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Making a move

Before starting your job search and subsequent interviews, you should begin by considering the management of your career. The sections below should help you to think through the elements you need to consider.

1. Your development plan

Managing your career is about identifying where you want to go and how you're going to get there. In other words, it's about putting together a development plan - which is crucial for a number of reasons.

  • In the current market there is constant change. You will be in a stronger position if your company restructures, merges or is taken over because you won't be taken by surprise if your role suddenly changes, or ceases to exist altogether
  • It will assist you in objectively assessing your current role and prospects by raising points that you need to address or reassuring you that your career is going in the right direction
  • It will put you on a strong footing at your next appraisal by helping you to negotiate the development of your career in the company and you will be in a position to objectively assess opportunities (whether internal or external) against your career plan

2. Reviewing your development plan

A development plan will need to be reviewed regularly because the human resources market is changing so fast. Consider the following points in order to prepare your strategy:

  • Make a list of possible goals - the sort of role you want, preferred industry sectors and specific organisations. Identify both the technical and interpersonal skills you will need to get you there.
  • Work out the pros and cons of each option and narrow the list down, working out the requirements for each option.
  • Assess the likely competition (be realistic!) e.g. if you want to work for Microsoft and they only look at candidates with a 2:1 from a good university - so is your 2:2 really going to get you in the door? What are the potential barriers to success and how are you going to overcome them? Who could help you get there? What are the likely timescales?
  • Choose your goals and identify your strategy for getting there.
  • Accept that your goals and priorities may change over time. Reassess regularly.

3. Job hunting

Once you've formulated your strategy, you will be aware of the technical skills you will need to reach your goals. But before you start job hunting you should consider the factors outlined below.

4. The economy

Currently the economy is unstable and there are many good HR professionals searching for a new role - the market has become increasingly client-driven. In practical terms, there is strong competition for the best HR vacancies and there could be up to 50 applicants for each role, depending on the level and location of the position. You therefore need to put considerable effort into any application you make. That means your covering letter (or email) and CV should be well thought-out. If you are fortunate enough to get an interview, you need to give yourself the best possible chance of succeeding to the second and final round.

5. The right recruitment company

Too many candidates don't know enough about the recruitment company they send their CV to. As a client, when choosing a recruitment company to work on your behalf you will typically meet them, interview them and see how they perform. You need to do the same thing when seeking a consultancy to represent you in your own job search. If you can't meet then at least spend some time talking to them and building up a rapport, understand how they work, who their clients are, what sort of volumes they recruit in and what they will do for you in return for your loyalty.

Whatever your attitude, sending your CV to lots of different agencies and then expecting the phone to start ringing is not going to work satisfactorily. Investigate the market, speak to your friends and peers, know the main players and find out who is best placed to help you, above all work at the relationship. It might be that this time round the recruitment company won't be able to help you but you never know who or what is around the corner.

6. Contacts & networking

Many people fail to recognise how valuable cultivating good contacts can be. Whatever your level you should not be afraid to network and make contacts. Any one of the following could make a real difference to your career:

  • Peers in the profession
  • Clients
  • Industry figures
  • Members of professional bodies
  • Suppliers
  • Recruitment and other consultants working for your organisation

The importance of contacts also goes someway to explain why a substantial proportion of HR jobs are never advertised, but instead are filled via word of mouth and by contacts (candidates) already known to recruitment consultancies or the business.

7. Social media

It's important to be aware of the increasing role of social media in recruitment, and to ensure your online profiles are as carefully prepared as your offline versions. A key site is LinkedIn and it's advisable to create a page on this site as it is the first port of call for employers. Make sure the details you put on LinkedIn match what you have on your CV, and choose a photo which shows you clearly and in a professional setting. Look for connections through colleagues, friends and former jobs that could lead you to your next role. Employers may also check other sites such as Facebook and Twitter, but these profiles are much more personal so while preparing to seek a new role be sure to monitor the content carefully. On Facebook you can make your profile entirely private so it cannot be searched, but nevertheless it's advisable to remove any photos which could be construed negatively, and be wary of posting strong opinions or references to wild weekends. Twitter is entirely public so any comments you make can be viewed by anyone on the internet. Again, it's best to carefully consider your comments and profile picture on this site.

8. Improving your skills

When you are looking to gain an extra advantage over the competition, it's worth considering anything that might help. Although not always essential, certain additional skills can weigh heavily in one candidate's favour over another's for certain types of job. You should be looking to develop your skills at every opportunity and this should be a key part of every review you make. So if you have the opportunity through your current company to get SHL qualified or to formalise your coaching experience, then take it.

9. Is this job right for you?

Make sure you pick up on the key skills the advertisement or spec is asking for and evidence them. Don't spend time writing about an irrelevant skill or experience. Ensure that your CV and covering letter are written in such a way that even a non-expert will recognise your appropriateness for the position. Finally, if you do not possess something asked for, you have two choices. First, you can either choose not to apply. Second, you can tackle the issue directly, perhaps by acknowledging in your letter that you recognise you do not currently have this skill but that you would devote time to acquiring it should they be positive about the rest of your application.

10. Preparing your covering letter

Never underestimate the importance of the covering letter - it will be circulated with your CV. Your covering letter should:

  • Reconcile your CV with the job in question, i.e. it must always be personalised and enthuse the reader about you
  • It should be factual as subjective views count for nothing - evidence of ability is everything
  • It should be no more than half a page long, ideally a dozen lines. Make it short and to the point

11. Preparing your CV

Preparing a CV can be a good idea even if you're not looking for a job, as it can help to crystallise whether or not your career is developing as it should be. When you've drafted your CV, ask yourself if it is as impressive as you would wish, and if not, what you can do to strengthen it.

Here's a checklist which might help. For more detailed information, click here for our CV guide:

  • Your CV should be typed, printed on quality white paper, in a standard typeface (size 10-12)
  • Always make sure your CV is completely up to date
  • Never write in the 1st or 3rd person - CVs should contain facts, not subjective opinions
  • Don't omit anything or try and hide anything as people will assume the worst
  • Length should be 2-3 pages. Every word must serve a purpose and it should appear short and sharp. It shouldn't miss out any key skills or abilities that readers might be specifically searching for. Use bullet points to keep things clear and simple
  • Tailor your CV to the target audience. Send a full CV to a recruitment consultancy, but focus on what is absolutely relevant; reams of irrelevance will ensure your CV is consigned to the bin
  • Tailor your CV to the position you are going for. A CV is a selling tool and what sells you is quality recent experience so the focus should be on your achievements, not your duties/responsibilities
  • List work experience and academics in reverse chronological order. Include years and months
  • Don't include references, but do state that they are available on request
  • Spell-check and re-read your CV several times. Get someone you respect to review it
  • E-mail your CV as it is now the preferred option in 99% of cases.

12. CV tone

With CVs and covering letters, the tone is crucial. You should come across as being polite and bright, not arrogant and smart, not chummy, professional not stiff. If in doubt get someone you respect to give you an objective opinion. Also, use words and phrases you feel comfortable with - it works against you if the interviewer expects to meet one type of person but actually meets another. Be yourself, and be honest. Your work history, qualifications and references may be thoroughly checked, so if you try to pull the wool over someone's eyes, you could get caught out with serious repercussions.