photo by Antony Pilling (all rights reserved)
Between July 2017 and Aug 2018 I have written about fifty applications and attended around ten interviews. I applied mainly to UK universities that were in commuting distance, charity/museum sector, national/international organisational jobs with a focus on research, communication, engagement, academic and research support and project coordination. Here is some of the stuff I have thought about based on a year of job applications and interviews.
Up to date CV
If, like me, you worked for one organisation for a long time [seven years] it can be really difficult to remember all the projects, tasks and changing responsibilities that you have been involved in. But it is important to reflect on these and consider the things you have learnt from some of the situations you have been in, eg. difficult negotiations, giving feedback, team communication skills, working with a variety of organisations/stakeholders/external partners etc.
All organisations are different and require different type of applications, and this is even more true if you are applying for jobs in different countries. Do the research to find out what the expectations are for a CV and application. If you are applying to a UK University, most of the time I would say that you need to make sure that you provide at least one example for each criteria. I also tended to include a short paragraph at the end about why I am interested in the role.
I found motivated cover letters very difficult to write and I am not sure I ever completely got the hang of them as they are in addition to a CV. But I did feel the best ones I wrote contained details of what I would bring to the role and about my personal motivation. But as I never got shortlisted for interview for any of the roles that required a cover letter, perhaps that is an indication that there is more work to do. It is difficult to say as those organisations requiring cover letters either sent very basic emails to say the job was filled or never got back to me about the outcome.
Writing more or less the same application for similar roles/criteria to different organisations can result in being shortlisted or not. All the things you cannot control, such as amount and quality of other candidates, play a huge role and you can only do your best application/interview for any given opportunity.
I asked my friends to read through numerous applications to give me feedback and this was always really helpful – also sometimes they suggested better examples as they knew work I had done. I can’t thank my friends enough for supporting me with the job search.
Research your interview panel if you get the details of who they are. Look up their professional profile and social media presence.
This is really obvious but you need to prepare example answers for interview questions. A good rule is to prepare answers that have examples structured, for example following a STAR structure. Situation, Task, Action and Result. This allows you to develop structured and compelling answers where you outline the situation, detail the task required, the action YOU took and the outcome as result. If like me you find it difficult to constantly foreground yourself and your contribution then try and think about it as if you are talking about someone else BUT you do need to say ‘I’ a lot, as in I did this, I had this responsibility, I contributed this etc.
Prepare answers to the following questions:
- What motivated you to apply for the role and what skills and experience do you think you would bring to the position?
- Can you give us an example of when you have worked effectively as a member of a team?
- Can you give us an example of when you worked independently on a project/task and with a tight deadline?
- Can you give us an example of when you had to deliver some negative/critical feedback and how you approached this situation?
- Can you give us an example of when you have had to use your initiative [to make a decision, to accomplish a task etc]?
- How would you anticipate establishing and maintaining effective communication channels [with colleagues in other departments, external partners etc]?
- How would you handle conflicting deadlines for tasks? Or how would you prioritise a complex workload? It is likely there will be a question about how you organise/approach your work/projects.
Even though I am not sure I think it is quite fair on applicants, as they only really know what is in the job specification, I have realised that it is a very good idea to present a narrative about how you will approach working in the role. So if the role requires communication via social media, develop a communications strategy with details of channels and pros and cons. Presenting a written version at the interview of what you have prepared is a good idea. I know that a lot of interviews give you a task to prepare and this may include aspects of this. This is about presenting yourself and your skills/experience/knowledge in relation to what they want the role to achieve. A lot of this may well be hypothetical as you don’t know how the role will be. It is about creating a narrative with details that demonstrates the fit between you and them.
If you are asked to do a presentation and you are using power point slides, then bring a print out for each of the panel members so they have a copy to scribble on. Also bring any other relevant examples of your work and give the panel one copy.
Do try and think about one or two questions that you want to ask, you may weave them into the main bit of the interview, but it is your opportunity to steer a discussion. If it is a new role you could ask about the context for the role being created. If it is a permanent role you could ask about any professional development opportunities that are available.
Always ask for feedback after an interview. Yes, I know it is no fun but most of the time it can be useful, maybe even in ways you hadn’t thought about. One organisation gave me the feedback that my presentation style was too informal and this just confirmed for me that this was not an environment I wanted to work in.