We'll be using this section to give you updates on the life of our little blue piggy - shortly to appear on the website. The little pig is looking for work at the moment and having any number of interesting adventures. It's not just you who have dealt with strange recruiters, unreliable employers and all sorts of odd encounters... our poor piggy has too! Stay tuned to find out more.
Increasingly interviewers are turning towards behavioural interviewing techniques. The pig has done some research in this area and today shares tips with you on how to do well in a behavioural interview. The concept of behavioural interviewing is simple : it gives the interviewer a more rounded assessment of a candidate.
It allows the interviewer a deeper view into the "why" and "how" of your previous experience and it also helps them guage whether you are a good fit to their requirements and chemistry. For most roles, particularly in a competitive job market, companies will be looking for candidates who meet a whole range of criteria including hard skills (like 5 years knowledge of excel) as well as soft skills (like the ability to persuade people).
Behavioural interviewing is good at showcasing your soft skills and also it helps organisations evaluate you as a fit. Do you talk their language? Do you handle obstacles the same way they do? Do you have the same goals and motivation? How do they do this? By asking more detailed questions about specific experiences and outcomes. These may be structured or non-structured. The job seeking piggy recommends that in either format you frame your responses in a structured way. You may remember that the pig tends to talk alot and can lost their way.
This can be a real problem in a behavioural interview as you don't want to overload the interviewer with information. Stick with a structure and make sure you get your most important points across. Here is a simple method for doing it, called the STAR approach. Situation Task Action Result You break up your answer into the 4 parts
1) describing the situation
2) outlining your specific task or role
3) what action you took to accomplish your task
4) what the results were Why use this format?
Because its simple and easy to remember! If you lose your way or get confused or flustered during an interview (even the pig gets hot and bothered sometimes!) you can fall back into the structure and refocus your answer. But the main reason for using this structure is because it shows you have a clear and logical understanding of what you were doing and why. You walk the interviewer through the end to end process - proving at each step that you understood what to do and were effective in doing it.
Behavioural interviewing - be a STAR! Here is a specific example of a S T A R response. Interviewer: Mr J.S. Pig, have you ever had to implement a new policy in difficult circumstances. Tell us more about how you put this in place.
Job Seeking Piggy:
SITUATION: At the Animal Farm we went through a management change with profound impacts on the business model and organisational structure. Several key stakeholders were struggling to adapt.
I was responsible for building grass roots support for the change and getting stakeholders to buy into the new organisational structure.
With stakeholder consultation a new company charter was developed with 7 rules which articulated the rights and obligations of all participants. I created a new logo and motto "four legs good, two legs bad"
Workplace contentment rose by all measures, productivity was higher than before the management change and operating costs were significantly lower.
Looking for work when you already have a job... who could be bothered? During the topsy turvy years this little pig spent as an IT Recruiter one theme constantly stressed to contractors was that they should always be looking for work. It was surprising how few people paid attention.
An older wiser pig can understand the reasons why most people prefer to treat getting a job as an occasional burden. It's something they only deal with when they feel uncertain about their job security, their contract nears its conclusion or they just can't stand their current job any more.
Job seeking is intensive and some people find it unpleasant. Looking for work is often stressful and as such it's a huge relief to get a job. So it's natural to achieve your goal and then want to relax. Why not focus your energy on your new role and stop looking? The pig says these are reasonable excuses, but they aren't compelling arguments.
Everyone in the employment marketplace is effectively a trader. They are trading their skills, experience, time and energy for reward, benefits and opportunity. This is true regardless of employment status, skill level or preference. Everyone is trying to maximise the return they get from working. And if they aren't doing this then the pig refers you to Clubber Lang in
Rocky 3.... I Pity the Fool. However the Job Seeking Pig is here to inform, not to offend! The very fact you're reading this post suggests you're interested to get the most from your employment opportunities. So lets break down this concept: Your work is a commodity.You take all your experience, skills and attributes and compete with other workers for opportunities. You lease your skills and energy to an employer in return for reward.
You only have a limited amount of this commodity to sell. You will not work forever. You have roughly 250-260 working days per year, less holidays. Want to know how many working days are left in this year? http://www.working-days-left.com/ You should be ensuring you get the best return from selling this commodity. Whether you define return in terms of money or benefits, enjoyment, further opportunities, career advancement, intellectual stimulation, etc The simple fact is that employers treat workers like a commodity. They invest in training and team building exercises to increase productivity. They invest in benefits to increase staff retention. These actions are aimed at increasing profit.
You, as an employee, should understand the rules of the game. Even better - use them to your advantage. How?
1) Understand the market. Understanding the market is key. What are you worth... which of your skills are in demand, what are becoming more popular, what do recruiters think you can earn in the current market? Who is employing, who is not. You'll feel much more confident negotiating pay rates if you understand what the market is offering. This does not just help you find new roles, it also helps you evaluate your current position. Perhaps you're lucky, salaries have fallen and you should be doing everything you can to keep your job. This information is fairly important to know, don't you think?
2) Always look for opportunities Are you in the perfect role? Will it last forever? If you can't answer yes to both those questions then you should be thinking about how your next role should be an improvement. And what that improvement should look like. Is it paying more money? Is it a promotion? Will it be closer to home? Will it involve international travel? Will it be exposing you to new technologies or industries? Whatever you want to achieve, the first step is to quantify it. How else would you recognise it? Then go looking for it.
Your perfect opportunity won't just find you, you need to take action! Let's take a very simple example. James is working in IT and wants to get into Financial Services. He applies for every role he can find but never gets an interview. He mentions his aim at a dinner party and is introduced to Martin. Martin moved into FSI recently by focusing on certain niche skills that were in demand due to PCI Security Standards. With this advice James was able to redo his CV and got a the role that he wanted in a multinational bank.
3) Give yourself options The Job Seeking Piggy loves choice. Call me a greedy pig (I take it as a compliment!) but there is nothing better than having the power of choice, especially when it comes to selecting a role. But there is more to this. The Global Financial Crisis highlights how insecure many jobs actually are and how crucial it is to always have an understanding of the employment market, of what roles are out there and what you're worth. The pig saw alot of people get made redundant these last few years and it was the ones who were disconnected from jobseeking that suffered the worst.
Remember: Looking for roles is a skill. It takes practice. If you haven't used these skills in a while it takes some time to get back up to speed. And if you're unlucky enough to find a sudden end to your employment it's likely you'll feel pressure to find work quickly. You can reduce the risk by keeping an eye on the market.
Summary: Job Seeking Piggy is not suggesting that looking for work when you're already employed has to be a huge undertaking. It's more of a mindset than a physical commitment. Maybe its an hour a week to search an internet jobsite, enquire about a couple of roles and talk to a recruiter? Possibly even attending an interview every now and then.
Certainly its being mindful that you won't be in your current role forever and keeping eyes and ears open to opportunities.
I don't think the pig is the only one who starts off with lofty ambitions (e.g. world domination) and ends up with a slighlty lesser result (e.g. holding a giant sign saying "golf sale" by a major intersection each weekend). Is this necessarily a bad thing? Whilst the reality may suck, the dream of a better day is a positive and neccessary thing.
And the same applies to job searches. Without coming over all Richard Simmons on you, you should aim for the best job you can get... or even a job you think is too good for you to get. Then reset your expectations (if you need to) based upon the feedback you get.
It's also a great means to focus your career plans - if you don't know where you want to go then how will you ever get there? In fact this little piggy has used this on a number of occasions.
Step 1: Apply for a job that seems beyond reach.
Step 2: Utilise any feedback about shortcomings or gaps as opportunities to reshape CV and how JSP explains its experience.
Step 3: Apply for another job with the newly perfected CV and experience.
More to come on how to write your CV shortly...
This is possibly the most important question for any working person. Everyone has their own motivation for working... but this pig is in it for the money and not ashamed to admit it. There are many things the job seeking piggy would rather be doing with it's time than working - but mrs pig and the piglets need food, shelter and clothing and so your porcine correspondent has to work.
So bearing in mind that work is unavoidable and money is the main consolation from working, how does one maximise the pound and minimise the pain? Minimising the pain is a topic for another day... but here are some steps towards earning more.
It sounds so simple doesn't it? And yet it can be such a difficult conversation to have, especially when you have built a relationship with your boss and team. Maybe you are expecting the Oliver Twist reaction?
Whether you find it easy or hard to confront your superiors about remuneration, you should approach it like going to court. You want to demonstrate that your case has merit and for this you will need facts, examples and compelling arguments. Perhaps you can pull off the type of court room fireworks that Tom Cruise managed in A Few Good Men, but for most of us it's more of a Perry Mason exercise. Gather information, build your case and then deliver it.
Make sure you pick a good time to deliver your proposal - e.g. don't do it at the end of financial year when your boss is loaded with work. If your boss asks for time to consider, make sure you schedule another meeting time.
What can you highlight that justifies a payrise? Maybe its because other people at the company with the same role are earning more. Maybe its because you have been exceeding your targets. Maybe its because you haven't had a raise in 2 years. Build a list of work related reasons. Please don't say you need a payrise because you need the cash to renovate your house.
It helps to have checked on a job board or with a recruiter that there are companies looking to hire people like you. This can boost your confidence in the negotiation and as you'll see below it also helps if things don't go to plan.
Mention any homeruns you have hit recently, like the time you went above the call of duty to ship a release or when you sorted out a problem with a key customer. Remind them that you are a valuable contributor to the firm and they should want to keep you happy.
Don't threaten to leave, but you can mention that as part of your preparation in asking for a raise you checked what the market value is for your skills.
You must be able to answer the question "What will make you happy". Think in terms of money, responsibility, role and tasks. Get anything that is agreed to be confirmed in writing.
Sometimes your argument will be rebuffed and you won't get what you want. It's hard not to take this personally but it is important to try. You can ask for feedback on what you can do to change their mind e.g. wait 3 months? do more? do better? learn to fly? etc. Ask if there is anything else they can offer you instead of a payrise?
Don't get into an argument and do ask them to make a note of any commitments. E.g. if they say you'll get a payrise in 2 months - then they should be able to give you a letter or email confirming that.
In fact this happened to the Job Seeking Piggy not too long ago. Having done the necessary preparation and made a fair case for a pay increase it was finally agreed that a raise would be given in 2 months but it was never confirmed in writing. Then when the big day came they refused!!
There is no denying this is a bad outcome and it can be hard to deal with. But if you've done your preparation properly then you know whether to gut it out or start your plans to leave.
It's best to be a bit guarded in these circumstances... you need time to work out the best course of action. So the Piggy said "Obviously I'm dissapointed in the outcome. Thanks for taking the time to review my request." And went back to work feeling quite depressed.
But luckily this little pig had done the necessary preparation and knew there were better opportunities in the market... so 1 week later the resignation letter was handed in and the pig moved to a higher paying job.
One of the difficulties in looking for work is the level of deception that goes on. Job seekers exaggerate their experience, managers exaggerate the opportunities and conditions, recruiters exaggerate everything.
Far be it for this little pig to take some the moral highground... after all my day is spent in a swampy mix of mud and my own mess. But the point remains, it's hard to know what and who to believe.
As the job seeking piggy sets off for yet another interview it should be pointed out to anyone reading (e.g. Mrs J.S. Piggy) that there are only three things that anyone should say to a job seeker who has just received bad news.
1) They're crazy not to offer you the job. They clearly don't know what they're doing.
2) You're too good for them. You can do so much more than just that job.
3) Better to know now rather than find out later. Everything happens for a reason.
Whether its true or false, stick to these three phrases and keep everybody's spirits up. You can also, of course, tailor these expressions to your own means and even embellish a little. For example:
"They don't sound like a very good company."
"You would have outgrown that role very quickly."
"It's not what you really want to do."
"I can't understand how they wouldn't pick you. Their must be something wrong there."
I'm sure you get the drift.
Once upon a time, in a land far far away, there was a concept called feedback. You applied for a job and then you would receive some contact from the recruiter. A phone call, an email, something just to let you know. It helped the job seeking piggy know whether to file an opportunity as open and closed.
It was almost like they kept you regularly updated on the status of your application. I remember when it used to be a letter informing you that you had not been successful or occasionally that wacko you are selected for an interview. Whilst a fresh faced graduate from the University this little pig collected a huge pile of the less desirable form of this letter.
It was, in a sense, depressing with its size being testament to how undesirable a commodity the great engines of commerce found me. But it also gave closure. You're better of knowing, as they say... Somewhere between then and now this crucial art of feedback disappeared. Where did it go? Why did it leave? These are questions for another rant by the job seeking piggy.
Instead this little oinker prefers to lament its passing. One day perhaps feedback will return. It seems that with the rise of internet based recruiting softwares that automated emails informing of application received and then rejected are on the rise. It's not full of detail, but it is a start. Who knows? Perhaps the Web 3.0 version of Taleo will even analyse unsuitability and give pertinent reasons. Now that would be talent management!
The last article discussed the annoying fact that very few recruiters give feedback to job applicants. The Job Seeking Piggy feels this is a big mistake, both in terms of politeness and sales strategy. In fact a sales strategy that doesn't incorporate politeness and responsiveness at its foundation is a poor one, but thats a topic for another day. Now to be clear in this instance the pig is talking about feedback to an application such as emailing in a CV.
It isn't conceivable to this little pig that a recruiter wouldn't give feedback to a candidate after sending their CV to a client or the candidate interviews with the client. Please tell the pig this never happens!
Contractor Taxation is releasing a course that shows how to setup automated feedback emails and has proven templates that improve your reputation with the best candidates. You can get it for free by sending an email.
For many of us there are few things more painful than writing a CV. The pig is a boastful creature and in another lifetime may have been a writer of romantic fiction... and so quite enjoys it! It helps to keep things in perspective. Some of the advice contained here is so simple if could be seen to be offensive. But fear not - the job seeking piggy doesn't want to upset anyone.
However its often true that people forget why they are writing their CV and end up with a document that doesn't serve its purpose. To this end the Job Seeking Piggy has included a document that it wrote in a former life as an IT recruiter - this is a guide to writing CV's for IT and Finance contractors in the UK and European market but the basic principles apply to CV writing in general. It is important to remember the purpose of your CV and its role within the process of gaining employment.
Your CV is your primary means of obtaining an interview with an employer and thus getting a contract. It should showcase (in order of importance) your experience your skills your qualifications your personality For example, In order to obtain contract work in the UK you will be required to use recruitment agents. Recruiters will call hundreds of managers a week searching for vacancies. When they get a requirement they will search through their internal database for suitable candidates and/or advertise on sites like www.jobserve.com for people to fill these jobs.
Using recruiters is the quickest and easiest way for you to get an interview with a client. The primary means for a recruiter to assess your suitability is your CV. The average recruiter will have seen thousands of CV’s and be able to tell a good one from a bad one quickly. It is important to have a well-constructed and clear CV in order to make it through this initial selection process. If your CV is full of grammatical or spelling mistakes, poorly laid out or just hard to read then you run the risk of the recruiter putting your CV in the unsuitable bin, even if you are a good match for the job.
So what will recruiters look for in your CV? Firstly let’s talk a little about the recruiter mentality. As a salesperson their main motivation is to successfully place a consultant with the client and earn some money. So they want to put forward candidates who have the best possible chance of getting that job. Generally they have no background in Computing or Finance, so for most recruiters the specific skills and jargon mentioned on your CV have no real meaning for them.
They are just trying to match the words on the job description to the words on the CV. If they can match the words then they will read your CV a little more thoroughly to understand whether your experience matches the experience the client is looking for, what sort of companies you have worked for in the past, whether you have good qualifications, and what sort of employee / person you are. Initially they are reading your CV to include you in their shortlist, then they are reading it looking for selling points – reasons why you will get the job as opposed to any other candidate.
If your CV satisfies the recruiter it will get forwarded to the client who will look through it from a similar perspective but dwell more on the projects/companies you have been involved in and your specific experience with the various skills and technical tools they are looking for. Clients look for a contractor to be able to come in and perform a specific piece of work within a given timeframe. They want to see from your CV that you have previously performed the same piece of work (or something very similar) in a commercial environment.
If they find this in your CV then you have an interview! So how do you tailor your CV to work with the technically illiterate recruiter and the technically literate client? As you will see, we do this by providing a combination of summaries and detail. This enables a recruiter to work out within two minutes whether you match a job description and also allows a client to understand exactly the business objective, technical environment and particular duties of your recent projects.
Your CV should have the following sections: Personal information: Name, Contact details, date of birth, visa/passport held, education (If you have a degree and have completed a few appropriate courses. If you want to list every course you have done – put only the most important to getting work at the front. The rest can go in Additional Information at the end of your CV). Skills Matrix: List the skill and the amount of commercial experience you have. This should not dominate the CV or be excessively long. It should be concise and easy on the eye. Its purpose is to provide an easy way for a recruiter to compare your skills to the job specification they have available.
You may want to group your skills according to Languages / Operating Systems / Database / Methodologies / etc. It is important to be realistic with your matrix and avoid the temptation to put in everything you have ever used or studied. For contract work employers are generally only interested in commercial experience. It is not relevant that you did a 3 month assignment using VB in second year Uni. If you want to give a really detailed matrix then put it in an appendix at the back or a separate document. This initial matrix is just for the recruiter/employer to tick of that you have the skills they need. You can even tailor this on the fly as you're submitting your CV... be sure to highlight the skills that were mentioned in the advert.
This is the most important part of your CV and is where you should focus most of your time and effort when writing the document. You should start your employment history on the first page, so at least your description of your most recent job appears on the first page. The skills matrix has an important role, but you don’t want it to detract from your single biggest asset in seeking work:: your previous commercial experience. You need this section to be easily understood by the layman as well as having the technical detail to satisfy the scrutiny of an IT manager or technical specialist. In order to do this you should go into progressively greater detail as you describe each job. Each role should have the following basic sections.
You may also like to include a description of the company, especially if it was not a UK firm. UK recruiters and employers will likely not know of the clients and companies you worked for in your home country. Even the largest companies in South Africa, Australia or New Zealand are relative minnows in the UK. So if you worked for the 3rd largest investment bank in South Africa it is well worth mentioning here.
outlining the environment and various technologies you used. You will likely be repeating the technologies listed in the skills matrix, but here you are showing that you used these specific skills in this particular role. Eg: J2EE, SOAP, XML, RUP, Rational Rose, Visio, Weblogic Integrator, Apache, Tomcat, Oracle, Documentum, CVS, Solaris, AIX, Linux, Windows.
Description of duties is where you can give the reader a really good understanding of your experience and abilities. If you write it well they will also get a picture of what you are like and whether you were good at your job. If you were in a permanent role you might want to break your description down into the various projects you were involved in. You can then devote a paragraph to each major project and maybe a general paragraph covering any other duties. It is best to start with a description of the project’s business objectives.
You can use this to show you understood the needs of the business and how your work fit into achieving these needs. It sounds straightforward but a surprising number of people leave this out. In a competitive marketplace it is good to show the client that you have a well rounded understanding.
e.g. Westpac are one of the largest banks in Australia. For the “MyLife” project Westpac commissioned an online virtual marketplace and service center through an ecommerce portal. This allowed Financial Advisers to offer customised financial planning and management utilising product offerings from Westpac and their partners from the customer site or any remote location. The products offered ranged from bank accounts to investment funds and disability assurance. I worked as technical pre-sales on the bid and then took over the role of Lead Architect for the project itself.
Then give a detailed description of the technical needs of the project and your involvement. Use this chance to show what technology you have used and in what capacity within the project. Especially mention additional benefits you were able to offer like training other staff, internal consultancy, mentoring or any other things you did that set you apart (in a good way!) from other consultants.
e.g. Architecture, design and implementation of a Weblogic 6.0 portal and components interfacing with a number of bespoke applications. The portal had a single-on and supported different authentication methods with the rear portal applications. The implementation used JSP, Servlets, Sockets, HTTP1.1, Tomcat, Weblogic 5.1, Weblogic 6.0, Netbeans and extreme programming. The portal was required to deal with up to 50000 enquiries a day ranging from delivering mortgage quotes to opening trading accounts in a secure environment. Extensive stress testing of the application and components ensured fast and error free functionality. Since implementation the portal has experienced less than 0.02% downtime. Mentored junior developers throughout the project.
It is a very good idea to include any special achievements. If your project saved the client millions or if your personal contribution saved the project from disaster. Make sure you mention it!
In this section you can put any other information you feel is pertinent. This could include the following:
Remember that your CV is primarily a tool to sell your experience and skills to an employer so if there is anything that you feel makes you more employable, then include it.
By including it in a section at the end you give the reader the option to find out as much or as little information as they need to. If you overload them with too much detail at the beginning of your CV they may not pay as much attention to the most important part, your experience.
So many interviews follow the same format... how do you stand out from the crowd?
This little piglet has been to a lot of interviews and it can be boring responding to the same questions over and over. Job seeking piggy also remembers time spent as a recruiter and the boredom that comes from asking repetitive questions. For both sides it can be a long and tedious tennis rally where everything sounds the same.
So what is a job seeker to do when you walk into an interview and see the interviewer with pen poised over the dreaded form with standard questions on it?
The job seeking piglet resorts to playing mind games (mostly with itself) which keeps things interesting.
Imagine that for each formulaic question there exists a perfect formulaic answer. The interview process is a showcase for your perfect response. Best of all you can prepare beforehand!
For example if they ask
"What is your greatest weakness?"
You can say
"I am a perfectionist and get totally absorbed into my work" and stop right there. If it is a question you are uncomfortable with then don't give too much detail. It is said that the best way to get out of a hole is to stop digging.
Of course most interviewers know the game well and will prompt for more information. So you can qualify your answer.
"I have had to learn to step back and focus on the big picture to make sure I'm going to meet my deadlines."
This shows that you are aware of your weakness and modify your behaviour to change it. Have an example ready if you need to go further and make sure it makes you look good!
"There was a huge backlog of work after the floods and my natural instinct was to just get stuck into it. But I realised we had a major deadlines that we would miss so we restructured our process to balance the load."
And so a negative is actually a positive :)
But what about the all time classic
Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
(aka What do you want to be when you grow up?)
Here are some prospective answers:
"I haven't really thought about it"
- Perhaps for an interview at 7-Eleven, but not good when going for a career defining role
"Retired on a beach in Baha"
- This might work in the startup industry... but not many other places.
"I want to be part of a great team atmosphere, be considered essential within my role and know that I am making a difference. If there are opportunities within the next 5 years (or longer" to grow - then that is icing on the cake"
- Great answer if you aren't sure of the promotion prospects.
"I want to be considered a leading expert in
- Good answer for technical specialists in a consulting or services company.
"I would like to advance and take on more responsibility. I expect that if I do a great job and am flexible to the needs of the organisation - even if it means changing roles - that opportunities will come up in that timeframe."
- This is the most balanced answer
Now you can see 3 answers here which would meet the bill. What happened to the perfect formulaic answer mentioned beforehand? As with most things in life you should tailor your response based on the situation. Hopefully you have some ideas from above on how to find the answers that work best for you. Of course you could also politely suggest that behavioural interviewing is a more enjoyable and productive process :)
Best of luck!