “Your lasting impression is as important as your first one” Eimear advised, “always have 3 or 4 questions prepared that you can ask at the end of the interview”.
It’s important to keep it simple so you can ask questions such as the following:
- Training: What is the training process like – when would that kick in?
- Future: What will be the first 3-6 months and year be like for me if I am successful in securing the role?
- Team structure: How many is in the team and how where are they based? During the pandemic, many people are working from home so how is the team collaborating and working together?
- Systems: Ask about the systems they use and the software used when working remotely.
- Salary: This may not come up during the interview but it’s a good idea to be prepared to talk about it. You should have a good idea of the range from the initial job description but the interviewer may ask you about your current package. Be prepared to discuss this and your expectations. Be truthful as if you do start, the employer will see your details on your P45.
- Notice period: This is particularly relevant as if your interview competitor has a 3 month notice period and you have only 2, this may swing the decision in your favour.
- Next steps: Do ask what the next steps in the process are and when you can expect feedback. If the interviewer says the decision will be made in the next two weeks, then wait two weeks before you contact them. It’s important not to hound them for information but you are entitled to feedback as you have given up your time for the interview.
- Show your enthusiasm: If you feel the interview has gone well, then say that. Make it clear that you are very interested in the job, that you’re keen on the role and what you can bring to the company. Always thank the interviewers for their time too. They’ll remember your enthusiasm and manners when it comes to making their decision.
During this webinar, we received a number of questions from people eager to find out more about job applications, CV content and interviews. We’ve tried to answer as many of them as possible.
Can I get a job without a college degree?
“There are plenty of jobs, depending on sector that don’t require a college degree” Eimear says. There is a caveat however. Many companies require a 2.1 or a 2.2 degree minimum before they’ll accept an application. This is primarily for controlling their shortlisting procedures. So how do you get around this? “If you see a job that you like and feel that you could be successful in and already have experience, then contact the hiring manager and ask” Eimear advises, “say that you don’t have a degree but you have X, Y, Z skills and experience that match up with the job requirements, ask if you can send in your job application and go from there”.
Use of graphics in a CV
Unless you’re working in a creative role like marketing, then the general advice would be to avoid using images in your CV and keep to words only. However usually people in creative environments would use social media as their portfolio and those in technology would show their experience in different ways. The general rule of thumb is to keep your CV as concise, clear and professional as possible.
Listing bespoke software systems on your CV
A question that constantly comes up is about the inclusion of bespoke software systems on a CV. Eimear’s advice would be to definitely include it. “These are so important to have on your CV, particularly when it comes to technology” she says, “if you’re a developer and you use different programming languages, absolutely include them. It’s important to have those keywords on your CV. These highlight what you do and what your experience includes. If it’s not on your CV, you may not be asked about them in interview and this could set you apart from your competitor”.
The market is extremely competitive right now and you need the information on your CV to sell what’s unique about you.
Working on a contract basis
Contracting is an increasingly way of working for both employers and job seekers. It does depend on the sector and the industry. At Brightwater, we have always worked on contract roles across finance, IT and business support (office administration) as well as other disciplines. “We’ll definitely see more contract roles in the coming months” Eimear says, “personally I feel it’s a great opportunity for people to get into a business, gain exposure to that organisation and gain more experience. If someone has been made redundant, contracting is a great way of still continuing to gain experience in that field as well as add value to the company so it’s something I’d highly recommend”
Contracts can last from 3 months to a year and can cover projects, maternity leave or simply be a way of getting the staff needed on a temporary basis before being made permanent.
Backgrounds in video interviews
In a time where nearly all interviews are conducted virtually and people are working from home, the question of “backgrounds” for the interview does come up. “There are plenty of virtual backgrounds available” Eimear says, “some of them good and some of them not so good. You have to check, sometimes technical issues mean that you disappear if you move backwards in your chair so practice with them beforehand to see what works”. She’s also an advocate of keeping the environment as undisturbed as possible. “Make sure that there is no-one running around in the background or there’s nothing there you wouldn’t want the interviewers to see”.
Lighting too is important with virtual interviews. “Sit away from windows so that you can be seen clearly” Eimear advises, “find your best angle and your best lighting that will work for you and your interviewer”
Finding out interview format in advance
One question that comes up time and time again is about the interview format. You can find this out in advance which will give you time to prepare for the interview. If you’re working with a recruiter, then they’ll do a lot of the legwork for you and fully brief you on the format of the interview and who the interviewers are. If you’re working directly with a company, it’s perfectly acceptable to send an email when organising the interview, to ask about the format. It will come across as professional. Companies are not trying to catch you out, if anything, they’re trying to help you out in the process.
Software for Virtual Interviews
With everyone working from home, the question of preferred software systems for virtual interviews always comes up. Our advice would be to go with whatever the employer. At Brightwater, we use Microsoft Teams and have never had a problem with it. We’ve used Zoom with external clients but there are a few other systems that are popular as well. As an interviewee, you won’t necessarily have a choice as people could be dialling in from a few different places so unless you have a major issue with the software itself, then you have to go with what the company suggests.
Impressing the Interviewer in a Virtual Interview
It can be difficult to get your personality across during a remote/virtual interview as opposed to a normal in person interview. It’s important to do everything the same way you would in a face to face interview. If you do get nervous and are stumbling over your words, do take a deep breath and tell the interviewer that you need to take a second, take a sip of water and then resume. The interviewer will expect you to be nervous, that’s perfectly normal. Do ensure that you don’t have any distractions beside you and always put your phone away and on mute.
Working with Recruiters
A few people have aired their annoyance about working with recruiters or not hearing anything back from them. That can be very frustrating. At Brightwater, we have a candidate charter and we endeavour to return messages to candidates within 24 – 48 hours. The market is busy right now and most recruiters are inundated with applications. Once you contact a Brightwater recruiter, you will be contacted for an initial conversation, registered on our database and contacted whenever suitable jobs arise. If a recruiter doesn’t come back to you, follow up with a phone call or an email. It’s always important to know where your CV has gone so ensure a recruiter advises you of all places that they wish to send your CV with your express permission and take note of it for follow up.
Interview while being furloughed
One of the things during the pandemic that people are anxious about is interviewing while on furlough. Be honest and upfront with your interviewer if you’re currently on furlough or have been temporarily laid off. It’s important not to have a chip on your shoulder about it as the resentment will come through during the interview which may not paint you in the best light. Be upfront and realistic about it and the interviewer will appreciate your honesty. People finish jobs for lots of reasons and certainly during a pandemic, being laid off is understandable. Be confident during the interview. The fact that you’re immediately available will be attractive to potential employers so the transparency piece is really important.
Competition for Interviews
People are naturally curious about their competitors in any interview process. You can ask how many people are being interviewed for this role. It will give you some idea of how long the process is going to be. However, don’t be pushy on asking who those people are or what their skills are.. It’s also acceptable to ask if internal candidates are being considered.
Again if you’re working with a recruiter, then they should have that information for you.
Tips for Older Job Seekers
There will always be questions about older job seekers and their inclusion in the job process. Age is subjective and the process should be the exact same for everyone regardless of age. Companies nowadays are working really hard from a diversity and inclusion aspect. They’re focusing on the right people for the job and the right cultural fit so age is no longer considered a barrier. It’s the experience that matters.
Getting interview feedback
Job seekers are usually anxious to hear the results of the interview process. There’s nothing worse than silence. Two to three weeks is a reasonable time period to hear back. Depending on the industry and whether the role has been put on hold, anything from 2- 3 weeks is the usual time to get feedback. However, if a role has been put on hold, you should be told regardless. It’s on a case by case basis and at an executive level, there can be a lengthy time period involved to get feedback.
If you have any further questions to ask about CV preparation or interview tips, get in touch with Brightwater on + 353 1 6621000 or [email protected]