“I have met a few agencies and I know what the going rate in the industry is,” the candidate said. There was nothing wrong in being honest and upfront but as an interviewer it made me a tad irritable. It was probably the choice of words not about the amount. Going rate? How about saying remuneration or salary? Definitely sounds better. Just goes to show how minor mistakes can make or mar impressions. I am not certain how many CVs I have read or interviews I sat through, but there are some that stand out as honest, funny, quirky, bizarre or sickeningly boring. I am sharing a few of my experiences, it may probably serve some job aspirant well.
Covering letter / mail – I remember getting one that sounded highly flattering, worded to make my company sound as though we invented PR. The only thing missing was neon lights flashing ‘mass mail’ and I was very sure the same letter was sent to other companies too. Most candidates spend effort beefing up their resumes and put little effort in the covering letter. Interviewers know that you probably got help to create your CV but you may be exposed with this one.
One recurring mistake I have seen is candidates from the same institution using the same covering letter. This is the first piece of communication that your prospective employer sees, so make it stand out. Briefly talk about yourself, your strengths, your experience. This is also an opportunity to display your proactivity, do a bit of research on the company and explain why you think you will make a good fit with the company. Above all, remember not start with a ‘Hi’. Its better to err on the side of caution, so the traditional ‘Dear Sir / Madam’ should be safe.
Résumés – At a campus talk, a student asked me for ideas to make a good impression with his CV. My response was that this is about you, let your individuality come through. I added that all the CVs I got from that college were replicas except for personal details. Imagine my embarrassment when all 35 of those students glared at their Career Counsellor and said they had all been instructed to follow the college’s prescribed format.
Put yourself in an employer’s position, he gets CVs from you and your batchmates as well. How are you going to stand out? Your CV is your personality in words, let it come through. I have received one pagers and 12 pagers as well but the one that stood out was a CD with a wacky Powerpoint. Now I am not saying go out and get a multimedia presentation done, but do try to be creative. For me the criminal offence would be to let errors slip in to the document. If I got the proverbial penny for every CV that I have got with typos and formatting errors, I could have retired by now. One can’t emphasise enough that ‘the devil is in the detail’. There are several CVs that elicit no response for exactly this reason.
To work in a reputed organisation, to learn new skills, utilize my potential to the fullest & to add value / contribute to the growth of the organisation – this is how every third resume, I get, begins. It is a put off and reading further takes an effort.
Interviews – Casual does not mean creative, period. I have had people walking in wearing drawstring pajamas, floaters, scuffed jeans, and even the occasional suit. And guess what? The guy in the suit still works with me :-), of course, he had skills beyond his choice of clothes. Rule of thumb – formals are safe.
The impact of body language cannot be emphasised enough, firm handshake, smile, maintain eye contact. Admit it if you don’t know the answer to a question. Years ago we interviewed a promising young executive (I am sure he will roll up his eyes if he reads this), he was making a presentation to my team on ‘Company Positioning and Its Effects on Stock Performance’. The first slide was a comparison of Infosys and Wipro, he started by saying, ‘Infosys is the best PR agency’. There was silence and before we could react he dashed out of the room, took a deep breath and strode back in confidently apologised with a smile and he went on to complete his deck. And yes, he was hired. :-)
Do a bit of research on the company you are interviewing with, ask around, get the names of a few clients, try to identify differentiators. Given the proliferation of social networks, it will be a good idea to check the digital profile of your interviewer, you may find an ice breaker. It happened at one of my interviews, an Account Director that I was meeting was checking my tweets just as I walked in. And she started the conversation with a discussion on a particular tweet and the meeting panned into a debate than the boring question – answer routine.
Follow up – You can end by clarifying when to expect to hear about the company’s decision, follow up after that. You can also be smart about the follow up. For instance, during one interview that my colleague and I sat through, the candidate sensed that my colleague was a keen follower of the telecom vertical. A day after the interview she sent us a comprehensive commentary on trends in the telecom vertical. We could not but offer her the job.
So take a look at your CV, type out a good cover mail and prepare well for your next interview, chances are that you stand a better chance at landing that job you have always wanted.