The importance of a Good CV

Writing a CV is your opportunity to give a great first impression to your potential employers. The problem is that you only have a limited space in which to fit your whole life story. Younger clients have the opposite concern. They can feel daunted by the prospect of filling a whole page with relevant experience.

Writing a CV is your opportunity to give a great first impression to your potential employers. The problem is that you only have a limited space in which to fit your whole life story. Younger clients have the opposite concern. They can feel daunted by the prospect of filling a whole page with relevant experience.

In today’s blog, we’ll look at what you should include in your CV, what you can afford to leave out, and provide a few tips to help your CV make its way to the top of the pile.

Think about your audience.

I want to get this point across first and foremost because it should inform your whole approach to CV writing. Ask yourself, “who will be reading my CV?” and keep that person in mind while writing and editing your CV.

It’s most likely that prospective candidates will initially be reviewed and narrowed down by a hiring manager. They will be searching for specific information and keywords that match the job description. With this in mind:

• Tailor your CV to each job description

If the company you are applying for has published a job description, make sure you include as many of the listed traits as possible. You need to make these keywords jump out of the page so that in 20-30 seconds of reading you make it to the “yes” pile.

Think quality over quantity. Spending a little extra time personalising your CV to each job description is more than worth it if it significantly increases your chances of getting to the interview stage.

• Make your CV clear, lean, and easily skimmable.

You may be competing against any number of potential candidates. Make the job of reading your CV as pleasant as possible.

        • Use a good size font, clear headers, and a good layout are absolutely fundamental.
        • Try as much as possible to make everything fit onto 1 side of A4. 2 if you absolutely must, but bear in mind that there’s a good chance whoever’s reading it won’t turn the page.
        • I cannot stress this enough: with all due respect, they don’t want to hear your life story! Keep it to the point. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to impress them with further information in your interview.
• Up your presentation skills

What outfit would you wear to your interview? You’d definitely make sure you wore your best shoes! Just as in person, you want your CV to give the best visual impression possible. A well-designed CV can help you stand out.

Luckily, you don’t need a degree in graphic design to be able to create something that looks unique and professional. Canva is a great design tool that has some nice CV templates. Be warned though that not all of them are suitable for a job in professional services. Keep it classy, and remember it should be easy to read. Choose a design without too many bells and whistles!

List of essential information

• First name, surname, professional title and contact details

Include this information clearly at the top of your CV. Your name acts as the title. Don’t write “Curriculum Vitae”. Include a phone number and email address. These days you do not need to include your home address.

• Personal statement

Keep it short. 3-5 lines. Your personal statement is a concise overview of who you are and what you can bring to the role. You might also want to include your career goals here too.

• Employment history

Start with your current or most recent job, and all subsequent jobs in reverse chronicle order.

In the header, write:

        • Dates of employment,
        • Job title,
        • Name of the company,

Beneath that write one line about the role, and then bullet points your duties, skills, and achievements. This is a great place to include the keywords from the job description.

• Education and qualifications

If you are just starting your career, this section is very relevant. Feel free to include information on relevant modules, placements, and transferable skills you acquired in each institution.

As you move through your career, however, this part of your CV should be kept brief. Include the name of the institution, the name of the qualification, and the grade you achieved.

• Extra skills

If you feel that there is more relevant information that doesn’t fit into the above categories, there’s plenty of flexibility to include them in your CV. You might want to include:

        • Languages
        • IT skills
        • Awards
        • Publications
        • Relevant hobbies and interests

The above advice is general to writing a CV for any career. If you have contacts in the industry of your chosen career, ask them if there is any specific information your potential employers might find relevant or interesting. Ask them to look over your CV and provide constructive feedback.

If you don’t feel comfortable doing this, or if you don’t have any contacts you can trust to dedicate the time to help you, find a career coach who specialises in your chosen career.

As career coaches, it’s our job to help you put yourself in the best possible position to get your dream job and progress in your career. As specialists in professional services and public sector careers, we’re clued up on the keywords and phrases hiring managers want to hear. Together with you, we can help mine your current experience for relevant skills you might not know you even have!

If you’d like help writing your CV, get in touch. We’ll happily assist you in any way we can, and together we can ascertain whether you’d benefit from booking in a session with us. Our aim is to empower you to live out your dream career, and writing an incredible CV is the exciting first step!

Standing out from the other exceptional people

What Models are good for you?

I’m Martin Cunningham and I qualified as a competency-based interview assessor over 25 years ago and have taught, coached and mentored throughout that time.

I have been approached by many to support them in their career development, with special focus on Interview preparation. Witnessing my clients’ successes, I decided that this is a great way to involve myself in helping others achieve their dream roles through career coaching, executive coaching and interview preparation.

Some of you will have seen my blog on competency-based interviews. I am often asked what I think about models for answering questions and I address this and other techniques in greater detail with my clients. Which is why I decided to share some insights regarding models for answering questions in interviews.

The first insight: Become comfortable with whichever model it is that you are going to use. All too often I have witnessed people attempting a model they have just heard about, they end up worrying so much about the structure, they forget to answer the question and end up failing to deliver as a result.

If you are going to use a model, make it the way you approach all questions asked of you between now and the interview. Tell your friends, family and colleagues you will be doing this and ask them for their support and feedback. Why would you do this? 

The simple answer is: When put under pressure human beings revert to type, if your type is someone who puts structure to your answers then, when nervous and under pressure you will revert to type, thereby providing a comprehensive, focused answer, evidencing to the panel how well you might fit within the team and in the position applied for, even when nervous or under pressure.

As outlined in a previous blog, interview skills are an eroding skill set, practice some of these models and maybe you will find one that is comfortable for you. If not find something that is.

Models

In my coaching sessions I deal with these and try to ensure we match the style to the client and the audience. For example, some in the UN prefer the CAR model, some in the OSCE and EU prefer STAR, when applying to become a barrister one might want to focus on evidencing persuasion. 

That said, most assessors prefer the models they know best. Knowing your audience is a good place to start, as is understanding your personal style.

Most models are similar in their approach, each model provides you a framework to assist in presenting to the panel, the situation or circumstance, (the bigger picture), and the reason the organisation, mission or role exist, or why you were faced with a particular problem. Following that the models help you establish through your answer, what your role was and what you did, together with the result. Remember you are stating what you did, it is your behaviour the panel are assessing.

Many people look at elements of these in their answers, however the better candidates establish the reason, then what was done and provide a bit of breadth and depth to what their personal involvement in the success was, as well as the result. If you cannot do this you have the wrong example.

Finally, the best candidates often include what they, their team and/or the organisation learnt and how any better working practices and procedures were disseminated for the future.

Here are some models for you to practice:

STAR(L)

STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result. (L) stands for learning, add this wherever you can, especially when asked about a success, a failure or a mistake. It is a great behaviour trait and it sets you apart from the majority of candidates who need to be asked.

Situation: Set the scene and give the necessary details of your example. You must describe a specific event or situation, not a generalized description.

Task: Describe what your responsibility was in that situation.

Action: Explain exactly what steps you took to address it. What specific steps did you take and what was your particular contribution, keep the focus on YOU! I can’t say this enough!

Result: Share what outcomes your actions achieved. Don’t be modest here, be honest but not modest, sell yourself, evidence why should this panel should conclude that you would be a good fit? Take credit for your behaviour, remember they are looking at your past behaviour as a predictor of your potential in their organisation.

CAR(L)

CAR stands for Context, Actions, Results, and again I add learning.

When structuring your answers start with providing a brief context, followed by actions that were attributable to you as the individual not part of the team (you could say in the context that your team was given the overall task of…., but the actions are what you were personally responsible for. The next part is where the majority of candidates shine or fall. DO NOT FORGET THIS! You need to state the result, outcome, impact of YOUR actions. (How did you make a difference? why do we want to employ you?)

Again: Take credit for your behaviour, remember they are looking at your past behaviour as a predictor of your potential in their organisation.

Then really shine by sharing the learning from the experience.

Decision Making, Written Tasks:

When being asked to provide a document or where time is short or being interviewed by someone who wants the successful candidate to be transactional, you could consider the BLUF model. Use it sparingly and only if you are very accomplished at it and can equally evidence your transformational leadership style through out other elements of the assessment.

BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front)

Basically, your conclusions and recommendations are placed at the beginning of the text or answer, thereby ensuring the answer is clear. In questions where they are testing decision making it can be a strong tactic, but I caution you that it is a calculated risk, remember that assessors are human too and yours is not the only interview they are listening too. When assessors are tired you have to help them listen to your answer. Ensure you then offer your arguments and considerations of facts. Also, if time allows repeat your recommendation.

I would not advise using this in interview unless you are well versed in its use, it will set you apart from the other candidates but if it does not resonate well with the panel you may not be successful.

Persuasion

For those of you considering how to demonstrate persuasion for the legal profession or a job where advocacy of your position needs to be more persuasive, rather than negotiating or influencing, try these:

CARRL

C     Clear Position

 State your position clearly and confidently

A     A Specific Audience

You need to know who you are talking to and adapt the communication style and arguments to meet the needs of the audience.

R     Convincing Reasons

 Speak to the points to prove, stated cases etc…

R     Rebuttal to your Argument

Expose faulty reasoning for any rebuttal, have some in your back pocket also

L     learning;

For you this could include Mitigating Circumstances and Remorse for the client or organisational learning and improvement for the Team, the Set, Yourself.

SSS

S     Say it Once

S     Say it Well

S     Sit Down/Stop

How to Improve Communication in a Remote Workforce

Working remotely isn’t all bad, Not only are you relieved of a ghastly commute every morning but also there’s a level of flexibility that allows you to have a better work-life balance. 

Many have had this social experiment forced upon them these past few months, and they’ve been surprised by the results. Despite initial concerns to the contrary, remote employees are more productive and happier. 

Given the results, some businesses and organizations are choosing to continue working remotely. The public sector in particular are seizing the opportunity to streamline their operations. 

However, plenty of us have come to the realisation that there are also some challenges to sustained remote working. Today we’ll focus on one of them: the challenge of maintaining effective communication. 

Effective communication in the workplace has a number of significant benefits: better workplace relationships, less friction, higher levels of job satisfaction and increased productivity to name a few. 

Here are some of the main challenges to effective communication in a remote workforce:

  • Zoom fatigue is real. You’re not alone in feeling inordinately exhausted after a day of back to back video call meetings. 
  • More distractions. It’s much easier to disconnect
  • No water cooler moments. There are fewer to no opportunities for casual socialization.
  • Less direct communication. It’s harder to “catch your manager for a chat when they have a minute.” Some remote workers feel that their managers are out of touch with their needs
  • Job insecurity can prevent people from speaking up. This point is specific to the COVID-19 crisis, but it also points to a wider culture of mistrust in companies with poor communication.

So, what can we do to improve communication remotely? Here are a few suggestions

 

1. Decrease stimuli on videocalls. 

 

Videocalls are overwhelming. There are plenty of things to get distracted by, not least your own face staring back at you. The different backdrops of your varying colleagues are full of excess information that your brain is also having to process. What books do they read? What an odd choice of artwork! 

  • If you’re in the position to do so, request that people use plain backdrops if possible. 
  • You can also switch the video layout to “active speaker” so that only the person talking is visible to you. 
  • Hide your video from your own display so that you’re not tempted to look at your image and overthink your reactions. Just don’t forget that others can see you. 

 

2. Keep videocalls focussed.

 

You want to limit the amount of time spent on videocalls, so make sure they’re completely necessary. This will also help prevent participants from getting distracted. 

  • In advance of the meeting, prepare a list of points beforehand to make sure you keep address what needs to be addressed. Encourage other participants to do the same if necessary.
  • Avoid speaking for too long on any one topic. Make sure you include other participants in the conversation.
  • Be mindful of who hasn’t contributed to the meeting in a while. Some people find it particularly awkward to unmute and interrupt the conversation in a video call.

 

3. Check in with people separately too.

 

With that last bullet point in mind, it’s particularly important for managers and team leads to check in individually with their team members. 

  • Schedule in catchup calls to make sure they feel supported and fully informed.
  • People are particularly wary of speaking out if they feel their employment is at risk. So before any calls, it’s important to make sure you communicate that they are genuinely for their benefit. 
  • Keep calls regular and predictable.
  • Remember, half of communication is listening. Be present and focussed. 
  • During the call, only make promises you can fulfill. Trust is fragile and important. 
  • Send a follow-up email outlining what was said – this will help ensure them that they were heard. Include any actionables in the email and make sure you follow them through. 

 

4. Take particular care in written communication

 

Nothing beats face to face communication: intonation, inflection, body language, even the smallest facial expressions communicate more than words. In emails and chat messages, that arsenal is completely removed. 

  • Proofread emails before sending them out and make it extremely clear what you intend to convey. 
  • Consider the fine shades of meaning in each word you use and edit where necessary.
  • Taking that extra time will help you avoid time spent resolving errors as a result of miscommunication or even resolving conflict.
  • Accept the fact that wires will get crossed and be empathetic while addressing the resulting issues.

 

5. Keep social events short and optional

 

After a long day (and possibly even a day of back to back Zoom calls) the idea of a further hour of socializing with our colleagues on yet another video call might not be as appealing as intended. 

  • Whoever is running the event should make it clear that people are welcome, but they are not obligated to join.
  • Shorter social events are a nice way to quickly check in with everyone and talk about something other than work. If it’s short there’s more chance people will take part.
  • As with point 2, make sure everyone is included. Whoever is running the event can act as the facilitator, directing the conversation, and to avoid the group talking all at once.

 

6. Try to be patient and empathetic…

 

…at all times, but particularly during the crisis. There may be any number of circumstances affecting people’s ability to communicate effectively. It takes some people longer than others to adapt to working remotely, in some cases they never gel with it. 

 

Advantages of Executive Coaching

Well before the word ‘coronavirus’ entered our day-to-day vernacular, seismic changes were being made in the workplace. Big businesses were already working to accommodate a new generation of talent, a generation with a whole new set of expectations and different priorities. For example, the new workforce places a higher value on their mental wellbeing, people want more autonomy over the direction of their careers and don’t necessarily aspire to ascend rigid hierarchies,

Well before the word ‘coronavirus’ entered our day-to-day vernacular, seismic changes were being made in the workplace. Big businesses were already working to accommodate a new generation of talent, a generation with a whole new set of expectations and different priorities. For example, the new workforce places a higher value on their mental wellbeing, people want more autonomy over the direction of their careers and don’t necessarily aspire to ascend rigid hierarchies, motivation will be particularly important as more people work remotely.

Most, if not all of these trends are likely to accelerate post the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses of all sizes will be obliged to re-evaluate their structure and their workplace ethos in order to attract and retain talent.

Executive coaching is the most effective way to start making these changes. Good leadership and management skills are invaluable in this new climate. Principally, executive coaching helps by creating an environment of open communication. From there, you’ll be able to assess and adapt the modus operandi of your business to make it more efficient and maintain a high level of satisfaction amongst employees.

Here are some key skills boosted by executive coaching:

1. Empathy

Not an attribute that has traditionally dominated business thinking, empathy is now identified by business leaders as one of the five key skills of successful executives in today’s digital, global economy.

The ability to understand differing perspectives will enhance interactions with colleagues, leading subordinates and peers to seek your counsel. It is also invaluable beyond company walls: in a global economy, empathy is instrumental in helping you understand audiences from different territories and determine their needs and how you can best fill them.

2. Self-awareness

Introspection plays a big part in my executive coaching sessions. Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean you’ll be reclined on a chaise lounge while we uncover childhood trauma! In coaching, self-analysis is about understanding your strengths and motivations and then applying them to your position or to your career journey.

Being self-aware allows you to capitalize on your strengths, and be mindful of what skills you need to work on. It also helps you to overcome frustrations as you can more easily recognise what’s causing, for example, errors in your work or slumps in productivity. Once the problem is identified, you can respond dispassionately and work to resolve it.

3. Motivation

Understanding and being conscious of what drives you is key to maintaining motivation, even during a difficult task. Sometimes you need more than the promise of a paycheck to get you through working overtime. Executive coaching can help you reconnect with your career goals so that when you feel bogged down during the tough times, you can step back and take a look at the bigger picture.

4. The ability to motivate others

Great leadership is a consequence of the three other benefits listed above. Being self-aware, understanding what motivates you, and developing empathy all enable you to better understand your team and help them achieve their goals. The result: a motivated and satisfied workforce that feels valued and are prepared to work efficiently as part of a team.

This is not, by any means, an exhaustive list of the advantages of executive coaching, I could go on and on. For me, these are some of the essential skills that are particularly important in a rapidly changing work environment. Time will tell as to what extent the pandemic will continue to affect these changes, but I strongly believe that coaching executives will be all the more important for motivation, trust and good communication.

If you have any questions about this blog post, or would like to know how executive coaching can benefit your business, please get in touch, and I’ll be more than happy to assist you.

Public Sector Coaching in a Post COVID-19 World

Workers in the public sector are being pushed and challenged in a way that typically only occurs once in a generation. It’s no coincidence that we hear the language of war used to describe the efforts of public sector workers against COVID-19. Everyone is facing such incredible uncertainty, not only in fear for their own health and the health of loved ones, but of what’s to follow. Once some semblance of “normality” has resumed, it’s likely to look a lot different than it did just 4 months ago.

But there is a light. Crises force us to reevaluate ourselves and our position within the workforce and within society, after which we can transition and transform. As dark as everything seems right now, the fallout actually presents public sector workers with an incredible opportunity to not just heal, but to grow.

The role of public sector coaching

For those unfamiliar with coaching, here’s a breakdown of what coaching is and what it isn’t.

  • COACHING ISN’T THERAPY. I have a strong duty of care towards my clients to ensure their optimal wellbeing. Some public sector workers will no doubt have experienced emotional trauma as a result of the crisis. Coaching does not offer emotional support. My clients come to me when they are ready to take positive action. There are, however, a few similarities to therapy. My coaching sessions offer my clients a dedicated time and a safe space to talk over their thoughts and feelings so that they can learn more about themselves. During sessions, we work together to reassess your way of thinking about yourself and positively affect your behaviour as a result.If you feel emotionally stable and are not concerned about your mental health, coaching could be a great option for you.
  • COACHING ISN’T MENTORING. Generally speaking, mentors offer their own experience and expertise so that you can apply it to your situation, whereas coaching makes no presumptions about you or your situation. Coaching acknowledges that each individual has their own motivations, their own set of requirements, and their own idea of success. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.
  • COACHING IS ABOUT THE INDIVIDUAL. Roles in the public sector very diverse, the challenges faced by each individual in those roles diversifies the work of a public sector coach even further. Each person has their own goals and their own idea of accomplishment. As a coach, I work with my clients to assess what they want to achieve and what is standing in their way. I collaborate with clients to find solutions that are achievable and sustainable for them.
  • COACHING IS ABOUT TAKING AFFIRMATIVE ACTION. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, many public sector workers feel overburdened and overwhelmed with work, and unprecedented challenges. Once pseudonormality resumes, the same workers are likely to feel lost and lacking direction, a stressor in itself. Other public sector workers have the polar opposite problem of feeling somewhat redundant during the lockdown, and they too will be in need of guidance. Public sector coaching helps people reconnect with their work, imbue it with purpose and gives workers something to strive towards. This will be particularly important in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The benefits of public sector coaching

Many public sector workers in the UK start their careers with a strong sense of purpose. They are passionate and determined to make a difference through their work.

Over time, it’s easy for public sector staff to lose sight of why they chose their line of work. Bureaucracy, stressful working conditions, and pay freezes lead to complete disillusionment that harms the workers themselves and the efficiency of the system.

The COVID-19 pandemic will continue to have its own consequences on the workforce. Once the applause has died down, will there be sustained support for those who were on the front line? Will the current demands have a long term toll on staff who already felt overworked beyond their pay grade before all this started?

Once we’re on safer ground, there will need to be an obvious and concerted effort to check in with staff throughout the public sector. By offering public sector coaching, workers will feel that their needs are acknowledged. In a completely new post-pandemic climate, workers will need time to regroup, process what they’ve learned and experienced, and move forward to apply themselves in a way that can really aid the public sector and consequently society at large.

If you’re interested in public sector coaching or would like to know more about how I operate, please get in touch and I’ll happily talk it through with you.

Understanding Competency Based Interviews and how to prepare.

I’m Martin Cunningham and I qualified as a competency-based interview assessor over 25 years ago and have taught, coached and mentored throughout that time.

I was seconded by the UK Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO) in EU post conflict missions and led the Rule of Law capacity building pillars within EULEX Kosovo, (the largest EU civilian crisis mission in the world), working with Ministers of Justice and Interior, and where I also coached and mentored a number of senior Police, Customs and Correctional officers, at the executive level. I also trained Afghan Police Commanders in leadership, Command, control and risk-based decision making.

Having retired from the police and having left the EU mission work post BREXIT I have been approached by many to support them in their career development, with special focus on Interview preparation. Witnessing my clients successes, I decided that this is a great way to involve myself in helping others achieve their dream roles through career coaching, executive coaching and interview preparation.

Hence, I thought its only appropriate to share some of my insights regarding competency-based interviews with you all:

Most areas of the multilateral sector, where organisations are formed between three or more nations to work on issues that relate to all of the countries in the organisation, such as: the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE); United Nations (UN); European Union (EU) and World Health Organisation (WHO) missions, together with many other national and international agencies or organisations from the governmental, private and none profit making sectors use competency interviewing to assess the potential and suitability of candidates for many, if not most positions. Many compete for positions are required to interview in their second language. I help a number of clients whose second language is English, prepare for English Language, Competency-Based interviews.

I have sat through so many assessments and interviews from both sides of the table and what is clear is that it is an eroding skill set, mainly because on securing a secures a position the successful candidate does not often rush off to be interviewed immediately and even those who assess, they will admit, it is a totally different experience on the other side of the table, computer or phone line.

Whilst there is a plethora of generic guidance out there, to secure that dream job your preparation must be tailored to the location, organisation and the specific competencies for the role. That is what I did and still do for my clients but as that is impossible to achieve in a short blog, I will focus on some generic tips how to prepare properly for a competency-based interview.

First and foremost, do not waste time bemoaning how unrealistic it might be or how it does not give you the time to explain this or that. If you do this, you are wasting energy. As with any test, say a driving test, there are a number of things you have to show you can do and you follow the system laid down, if you do not, you fail.

TIP 1: 

Accept the reality, the assessments are how the organisation say the assessments will be and, you fighting that before you secure the job is a battle you have already lost.

Probably be useful if I discuss a little about the thinking behind why so many organisations employ competency interviews:

Basically, the theory behind it is that if you can demonstrate that you have successfully demonstrated the competency in the past, there is a strong likelihood that you’ll be able to

repeat that success in the new role.

There has been research on this, though I accept there has been other academic studies that question the reliability of all forms of assessment and no system is perfect, remember if you are already focusing on why any aspect of the process is nonsense you have already put yourself behind the competition, and that competition is you and your approach to preparing for the interview.

This brings me onto the next issue many people have when preparing for interviews, they often think about who else is being interviewed… Don’t stress about that, it is wasted energy, focus on you!

TIP 2: 

Do not waste energy on your competition, focus on you!

Now, why the researchers suggest competency-based assessment provides a reasonable indicator of future behaviour and performance:

Competency-based interviewing establishes a reasonably strong predictor of future performance. The optimal predictor involves a trial period such as apprenticeships, internships, trial periods as a trainee, etc. as one can imagine assessing staff in the workplace, whilst optimal would be cost and time prohibitive. Therefore, most of the questions posed in a competency interview tend to be based on past experience, so it’ll be a question such as, ‘Tell me about a time when you….. ‘

A good panel focuses on ensuring each candidate has the opportunity to give the best of themselves, whilst ensuring the questioning is fair for all candidates and they are all assessed against the same criteria. They will be probing and delving and trying to get to the bottom of what your role was in that in that particular team now in preparing for a competency interview. But your role is key, you have to sell yourself within the competency framework. The more successful candidates give a whole answer and a concise and structured manner.

Most assessors will normally look to the job description and the role requirement. There will therefore be strong clues in those documents. It is where any preparation of yours should commence.

TIP 3: 

Always save the vacancy notice and any details you have placed on an application, including your cv, when you apply for the position.

Go through the advert and ask yourself to provide two or three examples for each competency. Most employers have a competency framework. You should refer to that when writing your application and when preparing for interview.

Now Practice, Practice, Practice.