Sunday, 28 November 2010

Which CV are you?

Whilst the process of CV selecting is slightly different at most firms, there is usually a pre-screen, either by HR/ Grad Recruitment / Agency before the CVs are forwarded as a CV Book / a block of attachments / etc to the business. This is the first hurdle that any applicant has to get passed. Most CVs fall into certain categories which determine whether or not they will get sent onto the business. Here are some of those categories for you to consider where yours might fit:

The "Passed Around" CV
This is the one that everyone acknowledges is a good CV - good education, good experience and great potential. The problem with this CV is that there is no clear home for its owner.  It doesn't tell a story which has a definite, or at least reasonably conclusive, answer.
The result is that everyone feeds back to HR "Good CV, but not for our team, try.. XYZ", and then XYZ say the same and so on.  Whilst it can happen that the CV 'finds' the appropriate home through these means, there is a considerable danger that it will get forgotten about... always on someone's 'to do' list, but never quite actioned. And then eventually all the roles are gone and you become an 'almost made it' CV.
Make sure your CV or app form points you towards a definite home to make sure this doesn't happen to you.

The "Should have been selected but isn't" CV
Two people with exactly the same qualifications, experience, education, etc, can very easily end up on two sides of the selected/not selected scale. You must remember that it is not enough to have the experience for the role, you must describe and explain it in a manner that really puts it across in the strongest possible way.  I see CVs like this and comments like "I'm not sure s/he has the depth that we are looking for", "doesn't seem to be a lot of effort put into the CV - if that's representative of what s/he will do here, then would rather get someone else in".
No matter how good your education and experience is, you still need considerable effort to go into your CV to guarantee you the interview.

The "if only" CV
Possibly my least favourite CV to encounter as they are the ones with the silly mistakes - spelling mistakes, no degree result put on there, the wrong company mentioned in the accompanying letter, etc - but which are really very good CVs. Sometimes if a recruiter is feeling generous, they will correct silly mistakes before sending to the business, but more often then not, they won't. It's not really fair on the other grads who have taken the time to make sure everything is perfect.
Also, there is an increasing tendency by grads to supply a CV in PDF format, which is fine, but it does mean that if you do make a mistake, you are 100% guaranteed to get binned. HR wont forward a CV to the business with mistakes on it, because it makes it look like we haven't bothered to screen it.
Get someone else to look at your CV before you send it to a company. When you have been staring at something for such a long time, it is easy to miss small mistakes. A third party will usually spot them a lot easier than you will.

The "let's give him/her a shot" CV
This is the CV that isn't quite as strong as some of the others that you have seen, but it is clear that the person has worked very hard to date, has put a lot of effort into extra-curricular activities to build their transferable skillset, has done work for the community/a charity, etc. They usually have to be accompanied by a strong cover letter as well, but if that is the case, then they have a reasonable chance of being included in a pack sent to the business for consideration.

The "everyone wants him/her" CV
This is the CV that all of the teams that it's forwarded to want to see.  This is generally a good place to be as there can be a lot of internal rangling as to who gets to interview him/her first, etc. The downside is that sometimes it is the team that has the most internal 'power' that will get first dibs on seeing you - which might not always be the same as the team that you want to be in - but there is usually a way of negotiating your way (carefully, and not too early in the process) to where you want to be. Be careful not to come across full of it if you start to realise this is the position that you are in, because you can find yourself not wanted by anyone very quickly if it starts to sound diva-esque....

Friday, 12 November 2010

CV Structure and Format Checklist

There are thousands of decent CV structures out there that are perfectly good robust as templates for your CV. However, there are a few checkpoints which I think apply to most CVs.

Take a look through the list below to see if any apply to your CV and if it's worth reviewing the structure a little...
  • Be consistent with tenses - either present or past
  • Use no more than one level of bullets
  • Keep the amount of space you use for "Personal Details" at the top to a minimum- don't leave loads of white space on either aide by centering the text. Use text boxes if necessary to get the look you want and to maximise space.
  • Don't use generic dates for work experience: 2008-2009 could be two days, two weeks, two months or two years. As a recruiter, if you see generic dates you will assume it was a very short period of time that you are trying to make sound longer than it was. You are better off being honest upfront.
  • Don't use the Word header functionality for any important information (like your name!). Headers and footers don't appear on certain Word views and it can look like you've forgotten to include your name... Also some of the CV scan technologies that companies use dont like headers/footers, and again can cut some of your information out.
  • Try to stick to one tab level throughout the CV, or two at the most, otherwise it looks inconsistent and confusing for the reader
  • PDF vs editable. My advice is probably go editable. Whilst the PDF is a great, robust format, if you've made any mistakes, no one can correct them and your CV will get binned (as opposed to someone doing you a favour and correcting it before forwarding to the business, which does happen occasionally).
  • If you have more than one page, number the pages (pg 1 of 2, pg 2 of 2) and put your name on all pages as sheets do get separated quite easily.
  • Make sure you include your degree result, or most recent result if you are not finished. If you don't include it, the reader will usually assume its below the required level and decline your app.
  • Do include Hobbies/Interests - at a graduate level, they are good for showing you are a rounded individual with other activities to draw on experience from.
  • If you are including a personal profile, my recommendation would be to not to write in the third person "Steven is a ...... " - "I" is better given that it is you writing the CV and that is acknowledged. (If you get a job in consulting, then you will often see CVs written in the third party as they are being included in proposals, etc, but outside of that first person is better).
Can't think of anymore for now, but will edit and and when I come up with more!

Have a nice weekend all.

    Monday, 8 November 2010

    The Presentation Exercise

    To truly understand what it takes to be successful at the presentation exercise at an assessment centre, you need to understand WHY it is included in the day. This should then enable you to understand what to focus on when trying to give the best presentation you can.

    Firstly, the basics.  There are a number of ways that a presentation exercise can be included in an assessment centre. It can be an individual presentation that you prepare in advance, an individual presentation that you prepare on the day, or a presentation that you prepare and deliver as a group, or a presentation that you prepare as a group and deliver individually using the same material. But no matter what option you face, most of the fundamentals remain the same.

    Most people acknowledge that presentation skills can be 'taught'. Most of you will go through some sort of Presentation Skills training on your graduate programme, or shortly thereafter. So why assess you on something they are going to teach you later on?!

    Why? Reason Number 1: Put you under pressure
    At least 75% of the population hate giving presentations. The remaining 25% probably used to hate it once, but are so used to doing it now that they actually enjoy it.  Thus, including a presentation as part of the day is an almost guaranteed way to make you feel extra nervous, put you under time pressure and see whether you crack.

    To pass this part of the test: Hold your nerve.  Much easier said than done, but take a couple of deep breaths before you go in to the room; tell yourself "I CAN do this", think positive. Final tip - smile pleasantly at your audience before you start. This says "I'm ready, I'm confident, I can put on a brave face when I'm under pressure - I can hold it together".

    Why? Reason Number 2: Can you analyse information?
    Most of the time you will be provided with far more information than you need for the presentation exercise. Or you will be preparing on a topic where you are being asked to come up with the information - which can often have the same result.  So what you are being tested on is the ability to pull out the key points of information for delivery.

    To pass this part of the test: Most presentations should take broadly the same outline.  Objectives/Agenda/Intro (depending on the topic); 2-3 slides with the key messages; and a summary/conclusion/next steps slide. Make sure you include the key messages; sometimes in the rush to get everything out, grads can forget a major point and that alone can be enough to fail the exercise. Don't try to get too much on your slides. If you need to, make detailed notes on separate paper to take in with you, but don't try to include everything on the slides.

    Why? Reason Number 3: Can you empathise your audience?
    This part of the presentation is key and in my experience, overlooked by at least 60% of graduates in the rush to get their presentation ready and delivered.  Many companies have the audience - which could be one or more people - play a role. Somewhere in your brief it will say "You are presenting to the M.D./the Sales team/the Project Manager...etc etc". You must pitch your presentation to that audience and not just generically present back the information that you've been given.

    To pass this test: Before you even begin to think about slides/flipcharts, take a moment to think about what is important to that person or team. Can you empathise with them?  Your presentation could potentially take a number of forms e.g. if it's a P.M., you'll want to focus on the plan, the risks/issues, the budget, reporting, etc. If it's a M.D. sponsoring the project, you'll talk more about the deliverables, the implementation and the changes that will result to the business.  

    The main point I want you to note with the above 3 reasons is they are nothing to do with presenting in itself.

    Some other points to keep in mind when presenting:
    - First impressions count as always - make a strong start
    - Introduce yourself and welcome when you begin
    - Don't read from the slides, 'talk to' the information on them, but phrase it differently.
    - Take care of your body-language - don't sway from side to side or move your weight from one foot to the other
    - Decide if you want to take questions throughout or at the end, and say that up front to your audience (keeping in mind who the 'are' and what is appropriate for them)
    - Close with a strong summary and thank you

    When considering your presentation exercise, think about the whole exercise - the preparation, the presenting of yourself, the smile, the opening, the closing, the slides. Don't get too pre-occupied with the 5-10mins where you are actually talking. If you get all the other stuff right, you will feel more confident and this will result in better presentation content and delivery.

    All you need to do is convince them that you have the potential to be a good presenter - make them want to invest in you.  So do the best you can but don't despair if it doesn't go well - it is relatively unusual for a whole decision on a graduate to be dependent on their presentation skills. Don't fall into the trap of letting a "bad" presentation exercise affect you for the rest of the day... move onto the next exercise without giving it a second thought.

    Friday, 5 November 2010

    Conducting Useful Research for Interviews

    Thanks for voting in the poll everyone... this was the winning article, so here it goes. I will try to get around to writing the other ones too in the weeks ahead as they all got quite a few votes.

    Just to clarify before we kick off that this article is about research... but you also need to do preparation (competency answers, explaining everything on your CV, why you want the job, etc). Both are essential to be truly ready for an interview. I'll cover preparation in a future blog if it's of interest to you.

    I'm going to have to start with the painful truth about conducting useful research for interviews... it's all about being organised and not just aimlessly surfing on the web (hands up who already knew this?...). We all do it (believe me, I procrastinate endlessly on Facebook/TSR/Twitter/Blogger/etc before I force myself to sit down and actually write these entries). You need to be really disciplined to really make the most of your valuable time. There is so much on the web these days that it is easy to waste a lot of time doing research for your interview without ever actually feeling like you are fully equipped. There is always the worry that something else obvious out there that you've missed that they will bring up at the interview.

    The research approach you take will be slightly different depending on the industry and the company that you are applying to, but broadly speaking for "Top 100" type companies, there are 4 categories to consider:

    1-the programme/role
    2-the company
    3-the industry
    4-the current landscape/news

    Let's take them one at a time:

    The Programme/Role
    You need to understand everything that is already on the website about the programme or role that you are applying to. This shows your high level of interest, but more important allows you to speak intelligently with your interviewers about the programme and make the right statements about why it is right for you. As an interviewer, if someone asks you a question to which the answer is readily available on the site, it is very off-putting. So, devour the grad website - everything on it.

    The Company
    You need to understand the company structure - the different departments/divisions/areas (everyone calls them something different). Understand their global structure - where was the company founded (geographically) and what is their presence now. Understand their make-up - there have been a lot of major mergers and divestments in the last couple of years - make sure you are aware of any that have happened affecting the company.

    Make sure you understand how they are performing and where the profit is being generated in the company. Have a look at the communications / investor relations / news sections of the site - be aware of what the company is saying to the market about themselves and their work. If applicable, take a look at the high Exec Summary of the annual report. This will usually outline where the company is at (although beware how long it has been since the report was released.... if it was 11months ago, the picture could be significantly different now).

    The Industry
    Some of this information is quite 'fixed', so some people find it easier to read the information from a book, rather than the web (e.g. "All you need to know about the City" book). Research who their competitors are (and how they are performing relative to them.)

    The Landscape
    This is about demonstrating your knowledge of current affairs in the industry and that affect the industry. You also need to understand the current landscape of the industry - what is the current market for their products / offering? There is lots of readily-available information on this - blogs, Google News, the FT - but this is also one of the areas where it is easy to spend a lot of time surfing aimlessly. Try to undertake this type of research in careful 30min blocks. Pick a topic, and then research that and only that for that period. If something else springs to mind that you need to look into during that research, make a note on a piece of paper to add it to your plan, but don't go off on a tangent researching the new topic there and then (even if you think it might be more important.

    Overall on this last one, it is not really something that you can research in a week before your interview - it is one that you need to be building your knowledge on over a period of weeks and months. Find the blogs / subscriptions that work for you and sign-up as soon as you can. RSS Feeds can also be useful from certain sites. It might even be worth setting up a separate email address rather than cluttering up your own personal address. Check out CNBC, MoneyWeek, Yahoo! Finance, hereisthecity, etc.

    Keep all your notes well organised, and bookmark sites that you visit that are useful, storing them all in a folder.

    I've put together a checklist for you if you are interviewing for an Investment Bank and are planning your research approach - it can be downloaded here. I'll try to put one together for Consulting too in the next few weeks - I've run out of time tonight - but it should not be that different to the IB one, just tailored slightly more towards that industry. 

    Above all, be organised and be disciplined with your time. Ultimately it's unlikely that you'll go into an interview feeling 100% confident that you have everything covered, but if you've covered a reasonable spread of research across the above topics, you should be able to talk to a good amount of what might come up.

    Tuesday, 2 November 2010

    My Top 5 Interview Tips

    Use "I" NOT "We"

    All over the IB and Consultancy websites, you will see talk of the requirement to be a team player and be able to function well with working in groups. And that is 100% true.

    BUT, and its a big BUT, during the application and interview process, you MUST get into the habit of using 'I' when speaking about your achievements. A lot of grads use "We did this... and we did that...." and the problem is that at the end of the answer, the interviewer is not clear on what you achieved versus what the team achieved - and that can result in them marking you as having 'failed' the question. So structure you answer by saying up front what the team structure was, what your role was (briefly) and from then on, use 'I' so that they are totally clear that the achievements were yours and no one elses.

    Don't express doubt or uncertainty about your direction

    We all know that a LOT of people are not sure about what job they want to do, what career they want, etc... However, when you are interviewing for a job, you have to play the game. Say that THAT is the job you want and have clear reasons why. No interviewer wants to hear "To be honest, I'm not sure, but I think this is the right move for me.".... or "I think I'll do this for 3-5years and the re-evaluate". Let's be very clear here, I know that loads of you will have these thoughts, but do NOT express them at interview. Every interviewer wants to believe that you want the job that they can offer you above all others. And you need to make them think that too.

    Get your best stories out early

    First impressions count. Even though your interview is supposed to be evenly weighted throughout, you want to get them on your side early. For that reason, be sure that you can spin your best experiences to answer a variety of competency-based questions - e.g. problem solving, team work, flexibility. If you can put your most impressive experiences out there early, they will be on your side from the outset.

    Yes, you will be asked technical questions

    At some point during the interview process you are likely to get a technical question of some sort. A technical question is one which tests your educational or technical skill that you have listed on your CV. So it might be something from one of your recent modules, something on a computer skill you have listed, etc. But it is highly possible that you will get challenged on something at some point in the process to make sure what you have on your CV is all legit.  Don't get all flustered about this, it's just one aspect and as long as you give it your best shot (the approach is often more important than the answer), you'll be fine..... a lot of grads seem to live in fear of "the technical question" and spend far too long studying for that part at the expense of other parts of the interview.


    This old one is still true. Have a few good questions to ask at the end to make sure you leave them with a good impression. Have a few options incase some of the questions are already answered during the course of the interview.

    Feedback most welcome! What do you want to hear? Email me at Thank you!