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3 surefire ways to stand out in a crowded job market

In the current market where unemployment is at 7.4% and underemployment is at 11.7%, as a recruiter I am constantly speaking with candidates who are looking for new roles.

At the same time, I’m speaking to our existing clients regarding their needs and building new relationships with employers who are already time poor and potentially looking through hundreds of applications.

It’s a tough time to stand out from the crowd. What can you do to help your application be seen?

Below are my top 3 tips to help you stand out, particularly at the very beginning of the application process.

  1. Re-evaluate your resume

A well-presented resume has moved beyond a list of roles and duties; employers want to see specific skills and key achievements and how they have been demonstrated in each role. And good news if you aren’t familiar with clean and simple layout styles, you don’t need to work in graphic design to create a visually appealing document!

If it has been a while since you updated your resume, re-evaluate it through the following lenses:

  • Is it concise?
  • Is it targeted to the job?

DO: Make your resume visually appealing and easy to read. Use short, direct sentences or dot points, and tweak your resume for each job application. Save your resume in a common document format, such as Word or PDF.

DON’T: Don’t exceed three pages as a general rule. Don’t assume the same resume is suitable for every job you apply for. Once you’ve established a career path, we don’t need to know about your high school job at the fish and chip shop.

WHY IT MATTERS: A good resume can be the difference between receiving an initial call or being ruled out as not suitable. Make sure that your resume accurately describes your professional skills and experience, and showcases how you tick all (or most) of the boxes for a successful applicant.

  1. Be prepared, know the job

When you apply for a role, be prepared to receive a call from the recruiter or the hiring manager. It’s frustrating on both sides speaking with a candidate who does not remember what the role is or even applying for the position!

When applying for multiple positions, write a list, set-up a spreadsheet or find another way of keeping track of those jobs and the organisations you have submitted your application to (some job boards facilitate this). More importantly, keep a record of why you applied.

Once you submit an application, add it to your list and jot down three things you liked about the role that made you want to apply. That way, when you receive a call, you will have a cheat sheet to jog your memory.

DO: Keep a record of the roles you apply for and what you liked about the role. Be prepared for a call and refer to your notes about why you’re suitable and why you want the job.

DON’T: Don’t try to wing it and hope for the best. If you’ve kept notes, you won’t be caught off guard by questions such as, “Why did you apply for this role?” or “What will you bring to this role?”

WHY IT MATTERS: This is your opportunity to really impress a hiring manager or recruiter with your level of preparation, to convey yourself as a candidate who is keen, on-the-ball and knows what they want!

  1. Communicate well – answer your phone

Even though we’re now accustomed to text messages or communicating via social apps, the first point of contact from a prospective employer will often be a phone call.

It is good manners if you don’t know who the caller is to greet them and to identify yourself when you pick up the call: “Hello, this is Hayley” or “Good afternoon, Hayley speaking” would suffice. This way the caller knows that they are (or aren’t!) speaking to the right person, and it provides them an opening to introduce themselves and the reason for their call.

If you don’t normally use voicemail, consider setting one up while you are applying for jobs. It should tell the caller who they are leaving a message for and invite them to leave their name, contact number and the reason for their call. If you already have a voicemail set up, review your message to check that it meets these criteria and that the recording is clear and easy to understand, without any background noise.

DO: Treat your phone like a business phone – answer politely, greet the caller and identify yourself, set up your voicemail message with a brief instructional message in your own voice.

DON’T: Don’t wait for the caller to speak first or answer an unknown number in a casual or rude way. It’s preferable not to use voice to text messaging services or other automated voicemail services that limit a caller’s ability to leave you a detailed message. Please don’t make a joke out of your voicemail – it won’t be funny if an important caller hangs up!

WHY IT MATTERS: This is your opportunity to make a good first impression and position yourself with a personal brand for being a good communicator. Simply being friendly and polite can set you apart from other applicants.

What are you doing to stand out from the crowd? What are some of the strategies that have worked well for you?

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Posted in Interchange Bench, The world @work

Don’t call me maybe, call me now!!!

It’s out there on social, online, for the whole world to see, but surprisingly only a handful of people call my direct phone number. If only they knew how much difference a phone call can make!

“Hey, I just met you…”

I recently placed a candidate in his first professional job, and it’s a fantastic role with a promising career. Having only just completed his studies, with no industry experience, you can imagine the challenge for him to get a foot in the door in the corporate sector, where graduates are competing with experienced candidates, as well as each other, at this time of year.

“…and this is crazy”

Applying for a graduate position in Food Science when you’ve studied Finance is daring. If this guy had simply responded to the role I had advertised, his application probably wouldn’t have stood out amongst others that were a closer to match to the ideal educational background and technical knowledge for that position.

But he went a step further, introducing himself via email with a note to follow-up on his application. No stalking required, I’m like a real estate agent – my email address (and photograph) is all over our website, LinkedIn, below this article – you get the picture. People aren’t hard to track down these days. I responded by thanking him for the contact and letting him know that I would be reviewing his application within the next few days.

“But here’s my number, so call me maybe.”

A couple of days later, this same candidate did in fact call me; his phone manners, his attitude, his energy, were remarkable. Unfortunately he hadn’t progressed to interview for the graduate job he applied for – it’s disappointing for me too when a candidate with good potential is unsuccessful. Nevertheless he politely thanked me for my time and asked me to keep him in mind if anything else suitable should come up.

I did. And a couple of weeks later, when I was considering suitable applicants for another graduate job with a different organisation, I thought of him immediately. Why did I remember of him? Not for his resume, even though I had thoroughly screened it. It was the phone call.

Long story short… the candidate was successful, started work last month, loves his new job and the company I placed him with agrees he has a promising career.

So my advice, when you see a phone number on a job add, take the opportunity to stand out and grab the phone. Introduce yourself with enthusiasm and energy and most importantly have a smart question to ask. Maybe that’s not so crazy, after all.

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Posted in Business Support, The world @work

Work ethic and the M word

Over the years as an HR professional I have seen several generations at work. Putting people in boxes goes against the grain with me – most workers defy categorisation, let me tell you!

So when people start talking about Boomers and Xers, Ys and Zs (or broadly Millennials, if you’re trying to capture those at the end of the alphabet) as clearly defined cohorts, I’m naturally suspicious. We’ve been battling the unfair assumption that those new to the workforce expect the world or don’t seem to be aware they have to earn their stripes for millennia. I have always been someone to give credit where credit is due, so I wanted to share a couple of feel-good stories to counter those stereotypes.

The chicken or the egg

Life for graduates is certainly not easy. With the number of students in higher education in Australia on the up and up, more and more are graduating, and those with similar qualifications are often finding themselves vying for the same positions. Many companies prefer to hire someone with experience, but how do you get experience if no one is willing to give you a job to get it? Sometimes it takes a little bit of creative thinking, so I’m always happy when I see graduates really taking ownership of their careers by thinking about different ways they can gain experience.

Recently I was speaking to a graduate who was desperately trying to find work to get started in their career. Like many others, they were having trouble getting a foot in the door. What about volunteering? they asked me. What a great idea! I said. Because I work with a number of Not-for-Profit organisations, I was even able to find them volunteer work in their field of expertise (IT). This graduate is now gaining valuable on-the-job experience in their field while giving back to the community. And who knows, in recruitment we often see candidates in temporary roles offered a permanent position.

Going the extra mile, or the long commute

A former colleague of mine asked me if they could introduce me to a talented HR graduate, even if it was just for a coffee and a chat. I was more than willing to do this, as you never know who you could meet. I found her to be a bright and ambitious candidate, willing to try anything to get a break. While she was impressive, I didn’t have any suitable positions I could help her with at the time.

As is often the case, a few weeks later I was speaking to a client who needed HR administration support. I arranged an interview for the candidate. The outcome – she was offered a job with the company. It sounds easy and perhaps a bit too good to be true, but when I informed the candidate that one of the details about the role was that it would be over an hour drive each way, she did not flinch. I admire that dedication. She has stuck with the company despite a long commute, which has obviously paid off – she loves her new job!

A positive work ethic means different things to different people. The next time you hear someone go off on a negative my generation vs your generation rant, don’t be afraid to challenge their perception. I’d love to hear about some of the creative approaches you have seen from jobseekers and employers to meeting current challenges in the world @work.

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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work

Your next job interview: How to present the best version of you

No matter how experienced you are, interviewing for a new role can be a stressful experience. Pressure from your current job (if you are working) and whatever else is going on in your life, such as family and financial stress, can dictate whether you are successful at interview.

Preparation is key. Understanding the role you are applying for and researching the organisation, and the managers or executives interviewing you, are integral to your ability to be en pointe during interview.

To give you the best chance of success, here are my ‘most likely’ from the Glassdoor’s Top 50 most often asked at interview. Nail these and you’ve nailed your interview:

  1. What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  2. Why are you interested in working for us?
  3. Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?
  4. Why do you want to leave your current company?
  5. Why was there a gap in your employment between these two dates?
  6. Tell me about an accomplishment you are most proud of.
  7. Tell me about a time you made a mistake.
  8. Describe yourself in 3 words?
  9. Give me an example of how you handled a difficult situation.
  10. Give a time when you went above and beyond the requirements for a project.
  11. Who are our competitors?
  12. What was your biggest failure?
  13. What motivates you?
  14. Tell me about a time when you disagreed with your boss.
  15. How do you handle pressure?
  16. What is the name of our CEO?
  17. What are your career goals?
  18. If I called your boss right now and asked him/her what is an area that you could improve on, what would he/she say?
  19. What was the last book you read for fun?
  20. What are your hobbies?

It is worth thinking through answers to the above questions. You don’t have to learn answers robotically, but it is a good idea to be prepared for these topics. There are often no right or wrong answers, it is about your confidence and the interviewers getting to know you as a person.

If you want to make a great first impression it is important to work out your ‘hook’. Telling a concise well planned story that displays your strengths, including a key characteristic you know they are looking for, is an excellent way to do it!

Give real examples of your strengths that are applicable to the role you are interviewing for; this will make it evident that you are a perfect fit for the role.

Prepare a list of follow-up questions to demonstrate your knowledge of the company, role and industry. Also, don’t be afraid to ask if there is anything missing in your skillset that they are looking for. It may be helpful to take a professional small hardcover notebook and refer to your notes, because when we are nervous, it is easy to forget what you had planned to say.

Mirroring the tone and pace of the interviewer is also a good way to appear relaxed and help you fit in with the interviewer’s style of communication.

Before you walk into the building take a ‘power pose’ and some deep breaths on the way up in the lift – this really helps your confidence.

Of course, honesty is always the best policy and being your authentic self shows integrity and confidence.

Interviewing is always going to be difficult and you may have to go through several rounds with panels of up to four people.

Stand out with your preparation, and don’t underestimate the effect of your personal presentation and polish. Ensure you are extremely well groomed, your clothes are comfortable for sitting and walking in… you’re one step closer to getting the job!

If you want to see the entire list, here are the 50 questions Glassdoor identified you are most likely to be asked during an interview.

What tips do you have for interview preparation?

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Posted in Business Support

The art of leaving a good voice message

At a time where text, email and other messaging apps dominate our communication habits, have we lost the art of leaving a good voice message? As we rely more and more on text-based communications, you may have noticed it’s becoming harder for people to verbalise complex thoughts, or even articulate simple information.

While I still receive numerous voice messages on my work phone, it surprises me that few contain a clear and concise message.

The purpose of a voice message

You want to let the caller know that you have called and that you would like to be called back. So what information does a person need to call you back?

  1. Your first and last name, and if appropriate, the organisation you are calling from
  2. Your contact phone number
  3. In brief, the reason why you are calling and the information sought from a return call

It sounds simple enough, however there are other important things to consider when leaving a message:

  1. Length of message – keep it to 10-20 seconds if possible (some voicemail services will cut you off after 30 seconds)
  2. Pace of speech – remember the person receiving your message may be unfamiliar with your voice and needs to capture the information, so slow down and speak clearly, especially when saying your name and your phone number
  3. Tone of your voice – it may be the first time you have made contact, so it’s important to leave a good first impression

Be ready for the call back

Now that you have left your message, it’s important that you are ready for the call back, especially if you have initiated contact with the person receiving the message. This is your opportunity to make the most out of the conversation.

Tips for jobseekers

Many professionals send and receive hundreds of messages every day. As a consultant, I prefer to pick up the phone when replying to candidates – it’s more personal than a text or an email and allows me to return calls efficiently. Here are my tips for successful voice messages:

  • Make sure you have your voice message service activated
  • Have a professional or standard voice message greeting on your phone to receive messages
  • If you’re restricted to talk to text or a shorter message service, consider changing to a full voicemail service
  • Speak clearly, be prepared and leave a good impression
  • Return your messages as soon as possible

I’m hoping for better voice messages in the future… and it’s not too late to add this one to your list of New Year’s resolutions!

What other tips or stories do you have to share on voice messaging?

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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work

Cure the Sunday afternoon blues

“It generally started about 3pm on Sunday afternoon, irrespective of rain, hail or shine and the activity or people I was with at that time. I’d start thinking of the next day and my shoulders would instantly tense up, I’d start snapping at my kids and/or wife and increasingly become more taciturn and grumpy as the day progressed. This would happen every Sunday and started to have a real impact on my quality of life, family relationships, and started to limit the activities I would do Sunday afternoon and evenings.”

Sound familiar? It’s an unfortunately common situation for highly pressured executives. A candidate once shared this personal story with me, which fortunately became a wake-up call to consider a career change.

I recognise that it’s rare to find individuals who bound out of bed on Monday mornings – naturally most people would prefer to be at leisure than go to work. Of course our level of motivation varies with the demands of our role, our clients or customers, and our employer. However, despite the inevitable peaks and troughs that can affect your job enjoyment, intense and sustained angst about work is not normal. Left unchecked, it can lead to long-term damage to our health, including stress, pressure on relationships with family, friends and colleagues, and a reduced work/life balance.

On the surface this individual seemed to be in the ideal work situation: he was in a key leadership position within a successful global blue chip organisation, earning an impressive wage, on a fast-track path to further success and growth – but it was just not right for him.

I appreciate that it’s not a simple matter to change jobs. Financial considerations, geographical location, time available to job seek, or your personal situation can be constraints.  If this sounds like you, consider these alternative strategies:

  • Speak up. Have an honest discussion with your manager and/or HR about revisiting the aspects of your job that cause you angst. Do these need to be delegated or shared with others in the team? Is your workload achievable within the resources and parameters provided? Do you need further training and mentoring to help you perform your job?
  • A sideways step could be an option if you like your company, but the role or your direct manager is not a good fit. Is there any opportunity to move to another role or division within the company?
  • If your employer and/or company culture does not align, but you enjoy your role, network across your industry through LinkedIn, industry forums and seminars, even former colleagues who have left to join competitors. Make yourself known throughout the sector, whilst maintaining your professionalism and remaining discreet about your intentions. This could lead to a direct approach to you to consider a job should an appropriate role arise.
  • Consider investing in additional training and/or studies that will further your professional development and enhance your employability to other organisations. This is particularly relevant if you are looking to pursue a field outside your current area of expertise. It also serves to demonstrate your commitment to self-improvement and continuous development.
  • Have a confidential discussion with a recruitment firm who specialise in your sector/job of choice. Whilst this should be implicit, emphasise the need for the recruiter to respect your confidentiality and ensure your resume is only sent out to prospective employers with your approval.

Whilst it might be a work in progress, you will find that the simple act of taking control of your work situation can improve your outlook and with this perspective, allow you to enjoy your whole weekend.

As for the candidate mentioned previously? After taking a leap of faith, he did change jobs and has continued to progress his career with another organisation better suited to his style. He has also joined that rare group of individuals who look forward to Mondays.

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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work

Your recruiter is a tool

Well, I don’t mean tool in the pejorative! A well forged, fit for purpose tool is a valued accessory. Would you attempt a home renovation with just a hammer? In the job search process, savvy candidates realise recruiters are part of the solution – a tool in their kit rather than their sole strategy to market. Having placed many executives in senior roles over the years, people often ask me what more they could do to improve their prospects for selection. Here are five strategies to consider:

  1. Leverage your networks

It’s easy to underestimate the breadth of your own individual networks, but candidates who take the time to analyse their contacts (which may include previous colleagues and managers, university contacts, neighbours, social networks, etc.) find them a valuable source of information. Whether it’s a new opening or general market information, your chances of obtaining a position improve when you’re already recognised in your industry. For a prospective employer, it’s also less risky to hire someone who is known to be a strong performer.

  1. Select your recruitment partners carefully

While it might be tempting to send your resume to every search firm, be selective about the organisations with whom you’re entrusting confidentiality, particularly if you’re currently employed. Think about the exclusivity of your application rather than applying with every recruiter. Consultants strive to represent unique candidates who have not been overexposed and will proactively market them to our clients. Make sure that’s you.

  1. Take the lead on your job search and partner with your recruiter to bridge any gaps in your networks

Ideally a recruiter should complement, not replace, your job search activity. Manage your applications carefully and partner with recruiters who can present you to companies where you don’t have existing contacts or an established network.

  1. Cull what’s not working

Evaluate your job search progress on a regular basis and refine or ditch any strategies that aren’t working. This includes analysing the performance of your recruitment partner. If they said that they were going to market you to a particular company, ask for a progress report. If you think that they’re not delivering, then re-evaluate whether they are best suited to help you.

  1. Customise your resume

One mistake I often observe is that candidates will customise their covering letter, but fail to adjust their resume accordingly. Review your resume and consider tailoring it to suit each opportunity. The changes could be as simple as emphasising your most relevant experience by reordering your achievements.

If your perception of recruiters in general has been negative to date, try adjusting your engagement strategy by following my advice. I’m confident you’ll get results and be successful.

What advice do you have for executive candidates?

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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work