Swindon Jobfest 2020

Preparation and resources

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Improve your chances at Jobfest - Tips for success

Here are nine tips to help you improve your chances at a Jobfest:

1.

Take a good look at the companies participating at Jobfest and choose the ones that interest you. Spend your energies on them rather than wandering from booth to booth.

2.

Check out job openings for each company of interest. There are links to their websites on the company listing page.

3.

Get a floor plan map at the entrance or information table. Plan a route to move around the floor quickly, visiting your companies of interest.

4.

Stay upbeat and energized. Try to make an impression through your enthusiasm about the work. Also try to engage the company representative in conversation about the company, and listen to what the rep has to say.

5.

Try to talk to the hiring manager or senior member of the team, if possible. Recruiters can be helpful regarding the company and what they are seeking, and human resources personnel can give you information on the hiring process and the company, but the hiring manager is the one with the clout.

6.

Let the person you talk to know what you have to bring to the company. Be prepared with a short statement about yourself and your background - less than two minutes. Try to hook the interviewer's interest with something unique about you.

7.

Try to get a name or business card from anyone you talk to so you can use the name as a reference when you follow up.

8.

Follow up by sending a letter and another copy of your resume to human resources and the hiring manager. Mention that you talked with them, or a company representative, at the fair. Tell them how excited you are about the position. Let them know you are the solution to their problem - you can make a difference and add value.

9.

Follow up in a week or so with a phone call, inquiring about the position and the hiring status.

Try not to be overwhelmed by the size of the job fair or the number of job seekers in attendance. Keep focused on the companies you want to interview with. Don't be discouraged if you don't go home with a job offer or formal interview lined up. This should be just one step in your research and networking process.

Consider any new contacts you meet or information gathered at the job fair as a positive addition to your resources. Be persistent in your endeavors - job opportunities sometimes come from the least expected sources at the most unexpected times.

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CVs

A CV's job is to get you shortlisted for the next stage of consideration, by presenting your evidence for the selection criteria for the job or course. Here's what you should include:

Profiles

You can choose to include a short profile or summary paragraph below your name and contact details. You don't have to include one (and if you have a cover letter you might choose to include the content there instead).

Consider this profile example:

I am hard working and tenacious. I have an interest in marketing. I put 110% into everything I do. I have exceptional skills in most areas, and am quick to learn. I work well with most kinds of people. I have great skills and have some experience.

This is full of vague statements, unnecessary repetition, unsubstantiated opinion, and (crucially) any other applicant could say something similar! This might convey some personality, but it doesn't make you stand out against other applicants, and might make your CV seem less credible.

Have a look at our example CV to compare. A good profile should convey your enthusiasm and key selling points for the role you're applying for by making factual statements and a summary of your key achievements. You can also use a profile to give some context to your application; it's useful for explaining what you're looking for.

Education

Your degree will often be the most recent major piece of experience, so you'll need to talk about it in a way that shows the relevant skills and experiences you've had, but not by creating a big list of everything you've done. Consider phrases like 'Relevant modules include: ...' to help indicate that you've listed those closest to the attributes they have listed in their selection criteria.

Remember that the reader probably isn't familiar with your course - they don't know if you had group activities, presentations, dissertations or theses, and they don't have time to look it up. List them, indicating the skills you used along the way. 

Experience

Whether it's part-time work in retail, volunteering, summer internships, informal shadowing, employer insight days, student positions of responsibility, or full time placement, it's all great experience.  A recruiter is hoping to check every one of their criteria, and they don't mind which of these categories they find them in. Use subheadings like 'Marketing experience' and 'Additional experience' to group the experiences (whether paid or unpaid) together so that those with most of the elements the employer is looking for are found first on your CV.

Tailoring

Although you'll have a 'standard' CV saved, every CV you send should be tailored to the exact purpose you are using it for.  Never send out hundreds of identical CVs - quality over quantity wins every time. It's a better use of your time too, as you've got a better chance of success against the work you put in. Tailor to the selection criteria, or if there are none visible, research further to work out which are relevant skills and experience. You can tailor the level of detail you include or omit within each piece of experience, as well as the language you use, the order of your points, and the headings used to group content.  Read it back to check it's still an accurate and not misleading account (and a sentence for context if so).

Example of tailoring:
  • Waiting staff, Reading restaurant - tailored towards customer service
  • Ensured customer orders were delivered professionally, accurately and efficiently
  • Supported customers with accessibility or dietary needs, taking detailed notes at booking - Awarded praise from supervisor for improving our dietary needs recording process 
  • Reading Restaurant, Team Member (waiter) - the same job, tailored towards team work
  • Co-ordinated shifts with colleagues, showed flexibility in covering unanticipated absences - Supported less experienced staff to help aid the efficiency of the whole team 
  • Contributed to monthly charity fundraising events, building strong working relationships 

Interests

Your interests section might feel less relevant, but is still important. It gives the employer a sense of your personality, and can help you make a connection with your reader. "Reading, cycling and going to the cinema" is true of many people, so it doesn't give them a sense of the real you. "My first love is music. I listen to a range of styles and have played bass guitar in several bands" is more enjoyable to read, so this character is likely to be more enjoyable to interview.

Referees

Should you include details of your referees?

  • Yes: if they're requested by the recruiting organisation, or if they're particularly impressive!
  • No: if the references will be communicated elsewhere, or if there's a risk of spam to your referees
  • Not sure? You could always put 'References available on request' if you're comfortable leaving it with nothing (although this is increasingly common, as references are included more often in accompanying application forms).

If you include referees on your CV make sure you have asked them first! 

Include: Name, job title and organisation, full address, telephone and email address. Note that this section with details of your referees is properly called 'referees' not 'references'. The references are what they will write for you.

Which CV style?

Use this online CV builder to create a CV. This interactive tool guides you to put together your content and save it online before allowing you to generate your choice of CV style to create a speedy Word document that you can then add finishing touches to.

Chronological CVs

This is the most common CV style, and the easiest to get right. It groups experience, complete with details of achievements and skills used into sections. Each section is ordered in reverse chronological order. Skills are clearly communicated within the context for their achievement.

Skills-based CVs

This is a tricky style to get right, but useful for more experienced candidates, those changing direction having gained skills in a very different context, and those who have had significant experience in a relatively small number of roles. Key skills form section headings, with details of achievements using that skill listed under each. Finally the details of roles held, complete with dates, job title and organisation name are listed briefly in a section which summarises the employment history.

Academic CVs

These are used for academic roles. They are usually longer documents (three pages is quite normal) with more focus on academic experience and details. Extra headings might include Honours, Grants, Conferences, Publications, Posters, Teaching experience, Research projects and Research interests. Some of these additional sections might be grouped together on a final page. Examples can be found on the Vitae website.

Creative CVs

Creative CVs are used for jobs in creative industries such as artistic, design and creative marketing roles. They come with a warning! If you're applying for a job that doesn't need your creative skills, creating a stunning CV with lots of visual features can make a recruiter worry that you really want a different job altogether! An original CV is also trickier than you'd think to create, and still communicate the details that it needs to.

International CV styles

Standard CV formats and etiquette can differ between countries. For example, CVs in Germany include a passport-style photo, and it's common in some countries to much more detail, marital status, age or gender. You can read advice for different countries. Many multinational firms will be happy with a UK or US style CV. In North America, many university careers centres have useful resume guides online, if you're keen to use a resume style.

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Covering letters

What are they for?

The purpose of a covering letter is to encourage the employer to read your CV. Covering letters are important, as a well written letter will 'sell' you to a potential employer. The covering letter is your initial introduction to your potential employer, so it must look professional and be concise.

The aim is to give enough information to encourage them to really notice the important details on your CV. Sometimes it can feel like you are repeating yourself, but it shouldn't read as a list of your academic qualifications and skills. It is about sounding really keen and enthusiastic whilst showing them you can apply your academic skills and work experience to that job role.

What does a covering letter look like?

A covering letter has a standard format. Remember to make your paragraphs concise and well organised, ensuring each paragraph is describing one topic.

Structuring a cover letter

1. Introduction

Tell them who you are, and where and what you are studying. Explain why you are writing to them (e.g. for work experience or to apply for a specific vacancy; if the latter, give the job title and where you saw it advertised). Establish any links with the individual or the company to whom you are writing, if relevant e.g.: "I spoke with Jane Smith, a consultant at Deloitte, who suggested I apply for the role."

2. Why this job role?

You need to show that you have an understanding of the job role, and say why it is of interest to you. Look at the information in the vacancy which explains what the employer is looking for. Make sure to mention these requirements, and show how you match them. Have you already gained any relevant study or experience? If so, tell the employer! Maybe you don't have directly relevant experience but have gained the skills they are looking for in another context - again, tell them!

3. Why this organisation?

Show that you know something about the organisation and why you would like to work for them. Don't just repeat what is on their website! Have you met someone from the company at an event? Have you attended a presentation? What motivates you to work in this sector? What do you know about it, and what's happening currently? This is your chance to show them you have researched their organisation, the industry and know who their clients and competitors are.

4. Finishing the letter

If you need to, you can briefly mention any additional factors e.g. why your 'A' level grades/degree results weren't as good as expected, or when the vacation dates are, if requesting work experience. Always finish on a positive note.

Letter format guidelines

  • Layout: Use a formal business layout, with your address in the top right hand corner, and the name and address of the person and organisation you are applying to below, on the left hand side. Include the date and any job reference (if applicable) below. Make sure all names are spelt correctly.
  • Length: Usually one side of A4. If sending a hardcopy by post use good quality, plain paper.
  • Contact: Always try and write to a specific, named person. Use their correct title i.e. 'Dear Mr Jones' or 'Dear Ms Smith'.
  • Paragraphs: Highlight and demonstrate - with evidence and examples - how your experience and skills meet the employer's requirements.
  • End the letter correctly: If you address the letter to a named person i.e. 'Dear Ms Smith' sign off with 'Yours sincerely'. Use 'Yours faithfully' if the letter is addressed to 'Dear Sir/Madam'. Then leave a few lines and type your name in full, leaving space for your signature.

Applying by email

Make sure that whatever you are sending out is professionally presented and error free. Use the same font type and size in both documents. If you have been asked to send your application via email, you can either attach the covering letter and CV to a brief email. Alternatively, you can use the covering letter as the text of the email and explain attach the CV. Make sure you follow instructions and do what the employer requests.

Speculative letters

A speculative application is sent to an organisation to see if they have any opportunities which have not been advertised. It can be a good way of sourcing work experience or work shadowing. Writing a good speculative letter requires you to:

  • Do your research: Good research and careful thinking around the organisation/employer will help you to suggest the roles/areas you are interested in. Employers like to receive suggestions as to the type of work you can do.
  • Think about the employers' point of view: Do explain what you can bring to the organisation, whether this is relevant experience, or an interest in this area of work and lots of enthusiasm.

Tips for a winning cover letter

  • Proofread the letter before sending it in. Spelling and grammatical mistakes may result in your application being rejected
  • Make it clear what you are looking for i.e. a meeting to discuss your CV further, or when you are available for interview or work. If it is a speculative letter, explain that you will follow up with a phone call in the near future.
  • Always keep a copy of the job advert, cover letter and CV that you sent in.

Examples:

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Application forms

Employers want to know certain things about anyone applying to their company. This is why they often ask you to complete an application form. All employers are different and so they will ask different questions to find out about you. The way you complete the application form, and answer their questions, will determine whether or not you go through to the next stage of the process (for example, to an assessment centre).

So, don't think the questions are irrelevant or intrusive. Instead, treat each one seriously and provide as much information as you can.

Top tip:  Provide appropriate evidence targeted to the employers requirements. 

Employers tell us the main reason applicants don't progress through to the next stage is that they didn't provide evidence that meets the employer's requirements.  

Here are the Do's and Do Nots of writing a successful application:

Do:

  1. Do your research before attempting the form. Research the organisation, the job role and other relevant information so you know exactly what the employer is looking for.
  2. Use your research to decide what your best examples are to answer the employer's questions. Use a range of examples including experience at university, part-time or voluntary work and extra-curricular activities.
  3. Follow all instructions carefully. Read the form carefully from start to finish and follow any specific instructions including word counts - which you must never go over. Writing succinctly is a skill. Try deleting any unnecessary words or phrases which don't add anything extra.
  4. Pay close attention to detail. This is expected by ALL employers, so check the final form for 'typos', misspellings and poor grammar. These are a big turnoff which can result in all your hard work being destined for the bin.
  5. Sound motivated and enthusiastic. You need to be asking yourself why THIS company and THIS role and have some convincing arguments. Employers want to employ people who want to work for them.
  6. Ask someone to read over your form. If English isn't your first language, ask an English friend to look at your form for grammatical and spelling errors. It's good to do this anyway as you may not pick up on mistakes after you have looked at it for the 50th time. We do not check for typos in Careers but we do provide guidance on structure and content.
  7. Keep a copy. When it comes to the interview stage, it is immeasurably useful to remember what you have told the employer.

Do not:

  1. Exceed the word count. Often the application form will stipulate how many words/characters your answer should be. Do not go over this limit. Also remember that being way under is also a no-no. You do not have to meet the word limit exactly but aim to get within a few words/characters.
  2. Leave whole sections empty. Sometimes there is a section that does not apply to you. Write 'Not Applicable' as it shows that you have read the form properly. If you are not sure about the content of any section check with a careers consultant.
  3. Complete the application in one sitting. Avoid application fatigue as you will begin to make mistakes. It is better to be fresh each time you tackle it as they can be difficult and will require your full attention.
  4. Copy and paste large sections from other application forms. You might want to copy some small sections however they must be tailored, and remember every employer has slightly different requirements, which will be in a very different context. It is not unusual for students to leave in a previous employer's name.
  5. Say 'See my CV'. Always follow the instructions exactly, and never ever take this short cut. If they wanted a CV they would have asked for one in the first place.
  6. Be too wordy. There is a fine balance between providing enough detail and being too verbose. You need to give employers a flavour of your experience without overloading the text with lots of unnecessary words and phrases. Remember employers may be reading through hundreds of application forms.

Top tip:  Follow the STAR method to ensure you answer questions 

How to demonstrate your skills using STAR

SITUATION: Briefly explain the situation you were in so the example makes sense to the employer. 

TASK: What were you required to do/what was your role?

ACTION: What specific actions did you take? Use the word 'I' where possible. 

RESULT: What was the final result of your actions? Is this quantifiable in any way?

An example of STAR to demonstrate 'good teamwork':

SITUATION: As a member of the Geography Society I was part of the team organising a fundraising ball.

TASK: I was in charge of publicity for ticket sales.

ACTION: I designed posters and put them up on all floors of the Geography department. I wrote an email inviting all Geography students and staff to the ball with instructions on how to purchase tickets.

RESULT:  We sold 450 of the 500 tickets and raised £1,000 in profit for the new Geography minibus.

In summary

When responding to open questions always:

  • Say what YOU did - make it personal.
  • Demonstrate that you have relevant skills, qualities and knowledge by relating your experience to the requirements of the job.
  • Indicate that you understand the organisation.
  • Use STAR.

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Online application forms

Read about how to complete an online application form at the All About Careers website.

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Interviews: Sample questions and techniques

Open-ended questions

This question type is often used at the start of an interview.  They don't ask for a specific example and require you to summarise information.  They are a great opportunity to communicate your key selling points.

Key techniques
  • Summarise 3-5 key selling points for you as a candidate and incorporate this in your answer.  This can be a sentence you can practice in advance (an 'elevator pitch'). 
  • Ensure your selling points include facts not just assertions: 'My last two jobs have used my strengths as a communicator' is more convincing than 'I have good communication skills'.
  • Listen to the question asked and ensure your answer addresses the question.
Sample questions
  • What led you to apply for this job?
  • Tell us about yourself?
  • What do you feel you could contribute to this role?

Job knowledge questions

These questions assess whether you've really thought about the job, if you have a good understanding of the opportunity, and whether you've been motivated enough to research beyond the job description.

Key techniques
  • Prepare and research in advance: see our Interviews information sheet for a preparation checklist.
  • If you don't know the answer, be honest, but share the knowledge that you do have (e.g. 'I'm not familiar with x, but it is it similar to y...?').
Sample questions
  • Who would you say our competitors are? Is there anything we could learn from them?
  • What could happen in the next few years that would have an impact on our work? How would you help us to manage that impact?
  • What key changes have happened in the sector recently that we need to respond to?
  • How does this role contribute to the organisation? How could you enhance that contribution?
  • What challenges are this industry/organisation facing at the moment?

Strengths-based questions

Larger organisations may use a specific methodology to score answers, from a commercial occupational psychology company (e.g. Capp.co). However, many organisations will ask similar questions without a scoring methodology; both methods at their heart are simply trying to understand your motivation and mindset.

Key techniques
  • Be authentic and enthusiastic - you can't 'fake' these answers, so just be you!
  • Give detailed and rich responses, use specific terminology and spontaneous examples (as often happens naturally when we're enthusiastic about something).
  • Use statements that describe your feelings or personality: e.g. 'I love...', 'I'm really passionate about...', 'I have always done/felt/thought...'.
  • Give a full answer - there aren't usually as many opportunities for follow up questions.
  • Open and relaxed body language (no crossed arms or fidgeting) can help to convey authenticity. 
Sample questions
  • What is your greatest non-academic achievement?
  • What kind of task would you look to do first, if you had a list of non-urgent tasks?
  • How would your friends describe you?
  • Do you prefer starting, working on or finishing tasks?
  • What was a particularly a successful day you've had? What made it feel successful?

Competency questions

These questions ask you to give an example of a time when you demonstrated one of the competencies (an area of skill or capability) in the selection criteria for the role.  The key technique is to use the structure STAR (Situation, Target/Task, Action, Result): see our STAR Technique information sheet for more.

Sample questions
  • Tell us about a time when you had to solve a problem as part of a team?
  • Give an example of a time when you worked well under pressure?
  • Can you give an example of a time when you successfully prioritised to manage multiple tasks?

Be prepared for possible follow-on questions such as 'what were you most proud of?', 'what did you learn from the experience?' or 'what would you do differently next time?'.

Situational questions

These questions ask what you would do in a hypothetical scenario, usually a challenging scenario that you could realistically encounter in the job.

Key techniques
  • Ask for the question to be repeated if you need it, particularly if the scenario is complex.
  • Talk through the different factors and decisions before you come to a conclusion, then they can give you credit for your steps and thought process, even if there is a misstep at the end.
  • Once you choose what you would do, talk through the pros and cons (could you mitigate any cons?) - again, they can give you credit for your thinking process and consideration of salient factors. 
  • Consider 'what' you would do, but more importantly 'how' you might do it - detail your approach.
  • Remember the organisational values and selection criteria: this gives you a clue to where some of their expectations might lie.
Sample questions
  • If a client wants x and your manager wants y, but you feel z is the right option, what do you do?
  • If the project you're working on could be delivered on time but only 80% complete, or two days late but 100% complete what would you do?
  • You have an hour left at work and you're an hour away from finishing work your boss asked you to do today. A more senior manager asks if you can come and help them. What do you do? 

Weakness/negative questions

These can be particularly tricky questions to answer, as they involve addressing uncomfortable information. 

Key techniques
  • Give honest and self-aware answers.  Show that you understand why something is not great.
  • Talk about what you've done in the past to work on this area or mitigate negative impacts.
  • Talk about what you'd do in the job to continue to improve on this area.
Sample questions
  • What are your weaknesses?
  • What areas of the job will you find the most challenging?

Aspiration/negotiation questions

These questions are designed to ensure that the candidate has a realistic impression of the role and where it could lead (and isn't likely to leave or turn down the role because their expectations weren't met).

Key techniques
  • Research in advance typical salary, responsibility and progression.  Larger organisations may publish information on career progression, or see prospects.ac.uk, LinkedIn profiles or job adverts.
  • Be honest about your deal-breakers (anything that is absolutely non-negotiable for you).
  • Be flexible about everything else - first focus on getting the job offer, then you can negotiate.
  • Try not to state a numerical figure for a salary (they'll never offer you more, and you don't want to negotiate without a job offer on the table); indicate willingness to be flexible for the right opportunity.
Sample questions
  • Where do you see yourself in five years? What are your expectations in terms of promotion?
  • What salary are you looking for?

Quirky questions

These are often used to 'break the ice' and assess interpersonal skills, often in organisations which value a sense of humour and 'fun'.  Embrace the quirkiness and give an answer a go in a positive spirit.

Sample questions
  • What's a surprising fact about you?
  • If you were a biscuit, what kind of biscuit would you be?

Logical reasoning questions

These are logical or numerical problem questions often used when interviewing for a role which involves analytical or numerical skills (for example, management consultancy, analyst roles, IT).

Key techniques
  • Take them seriously. They're assessing key skills, often estimation, or mental arithmetic.
  • Describe the thinking as you go if you can, then you can get credit for the steps you took, even if there is a misstep at the end.
Sample questions
  • What's larger: 15 x 7 or 14 x 8?
  • How many postboxes are there in Margate?
  • With the numerical date format dd/mm/yyyy, what's the next possible date where the digits are arranged in ascending order?  What was the previous one? (repeated digits are acceptable).

Questions for them

Most interviewers will allow time for you to ask one or two questions at the end. After all, an interview is a chance for you to get to know more about them, as well as a time for them to assess you!

Key techniques
  • Avoid any questions about areas that would be better left to a negotiation after a job offer has been made (when you're in a stronger negotiating position): hours, pay, benefits, titles, etc.
  • Prepare questions that show off your research and knowledge (it's still a chance to impress them).

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Online interviews

Read about how to get through an online interview at the Prospects website.

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Apprenticeships

Apprenticeship information and resources

Explore the range of inspirational and informative resources such as interview tips and lesson plans, helping to explain apprenticeships whether you're a parent, teacher or thinking of becoming an apprentice yourself.  

Amazing apprenticeships resources website

Amazing apprenticeships vacancy snapshots 

Take a look behind the scenes at some of the world's biggest companies and find out what to expect from their recruitment processes, including when to apply, and application hints and tips.

 Amazing apprenticeships vacancies website

Employability

The OCR Guide to Employability

In the modern job market employers not only look for qualifications but also a range of skills and personal qualities often referred to as 'employability skills'. Take a look at the employability guide:

The OCR Guide to Employability

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Entrepreneurs

What is an entrepreneur and how do you become one?

An entrepreneur is a person who organizes and operates a business or businesses, taking on financial risks in order to do so.

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