This year’s recruitment panel at our Summer Seminar on 12th June focussed on selling your skills. Our panel included Rebecca Donnan, a Conservation Consultant, Victoria Sculfor, Recruitment Consultant at Sue Hill, and Sam Collenette, Archives and Historic Environment Manager for Warwick County Record Office. They were questioned by our events officer Richard Wade, as well as audience members. This first post focusses on how best to present your skills and experience on application forms and in your CV.
What are employers looking for in an application? Probably the most important advice that was given on the day was to read the job description and person specification carefully, and ensure that you address all of the essential requirements. Particularly in local government, applications are marked on a points system and if a key point hasn’t been addressed then the applicant can’t be scored for it. Employers are likely to be reading a lot of applications so you need to ensure that yours is crystal clear, particularly as they are likely to be checking your communication skills. It is essential to ask someone else to proof read your application, as spelling and grammar mistakes are likely to jump out at the reader.
If you have been asked to submit a CV you need to ensure that it is laid out correctly, as the employer may only glance at it so the most important information needs to be easy for them to find. It may also be worth investing in good quality paper and thinking about the font that your CV is printed in, as this may be the small difference that makes you stand out from other applicants.
How important are criteria that are described as desirable rather than essential? Given that most jobs are likely to have a large number of applicants they are really important. They may be the extra thing that can make the difference when it comes to getting shortlisted and actually getting the job, so in a sense it could be argued that they are really essential too. However this shouldn’t put you off trying anyway, particularly if you show willing to learn and develop skills that you may not have yet. Such requirements may in fact highlight areas that you could work on before your next application, and it could be possible to arrange some intensive training to address the problem. It is also worth remembering that organisations like to develop and train their staff, so don’t be put off applying by only one point. You could also try speaking to the potential employer, to ascertain if it really is essential to the role, as the job description that has been used may not be up to date.
How should you go about developing your skills during a period of unemployment or if you have been in the same role for a long time? Firstly you should think about what your career goals are. Maintain your CV and keep it updated as it is your career record. Joining relevant groups such as the various sections within ARA will also give you an idea of what is going on in the area. It is important to try to find time to do the things that you need to do for your own development. This could mean taking a day off work for an intensive training course or to attend a networking event. Shadowing someone who is in the type of role you would want can also be very valuable. One suggestion for gaining experience was to offer to help local community groups who are trying to submit a HLF bid, as this would give you experience of project management and writing funding bids, and give you the opportunity to ask for advice from a local record office. If the bid is successful it could even lead to the creation of a potential job!
Do achievements have a shelf life? If the skills and experience are relevant to the role then you should absolutely make the most of them, and tasks which may seem irrelevant can still demonstrate relevant skills. In these cases it may be worth stressing the relevance of other experience in your covering letter.
What are the benefits of a chronological versus a skills based CV? Skills based CVs are probably most useful for those who are changing careers, or who may have a lengthy gap in their employment history. However they still need to show a clear career history, it may just be presented underneath a summary of your skills. But you can focus on the most relevant information first, so perhaps your professional qualification and relevant voluntary experience before your other employment history.
How much of your career history should you demonstrate on your CV? The advice was to start from your postgraduate qualification, as your previous examinations will then be assumed. In terms of employment you should focus on your last 10 years of working life, and certainly part time work from when you are at school is unlikely to be relevant. However at the start of your career when you have little employment experience a skills based approach to your CV may be useful, as you can show relevant skills from within employment which may at first seem irrelevant.
Some people have argued that too many short terms contracts, often the norm at the start of a career, can be difficult to sell, so it may be worth grouping these together on your CV as ‘5 years of contract work’ with a list of your places of employment. If you have gaps in your CV due to ill health then these are really none of the business of the employers, unless they relate to an ongoing health problem which may still have an impact on your ability to do the job. However there may be a separate health form on which this information can be provided. It is worth declaring a long term disability on your application as it can guarantee you an interview if you meet the essential criteria.
Is there any value in adding your hobbies and interests to a CV? It is certainly unlikely to do any harm, and may be the thing that makes you stand out from the other candidates. For some interviewers it can be the first thing looked at, as it can demonstrate that you are a more rounded person. They can offer a talking point in the interview, but you have to think about your choices. There is no benefit in putting reading, as it is assumed that at this level you will have that skill, but you should also try to avoid putting anything too unusual which may put people off.
If your experience has been largely in either archives or records management and you decide to switch professions, how is this typically viewed by employers? There is lots of variation in the industry in terms of how closely related the two professions are. In some cases they are becoming closer due to the dual challenges of compliance and digital preservation, while in others they are being drawn further apart, with records management often becoming a completely separate function. However the skills needed can be interchangeable, and as long as you can demonstrate that your experience is relevant to the role you are applying for it shouldn’t have too much bearing. One way of making the move may be to try to move into a role which includes elements of both professions before fully making the switch.