This post isn't a how-to guide on jazzing up a job application with a pot of PVA and some glitter - today I went on a course led by Suzanne Wheatley from Sue Hill Recruitment, called "Career Progression; Or, Making Yourself Sparkle in CV's and Interviews". But I liked the sparkly reference, and who isn't partial to a photo of some glitter?
Sue Hill is a London-based recruitment agency specialising in the information, library and research sectors, and Suzanne led a great workshop held at Murray Edwards College, on tailoring your CV format and interview technique so that you shine out to potential employers.
I was particularly interested in going because, although I have rewritten my CV countless times for part-time jobs, internships, my current traineeship and academic interviews, I have never applied for a professional role in the information sector, and will be doing so in 2015, after I complete my LIS postgraduate course. I thought I'd take the chance to benefit from a recruiter who sees thousands of library CV's, and knows specifically what employers are looking for in the perfect CV.
We started off by brainstorming hard skills and soft skills we possessed, and separating the results into four categories: 'Good at', 'Enjoy', 'Want to develop' and 'Don't Enjoy'. The idea is that skills in the 'Good at' and 'Enjoy' category should be prioritised and scream out to the reader on your CV... there is little point listing 'shelving' as one of your job's skills if you hate and despise it, because you won't want to be asked about it at interview. I'd heard of the terms hard and soft skills before today, but have never been entirely sure what they meant. Basically, hard skills are related to tangible, technical knowledge or techniques that are specific to your profession - so for librarians, this could be cataloguing, knowledge of library management systems and information literacy. Soft skills are what Suzanne called the "touchy-feely" skills - personal and interpersonal aspects of your job that are less tangible, such as time-management, creativity and communication skills.
I found this whole exercise really useful because I've never actually asked myself which specific aspects of my job I really enjoy. I know the tasks I'm good at, and I know I enjoy my job as a whole, but it really made me think about the individual things that get me excited. For me, these skills are project management, marketing, and being creative. A tip I really valued from Suzanne was that - if this process does not come naturally - ask your family and friends (apart from maybe your Mum, who will sing your praises even if you suck at something!). They will be able to recognise what you're good at, even if you take it for granted and overlook it.
Another tip Suzanne gave, was to create a 'glory folder'. Save any emails you get from users saying "THANK YOU, YOU'RE AMAZING!" (or words to that effect) or jot down every time someone has been really grateful for your help. Tracking praise will make it easier to identify what you really excel at and are valued for.
We then moved onto CV writing. A few of the points I jotted down were:
- Don't leave lots of blank space down one side - use the full width of the page.
- Don't waste space with the phrase "References available upon request" at the bottom!
- Don't put your phone number as one long string of numbers - break it up into smaller chunks to make it more readable.
- Include a key achievement for each of the jobs you've held.
- Acknowledge any gaps in your timeline - i.e. year off for maternity leave, sickness, gap year, career break etc.
- Try not to use 'I, I, I' when listing your responsibilities/job role... instead, use action words ending in '-ing', such as "maintaining collection development", "assessing users' needs".
To finish off, we discussed interview technique such as personal presentation (dress smart, like David Beckham but on a good day), body-language (stand up straight, don't slouch when sitting) and confidence. And no workshop would be complete without some hands-on exercises! We practiced hand-shakes by wandering around the room, kept eye contact with our partner for an entire minute without looking away (tricky, and a bit awkward, to say the least!) and, my favourite, practicing speaking slowly and clearly with some tongue-twisters, including one about a pheasant plucker...
A tip I shared with the group, which someone taught me a year or two ago, is that if you find long stretches of eye-contact awkward in interviews (mine tend to dry up like concrete if I look at someone for too long and then it's ALL I can think about), look in the inner corner of your interviewer's eye. Honestly, they will not be able to tell that you aren't looking directly at their iris, but it makes it a lot easier to keep eye contact when you aren't focusing directly on their eyeball!
Overall, Suzanne's workshop was light-hearted but informative, and she had some really good tips and insider knowledge to share. She has written a blogpost here on the topic of interview technique, and you can follow her on Twitter @suzyredrec. I am definitely considering signing up to Sue Hill next year - I didn't realise until today that it's completely free to register, and all it takes to sign-up is a 30 minute registration interview! I really thought you had to pay for these services, newbee that I am. It seems so worth doing, seeing as lots of jobs aren't advertised on the open market, and essentially all the hard slog of job-hunting is taken on by a lovely helpful recruiter in your place! That is definitely the edible glitter on the cake :-)