Category Archives: Careers

How to explain job hopping and gaps on your CV

mind the gapOne of the things employers look for when recruiting a new member of staff, is how stable their work history is.  If a job applicant has jumped around from job to job over the last ten years, the recruiters first thought will be “why don’t they stick at anything?”  Similarly, if an applicant has a significant length of time out of employment, the recruiter may be suspicious about why.

When you’re in an interview, it’s often easy to explain away jumping jobs, or being out of work but you may not even get that far if you don’t make the reasons clear on your CV.

 

The first thing you should do is label any jobs that were short term contracts, seasonal work, or temp jobs, as such on your CV.  Make it really clear that the reason you left the job is because you were only employed on a contract basis.

If you were made redundant after a short period in a job, it’s OK to make a note of that too.  In the current economic climate redundancy doesn’t have the stigma that it had a few years ago, particularly if your redundancy was part of a large section of your firm being laid off rather than just your role being made redundant.

If you’ve job hopped because you’ve got bored in the roles, that’s much harder to justify and when you secure your next position you must think carefully about sticking it out for a decent length of time, even if it bores the socks off you. Similarly, repeatedly leaving roles due to a personality clash with a boss or team member can tar you with the “uncooperative” brush so it’s not wise to draw attention to why you left those roles if at all possible.

There are lots of reasons why you may have a gap on your CV.  The most common being taking time out to travel, raising a family, illness or bereavement.   Don’t leave those gaps on your CV blank – recruiters are a suspicious bunch and will think the worst – so make sure you clearly note what you were doing during those months or years.   If you have suffered with an illness it is important that you make it very clear that the condition has passed, you are fully recovered and it will not affect your ability to work.  If you took time out to raise your children, or simply to take some time away from work to reassess what you want to do with your career, then it’s a good idea to mention anything you have done to stay in touch with the industry.  Do you still have a good network of journalists in your little black book?  Do you read industry publications?  Have you take any courses to update your work skills?

By making it clear that the gaps are not anything untoward, it gives you a much better chance of getting to the interview stage where you may find the interviewer is sympathetic to your situation.

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What is the point of mentoring?

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Mentoring is a hot topic at the moment.  Everyone is banging on about it, but what is it, and why should you be looking for a mentor?

Having a good mentor can be a real boost for your career.  Someone with plenty of experience and knowledge to share can be a great sounding board when you have a work-based issue, and a guiding hand when you need a second opinion on the direction of your career.  They may also have access to a network of people it would take you years to get to know so they will be able to open doors for you that previously would have been closed.

If you can join an established mentoring scheme that’s great, but there’s no reason why you can’t find a mentor independently.   Preferably, someone you don’t currently work with as you’ll need to be able to discuss work issues without worrying about upsetting the apple cart.  Perhaps an ex-colleague or boss you have admired, or approach someone in the industry you have seen speak at an event, or have read their blog and like what they say – they may say no, but they will be flattered to be asked and you never know, they might agree to it.

Have a think about what you want to get out of the mentoring relationship.  Do you need help writing a decent CV and covering letter to get a job?  Do you want someone to help you write a structured career plan, and help you achieve certain goals?  Or do you need something a bit less formal and just an ear to chew on now and then?  Make sure you establish both yours and your mentor’s expectations right from the start.  It is also useful to set a time limit on the relationship – do you expect to be mentored for the entire length of your career by this person, or are you looking for someone to help you through, say, the next five years?

The onus should be on you to keep in touch with your mentor and make it easy for them to spend some time with you.  Don’t expect them to chase you if they haven’t heard from you – they are doing you a favour by giving you their time so make sure you respect that.

The mentor should find mentoring you a rewarding experience and so it’s important that you update them regularly on your progress and be suitably thankful when they give you advice.

If you get the mentoring relationship right, it can be a fantastic way to get an experienced point of view and may make you think differently about how you can achieve your career goals.

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What to write in the “hobbies” section of your CV

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Note: This post now also appears on PRcareers.co.uk along with lots of other useful PR careers advice.

So you’ve mastered the CV format and written a brand spanking new one following the the brilliant guidelines in my book but you’ve still got that pesky bit at the bottom to write – the bit most people call “hobbies”.  So what do you do if you don’t actually have  any hobbies?  Should you leave that section blank?  I think that everyone has something interesting to say about their pastimes and there’s a number of ways you can tackle it.

Firstly, don’t title that section “hobbies”.  Continue reading

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Recommended reading for graduates job hunting in PR

I often get asked advice by graduates looking to break into the PR industry so here’s my round up of useful articles for job-hunting grads:

Twitter Feeds for PR Wannabes

How to stand out as PR interns

50 best blogs for PR professionals

Creative PR job applications

Tips for getting a job in PR

How to get in PR and stay in it 

How to make the most of your internship

5 good and bad ways to get a job in PR

How to write a thank you letter

How to make a good first impression

Making your CV more effective

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Ten Golden Interview Rules

  1. Turn up. If you can’t go to the interview for any reason, call the interviewer to apologise and explain so that they can give your slot to someone else.
  2. Be on time. Not 30 minutes early, not five minutes late. ON TIME. If you are unsure where you are meant to be going, do a trial run a few days before. If you get there very early on the day, go to a coffee shop and hang around until it is time for the interview. If you turn up early, the interviewer will feel under pressure to interview you then, when they may have other things to do. If you are late, you are wasting their time. Being late says “my time is more important than yours”. Not a great start.
  3. Dress smartly. If you don’t have a suit, buy one or borrow one. Polish your shoes. Have brushed hair and pay attention to your personal hygiene.
  4. Take a copy of your CV, along with anything else you have been asked to take – a portfolio of work for example.
  5. Do your research. Make sure you know what the company does. Find out as much as you can about the person interviewing you too.
  6. Read the job spec (assuming you have one) and the job advert, carefully. These will give you an idea of the questions you will be asked. If the job spec says that one of the requirements of this job is “a good eye for detail” they may ask you to give an example of when you have demonstrated that skill.
  7. Practise your handshake. A wet fish in your hand is not nice. Likewise, don’t try and crush your interviewer’s hand. Firm, but not bone-breaking, is best.
  8. Be interested. Don’t stare out of the window when they are talking to you, or pick your nose, or stare at your shoes.
  9. Be prepared to ask questions. At the end of the interview you will probably be asked if you have any questions. They may have already covered everything you need to know, but it’s best to have something to ask. Good questions include asking about their training opportunities, what the next stage in the interview process is likely to be, or when you are likely to hear from them.
  10. Remember that an interview is a two-way process. It is your opportunity to decide if you want to work for the company, just as much as it is their opportunity to find out if they would like to hire you.

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Ten tips for job hunters

Whether you’re a recent graduate looking for your first break into PR, or a seasoned professional wanting to make your next move, job hunting can be a total drag.  Here’s ten tips for finding your next role.

1)      Set yourself a specific time for job applications.  If you’re out of work, then treat it like a 9 – 5 job.  Get up, make a cup of coffee, turn on your computer and start hunting.  Resist the urge to turn on the telly – Jezza Kyle is far too tempting.  Take a break for lunch and then get back to it until the end of the working day.  If you’re already in a job then set aside an hour every evening.

2)      Do your homework.  Before you apply make sure you understand the role and the company you are applying to.  Reflect your research in your covering letter and make sure each application is specific to that particular company.  Standard covering letters go in the bin.  If you are applying through a recruitment agency this is a little more difficult, but try to make your application as relevant to the role as possible.

3)      Keep a record.  A recent graduate once told me that he’d worked out it was taking him, on average, 33 applications to achieve one interview for a PR role.  That’s a hell of a lot of applications but it is not surprising.  Competition for roles, particularly at entry level, is fierce.  I generally advise graduates to aim for twenty five applications per week, and those people who are already in jobs to aim for one application a day.  With that amount of correspondence you need to keep a record of who you have written to, which position you were applying for, whether you had a response and any other info that might be useful – like a copy of the job advert or role specification so you can refer to it if you’re called for an interview.  Admin is tedious, but it will make your life easier in the long run.

4)      Be persistent. 90% of the companies you apply to won’t even acknowledge receipt of your application let alone give you feedback if you’re rejected.  Don’t take it personally.  Replying to job applicants takes a huge amount of time and administration and for some firms it’s really low on their list of priorities.  As a rule of thumb, if you haven’t heard back from a company in two weeks, you are unlikely to be called to interview.  Don’t give up though.  It may mean you’re not right for that role, but other positions make crop up that are more suitable so keep applying.

5)       Apply speculatively.  If you apply for a specific job you are competing against all the other people applying for that role.  If you write to a company speculatively here is less chance that you will be competing against others and that your letter will stand out.  Make it clear what you are available for – full time, part time, temporary, permanent, contract, internships etc.  Ask them to keep your details on file for any suitable vacancies and if you haven’t heard back from them in three months, write again.

6)      Network endlessly.  Use social network sites like Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ to follow influential PRs and get yourself noticed.  Go along to Tweet Ups, conferences and social events – lots of which are free to attend.   Make a point of collecting business cards and connecting with the people you have met after the event.

7)      Be realistic.  If you’ve got two years of experience and are currently paid £25,000 a year, don’t apply for Director level roles paying £100,000.  You’ll be wasting your time and that of the recruiter.

8)      Dot the ‘i’s and cross the ‘t’s.  Attention to detail is incredibly important when applying for jobs.  Make sure you address your application to the right person, and spell their name correctly.  Don’t just rely on spell check to pick up errors.  Proof read your CV and covering letters several times before you press send, and make sure you attach the relevant documents to your email.  Good writing and proof reading skills are required for most PR roles so it’s essential you can prove you have mastered the basics.

9)      Pay it forward.  If you spot a vacancy that would be great for a job hunting friend or acquaintance send them the link to the advert.   Hopefully, they will return the favour.

10)   Say thank you.  If you get a personal response to your application – even if it is a rejection – write and say thank you.  If you get an interview – even if you don’t get the job – write and say thank you.  If someone introduces you to a contact who then offers you an interview, write and thank the referrer.  Such a simple courtesy will make you stick in their minds and will make them more likely to recommend you again in the future.  Thank you letters and emails are rarer than you might imagine and are a really easy way to build your reputation as a thoughtful and friendly person to work with.

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How to get a pay rise

 

 

 

 

 

Nobody likes asking for a pay rise.  We hope that our efforts will be recognised and rewarded accordingly, but sadly that’s not always what happens.  Managers may be busy focussing on budgets and targets and sometimes it takes for you to stand up and ask, instead of waiting for extra cash to appear in your pay packet.

 

Factors to consider before you ask for a raise include:

–          Market information.  Consult a specialist recruiter in your field and find out what the market norms are for you position.    Keep the whole package in mind.  You may find that you are paid at the lower end of the scale for your position in the market, but that you have a fabulous pension scheme or car allowance which compensates.

–          Pay scales. Find out if there are restrictions in terms of pay scale.  You may find that you are already at the top of that scale and your manager is restricted as to how much they can pay you, in which case you need to find out what you would have to do to achieve a promotion and go up to the next grade.

–          Your cash value.  Work out how much money you have saved/earned the company in the last 12 months and ask for an increase based on your cash value to the company.

–          The management’s point of view.  See it from the other side.  How valuable are you as an employee?  How easy would you be to replace?  What precedents would it set for other employees?

 
How to approach the subject of a pay rise with your manager:

–          Find out when the next salary reviews are due.  If it’s in the next few weeks you may be better off waiting until they occur and then making your case.  If it’s not for another six months then request a discussion with your manager.

–          Ask for a face-to-face meeting.  An email or letter will not suffice.  You need to discuss the issue rationally, calmly and give both your manager and yourself the opportunity to ask questions.

–          Take with you to the meeting a list of achievements and reasons why you deserve a pay rise.

–          Also take with you evidence of your market worth.  Take along testimonials from recruiters and salary surveys stating what your skills would be worth elsewhere.

 

What to do if your pay rise request is declined:

–          It may be that your manager is restricted by current budgets.  Ask when the next pay reviews will be and ask if you specifically will be considered for an increase in salary.

–          Negotiate other benefits.  There may be no more money in the salary pot, but you may be able to negotiate a higher contribution to your pension, flexible working hours, or extra training opportunities.

–          Ask for extra work and responsibility, and have achievements linked to an increase in pay.

 

It may be tempting to threaten to resign in the hope that your employer will try to keep you with the offer of a higher salary.  This is a dangerous game to play (particularly if you don’t have an offer of a job elsewhere!)   Remember that you are in your career for the long haul and you want to burn as few bridges as possible.  If you give your employer every opportunity to help you increase your salary and there is still no possibility of a raise or increased benefits, then perhaps it’s time to start looking around for a new position elsewhere.

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