Episode 21: Get that job! Top tips for a successful application – with Margaret Buj, Interview Coach

Interview coach Margaret Buj explains how to nail your job application, what makes the perfect CV and how to succeed at interview.

Today’s guest

Margaret Buj, Interview Coach

Website: Interview Coach

Twitter: @MargaretBuj

LinkedIn: Margaret Buj

YouTube: Margaret Buj

Contact: margaret@interview-coach.co.uk

Margaret specializes in helping professionals get hired, promoted and earn more.

She has 14 years of experience of recruiting for global technology and eCommerce companies across Europe and the US and, in the last 13 years, she’s successfully coached hundreds of people to get the jobs and promotions they really wanted.

Margaret has been recognized as one of LinkedIn UK’s Power Profiles in HR and her blog has won a number of awards. She’s spoken at career events & conferences and she’s done training sessions or workshops in London, Monaco, Athens & Saudi Arabia.  Margaret’s advice has been featured in, among others, the Financial Times, Cosmopolitan, Total Jobs, Management Today.

What you’ll learn in this episode

  • Why you should first check on LinkedIn to see if you know anyone who works at the company you’re applying to
  • How to tailor your CV to specific jobs and make sure that it’s “keyword optimised”
  • Why it’s better to make fewer job applications than have a “spray and pray” approach
  • What employers are REALLY looking for when they review CVs
  • How to ace the interview process and the most common mistakes to avoid
  • What to ask in the interview to make sure it’s the right place for you
  • The best places to research the company you’re going for

Resources mentioned in this episode

Please note that some of these are affiliate links and we may get a small commission in the event that you make a purchase.  This helps us to cover our expenses and is at no additional cost to you.

To see the resources recommended by all our guests, visit the Resources page.

Episode 21: Get that job! Top tips for a successful application - with Margaret Buj, Interview Coach

Jeremy Cline
You've worked out what you want to do. You found the perfect job. It's with your dream company. Now all you've got to do is apply. How do you give yourself the best chance of success? Well, you could do a lot worse than listening to this episode. I'm Jeremy Cline. And this is Change Work Life.

Hello, and welcome to the Change Work Life podcast, where we're all about beating the Sunday evening blues and enjoying Mondays again. My guest on today's show is Margaret Buj. She's a recruiter and interview coach and she's helped hundreds of people with their applications and interviews to land their dream jobs, and she's got some great tips for you. You might want to have a pen and paper handy for this one as we cover quite a lot of stuff. Here's the interview. Hi, Margaret. Welcome to the show.

Margaret Buj
Thank you for having me.

Jeremy Cline
First of all, can you introduce yourself and tell everyone what you do and what you're about?

Margaret Buj
Absolutely. I am a career and interview coach and also a recruitment professional. And I specialise in helping professionals to get hired, promoted and paid more. And so I actually have 13 years of coaching experience and 14 years of recruitment experience. During my recruitment career, I've recruited for some global companies, mostly in the technology and ecommerce space across Europe, including Microsoft or Expedia. And also in the last 13 years, I successfully coached hundreds - if not thousands of people now - to help them get the jobs and promotions they really wanted. I've also spoken at some career events. I've done training sessions for recruiters and for managers in London, in Monaco, in Athens and even in Saudi Arabia. And so that's what I do - I still work in recruitment. I'm currently contracting with a global technology company, helping with the diversity and inclusion initiatives, and I'm also doing coaching.

Jeremy Cline
Before we tap into your knowledge - which by the sound of it is absolutely vast! - can you tell us a bit about what you were doing before you got into interview coaching? I think I saw on your website that you were in sort of sales, marketing, that sort of thing. So how did how did you get into that? And how did you transition over to what you do now?

Margaret Buj
Absolutely. So after I graduated, I worked for a couple of years doing sales and marketing for a small book publishing company. I enjoyed the job partially, but I knew I didn't want to work in sales, and that's what they wanted the role to move into. So initially, I thought I wanted to work in PR, and I even got myself a couple of work experiences in some of the best PR companies in the world. But when I'd done these work experiences, I've actually realised it's not the job for me. And there are certain elements I enjoyed, but certain elements that I didn't. So I started thinking, you know, what do I really want to? And that was a time of exploration. And I'd spoken to a lot of people, you know doing different jobs. I've actually spoken to a few people who work in recruitment. I knew one person who was a director, a recruitment director in one of the biggest recruitment companies, I knew one couple who run a recruitment agency, and after talking to them, I actually realised my skillset would be quite useful to a job in recruitment. And once I made that decision, I actually got my first job within a month, which was pretty quick. But actually what happened was - how I got into coaching - so in my first year, year and a half in coaching, I was looking for something that I could be doing on a part-time basis. Something that I enjoy, something that I can do outside of office hours and you know, I wanted to make some extra money as well. I was a lot more junior then than I am right now. And I started thinking about what I can do, but actually how I got into coaching was a little bit by accident. A friend of a friend lost his job, and he'd been looking for a job for eight months and he couldn't find anything. So a friend of this friend said why don't you speak to Margaret? She works in recruitment, she might be able to help you. So we agreed to speak on the phone, and we spoke for a couple of hours and he was quite shy, not very good at selling himself. But after the session, after this call, which I wouldn't even call it a session, he started getting second interviews with some really well known companies. We spoke again, he got the job, and he's been getting every job since then, as a contractor. So I started thinking, you know, there have to be other people who need that help. And also, in my recruitment job, I've seen that there are so many people who are good at what they do, they have strong CVs, but they're just not very good at selling themselves and articulating that during the job interviews. So I started doing some research. I remember I was very busy in my full time recruitment job. So I remember one Sunday, I did some research, another Sunday I wrote content for my first website, which was a lot more basic than the current one. A friend helped me with Google AdWords to promote the website and I had two clients in my first week. And it just grew from there. You know, I've done my coaching qualifications later, I did a diploma in personal performance coaching and also in corporate and executive coaching. But really, I think what helps me is the fact I've been working in recruitment for 14 years, I've been recruiting in most countries in Europe, I've done recruitment, even in Africa, and in the Middle East, and in the States as well. So I think that's really what helps me - I've worked with thousands of different candidates. I've worked with many different hiring managers in many different companies. And of course, the coaching qualifications help, but it's mostly the experience of working with so many different people. And also when I started working in coaching, I didn't even know anyone working say in public sector, but I've worked with so many different people from so many different industries in the last several years. So that's how I got into it, and it just grew from there.

Jeremy Cline
So you had your friend who introduced you to their friend and you found that you could help them, so what inspires you to turn that into a business rather than actually staying within recruitment within big companies, within employers?

Margaret Buj
I do both. I still do both. I absolutely do both, I actually really enjoy having the variety. I actually wouldn't want to be doing just coaching on a full-time basis, just because I like working in teams, you know, I absolutely love one to one coaching sessions. But at the same time, I do love working on projects. I like working in teams, and when you work as a coach, it's kind of a lonely job, you know, you do it either either face to face or you do it over Skype, but it's nice to have something else as well. So I'm doing both. I'm still doing some recruitment. And I'm doing coaching. I still do training - for example, I ran a training session for one of the London councils last Friday, just to teach their people how to interview because they had a reorganisation and they will have a lot of different positions coming up. So I still do both, and I really love it because you really make a massive difference. I can't tell you how many clients I've had, who got the job. I remember from some of the best examples, I had someone who had 30 unsuccessful interviews, and she got the job straight after our session. I've had clients who again, were maybe not working for a few months, and I had a clients who literally got offered the job the same day the interview ended, even like 10 minutes after the interview. So you know, that's really really, really rewarding. So I absolutely love that.

Jeremy Cline
Setting the scene, obviously it depends from company to company, but as a general rule, what are companies trying to achieve as part of the application process and the interview process? I mean, obviously, they're looking for the right candidates for the job, but what's the sort of methodology that they are trying to implement?

Margaret Buj
I'm not sure it's about methodology as such. As you said, you're trying to find the right person for the position and you know, that could be very challenging, depending on the level of position. I mean, I remember situations when - just to give an example - I've had positions when I've received between 150 to 250 applications for one role, and I think it sometimes could be even more competitive in some large organisations. So the company is trying to find someone who can firstly do the job and also someone who's going to be a good cultural fit for the organisation. Can you do the job, do we want to work with you? So that's really what what companies are doing but it can be a very time consuming process. Typically when I work in recruitment, you will advertise the role so you will get some applications. You will also approach passive candidates on LinkedIn. Typically recruiters in most developed organisations will also go to the market and try to approach passive candidates who aren't actively looking for a new position. Then it's just the whole process of qualifying candidates and making sure that they have the right skills and, you know, really checking that they have the experience that they put on their CV and also making sure that they fit in with what the organisation is trying to achieve. So it can be actually quite a time consuming process. It's not easy, you know, it's really not easy, because every hiring mistake and cost the company a lot of money - especially if a company is using a recruitment agency, it could be a massive, massive fee, it could be 10, 20 thousand of a fee for these candidates. So you want to make sure that this person is going to be the right choice. So obviously you try to minimise any chances that the person will not work out, hence a lot of companies do a number of different tests and interviews and sometimes assessment centres just to really make sure that they're getting the right person for the job.

Jeremy Cline
So let's start with the initial application. So someone has been through the process and they know what they want to do. So if we take that as a given. So they've identified the company they want to work for and they've identified the role that they want to do. First of all, is it better to apply through an online application form or through a CV and covering letter, or are there ways that people can apply which maybe people just haven't thought of? You know, maybe not the traditional, just send in your CV and a covering letter?

Margaret Buj
Yeah. I mean, a bit of both. It depends on the company, because if you can try to find out either who the hiring manager is or who the recruiter is, I think it's always a great idea to contact them directly. You can still apply following the rules the company want you to follow but if someone can recommend you, if you can actually find someone within the company who can recommend you for the position, I think your chances of getting noticed definitely increase dramatically. So whenever you see a job in a company that interests you, firstly, check on LinkedIn. Do you know of anyone - maybe previous colleagues - who work for that company? Can anyone make an introduction? And also have a look on LinkedIn - are you connected on LinkedIn to someone working for the company? If you don't know them at all they might not be able to make an introduction - obviously they will not be able to recommend you - but maybe they can actually tell you who the right person to contact is, whether it's the hiring manager or a specific recruiter. At the same time, sometimes it will just not be possible because you will see a job being posted and there's absolutely no information about who to contact and if it's a large organisation, it actually might not be possible to find out exactly who the hiring manager is. However, you can definitely learn how to make your CV stand out from the rest. So what I have to say is most people could get more interviews if they just knew how to tailor their CV to specific jobs. So if you are not being invited to enough interviews, it's likely because you are not tailoring your CV to specific jobs, or you're applying for jobs which you are not really qualified for. So tailoring your CV to each job might actually seem like a time consuming task, but you can significantly increase chances of securing an interview. And I would really recommend that if you are a job seeker that you send fewer applications but you tailor them to a specific role, rather than just having the 'spray and pray' approach. Sometimes people think the more applications I send, the higher my chances of getting an interview. But that's not the case. Not if you're applying for jobs that you're not qualified for. I remember when I was working for Expedia, there was this one candidate who applied for 25 positions - I could see on the system 25 positions - not one of them he was qualified for.

Jeremy Cline
All within the same company?

Margaret Buj
Within the same company. So I mean, complete waste of time. And even if one day there was a position he was qualified for, I mean, I couldn't take that person seriously. Applying for 25 jobs - I'm serious not one of them he was qualified for. Quite the junior candidate applying for director level positions. So firstly, it's really important that you understand the requirements. If you are looking at a lot of job descriptions on a daily basis, it's easy to assume that the positions you're applying for are similar enough, so you can just send up your CV or resume without really looking into what each particular job entails. However, that's actually a mistake, because what one company defines as account manager or marketing manager might have a completely different set of responsibilities in another company. So make sure that you only apply if you fulfil most of the requirements of the position. So just to give you an example, I was looking for a Nordic speaker - so Swedish or Norwegian or Danish - and 90% of candidates who applied did not speak any language apart from English. So that's one of the main requirements on the job description. As a candidate you're just wasting your time and my time applying. You know, there's just no point. So always make sure that you fulfil the main requirements of the job description. You don't have to fulfil all of them. But if people are looking for someone who speaks German and you don't speak German, you know, there's no point applying. Another thing that you would want to do is to ensure that your application is keyword optimised. So a lot of companies use ATS and that's Applicant Tracking System, which mines data from your CV by looking for relevant keywords or phrases. So make sure that you highlight all of your relevant skills and experience and your CV must contain keywords that correspond to the description in the job posting, especially if it's kind of industry jargon. So you know, what are the keywords that are being repeated on a job description? Are there any responsibilities that are mentioned on the job description and you've done that? Just make sure that it's on page one of your CV.

Jeremy Cline
When you talk about - we can perhaps cover that in the context of tailoring your CV - so I mean is it as simple as reading the job description and effectively reflecting that back in your CV? So if the job description says, ability to work in teams, then you put in your CV, I have experience of working in teams, or is it a bit more complicated?

Margaret Buj
No, I mean, it's a little complicated. I wouldn't necessarily put 'ability to work in teams' because anyone has done that. I would focus more on the harder skills. I mean, because like most of the descriptions will put ability to work in teams, I wouldn't actually necessarily even put that on it on a CV because they will check during the interview, do you have that experience. It's more like if you have the experience that they are looking for - specific experience like either looking for, you know, specific marketing communications experience, or if they want someone coming from ecommerce sector, or if they need someone who knows a specific computer programme, and if you have that experience, make sure you mention that.

Jeremy Cline
And how do you do that so that it also flags up the keywords that you mentioned?

Margaret Buj
What do you mean?

Jeremy Cline
Let's say that the the job description says that they're looking for experience with social media or something like that. What for example, could you put on your CV that doesn't just say I am experienced with social media? What would you put on that says, I am experienced with social media and here is my experience?

Margaret Buj
Absolutely. So of course, it depends on what the position is, but it's not enough to just stuff your CV with random keywords from the job descriptions. Of course it's not about that. You have to make sure that you actually have done the job. So let's take the social media manager position, you could talk - again, depending on the words the settlement job description, because if you have the experience needed on the job description, I would actually use similar keywords and similar wording on your CV. But in terms of social media, it could be things like, you know, maybe you have set up all the social media profiles in your last organisation, you can talk about specific social media campaigns to run on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook. You can talk about, you know, maybe if you've created some free product or something for people to opt-in, you can maybe mention what you've done, what was the click through rate, you can mention the return on investment of different campaigns. So it just really depends on what's mentioned on the job description, but I agree - social media can mean anything, right. So have you been like setting up the social media campaigns? Or are you just updating social media, with updates? Because that's a very different thing. So you will just want to make sure that whatever is listed on the job description, and you've done that, then that's reflected in your CV.

Jeremy Cline
And going back to what you said - the applicant tracking system - are you talking about effectively an automated system that companies use to filter CVs?

Margaret Buj
Yes and no. So there are different applicant tracking systems. I have to say that in all the companies I've recruited for, and they include some large companies like Expedia in online travel, the recruiter would still look at every single CV. So yes, you can search for someone by the keyword, but you will typically have a little inbox for every position on the system and I would still look at every single CV, and I was not the only one - we would look at everyone. But I think there are some companies that use artificial intelligence to sift through resumes. So if you may be doing graduate recruitment or if you are a company that receives thousands of applications, I think it would be impossible to go through all of them. So then you will have some kind of artificial intelligence programme doing sifting. So I have to say most of the companies I recruited for in the last 14 years - as a recruiter, you look at every single CV, but that's not the case in every single company. So that's why it's so important to have the keywords from the job description.

Jeremy Cline
And so where they're not using artificial intelligence, then it's the recruiter who's kind of looking for those keywords within the CV?

Margaret Buj
It's not just the keywords because - when you are a recruiter you are looking for firstly, does this person seem to have the right experience for the position? The first thing employers are thinking when they evaluate your CV is does this person have the skills and experience necessary to come in, learn the role successfully and start contributing to our efforts quickly. So firstly you're just looking at what has this person done - your work experience section. And also when I look at the candidate's recent experience, I'm also trying to figure out what their status is. Now, if they've only been in their last position for three months, then maybe I want to contact them as a passive candidate. If the candidate is contacting me directly, and they've only been in their current role for a few months, why are they looking so soon? There could be legitimate reasons, but in general, it's a red flag that someone is looking for a new role due to lack of career progression after a few months. We also look for, you know, career reasons for changing jobs. Most importantly, is the candidate's most recent experience relevant to the position for which I'm hiring? And also you know - company recognition. It's not that some companies are better than others - although of course some most certainly are - it's purely a matter of how quickly I can assign a frame of reference. So it's also known as credibility. So for example, maybe you worked at Amazon, then you're probably accustomed to working on projects at scale. Maybe you worked at a well-known crash and burn startup, so you've probably worn many hats, and you've been working in a really, really fast-paced environment. So because recruiters have generally been doing this job for a while, we know these patterns and trends amongst candidates from certain companies so we can formulate some assumptions as a result. I'm just talking about that CV review - we're talking less than 20 seconds analysis - so often companies are also looking for people who have worked in a similar type of organisation. So for example, most of the time when I was recruiting for global blue chip companies, the hiring manager wanted someone who has also worked for a similar type of organisation. They wouldn't look at someone working from some obscure company they've never heard of. Same even when I was recruiting for a start up, typically, you know, we didn't want someone who had too much of a corporate environment, we would look at someone who, you know, works in a similar environment as well - who works for a start up. So it's the experience, it's the type of a company that the candidate is coming from. We are looking at overall experience and kind of your story like, you know, is there a career progression? Does this person have increasing levels of responsibility? We are looking at the job titles and the responsibilities the person has held. We're looking at the dates of employment for previous positions, how long you've been with each employer, and you know, try to show progression as well as a job seeker within companies and when changing between companies, so even if you received a slight upgrade in job title with your company, make sure to highlight that. So if you advance from sales associate to senior sales associate. Yeah, and obviously keywords and you know, overall organisation.

Jeremy Cline
Can I just pick up on one of the things you were talking about. And that's how short stints at companies can be a red flag, because sometimes people go into a job and it just doesn't work out and it becomes apparent pretty quickly that it's not going to work out, and people might stay for three months or for six months before deciding that they want to move on. How best can the candidate manage that within the CV or the covering letter so that they can explain it within the sort of the 20 second framework - that time frame that you were talking about - that people look at these CVs?

Margaret Buj
Absolutely. So there are a few different scenarios here. Because if you have, in general, a pretty stable career history, and you have one job where it just didn't work out for whatever reason, that's fine. You know, it happens. There's nothing wrong with that. And I completely agree with you. Sometimes you will start the job and you know, pretty quick, it's not that. I can't tell you how many clients I've had who they started the job and basically, the job was not what has been sold to them. The job was very different, or I had a candidate client who joined a company, a month later his boss got fired, and two months later, his boss's boss got fired. So there was no direction. He was trying to do his best over six months, but just it wasn't getting better. So you know, that's the second reason - so if you have in general a pretty stable career history, and you have just maybe one experience where it didn't work out - that's fine. You don't really need to explain on the CV what happened. I think you can wait until you get to an interview stage. If however, you have been at the company for a short amount of time, but not because of your fault - maybe you got made redundant, maybe the company moved offices, maybe the company closed down their operations - I would mention it on the CV. I would actually mention either like reason for leaving or maybe when you have under the company name and when you have a one or two lines description of what what the company is doing, maybe just add the fact that the company closed down or the company relocated. But you know, if you have someone who has only short-term positions, why is that a red flag? Because it becomes you know, even like with contracts - if you are good, typically companies want to keep you. If you have three months here, and four months there, and four months there for the for the last 10 years, I mean, most companies will not even look at you for a permanent position. That's unfortunately the truth. So it just really depends. I think, you know, you want to exercise some good judgement when taking the position. And ideally we want to explain maybe the reason for leaving if you have more than one short-term position. But it depends, it's such an individual thing, because there will be some hiring managers who are just like... I mean, I've had hiring managers who only had you know five years in one company, which actually, I personally disagree with because you could be in one company for five years, and you could be doing the same job for five years - you don't really improve your skills that much. And then you might have someone who changes jobs, you know, every two or three years, but just imagine how many more skills they gained, right? Plus, I think you'll be quite flexible, if they can make it work in another company. So it really depends, every hiring manager is different. I just think, you know, when it's a red flag, it's when someone has like under a year in every permanent job.

Jeremy Cline
It is ever a red flag the other way? A previous guest on this podcast mentioned that now the norm is, you know, like changing jobs every few years. And is it ever a red flag to see someone who's been in the same job for 15 years, 20 years?

Margaret Buj
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. That's actually such a good question. You're right, I think these days, we do change jobs quicker. You know, three years is kind of an average and you know, could be a little bit more or less than that. But yes, absolutely. I had recruited for some of the really dynamic companies like ecommerce companies that are really fast-growing and fast-paced working. They would never look at someone - actually, I shouldn't say never - but typically, they wouldn't look at someone who spent 20 years in one company, because if someone spent 20 years in one company, I think it's quite clear they don't like change. You know, they're just happy to maybe just plod along with whatever they are doing. But I mean, it's a massive generalisation because I work with people who spent, you know, several years at one company, but they actually had a lot of progression. And I think that's different. You know, if you work for a good company, you've had a lot of progression. I mean, I've spoken to people who, okay, they spent 15 years in one company, but they had five different jobs. So I think that's impressive. You know, that wouldn't necessarily be a red flag at all if they've had a lot of different jobs within the same company. But if you've been doing the same job for the last 12 years and you haven't progressed - for some companies that will be a red flag. But you know what, every company is different. And every industry is different and everyone hiring manager is looking for something different. There might be someone who liked the fact that the person was loyal. So it really depends on the company and the requirements of a specific hiring manager.

Jeremy Cline
Let's move on to the interview process. So we we assume that someone has gone through the application and they've been successfully shortlisted. This is again, something which seems to have evolved quite a lot over the past few years. So maybe it's just my perception, but it used to be the case that maybe you'd be invited for a first interview, and then maybe a second interview. Whereas now you might be asked to record a video answering a question or you might have specific tasks. So can you talk a bit about how how the recruitment process has evolved and what sort of hoops people can expect to jump through?

Margaret Buj
Yeah, again, that that varies from company to company. I think you know, in most companies I recruit for or I have recruited for over the last several years - the first step would always be a telephone or a Skype interview. Because there's no point typically inviting someone for the face to face stage - I think it's always good to have a brief chat on the phone first, just to see how they sound, to see if they have all the relevant experience. So it really varies from company to company, because sometimes I've seen companies when you have two or three telephone interviews first and then the person comes in for maybe like three hours of on-site interviews. So companies typically do the stages, you know, could be between five to seven interviews. I've even seen like 10 interviews for some really senior positions, but you don't have to come to the office ten times... I think you would never come to the office more than twice. So some of these interviews could be with different stakeholders in different countries. A lot of them will be done via Skype or any kind of video interview. And then you know, there will be always a few face to face interviews, but typically on the same day. Most companies understand I think that they can't just keep taking all these days of work, right. So typically recruiters would always try to have all of these interviews in the same day, and then you might need to come again to do a presentation or for a final interview, but you're right, some companies are doing - I think it's mostly for like the high volume recruitment, and graduate recruitment. So I've actually had quite a lot of clients but then again, mostly quite junior, quite new in their careers, who have to prepare for the video interviews, but I'm talking about the video interviews when you are speaking to a camera and not to a live person. So they would have maybe like three minutes, you know, 30 seconds to prepare their answer, and they would need to record the answer and then someone would review them. So I think a lot of people find that quite uncomfortable because they can't gauge from the reaction of another person how they doing because there's no other person on the other side. So I think a lot of people find that quite challenging. And of course, some companies do assessments and they do psychometric tests. So some people might just find that quite challenging. I've had some of the people who told me you know, if I can just get in front of the hiring manager, I know I can convince them - but most companies these days would start with a phone interview. So not everyone likes that either. But that's the way it is. So I think you know, there's no point fighting against it, just embracing it.

Jeremy Cline
Clearly, we could go into tips for all these different stages, and perhaps that's something that we might do in the future. But I think for the purposes of this interview, I'd like to focus on I suppose what you might call the traditional interview, so where you are sitting across the desk from you know, the hiring manager, plus the person who will be your superior if you get hired by this company. So perhaps I can start asking you what do you think is the most common or are the most common mistakes that people make at an in person interview?

Margaret Buj
Absolutely, I would say the number one mistake is that the candidates give quite generic vague answers without making the answers relevant to the employer and without talking about the achievements and the impact of what they did. And that's actually a very common mistake both in interviews and on the CVs. So for example, many CVs I see in my recruitment job and - typically these candidates later do the same during the interview - are entirely duty-oriented. There are no accomplishments listed, and even if they are they not specific and measurable. So if you want to get noticed whether at the application stage or during the interview, you must list some accomplishments that demonstrate the value you bring to an organisation and what problems you solved for your employers. You only have a few minutes to impress an employer. So if you have hit sales quota for certain number of months, if you streamlined a procedure, if you have done something to save your company time and money, say that. That's really important you do that. That's really the main mistake. You know, people just don't talk about what they've achieved. They just talk about what they did, and I can't tell how good they are from their answers.

Jeremy Cline
Is that a cultural thing? I mean, do you find that it's a typically British thing where we just don't shout our own trumpet and we're more reserved, or is it sort of something that's global, where people might say 'I did this', but they don't actually say, 'I did this, this was the achievement, and this was the value that I provided?'

Margaret Buj
Yes, I think it's a global problem. And, you know, I'm saying that as someone who's worked with companies across the globe, probably not in Australia, but I have worked with companies in many different continents. It's a little bit cultural. So I think in the States for example, yes, I think people aren't so shy about selling themselves. And I do agree it is more of a British thing not to want to brag. But you know it's not about bragging, it's about providing them with the facts, you know. Answer the question by potential employers, how have you solved my problem? Or how can you improve my organisation by outlining how you have done these for your current and past employers? So even on a CV people often say 'responsible for', 'duties included' - but ideally you want to, like add some information about the size and scope of the environment to place your achievements and responsibilities in the context because you know, if you have worked for a five person company, if you're a finance director in a five person company that's different to being a finance director in a company of 10,000 people. So you want to provide some information about the context. You want to quantify you achievements with measurable components, whenever possible. And use some action verbs - maybe you tripled revenue, maybe you constructed, maybe you led something, maybe you evaluated. So that's really the main thing you know - you want to be able to sell yourself. You want to have enough specific tangible examples that demonstrate - not just tell, but demonstrate - that you have the skills and experience an employer needs.

Jeremy Cline
And let's look at this the other way around, because interviews are two way processes. So not only is the company assessing whether you can do the job, but also, you've got to go in assessing whether actually this position is right for you, are you going to be happy to work there? Can you work with this person who's interviewing you? Is this something that you try to incorporate into the whole interview? Or is this something that you save for the bit at the end where they ask you if you've got any questions?

Margaret Buj
Yeah, it depends how the interview goes. If you have a chance to ask some questions throughout the interview, I would definitely recommend that. I think the best interview should be like a conversation. Okay. Yes, we are being of course asked lots pf questions, but ideally it should be more of a conversation. So in general, if you can ask some questions throughout the interview, do that. If you have to till that bit at the end, then you know, it is what it is. But questions you can ask - obviously depending on the job and depending on what you already know about the position - but you can ask questions such as, you know, what would you expect me to achieve in the first six months? Or what are the main challenges of the role? Or what are the priorities of the role? You might also want to find out is this a new position or is it a replacement? If it's a replacement because the previous person got promoted I think that's a good sign. If five people left this job - although they probably wouldn't tell you if five people left this job before - but you can ask about the company culture. You can firstly research the company prior to the interview. I would always recommend to do some research online for example, Glassdoor, just to see like what are current employees and past employees saying about the company. But during the interview, absolutely. But you know, firstly, we put a feel out - is that the environment you can see yourself working in? We can definitely ask more information about the job you can ask for information about the team, about the expectations, about what is the culture of the organisation about how will your performance be measured, performance reviews, etc, etc. So yeah, I think you need to interview them as much as they interview you.

Jeremy Cline
Are there any definite no-nos that you shouldn't ask that interview like how much holiday do you have? How much pay you have? Anything that's best not mentioned at interview?

Margaret Buj
Yeah. I think the ones you've mentioned, I just wouldn't necessarily mention that during the first interview. I mean, firstly, the recruiter should ask you during the first call about your salary expectations, or your last salary, because otherwise it could be a complete waste of time, if the job can't pay what you're looking for. But I wouldn't bring it up necessarily during the interview. Hopefully they know what you're currently earning. So I just wouldn't push for that information. I definitely wouldn't ask about the holiday allowance in the first interview, you can ask that later. You can ask your recruiter later what the benefits are. But I think in the first interview you want to sell yourself. And you can ask these questions later. So yeah, these are, I think the main questions. You wouldn't want to ask about the salary necessarily. You also wouldn't want to ask any obvious questions like, you know, don't ask them who are your competitors - that's the kind of stuff you should do research on before. Don't ask any questions that you should know the answer to.

Jeremy Cline
And some of the things that you mentioned that you should ask about, are there good ways of asking about, for example, the culture rather than just saying, describe your culture? Or is that actually the way to do it - that you leave it sort of very open to interpretation?

Margaret Buj
I think it depends, because personally, when I interview, I would always ask some more specific questions because I think you know, even the culture - what's the culture like - in my experience, it depends on which team you're working in. Some of the big companies I recruited for, okay, maybe the organisation values, the same trades, etc. But actually, you know, different teams have different different working cultures. So I normally do some research first and ask them more specific questions. So I would normally do quite a thorough research on for example, Glassdoor. And I will just look at Okay, what did people say they like about the company, what did people say they don't like about the company and I'll some specific questions about that. And, you know, I would also ask stuff about the negatives I've seen. Especially like me working as a recruiter, I really need to believe in the organisation that I am recruiting for. So if I'm seeing some negative reviews, chances are the candidates for the job will also see these reviews so I would ask some specific questions based on the research I've done. It's hard to say exactly what it will be. I think you can definitely ask them what's the company culture like, but if you have seen some specific information about you know, corporate social responsibility, so some volunteering or charity initiatives then you can ask about that. You can ask about, you know, like career progression opportunities, and does the company you know, value training. What kind of opportunities they offer and how do they measure performance and what kind of people succeed within your organisation? So you can definitely ask some more specific questions, but I think it's best to do some research first, and know exactly what you would like to find out.

Jeremy Cline
Is there a rule of thumb - which is probably an impossible question - but a rule of thumb as to how long someone should expect to prepare for an interview?

Margaret Buj
No, no - I don't think there is because it depends on your level of experience. It depends on the type of position you're applying for. And you know, how many competencies, and how much prep have you done? Have you already been looking for a job for the last few weeks and you've already done most of the prep? If you already have your examples ready then you know maybe it wouldn't take that long. Maybe you're just going to revisit your examples, spend an hour doing the company research and thinking how you're going to make your answers relevant. But if you haven't done any prep, I mean, that's a good few hours. It's really a good few hours, even though these competency based questions that employers ask you, like examples of achievements, or give me examples of challenging situations or influencing, or a time when you displayed leadership or just you know the typical questions of working under pressure. This takes time, this really takes time. I would also need to spend a few hours working on that. It's not something that most people can come up with in five minutes. You really need to provide enough specific examples of what you've done, and what was the situation and the context and your specific actions and what was the result at the end. So it takes time, so I would say a few hours. And another thing I would do you know, I would always check - of course, you're going to look at the website, you're going to Google them and look at the recent press releases, look at the recent news about the employer - but I would also check the social media profiles, what are they tweeting and posting? Because firstly, you're going to find out more about the culture, if you see like what's important to them. So that's why I think it's important to do that research if they have social media pages. So I would look at everything - Instagram and Twitter and Facebook and see what they're posting. What kind of initiatives are they talking about? Is that something I can actually bring up during the interview as well? So yeah, I mean, in general, the more research you do, the better. The better questions you can ask.

Jeremy Cline
From a candidate point of view, how far should you go into the process where perhaps you're undecided about whether this is actually the right fit for you as the candidate? So, you know, let's say you've done a couple of interviews, and you're invited back for a third, but you're kind of thinking, Well, I'm just not sure this is for me. Should you just go for as many interviews as they offer until you get the offer, and then make the decision at that point, or is it something where you can decide actually earlier on that it's just not worth pursuing?

Margaret Buj
You know what I think it's a very individual thing and I don't believe there are any rules here, it also depends. Are you currently employed or are you unemployed? Because if you're not working yeah, I would say go to as many interviews as you have the time to prepare. But if you are actually working somewhere, you're just looking for a better opportunity, you can clearly afford right to wait until you find the right opportunity. So it's a very individual thing. If you see some big red flags, and you like, you know, you're pretty sure that this isn't the right opportunity for you, then personally, I'd probably withdraw from the process, you know, because you don't want to waste their time and your time. At the same time, sometimes you just don't know. So I think it's always worth going for the face to face interview. Because it depends how many concerns have you got. Is it like you actually like the job and you like the company we just have one or two concerns you're not sure about, or is it you genuinely don't think it's the right opportunity for you. I think these are two different scenarios. So I think that it really depends. And also like, are you working, you know, how much how desperate are you to find a job?

Jeremy Cline
How much time do you have to go to all these interviews?

Margaret Buj
If you are unemployed but you have a lot of money - like maybe you got a redundancy package and you know exactly what you're looking for - yeah, then you can just decide, you know, be very, very picky - but not everyone can be that picky, right! And we all know, you can take a good few months to find the right permanent opportunity. So it depends on how much time you have.

Jeremy Cline
Margaret, this has been absolutely fantastic. I mean, we've only scratched the surface. And I've already written down quite a lot of notes. Do you have any resources that people can use maybe books or quotes or just something which you can recommend to people who want to dig deeper into a bit more about what we've spoken about?

Margaret Buj
Absolutely. So let me just recommend a few. Firstly on my website - interview-coach.co.uk - if you go to free resources, I have a free e-course, 'how to win at job interviews' where I cover a lot of this stuff. So that could be very useful. But in terms of other resources I personally found useful there are quite a few so let me just quickly recommend a few. So there is a book called What Colour is your Parachute? Initially that book was published over 30 years ago, but its's been updated multiple times and actually the last edition is from last year. And that's actually a very good book. It covers the best and worst ways of looking for a job and the importance of your online presence and interviewing and salary negotiation. There is a fantastic book that's more for women, but I think every working woman should read it - it's called Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office. But it's not just about women who want to get the corner office, you know, the management positions. I really think it's relevant to any women because it talks about the self-sabotaging behaviours that women learn as girls that are then holding them back in the workplace. So honestly, this is such a great book, I've learned so much, I've recommended it to great clients - and this book will help women to become aware of when and how they are damaging their careers and it will give them the advice and tips that they need to replace these behaviours with more effective ones. I also really like a blog called Career Sherpa. So its Career Sherpa careersherpa.net/blog. It has a lot of different articles from great authors. And one author I wanted to recommend, her name is Dorie Clark, her website is DorieClark.com, she's an author and leadership coach and she has two really great books. One is called Reinventing You, and that book will help you advance your career and change jobs and you know how to basically build a career on your unique passions. Another one is called Stand Out. So that's about how to find your breakthrough idea and build a following around it. So two really good books.

Jeremy Cline
Fantastic. Margaret, thank you so much for those that's brilliant. You've mentioned your website. Is there any other way that people can get in contact with you?

Margaret Buj
Yeah, website's probably best. My email is Margaret@interview-coach.co.uk, you can connect with me on LinkedIn. Again, I think there's just one of me, Margaret Buj. So yeah, LinkedIn is best, website, email is best. I also offer a free consultation on my website. So when you go to the website you will just see a pop up and you can book time in the diary if you have any questions.

Jeremy Cline
Brilliant. Okay. I will link to all of that in the show notes. Margaret, thank you so much. I'm sure that people are going to be hopefully scribbling down as many notes as I have and taking down all these tips and using them for the future. So thank you so much.

Margaret Buj
Thank you for having me.

Jeremy Cline
Okay, well, I hope you enjoyed that. Wow, there were a lot of amazing tips in there - so much stuff. I guess the overarching message is when you make your application or do your interview, you've just got to make it clear why you're right for them, why you're right for the job. It applies both to CVs and at interview. The people who are interviewing you, they just don't know you and you really do need to blow your own trumpet. If you weren't taking notes, but wish you had or maybe you didn't get a chance to get everything down then don't forget, you'll find a transcript of the interview on the show notes for this page that's at changeworklife.com/21. So you'll find a full transcript of the interview there, as well as links to all the resources mentioned. On the subject of resources, did you know that there's a resources page on the Change Work Life website? If you go to changeworklife.com/resources, you'll find links to all the books, websites and everything else that's been recommended by our great guests. And on the subject of great guests. Well, we've got another one next time on the Change Work Life podcast. Can't wait to see you then. Cheers. Bye.

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