Throughout your career, it is likely that you will work in a handful of different companies unless of course, you are one of those lucky souls who managed to find happiness and success with the first place they worked. (My brother is one of these frustratingly fortunate people). However, the rest of us are unlikely to be so lucky and will leave our jobs for a number of different reasons such as a relocation, dissatisfaction, redundancy, dismissal, or your contract may just simply come to an end.
Of the reasons above I have left two companies in order to progress my education/career, one due to relocation, one as my contract came to an end, and one, sadly, by redundancy. So by my mid-twenties, I have already worked at five different companies, with hopes that this will soon be six! (Although with the current UK employment market who can really be sure). Leaving these jobs was never easy, even my University summer job where the mutual understanding was that I was only going to be there from July to September, was still bittersweet as I had built up relationships with my colleagues and had gotten into the routine of the 9 am – 5 pm lifestyle, not to mention I had quite enjoyed getting paid each month. Each company signified a period of growth either personally, such as when we moved from our tiny home Island to the City of London, or professionally, like when I left the quirky hospital administration role to start my career in HR. But we’re not here to talk about the pro’s and con’s of moving company’s, we’re here to look at that transition period, that moment we all dread – the task of job seeking.
Knowing What You Want.
So for whatever reason, you have found yourself looking for a new role alongside all the other dissatisfied individuals. If you are lucky enough to have time on your side, i.e. you are still currently employed and are not counting the days until that final paycheck runs out, then it’s best to actually consider what exactly you are looking for. Are you looking to remain in a similar role at the same level, but just want a new company to freshen things up? Are you looking to progress within your career and your current company can’t or won’t offer you what you want? Or are you looking to change your career altogether? Your answer to this question will help determine how difficult it will be for you to find that new opportunity if you are looking to simply side step into a new company then you should find the whole process much easier and will be able to get by with a nicely polished CV; however, if you are looking to completely pack in your job as an accountant to become a programmer then the chances are you are going to be in for a hard time, and will need to be putting in extra effort outside of those working hours with courses and personal projects. But nothing is impossible, and it’s never too late to start working towards a new goal or dream.
Next, you want to think about the type of company you want to work for. Consider the size, do you want to work for a company of 10 – 50 people, or would you prefer to be working somewhere that has over 1000 people on their payroll? Think about maturity, are you looking for an established 20-year-old company or a growing 5-year-old business? What about the industry? The company’s mission and ethics? All of these aspects will determine how your role operates, for example, I have worked in a start-up which involved constant change and a ‘making it up’ as you go along attitude, an entirely different environment to the government job I had where everywhere I turned there was rigid policy and procedures. Neither are bad per se but they do require different mindsets and approaches, so it’s best to consider all of this before you sign that contract with the three month notice period.
Now you’ve figured out what it is you want, it’s time to look at you! Chances are you haven’t updated your CV since you got hired in your current role unless of course, you are a very organised and forward-thinking person who updated it every three months (I am not this person). Now the way I see it is there are three main ‘levels’ of a basic application. At level one, you have your CV, your resume, the little A4 page that tells the story of your employment history in one quick glance. This is the bare minimum and if you are going to apply with this alone it needs to be flawless. Level two, we have the cover letter or personal statement as some people like to call it, paired alongside your CV this little one-page novella adds some personality to your application and shows the recruiter that you are a dedicated candidate who has already provided the answer to “Why do you want to work for this company?”. Finally, we have level three the portfolio, blog, website, social media, all the stuff that demonstrates that you actually know what you’re talking about! Level three requires the most preparation, this is the stuff that you want to be working on all year round regardless of job seeking status.
The most important thing with all the content above, aside of course that it is yours (no plagiarism please), is presentation. That CV of yours, keep it concise, two A4 pages are the absolute maximum and try to keep the most relevant information on that first page i.e. current employment, key achievements, contact details etc. Make sure it’s accurate, triple-checking your spelling, grammar and details such as dates and telephone numbers, four eyes are always better than two so get a friend to check it over for you as well. With your cover letter aim to keep it under one A4 page, I usually go for a four-paragraph structure focussing on 1) where I am in my career, 2) why the company/role appeals to me, 3) why I would be a good fit, and 4) how I could specifically apply my skills/experience to the role. Make sure you add personality to your cover letter if you have used their product before, then include that experience! These Level One and Level Two documents are easily personalised to the company itself, think about their job description and make the areas you tick more prevalent on the CV and cover letter. Just think of it as helping out the person who is sifting through thousands of CV’s looking for specific buzz words. When it comes to your Level Three content you need to make sure that everything is up to date and that you feel what is presented accurately portrays your current skill set, abilities, and viewpoints. There is nothing worse than being judged for something that you produced five years ago when you will still be finding your footing in your chosen field. This isn’t to say you need to erase your past, my partner is a programmer and he keeps his older stuff on his portfolio to help demonstrate his growth and provide context to where he is now. Just make sure there are time stamps on everything and maybe even an updated ‘reflection’ on the work itself.
Once you have all your personal documents sparkling and ready to go you should feel confident to start sending off applications. I would always advise researching the company before you apply, 1) it gives you a stronger idea of whether it is something you actually want, and 2) you can add some of that research into your cover letter. Your application is the first thing your potential new employer is going to see, so you need to make it count! Remember you are going to competing against hundreds of other applicants.
If you have managed to make yourself stand out from the crowd with your stunning application then it will be time to go through with the interview. Now as someone who has been at both sides of interviews I promise you that nobody, and I mean nobody, enjoys this stage. As a candidate you are nervous and are trying to be the very best version of yourself, as the hiring manager, you are feeling the pressure of deciding whether the person in front of you is going to be the right fit for the role, team and company, in the space of 1 to 2 hours, with the knowledge that they are going to be showing you their best self (not necessarily their true self) The best piece of advice that I could give you here is just be yourself and remember that the interview is a two-way street. Ask them questions, after all, you want to try and figure out whether the company is going to be a good fit for you just as much as they are trying to figure out if you will be a good fit for them. Don’t be afraid to talk about your ‘weaknesses’ or areas where you are ‘lacking’, just make sure you frame them in a positive light and show that you are keen to learn these new areas in order to progress your career. Try to remember the person (or people) in front of you are only people, hopefully, they will have tried to make you feel at ease and the interview will be structured more like a conversation, however, more ‘traditional’ companies do tend to take the rigid question-answer approach, so it never hurts to do some practise interview questions before the actual event takes place. I would recommend crafting practise questions based off of the job description, making sure you can confidently answer each requirement. After All this is exactly what the interviewer will be doing also.
Unfortunately not every interview is going to end with a job offer, but don’t give up. Rejections are still part of the learning process. Ask the company for feedback on your application, just remember to be polite about the whole situation. I assure you the person who rejected you did not get any pleasure from the experience and it’s nothing personal. Take what the recruiter has said and use to to improve on your process going forward, maybe you were a bit ‘liberal’ with your experience on your CV and you couldn’t quite demonstrate those skills in the interview process, or maybe you were a bit too negative about your current employer when asked ‘Why are you looking for a new role?’. Really reflect on the feedback presented, it may not be comfortable but it will help you in the long run.