I’ve guest blogged today over at the PRCA.
Tag Archives: interviews
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Stats on graduate employment make depressing reading. It is one of the hardest times ever to leave university and secure a graduate level job. My trainees worked out it was taking them on average 33 applications to secure an interview. AN INTERVIEW, not even a job offer! These are well trained grads who write great cover letters and have sparkling CVs which experienced PR headhunters have combed through in great detail, and even they struggle.
Which is why I was surprised on Monday when six out of twenty graduates invited to come along, didn’t turn up for the Taylor Bennett Foundation assessment day. Two¸I believe, had genuine reasons not to be there but the other four contacted us after 8pm on the day before to say they wouldn’t be turning up. One said “I’ve had a change of circumstance”. What could possibly change on a Sunday night that they didn’t know about on the Friday?
None of them had the balls to call us on the phone. Even the two with genuine reasons. They all sent vague emails. That really grips my shit. It’s rude, and cowardly. Although in the past we’ve had some who haven’t turned up and haven’t bothered to contact us at all and that is unforgiveable.
To get an assessment invitation they had to fill in a very very long application form. It is deliberately long to test commitment to the programme and to give me the opportunity to check out whether they write well and whether they have the right motivation to be selected. Then they have to attend a two hour pre-assessment briefing where they are given a rundown of what the assessment day entails and a presentation topic which they have to spend several hours preparing in advance. Finally, they have to complete a 30 minute online personality suitability test. It’s hardcore. It’s detailed. It’s designed for us to get the best. These six graduates completed all these stages and yet still didn’t show for the assessment.
They are told, even if they don’t secure one of the eight coveted spots on our programme we will give them very detailed and honest feedback. This takes considerable time and effort by our assessors and our Programme Manager who has to collate all of the handwritten notes from the day. It is feedback they are never likely to get anywhere else. It is unique to us and it is our way of helping more than just the graduates who join us for the ten week traineeship. Only about one in ten grads bother to reply to us to say thank you for the feedback. Manners, it seems, are not taught at university.
If I were a grad in this economic climate, I would have to be on my deathbed to not to turn up to such an amazing opportunity.
In a way, those graduates did us a favour. It saved us the job of weeding them out as unreliable and uncommitted during the assessment process. However, they did not do other grads a favour. If they had given us enough notice – say, Friday lunchtime – then we could have invited others to have taken their place and have a shot at getting a place on the TBF programme.
So if they apply again, their applications will automatically go in the bin. We don’t take rude and selfish people at the Taylor Bennett Foundation, and I suspect other employers won’t either.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Take a copy of your CV, along with anything else you have been asked to take – a portfolio of work for example.
- Do your research. Make sure you know what the company does. Find out as much as you can about the person interviewing you too.
- 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.
- 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.
- Be interested. Don’t stare out of the window when they are talking to you, or pick your nose, or stare at your shoes.
- 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.
- 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.
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Oooof. I really dislike this question. I think it’s a bit lazy, but a lot of interviewers ask it. They are looking to see how self critical you can be and whether you can give a balanced view. The strength side of things tends not to be too difficult, particularly if you have a job description or advert to work from. If they have asked for someone with a good eye for detail in the advert, it is a good idea to pick that out as a strength and give an example. So you could say something like “I am a stickler for detail. In my current role my colleagues always ask me to proof read their work as I am anal about typos and grammar.” The weaknesses element of this question is more difficult. The most common answer I have heard is “It can take me a while to get things done, because I’m such a perfectionist.” Yawn. I guarantee every recruiter has heard interviewees say that a million times. The basis of the answer is sound – pick something negative and turn it into a positive – but the answer itself is rather dull. So instead, pick something you know you are weaker on but that you are aware of and do something about. For example, you could say “I am terribly impatient and get annoyed when other members of the team don’t deliver in time, but I have learned over the years that everyone’s working style is different so I try to be more laid back about it now and offer to help the others so that we meet the deadlines.”
Where do you see yourself in five years time?
Here, the recruiter is looking to see if you are flighty and if you are really committed to staying in this industry. Recently I interviewed some graduates for an entry level PR position. When asked this question one of the interviewees replied “Oh, I’d love to be teaching in a primary school.” They didn’t get the job. Declaring that your real passions lie elsewhere is not the best technique for interviews. Instead, you should make it clear that you would like to be in the industry you are interviewing for, and that hopefully you will have progressed into a more senior position. You are then reinforcing your commitment to the job and making it clear that you have ambitions to build on your skills and experience.
Why should we hire you?
How good are you at selling yourself? That’s what this question really means. This is your opportunity to give a comprehensive picture of why you are better than the other ten candidates they are interviewing. You need to find a balance between confidence and arrogance. Saying “I’m the best” is arrogant. Saying “I’m the best at my current firm and have handled some really difficult and demanding clients in the last twelve months so I think I could bring some useful skills and experience to your team” is confidence. Justify your reasons with examples of your past experience.
Why are there gaps on your CV?
If you have been out of the job market at some point, it is likely it will be picked up on in interview. The rule of thumb here is, be honest. You may have taken time out to have children, for example. Tell the interviewer that and that you now have excellent childcare arrangements and are committed to going back to work. In the last year, many people have suffered job losses and redundancies due to poor economic conditions. Redundancy doesn’t have the stigma it had ten years ago, so tell the interviewer you were one of several job losses in your firm and that although you were upset to lose your job, you realise your bosses had difficult decisions to make. If at all possible, tell the recruiter how you have kept your hand in, even when you’ve not been working. You may have continued to write a relevant blog, or kept abreast of your sector’s media coverage. Make sure you make it very clear that you are committed to a long-term relationship with your next firm and that your break from employment was for genuinely good reasons.
Do you have any questions?
I have lost count of the amount of people who nothing to say at this point in an interview. Make sure you do your research before you go. Investigate the company website, check out their media coverage, ask people who have worked there before what the firm is like. Compile a list of questions to ask – and take it with you to the interview. At the end, when the interviewer asks if you have any questions you can pull out your list and refer to it. If all your questions have been answered in the course of the interview you can say “well, as you can see I did come with a big list of questions for you, but you have answered them all already, thank you!” It demonstrates that you have done your homework.