Free Career Information and Advice on Higher Education in the UK (...and Europe...) for Foreign and UK Students

Applying for Work 2.0

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Especially in an international jobmarket, but increasingly also in a national or even regional one, only using the traditional way to look for work may cut out a lot of opportunities for finding a great next step in your career. There is a saying that about 70% of jobs are found within the hidden jobmarket, and I don't know if this figure is accurate, but even if it's much lower it's important not to miss out. If we think for a moment about the traditional way of jobsearching:shutterstock_62287657-03

  • where does your CV and application form end up, and are they the best people to make a decision, or even, are they the decision makers in the first place?
  • are there other people who are being completely missed, who could decide on you being a suitable person to work for that particular organisation?
  • the employer is completely in control of the whole process and the outcome, including the outcome for you. You may not even have the chance to prove how valuable you could be…
  • it's a very reactive way of looking for work in which the employer decides to put out a vacancy and you react to this opportunity by applying… or not. It leaves your proactive attitude and your chances for grasping your own opportunity mostly out of the picture. 
  • it's to some extent intrinsically counter productive because of the set way in which you are expected to apply, cutting out you being able to show your proactive attitude and creative qualities which an employer would like to see in any employee. 

This is to some extent a black and white picture of course, you can always apply speculatively, but even that is structured from within 'the traditional way' of looking and applying for work in that it involves a CV and a long wait to see if anyone responds.

To tap into the hidden job market and open up more possibilities a different way is required, one I have touched upon in the page on networking. This doesn't mean tapping into any 'old boys network', instead it's about building up a dynamic and changing/growing network of people out of the many professionals already out there. It's about mutual support, socialising with other professionals and building both your and their insight and knowledge. It also includes marketing techniques borrowed from business. 

One way to do this efficiently when looking for work is… not to look for work when networking but rather offering support and getting support back from others. This 'not looking for work' is a bit black and white as well however, and some of the techniques and possibilities below will directly be about telling someone you are available. At the same time, they are not a set of 'rules' but rather a starting point from which you can use your own creativity to build yourself up professionally and as a person, and to help others do the same. If you get a wonderful career opportunity out of this, all the better.

 

Not what you have to say but who you are talking to matters.

In the job market there are a range of actors who are to more or lesser degree important in helping you build up a successful career. Luck comes into this as well, but you can increase luck by 'putting yourself out there…' Each one of these actors will have their own preferred, and for you effective, way in which to contact them. Bear in mind that it's important to use your own creativity, that is what eventually will make you stand out from everyone else looking for the same opportunities. Those actors are:

Linked to each of these actors is an appropriate tool or way to approach them, of which one is your CV, another is LinkedIn. What follows below is an exploration of these different people and the appropriate tool that resonates with them. They move gradually from the very general to the more specific methods which involve more networking and fewer 'blanket applications'. 


HR staff – CV

Make sure everything in your CV is always fully geared towards your audience or reader: This is very similar, if not the same, to a speculative application. I am not going to expand too much on this method because of the similarities but it may pay to explore the benefits and disadvantages to this way of applying.  

  • In companies, they are ‘gatekeepers’ or filters through which applicants go hoping they will be let through to the interviewing stage or even better, a job. 
  • They may have nothing to do with the department, or profession and may not know anything specific about what exactly it is you do. They may have a list next to your CV on which they tick off what they find and they may therefore present ‘safe candidates’
  • Keywords are important for (automatic) screening if you want to be successful. Linked to keywords, titles stand out as well and you need to concentrate on these two to make it through.
  • Dates are important because of the often 'conveor belt way' screening happens, so you can’t leave unexplained gaps
  • Ideally you include a list of achievements in your CV at the same time concentrating on including key words.
  • Also include the names of professional organisations

 

Hiring Decision Makers – 'matching letter'

When organisations hire people it means they have a problem they are trying to solve.. Ideally you would present yourself as the solution to the problem. This can of course be done when applying to a vacancy, but you would be able to use this technique in a variety of ways speculatively as well:

  • of course it can be part of your CV or even covering letter if yo think that would give you the edge. 
  • you can also add a 'matching letter' to any application in addition to a CV and covering letter
  • if you know the hiring decision maker by name or in person, you could use the 'matching letter' to summarise what you have to offer
  • if you know your industry or the company you're applying with, and you know they have an issue you can offer the solution to, a 'matching letter' can illustrate this effectively. 

A 'matching letter' is particularly effective with hiring decision makers because these people know exactly what an organisation needs and who they would like to be part of their company or organisation. If you can prove you fit that gap you make a good chance of getting your foot in the door, always depending on the other people interested in working for that same organisation in that same role of course. 

The 'matching letter' :

  • it clearly shows you meet the company's requirements and that you are the solution to what they are looking for.
  • it is aimed at the decision maker, rather than the HR junior, even though it can be used in a normal recruitment process. 
  • it is still a fairly static way of applying for work, but it has the advantage that it's very targeted and to the point.

A graphic illustration of a 'matching letter' :



 

Recruiters, headhunters and recruitment companies – LinkedIn

many recruitment companies offer a flexible way of getting more work experience, and headhunters and recruitment companies can mean an easy or laid back way to find your next job. This is the theory, but there are some provisos linked to this:

  • hire-ability: how hireable are you? These organisations work best if you have considerable experience, skills, knowledge etc… to offer. Not that these are different from recruitment agencies offering flexible, often short term labour to their client companies. 
  • ideally these organisations offer a win-win match all round. In practice they may not bother if you don't match their client's requirements 100%.
  • their allegiance is to the company they work for, not you. Their good name, credibility and marketing outcome is important to them, not you. Not to put too fine a point on it, in commercial terms you are their commodity to trade. You need to fit the client's requirements as fully as possible before they put you forward. 
  • they have a commercial setup so commercial criteria prevail, not you.

This doesn't mean you shouldn't bother. They may be important sources of good career progression as long as you take their priorities and your position within them in mind. It would be dangerous to bank on just recruitment agencies for your next position. Recruiters work to make themselves look ‘marketable’ and you are part of their marketing tool. it's their agenda they work to, not yours.

 Therefore they want people:

  •  with experience in the same industry as their customer company.
  •  with the right titles
  •  expecting the right salary
  •  with exact qualifications.
  •  with exactly the right profile

E.g.: They could refuse to put someone forward who fits 9 of the 10 criteria their customer company is looking for and expect 10 out of 10 of the criteria to make themselves look good. This doesn’t mean you can’t do the job to a high standard.
 

LinkedIn


LinkedIn is becoming increasingly important in the recruitment of academics and professionals and it needs to take up an important part of your strategy, depending on the sector you would like to work in. Many recruiters use LinkedIn as their main research tool. Make sure your LinkedIn profile is up to date and up to standard! 

 

An employer may use LinkedIn either:

  • As a search to find people to fill a vacancy for a customer company
  • To follow up on the CV you sent them or handed them.

They look for:

  • Skills: how do they match against what their customer company is looking for.
  • How you see yourself
  • Recommendations on your profile; both number and quality
  • Volume of links
  • Contributions in professional groups on LinkedIn; both quality and value as well as length of activity.

Make sure you have:

  • an interesting headline under your name, which ideally includes key words and a value statement.
  • a strong summary: use 'PAR' statements. Make sure you tell the story the way you want it to look and make best use of the space available.
  • lots of key words, specialties and buzzwords in your profile
  • quality recommendations and connections; at least 5 but ideally more. A good idea is to return the favour by doing some for others. Make sure you ‘manage’ what people write about you by suggesting you write one for them and by even reminding them of your strong points and qualities.
  • a picture on which you look professional. If you don’t add a photo you may not be taken as seriously.
  • a specialities section loaded with key words
  • membership of professional groups and regular quality contributions. These groups need to be professional groups, not jobseeker ones. Recruiters may check whether you have intelligent things to say.

Build up connections and show that you are ‘with it’!

 

1. Value statement

This is a very short personal statement or slogan which is easy to read and which describes what you bring to the table. It's the foundation to your career building strategy. it summarises the value that you have to offer to the employer and includes:

  • Who you are
  • How you offer value to the employer
  • Why they should employ you

This value statement is one that should appear in all your tools you use to market yourself to employers and should be thought about carefully. It may be clear by now that writing a concise statement like that is not easy to write and takes work, time and effort. It will probably also change several times before you finalise a usable statement. It's about knowing yourself and what you have to offer yourself, picking out what offers an employer most value and working at it until you feel it's perfect. A key point to note is that it's easy to overreach and go over the top, which is why it's important not to use jargon but to balance your statement carefully between showing your best and being realistic.  

To explore yourself and what you have to offer, if you haven't done so already, you could work through these exercises to create a good overview of what you can use. 

All the work above may look like overkill to come up with a simple statement, but bear in mind that you are building a marketing strategy for yourself. To market yourself effectively in an increasingly competitive job market things need to be perfectly honed. 

An example of a simple but effective value statement could be: ‘solving customer’s problems so you never hear about them'. The 'you' in this slogan is of course the employer.

 

2. 'PAR' Stories 

PAR stands for Problem – Action – Results. These are ‘stories’ that illustrate you at your best. Explore your past and achievements and find instances where you had to solve a problem, an issue or where you had to creatively and proactively move forward in your work or abilities. In short:

  • Describe a problem
  • Describe what action you took
  • Describe the ensuing result.

PAR stories are: 

  • Factual and based on things you have achieved in the past. They are not hypothetical. 
  • Ideally numeric based on quantified evidence, but if not possible you could use a descriptive statement which may by its very nature be weaker in perception. 
  • It contains objective information and data.
  • Targeted to the company and/or job you are looking for

Make sure that they catch the breadth of what you do and that you use language that catches interest. Don't exaggerate however.

 

Networking Contacts – extended business card

These are personal contacts that help you connect. They are possibly more aware of your wants and capabilities. To provide an example: if you go to professional gatherings like conferences, seminars etc,.. you will most likely talk to other professionals and create links. Some of these are lasting, some of these are not. I am sure that we all have met people in the past we resonate with on a professional level but we lost contact after the event. Wouldn't it be useful to have something to remind ourselves of that person and stay in contact. Of course we can give them a business card and receive one in return, but business cards only carry so much information. I remember a time when there were these new fangled 'business cards' which were actually business card shaped CD-roms with more information on that could give us a better idea of the other person. 

That is what an extended business card is intended for.  These can be handed out when you would like to link to someone but you don’t have the time or opportunity to talk to them more extensively there and then.

It's more than a standard business card but less than a CV. An extended business card is:

  • Bigger than a business card; let's say approximately 20cm x 10cm (folded in half) in size. Make sure it fits inside the standard pocket. It fitting into a handbag is of course less of a problem. 
  • Shorter than a CV and it should not look like a CV. It's a summary of who you are professionally, and what you have to offer, including any specific interests or specialisations
  •  Containing powerful language, buzzwords, key words etc…. and of course it contains your value statement.
  • professionally printed and cut to high quality on card, not paper.
  • Creative but businesslike layout, depending on your profession.
  • Needs to be fully up to date

An extended business card gives another professional with similar or complementary interests that bit more information and a summary of what you do well. The use of your one extended business card doesn't need to stop with the person you've given it to. They in turn can talk to others in the profession about you with a bit more confidence and help you with your marketing.

 

Top Players in Your Profession (or interesting company) – special report

With top players I mean the top 10 – 15% in your field. You can use this technique equally well with top level management and decision makers in companies or organisations you are interested in. These people would be interested in you by reputation, so that would be the point to prove or angle to take. 

The intention of using the special report in business is to bring up issues they may be struggling with which offers a resolution or a way forward. 

To use this with academically engaged professionals you could write a special report building on, or better, taking an interesting angle on work your fellow professional has already done or is really engaged in. 

It's easy to understand that, if you do this well, the recipient of this special report would be ill advised to ignore it. 

The special report:

  • this may have many times the impact of a CV if done well.
  • shows you’re an insider
  • strengthens your reputation
  • creative new way of making yourself known
  • unique and interesting and memorable (hopefully for all the good reasons!)
  • focuses on the future
  • is not necessarily rocket science

A special report may consist of:

  • you doing some research into the shortcomings of your industry and different companies within your industry. You could do this as a ‘mystery shopper’… or use your own creativity…
  • you then write a report on your findings with 3 to 8 common sense improvements

    • don’t include jargon and make it easy to read 
    • It needs to flow and hopefully be structured like a normal essay (introduction, main body, conclusion)
  • you could then send this to the top professional in the organisation explaining it in terms of problem-solution-your skills and talents.

E.g.: You could contact companies in a sector asking for information, price lists etc… and write a report on how their customer service departments work. You can then present this to one company you want to work for in terms of: ‘these are the problems in your industry, including your own company, this is what I found and this is what I can do to solve these issues in your company, so you gain in competitivity.’


Background checkers

It is important to realise that, especially for management positions and positions where reputation is important, some companies or recruiters use background checkers to make sure candidates are ‘clean’. This is often outsourced. These organisations may use information they find in anything you have given the company in relation to your application, your LinkedIn profile and even facebook! So, if you are applying for a job, especially one where it's likely these practices are used because having a good reputation is important, be honest and make sure everything is 'clean' and fits your general profile. I would urge caution on what you post on the web, even 'confidential' spaces like facebook. contentious opinions, unhelpful or agressive behaviour online or elsewhere and general unpopular behaviour may cost you the job… 

If the organisation you apply with employs these techniques on last stage applicants, this is where lots of candidates ‘mess up’. This is often easy to avoid and includes things like:

  • last minute rush when applying and mistakes in either your application, interview or CV
  • omissions in parts of their profile (LinkedIn, Facebook (!), CV, application,…)
  • careless choice of references/referees

As a reminder, it’s therefore important to:

  • Make sure ALL your information is correct
  • Make life easy for the background checkers to increase your chances
  • Give complete information without abbreviations (Professional Diploma in Marketing instead of PDM)
  •  Bear in mind all social media! Conversely, for some positions, not having online presence could work against you as well as you could be seen as ‘not with the times’… allegedly, there are ways of checking hidden profiles as well! Even if this is a social myth… don't run the risk!
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