It can be pretty scary going to a job interview, but it might surprise you to know that the interviewer is also likely to be nervous. There is pressure on them to make the right hire, and they are depending on you to give them the information they need to make that decision.
Behind every interview question are some basic concerns – and, as an interviewee, you need to meet these needs and reassure the interviewers.
1. Does the candidate want the job?
Show them you have a realistic grasp of what the day-to-day job involves, and be enthusiastic about it. Don’t be afraid to be upbeat and say how the work matches your aspirations, work experience, interests and career plans.
2. Can the candidate do the job?
Interviewers want to see potential and willingness. Demonstrate that you have the skills and qualities the job description asks for through specific examples of times you have used these skills.
3. Is the candidate the best fit for the job?
Employers favour people with good interpersonal and communication skills. Take an interest in what other job roles and people are in the organisation and ask questions about them. Find out in advance about the organisational culture, and show them how this might fit your personality and work style.
4. Does the candidate have other job offers or interviews lined up?
This information will help them timetable their final decision. Don’t pretend that you do – or don’t – have other things lined up. But don’t be shy about mentioning other job applications you have pending. If they’re similar to the one you’re being interviewed for it shows that you’ve really thought through your career choice.
5. How do I feel about the candidate? Are they lying or behaving strangely?
It’s best to admit if you don’t know the answer to a question, aren’t sure what you’re being asked, or don’t feel you’ve yet developed the skill you’re being asked about. And if you have a problem on the day of the interview that’s likely to affect your behaviour (such as an illness or bereavement), it’s wise to flag this up at the start.
This may sound desperate and defeatist, but it doesn’t have to be. As the class of 2011 prepares to graduate, many will understandably be worried about their next steps. The reality is that in hard times, a job as opposed to the ideal job is infinitely preferable to no job at all. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t strive for your dream job – just don’t write off other options in the meantime.
‘Take a job – any job – or failing that, volunteer’, advises Regina Moran of Fujitsu Ireland. As CEO of Fujistu’s Irish operations, and Chair of ICT at IBEC, when she gives advice it’s worth listening. In her view there are five key skills that graduates should possess: teamwork, the ability to problem-solve, leadership, the ability to communicate and collaboration skills. None of these are the exclusive property of one particular sector or profession – all can be honed via all manner of ‘filler’ or temporary roles, or volunteer placements.
What’s more, assuming that your ‘filler’ job is stimulating enough, then it can be regarded as a positive addition to your CV. It can help to augment your competencies and develop a professional reputation while refining your people skills, arming you with interesting anecdotes to trot out in interviews, and a whole range of work experience.
That said, a ‘basic’ job or internship in your chosen industry is more likely to yield returns than a job that’s completely unrelated to your degree. You can start building on your specific, relevant knowledge, developing your professional network, and you will be in a better position to take advantage of opportunities within your sector that could lead you to where you want to be. However, satisfying work in an unrelated discipline shouldn’t be dismissed. There are plenty of transferable skills (it might sound clichéd, but it’s true) to be gained from most jobs, no matter how short-term or temporary, that will help you develop into a rounded, versatile professional.
Using long words and business jargon is the way to impress recruiters, right? Well, maybe not. Simple and direct is the best way to write a CV or covering letter, or to fill in an application form. This is where ‘plain English’ can help you.
The concept started in the UK civil service, as a way of making their documents more user-friendly. The UK-based organisation the Plain English Campaign took up the idea in the 1970s and since then plain English has got into all areas of writing.
Don’t worry, it’s not about banning long words or throwing out the grammar book: it’s about clear communication. The Plain English Campaign defines plain English as ‘writing that the intended audience can read, understand and act upon the first time they read it’.
‘Acting upon it’ – if it means offering you an interview – is exactly what you want. And think about that phrase ‘the first time they read it’. Yours is not the only CV in the pile and recruiters just don’t have time to read that pile more than once.
Using plain English techniques can help you get your message across effectively. And someone who has this kind of control over their writing is always going to impress employers with their communication skills.
This may take some practice, and it may mean rethinking the way you’ve been used to writing. The academic system, after all, can lead people to write in a complicated manner. But a job application is not an essay: it has a different purpose and needs a different approach.
A good starting point is the Plain English Campaign website, which has several free guides including advice on letter writing and CVs.
Techniques include using short sentences and straightforward words, cutting padding, using active verbs, and avoiding abstracts and clichés. A good rule of thumb that will help you avoid meaningless buzzwords is to think about what you actually want to say; then say it. Be as clear as possible, and as specific as possible.
Here are some ‘before and after’ examples that you might find in a cover letter:
Does ‘I am contacting you with regards to the position advertised by yourselves’ sound like the way you usually talk? How about ‘I am writing about the job you advertised’?
And when it comes to signing off… ‘Should you require any further information, please do not hesitate to contact me’ sounds old fashioned. ‘Please contact me if you need any more information’ sounds better. But think about whether you actually need to say this. They will contact you anyway if they need to, won’t they?
Guest blog by Sinead English
You would think that it is obvious. You wore the suit, turned up 30 minutes early, prepared well, and answered all their questions in detail. So why then do so many interviewers of graduates feel that they are not that enthusiastic about getting the job?
Maybe you should try asking them for the job at the end of the interview. It will certainly leave them in no doubt that you are hungry and keen to do the job – traits that employers regularly comment they don’t see in graduates at interview.
How to ask for the job (without sounding desperate!)
- There is usually time allotted at the end of the interview for your questions. Rather than asking them a question they have heard 100 times before – “What are the opportunities for advancement?” [yawn], try this: “From my research on the company and from what I have heard today I am extremely interested in this position – I really believe I would be a good fit for your company – is there any other information you would like from me today?” Chances are they will not ask you anything else but you will have left them in no doubt that you want the job. Practise saying this out loud so that you feel comfortable with it on the day – it is not something that comes naturally to most people.
- Alternatively when winding up the interview the interview may ask: “Is there anything else you would like to add?” There is your chance – on a plate! Tell them that you have enjoyed meeting them and from everything you have learned about the company and the role you are extremely keen to join the company.
Everyone loves flattery. Be sincere, tell them you want the job – not many graduates do and it could just make all the difference.
A recent report by Sean Flynn, Education Editor of The Irish Times, noted that demand for postgraduate courses is reaching a record level. Several salient points are worth re-stating here, ahead of the gradireland Summer Fair in the RDS on 15 June, where students and graduates can find out more about their further study options both in Ireland and abroad.
The latest figures, released last September, show that more than 17,000 students have registered an interest in pursuing a postgraduate qualification. The figure was compiled by the Postgraduate Applications Centre (PAC) in Galway, an offshoot of the Central Applications Office. The PAC office handles all postgraduate applications on behalf of the universities, except UCD and the University of Limerick.
More than 30,000 students graduate from Irish universities and institutes of technology each year. With employment prospects still bleak in certain sectors, many are looking to a postgraduate qualification to help unlock the jobs market.
Demand for places now regularly exceeds availability. There are more than 3,000 applicants for the Higher Diploma in Education (HDip) currently awaiting a decision on their application. Many have already spent a number of years in either part-time teaching or taking a masters programme. The Department of Education recently announced that the HDip in Education is to be extended to two years from 2013, which will double the cost of securing this qualification.
But there are also bright spots. One-year conversion courses – in which students take the entire content of a standard three- or four-year undergraduate programme in a single academic year – are a good option, both financially and in terms of up-skilling or re-skilling to adapt to the jobs market. Conversion courses in IT are especially popular, as employers continue to struggle to find suitably qualified graduates in many specialist IT areas.
Apart from employer-driven programmes addressing specific skills shortages, there are many one-year taught masters programmes which can boost job prospects. PhD study is also booming. But funding – even that provided by Science Foundation Ireland for PhD work, biotechnology, ICT and the ‘smart economy’ – is under extreme pressure. Securing a postgraduate qualification is extremely expensive in Ireland, unlike many EU countries. Most qualified postgrads will have accumulated bank debts of at least €10,000 by the time they have finished their studies.
In the old days (which due to the accelerating pace of change is actually only a couple of years ago) there was a blessed simplicity in the recruitment process. Regular recruiters of graduates visited Irish campuses on what was called the Milkround (no, no idea why either) to conduct initial job interviews after Christmas. This quaint custom grew up because most employers recruited a cohort of graduates each September and therefore needed to attract them in autumn, interview them in the spring and make offers in the summer. A recent survey of employers – the annual gradireland Graduate Salary and Graduate Recruitment Trends Survey – shows that, despite the continuing importance of campus visits and presentations before Christmas to attract students to apply, there is now much less clarity about closing dates for applications and many less campus job interviews. Nearly half the organisations surveyed had no specific closing date at all and most accepted applications all the year round. Part of this trend is down to uncertainty in the current market and companies not wanting to commit to making early job offers when the situation is so fluid. But, even when the economy improves, the traditional Milkround will probably not return. This is great news for students who always miss deadlines and another reason not to make the assumption that just because it’s the summer, everybody has stopped recruiting. Because they haven’t. But you do need to stay vigilant.
The same survey also shows that the quality of Irish graduates’ applications has risen this year, proving, I believe, that the problems are not to do with the product of third level education (that’s you) but with the current downturn in the number of jobs available in Ireland.