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The need for candidates to shine

Competition for jobs has never been so intense, so there’s never been a greater need to stand out from the rest of the job-hunting crowd.

Filed in Changing jobs

One thing is always true in a recession - competition for jobs becomes very intense. Candidates outnumber jobs by a sometimes ridiculous number. The number of high-quality candidates per job increases. It gets harder and harder to even get an interview, let alone land a job.

Well, you know what they say about 'when the going gets tough'. There are still jobs out there, you just have to work harder to get one. Surprisingly many people still aren't trying hard enough, but with a little hard work and some thinking, you can really shine.

The key thing is to nail the basics. An amazing number of people are completely unprepared - when they're submitting their CV, having an interview or even negotiating at the job offer stage.

Does your CV really shine? Really?

Here's an interesting thing: there are no rules for how your CV should be presented. None. Yet most are two pages long, black and white and simply list education and employment. To stand out, you need to do better than that.

  • Be creative. Once you realise that the format of most CVs has been arrived at by some kind of unwritten consensus, you're free to express yourself. Printed CVs can include colour. You could use multimedia, an on-line CV - even if you use paper, you can create something interesting with multiple folds, perhaps each fold being a stage within a timeline. Don't use gimmicks for their own sake, though, that won't impress.
  • Reflect your role. Structure your CV around what you do. For example, if you're an instructional designer, your CV could be a short e-learning course about you. Yes, you'll have to create the good old paper CV too, but that could now list key facts and point people to your CD/DVD/website version. If you're a training sales person, you could create 'presentation you' and video it - then include it on DVD as part of a CV package.
  • Adapt your CV to the advertised role. Properly research the role that's advertised, and tweak your CV to suit - we don't mean lie, of course. By its nature a CV is general, but it doesn't have to be - look for what you have done in your career that's relevant to the advertised role and make sure it's included. We're talking about getting a new job - it's worth putting in a bit more effort than just printing off another copy of your CV and sticking it in the post.

Demonstrate passion for your role

If there's one thing that gives someone great leverage at an interview or when a CV is being considered it's that person's passion for what they do. If you've got a commitment that's way beyond the nine-to-five, it's going to carry a lot of weight.

  • Get involved on the Internet. There are lots of places on the Web where you can dive in, contribute and demonstrate your skills. Forums, communities, social networking, websites - all are looking for active contributors, especially around specific subject matter, or just learning theory. Clearly, this isn't something you can do the day before an interview or submitting a CV, it has to be part of your career plan. But the effort can be very worthwhile - it provides extra meat for your CV and gives companies something they can look at to find out more about you.
  • Become an expert. Many websites are seeking content - video demonstrations, articles, white papers. If you can contribute, you can build up a strong on-line name for yourself quite quickly. Again, this adds weight to your CV and builds up your unique selling points.

Do some research

Amazingly, people still do very little research about companies which are advertising jobs - and approach the role with a generic CV and their past assumptions.

  • Ask around. Find out more about your prospective employers - not just their headcount and turnover, but who their customers are, their products, their markets. Where have they been? Where are they headed? Use this intelligence to tweak your CV and prime yourself for interview.
  • Find out how you can add value. Employers are always going to be looking for more value. Once you've found out what a company's strategy is, then look for ways - even if some are outside the immediately advertised roles - that you can add more value.
  • Get ready for the role after this one. Employers are always interested if they can hire someone who is capable of growing beyond the current role, so it's worth investing time in management training, for example, and making it clear that you see a move into management as part of your long-term goals.

Most of this isn't rocket science, and many people reading it will think 'well, yes, that's obvious' - but we can tell you that the majority of people applying for jobs don't do anything this intensive.

When a company wants to sell a product, it will research the market, spend time designing the packaging and creating strong advertising - candidates should think in the same way. Getting hired requires a campaign, commitment and sometimes a great deal of thought. But it's worth it. The more you stand out, the more likely you are to get an interview, and, hopefully, a job. What's more, you can put yourself into a better bargaining position in terms of salary, benefits and future opportunities.    

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