Friday, 19 December 2014

Get That Job! Nine Ways To Interview With Confidence

Following my review of Louis Efron's excellent book How to Find a Job, Career and Life You Love, the author has very kindly provided this article to help you to interview with confidence.

Originally published on January 23, 2013

Get That Job! Nine Ways To Interview With Confidence

by Louis Efron

We are born with complete confidence. My best proof is my 10-month-old daughter. Her walk is shaky, she constantly falls down and she can’t really communicate. Still, she never thinks twice about getting up again to try and navigate across a room and interact with others.

She is not special in these behaviors. All healthy babies do the same thing. They have not learned to lack confidence in their abilities, be nervous when addressing others, or be anxious when all the attention is on them. Most of us adults are not this lucky. We can remember past failures. We second-guess ourselves. And, unfortunately, our learned lack of self-confidence is harmful at the most important times in life, like interviewing for a job you want and need.

To make matters worse, research shows that, on average, interviewers reach final decisions about applicants in only four minutes after meeting them. In this time there is little more to evaluate than how you look and speak, how you carry yourself, and how you greeted the interviewer, all clear clues of your level of self-confidence.

Being confident from the moment you walk through the door will always give you a better chance of landing the job. The good news is that self-confidence can be generated and regained. Here’s how:

Power Posing

In Amy Cuddy’s video, Your BodyLanguage Shapes Who You Are, she asserts that not only does body language affect how others see you, but how we see ourselves. Her studies show that “power posing” – standing in a posture of confidence, even when you don’t feel confident – affects your brain’s testosterone and cortisol levels, and makes you feel more confident. Her research concludes that changing your body positions does influence how others see you and even alters your body chemistry.

Power Posing before an interview – or before any event where you are in need of a confidence boost – will greatly improve how you feel and appear to others.

The Confidence Mirror

In a Radford University publication, Behavioral Interviews: It’s Not What YouKnow, It’s What You Did, confidence is strongly correlated to attractiveness. Multiple studies also conclude that “attractive” job candidates get more offers and make more money. Making yourself attractive during an interview with a comfortably firm handshake, direct eye contact, good posture, relaxed but passionate communication style, and a genuine smile will give you an edge over other candidates.

Body Positioning

You can naturally adjust your body for confidence by asking, “If I was really interested in what my interviewer was saying, how would I sit?” You will be surprised how often you need to readjust your body and how much more confident you feel afterwards.

Affective Memory

As a theatre director, I used a technique called Affective Memory to help my actors connect with their characters and generate a consistent, real and confident performance. This process is a central part of Method Acting, a system pioneered by the late Russian theatre director and actor, Constantin Stanislavski, which requires actors to call on personal memory details from a similar situation to those of their characters. Used with positive personal experiences, this same technique can be effectively applied to rehearsals for job interviews, especially when rehearsing for the critical first four minutes.

Close your eyes. Recall and experience a time you gave a firm and confident handshake. See the eyes and face of a friendly and kind person you know or interviewed with before. Hear their reassuring words. Feel the energy of a positive and successful interview, meeting, or exchange you had in the past. Pay attention to what your posture, breathing, and heartbeat were like. Rehearse and experience this interview in your head, heart, and hands – live it.

Done completely, this exercise will give you confidence for your upcoming interview by connecting it to positive and successful experiences you have already had in your life. You will no longer be walking into an unknown and perhaps scary circumstance, but one you have successfully already experienced. In fact, if done correctly, your mind will not be able to distinguish the difference between the two.


As you grow in your career, knowledge, and expertise and have more successes in life, you will naturally become more confident when interviewing. Experience and confidence usually go hand in hand.
If you are early in your career or short on the experience, knowledge, or successes you need to feel fully confident for the job you are interviewing for, seek assistance from relevant books, the web, training courses, and a mentor. Good resources and a commitment to study will give you all the confidence you need.

Exercise & Dress

Staying fit and dressing appropriately for interviews are helpful practices. Both will give you more confidence and regular exercise always provides you more energy and makes you feel better about yourself.

Focus On The Positives

We tend to focus our energies on the negative things that happen to us. Despite buckets full of positive experiences, it only takes one or two nasty comments to knock someone off their horse. In fact, meanness is at the root of all confidence issues. Being laughed at when you make a mistake, being harshly rejected by someone you like, or being taunted on a schoolyard all play a part in a person’s self-confidence. To overcome negative experiences in life, focus on positive ones. Most people can count only a few really bad experiences in life, while positive ones are abundant.

Even better, extend this positivity to others. Dr.Maya Angelou once said, “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” We have the ability to give the gift of confidence to everyone we meet by being constructive and kind in all our interactions. I encourage you to be a champion of confidence for others. It not only feels good and helps others, but gives you greater confidence as well.

Rewrite Your Self Talk

What are your low confidence triggers when interviewing (e.g., entering the building, shaking hands with your interviewer, sitting down to start the interview, starting to speak, answering questions)? Write them down now. Then write down what you say to yourself when these events occur and how it makes you feel. Cross out any negative “self-talk” and re-write the statements in a positive and assertive manner – a way that makes you feel confident and good about yourself when you read and say them. Turn, “I will never get this job” into “I am the best person for this job. This company needs me.”

Dr. Wayne Dyer, the renowned self-help guru advises, “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” And there lies the secret to how you reverse the impact of low confidence triggers in your life.

By re-writing your self-talk, you will change the way you feel and how you behave. Negative self-talk will generate low self-confidence and self-esteem issues while positive self-talk produces the opposite effect. Practice positive self-talk throughout your life and your confidence levels will soar.

Be Present

The key to confidence when interviewing is coming prepared and staying present, connected and fully engaged in the process and what you need to convey about yourself. Connect with your interviewer by providing helpful answers to questions and being actively interested in what they have to say. The more focused you are on what you trying to accomplish; the less room insecurities, nervousness, and self-doubt will have to creep in.

For additional help and guidance, my new book How to Find a Job, Career and Life You Love (Second Edition) now available on and other major on-line retailers.  Also, check out my companion recording, Surrender to Your Purpose – a 30-minute guided audio journey of deep relaxation to help unleash life’s purpose and build confidence - available now on and iTunes. This recording will help further your journey towards a life of purpose, fulfillment and more happiness than you ever imagined possible. For more information about me, please visit my website at

Friday, 12 December 2014

Guest Article from TheCVMan

I am pleased to welcome to this blog an article from Alfred Ajani (@fr3dsantana). He came to notoriety a few months ago after adopting a creative approach for seeking graduate employment which landed him a job with Asoria  Take it away Fred.....

After unsuccessfully applying for over 300 jobs I decided to take matters into my own hands and get myself the role I wanted, which is what Asoria offered. I am now Marketing, PR and Project manager for four recruitment brands; Green, Energy, Digital and Property.

“What pushed me to go to Waterloo station?” many asked, “I was desperate” many say. I tell them I was ready to work and take my ideas to market. My main idea is self-promotion, what are you doing to stand out?  With traditional methods of applying I would be waiting for a response for at least two weeks, sometimes even no response or and automated message stating unfortunately I do not have enough experience.

Similar to my situation the directors at the Asoria Group shared an identical struggle to land the dream job after three tough years at university, which is noticeable in their internal recruitment process, of hiring young hungry graduates ready to take the first step. Way back when getting a degree and a role in your desired industry went hand in hand, I could ramble on but we know those days are over, as it was way before the time my company directors graduated. Hopefully those days will make a swift return, with the help of a middle man. So I will tell you why I took on a marketing role at a recruitment agency.

I have the freedom to give advice to many who seek it, I will be giving guest lectures at Universities on topics such as social media and how to go viral, perseverance and how to get your foot on the career ladder without sending your CV (A video CV might do the trick though). It’s not your top 10 interviews tips but advice that will really make you stand out, I will call it ‘Guerrilla Interviewing’. I have had my fair share of interviews and know how daunting of a process it can be. It is also tempting to throw down a million CV’s from the tallest building and hope someone catches it and gives you a call after endless rejections. But I had good people around me giving positive advice and I knew the right role will come along for me soon enough where I can have a real impact on an industry. Change won’t come over night, but it is something I am working towards. Many may not see it now but when I look back, I’ll know.

It took me all day to find some inspiration, so I took a tour around the seventh floor and thought back to the times where my imagination was at is most creative point. It was at school when it was drilled into us that only going to University would land us a career, and we were constantly quizzed on what we want to be when we grow up. “Alive!!!” was the response most of my friends made. Should they have been putting so much pressure on us to be the next Tony Blair or Angelina Jolie? But if you do go down the marketing route like me do not limit yourself to social media marketing activities as they are easily ignored by others. The Asoria Group will be engaging in unexpected and noteworthy campaigns and our ideas will spread. ‘Safe is risky.’ I am very equipped and willing to do what it takes to see The Asoria Group move forward in the right direction, starting out at a new company is not a problem; you can grow with them.

Remember it’s a new day, employers are on Social Media too and use it as a point of reference, use it wisely.

See more about Fred's story, via Aimee Bateman CareerCakeTV

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

How to Find a Job, Career and Life You Love

When I was first asked to review Louis Efron’s new book, How to Find a Job, Career and Life You Love, I must admit to feeling a touch reticent. I’ve always been a little bit suspicious about self-help books, much as I’m sceptical about the next great dieting fad; it will probably be too good to be true and you’ll get nowhere fast. However, upon receipt of the book my opinion quickly changed within the first few pages.

Once you get past the inevitable ‘I've had a great career, you can too’ introduction (and for the record, Louis has had a very interesting career which has taken him in a variety of different directions), what you are presented with is 35 concise chapters each with their own thought provoking exercises which help the reader to deliberate on where they’re at, where they want to be and how to get there.

It is not a book designed to produce a quick fix. Indeed Efron invites the reader to take the book one chapter at a time, think about their responses from the questions posed in each chapter and then sleep on it. I had envisaged delivering a very authentic review based on my own personal responses to each chapter, but if I’d stuck to that original intention I would probably have talked myself out of my current employment after just the first three chapters. Probably not the wisest move to make on a public blog!

The strength of this book lies in its simplicity. The reader is challenged to think for themselves in bite-sized chunks. You are not expected to find resolution within a couple of hours, but over a considered period of time. It doesn't pretend to make decisions for you, but provides the sort of questions and pointers that anybody serious about career change, or seeking greater fulfillment needs to consider before taking action, not least the issue of money; there may be idealistic jobs out there, but if you’re left out of pocket how will that affect your work/life balance?

Efron’s writing style is easy to digest, alluding to aspects of his own experience. For less than a tenner, this book is a sound investment, either for yourself or as a stocking-filler for a friend or loved one who you know could do with a little support with their career path.

Get yours today from Amazon or other good book retailers.

Students can sign up for a free 6 month trial of Amazon Student here

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Professionalism starts with a spellcheck

When you spend days on end looking at CVs, after a while there is very little shock value in what you read. I've encountered the students who have managed to spell the name of their university incorrectly. That mind-numbing sensation when browsing another 'hard working individual' is a constant. And yet this afternoon I encountered a CV which perfectly illustrates how a candidate shoots themselves in the foot and would see their application discarded before a recruiter has even got beyond the first paragraph. Frankly it is a bit of a shocker.

I'll ignore the fact that this person has left an e off the word 'severe', and gloss over the upper case A in Active, and address the bigger problem. If you choose to begin your engagement with an employer by offering a professional profile, you better be damned sure that you can spell the word 'professional'

Hire me please, I'm a Peroffional
Professionalism starts with a spellcheck, Then read through your applications to check for spelling or grammatical issues that a spellchecker has not picked up upon, As an extra safety measure, ask somebody you trust to cast their eye over your documents. There is nothing professional about sending a CV that begins this badly to an employer, or in this case to a Placement Office.

First impressions are king. Candidates with a Peroffional Profile will not find their applications progressing very far. 

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Land of Opportunity?

Have you ever noticed on job descriptions how employers take a proactive stance towards equal opportunities? That short sentence that says something along the lines of 'We welcome applications from disabled candidates' and even go as far as guaranteeing an interview for candidates with a disability who meet the minimum requirements for the role. While this push towards equality is well intentioned, you have to wonder if it is a tick-box exercise rather than a meaningful attempt to to recruit disabled candidates.

Employment statistics paint the stark reality. The following paragraph is taken from report 88 of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, based on data from the Labour Force Survey, Q3 2012

On all key employment measures examined in this study, disabled people of working 
age in Great Britain are at a disadvantage compared with non-disabled people. They 
are less likely to be in work (47 per cent compared with 77 per cent); less likely to be 
economically active (47 percent are economically inactive compared with 16 per cent 
of non-disabled people); and those who are economically active are more likely to be 
unemployed (12 per cent compared with eight per cent) and unemployed for longer 
(47 per cent of unemployed disabled people have been unemployed for a year or 
more, compared with 31 per cent of unemployed non-disabled people). 

This makes for grim reading, and as somebody who works with disabled students who wish to undertake a placement year, it presents another barrier to entry for work based learning. This year I'm working closely with a student who has a severe mobility impairment. On paper the student has an excellent CV with relevant work experience, strong grades and heavy involvement in student committees and extra-curricular activities. The student is personable, articulate and somebody that any company worth their salt should want to hire. Time will tell if the student will be successful in their placement search. I will feel as though I have failed if they do not.

I take a very personal interest on this issue. After graduating many moons ago and while trying to decide on a career path, I undertook a period of voluntary service and was sent to a university in Wales where I was a carer for a student with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. I came to learn very quickly how different the world looks from a wheelchair and the daily challenges that someone with mobility issues encounters. I couldn't understand the logic of putting a Disability Service on the third floor of a building, making it that little bit more difficult for users to access. If a lift goes out of service, what are you to do? Unfortunately we found out on a number of occasions. When above the ground floor, the only lift in the building broke and we had to wait for hours for an engineer to come to fix it before being able to leave the building. Then there were taxi companies sending inaccessible vehicles despite clear requests for a specific type of cab. Don't even get me started on able bodied people making use of disabled toilets and leaving them in an unpleasant condition. My friend had enough difficulties in life without employment statistics being stacked against him too. 

I'm also a parent of a child with mobility issues, and as such worry what the future may hold for my son. I'd like to think that in twenty years time he will be entering a workforce that is much more embracing of disabled employees, and the disparity of the employment statistics listed above are a thing of the past. I have my doubts, but hope to be proven wrong. Having had the opportunity to attend the National Undergraduate Awards in recent years, it has been pleasing to see companies like Enterprise Rent-a-Car recognised for Best Diversity Initiative for Work Experience. That said, one hopes that in the future such award categories are no longer required and that it become the norm for employers to pursue a diverse recruitment strategy.
Take out the word Play and insert the word Work

I read this blog recently written by a graduate I know well, highlighting his difficulties in accessing employment, in part due to his disability. To borrow the turn of phrase at the end of the article, 'come on employers, take a risk'. 

Friday, 24 October 2014

Introducing myInternSwap

I recently had a meeting with the founder of myInternSwap, a website that launched in September which allows users to find and exchange work experience opportunities. As somebody who enjoys innovation and new ways of helping people to source placements, I was most intrigued and so invited the company to write a guest article. Please let me introduce to you myInternSwap


With three children in their late-teens, Nick, founder of myInternSwap, realised that there had to be an easier and fairer way for them to access work experience and internships.

A few years ago his daughter, Isabel was doing her A-Levels, and one of her school friends requested a placement at Nick’s London-based design agency. When, as a gesture of thanks and reciprocity, the friend’s father gave Isabel a placement at the think tank where he worked, an idea was born: myInternSwap – a website to find internships and work experience places offered in exchange by others.

The website was launched in September 2014 and you can get a FREE 6-months subscription by signing-up with promo code TP2543.

Asking those who want to secure a placement to offer one in exchange, adds more internships to a market where many more are looking for places than are available, and the website offers an easy way for people who are interested in each others offers to get in touch with each other. Internships can be offered through a parent, another relative or even a family friend – so, perhaps surprisingly, most people who are looking for work experience would be able to come up with an internship offer.

While many larger companies have formal internship programmes, they are often difficult or impossible to access for younger and less qualified students. In contrast, myInternSwap operates as an social network where members are empowered to communicate directly with one another in order to agree the details of mutually beneficial work placements. 

Its rapidly growing membership base already reflects the diverse and international nature of work in the UK, with hundreds of internships being offered in London, around the UK and already in over 30 countries around the world. Furthermore, the site offers work experience in anything from law, engineering and finance to farming, yoga and catering. The opportunities are as endless as there are young people looking for internships and work placements.

Ultimately, its founder believes that myInternSwap’s take on networking is now a reputable way to circumvent outdated systems‚ and replace the old boy’s network with one that evens the playing field, provides a more inclusive marketplace, and above all, reflects the networking style of the young.


So there you have it. Check out the myInternSwap website, and feel free to leave your thoughts and comments in the box below

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Knuckle-Rapping Time

In the three years I've been writing this blog, I've spent quite a lot of time encouraging students to be professional in their communications. Whether it be through email, social media or indeed voicemail, it is important to be courteous, and also self-aware that the profile you create for yourself is how recruitment professionals will make initial judgement. I've also tried to deliver a website and twitter account that is both informative and light-hearted and for the most part I think I've managed to achieve that. However it is a fine line to tread and it is quite easy to overstep the mark, which is what I did yesterday.

I won't go into full detail, but a couple of tweets sent with good intentions resulted in a spot of bother for a well-known internship provider. What might be considered banter on a one to one level, takes on a different dimension in the corporate world. A couple of my off-the-cuff remarks were not taken too kindly by the wider organisation and the net result has been that a recruiter who I have nothing but admiration for has had to extinguish metaphorical fires. Needless to say the offending tweets and associated messages have been deleted to alleviate further embarrassment.

So this is a lesson for me as much as my readership. As well as ensuring that you maintain a positive professional profile, take a moment to think before you tweet as your words could bear consequences for others.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

The Keano Test

When applying for jobs, we invariably provide employers with our telephone numbers. I put my contact details on a CV, and my students do likewise when they are hunting for placements. The important thing to remember that once you have given that information to an employer, a recruiter could at any time attempt to speak to you. The question is are you ready for that call?

There is a story circulating in the media today, of a footballer whose answerphone message essentially lost him the chance of a transfer. Around the time that Budweiser ran their infamous 'Wassup' campaign (see the video below if you're not familiar - be warned, it is infectious!) the then Sunderland manager Roy Keane was looking to sign Robbie Savage from Blackburn Rovers. Savage, known for his flamboyance, had recorded an answerphone message based upon the catchphrase from the ad, and it is safe to say it did not endear him to his prospective employer.

Here is an extract from Keane's book

Like it or not, first impressions count. Before you submit applications, make sure that your contact details lead a recruiter to the professional person they want to hire, rather than the person who wants to amuse their friends and acquaintances with a gimmicky answerphone message. Why waste your time crafting a strong application if on the first point of contact, you give a recruiter reason to throw you onto the rejection pile? An employer might not use Keane's choice language, but as they live and die on their ability to hire the right sort of people for their organisation, it wouldn't be hard for them to think 'I can't be hiring that person' if greeted by an unprofessional message.

If you plan to be successful in your placement search in the coming year, you'll need to adapt to the requirements of the professional world. Excellent communications is one aspect of that. Now go check your voice message to ensure you would not fail The Keano Test.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Ice Ice Baby

Have you ever wondered what goes on in the The Placement Office during the summer time? It often makes me laugh when I'm told on the last day of exams 'enjoy your summer holiday' as if they believe we close for business the minute our students leave campus. As good as that sounds, there is a mortgage to pay and placements to be secured, so during June, July and August I've very much been here, plodding away with the job in much the same way as I do during term time.

This morning I was minding my own business, conducting a number of risk assessments, when my phone buzzed and the tweet I received rather caught my eye. You may have been aware of the #IceBucketChallenge that has been doing the rounds on social media in recent days. Essentially a gimmick to raise awareness of ALS, celebrities having been lining up to get themselves on tape being drowned - The Guardian have kindly pieced together 10 of the best (Love the Oprah effort!)

Anyway, this morning, I received this.

Now never one to duck a challenge, or indeed someone who needs an excuse to cast aside joyful bureaucratic paperwork, I contrived a plan to get myself under an ice cold bucket. Firstly, I asked around The Placement Office to see if there were was anybody willing to help me out with the task. I was rather taken aback at how quickly my colleagues were lining up to soak me. Clearly I'm not as popular in these parts as I thought! Next, I had to overcome the logistical issue of only having the clothes I was wearing to hand. One short trip to the local Tesco later and I was adorned in some rather fetching £4 flamingo shorts

Properly tasteful and in no way look like boxers

All that was needed then was some ice, buckets and some willing volunteers to capture the moment for the world to see. Here you go!

To my friends at CareerPlayer, CareersBox and EC Futures , consider yourselves nominated.

Back to the day job then.................

Monday, 19 May 2014

It's that most wonderful time of the year!

#PlaceNet14 beckons. Here is an article I've written for the PlaceNet website previewing the conference which is taking place this week in Leeds

Is it really that time of the year again already? It barely seems like 12 minutes since #PlaceNet13 drew to a close, let alone 12 months, but here we are on the eve of another conference. The Trustees have been working hard behind the scenes to piece together what we believe will be our best conference yet and I for one can't wait for Wednesday lunchtime to come around.

From where I sit, the placement industry appears to be in a period of change. While it is too early to generalise, 8 months into working with the first cohort of £9k sandwich placement students I can see anecdotal evidence of how the fee changes has impacted on at least some of my courses. Employability remains high on the agenda and I'm seeing more postgraduate courses offering mandatory or optional internships. With that in mind I'm particularly looking forward to hearing from Dr Lorna Warnock and Dr Hilary Jones regarding their study into producing competency frameworks for postgraduate internships. The session on International Placement Perspectives strikes a chord as my institution plans to expand overseas work experience opportunities for our students. As somebody with more than a passing interest in Social Media, I'm also excited to hear what the founder of Career Geek Blog has to say.

Away from the conference floor comes plenty of opportunity for networking. We've tapped into the local knowledge of our members to book Bibis restaurant. Our Thursday afternoon social remains wrapped in secrecy but I'm assured that this year it does not involve boats. We have also introduced 'Fresher's Drinks' which are loosely themed networking sessions. Wednesday evening I will be hosting (with sponsors RateMyPlacement) drinks for delegates 'New to the Profession', while Thursday night (sponsored by Cogent) offers the chance to network regarding 'Progression in Career'.

This will be my third PlaceNet conference and I expect a very different experience from previous events. In Liverpool I arrived as a relative unknown but received a warm welcome both from the Trustees and delegates. In Bristol last year I was given the platform to speak to the conference and participate in the Q&A panel session. This year, I'm very much part of the establishment and have a greater appreciation of all the hard work that goes into organising an event such as this.

Have a safe journey and my fellow Trustees and I look forward to welcoming you to Leeds.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Yo Adrian I Did It!

Ever wondered how you would react if you won an Oscar? Would you blub uncontrollably like Gwyneth Paltrow or launch into a political rant like Michael Moore? I recently had my day in the sun, collecting the award for Outstanding Contribution to Work Experience at the National Undergraduate Employability Awards and was rather relieved that there was no requirement for an immediate acceptance speech. If there had, I can only imagine it would have taken an alarming resemblance to the one delivered by a certain Mr R. Balboa


The keynote speaker at the NUEAwards was Sahar Hashemi, co-founder of Coffee Republic, who said a number of things that struck a cord with me. We often see the term 'Overnight Success' used to describe people or business that very suddenly come to public awareness. As Sahar pointed out, there is always a backstory to go with the success, and it may be that rather than achieve success in a very short space of time, there could be years of hard graft to reach that point. The speaker used the figure 15 years. As somebody whose first job after graduation was engraving trophies 13 years ago, this point felt pretty close to home when a few minutes later, she presented me with an award that had my own name engraved onto it.

Success comes in different sizes
Success isn't always measured in terms of winning. I attempted my first half marathon last weekend and while the fancy union jack flag medal was awarded for completing those 13.1 miles, the success in my mind is all the training and preparation that went into getting me fit to run the distance. All those miles run in wet and wintry conditions, plus years of weight management and dieting. Crossing the finish line only tells a very small part of the story.

My students are currently 6 months into their placement search. We formally started out on the journey last September in the introductory placement lectures, and a good number of them have since secured a role. For many others, the pursuit continues, having had a few setbacks along the way in the form of unsuccessful applications. I understand and sympathise with those who feel jaded and perhaps a little disillusioned at drawing a blank thus far, but things don't always happen quite as quickly as we would like. To get where we want to be, we have to learn from our mistakes or where things don't quite go according to plan. The inventor James Dyson built over 5000 prototypes before getting his vacuum cleaner right. I hope it wouldn't take my students this many applications or interviews to be offered a placement, but it is a valid comparison. If you've not previously gone through the rigour of applying for jobs, it can take time to become job savvy. The key is to ensure we learn from each experience, until we find the correct formula.

A key message I share with my students to keep them motivated is based on hard fact. In every year I've been doing this job, most of my students secure placements from March onwards, and I've no reason to think it will be any different for the class of 13/14. To borrow from the Rocky/Mo Farah school of cliches, we are only half way through this fight, and the finish line is not yet in sight. There is still plenty of time to get there, so any thoughts about giving up on placements should be cast aside.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Location, Location, Location

Once in a while I receive an email from a student than makes me wince. It usually starts with a nice sweetener along the lines of ‘I have an interview with…..’ which gives me a false illusion that this is going to be a positive interaction. The follow up sentence is what brings the pain. ‘How far away is [enter name of town]?’

There are several things about this simple question that really grate. Firstly, I’m not a walking talking atlas. If your geography isn’t all that hot, ever heard of Google Maps? When I stop being flippant, a more serious issue comes to mind. Did you not check the location of the placement before applying? If not, why the hell not?!

I spend quite a bit of time encouraging my students to explore placement opportunities outside their immediate environment. While I’m sure that most of us would appreciate a job that is literally on our doorstep, alleviating the need and cost of daily commute, the reality is that is unlikely to happen. The day I had to break it to a student that there were no Investment Banks in Peckham sticks fondly in my memory.

However, while it is positive for students to search for placements outside their usual bus route, there needs to be a dose of realism when making applications. Can I realistically commute there from where I am living? Would I be prepared to relocate for this placement? If the answer to these questions is no, why are you wasting your time, and that of the employer, by submitting an application in the first place. It is a bit of a head scratcher from my perspective.

In this instance, my student was relatively fortunate. The interview was a mere 15 miles from their house, in a neighbouring county. It could have been hours away in another part of the country. Always check the location of a placement before submitting your application. Not only will it keep your Placement Officer happy, but will mean you will avoid nasty surprises when you’ve been invited for an interview in Timbuktu.

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Thursday, 6 February 2014

I Don't Like Spam!

Spam, Eggs, Spam, Spam, Bacon and Spam. Sound appetising? If not, you probably aren't going to want to eat in the Monty Python cafe, as bit like the 'lady' in this very famous sketch.

Why do I bring this up, other than to make myself giggle and try to justify a way of publishing the Ministry of Silly Walks sketch at a later date? Well, here is some food for thought.

Despite advancement in the sophistication of email systems in recent years, spam filters are not perfect. Quite recently I found my invitation to the National Undergraduate Employability Awards tucked away in my spam folder. I'd like to think that this was purely down to a glitch in the system, rather than my employers doubting that such an invitation was genuine! However, that combined with something which happened this morning made me think about spam and how students need to be particularly vigilant in ensuring that their applications do not get lost in the ether.

I wrote some time ago about the importance of sending placement applications from a sensible sounding email address. If you're firing off your CV to the IBM's of this world from account similar to I wouldn't be optimistic about getting a response any time soon. However, what if you've used a more sensible account, slaved over your application documents which have been given a green light by your placement officer and yet still you find yourself waiting for a reply that may never come. It is regrettable that not every employer will acknowledge your application, but there could be another reason for the silence.

When sending emails with attached documents, most spam systems will scan those attachments, viewing them as a threat. A simple word document of PDF file should clear this without difficulty, but what if in the course of saving that document, you made a simple typing error. What if instead of saving your application as Susan Lab.doc it instead became Susan.Lab.Doc? This is exactly what one of my students did this morning. The additional dot instantly made an otherwise ordinary Word Document into an attachment which the spam filter identified as a malicious threat due to it believing the file was being disguised as something else. I didn't get the email or the attachment, but fortunately my Computing Support team alerted me to this email and I was able to retrieve it. Had the application been sent directly to an employer, I very much doubt the email would ever have seen the light of day again, and the student would not have been considered for that placement.

So when making your applications, always be meticulous in your attention to detail. You'll already be aware of the need for correct spelling and grammar, but always having taken the time to piece together an application, don't let your hard work go to waste on account of the name of your attachments.

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Thursday, 23 January 2014

Placement Interviews - Causing Me Panic Since 2006

Yesterday I welcomed an employer into The Placement Office, who conducted interviews for their intern scheme. Typically interviews take place off campus at the base of the company, but on rare occasions like this it is useful to observe the recruitment process in action.

Like any other placement professional who arranges and hosts interviews on campus, I experienced a nagging feeling of dread that consumed my consciousness up until the day has passed. No matter how much attention to detail you put into the organisation of employer interviews, ultimately your reputation and that of the university lies in the hands of your students.

Will they turn up on time? Have they dressed appropriately for an interview? Did they bother with at least some basic research of the company? Dear lord please don't let them ask something totally ridiculous that the interviewer will pick up with me over lunch! I'm not typically of a nervous disposition but interviews on my watch that I have arranged and therefore culpable for turn me into a doubting Thomas.

And yet I should be much more relaxed about it all. I provide my students with simple interview instructions, making it crystal clear where they have to be and when. I remind them that although they are meeting an employer on campus, they should dress in exactly the same way that they would if there were to attend an interview at company HQ. Punctuality is discussed, though as I point out, they really should know how long it will take to get to our building on campus, and are unlikely to get lost in unfamiliar streets en route. I don't say it as such but the inference is clear - please don't make me look like an idiot.

At the conclusion of yesterday's interviews, I was both relieved and proud. There weren't any 'no-shows'. All candidates arrived on or ahead of time. Nobody turned up wearing a hoodie and Timberland boots as I've seen happen before, or a P Diddy style white dinner jacket; dress to impress clearly was lost in translation on that occasion!
Diddy Make It Rain
Diddy Make It Rain (Photo credits: Giphy)
My pride stemmed from the fact that for most of the interviewees, it was their first placement interview. They clearly took on board the advice they had been offered and prepared accordingly. They looked the part and behaved impeccably as ambassadors for the University. With the employer complimentary for the smoothness of the organisation, I really couldn't have asked for more and went home tired but happy. Hopefully offers will be forthcoming in due course.

In the grand scheme of things, my role as a third party should not be important. Ultimately yesterday was about employers meeting candidates and whatever was discussed in those half hour blocks in my interviewing room is what really counts. Why then do I get so stressed about facilitating these events? In a nutshell, reputation. What is often overlooked by students is how the placement opportunities we upload onto our blackboard/moodle/insertyourownVLE are sourced. Some come directly from employers who market to every university. Others are sourced through intermediary websites such as RateMyPlacement. Then there are the companies who target specific universities, and they are our most precious commodity.

Placements are cyclical and so retaining repeat business is a big part of what we do. Building and maintaining relationships is king. As a consumer, if I receive crap service I will take my business elsewhere. The same principle applies with recruitment. Yesterday was the ninth time I welcomed the same recruiter to campus to meet with my students and I very much want to see them again next year. Despite all those year of building employer relations, it only takes one negative experience for that relationship to be broken, and the loss of a bread and butter internship for future cohorts.

So if you are a student and wonder why your placement team get so mumsy when it comes to interviews, and want to ensure you follow instructions to a T, now you know. We've done our bit to open doors for you; please make sure those doors remain open for the future.

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Thursday, 9 January 2014

Don't waste your time, or mine

2014 has come around and it is no surprise to me that the Placement Office is busier than it was in the weeks immediately prior to Christmas. Whether it is a new year resolution to be more active in a search for a placement, or the penny has dropped that ideally they would like to be starting work in a matter of months, students who have gone AWOL since signing up in the early autumn have been coming out of the woodwork and wanting my help.

I don't mind this at all. It would be preferable to have been working with these students during the autumn so they could have applied for a number of roles already, but better now than the summer when opportunities will be in shorter supply. But when several months have already been lost in a search for a placement year, it is important for students to take heed of advice and act upon it without delay.

Something that is a huge frustration for me and fellow Placement Officers is when a student doesn't take our suggestions on board. I'm not big headed enough to think that everything I say is gospel, or that I have mastered the science behind writing applications. But I've been in this game long enough to offer sound advice and when I see things on a CV that require improvement, a student should take note.

Most do just that, but there are always a few who don't. Today was a case in point. Having sent detailed feedback to a student, which included some thoughts in the body of the email and tracked changes with comments in the word document, I received back a revised version and was asked if I could cast my eye over it again before applications were made. I was happy to do so and pleased that the ideas I put over in the email had been taken on board. However, on closer inspection, the changes I had tracked remained in their original form and had not been amended.

I don't pick holes in a CV just for the sake of it. No Placement Officer does. If we see something that needs attention before it reaches an employer we will tell you. We do this to give you a better chance of being invited for an interview, not to make your life more difficult. One of the things I pointed out in this particular example was it didn't look good to claim to have a good eye for detail on one line, while spelling Excel with 2 Ls on the line below. When this hasn't been corrected in a 'revised' version, please don't be surprised to find me lying on the Placement Office floor waiting for an ambulance to whisk me off for treatment for a violent case of banging my head against a wall.

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