With so much competition in the workplace at present, and a high unemployment rate in South Africa, how do you make yourself stand out from the crowd? Some may also accept any position they are offered in their desperation for employment.
Justmoney asked several career experts about how you can make yourself stand out and appear more appealing to potential employers.
From the start it is important to give a good impression to the interviewer. This not only involves looking professional and dressing appropriately for the interview, but also your mannerism.
Michelle Snyman, branch manager at Network Recruitment, says: “First impressions are created visually – and dressing appropriately for an interview is essential. While individual workwear guidelines may apply to various organisations and industries, Network Recruitment’s advice is ‘conservative over creative’.”
Snyman adds: “Offer a firm handshake, make eye contact and be assertive. When appropriate, ask informed, intelligent questions. Research the company, read recent media announcements. Impress the interviewer with your knowledge, enthusiasm and genuine interest in their organisation.”
Kim Meredith, CEO of the Dealmaker Company and author of Dealonomics, agrees with Snyman. Meredith emphasises the importance of looking the part and not under-dressing. How you introduce yourself is also important, give a firm handshake, and err on the side of conservativeness, don’t be over familiar with the interviewer. “Always be more formal than informal in the way you look and the way you address the interviewer, it just comes across as confident,” she says.
During the interview, Snyman advises tailoring “your responses to demonstrate that your skills and talents suit their particular needs.”
Giving examples during the interview is one way to show your experience and what skills you can bring to the company. “If you have a very good interviewer, they will ask you specific questions where you have to give examples. If somebody asks you for an example, they are looking for you to describe the situation or the task you had to do, what you did and what the outcome was. The more specific you can be in your examples, the better it comes across,” highlights Meredith.
You must elaborate during an interview, but never lie. “Nothing will discredit you more than being caught out in an untruth,” stresses Meredith.
Snyman provides the following tips to help a person prepare for an interview:
- Think about potential questions you may be asked, for example what your strengths and weaknesses.
- Reduce stress by being organised.
- Check the details of the interview.
- Get directions if necessary and allow sufficient time for any traffic problems, finding parking, security checks and to still have at least 15 minutes in hand.
- Spring clean your digital profile - Take a long, hard look at your digital profile from a potential employer’s perspective - your reputation is key
Angelique Robbertse, product and marketing manager of online career portal Job Mail, stresses: “Don’t just brag about your past job titles or years of education, tell the interviewer what you have actually accomplished. For example, at your previous job you increased your department’s sales by 30% or developed and implemented a new management programme that contributed to the company’s “bottom-line”.”
How to negotiate for the best salary
When it comes to the initial job interview, mention of salaries is a no-go area. Robbertse explains: “It’s very important to let the potential employer first mention the “salary.” Most employers will only start talking money once they are convinced you are suitable for the job. Wait for this moment, as it will then be much easier to negotiate a salary and the one you require at that.”
There are a number of reasons for this. For example, your expectations may be more than what the employer is offering. “Declaring your requirements prematurely could put your chances of progressing any further at risk. Interviewers are far more interested in what a potential candidate can offer the company, not take from it,” explained Snyman.
The first interview, according to Snyman, is usually an exploratory meeting, where the interviewer can evaluate the interviewee and vice versa. “The issue of money is best left to the next stage of the interview process and it’s important to remember that the person who first opens negotiations is generally in the weaker position.
“A candidate will also be in a stronger negotiating position once they have an understanding of the client, the nature of the job, the client’s expectations of them and whether they actually want the job,” adds Snyman.
However, Meredith disagrees with Snyman. “Remember the company wants to pay you as little as possible. They want to get the best possible person for the lowest price, and there is never one price. Most companies have salary bands and you need to make sure you are in the upper end of the salary band. If they see there is real value in you, they will break the rule. You have to be able to show them what you’re earning, tell them what you want, even if it is 20% more than what the job was advertised as, but then you have to be able to show the value to them in hiring you. My view is, it’s not going to be the first point you raise, but I wouldn’t leave it too long, because then you waste your time, but you have to still sell yourself first.”
If the interviewer is set on knowing what your salary expectations are, Snyman suggests: “Either politely say you’d prefer to postpone the topic until you have a better understanding of the job, or ask them to negotiate with your recruitment consultant or give them a salary range rather than an exact figure.”
However, when making mention of a salary range, this should be well-researched, and should factor in your current salary structure, as well as industry standard for the particular position you have applied for.
According to Snyman and Meredith, it is not appropriate or acceptable to lie to a potential employer particularly aboutyour salary. Snyman notes that a company can enquire what you current salary package is.
“They want to understand your current benefit structure and compare it to what benefits they are offering. The company also wants to get a clear picture on what level you are and if they can make a competitive offer. If you feel that your salary is not market related then you need to explain this to the interviewer and give reasons why this has happened. If you can show the potential employer what value add you can be to their organisation then it might increase your chances of receiving an excellent offer,” states Snyman.
Rather than providing a definite amount when asked what your salary expectations are, it is better to give a salary band, according to Meredith.
Robbertse adds: “Show your potential boss that you are able to handle uncomfortable situations with confidence and control and won’t throw a fit if things don’t go your way. Remember this job and salary are not forced on you and you will impress them more and negotiate a better salary if you just keep your cool.”
Presenting your CV
Your CV is your first step through the door, and to help ensure that you are appealing to the potential employer on paper, there are a few ways you can draft your CV.
“It depends if you are going through a recruitment agency or directly to the company. The agencies often make you fill out their forms, even though you have a perfectly good CV. If you look at what the agency forms ask that is the sort of information that must be in your CV, but there are lots of templates on the internet,” reveals Meredith.
Snyman adds: “Eight seconds is the time employers spend scanning a CV before deciding whether or not to request an interview with the candidate. A well-crafted covering letter is imperative to ensure employers read the rest of your CV.”
Snyman offers the following tips for drafting a CV and covering letter:
- Keep it short (three quarters of a page)
- Keep it professional (a straightforward format with no bells and whistles, 12-size font)
- Keep it relevant (only highlight appropriate skills and competencies
- The right tone is also important - friendly and enthusiastic but still professional.
- Skip the lengthy descriptions
- Be relevant – if necessary change the emphasis to suit the job description
- Free of errors and avoid gimmicks
- No matter how badly you want the job – stick to the facts
- Presentation is paramount and the look should be clean, crisp, clear and professional
- Always include a breakdown of past work experience, academic and professional qualifications
- Your skills range and extracurricular interests and activities – but don’t waste anyone’s time by telling them what they already know
- List your employment history and expand on work experience that is relevant to a particular job
- Current and contactable references are a must, but remember to ask your referees’ permission before putting their details forward
What not to do
Snyman highlights that “receiving money under the false pretences created by the deceptive CV amounts to CV fraud.” With this in mind, Snyman emphasises that you should never do the following:
- Stretch the dates of previous employment
- Inflate past accomplishments and skills
- Enhance job titles and responsibilities
- Provide false information related to education and degrees
- Fake credentials
- Fabricate reasons for leaving a previous job
- Provide fraudulent references
Meredith emphasises the importance of being honest, as any lies or exaggerations you may make during the interview could come back to haunt you. “Nothing will discredit you more than being caught out in an untruth,” stresses Meredith.
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