Public Speaking Expert, Simon Bucknall, talks to Maxine Ward, the current Head of Graduate Services at Reed Consulting, one of the UK’s leading providers of outsourced graduate recruitment for employers. An expert in graduate job interviews for the ‘Milkround’, previously Maxine was Head of Graduate Operations for Bright Futures Resourcing and held a series of recruitment management roles at blue-chip employers which include Capgemini and Logica.
It’s extremely important – whether at the screening stage or further down the line in the process. What’s absolutely critical is your ability to think critically about what you’re being asked and why, for example, in a competency-based question – and to provide sufficient relevant evidence to be ‘scored’ positively by the job interviewer. Too often, I’ve come away from a graduate job interview thinking: “well, I think I know what they did… but they haven’t articulated it in the right way to give me the evidence I’m looking for.”
So, tell us more about the most common mistakes graduates make when presenting themselves in job interviews and in the Milkround?
Start at the beginning. The application process is a form of sales process. Even fundamentals like basic grammar and spelling can trip people up. Take the time to go back and make sure the form reads properly!
Very often I hear graduates at job interview talking about ‘we’ not ‘I’ – for example, when describing experience working in teams. Perhaps people feel it would come across as arrogant to focus on the “I”! The problem with the “we” approach is that you’ll fail to sell YOUR achievement as an individual – and it’s YOU the interviewer is interested in hiring, not the people you’ve worked with in the past!
Another very common communication mistake is failing to get to the point; a lack of clarity. Just launch in and say what you personally achieved and outline the concrete results.
Many applicants dread the graduate recruitment ‘group exercise’ – what are your tips for that?
This is really a chance for you to shine but remember, it’s about striking a balance. The best communication tips I can offer are to:
- Listen! Actively pick up on what other people have said. Check to ensure you’ve understood, or pose a question based on what they’ve said. Then you can put your view forward, having recognised their point of view.
- Offer feedback! It’s a really good way to ensure you build on other people’s ideas and move forward to achieving the task.
- Be open to others. Contribute your ideas (your assessors will expect you to do so!) but then accept that you’ll get criticism, constructive or otherwise. Be open to that and then use it to keep building towards an answer.
What sorts of mistakes do graduate job interviewees make during the group exercise?
One very common mistake is to get too tied up with being the note-taker and/or facilitator. You’re so busy managing other people’s contributions that you don’t get a chance to input! My tip on this is to ensure that you are engaged in the conversation – even if you are also the one taking the notes. Otherwise, there’s no evidence that your assessors can grade you on – either positive or negative. Either way, that’s a bad thing – assuming you want the job.
What about the CV – how can you communicate its contents in an effective way during a graduate job interview?
Well, first remember that your CV is not just supposed to be a summary of all your work experience. It’s actually a sales document. For each thing you’ve done, you should be able to talk about your challenges and your achievements and most importantly, what you’d take forward from that experience. In the end, it’s about how what you’ve done will affect you as a potential employee in the job you’re interviewing for.
It’s also crucial to be able to put your achievements in context – both on paper and when discussing it face-to-face. Take these two versions of essentially the same basic experience:
Version 1 – “I’m very good with Microsoft Excel”
Version 2 – “I was responsible for multiple online databases in Excel, de-bugging and updating the data, then reconfiguring to deliver a 10% uplift in sales.”
All the time, ask yourself the context and value of your achievements – because then you’ll be prepared for answering the questions at interview.
Any final job interview tips for business-minded students reading this article?
Yes – effort really does count. In the current climate, many graduates make the mistake during the Milkround of trying a scattergun approach. They think it’s about volume of applications – apply for everything going. Trouble is, with this approach you dilute your quality. You end up writing generic answers to why you want the role – answers which could apply to any job in any sector. Believe me, graduate recruitment specialists like me – and employers – are extremely sensitive to this kind of answer. And you won’t get far!
Much better to really target your approach – so you know the industry and can give answers both on the form and in person which are properly thought through. You’ll also find it much easier to be proactive – which is great, especially when you’re given the opportunity to ask some questions. The graduate job interview candidate who says: “well, I read in The Times the other day that your company has recently done X, Y, Z. What’s your view on that?” is far more likely to impress.
Which communicator do you most admire?
Ha! Well, I love variety and I’m a big fan of straight-forward no-nonsense. So that goes from really insightful pieces by Malcolm Gladwell through to people like Janet Street-Porter.
Which book would you recommend?
Well, unless you practice and actively seek feedback and take that feedback on board, you can read as many books as you like but you won’t improve much as a communicator. Throw yourself into the lion’s den.
But if you were to pick up one book, I’d recommend ‘Management Stripped Bare’ by Joel Owen. A great insight into what to really expect as you climb the careers ladder. It offers a great mix of humorous insight and practical advice – I’d make it compulsory reading for all graduates!
Other articles on this blog which may interest you include: ‘How To Impress At Your Next Job Interview – Tips From An Expert Recruiter’ and ‘Improve Your Listening Skills – With A Hostage Negotiator’.
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