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Margaret Buj on Navigating a Job Search and Nailing Your Interviews

Expert Interview Series

Margaret Buj

Interview Coach

Margaret Buj is an international headhunter and Interview coach who helps clients get hired, promoted and paid more.

Tell us about your interest in interview and career coaching. How did you get your start?

I was interested in coaching long before I became a qualified career coach, however it took a chance encounter with an old friend to get me to start my company.

That guy was a highly qualified professional but he struggled to find a job eight months after losing his previous job. A mutual acquaintance had suggested he talk to me, since I worked in recruitment and I could give him some advice.

We did one session and he started getting second interviews immediately. We did one more follow-up session – not only did he get the job but he’s also been getting every job since then. I thought – there must be other people who I could help. I did some research on a couple of Sundays (I was very busy in my day time job at the time), created the concept, initial copy, a friend helped me with Google Adwords. I had two clients in my first week and it's grown since then.

What are the most important lessons you've learned in your professional life in approaching a job search?

There are a few:

  • Finding something you enjoy doing can take time – but it is worth it. There are too many people who are miserable in their jobs on a daily basis. If you’re not sure where you’d like to take your career, take some action. Talk to people who do the jobs that interest you and get an idea of what it’d be like to do that particular job on a daily basis. Try to get some relevant work experience. Don’t expect the perfect job will just fall into your lap.
  • Keep the pipeline of opportunities full. I’ve seen it so many times that a client only pursues one job opportunity, only for the role to disappear at the last stage of the process and then they are left with nothing. It could be due to internal changes, a hiring freeze, etc. But, the more opportunities in the pipeline, the less pressure you will feel. Companies juggle multiple candidates, so you should also be juggling multiple opportunities.
  • Keep at it no matter how difficult it gets. You need to pick yourself up, adjust your approach and get back in the game – this is where you’re going to find your next opportunity.

What's one piece of advice you'd share with your younger self about navigating your career and finding the right job fit?

No matter how frustrating it gets, keep at it, as finding something you enjoy will make you a lot happier in your career. We spend so much of our time at work, that it is really important we enjoy what we do.

What are some of the common mistakes you observe young job seekers making when they launch a job search? What should they be doing differently?

The mistake a lot of job seekers make is that they randomly apply to jobs that vaguely interest them, instead of having a proper strategy.

It is important that you:

  • Set goals – detail the job, the company, the location, the salary or anything else that’s important to you. Dream big – but also be realistic. You’re not going to earn $100k if you’ve just graduated.
  • Measure your job search activity to ensure things are going to plan. You can track how many applications  you’ve made, how many recruitment agencies you’ve met or how many networking events you’ve attended.
  • Tailor your CV or resume – don’t send the same resume to different jobs you’re applying for. Tailor it using relevant keywords and to emphasize your most relevant experience.
  • Adjust often – If your job search isn't going to plan, be prepared to switch strategies. If you’re not getting interviews, get help with your resume. If you’re getting interviews, but not offers – invest in a mock interview session which will help you pinpoint where and how you could improve to maximize your chances of getting hired.

What are best practices for writing a resume that will get noticed – especially for new job seekers who might not yet have a lot of professional experience under their belts?

Don't waste valuable space on a personal statement.

A statement that adds no value would say something along the lines of: "I am a confident, enthusiastic and hard-working person. I can work on my own and as part of the team”. Instead, focus on your specific career objective and what skills you could bring to the job you’re applying for.

Make sure your resume is keyword-search friendly.

Think about the keywords and phrases that recruiters will be looking for e.g. it could be a specific expertise like social media marketing or competencies such as leadership or negotiation skills.

Include tangible achievements

A lot of job seekers only list their responsibilities, rather than describing the value they’ve delivered. If you’ve organized an event, raised money for charity; successfully completed a project or did something that saved time or money– tell them.

Tailor applications for every role

This is so important and will significantly increase your chances of being invited for an interview. Highlight the most relevant experience on your application to show you have really thought about the position you are applying for and how it directly relates to your previous experience.

How important is a great professional profile on sites like LinkedIn for job-seekers today? What do they need to know about crafting a great profile?

Having a professional profile on LinkedIn is very important for experienced job seekers in particular – most recruiters including myself use LinkedIn to find candidates for our open positions.

Here is a brief summary of what you need to create a great profile:

Include a professional photo – it may be your first impression with a potential employer.

  • Make your headline stand out. It can be your job title, but you can make yourself stand out by listing your specialty and including important keywords.
  • Include a few achievements in your Summary section. You can also add media files, including video or add a link to your work-related blog.
  • Complete your profile fully. This includes skills, education, volunteering experience. etc. 
  • Keep your work history relevant. You don’t need to list every single job you have ever had, especially your first job.
  • Ask for recommendations from past colleagues and managers

What do job seekers need to know about preparing for a job interview?

I wrote the whole e-book on that topic (www.landthatjob.co.uk) but here are some brief tips:

  • Positive body language is important – remember about a firm handshake and keeping eye contact with the interviewer.. 
  • Research the company and be prepared to talk about how your skills and experience could add value to them.
  • Practice your answers to the most common interview questions.Don’t completely memorize your answers so they come out rehearsed, but have a clear idea of what you are going to say. Make sure you back-up your answers with examples and that you have a few specific, tangible achievements you could talk about.

Where do you find job seekers trip up the most during the interview process? What can they do to avoid these mistakes?

The most common reason job seekers don’t get jobs is that they don’t elaborate enough on how they’ve added value and made an impact in previous jobs. A lot of people talk about what their responsibilities were, but not what they’ve achieved. Use STAR technique (Situation, Task Action, Result) when providing examples of what you’ve done.

What types of questions should job seekers make sure they're asking recruiters and hiring managers to help them better assess the job opportunity?

It is very important to always ask questions at the end of the interview.  You can ask about their expectations – what would they expect you to achieve in the first six months? How will your performance be measured? What are the training/development opportunities? What are the main challenges of the role? What’s the typical career path in this role? Etc.

How can young job seekers overcome nerves at their first interviews?

It is natural to be nervous before a job interview, but there are things you can do to minimize these nerves. Here are some tips.

Be prepared. research the company and prepare for the most common interview questions. 

Get a good night’s sleep before the interview and don’t leave your planning to the last minute. Sort out your interview outfit in advance and give yourself enough time to get to the interview location.

Finally, try to smile and relax –  the job interview is as much for you to see if you like the company as it is for them to see if they like you – so go in with an open mind.

What advice do you find yourself repeating over and over to young job seekers?

It is not easy to make yourself stand out among other candidates, but there are things you can do to make yourself noticeable e.g by building an online presence. For example, you can create a personal blog where you can showcase your goals and skills.

While social media is great for connecting with colleagues or future employers, be very mindful about what you post, as even one foolish status update can damage your reputation.

It is important to have a back-up plan – things won’t always go your way. If you don’t get your dream job, try other industries and don’t limit yourself to one type of a job only.

To get work experience, it is always a good idea to try to get an internship or even unpaid freelance jobs if that’s an option for you.

Need help finding a great internship or landing your first job? Sign up for Vocate.

Zack Andresen

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