When it comes to standing out from the crowd and landing your dream job, a rock-solid CV and cover letter will only get you so far. With youth underemployment at its highest level in 40 years, the job market can be extremely competitive, and knowing how to impress in interviews is a vital skill.
Just ask Christine Khor, founder and managing director of Chorus Executive, a full-service talent management company for people working in sales, marketing and communications. She has now been running her own recruitment agency for 16 years, and will be the first to tell you, how you present yourself can make or break your next career move.
So, whether you’re meeting with the company’s HR manager or an agency recruiter, here are Khor’s top tips for putting your best foot forward.
The three Ps: politeness, punctuality and professionalism
Khor has a simple, no-nonsense approach to creating good professional relationships: do your research, turn up on time, and be polite – to everyone.
“This stuff is so basic and yet still people get it wrong,” she says. “One day I had to sit at reception because my computer blew up and people were so rude to me!
“Even if I wasn’t the managing director, I love and trust my receptionist. She’ll often come up and say ‘So-and-so is in room two,’ and I’ll say, ‘What are they like?’ and she’ll either make a face or say, ‘Lovely!’. So never be rude to anyone.
“During the meeting, demonstrate your knowledge and enthusiasm by talking about insights from the industry – how it’s going, any highlights, things you know have happened, be it a sale, purchase or restructure, or new product launch.
With so much information available, there’s no excuse for not knowing your stuff – so talk to people in the industry, and research, research, research.”
Equally important, says Khor, is how you behave and manage expectations after the interview.
“Always leave the meeting asking what the next steps are. If you ask, ‘When do you expect to get back to me?’ and they say, ‘By Thursday,’ you can say, ‘Okay, so if you don’t call me by Friday is it okay if I call you?’.
“Don’t ring them every day because they won’t have anything to tell you, and you’ll look desperate.”
Avoiding culture shock
The company you work for is a bit like a pair of jeans: you’ve got to be comfortable. If you choose the wrong fit, it probably won’t be a long or happy relationship.
“Rather than trying to find out what the culture of a company is and changing to fit, I think the most important thing is to tell the recruiter what type of culture you need,” says Khor.
“It’s important that you know yourself and what you want. For example, I don’t fit well in big corporations because I like making decisions and moving fast, and don’t like paperwork. No matter how much you pay me, that kind of environment won’t work for me.
“That’s another thing – don’t take a job just for the money. I recently interviewed someone on $350,000 a year who hates turning up to work every day, and doesn’t think he has more than six months left in the role.
“Salary is important, but the people who feel the most rewarded or fulfilled are the people who love what they do.”
The key to networking
We’ve all heard the saying ‘it’s not what you know, but who’. Because you can never tell whose help you’ll need later on, Khor suggests trying to have a coffee with someone from your extended network once a month – whether it’s an old boss, a former colleague, or a new contact who wants to meet up.
She is not, however, a fan of attending lots of different networking events. Rather, she recommends making connections by joining a community of like-minded professionals.
“It’s safer and more effective, and there are plenty of niche communities to choose from – for example, Marketing Women Inc., or Business Chicks. Find one that shares your interests and dedicate your time to it.”
Bear in mind that while an agency recruiter can be your strongest advocate, their job is not to get you a job, but to find the ideal candidate for a particular position. That’s why it’s so important to build a strong relationship and rapport with your recruiter, and to show them you mean business.
Too often Khor sees people who don’t know what they’re looking for. Before making your next career move, spend some time thinking about where you are and where you want to be, what drives you, and what you enjoy.
As Khor puts it, “You can’t pack a bag for your holiday if you don’t know where you’re going.”
Verifying your career and personal information through CVCheck is an effective way to demonstrate your credentials and further impress recruiters.