Thing 21: Promoting yourself when applying for jobs

As a manager of over 30 years standing, applications and interviews are things of which I have far more experience “from the other side of the desk”. Even if you assume one shortlist, typically six people, per year, and sometimes there were more, that’s the best part of 200 interviews, and probably thousands of forms and CVs to be read. I wish more of those candidates had read something like Maria Giovanna’s post for the cpd23 blog, which I think is full of excellent advice and anyone applying for a job should follow it. I can’t add much to what she has said, but here are a few of my own thoughts:

Part 1: Identifying your strengths; capitalising on your interests

At my stage in life, there is no excuse for not knowing these! I like / am good at: being part of, including managing, a team; dealing directly with library users; organising events; writing; book promotion. When my library closed earlier this year, the alternative job I was offered included none of those so I decided to take early retirement instead. I now have the luxury of being able to pick and choose what I do, not necessarily for money, and will be making those choices very carefully. Watch this space – I’ve made a start, but will keep that for the post on volunteering (or I’ll run out of things to write about!)

Part 2: Applying for a job

Personally, this part of the post is very relevant at the moment. The temporary job I’ve had for 3 months since “retiring” is about to end, so updating my CV is a must. I’m glad to have had this experience to add to it because it shows I’m still active and haven’t given up work just to sit around watching daytime TV!

Crossing to the other side of the desk, the most recent post I appointed to had over 120 applicants. Getting an interview in a large field is a major achievement, but how do you make yourself stand out from the crowd? Essentially, by following Maria-Giovanna’s advice! Customise your CV – it’s really obvious who is applying for any old job, and those who fail to match their skills to the particular post on offer will never make my short list. I’m always amazed at how many people make no effort to do this – it’s a waste of their time and mine. Keep your personal statement or covering letter relevant too. There will be many people whose CVs show that their qualifications and experience meet all the criteria, probably too many to interview. I’ll look for the ones who can substantiate their claims. If someone writes that “My communication skills make me an excellent candidate for this post” my reaction is “Well, I’ll be the judge of that, thank you very much.” You can claim to have any number of skills, but you won’t get interviews if you don’t provide evidence. Far better to say something along the lines of “I have developed (or demonstrated) my communication skills by…..” then give an example.Yes, you have to promote yourself but not by empty boasting.

Part 3: Interviews

I really enjoy interviewing – over the years, I have met some fascinating people and have often been sorry that we couldn’t offer all the candidates a job. Sometimes, the final decision is really difficult. I like Maria-Giovanna’s CAR (Context, Action, Results) acronym which I hadn’t come across before, but essentially it describes what is required when asked questions based on behaviour (i.e. competency based). For example, if you’re going for a job dealing with the public, be prepared to be asked about a time you gave excellent service or dealt with a difficult customer. Give a real example – what happened, how you dealt with it and what you learned from it. That’s what the interviewer wants, not your theories about what good customer service is (although they might ask about that too), or hypothetical answers about what you would do in certain situations. Don’t be afraid to take a moment to think before answering – I remember interviewing a candidate who obviously wasn’t used to this kind of question and was slightly fazed at first, but after saying something like “A difficult customer, hmm, let me think….” came up with an excellent answer to this and other similar questions and was offered the job.

I’m less keen on being interviewed myself, and I particularly dislike being interviewed by people I know, which seems a very false situation to be in. My current, temporary, job involved no application or interview – I’m basically filling in to help a friend. As I said above, that comes to an end in a few days and I need to plan what to do next – if that involves never being interviewed again, then I certainly won’t be sorry!

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Anabel Marsh

I'm a proud Glaswegian who loves to go gallivanting both at home and abroad. Join me in my travels, both historic and current. Credit where credit's due: photography mostly by my more talented other half, John.

2 thoughts on “Thing 21: Promoting yourself when applying for jobs”

  1. Great post, glad you found so much to agree with in Maria Giovanna’s one!

    I have far less experience of being on the interviewing side than you do, but I’ve found that experience has made me more relaxed about interviews. The knowledge that they interviewers want you to do well and that sometimes they can be as nervous about picking the right person as you are about showing your best was a revelation!

    I now enjoy interviewing from either side, an opportunity to find out a bit about people/a place I haven’t worked for and a learning opportunity if you take the trouble to ask for feedback on how you did. It can be frustrating to be told that you did really well but that the other person just had a tiniest edge though – I think it’s better when something particular is highlighted for improvement.

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    1. Thanks for the compliment – yes. I thought Maria Giovanna’s post was great, one of the best in the course.

      I agree that interviewing gives you a new insight into being interviewed because you realise panels are not (usually) hard-hearted and they do agonise over decisions that can change someone’s life. And you find out it’s not that easy either – although I enjoy it I still get nervous beforehand, especially if I am interviewing with new people. I remember once being the most junior member of the panel and by the time they got to me someone else had covered all the areas I was supposed to ask questions about! I’ve got much better at thinking on my feet since then.

      I play down the hardships of interviewing though after saying to someone who had recently been for an (unsuccessful) interview that it can be hard on both sides of the table and it might have been a very difficult decision. He told me, quite rightly, that he really didn’t care about that, it was nothing to what he felt about not getting the job. Oh dear, I was trying to be helpful!

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