x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

The job hunt, the CV, the interview ? how not to do it

Instead of advising what a "killer" CV should look like, let me suggest what it shouldn't. It's like dating, be prepared for rejection - and try with renewed resolve for the next target on your list.

A few years ago my boss wanted me to select one good candidate for a job vacancy. I went through around 30 CVs, most of which listed reading, music, swimming and chess as applicants' interests. I hate to break it to you, but if everybody plays chess then no one's intellect stands out. And if an applicant reads a lot, I would expect his CV to be well-written and at least grammatically correct.

Instead of advising what a "killer" CV should look like, let me suggest what it shouldn't. First, drop the "Career Objective" at the top. Everybody wants a "challenging job in your establishment". Do you really think someone will hand you a cushy one? Also drop your age, place of birth and marital status. There is a lot of discrimination around, so skip all that and just try to create enough interest for someone to pick up the phone and call you.

Write your educational background plainly. If your grades are good, say what they are. If you haven't had a job before, describe some useful courses you've taken. If you've worked before, avoid "participated" and "co-ordinated" and other such wimpish participles. Just show how you helped your organisation. Remember, companies are looking for someone who can, at least on paper, do stuff. If you really have something interesting to share, put it in a covering letter. Employers like to have a feel for your personality, and a well-drafted letter would differentiate you from the crowd. And never feel shy for not having experience if you are just starting. We were all in that position once.

I also have to say something on "skills". If you count communication among your strengths, then a one-page CV demonstrates that skill in a far more elegant way than stating so. Finally, don't quote your former professors for references. They quickly lose power over us as soon as we graduate. If you have a good referee, have him or her call the employer. Yes, wasta is alive and well! Next comes the dreaded job interview. Years ago I joined a chief executive on a recruiting trip. At each interview he used a crude but simple opening gambit: "What are your strengths and what are your weaknesses?" he would bark. Some fell into his trap and enumerated glorified accomplishments and recounted their fears and failures. Others took advantage of the opportunity to speak and, like seasoned politicians, said what they really wanted to say.

Why expose yourself to someone who can, with the best of luck, be your boss or co-worker or, in the worst case, show you the door? At job interviews, you don't have to be completely open and you certainly don't want to be a yes-man. There has to be a balance between what the interviewer wants to hear and the points you want to get across. It can be a mind game, where your homework on the interviewer prepares you to tackle their questions. Try to score as many points as possible without overpowering the interviewer or his panel. I find similarities with the first stages of dating, when some fear taking a risk. The more politely you behave, the less the chance of success.

There is no denying that interviews can be hard and stressful. Many organisations have smartened up. If you think you are exceptionally smooth or good-looking, a diverse panel can see through you. Your "Yes" has to sound confident when someone looks you in the eye and asks: "This is the job, can you do it?" Say yes without blinking, and get that job. If you are not up to it, they will find out much later, by which time you will have developed plan B. Chances are you will have also learnt the job, and may do reasonably well in it. Life is not fair; it's about survival.

Here is another key lesson that I learnt the hard way. You only get what you bargain for. No one will do you any favours. Your current salary is irrelevant because you are taking on a different profile, and your current salary was negotiated years ago. Remember, as in any healthy relationship, an employer needs you as much as you need him. You know when you are ready for any interview when you seek it, and when you have a CV in your pocket for that one chance to chat to someone you travel next to.

So the next time you hear of an AGM at a Really Big Hotel, get in and impress a chief executive with questions about his business. What do you have to lose if you call him up later and ask for a job? Again like dating, be prepared for rejection - and try with renewed resolve for the next target on your list. Anees Sultan is a writer and businessman based in Oman