IT (and general) Recruitment Advice for Candidates

April 22, 2010

I have recently been offered, and have accepted, a new job. When this news filtered out many people have asked me for advice about CVs, interviews, and job hunting in general. Without wishing to sound big-headed, I am good at it. I have been offered every single job I have applied for in the past 15 years. My CV is lean, neat, short & to the point, and I believe I am justified in being a little proud of it.

I decided to blog about this so I could point people at this rather having to repeat myself.

CV
First of all, let’s start with the CV. My golden rules are as follows:
1. No more than 2 sides of A4. This is non-negotiable. Any more than that is just boring. No you are not that interesting.
2. Endless lists are dull. List your technical skills, tersely, and honestly.
3. Your CV must be completely honest. Lies will only end in tears.
4. It must be grammatically perfect. Including punctuation.
5. You should not omit the word “I..”. Sentences should read like sentences. This is a descriptive document, it is not minutes from a meeting.
6. The format and layout should be simple, clean and uncluttered. Lose the fancy headers and footers. KISS. (‘keep it simple, stupid’).
7. Include a summary “Personal Profile” saying what you are like, what your soft skills are and why you’re a good person to employ. I have one in my CV and I think it does me a lot of favours.
8. Keep employment history relevant and brief. We don’t care about that casual gardening job you did when you were 16.
9. Put in something to make you sound like a human, not an automaton. Tell us you like watching telly, or going to the pub. I’m more interested in people who sound like they actually have a life outside of 9 to 5.
10. Don’t worry unduly about the minutiae – wording, etc. The facts will speak for themselves. If your CV is good – it will get you an interview. But it’s the facts on it that count – the job history, the qualifications, the personal profile.

Check out my CV here – I do genuinely think it is a good one. Or email me for a copy.

Interviews
You will probably have 2 rounds of interviews. Possibly a screening telephone interview first too. Most of the following advice is common sense, but I’m going to say it anyway!

1. Stay calm. Being a little nervous is good, it will make you sharper. However don’t get gripped by panic and fear – it won’t help you sell yourself.

2. Look good. Be clean. Wear smart clothes – suit and tie mandatory for men. Shave. Squeeze your spots. Moisturize. It will help make you feel good about yourself. Iron your shirt. Have your suit dry-cleaned.

3. DO YOUR RESEARCH. Ensure you know the following key facts about your prospective employer
- summary history of the company
- rough figures of turnover, profit, number of employees, location of offices, etc
- background or basic knowledge of their sector, services and products, and their markets
- know in advance the name(s), job role and title of the people who will be interviewing you

4. Have good quality questions ready, for example:
What makes this company a good place to work?
Who are your competitors?
Why did the incumbent leave, why have you got a vacancy?
What are the prospects for this company, is it growing, what are its threats and opportunities?

5. Do not discuss pay and benefits until you are asked about it. Do not broach it. Wait. They will come to it when they are ready. You do not want to appear to be a money-grabbing desperado.

6. Do not slag off your current employer. Explain your motivations for looking for a new job in positive terms (e.g. ‘I am looking for new challenges that I feel my current role lacks’, not ‘I am bored’.) Make sure you KNOW what your motivations are before you even start typing your CV.

7. Have examples of things ready in your mind. Be ready with examples to use in answer to these type of questions:
When have you had to work under pressure?
Give an example of having had to deal with a difficult colleague/client/boss etc.
Tell us about a piece of work you were particularly proud of.
Give us an example of something you might consider to be a weakness. And no – do NOT say you don’t have any.
Tell us about a time you felt like you were out of your depth, how did you cope?
How do you persuade someone to do something for you that they don’t want to do?
Have all this stuff ready,with meaty, relevant, fresh examples at your fingertips. Do not just say “I am hard working and well-organised.” Say, “I am hard working and well organised. A good example of this is the time I … “ Do this unprompted too, if possible – it is very impressive. They will love you.

8. Be prepared to pause. It is fine to say “let me think about that for a moment”. Use natural pauses to compose yourself. Try to come across as steady, thoughtful and composed – it’s very attractive.

9. Admit if you do not know something – do not flannel, bluff or make cr*p up on the spot – it is painfully transparent. Instead say, I don’t know that, but I know where I’d look to find out. Everyone has Google. There is no need to pretend you know everything.

10. Be respectful. Do not use first names unless explicitly told to do so. Above all – do not get flustered. Even if you feel you are struggling.

11. Do not slouch, swear, chew gum, be over-familiar, or crack too many jokes.

Technical Stuff
You will have to answer technical questions if it’s a tech role. Don’t worry if you don’t know everything. I had a screening 20-question tech interview by my recruitment consultant, before I even got anywhere near the hiring company. I didn’t know it all, but I got 16/20 and that was good enough.

In the tech interview(s), be prepared to talk about work you have done, be ready with examples of things. This is where your technical skill and knowledge will shine through. There will be open questions where you can really make yourself sound good. Tell them about the time you worked through the night to deliver a new highly-available clustered system without downtime during the working day. They will love you. But you have to come prepared. But do not worry – I repeat – no one is expected to know everything. You just have to convince them that you know enough.

Recruitment Consultants
These people need to be very carefully marshalled and I will write a whole separate post about them. They can be your friend, they can also be an almighty pain in the ar*e. They either ignore you or bombard you with calls to your mobile phone at inappropriate times during the working day – there seems to be no middle ground. Keep your personal mobile on silent during the working day – insist they deal with you via your (personal) email. Lay the rules down for them – don’t let them make rules for you. They stand to make up to £10k in commission/fees out of getting you the job – make them earn it.

Offers/Notice/Salary negotiations
Again, it’s common sense. DO NOT hand your notice in until you have a written offer, and you have formally accepted it. Do not haggle unduly over salary but set a hard minimum – hopefully someway above your current salary, although not necessarily – and rigidly stick to it. Don’t let them get you cheap. Insist on benefits for pension, bonus, child care, private healthcare that match your current at a minimum. If it is a small company with no pension scheme of their own insist they contribute to your private pension.

This is all a bit of a brain dump – I will be editing this post as new things occur to me. Email me if you want specific advice. I don’t mind casting my critical eye over your CV, as long as you are ready to receive unsparing criticism back.

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4 Responses to “IT (and general) Recruitment Advice for Candidates”

  1. Damian Says:

    Tom, I tried to read your cv to find out what the f************ you do exactly, but the link has expired. Sort your s*********** out bro. I\’d never employ you!

  2. Thomas Says:

    I\’d never work for you either, you antipodean goon!

  3. Ryan Says:

    Damian, If you disagree on any point from this author then please beg to differ and share them with us but your comments were inappropriate and cheap.

    Thanks Thomas for sharing your thoughts and experiences. Very few people are open and wise like you. Thank you.

  4. thomaspullen Says:

    Don’t worry Ryan, he’s my brother, he’s just taking the Michael, so to speak.

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