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THE SHINING *STAR*

Professional interviewers use a technique called behavioural-based interviewing. The principle is that the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour.

That’s why interviewers don’t ask hypothetical questions – ‘given this situation, what would you do?’. They ask behavioural questions ‘describe a time when you were faced with this situation, what DID you do?’

The best kind of answers are called STAR stories:

Situation
Task
Action
Result

Now, there is plenty of information online about what a STAR story is, and how you should put it together. Here is just one good example. https://www.michaelpage.ae/career-centre/job-interview-tips/use-the-star-technique-for-difficult-interview-questions

But you want more than just a STAR story. To be successful in your interview, you want a SHINING STAR story. In this post, I want to talk about two key tips to help get you there.

Firstly. Great STAR stories are prepared in advance. They’re practiced and tested. The interview is the last place you want to be seeking inspiration. Lots of people will tell you that much. What most people don’t tell you is that you are allowed to write down your notes, and bring them to the interview. As long as you just use them for reference, and don’t just mechanically read from your notes, then they can be a great help.

Because an interview is about behaviour. When you bring notes to an interview with me, what does that tell me? Does it say that you’re less capable because you need notes – of course not! It tells me that you care enough to prepare for the interview, that you’re analytical and methodical, and that when I ask you a question then you have the means and ability to have the needed information at your fingertips. And if you do that in the interview, I can at least hope that you’ll do the same when you work for me.

Secondly. When you prepare and/or relate your STAR story, remember that I’m less interested in the story itself than I am in the behaviours that it demonstrates. So be very careful to consider the subtext. Consider the story from my point of view.

So let’s say that I ask you to describe a situation where you disagreed with a colleague or project partner, and how you handled it. I don’t really care what story you tell. I’m listening for the behavioural markers in your response – the social cues, your ability to work through a problem (not just capitulating, and not just forcing your own way), any ‘red flags’ of aggression, or of holding grudges, etcetera.

When you plan your response, don’t just pay attention to what you want to say. Focus on what you want me to hear. That’s how you make your STAR story shine.

 

I publish a (semi) regular column on the DCS Technical website and facebook page, and various social media. The RACI Young Chemists group has also created a YouTube channel for career advice videos. Get involved. Your network is your greatest opportunity to advance your career.

THE FIRST CALL: TAKING THE INITIATIVE

The recruitment process is substantially based on candidate behaviour. The theory is that the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour. So rather than telling the prospective employer that they’ll be great for the job, the truly stand-out candidate shows their behaviour.

The best application I ever received came from a candidate applying for a research chemist position. This candidate called me to discuss the position, opening with “Mr Sammut, I’m very interested in the advertised position. Do you have a few minutes to talk with me about it?” – showing me that he had an awareness of the pressures on my time. We had a ten minute chat, during which he showed me that he had good communications, both to listen and to express himself. So far so good.

The truly exceptional part came next. Three days later, he called me back: “I was really interested in the information we discussed. I made some notes, and then I went to the library to do some more research, and now I’d like to ask some more technical questions about the work.” That candidate had the job before he ever walked through the door for an interview. He demonstrated by his behaviour that he had the traits needed for success in the role – he wanted THIS job enough to put in the proper effort to secure it; he could communicate; and, most importantly, research was in his blood.

At a recent UTS careers event, I met a keen young scientist who asked me “what kind of topics would you speak about to an employer over the phone?” That’s a bloody good question.
(Note that for the purposes of this post, I’m assuming that you are calling the employer to follow up after applying, rather than having them call you for a phone interview).

Firstly, DO YOUR RESEARCH. You should never submit a resume & cover letter in the first place without thoroughly researching the job ad or position description, the contact identified in the job ad, the company – everything that your network and the internet can tell you that will give you an advantage over the thronging crowd of other applicants. If you haven’t done a minimum of 4 hours research just to prepare the application, you haven’t done enough.

And remember, five good applications will succeed where a thousand rubbish applications will fail. More effort on one application means less effort overall.

Next, prepare yourself for the call. Find somewhere quiet. Get rid of all distractions. Have your notes in front of you, and the means to take more notes during the conversation. Then make the call standing up – as silly as it sounds, it makes you sound more dynamic and energetic.

Ask whether the person has time to talk. If not, ask if there might be another time which is more convenient.

The conversation should be guided by your research and the responses you are getting, but here are some conversation prompts:
• A great way to start is to say: “I read the job ad, and I’ve done some research, now I’d like to ask some more detail about the role.”
• “What is a typical working day in this role?”
• “How big is the team interacting with this role?”
• “Is this a new role, or replacing an existing person?” Assuming the latter, then rather than asking “why did they leave?” I prefer something like “What traits made the last person successful in the role?”. If they were great, you know what the employer will be looking for again. If not, then you know why they left, and you’ve already established yourself as being likely to be better.
• “How does the company measure the value created by this role?”
• “What traits will your ideal candidate show?”
• “How would you describe the corporate culture?”
• “What can I tell you about myself (that you can’t see in my resume)?”

Remember to take your time to actually listen and engage with the responses, and let the conversation develop organically. But remember to respect the interviewer’s time. Most importantly, show your enthusiasm. If you like what you’re hearing, SAY SO!
And then when the conversation is done, make your notes. Send a note of thanks for their time. And do your further research – follow up on what you’ve learned, so that you can extend your advantage.

Here are a couple of relevant links you might find useful:
https://www.thebalance.com/phone-interview-questions-to-ask…
https://theinterviewguys.com/phone-interview-tips/

I publish a (semi) regular column on the DCS Technical website and facebook page, and various social media. The RACI Young Chemists group has also created a YouTube channel for career advice videos.

Get involved. Your network is your greatest opportunity to advance your career.

THE KEY TO INTERVIEW SUCCESS – BE ‘UNAUSTRALIAN’

Self-deprecation. It’s a core Australian value. When it comes to our strengths and achievements, we’re just not accustomed to the idea of putting ourselves forward.

So it’s little wonder that so many of us are ill-prepared for the interview situation, because that’s the one time in our life when standing up and saying ‘I’m awesome’ is a good thing… up to a point.

Now, the fundamental point in recruitment is that you need to SHOW the employer/recruiter what makes you the most suitable candidate for this job, not just TELL them. So you’re not just going to walk in and boast loudly about how great you are. You’re going to come armed with relevant examples that you’ve prepared during your research for this interview.

One question I like to ask every candidate is “I’ve had a hundred applications for this job (at least). What makes you special?” Critically, there’s no ‘right’ answer. All I’m looking for is a little self-awareness from you. Because there IS something about you that makes you special. Maybe you’re smart. Maybe you’re great with people. Maybe you think outside the box. Maybe you have great attention to detail. And maybe (rarely), you have the ability to think beyond today to the challenges and opportunities still to come.

It doesn’t matter who you are or what your background. Each of you reading this article DOES have something that makes you special, a different set of stripes so that I can tell you apart from the herd.

A key point is that you don’t have to wait for the employer to ask the question. The interview is your opportunity to stand out from the crowd. You are ALLOWED to stand up (metaphorically) and say: “These are the reasons that I want to work for you, and THESE are the reasons why I think that I’m the best candidate for the job.”

So if you want to be successful in an interview, do your thorough preparation. Go into the interview confident (not arrogant). Drop your natural Australian humility, and show the interviewer what makes you special.

 

I publish a (semi) regular column on the DCS Technical website and facebook page, and various social media. The RACI Young Chemists group has also created a YouTube channel for career advice videos. Get involved. Your network is your greatest opportunity to advance your career.

MONEY: THE HARD QUESTION

We spend way too much time at work not to love what we do. And while I sincerely love my work, the day my lottery investment plan comes off, there will be a thunderclap as the displaced air rushes in to fill the space I just vacated.

No matter how much passion we have for our job, we turn up for the money.

So it’s natural and necessary that when we look for a job, the salary is one important factor in the assessment. The salary on offer and the salary expectation have to be a good match, or the resulting situation is going to be unstable.

From the Candidate’s Perspective:

Recent news reported an extraordinary situation where a candidate had an interview lined up, but the interview was cancelled when she made a polite text enquiry about the remuneration. According to the report, the HR representative for the company responded: “As a start-up company, we seek out those who go out of their way to seek out challenges and new opportunities. We believe in hard work and perseverance in pursuit of company goals as opposed to focusing on compensation.” Needless to say, the universal response was that this response was ridiculous, and the company very quickly backed down.

Now, that’s an extreme case, but most people would agree that the remuneration question is fraught with peril. It’s an important issue, which needs to be handled delicately and with discretion.

In an ideal scenario, the company would provide guidance on the salary range as part of the job offering. When they elect not to do so, the candidate certainly has the ability to ask, but I wouldn’t do it by email or text. I would ask during a conversation with the relevant person. And I would make a judgement about the right time to ask – it certainly wouldn’t be my first question.

Asking about salary should be a ‘natural’ part of the conversation: What is the job about? Why would I be a good fit for the role? Why would it be a good fit for me (including salary)? That’s a condensed summary, but it’s also more or less the right order of priorities.

From the Employer’s Perspective:

It’s common enough for an employer to ask about your current salary. That’s reasonable: the employer needs to know that if they employ you, you are going to stay and make their investment in you worthwhile. There is no point in employing someone who was earning significantly more in their last job, knowing that they probably still want that kind of money.

But it has to be acknowledged that the recruitment process inherently involves a power imbalance. And when an employer asks you your current salary, they might legitimately need to know that your salary expectations meet the money on offer… but somewhere in the back of their head they’re also aware that if your figure is lower that what they had in mind, they can probably save some cash.

As an employer, I am less interested in a candidate’s current salary than I am in their salary expectation. And that probably dovetails pretty well with the advice offered by Wahib Saad of Evolve Scientific Recruitment, who said “…use you current salary (plus a few thousand if the role is a step up) as your absolute minimum and make them aware that this is the salary you are currently on. Most employers would then understand that you would not accept a new role for the same amount or less.”

The situation is a little different when the role is you first job. You’re much more vulnerable – much more beholden to more or less take the money on offer. But it doesn’t have to be all the employer’s way. Both Wahib and I would offer the same advice: do your research. Go online. Talk to your university, your alumni association, your professional association. Develop an understanding of the market, and this can help inform whether the remuneration on offer is fair.

Having said that, at the graduate level your priority should be on the role itself. What opportunity will you have to learn and grow.
Over the course of this year, I will be publishing a regular column on the DCS Technical website and facebook page, the RACI NSW newsletter and various social media. Supporting this, the RACI Young Chemists group has recently created a YouTube channel for career advice videos.
(Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net and image creator “patpitchaya”)

Networking: A Deep Breath and ‘GO’

In a recent post, I talked about the importance of developing your network, even while you are still at uni. Your network is more likely to turn up a job opportunity than any job ad.

There are lots of opportunities to network. The RACI has some sort of event a couple of times a month in general – perfect opportunities for young chemists to get out there and start growing their network.

But how do you walk into a room full of strangers and start making quality connections? For most of us, the idea is daunting. For the inexperienced, the idea can be simply terrifying.

The best way I find: break the task down.

Firstly, it’s important to remember that most of the people came to the event with the same goal as you: to network. They want to talk to you. At RACI events, our members recognise the importance of supporting the next generation of young scientists, and they’re going to make every effort to make you feel welcome.

Secondly, it’s also important to remember that everyone in that room is a person, just like you. They have the same foibles, the same insecurities as you do. Many of us in the scientific community aren’t ‘alpha’ personalities. Plenty of us are shy, or just a little unsure of ourselves. So if you walk into a room feeling those same feelings, you aren’t alone. We’re all in this together, and we’re all going to get through it together.

So, difficult as it might be, the first secret is: ‘Just take a deep breath, and GO’. Like any chemical reaction, it’s just a matter of overcoming the activation energy, and then the reaction will proceed for itself.

The next big tip is choosing who to talk to. An easy first choice is to talk to the event organiser. They will know most of the people in the room, and they want you to have a great event (so that you keep coming back). So you can ask them who you should be speaking to. They’ll probably even introduce you.

If there are exhibitors, they are another really good choice. They actively want to talk to you, and as salespeople they have substantive networks. When you build your relationship with salespeople, you get access to a huge ‘grapevine’ of information about job opportunities, and they get assurance that there will be a willing ear next time they want to spruik their wares. For the bonus points, don’t approach the exhibitors during the breaks when they’re busy, skip the sessions and circulate among the exhibitors when they’re bored, with all the time in the world to talk.

 

Next time: What to talk about, and making the most of your new contacts.

 

Over the course of this year, I will be publishing a regular column on the DCS Technical website and facebook page, the RACI NSW newsletter and various social media. Supporting this, the RACI Young Chemists group has recently created a YouTube channel for career advice videos.

Prime Time

The year 2017 is a prime number, the first since 2011. And the beginning of the university year – particularly for students who will be graduating by the end of the year – is the perfect time to start planning your future job search.

There is no doubt that the job market right now is tough, and there is no reason to expect that it will improve markedly over the year to come. But what most people don’t properly understand is that you can find a good job, regardless of whether the market is good or bad – IF you know what you are doing. If you know how the system works.

Getting a job is a lot like running from a lion. You don’t have to be the fastest runner or the top student. You just have to be faster than the person next to you.

 

Lesson #1: Your Network is Your Greatest Business Asset

Even at the graduate level, a candidate’s network is the most likely way that they will find a job, and this only grows with time. So now, right at the beginning of your year, is the time to start actively working on your professional network.

And more than just job opportunities, your network represents a trusted source of information when it comes to making business decisions. In a world with an excess of choices, your network is a cache of experience that can help lead you in the right direction.

So who is your network?

  • Your peers at university
  • The academics at your university
  • Your professional societies
  • Your work colleagues
  • Established professionals that you meet at events

The Royal Australian Chemical Institute (www.raci.org.au) has over 4,000 members. We are eager to help get you started in your career, but to do that we have to know who you are. Come to meetings. Come to events. Choose ‘target rich’ opportunities where you can interact with people in your preferred field, or if you just aren’t sure then come to a variety of events and use the opportunity to talk to different people about their career experiences.

Next time: How to Network – the tips and tricks on how to walk into a room full of strangers, make contacts and make the most of every opportunity.

 

Over the course of this year, I will be publishing a regular column on the DCS Technical website and facebook page, the RACI NSW newsletter and various social media. Supporting this, the RACI Young Chemists group has recently created a YouTube channel for career advice videos.

THE INTERVIEW: YOUR QUESTIONS

At the end of every good interview, the interviewer is going to ask: “Do you have any questions for us.”
 
It looks bad if your answer is a lame-duck ‘no’.
 
By this point in the interview, I would hope that you have a pretty good idea about what is involved in the job. But up to this point, most of the discussion has probably been the interviewer asking questions of you. Now you’ve got your chance to steer the conversation in the direction you want to go.
 
So what’s a good question to ask?
 
* What are good measures for performance in this job?
 
* What particular actions or traits could I exhibit to deliver an outstanding performance in this role?
 
* I’m keen, so I’ve been doing my research before this interview. How is the company addressing this [industry challenge]?
 
Any of these types of questions show that you are already putting yourself mentally into this role, and thinking about how you can do it REALLY WELL.
 
* Why did the last person leave this role?
 
* How many people are you interviewing for this role?
 
* What is the procedure from here?
 
Approached carefully and politely, these sorts of questions show that you are  are also evaluating this company as a potential employer. Interviews are a two-way street. The company wants to know that if you take the job you are going to stay and reward their investment in you. So they won’t mind polite (non-aggressive) questions that show you that when you join them, you’ll stay.
 
Of course, its always a great idea to also follow up with positive remarks about the company and your enthusiasm.
 
But NOT – What is the salary / benefits?
 
Assuming this is a first interview, then you should have already either determined the salary before the interview or the employer should have discussed it during the interview. If it hasn’t come up by ‘question time’, then this is not the time to raise the issue.
 
This part of the interview isn’t the time to sound mercenary or self-serving.
 
My particular favourite is to ask a question or two, then switch to a statement. As a candidate, I would always find an opportunity to say something like “You’ve asked some excellent questions about me, but I’d also like to tell you something about myself that may distinguish me from other candidates. I have [this particular characteristic], and I think that this would serve me very well in the role.”. You might follow with examples that demonstrate the behaviour/trait in action, and how it has benefited your work in the past.
 
 

Resume Mistakes

When I was working in recruitment, I saw my fair share of weird and ridiculous resumes. At its worst, a candidate included a photo of herself on her resume in which she was naked (!), face-down on a persian rug, with her legs curled behind her. It showed extraordinarily poor judgement, and not only did I reject her for the role, but I made a note in my system to ignore any future applications from her.

I generally recommend against putting a photo on your resume. It just invites the viewer to make pre-judgements about you, many of which could be unfair.

But far more important in your resume, it should:

* Be easy to read
* Be succinct
* Have your contact details easily at hand, with a PROFESSIONAL email address (not ‘Hornydog54@xmail.com’)
* Be ERROR-FREE
* Be truthful

I’ve spoken multiple times about Behavioural-Based Interviewing in recruitment. The best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour.

You’ve written your resume on a computer. That computer has a spell-checker. If you haven’t bothered to use it, that tells me all I need to know about you.

If you submit a resume that is unclear, full of errors and/or includes outright lies, then as an employer I should expect that these are the traits that you will display in the job. And I have never, ever, advertised a position for a ‘garbled, sloppy liar’.

The issue of truth is one that I cannot stress enough. A startling proportion of candidates exaggerate, embellish or outright lie, either to cover aspects of their background or to try to be what they think the employer wants.

But we live in a digital world. It was easy enough to spot lies before the internet. Now it is a trivial exercise, and you can be sure that a professional recruiter or employer has enough experience with being lied to that they recognise it when they see it, and they deeply resent it.

Most importantly, each resume you submit should be individual, and carefully tailored for that particular job. Carefully analyse the job ad. Do your research on the job and that company. Include and emphasise the information that is relevant to this particular application. If you haven’t spent 4 hours preparing that one application, you haven’t spent enough.

And remember: 5 good applications are better than 100 rubbish ones.
Here is are a couple of articles on the topic: Business Insider, Seek

CHOOSING AN HONOURS PROJECT

So you’ve decided to come back to uni next year to do Honours. But how do you choose a topic for your Honours project?

The first issue to consider is that most employers don’t care at all about what you study in your project. We barely care that you’ve done Honours. Most Honours theses aren’t worth the paper they’re written on, just like most PhD theses are so minutely arcane that they will have zero relevance to the vast body of employers.

So from a career perspective, the key issue is that choosing to undertake an Honours project is that it (a) gives you some exposure to literature searching and self-directed research, and (b) gives you the opportunity to develop some basic skills that may be useful in the workplace. The value isn’t what you study, but how you study it and what you learn from the experience.

I can’t possibly tell you what to study, but I can tell you how to choose:

1. Pick a topic that genuinely interests you.

Passion and drive are two of the key characteristics that employers most look for in graduates. The ability to talk with passion and enthusiasm about your project topic is of much more importance to the employer than the topic you are discussing.

2. Make sure that you can clearly articulate what you are trying to achieve in the project, and how you are going to achieve it.

A fundamental problem for students is that many of the topics they are presented with are barely more developed than a title. The academic has no clear idea of what they want from the project, and if the academic doesn’t know, how is the student supposed to know?

For the purposes of study, your success will come much more easily if you and your supervisor clearly understand the nature, scope and method of the project.

For the purposes of employment, you need to be able to clearly articulate the project, its outcomes, and what you learned. The ability to communicate clearly and succinctly will be one of the major factors by which any candidate is judged for employment purposes.

So ‘start as you mean to go on’. If you can’t describe it now, don’t just hope that you will be able to do so later.

3. Choose a supervisor with whom you have a good working relationship and who is not too busy to deal with you.

When I did my Honours, my supervisor was Head of School. A great and inspirational man, I idolised him and couldn’t think of anyone better. But through no fault of his own, he didn’t have the time for me that I needed, and my project suffered. To this day, I don’t know whether my Honours project conclusion was sheer genius, or so obvious that nobody had bothered to write about it before. Probably the latter.
Ultimately, beyond the sheer joy of research science, your Honours year is substantially about increasing your employability. But it isn’t the project itself that achieves that end. It is the lessons that you learn that you can articulate, and the behaviours that you demonstrate.

Remember: The best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour. Employers want you to show them about yourself, not tell them.

This is only the beginning

It’s very tempting to think of your first professional job as the deal-maker that is going to make or break the entire career that follows. But really, that’s only the beginning of the story.
 
Your first job, in the story of your career, is only the first line – “Once upon a time there was a young scientist called [x]”. In reality, not are you almost certain to have a good many jobs over the years to come, but you will almost certainly have several different careers. And along the way, you’re probably going to have multiple unexpected changes – redundancies, restructures, and so forth.
 
The days of working your way up with one company from stock room to gold watch are long gone. Companies no longer look first to ‘hire from within’. And you’re probably going to have to shift companies multiple times as you leapfrog your way through your career(s).
 
The message for this post is: Be prepared for the changes that are going to happen throughout your career. Embrace the fluidity. Change is an inherent part of life, and its going to happen to you whether you want it to or not. So you might as well enjoy the ride.
 
Here is an interesting article from Seek. Bernard Salt is wrong that YOLO is a Gen Y invention (it actually dates back at least a two millennia to the Romans, and maybe further), but in the rest he’s got some great points.
 
 

The Power of Yes

The best job I ever had (before I started my own business) happened by accident. I fell into a ‘hole’ in a company restructure, where I had plenty of interesting work to do, but no official role or responsibilities. That job opened my eyes, because as long as it lasted, anybody could come to me at any time and say ‘Dave, can you help with this?’, and the answer was yes.

I had time to look around me to view the company’s needs, then to volunteer to do something about them. And I had time to think strategically about what the company would need six months out, then be prepared for that. I volunteered to serve wherever the company had a need and I had the skill, and in doing so my standing increased rapidly.

It was an enormously successful, enjoyable role, and it only ended because ‘Yes’ was so powerful that I was quickly promoted. But I learned the lesson well. I carried ‘Yes’ into the rest of my career, and I have prospered because of it.

Now that part of ‘yes’ is true for everybody. But there is a second usage that is specific to us. As scientists, we are trained to critically examine any new idea. The scientific method literally works by disproving an hypothesis. A theory doesn’t become a law until a great many minds have failed to disprove it. So we are naturally inclined, when presented a new idea, to hold it up to the light and look for holes.

But the workplace doesn’t work that way. In the workplace, we need to cherish ideas, to blow carefully on the embers and grow the flame. So use your ‘Yes’. “Yes, that’s a great idea. Could we make it even better this way?” “Yes, let’s look at that idea more closely.” That simple act of positivity can make a huge difference to how we are perceived in the workplace, to be either a team worker or a speed bump.

This is my advice to any young scientist: put all of your positivity into your career. Be open to opportunities to lean and grow. Use your ears indiscriminately, but only open your mouth to start your sentence with ‘Yes’. You’ll be amazed at how far that can take you.

RACI Mentoring Programme 2017 – Applications Open

The advantages and benefits of mentoring are abundantly clear, both for the mentee and the mentor. The Royal Australian Chemical Institute (www.raci.org.au) runs a small mentoring programme concept, with extremely successful results. Both the mentor and the mentees report an extremely positive experience, particularly in job-readiness and tangible outcomes (professional network and job interviews versus other graduates).

The RACI NSW Branch has up to ten spaces available in the 2017 Mentoring Programme for young scientists keen to develop industrial / commercial careers. The programme involves:

  • Regular guidance and support (every few weeks), typically via calls and occasional casual meetings.
  • Support in developing professional networks, as example through facilitated networking (the mentor generally introducing the mentees to RACI contacts and helping include the young scientists in conversations at RACI events).
  • Career support & advice.
  • Advice and support throughout the process of finding a first job.

To read more about the RACI Mentoring Programme 2017, click here

Interview Success

Let’s start with the positive. If you are a recent graduate and you have scored an interview for a career position, then regardless of the interview ‘success’, you have ALREADY WON. Within a few interviews, you can feel confident that you will be gainfully employed.

Now, there is plenty of good advice about how to conduct an interview, what to do, what to say, and what not to say. I spend at least half an hour discussing this in the RACI “Understanding the Job Market” video series.

But that’s not what I wanted to talk about in this post. Let’s talk about what happens when you DON’T get the job.

I find it curious that of the many, many interviews I have conducted, I have only twice ever had a candidate ask for feedback.

From my perspective, if you have taken the trouble to apply for a job with me, you deserve a response. That is only professional courtesy. If you have actually come to meet with me, then you deserve the opportunity to get constructive criticism.

Of course, that means that you have to be open to constructive criticism. If I sense the slightest hostility or defensiveness, then I’m obviously going to have to clam up.

Giving a good interview is a skill. It’s one you can practice. And it’s a skill that you can hone. Why not consider asking how?

Here is an interesting LinkedIn post about reasons you may not have got the job:

It’s Not About You

In the RACI “Understanding the Job Market” webinar series, I talk about how the job search process is business, not personal. To be successful in finding a job quickly, it helps to think of yourself as a business asset, and then put yourself forward the way that you would any business proposition.

In a similar way, your language is important in your cover letter. As strange as it sounds, your cover letter should not be about you.

Your cover letter should contain three basic items:
(1) What you like about this particular position
(2) (Based on your research) Why you want to work for this company; and
(3) Your demonstrated skills as required by the position.

Your cover letter should not just repeat you resume. Instead, it is an opportunity to show what makes you unique, and it is an opportunity to show that you want this job enough to have done your research properly.

Particularly if you are a young graduate, we all know the stereotypes about the ‘Me’ Generation. If you are smart and careful, you don’t have to fall prey to those stereotypes, and in doing so it becomes easier to set yourself apart from the crowd.

The subtleties of language are important. Make your statements relatable to the company, not yourself. As example “I would be keen to bring my skills and experience to this role. From my research and network contacts, [Company] sounds like an exciting and collegiate environment” is outward-focused. Compare that to “I think this would be a great job for me. I have the skills needed, and the opportunity could help me develop really good experience.”

Then carry that mindset forward into the language you use in interviews. Remember – you are selling yourself as a business asset. So help the employer see what THEY are going to get out of their investment in YOU.

This is business, not personal. It’s not about you.

The Value of Your Degree

There have been multiple articles in the news of late, with the basic premise that the job/education market is changing. There has been an evolution from the idea that every student should have the OPPORTUNITY to go to university, across to the idea that every student NEEDS to go to university.

To some, education has then become an arms race. The trades have been devalued (regardless of truly important role they play in society). And undergraduate degrees have become similarly devalued, becoming a pre-requisite for many jobs rather than an advantage.

There are those who would argue that the very nature of degrees have changed. They say that in the old days, the purpose of a degree was to hone THINKINg skills, and now they are just an extension of the rote learning and memory that characterises the school years: Knowledge without Understanding.

Now, I’m not sure I agree with that position, but I do agree that an undergraduate degree is not the automatic ticket to success that it once was. And I worry that many students are spending years and fortunes in education for degrees that they may never use.

I also worry that, in a country with such a strong ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’, and with such an evident bias against PhDs in commerce & industry (as opposed to academia) that simply doesn’t exist in countries like the USA, then our local students are slowly being squeezed betwen “too little” and “too much” education.

The solution: If you are doing a degree, make the most of it. Use the time at university to make yourself the most well-rounded future job candidate that you can be. More than just concentrating on your academic results, take time for preparing yourself for the workforce:

* Build your networks – through your univeristy and professional societies
* Build your experience
* Take part in your univeristy’s full range of activities. More than academeia, get involved.
* Learn how the job market works. As example, the RACI’s “Understanding the Job Market” video series is freely available here,

Here’s a recent new article about the problem. What are your thoughts?
 

Keeping Up Appearances

Tattoos. They are a divisive topic for some. To us old fogeys, it seems that every second young person (quite oblivious to the irony) is declaring their individuality by getting a tattoo.

As long as I can’t see it, then it makes no difference to me whether you have a tattoo or not. But the moment that the tattoo is visible, it can become a problem.

Consider these issues:

* Your visible tattoo is making a public statement. That was why you got it in the first place. It declares a message to the world, and it challenges the world to make a judgement about you. But you have no control over what that judgement that will be.
* It doesn’t matter what you intend from the tattoo. It doesn’t matter what you think of it, whether you like it or not. The viewer will form their own opinion.
* And of course, that tattoo is basically permanent. A moment’s whim might end up being a lifetime’s mistake.

When it comes to recruitment, the key issue is that during the early ‘winnowing’ processes, the employer is not looking to INCLUDE candidates. He or she is looking for reasons to EXCLUDE candidates, to get down to a shortlist. For many potential employers, your tattoo could easily be the reason to exclude you.

The key thing is that you don’t need to agree with us fogeys. You might love tatoos, and there may well be some (rare) employers who love them too, even in a professional context (not trades or hospitality).

But I can guarantee you this. There will be not one single employer recruiting a professional role in Australia who will employ you BECAUSE you have a visible tattoo. There will be some who don’t care, and there are a significant proportion of employers who WONT employ you because of it.

And I note that it is legal in Australia to discriminate against a person for having a tattoo, with some exceptions for cultural/racial markings.

So your visible tattoo definitely won’t help you, and it could very easily hinder your job search. And that’s worth thinking about.

The following article presents another discussion of the topic.

http://www.hrmonline.com.au/…/tattoos-in-the-workplace-big…/

Your Cover Letter (Part 2)

We had a really interesting discussion on the topic of cover letters at a recent dinner for the RACI Mentoring Programme. There was a surprisingly large discrepancy in the mentors’ views towards cover letters. Some, like myself, place a much higher value on the cover letter, while others hardly read them.

So why the large difference? It became clear that it very much depends on the job. An employer whose staff were more dedicated to routine instrumental analysis placed the highest weighting on the resume – were the desired technical skills present or absent?

I sat at the opposite end of the spectrum. My employees need to be technically competent (of course), but the distinguishing feature for candidates is a somewhat less definable ‘flair’. The nature of our work requires candidates who can communicate exceptionally well, who are independent and intuitive, and while a resume can’t necessarily tell me that, the cover letter can hint at some of the skills needed for success in a role with DCS Technical – such as attention to detail and good communications.

My advice: Take the trouble to compose a really good cover letter. It won’t make any difference to those employers who focus on your resume, but with employers like me it will mean the difference between getting the interview or not.

Anti-Social Media

Today’s paper has yet another example of social media use gone wrong. An interaction between two people online led to rapid escalation – both publicly seeking to shame each other online. She ended up being harrassed by thousands of people. He lost his job. And a friend of his is facing charges after allegedly making rape threats.

Ultimately, both sides are claiming to be the victim.

This is just another demonstration of the dangers of anti-social media. Whenever you post here on Facebook or elsewhere, always remember that:
1. Your posts are ultimately out of your control.
2. Your posts will be online FOREVER.
3. Employers WILL judge you by your online presence.

Every post you make has the potential to hurt you. Every negative comment you make. Every mention of your politics. Every mention of ill-judged or intemperate behaviour.

When it comes to recruitment time, your potential employer will be looking for reasons NOT to hire you. For the employer, it is  better to eliminate you now than expose themselves to risk later on.

So don’t give them an opportunity. Use social media wisely and with caution. Don’t air your politics or you frustrations, and certainly never your hostility. Be positive and social. And don’t ever post words or pictures that you wouldn’t be willing to be judged on.

Looking for Opportunities

Here’s an interesting comment series. In the first, the author advises against putting ‘Currently Seeking Opportunities’ in your LinkedIn profile, saying that it labels you as weak or desperate.

Now I think there may be scope for discussion of that point. It could be argued that it doesn’t hurt to make your network aware that you are on the market, so that they can let you know if they hear of opporunities. After all, your network is going to be your strongest resource when it comes to locating and securing your next opportunity.

The author then follows up about the question ‘but how will recruiters find me?’. Andin this his answer is spot-on. When it comesto recruiters, you find them, and not the other way around. Unless you are a senior executive or exceptionally noted name in your field, you shouldn’t expect to benefit from recruiters approaching you.

So here are the articles: What do you think?

Linkedin – Never say ‘Looking for opportunities’

LinkedIn – Don’t expect recruiters to call you

Boosting Your Confidence

Science is one of society’s most undervalued professions. Where the nightly news will devote up to half its time to talk about the latest results of people playing little games (and often with really poor sportsmanship), its likely enough that the only mention that science will get in a week will be some negative report.

So its little wonder that many of us who grow up in the love of science, virtually without commendation or approbation, emerge into the world without that same sense of confidence enjoyed by our peers of a sporting background.

One of the great revelations to me as an adult was an understanding and acceptance of who I am – the good and the bad, that which can (or should) be improved, and that which just makes me special in my own little way.

If you are a young scientist, possibly shy or lacking in confidence, and until you find your own epiphany, I can say only this: You are your own fact of existence. Find a way to believe in yourself, and the world will believe in you.

Here is a TED talk about building confidence. Is it useful to you?

Your Cover Letter

An article from Open Colleges puts some interesting points of view forward about your cover letter. I’m not sure that I’d agree with everything said, but the whole poinit of these posts is to start a discussion.

I can tell you with certainty that when I look at a job application I START with the cover letter. I’m looking for three things:

1. Personality – a window into who you are

2. Research – evidence that you actually know what you are applying for, and who you are applying to. FFS I put my name on every job ad, and still 30% of applications will say “to whom it may concern”.

3. Errors – I can teach job skills, but I can’t teach personality and fundamental traits. I work with a very ‘hands off’ management style, so I need my staff to have great attention to detail – I can’t spend my life checking your work. So errors in your cover letter are a fast track to rejection.

Take a look at the Open Colleges article, and tell me what you think. How do you write a cover letter?

Too Unique?

Here’s a fun one. Seek has published an article on resumes that get a little too inventive.

Back when I was working in recruitment, I saw some doozies, and I discuss these a little in the RACI ‘Understanding the Job Market’ video series.

It would be fair to say that when a recruiter sits down to look at 100 ore more resumes for a job, they are not only looking to find the right person. They are also looking for a reason to EXCLUDE a candidate’s resume. They need some fast way of dropping 100 to ten or less, so they can concentrate their efforts there.

The process of ‘culling’ resumes involves both looking for the gems, and trying to pick out the ‘bad seeds’ (is that enough of a mixed metaphor?).

So a resume should show the best of you, and what makes you special. But don’t go overboard. The sliding scale of different, quirky and just bloody odd has a definite tipping point.

Tell Me About Yourself

“Tell me about yourself”

I often use this as an opening question in interviews. There’s no right and no wrong answer, but when I ask it I’m looking to see if the candidate thinks differently to the crowd.

Most candidates will just regurgitate their resume, without thinking through the point that I’ve already read that document. But the really good candidate will open up a little and tell me something out of the ordinary. It might be what they think makes them special. It might be about themselves as a whole person (not just business, but other interests). It might be about what drew them to apply for this position.

Whatever the variation in the response, the key point is that they aren’t just another carbon copy. The secret to a successful interview is standing out from the crowd… in a good way.

The Naked CEO also has an article on the same question. You might want to check it out.

Recruiters

A resource of science graduates: Recruitment companies:

The following companies all offer recruitment services in the scientific market in Australia:

Evolve Scientific
Chandler & Mcleod
Science People
TechStaff
ChemSkill
OnQ Recruitment
Fuse
Synergy Recruitment
Hays
Kelly Services

The Importance of Thinking Through the WHOLE Job Post

DCS Technical recently advertised for a new technical staff member. The nature of the duties was such that any number of candidates would have the skills to do the job. But the right candidate would have a special combination of intelligence, enthusiasm and entrepreneurism that would make them the right ‘fit’ for the company.

I finished the job ad with the words “But don’t just send me a routine application. I need that particular, ‘perfect fit’ individual who isn’t just a face in the crowd. Look me up, do your research. Then tell my why you want THIS job. Tell me what makes you special. And show me in your application that you have the skills you need to do this job well.”

This was the critical portion of the whole ad. The rest of the text was mostly just telling the candidate why they want the job. This paragraph was stating why I would want the candidate.

Think about this: I literally told the candidates outright what was most important to me. So what difference did that make?

I had a lot of applications, but less than 10% of them actually took the trouble to address this part of the ad. For the rest, either they didn’t read that far, or they didn’t pay attention. But I was paying attention, and this was a major factor in my selection among the applicants.

Now, my job ad might have been a little different from the run of the mill. But the basic lesson is true of all job ads. Every advertised position contains two sets of messages – the direct text and the subtext. The best candidates will read every job ad with an eye to both messages. They will do their research, learn about the employer and the role. They will use their networks, the internet and all of the resources they have at hand.

The best candidates will determine that they want the job at hand, and why. Then they will succinctly articulate to the employer the key attributes that they possess that give them the advantage over the other the rest of the field.

And the best candidates will be the ones that get their foot in the door.