Monday, 27 February 2012

Sorry George, its a hard knock life!

And the Award for Best Actor goes to………

If you are George Clooney, the chances are that you feel gutted today. For the third time, you have been nominated for Best Actor at the Academy Awards, and for the third time you have left empty handed. It seems at the moment George, you are destined to be the Bridesmaid and never the Bride.

It may seem a slightly leftfield comparison, but there is a lot of similarity between the Oscars and the final stages of placement recruitment. After sifting through however many dozens of CVs, telephone interviews and assessment centres, a recruiter may find themselves with a difficult decision to make. They may have 5 or 6 outstanding candidates, all of whom would do a fantastic job in a placement year, but there may only be one position to fill. In this scenario, it may just be intangible qualities that separate the successful candidate from those who miss out.

It can be difficult for students to pick themselves up from a rejection, having seen their application progress to the latter stages. However there are positives that should be taken from the experience. Advancing to the final rounds of the interviewing process is to be commended in itself. The bigger name companies receive a ridiculous ratio of applications to opportunities, so to progress to the final stage but come up short should provide some comfort. You have already proven that you can write a good application, pass online tests and get through interviews. This should boost your confidence in your approach to your next application. You have done this once before, now go out and do it again.

There is no disguising the fact that at some point in your career, you will be overlooked for a job, whether that is when looking for placements, graduate jobs or whatever. I have been unsuccessful with applications myself and while it is only natural to be disappointed, it is better to channel your disappointment into positive energy so that your next application is better than the last, rather than become bitter about the experience.

It is a hard knock life, and like George Clooney students may find themselves waiting patiently while all those around them are getting their rewards. But in the same way that Clooney will continue to give great acting performances, students need to keep motivated and make strong applications, because their prize may be waiting just around the corner.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Communication Breakdown

Emails. There is no getting away from them. Log onto your laptop and they are there waiting for you. Pull out your smartphone and your inbox is accessible with a couple of taps of your finger. Emails from friends. Emails from family. From ebay. From Facebook informing you about friend requests. From scammers trying to prize your bank details away from you. Emails are as much a fixture in daily life as breakfast.

It occurred to me while catching up with my emails on the train home yesterday that the vast majority of the students I work with will not remember a time before email was commonplace. It is something they have grown up with and is completely natural to them. And yet for some students, poor use of email can be a hindrance in looking for placements and internships.

Here are some tips to follow when making applications.

Choose your email address wisely
You can spend hours putting together an amazing CV, but that could all be for nothing if you have given an unprofessional sounding email address in your contact details at the top of the first page. First impressions do count, so opt for something simple rather than a funky email address to amuse your friends. JoeBloggs@gmail  looks much better than SloppyJoe@hotmail

Beat the spam filter
A nice tidy email address will also help you here. If you want an employer to read your CV or application, don't let it get caught up in their spam box. A sensible email address along with a clear subject line should do the job. A blank subject line is likely to trigger the spam filter so be sure put the title of the job you are applying for, or follow the instructions laid out in the job description.

Fill the void
When a job spec tells you to send your CV off to a certain address, it can be tempting to do just that and nothing more. Don't. A blank email with a CV attached not only passes on the opportunity to start a dialogue with the recruiter, but also demonstrates a poor level of communication skills. As a bare minimum, include a brief cover note to inform the recruiter of who you are, where you study and what position you are applying for. Indicate that your application can be found attached and that you look forward to discussing this further.

Keep attachments simple
Students studying creative courses such as Design or Music may wish to include a portfolio of their work as part of their application, to showcase their talents to employers. There is nothing wrong with this, and in some industries you are unlikely to be considered for interview without one. Just be careful about what you send to an employer, as bulky attachments will either clog up quota space or see your email pushed into the spambox. A link on your cv to an online portfolio is therefore encouraged instead of sending large documents.

These may seem like pretty obvious things to do, but it is not uncommon to find students tripping themselves up by failing to stick to the basics of email communications.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Business as usual

For many of the courses at my university, this is reading week. Coincidentally it is also half-term for schools around the country. When I was a student we did not have a reading week, though if we did I will be the first to admit that I would probably have treated it a bit like half-term and just chilled out for a few days. However, now I am a involved with Placements it does frustrate me when some of the students I am working with use it as such.

One of the regular grumbles that I receive from my students is that it is too time-consuming to apply for placements, and it is difficult to balance doing so against the demands of lectures, coursework deadlines and part-time employment. So with lectures off the timetable this week, do I expect to see a raft of applications come my way a packed appointment sheet? Regrettably not.

Here is a little tip for students about careers services up and down the land. During reading week, or out of term time, we are still here and very much open for business. It will probably be quieter which means you have more chance of getting an appointment time to your liking, and because there will be less people coming through the door you can probably be given a little more time than usual to go through your applications.

Looking for placements can be a prolonged activity, and securing internships is a very competitive business. So this reading week, when your friends and classmates are sitting back reading (or playing Xbox, working extra hours etc), why not give yourself an advantage and go to see your placement or careers service instead.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

The Impression That I Get

Earlier in the week I hosted an employer who came to the University to hold placement interviews with a number of my students. Interviews are usually held at the offices of the employer, so on occasions as rare as this, it is a good opportunity for me to develop the relationship with the hiring managers and gain an insight into their thinking when recruiting interns. 

While it was good to catch up and find out how our interns turned grads are progressing with their careers in the company, it also provided a stark reminder of just how quickly a recruiter makes a decision about the students. Following the final interview, I was given instant feedback highlighting which candidates were likely to be made an offer, those who could be in the mix, while the others were already out of contention. All following just a 20-30 minute conversation.

Interviews are pressured environments and understandably many students can be affected by nerves, particularly if these are their first meaningful interviews. There are so many variables that cannot be controlled in the course of an interview, but with good preparation a student can make that all important good first impression. Here are a few tips that I share with my students.

1. Always dress to impress. This is clearly a no-brainer but every year there is one student who does get the message and turns up to an employer in their casuals. Funnily enough, I've not yet met an intern who got their job when interviewed in a hoody and baggy jeans. Suit up and look sharp.

2. Be assured, but not cocky. If you go into an interview thinking you know it all, the chances are that you don't. Your interviewer is probably vastly experienced in their field and has substantially more knowledge than you. Be confident in what you know and don't try to blag things that you don't.

3. Know your CV. All that an employer will know about you before your interview is what you put into your application. Expect to be asked questions which probe a little deeper into your education, skills and experience. I've known students who have embellished the truth somewhat on their CV and then found themselves tripped up when asked questions about their artificial experiences. 

4. Do your research. A very common question in interviews is 'Why do you want to work for us?' Cover all bases by looking into the company, both historically and what is currently in the news. Then go beyond the employer and look at their industry as a whole and their competitors. You can never go into an interview armed with too much background knowledge.

5. Give it your best shot. You probably only have one chance with each employer, so don't prepare for the interview half-heartedly. If you honestly give it your all but miss out to a stronger candidate, you can have no regrets. But as the saying goes, if you fail to prepare, start preparing to fail.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Express yourself

On Friday night I spent the evening in the company of close friends. After overdoing it a little on good food and wine, I was introduced to a board game called Articulate. If you are not familiar, the game is a bit like Pictionary, but instead of trying to convey a word or phrase through drawing, you have to do so through spoken word. With the egg timer acting against me and struggling to find a way to get my team-members to say 'The Dolomites' it occurred to me that Articulate has rather a lot in common with applying for placements.

On an application form, you have a series of questions to answer, usually within a defined length. In 250 words or 1000 characters, a student has to articulate why they deserve consideration for a placement. This is a tricky business and can provide a number of stumbling blocks that need to be carefully avoided.

To answer the competency based questions, it is important to be clear exactly what skills you are being asked to demonstrate. Is it your leadership skills or your ability to work in a team? The questions are not always straightforward so take the time to read them through carefully. If you are confused about the wording, the chances are that you will write a slightly muddled answer and fail to get your point across.

Faced with a word limit, there can be a tendency to use more words than necessary. Stringing together a series of longer words usually does not make an answer sound any more intelligent than using simple basic English, and yet I regularly find myself groaning at five or six line sentences. 100 words written with a strong degree of clarity will be far more powerful than 250 words of waffle.

Clearly the content of your answers will determine if your application helps you progress to the next recruitment stage, and so having a range of work experience, project work and volunteering examples is key. But if you fail to understand what the questions are asking of you, and can't express yourself clearly, don't be surprised if your application results in a negative automated reply.

It's snow excuse

Nobody likes to be cold, apart from maybe penguins and other creatures from Arctic climates. Therefore it comes as little surprise that the weekend snow flurry has had a knock on effect to the start of my week. My journey into work was pretty uneventful, with the roads all in good shape, and somebody had gone to a lot of trouble to distinguish the white parking lines from the snow in the staff car park. Top marks to the Estates Team for their work over the weekend.

However, now that I am in the office, I am finding a trend developing for my student appointments today. I was expecting a pretty busy day with my sign-up sheet jam-packed. And yet here I am, blogging away instead of providing interview advice as I was expecting. The reason - my appointment has not arrived. Nor had the previous appointment and one of my earlier appointments was also missed.

It could be that there are very legitimate reasons for the three no-shows that have happened so far today. However, I am sat here rather bemused as nobody has thought to phone or email me to let me know that they will be unable to attend.

I don't want to start the week with bitter-sounding ramblings, but I think there is an important message that I will be sharing with these three particular students. Throughout your placement search, you should act professionally at all times. I would hope that in the event of not being able to attend an interview, the student would at the very least contact the recruiting company to inform them. Seasonal weather can impact upon travel plans, particularly if public transport is affected. Very rarely can the same be said for mobile communications, and a bit of snow provides little excuse for discourtesy.

On this occasion there is no real damage done, other than some temporary aggravation for their Placement Office. However, I will be reminding these students that if they pull a similar trick with an employer, they should not be surprised to find their application discarded.

Friday, 3 February 2012

I love the smell of placements in the morning

I'm sure that many of you were like me this morning and did not want to get out of bed. Despite the central heating doing its best, the house was freezing and the car windscreen needed a good scrape after another frosty night. On chilly winter mornings when forced to commute in darkness, my motivation to head to the office is often in question.

I'm pleased to say that I have been more than rewarded today for parting company with my duvet. Sat in my inbox, snuggly nestled between various LinkedIn group updates were the placement equivalent of Wonka golden tickets. Two of my students had emailed overnight to share their good news that they have been offered placements and accepted the roles.

What a fantastic start to the day!

Thursday, 2 February 2012

When the dream has gone

There is an old saying which says that you should not put all of your eggs into one basket. This may be a little old fashioned but it is good advice when applying for placements. While a student does not want to fire off generic applications at will, there is an obvious danger in putting too much focus on a single role or company.

One of my students came to see me this afternoon and was extremely disappointed to have made it through to the final round of interviews with their 'dream' placement provider, but was not offered the role. Learning to deal with rejection is something that all job seekers become accustomed to, but what made this a particularly bitter pill to swallow was the fact that the student had only applied for this placement.

There is a valuable lesson to be learned. Having pinned all of their hopes on just one opportunity, this student is now back to square one, albeit with some useful interview and assessment centre experience behind them. Worse still, they have missed out on the chance to apply for a range of fantastic placements whose deadline have now passed.

Fortunately, I am confident that there will be a positive outcome to this tale. The company who have said no on this occasion receive a huge number of applications for their placement scheme. To have got through the initial screening, psychometric tests, telephone interviews, an assessment centre and narrowly missed out at the final interview tells me that not only is this student highly employable but if they get on with making those applications, it will only be a matter of time before another employer comes calling.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Your future at your fingertips

When I think back to the careers resources that were available to me when I was a student, I look around at the class of 2012 and feel rather green with envy. Yes we had a dedicated Careers service, graduate fairs and employer presentations, but fast forward to the present day and this looks like chicken feed in comparison.

With the dawn of social media, students have never had it so good. Access to employers and recruiters has never been so easy, with all of the big companies having a presence on Facebook and LinkedIn. YouTube is packed with useful video clips offering advice on how to make applications, or prepare for interviews. Online communities such as The Student Room and Wikijob empower students to share experiences of assessment centres. The fantastic CareerPlayer offers a huge range of videos for students to browse different industries and career options. And of course, anybody who is anybody can be contacted directly on Twitter.

This blog provides a very small snapshot of what is achievable in this age of technology. Within 24 hours of setting up this page and the associated Twitter account, I have had the fine people of GradWeb link to two of my posts, the fabulous boys and girls at RateMyPlacement retweet my message to their near 2000 followers and had journalist, internship campaigner and founder of GraduateFog Tanya de Grunwald reply to one of my tweets. Throw into the mix a direct message from GradPlus to see how my graduate job search is going, and you can see just how much can be achieved, even in a very short space of time.

The days of paper application forms are long gone but fortunately for me there is still a big role to play for the Placement or Careers services at universities. My colleagues and I are there to provide support, advice and guidance to help students take those first steps into what he hope are successful careers. Don't be afraid to make use of the services we offer, whether that be CV checking, bouncing ideas around or taking advantage of our information resources.

Ultimately, it is down to the individual student to decide upon the path they take in pursuing their career aspirations. As Tom Watson's Intern discovered last week, there are risks involved when using social media, but if students embrace technology and take the opportunity to network with recruitment professionals, they may find that their future is at their fingertips.