Sunday, 31 October 2010

Competency questions - what else do you need to know?

As I've said before, I don't want to reinvent the wheel on this blog too much by providing information that you already know or guidance that is already well-documented on other graduate recruitment sites.  Thus, I am not doing to go into too much detail on answering competency-based questions, using the STAR model, making sure you address the question asked, etc.   Knowing how to answer a competency-based question is essential to success in securing a place on a graduate programme, so make sure you know how to answer them.

The challenge with competency-based interviews is that graduates are now so well-practiced and well-able to provide great answers, that even more questioning is needed to differentiate them in order to really try to identify the best for the roles available. In many ways this is causing a move back towards trying to ensure you have to think on your feet during the interview and therefore less scripted and formulaic questioning by the interviewers and their instead using what they have heard to determine what the next question is. Thus more and more the follow-up question to each competency scenario is becoming the differentiator.

What is the "follow-up question"?
This is the question that the interviewer might throw at you depending on the competency answer you have just provided. Some typical examples would be:

  • What would you do differently next time?
  • How would people in the team you managed say you did as project manager? What would they say you could improve on?
  • Why did you/it succeed?
  • Why did you/it fail?
  • What could you have done to make it even better?
  • What did you learn about yourself?
  • Would you do it again? Why? Why not?

How do they decide what question to ask you?
They will usually ask a follow-up question on the part of your 'story' that sounded the least plausible to their ears. For example, if you say everything went well and there were no arguments or issues, then they might follow-up on that with "What was it that made the team work so well together? Were there any contentious issues or points of discussion?"  To be honest with a situation like that, you are best to have an example of something that was difficult in the team - generally in situations where you are working in a team - especially at Uni - realistically something probably did go wrong and it was difficult. It sounds more plausible to be upfront about them - and as long as you learned from it, then that's perfectly fine - and in fact, more reflective of the working world too.

"What would you do differently next time?" is probably the most common and the most generic question asked, so it's worth preparing an answer to that for most of your scenarios.  Don't say you would do nothing differently - come up with something. A good answer might be to plan a particular part of it more meticulously, or to set objectives for individuals within the team so that roles are clearer - something like that.

Think of the question that you would least like to be asked as a follow-up to the scenario you've explained... and then imagine that they have asked you it - what would you say? I promise, you won't regret it! Worse case scenario, they ask the question and you have an answer prepped. Best case scenario, they don't ask it, but you go into the interview more confident because you're more prepped.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

University Careers Fair Series: Part 3: Following up

I've been getting quite a few queries from you lately with regard to if/how to follow up after an event / fair / company presentation if you got 1 or more business cards from people that you would like to leverage to increase the chances of getting an interview.

Are you prepared for no response?
The biggest point to realise up front with a follow-up email or conversation is that in 95% of cases, it will appear to you are if nothing came of it.  By this, I mean it is extremely rare that someone will respond and say "yes, it was great to meet you and I'll make sure we get you in for an interview". They need to be seen to follow due process and also don't want to set a precedent that that is the way to get an interview.
You might never know if your email had any impact on you getting an interview. I know countless grads that have gotten interviews (or sometimes even internships or work experience) based on someone they met who really liked them, but they will never know how hard that person worked 'behind the scenes' to make sure they got the opportunity.
So, be prepared for the unknown - I flag this upfront only because I know a lot of grads tend to be very disappointed if they hear nothing back and either send another email (which can start to look too eager) or get very disillusioned with the company.

What media to use?
I strongly recommend email. Whilst some students opt for a formal thank you letter in the mail, and it possibly does 'look' better, the problem is that paper is so rarely used now in grad recruitment that the chances of it getting lost/filed away is high. Unfortunately its unlikely someone will go to the effort of scanning it in. Equally phone calls, whilst personal and usually quite amiable, area easily forgotten and are not recorded. An email can be easily forwarded, file, revisited, uploaded to a recruitment system or attached to a candidate record. In my opinion, it is definitely the way to go.

The follow-up content
It is absolutely worth doing a follow-up if you got someone's details. Many people will do something with an email they get - e.g. pass it onto recruiters or colleagues, etc.
The content of your email should be dependent on three factors:
1- who they are and what their role is
2- how you left things with them at the event
3- what your next steps are / have been

Typically the 'who' will be either a recruiter/HR person, someone from the business, or one of the previous years grads.

If your card is from someone in the business / in a line role / manager level, then you need to write a concise, solid email - nothing too long or they will just take one look at it and decide they don't have time to read it. Figure out what you want to say - is it a thank you, is it to express interest in their particular area or team, is it to ask a further question?  I would urge you to keep it to no more than 1-2 short paragraphs. Try to link to the conversation that you had so that they might remember who you were and the conversation you had. If it's your intention to apply, or you have already applied, then I wuld let them know. And in some cases, if you're feeling that you got along very well with them you could potentially attach your CV. I would not even make reference to it, but maybe just sneakily attach it on the end regardless on the off chance they open it.

If your card is for a recruiter, again, I would make reference to the conversation you had. If you want to get on their good side, perhaps offer some feedback on the parts of the event that you found particularly useful. If the purpose is a thank you, then I would keep it fairly short. If you have further questions, then I would ask them (but make sure the answers are not already on the website or in the brochure). Let them know if you have applied / intend to apply and to which programme/internship/role.

If your follow-up was with former grads, then you should ask them for any more info you need fairly openly. They are usually pretty quick to help applicants as they were in the same position a year or two before. They are least likely to try to pass it onto HR to influence the process though - just something to be aware of.

Other actions?
If you did leave the conversation with someone a certain way - a promise to send a CV, a link, have a call about something, etc, then make sure you do so within 1-2 days of the event, otherwise they will have moved onto the next Uni and you will have faded in their memory - they are often meeting hundreds of students a day.

Behind the Scenes
There is usually some sort of follow-up activity after most events - conversations between the business and HR about candidates met that they would like to keep an eye for applications from, etc.  However, from there everyone usually goes through exactly the same process as everyone else - so once you've leveraged the follow-up once to get the interview, I wouldn't try to use it again to 'guarantee' yourself the job. It won't work and it will only look like you are trying to get in through a backdoor because you are not confident enough you will make it through the interviews.

So, in summary, it is definitely worth doing a thoughtful follow up soon after the event if you have a name. And to be honest, even if you dont have a name, it might be wort a short thank you to a generic grad recruitment address.  People are only human and after a long day / night talking to grads (and countless weeks before planning it), everyone appreciates a thank you and you never know how it might help you behind the scenes. Sometimes, you can make your own luck...

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Telephone interview tips

Telephone interviews are difficult. Very difficult. As a recruiter, I really sympathise with grads whose first interaction with the company is via a phone interview. Unfortunately for cost and time reasons, most companies use them now as a first filter for candidates. To be honest, I'd much rather get 5mins face-to-face with someone to ask 2-3 simple questions than 30mins on the phone. But I'll stop reminiscing too much as these are the times we live in now and we all have to figure out how to make it work.

Provide a landline if possible, it comes across better on both sides and is a lot less echo-y than a mobile. If you have no landline access in halls, sometimes careers services will give you access to a room with a phone at the time you need if you ask.

It's all about your voice
The main thing to remember with a phone interview is you have only one means of conveying what you want to say and who you are - your voice. In a face-to-face interview, you have hand gestures, head nodding or shaking, posture of your body, your clothes, your eyes, your smile, your laugh.  It is vitally important that you have that in mind before you start.

So, now that I've made you very self-conscious about your voice all of a sudden, how do you control it and what is it about the voice that can make or break the interview? One of the first and most difficult things is coming across enthusiastic and confident. i.e. not nervous to the point at which your voice goes unnaturally low / unnaturally high. Your voice will contain tones and enthusiasm if you try to speak as naturally as you can. Easier said than done, I know, but it's something worth thinking about. The last thing you should have in your mind before the phone rings is 'I am a strong candidate for this job - I would be happy to get it and they would be lucky to have me'. If you believe it, it will come across in your voice.  Some people even recommend standing up as they say it comes across stronger. I'm not too sure - I think it can also make you a bit less relaxed and you might even start pacing.. but it's worth considering if you think it might work for you.

Most large companies now have recruiters write down what is said at interview - sometimes in full. Keep that in mind when pacing yourself - it doesn't mean you should go slower than you normally do, but try not to go too fast as nerves can often cause that to happen and speak as clearly as you can. If there are any silences when you have finished your answer, they might well be finishing writing your answer down, so don't feel that you have to keep talking to fill the silence. If you have answered the question, stop. If they want you to give more detail they will say 'go on', or 'can you expand on that'.

Use of notes
Obviously being a telephone interview, you can have any notes or information you might need in front of you. My advice is keep it fairly minimal. If you have too much in front of you it is easy to get flustered looking for information to distract you from the phone call. I recommend having very well organised papers, laid out side-by-side, so that you aren't shuffling paper around whilst on the phone. I don't recommend writing answers verbatim down, because it is too easy to start reading them out and it comes across that that is what you are doing. Even worse, sometimes you might have an answer written down that you hope to use which is an answer to a question that is similar to a question they asked, but not the same - and so the temptation to use it will result in you not really answering the question at all. Write down key bullet points that help you tell the story and will help you ensure that you do not forget any major parts of it.

STAR model
It is very important that you stick to the "STAR" model, or something similar, when answering competency questions on the telephone (Situation, Task, Action, Result). It will keep you on track and make sure that you are addressing the question. Make sure that in closing, you link back to the exact question asked so that you leave them in no doubt that you have addressed what they asked you.

Checking in

To go back to my point about telephone interviews being tough.... most other recruiters I'm certain agree with this. It's tough for you, and its also tough for us. So during the telephone interview you should be prepared to ask a couple of questions as you go along about whether you are giving them what they are looking for. After you finish your first competency question ask "was that enough detail for you, would you like any further information about that?"; if you are unsure about whether an answer has fully addressed what they are looking for, you can ask "have I answered your question on that?".  Note, I'm not saying that you need to do that after every question, but for the first couple of competency questions where you are trying to figure out how much detail they want.

Companies ask a different number of questions in that 20-30min interview - anything from 3 questions to 15 questions. Obviously that will affect how long your answer is. It might be worth asking at the start for an indication of how many questions they want to go through in that time - you could say "could you give me an indication of the likely number of questions so that I know how much time to spend on each answer?" or something to that effect.

They will invite you to ask any questions at the end. Keep it to no more than 1-2 ( even if the recruiter keeps saying 'any more questions?').  Ask something that would help you at the next stage. There will be plenty of time to ask more questions if you get through, you dont need to ask them all now.

Incase they want to capture your availability for assessment centres - a possibility - make sure you have an awareness of any exam/holiday dates that you have coming up so that you can advise them.

In closing, having said it's all about your voice, I would caution against too much humour - jokes or sarcasm don't translate very well on the phone - especially with no body language to accompany them. I'm not saying don't build a rapport - definitely do this as best you can - but take care with sarcasm in particular.

'Tis the season for telephone interviews at the moment - good luck all

Other useful links:

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

What's different for grad recruiting in the downturn that you should know about?....

... and I mean apart from the obvious unfortunate circumstance that numbers are likely to be reduced. What are the things that you should know if you want to get a role in a downturn?

Type of Graduate
All graduates looking for jobs in finance or banking should be Risk-aware and able to answer questions about Risk Management - and not just those applying for roles specifically in Risk. No matter what part of the company you want to work in, be aware of what the risks they have to deal with are, and how they are likely to manage risk. Try to have some examples of where you managed risk as part of a project. That's a pretty tricky question to be asked, but if you have something prepared, it comes across that you are prepared and therefore aware of the importance of risk... if you see what I mean! 

Recent history
Make sure you understand the journey of the company in the last 2-3 years in particular. Have they made a major divestment of business, or mergers with other business; what has their results profile looked for the last couple of years - what caused the peaks and troughs? What was the impact on the firm of the major events - e.g. Lehman collapse, etc.  This is one of the few areas of an interview where you really can get an answer right/wrong. I had one grad last year do really well, but when asked about where the profit was mainly coming from in our business (which was pretty readily available in the press, on our website, etc), he obviously didn't know and took a chance and said the completely wrong thing and quoted an area where we were bleeding cash! I felt really bad for him as he did such a good job for the rest of the day, but the two interviewers who heard this answer were adamant that they didn't want to hire him as it made them doubt all the rest of his knowledge... such a shame!  So beware and make sure you have these answers to hand.

Company structures, teams, ways of working and activities are changing more than ever as a result of the downturn. Cost-cutting, regulatory requirements, the aforementioned risk management, and the changing market means that change is continuous. The result of this is the work people are being asked to do is different. Sometimes different to what their expectations are and what their aspirations are. But that is not necessarily a bad thing. People are being asked to 'step up' and sometimes there is a lot more responsibility involved than they were initially intended to have.
This impacts graduate recruitment because of the need to recruit people who are likely to be open to this and 'roll with the punches' a bit more - someone flexible and adaptable; graduates who do not have an exact picture in their mind of what they want for the next five years and feel that they employer is obliged to ensure they get to do all that they want to do.

More Risk talk
In addition to Risk being a likely topic of conversation at interview, it's also a topic of conversation at assessment day wash-up sessions. When times are good, you hear "let's take a chance on him/her" more. When numbers are tight, then the business are less likely to take a risk on a grad. So, basically, it's not a time to go for anything 'quirky' in terms of your approach to answers, clothing, application forms, etc, and it is a time when you need to be very, very prepared for assessment centres.  Whilst you don't have to be perfect across all the activities, you do have to be at least very good in them all. In the past, I've seen someone do badly in one exercise, but if they did well in the others, they get the benefit of the doubt perhaps. This is happening less now. The business want to 'wait' for the perfect candidate to come along, rather than take one that is 'good enough'.

A good representative?
The City has never been under more scrutiny by the press, by the public and by the Government. We want graduates who are likely to represent the City and our company well; one who understand the concerns of the public and can articulate responses to the challenges they raise with regard to our business. We don't want to hire a graduate who is likely to attract too much attention for the wrong reasons in the press - it happens more regularly than you think. In a world of things 'going viral', no bank wants to be in the press for the wrong reasons and it doesn't take much. When you work for a company, you represent them all the time 24/7, 365 days. It might not be fair, but unfortunately it is the reality. So even something you do on a saturday night on your own time will be reported as "The man, a City banker,...." etc etc. Keep in mind everyone that works in the bank, (regardless of role!) is always "a City banker" in the press!

Be creative with your approach
Finally, the reduction in hiring permanent graduate positions does not mean there isn't still the work to do - if anything, there is more work, not less, because of the markets.  If you really want to work in IB, don't think that there is only one way in as a graduate (i.e. through the programmes).  Contracts and temp workers are often hired in greater numbers during a downturn, including at graduate level, when an employer does not want to commit to permanent staff. Agencies are usually the best way to these types of roles and its worth investigating.

Hope that helps; yes, it's tough out there, but it is by no means insurmountable. Really hope the Milkround season is well so far for my readers.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Personal Profiles

Many, many CVs that you see now have personal profiles or 'personal statements' at the top.  There are a number of different approaches to writing these - some people write a summary of their career to date, some write about their aspirations for the future and some choose to call out their transferable skills in particular.  It can serve as any of these. 

However, personally, I don't recommend them for graduate or near-graduate level CVs. For someone with 5yrs+ experience, they are fine, because you have plenty of 'real meaty experience' that you can talk about. The problem with trying to write them on a graduate or near-graduate CV is that there isn't a huge amount to talk about and so you have to make rather vague / grand statements about your abilities that can sound a bit much without evidence to back them up. When I get a CV, I only ever read the personal profile at the end if I liked everything else on the CV. That's just my 2cents, please feel free to disregard as I guarantee the next person you talk to will have a different opinion again.  Interestingly though, in doing some research into this it seems like consultants at Harvey Nash - one of the top recruitment agencies in the UK - may be of a similiar opinion: "In a straw poll...not a scientific poll admittedly, but illustrative - not one consultant said they influenced their opinion on the candidate's skills and experience."  They write an interesting full article on profiles:

If you do decide to go for one, then the Kent university website does offer some good guidelines for putting one together:

If you include a personal profile, make sure that you have strong evidence to back up everything you say in the statement as you should expect to be challenged on it in any interview you do. Be very wary of using words like 'outstanding', 'superb'. Those are strong words.... better than 'good', 'very good' or even 'excellent'. So make sure you have the necessary evidence to demonstrate the level of expertise that you state you have.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Making the most of a Company Presentation

There are usually as a minimum two opportunities to hear from companies that are interested in your university as a source of graduates. One is at the careers fair, and the other is at the company presentation and/or reception which the company will arrange in order to visit the university and talk to an audience about their offering in particular. At the company presentation, attendees are usually a bit more accessible as there isn't quite as much of a crush as at the careers fair, and you will usually get the opportunity to have a more meaningful discussion where you can ask several questions, as well as see a presentation or video which gives you a bit more detail into what the company has to offer. If you know you are interested in a company, but trying to find out where exactly you might fit, the presentations are usually worth a visit.

Company presentations are organised in many different ways - sometimes targeted to an invited audience, sometimes sign-up in advance, sometimes open doors policy.

Presentations are a good opportunity to hear about specifics related to the role/job that might not be on the website, or that you might not have had the opportunity to ask about at a careers fair. Some examples would include:
- particulars of the training offered - how long, what content, where held, who delivers.
- what study opportunities are available - CFA, CAIA, ACCA, etc.
- if rotational, what are the typical rotations that graduates undertake, how frequently they move, how they are assessed
- how is a full-time role is found/decided upon at the end of the programme

Presentations are always a great way to pick up on what the culture of a company is like. Definitely more so than at a careers fair, where the layout and structure is fairly formulaic for all the companies there. At a presentation, there is a lot more scope for individualism which should give you lots of tips as to what the culture of the company might be like. Some things to observe:
- how do the team of people from the company interact with each other? Is it all quite formal, or is there plenty of banter and fun?
- how does the interaction between superiors and juniors appear - e.g. if there is a Partner or an MD there, how do they treat the rest of the team, how does the team react to them?
- what media do they use to communicate? Standard Powerpoint bullets approach, or do they have videos, maybe a Prezi, YouTube clips, cartoons?
- how engaged/enthusiastic/passionate do they seem? Do they sound like they believe in what they are saying, or are they just going through the motions?
- what are they wearing? Formal suits, business casual, casual?
- what drinks and food does the company provide (if any)? Cheese/wine? Beer/sausages? Cocktails? Are they trying to impress you with fancy food or are they trying to give you food they think you might prefer?

The other opportunity the presentation and reception can provide is a chance to help you get ahead when it comes to interviews. At these events, in most cases the attendees will be fairly open to answering any questions that you can come up with. So have a think in advance about the kinds of questions the company (or similar companies) would ask you at interview, and then ask them for their opinion on those topics. Essential then you should try to remember the best of what you hear / the things that sounded most knowledgeable/impressive, and rehash them at interview! Example questions that you could think about asking include:-
- what changes do you see happening in the industry in the next couple of years?
- what are the major challenges facing your particular company/department/division at the moment? What are you doing about them?
- what competencies would you say are most important for roles on the <name> graduate programme?

As with the careers fair, my advice is to jot down what you heard and learned as soon as you can after the event, as well as the names of the people you have met if you can remember them. The information fades / merges with other info very quickly after you've been to a few events, so its worth capturing it somewhere.
In many cases, the company presentations can be very close to a deadline, or sometimes even after a deadline has passed. It is still worth going as if you do get invited to interview, you can pick up a lot of useful from the presentation, and also it could help you decide whether or not you would ultimately accept the role if it was offered.
Equally if you are in 1st or 2nd year, it is worth going a long in order to get more information for if you decide to apply to them in your final year.

Good luck everyone. Enjoy the Milkround…

Sunday, 10 October 2010

What they say they want... and what they actually mean!

There are some standard competencies and skills that most companies say the want in their graduates. This is for all the obvious reasons why those skills are needed for the job, but also for reasons that they might not explicitly call-out to you - e.g. because of some of the less interesting elements of the job, because of the challenges you might face, because of the parts of the job that are not enjoyable.

I hope that by hearing what they are "really" asking for in part, when they ask for these skills/qualities, it will help you formulate your answers better, and help you think about what else the job might involve.

- Are you someone who realises that change is continuous in most companies and being able to roll-with-it and not complain when it happens to you - e.g. you get a new manager / move teams / move offices / move roles?
- You are going to have to do some of the less-fun stuff in the beginning. That's the reality of joining the lower echelons of a company. Will you accept that, make a name for yourself as being great at it, and get something better, or will you be 'difficult and demanding' of more from the start.
- We might hire you for one thing, and in a year ask you to do something different. Are you going to be open to that?
- Sometimes you will work hard at something and do a great job on it only for it not to be used / be changed completely. Are you going to be ok with that and realise that is part of working life and a corporate environment, or is that going to make you really demotivated?
- Sometimes (or a lot!) you will have to work late and miss a big night out / weekend away / dinner with friends. You'll become the person who pulls out last minute and messes up the table bookings / plans. Will you cope with this? Will your friends/family? - and if not, how will you cope?
- You might have to do lots of traveling, which will be fun and glamorous and exciting. It will also cause you to miss parties, birthdays and big events. Are you ready for that?

Problem Solving / Analytical Ability
- Can you use data to tell a story and come up with ideas and recommendations based on the data?
- Can you work on your own without too much supervision?
- Can you think outside of the data or information that you are given to assess if anything is missing that might help provide the solution?
- Can you make sure the problem gets solved quicker next time arises, or even better, make sure it doesn't arise again?
- Do you know how to teach yourself new skills? This could be using online forums, help functionality in applications, books or tutorials, web research, but you must be able to teach yourself quickly - or J.I.T. training/learning ('just in time' - as in 'when you need it') as its called.

Communication skills
- Can we put you in front of clients and be certain that you wont say anything silly?* (see below for examples I've witnessed)
- Do you understand what it is to write good emails?
- Do you understanding email etiquette? (e.g. lots of grads resort to cc-ing someone's manager on an email if they can't get an answer on something - this is a big mistake to make as a grad!)

* "I'm just a graduate so I'm just here to observe and learn"
* "I don’t really know much because I've just started, so I'll have to ask my manager"

Hope that helps a bit. Remember ALL jobs have good points and bad points. Make sure you consider both when you are thinking about what you want to do.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Dealing with difficult situations during the application process

A lot of the questions that get asked on forums or that students find particularly difficult to deal with is when a clash of some sort occurs with dates or offers.  The advice you will get will often depend on who  you are asking - the employer, the careers service, your friends, your family etc. So, I thought I would give you my honest advice as a recruiter on dealing with some of the more common scenarios that occur.

You have an offer from your second favourite company that expires this Friday and an invitation from your favourite company to attend an assessment centre next week.
The first thing I would do is check with your favourite company (I'm going to call them Company 1) and explain that you have an offer from Company 2 but that they are your preferred employer and is there any way you can attend sooner. A graduate with an offer in hand from a competitor is always of interest, and so if they can slot you into an earlier centre, or make some alternative arrangement, then they usually will.
The next consideration is whether the offer is verbal or written. If the offer is verbal, then I would just accept it. The reality is that this is not binding. It will take at least a few days for them to send out the contract and they will need to give you a week or so to look over it. By then, you should have heard back from Company 1 after the assessment centre and if you get an offer from them too, then you can decline the written contract and write a letter of explanation (more on this later).
If the offer is written and about to expire, then that is when it is trickiest. Essentially, you have 3 options:
1-call and ask for an extension on the offer
2-sign the offer but intend to renege on it if you get an offer from Company 1
3-decline the offer.

In the current market, I wouldn't advise taking option 3. A bird in the hand, etc… an offer from a company you would like to work for is not to be sniffed at.  I'd probably try option 1 and ask if you can have an extension on the offer. They will know that you have someone else that you want to work for, which isn't ideal, and unless they are feeling generous probably wont extend the deadline, but it's worth a try. They won't withdraw the offer on the basis of you asking the question. 
If they wont give you an extension, then I would go for option 2. Sign it and send it in. OK, I'm a recruiter and maybe you'd expect me to say otherwise, but the reality of the situation that you are in is that Company 2 have left you with no choice here. If the other offer from Company 1 is forthcoming, then ultimately yes, you are in a difficult situation, but I will advise below how to recover as best you can. 

You have been invited to two assessment centres on the same day 
If you are fortunate enough to get invited to multiple assessment centres, it is immensely frustrating if suddenly you find out that the date clashes for 2 (or more!) of them. Whilst many companies will have multiple assessment centres, especially for the larger programmes, the reality is that there does come a point when all the places on a programme are full. Some of the smaller specialist programmes that might take only 10-20 people will often have only 1 or 2 assessment centres a year as a number of the places are likely to be filled with last year's interns.
When faced with a situation where you have two A.C.s on the same day, try to take a logical approach. Yes, you can probably phone and move to another assessment centre date for one of them. But there is a risk that the roles will be gone in the one that you move, or they will already have a number of people from a similar background as you and will be looking to round out the programme with people from a different degree, etc.
When you have to prioritise one A.C. over the other, there are two major things to consider 1) which is the job you most want and 2) which is the A.C. you are most likely to get an offer from. If those two are one and the same, then the choice is clear. Call the other A.C. and see if it can be changed. If it can't, then you do have the option of going back to the other and changing that - but remember, you are then de-prioritising it and taking a risk that the positions will no longer be available. The earlier you can get invited to an assessment centre, the better your chances of getting a role - not least because there are more roles to be had. My advice would be go to the one that you most want, even if it means not going to the other at all. 

You have accepted an offer at Company X and then get another offer from Company Y which you would prefer
This is similar to the option above where you have accepted an offer and then want to pull out and take another.  My advice is to take the one that you really want, if you don't, you will only regret it for some time to come. But only decline the one that you have, once you have signed and accepted a written contract (not on the basis on having received a verbal offer only). 

Declining an offer you have previously accepted - Recovering the situation
Most graduates send an email or a letter. Make no mistake, we know this is because they are scared to phone and just can't face it. I understand that. It's awful. But, unfortunately it really, really is the best thing to do to ensure you eliminate collateral damage. The most difficult thing to do is actually phone up and explain what has happened, how sorry you are, etc. They will still be annoyed, but they will be a lot, lot less annoyed than if you send an email.  They will respect the fact that you made the call.

To put it in context, the reason they are annoyed is:
- that graduate will have been promised to a particular team. That team will now be without a grad. In the eyes of that team, the recruiters have 'failed' them. No one likes to fail.
- there will have been other grads that were very close to an offer, that they really liked, but you were picked over them. Just. Now they are wishing they picked 'the other guy'.
- often the induction will be planned - facebooks produced, teams allocated, FSA exams lined up, etc. Your name and details will be in all of these things, so it might well mean quite a bit of rework for them.

Follow up your call with a letter, explaining the situation, how difficult you found making a decision, enjoyed everyone that you met, that you sincerely apologise for any inconvenience caused, etc, etc. It sounds awfully grovelly, but in all honesty, it costs nothing and it makes sure that they don't hold it against you as ultimately they understand that these things happen and we all get on with it. 

In the current market, some graduates are accepting two offers and keeping them both in hand right up to the last minute incase a company pulls out. This I can also understand. However, what I would say is the longer you wait, the more likely you are to get yourself 'blacklisted' at a company for a longer period. Depending on the HR set-up at the particular company, once you are loaded onto the HR system as an employee (which could be anything from when they receive your contract back, to 2-3 weeks before you start), if you withdraw, you are then updated on the system as a 'no show'. This could then show when you later apply for experienced hire roles later in your career.  That's not to say that that definitely means they wont hire you - the longer the time that passes, the better.

Also, many graduate recruiters at different firms know each other well. I know of several situations where they have called each other and said 'we have had this person not show up - are they at your firm?'. I even know one case where a graduate had accepted the signing on bonus from several banks and then (obviously!) only showed up to one. He was found out within a day and fired from his role and blacklisted from all the major banks immediately. To be honest, that was a fairly extreme scenario - not many people are that stupid! - but I just want to demonstrate how well the recruiters know each other.

Some final advice. Don't waste hours and hours thinking what you would do if you find yourself in any of the situations above. Spend your time on activities that add real value to your CV, your interiews, your assessment centres.  If you are "lucky" enough to be in one of those situations, then you will deal with it then as best you can. There is no point worrying about them and planning for them. And to be honest, no matter how many you plan for and think through, in my experience, it is always the one scenario that you haven't thought about that is the one that eventually arises! 

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

"Networking is key" - but what does that really mean?!

Many people you meet in the course of looking for a job will tell you how important networking is and how it is the key to a successful career. Not many will actually tell you what that MEANS from a practical point of view - how to start a network, how to develop it, and how to utilise it.  I want to outline for you some ideas to help you make a start.

Get Organised
If you really want to network successfully, you need to start treating it like a professional activity that you are undertaking right from the outset. Decide how you are going to keep track of your contracts from a practical point of view - will it be using an address book in your gmail account, a filofax, on your laptop, on your phone, LinkedIn, etc.  Don't feel obliged to use the most technologically-advanced option available - use the one that is going to work for you because of the way you like to work - this is the only way you will remain committed to it. Lots of executives still use a rolodex or file of business cards because that is what has worked for them over their careers.  Never assume that you will remember names, contact details, roles, etc, because you wont… capture everything.

The most successful Networkers… 
… are help providers. The people who have amazing networks across the globe of people who are willing to help them, are those who have helped others the most. If you make your overall objective to help as many other people as you can, in any way you can, then you yourself will have favours owed to you all over, that people will be keen to repay.

From a practical perspective, in order to be a great resource provider, again you need to be very organised. Not only does it mean having contacts and ideas to provide to people, it is about having practical things that you can provide. This includes, (but is not limited to), links to great websites you've seen on a huge variety of topics, articles you've read in the news/magazines, any presentations or advice you have been sent that might be of help to others, blogs/podcasts/lectures that you have downloaded or links to that might be of interest to others.

The key to being a great resource provider is not waiting to be asked for help. On overhearing someone mention something they are looking for, or a passing comment that someone makes that you have ideas on, pro-actively provide some of your collection in order to help them. Don't ask for anything in return, and don't make it your explicit objective to have loads of people owe you favours. But if you provide help to lots of people, inevitably, that will be the result. 

Be Culturally Aware Networking in different cultures can be fraught with unintended faux-pas. E.g. In many Asian countries, including Japan, it’s insulting to pocket a business card in front of the person who gave it to you, and even more insulting to write on it.  In the USA, networking is much more open than in the UK and you could find yourself being asked for a favour by someone you only met once quite frequently.

Practical Examples of things you could do to help enhance your network - If you've done an internship over the summer, offer to help the HR team / the school team at the company with their events on campus. This could include advising of the best venues, or trying to get some of the top students in your class to come along. An offer to do a presentation of what you did over the summer there could work. These activities will enhance your profile at the company and can help if you are going back there, or if you're not. They will also expose you to meeting a breadth of people inside the company and the university.
- Keep in touch with those you were involved with in various societies at Uni. They will go off into many different walks of life, any of which you could find yourself crossing paths with again.
 - LinkedIn has grown massively as a networking tool in the last eighteen months or so in the professional workplace. Make sure you set yourself up with a profile there asap and start linking in with those you know. It is a great way of keeping track of people when they move companies.

Remember, a professional network is not the same as a network of friends. You do not need to be on lets-go-for-drinks terms with everyone in your professional network. The terms you need are 'we are both responsible, successful people who have helped each other or worked together in the past in some small capacity, and we might well do it again in the future'. For most people that's enough, as long as there is give and take. So make sure you give, so that when the time comes, others are definitely willing to share with you too.

Other articles that might be of interest: