Top tips for getting a job

21:09, May 05 2013

The job market has seen a whirl of activity lately.

Frog Recruitment director Jane Kennelly, tongue firmly in cheek, puts it down to "the recent re-calibration of corporate cost structures".

To be more blunt - a lot of businesses have been cutting staff.

Being turfed out of an established position and thrown back into the cut-and-thrust of the job market has been hard on some people.

But it's also been intriguing to see how they react.

"People fall into two camps," says Kennelly.

Some are shrinking violets, still clinging to the outmoded behaviours of the past.

Then there are the career aspirants, who unashamedly do actually want to be noticed.

To make sure you pitch your tent in the latter camp, you have to understand that job-hunting techniques are changing.

It's out with the old and in with the new.

We've picked the brains of career experts to see how protocols have changed and how to be sure to avoid the blunder that will send your CV straight to the recycling bin.

The Cover Letter

"Dear Sir/Madam ... "

Wrong. The old-fashioned method of sending your application to a non-existent person of undetermined gender is a sure-fire way to get ignored.

Being specific is one of the most important rules of the modern day job-hunt, Kennelly says. If you don't know the name of whoever's handling the job, ring up and find out.

A cover letter is not the time to practice your creative writing skills either. You really have to sell yourself in the space of a few waffle-free paragraphs - certainly no more than a page.

Simply tell the employer who you are, what you have to offer, why you'd be of value, and when you're available for interview.

Try to avoid using too many sentences that begin with "I", and make sure you haven't included any glaring typos.

The CV

From the moment your CV alights upon a recruiter's desk, you've got three to five seconds of eyeball time before it ends up in the bin.

It has to cut through.

That means popping down to the library to photocopy a whole batch of cookie-cutter CVs is a no-no.

"That one size fits all doesn't wash in today's market," Kennelly says.

"It has to be really tailored to fit your skills and the specific role."

That means looking into the company's history, values and culture - and the exact job description - and tweaking your CV accordingly.

Avoid "meaningless buzzwords" and give specific examples of achievements.

"Calling yourself a 'proactive go-getter' doesn't actually say much about you," Kennelly says.

Attaching a photograph is also out of fashion. It wastes space and your looks are largely irrelevant, unless you're applying to be a model or TV presenter.

"Why not just let your experience speak for you?" Kennelly says.

Even if you're a real babe, it could work against you. Some research has found that attractive women are less likely to get an interview.

As far as content goes, include your employment history in reverse order - the most-recent first - your qualifications, and a summary of skills.

Personal interests are OK - the employer may like to see that you're actually a human being. The whole thing should be less than five pages.

The Interview

The stakes are high once you get the call for the all-important first interview.

The situation is a little daunting, and the job interview may not play out the way you remember.

Careers New Zealand consultant Jannie Allen says behavioural questions are the mainstay of interviews these days.

"The candidate needs to be able to come up with good examples of situations where they have demonstrated the skills sought," she says.

Instead of saying you work well with others, you'll be asked to prove it with an example of a time you had to do so, and what the outcome was.

When you're put on the spot, it's easy to get flustered or have a total mind-blank.

Obviously it will help enormously to anticipate the most-likely: "Tell us about a time when ... " questions and come up with a crib sheet of answers.

Allen says you may also be faced with psychometric testing, so it might pay to have a crack at some practice versions available online.

The Web

"There have been big changes in the way that jobs are advertised in the last few years," says Kim Gray of Careers NZ.

"In the past, jobs were predominantly advertised in newspapers," she said.

"Now they're advertised online, so it's important to have job alerts set up on the major vacancy websites, and to search out any specialist vacancy websites in your field."

The other seismic shift comes with the advent of social media - and it's a double-edged sword.

Used well, it's highly beneficial or even essential for landing you a new job. Used poorly, it instantly eliminates your chances.

Kennelly tells a story about a bunch of public relations graduates applying for an entry role. The firm instantly binned all the applicants who had openly-accessible Facebook pages, which exposed them warts and all.

Depending on the nature of the role and the demographic, recruiters will often scope you out on Facebook.

That means you either have to keep a tight lid on privacy settings or totally sanitise your profile.

As for LinkedIn, it's essential, Kennelly says. Optimise your profile, getting help if you need it, join relevant networks, and build connections.

The Attitude

Social media also gives us all kinds of opportunities to be proactive.

Kennelly suggest choosing 10 or 15 of your favourite companies and following them on their social media platforms.

"That way you're the very first person to find out when they're posting jobs," she says.

Fast is good, she says. Companies have been known to simply ignore the last applications if they receive an overwhelming number.

The other thing to note is that typical Kiwi humility doesn't cut it any more.

No matter how strange it feels, you have to be prepared to really talk yourself up, especially on your CV but also in person.

Kennelly reckons putting in a bit of extra effort to line up and optimise the different elements makes a huge difference in the modern job market.

"There is a huge range of opportunity," she says.

"It's about standing out from the clutter- and you will."