What Employers Say - Job Applications & Interviews

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So you' ve seen a job ad that interests you. How can you give yourself the best chance possible to score that all important interview?  

In the first of our Jobs for Life series on What Employers Say, Mike da Gama (Director at NostraData) gives his tips from the employers' side of the desk. 

Step 1: Read the Job Advert!

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At NostraData we are not a benchmark employer who screens you based solely on your resumé.

Our advertisements always ask for a cover letter.  So if you don’t send one with your resumé then I won’t be reading your application. We’re checking to see if you can follow instructions, so no cover letter means your application will not be considered. 

Step 2: A good cover letter 

Why do I want a cover letter?  To get a sense of who you are! I not only want to know about your skills and experience but I also want to be sure you will be a cultural fit with my team.  

My company website and my LinkedIn profile will give you the sense that as well as relevant experience, I value aptitude, flexible thinking, initiative, self-development and constant learning.

What makes a good cover letter?

Be brief, to the point, with no ‘small talk’.  Catch my eye immediately. The first paragraph is vital – as it may be as far as I get. 

Show me you have read the advertisement carefully, have researched my company on the web, and can tell me why you are a good fit for my company and the job. 

Address the points in the advertisement.  Give evidence that you fit my criteria.  Treat your application like an exam by making sure you cover every point I have listed in the advert. Every new cover letter is a new experience, so don’t just do a rehash. 

Step 3: Phone interviews

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If you are contacted for an initial phone interview as the first round, you may have as little as 15 minutes to make an impact.  Again be brief and to the point.  Communicate who you are and exactly why you fit the role. 

Be honest about your abilities.  It is better to be screened out as not fitting the job than to oversell yourself and be found out later.  Even if you don’t end up on the short list, recruiters may keep you on their files for other jobs.

Step 4: The Interview

So, you are on the short list and are called in for an interview.  Here are my top tips as an employer.   

1.    BE ON TIME  

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If you have never been to the area before, scout out beforehand where the building is located.  If on public transport, allow plenty of time to arrive given unexpected delays.   If you arrive more than 5 minutes early, find a café and wait.  

2.    BE PROFESSIONAL

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Look the part.  You can even ask if the company has a dress code when you get the telephone call inviting you for an interview.   

Adopt a professional manner from the moment you walk in the door.  The Receptionist may be asked later for their impression, so be polite in your dealings with them.

3.    BE PREPARED

How can you stand out?  The top 1 percent of applicants go the extra mile in preparation.

  •  Arrive with a spare copy of your cover letter and résumé just in case it’s needed. 
  • Be able to reel off your strengths.  Be ready to take up to 50% of the interview time on your skills and character strengths and the remainder on behavioural questions.  
  • Prepare a couple of STARs (Situation, Task, Action, Result).  Have some stories to tell around relevant situations you faced in previous roles. Describe the Situation extremely succinctly & the Task you had.  Report on the Action you took.  Focus on the Results you achieved. 
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  • If you don’t have the exact career experience to the job application, how did you use your transferable skills to work a solution to a problem?  
  • Prepare one struggle you know you can overcome (for 10% of the interview time).   Example: I’m a good initiator and when I have a good team around me I deliver the outcome. This is Strength (initiator) + Struggle (following through to completion) + Solution (emphasis on how you value teamwork and communication).
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Practice

your spiel with friends or a mentor and ask for feedback.

4. ANSWER THE QUESTION! 

Make sure you answer the interviewer’s questions.  A common problem in tech industries is people wanting to list off all their experience. But the interviewer is only interested in whether you meet their criteria.

Answer succinctly and without industry jargon. Don’t make the recruiter, HR person or interviewer feel stupid! 

You can even double-check if you’re not sure you’ve nailed it by asking “Does that answer your question?”

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If you realise that you’ve bombed a question, you may actually admit it and say “I think I just missed your point.  Can I try that one again?”   If you don’t get the chance to redo a question that you’ve bombed, then once you leave the interview - immediately think about what answer you would give next time you are asked. 

 

5. ASK QUESTIONS  

You’re joining a group of people that make up a company, so take an interest in the company culture. This is your career at stake.  If you align your identity and who you are with what you do in the workforce, then your employment will be more fulfilling.  So feel free to ask about the company values or where the interviewer sees the company going.  

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I am always disappointed when towards the end of an interview I ask an applicant “Do you have any questions for me?” and they look at me blankly and say “No, not really.” 

 

An HR person is used to churning through interviews.  Even in our medium-sized business,  an owner like myself can be going through 30 applicants.  Those who ask questions back to me will stand out from the crowd. But only if these are genuinely relevant questions – and not things you should have been able to see on our website or the ASX.  Also, be prepared for me to ask values questions back to you.

6. TAKE NOTES

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I am always impressed when an applicant comes in with a notebook and jots down their own notes throughout the interview.  Take an interest in the extra information I give about my company and the job role, otherwise you’ll forget the answers I give to your questions.

7.  AT THE END 

Feel free to ask about the timing of the next phase after this interview.  When might you expect to be contacted if you get into the next round or have got the job?  If the  interviewer can’t tell you, then politely ask when you can telephone them to find out the timeline.

8. KEEP POSITIVE

You may be an excellent applicant but still not get the job.   Don’t take the process personally.   I, as an employer, am looking to match applicants with 3 things:

  • The culture of my business
  • Aptitude for the role
  • How they will fit with my team.

You may have just been edged out by someone who fits my team or business culture slightly better.   Keep positive and keep going.

 

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Mike da Gama

Mike da Gama is a founding Director of NostraData, a Melbourne data services company specialising in the pharmaceutical sector  http://www.nostradata.com.au/Public/.  For more on Mike’s business philosophy, see his LinkedIn profile https://www.linkedin.com/in/mikedagama/

Mike is a regular contributor to the Employers’ Presentation session in the Jobs for Life course at Vermont.

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(Article content ©Mike da Gama. Photo credits:  geralt on pixabay; plus PublicDomainPictures, FotografieLink, rawpixel, 3dman_eu  on Pixabay.  Reproduced under CCO Creative Commons.  Photo of Mike da Gama courtesy of Mike, reproduced with permission.)