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Presenting Yourself for a Job

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If you have not yet prepared an up-to-date CV, sit down with a piece of paper and describe your current, or most recent, job. If you do already have a CV containing that description, get it out and take a look at it. What does it highlight?

  • Your duties?
  • Your skills?
  • Your strengths?


  • Your achievements?
Far too many people think only in terms of duties. The more aware list achievements, which you will highlight when you prepare your CV. Right now, though, we need to make a comprehensive list of absolutely everything you have to sell, rather than concentrating on just one or two aspects. Take a fresh piece of paper then and, thinking not just about your current or last job, nor even about your entire career to date, but about every aspect of your life, including business, community, social and leisure activities, list out absolutely all of your:
  • qualifications;

  • experience;

  • achievements;

  • skills;

  • personal strengths;

  • ways in which you have developed over the years;

  • any other assets, e.g. business and personal contacts, which could be of value to a potential employer.
You should not have had any trouble with your qualifications. You either have the relevant examination passes, membership of professional institutes and so on which give you the credentials that people look for in your particular discipline and business sector, or you do not. If you do not, you may wish to consider obtaining them but, unless this is a relatively simple matter, like completing the last section of a qualification, it is not going to help you this time around and should be put to one side while you concentrate on those assets which are going to get you your next job.

Experience has two aspects to it -- what you have done and where you have done it. The "where' part, which covers both the type of business (e.g. manufacturing or service industry, nature of product or service), and the size and kind of organization (partnership, family-owned business, public quoted company, subsidiary of overseas group etc.), should not take you too long to write down.

Listing out the duties or tasks you have performed in the various posts you have held may be somewhat more time-consuming, especially for those whose careers run into decades rather than just years. Even so, be thorough and do not forget to write down what you have done outside work as well. You never know when it might be just what is required to plug an otherwise awkward gap. For example, a job you are competing for may call for experience of committee work. Even if you have had no exposure to committees in your business capacity, you may well serve on one in connection with a sporting or a voluntary organization.

Did achievements give you more of a problem? Then ask yourself why. If you are simply feeling too depressed about the whole job search to be able to think of what your successes have been over the years, that is a situation which needs tackling right away.

If, on the other hand, modesty is the problem, it is time you got something straight. While, in the UK at any rate, overblown hype may do more to lose you a job than win it, you will do yourself even more damage by being too modest. So try again. Think of every accomplishment that has given you a glow of pride, however small. Do not confine yourself purely to your career. Consider every aspect of your life. Remember that, in an interview situation, for example, responses to questions about your skills and personal attributes can often be strengthened by bringing in illustrations drawn from outside the working environment, such as community or sporting activities.

Talking of which, when you move down to the next couple of items on the list, skills and strengths, analyze your achievements to see which aptitudes and personal qualities contributed to the successes in question. You should be able to make some useful additions to your lists.

In the case of skills, it is also worth going back to your experience listing, to check what aptitudes were called for by the various tasks you carried out. The majority of job seekers undersell themselves on skills. Have you, for example, included all the following?
  • People skills

  • Advising

  • Counseling

  • Interviewing

  • Managing

  • Mediating

  • Motivating

  • Persuading- -training

  • Communication skills

  • Drafting reports

  • Reviewing and editing reports

  • Servicing meetings: agendas and minutes

  • Writing promotional material, newsletters, brochures etc.

  • Oral presentations to meetings

  • Public speaking

  • Foreign languages
And so on for:
  • Analytical skills

  • Computer skills

  • Negotiating skills

  • Numerical skills

  • Organizational skills

  • Planning skills
And do not forget those skills which, because only a minority of executives exhibit any great proficiency in them, tend to be at a real premium -- things like delegation, running meetings and, most important of all, developing new business.

If people tend to short-change themselves on skills, they are liable to be ten times worse when it comes to personal strengths. Is your list a bit thin? Then go back to your achievements and give some thought to just what it was that made the difference between success and failure. Even if you decide that Lady Luck played a big part in a particular accomplishment, explore the situation further - you may well find that you made a substantial part of your own apparent good luck by qualities like persistence or opportunism.

The next heading -- the ways in which you have developed --follows naturally on from your strengths. Some of the qualities you have will have come to you via your parents' genes or will already have been acquired by the time you started out on your career. Others will have been developed as you have climbed the career ladder and it is these which a professional recruiter will home in on.

To take an example from the world of accountancy, a financial accountant needs qualities like accuracy, thoroughness and honesty. Progression up the ladder to the position of financial controller will call for different strengths, such as the ability to analyze and interpret the figures, to make forecasts, and to communicate with non-accountants in a way that enables them to understand the relevance of the information. Further progress to the post of finance director will call for the development of vision in order to contribute to the formulation of strategies and policies, and also for the ability to negotiate with financial institutions in order to raise capital for the business.

While each discipline will have its own requirements in terms of personal development, there are certain strengths which ought to be fundamental to virtually any managerial role. Communication skills, staff selection and motivation, delegation, time management, conceptual thinking, and the effective use of meetings all figure prominently in the successful executive's toolkit.

So too, if you really want to get to the top, does business development. That is why the last question on the list was about your contacts. Not just those you have made in the course of your job. List every useful contact you have. Chambers of commerce, Round Table and Rotary, golf and squash club, church, voluntary work, boards of school governors and many other organizations are all fertile ground for meeting people who could be useful either directly or, because they can put you in touch with other people they know, indirectly.

From famine to feast

If you started off by worrying that you did not have much to offer to potential employers, you may now be thinking that you have the opposite problem. So, what are you going to do with all this enormous amount of information?

The short answer is, 'Be selective'. Compiling a comprehensive register of all your assets is a bit like putting together a complete wardrobe. Instead of trying to adapt one somewhat inadequate outfit to suit every occasion from a formal dinner to a day out in the country, and from going to the office to spending the evening in a disco, you can choose on each occasion those items which exactly fit the bill. You will be referring to your asset register every time you:
  • applies to a job advertisement;

  • gets a call from a headhunted

  • speaks to a network contact;

  • makes a speculative application;

  • edits your CV:

  • writes a covering letter to accompany it;

  • prepare for an interview.
Right now, though, you are going to use it to deal with a couple of the best-known acronyms in the marketing dictionary - USPs and the SWOT analysis.

Not quite unique

USPs -- unique selling propositions - are much loved by marketing people and with good reason. They are what differentiates one particular product or service from all its competitors. And, when you come to think about it, it is not easy to get wildly enthusiastic about promoting a product if you cannot for the life of you see how it is superior to or different from all of the competitive products with which the market is saturated; which, of course, is where the relevance of USPs to your personal marketing campaign comes in. If you are one of three hundred respondents to an advertisement, or one of a hundred people on a headhunter's target candidate list for a job, you need something to make you stand out. The odds may be shorter when you are networking, but the principle is just the same. You have got to smack someone right between the eyes with whatever it is that makes you just right for them. If you do not know what that is, you can hardly expect there to be very much chance of them ever spotting it.

A lot of job seekers suddenly feel rather flat at this point. They really cannot see what they have that other people do not. Maybe the problem lies in the terminology. In reality unique selling propositions are rarely, if ever, truly unique. That is just marketing hype. Different selling propositions would be more accurate, but that would not sound nearly so impressive, would it?

So, forget about the word 'unique' and, for the moment at any rate, think in terms of what makes you different. Do you speak a foreign language? All right, you may not be the only executive in your field who does but, given the appalling lack of linguistic ability, especially among British managers, it probably differentiates you from nine out of ten of your competitors. What else? Are you a wizard on spreadsheets? Have you taken the trouble to acquire a detailed knowledge of the legal issues relating to the business you work in? Or the tax implications?

Go back to your asset register. Look at the business sector(s) in which you have years of experience. Do the same for the types of organization. Now add some personal strengths. They do not necessarily have to be the sexy, glamorous ones like being a dynamic, entrepreneurial innovator. Apart from being grossly overworked, and 90 per cent pure hype, these attributes are not by any means always the ones employers actually want. If they are looking for a safe pair of hands, reliability may be far more important.

Finally, take just one more look at your asset register and put the icing on the gingerbread by adding in a few carefully selected achievements which demonstrate how highly effectively you have put your special qualities to work to add value to the organization which has the good fortune to employ you.

Is it beginning to come into focus? Are you starting to see just how different you are? In fact, you are more than just different. Selling propositions may not be unique, but you are. When it comes to your personal marketing campaign, try thinking of USP not as a unique selling proposition, but as a uniquely saleable person.

The other acronym

Defining the qualities which make you unique - and saleable -has, in effect, dealt with the first part of your SWOT analysis. In order to plan an effective campaign, marketing people look at strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Being an optimistic breed, they do not dwell too much on weaknesses, but they do appreciate the importance of being aware of their product's shortcomings and so, without getting depressed about it, should you be aware of your weaknesses.

There are two things you can do about them. One is to overcome them. If you are aware that your lack of ability in anything from the latest computer application to making presentations at meetings is putting you at a competitive disadvantage in the job stakes, you can very easily acquire that ability by going on a course, teaching yourself or whatever.

If the weakness is something you cannot readily overcome, perhaps an ingrained character trait, then the positive way to deal with it is simply not to waste time applying for jobs where that is an insuperable obstacle - which brings us on to the question of targeting.

It also leads naturally into the second half of the SWOT analysis. If you are either out of work already, or afraid that you soon might be, you will be all too aware of the threats - things like delayering and decentralization. If you had had the foresight to have carried out this kind of analysis earlier on, you might have anticipated the problem and taken evasive action.

In the future, of course, you will - won't you? But what about this time? That is where the opportunities part of the SWOT analysis comes in.
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