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Think Big to Enlarge Career Prospects!

UCL Careers17 November 2015

At UCL Careers, my role is to advise students and graduates on how to sell themselves on paper, bringing them closer to their dream jobs (…or closer to securing part time work to survive!). Matters of gender inequality are all pervasive, locally and globally, even when it comes to the job application process! Studies have shown that women are unlikely to apply for a job role if they don’t meet its essential criteria; men on the other hand, tend to apply for roles even when they don’t meet the specs, and yes, they do get the job in some cases! Knowing this, I feel compelled to give everyone the strength and knowledge to overcome barriers, psychological and practical that hinder their decisions in applying for great roles.

Perceived Gender differences and job applications

Last year, Tara Sophia Mohr discussed Hewlett Packard’s report for Harved Business Review, which revealed that men apply for roles even when they only meet 60% of the job’s person specification. Meanwhile, women, they found, would not apply unless they could check off 100% of the requirements. The findings did not list a lack of confidence as the main issue!

What’s going on here then? The top reason that both men and women gave for not applying was a strong belief that they wouldn’t be hired unless they met all the requirements: “I didn’t think they would hire me since I didn’t meet the qualifications, and I didn’t want to waste my time and energy.”

Belief is a powerful force. It’s the foundation upon one’s success or failure. Let’s break belief down into thought. It starts at thought. For women to have the same opportunities as men, they need to start thinking bigger. The men and women who didn’t apply had a mistaken thought that they wouldn’t be considered at the hiring stage. The problem was not a lack of confidence in applying but a “mistaken perception about the hiring process.” Now that’s eye-opening! We need to remember that recruiters are human; aspects of selection are subjective.

The study also showed that 22% of women didn’t apply because of a fear of failure. So far, limiting beliefs are a key reason for gender inequality at the application stage. Looking closer, this means there is a tendency to “follow the rules”. Mohr, women’s leadership coach highlights that during socialisation, particularly at school, there is a clear gender difference, with females being told what to do and then being awarded for it and males often “misbehaving” or breaking the rules. This correlates well to why women aren’t applying for the jobs they think are beyond their reach. This is not to say however, that there aren’t real concerns and biases when it comes to hiring—but despite these hurdles women should persevere, take risks, and think big, as these are all the qualities of highly successful people.

“First appearance deceives many.” ~Ovid.

Don’t always believe in what appears true when it comes to the guidelines for job applications. Assume nothing and interrogate everything! Like the majority of men who apply without the essential qualifications, believe you have a shot and change your thought-processes. Pay more attention to transferable skills and don’t deny yourself outstanding career prospects.

For students and graduates who fear rejection, both male and female, look closer at what you see as weaknesses – how can these be transmuted into strengths? Learn how to sell your experiences well by attending our Skills4Work programmes and numerous other events to help promote your professional image more effectively.

Attend career fairs you wouldn’t usually think of going to. There’s evidence to suggest that certain types of fairs attract more men than women. You may surprise yourself and feel motivated to apply for companies and organisations you didn’t think would recruit you because of mistaken beliefs about them and your own self-perceptions. A discussion with a recruiter or representative is a chance to leave your mark and build a connection, which may work to your advantage during the application stage. This networking opportunity can also lead to insights into their hiring processes and remove doubts you’ve attached to applying for the role.

Here’s a tip: ask questions you wouldn’t find answers to online or in a guidebook!

How thinking big can lead to big results

The solution to imagined and perceived obstacles then, is to expand one’s thinking outside the paper box of checklists and beyond fear of rejection. And yes, a certain element of this is to nurture belief in yourself and resilience towards failing.

“There is no force equal to a woman determined to rise.” ~ W.E.B Bois

Write down the thoughts and fears that hold you back from applying. What action steps can you take to not internalise short-term setbacks? There is much to learn from failures. Without them you wouldn’t adapt, innovate and try something new. As leadership expert Robin Sharma says, “The riskiest thing you can do is not take risks.” Why? Because unless you do, you will not grow into your best self. So the first step is encouraging a shift in perception about failure. When you work with this fear, rather than avoid it, you have room to see the bigger picture, to think bigger and plan ahead better. Forbes author, Jenna Goudreau writes, “Women at the top aren’t fearless. They move toward their fear to continually challenge themselves.”

A long-term focus and commitment to goals is a result of this shift in mindset. Women in top managerial positions are big picture thinkers. EY’s Global Market Leader Uschi Schreiber champions ‘thinking big’ and understands very well that limited thoughts hold women back from reaching higher positions in industry. Her big successes have come through aiming high. Earlier this year in The World Post she stated that: “Using the talent of women can bring powerful positive change and increase the likelihood of better outcomes for us all.” If you feel you have the talents to do the job well, then apply for that job. It’s the employer who will lose out to the positive results you can drive, not you!

That said: take more action. Don’t react to job opportunities using your habitual thinking patterns. Use those valuable critical powers developed through academia. What can you do to frame your expertise further? Call the recruiter? Initiate contact with employees through LinkedIn?

Pause, investigate further and think creatively.

Moral of the story: Don’t always believe in what you see on the surface, challenge the rules, and explore the strong feelings you have for wanting to apply for the position that appears out of reach. Think big and feel your way to success, the rest is just noise.

– Payal Patel, Applications Adviser, UCL Careers

Believe in Yourself! Martial arts and the attitude of success with job applications

UCL Careers15 October 2015

I know what you’re thinking. What do martial arts have to do with job applications?

This is not about extra curricular activities (well I do mention that later). It’s about what you can learn from martial arts and how you can use this information to approach job applications in a healthier way!

Practising the philosophies of martial arts may help you overcome that initial dread of filling in the application form.

Both ‘practices’ have a lot in common. Both seek to project a positive self-image of confidence and strength.

Application Form/FlickrApplication-Glasses-Pen – Creative Commons/Flazingo Photos/Flickr.com

The Martial Arts Way

If you’ve trained in a martial arts class, you’ll know that negative thinking leads nowhere. The only way is up and forward when faced with physical and mental challenges.

Believe in yourselfnever give up – is not only the principle; it is the essence of martial arts practice and the only way to progress to higher levels of achievement.

Go to any traditional martial arts class and you’ll see it’s also very performative. The practitioner performs specific set movements or ‘forms’ through positive and focused mental effort.

Martial arts teach you to become comfortable with your physicality and accept what you can’t control. The dread of getting hit in sparring for example, becomes insignificant when it actually happens. There is a complete acceptance of consequence whilst simultaneously strategising one’s next move. This attitude of accepting reality for what it is and moving forward despite the consequences is a useful trait to practice and cultivate, and may well help you push past the initial disappointment of not getting through to an interview.

The amount of energy and focus you invest in your application is proportionate to how much you desire that particular role. So, why not fully accept that you have chosen to write this application and win or lose you’re going to put your best foot forward, because in the end, you will not be in control of the outcome. Turn that dread into confidence and the quicker you can complete the application!

The application and the importance of attitude

A viewer of martial arts thinks, “Wow”, “Amazing”, “That skill!” Aren’t these the reactions you’d wish to evoke in an employer?

To induce this effect applications should reflect candidates who believe in themselves and appear confident. “You’re number one” my instructor always says. “Not two, not three—number one!”

You have to be number one when conveying information about yourself in applications. A lot of students fear coming across as arrogant rather than confident but this only happens if you write in a way that expresses you’re better than someone else.

“The successful warrior is an average [woman or] man with laser-like focus,” says Bruce Lee. You think only of yourself and your progress. Time thinking about the strength of the competition—the other applicants, is wasted energy you could be using to win!

Students often worry about what they lack compared to other candidates, rather than focusing on what they already have and could cultivate further. Eg. join the Economics and Finance Society if you want to demonstrate your drive and passion for finance-related roles. Learn a language, self-taught or through the university, if your dream employer has preferences for bilingual or multilingual staff.  Your aim is to project an image of their ideal candidate: an individual they invest and believe in to do a good job. The operative word here is ‘do’ – it is recommended that 70% of your application form answers reflect action words. The employer will measure your ability to contribute positively to their organisation by learning about how you performed in your past experiences. Show them how by what you did (think achievements) and don’t talk vaguely of roles you performed.

What do all world champion martial artists have in common? Discipline! Build confidence in areas you need improving for a particular role, turn perceived weaknesses into strengths and work hard to attain new levels of success, which you can then reflect in your application form. This is the martial arts way. Believe in yourself!

“Choose the positive. You have choice – you are master of your attitude – choose the positive, the constructive. Optimism is a faith that leads to success.”

– Bruce Lee

But what does it mean to Believe in Yourself?

You engender a positive spirit and meet challenges with courage whether you’re faced with a invitation for interview or a rejection – you persevere like martial artists: when they get knocked down they stand back up and keep going, changing movements, learning new techniques. Martial artists don’t do the same thing expecting the same result. Adapting to the situation is therefore key. In a similar vein, having a flexible approach to writing your application and whatever its outcome will build and maintain self-belief—in being able to keep going, keep applying, despite challenges.

Martial arts usually involve a system of grading in which each student strives for their next belt. This means having a goal is crucial in cultivating an attitude of success as it keeps the practitioner focused. What is your career goal? Make it visible and it will motivate you further.

Here’s an idea: make a quick list of the top ten values you live by. These can include anything from Integrity, Open-mindedness to Health and Education. This will immediately reinforce your sense of self and boost esteem. Traditional clubs run their classes by precepts and tenets; core beliefs which students respect and uphold, further implanting a strong resolve. Rob Yeung, Business Psychologist and writer of job application and interview books insists that simply reminding yourself of your key values is like an “instant espresso shot of confidence”.

Even better, spending a few moments visualising your future – imagining and feeling successful – influences the outcome of your actions. Positive visualisation is no secret in competitive sports and a vital tool for martial artists; creating and practicing imagined combat situations and visualizing success nurtures the belief to win. It’s all part of that healthy habit that martial artists have of ‘training the mind’.

The great news is that, like other skills, self-belief can be practiced and mastered.

Conquer lingering anxiety by thoroughly researching your field, your future job role and the company you’re applying to before beginning your application. For the martial artist, studying your opponent during a fight is essential in knowing where the weaknesses and strengths are. Preparation comes before success.

If this still isn’t hitting home then try out a martial arts class and see how the philosophies and practices blend into other areas of your life, bringing you a renewed sense of faith in yourself. (Not a bad thing to put on your CV either!)

Still struggling with your application? Don’t forget you can book an appointment and have one of our Application Advisers check it for you before you submit.

– Payal Patel, Application Adviser, UCL Careers

Write a Damn Good CV: Use the rules of fiction to sell yourself on paper!

UCL Careers29 September 2015

As a seasoned Applications Adviser, I’ve seen countless CVs from students and graduates – some good, some bad. Who am I kidding? Mostly bad.

“What do bad CVs look like?”

Aimless. Poorly marketed. A document detailing work history; a list of roles or tasks performed under job titles, small fonts, perhaps a generic and often unnecessary career profile – and no personality. Verdict: just a record of characterless details unlikely to get the employer’s attention.

“So what’s a good CV?”

I hear you ask.

Let’s first understand the point of your CV!

The purpose of writing a CV is to get you to an interview. The CV is your marketing ploy to marry you to your dream job. It’s the professional representation of you, which demonstrates the value you’re going to offer to the company or organisation.

Think about a character in your favourite book. For example’s sake, let’s choose Harry Potter. Imagine the story taking a different turn – he never had that scar on his forehead, he was nobody’s ‘chosen one’. Not a great tale here then! Similarly your CV is a thrilling version of your story – you need to be the ‘hero’ they’re looking for.

Harry has a lightning bolt shaped scar as part of his personality trait that makes him special and stand out. What you’re essentially doing on your CV is re-presenting yourself as the character the employer is looking for.

To find out which personality traits to convey, look to the person specification outlined with the job’s description.

The Making of Harry Potter/Dave Catchpole/Flickr.com

The Making of Harry Potter- Creative Commons/Dave Catchpole/Flickr.com

Make sure the first page mirrors most of the essential skills and qualities they’re looking for

Damn good CVs are selected in a matter of seconds. On first glance show the employer that you’re their ‘chosen one’. Highlight those qualities preferably on the left hand side throughout the page; bolding, italicising or underlining are all good ideas. Bullet points down the page before key words are also quite effective.

Write out your work history in terms of relevance

A good story is a page-turner and begins with a bang. At this point you can choose to tease the employer with an overview of your ‘hero’ qualities and your experience in the same battlefield, but this must be credible and works well if you have a certain amount of years experience within that field.

Write what you have achieved backed up by facts and don’t bore the poor reader with generic features: ‘dynamic’, ‘hardworking’, ‘enthusiastic’ – these words are penned to the point of extinction and are meaningless without proof. A good idea is to bullet-point your main achievements being careful you’re always mirroring their person specification.

Create titles such as ‘Relevant Experience’ or be even more specific to the industry you’re applying: ‘Publishing Experience’, ‘Finance-related Experience’. This is followed by ‘Other (or Additional) experience’.

Show don’t tell

I love this element of fiction. It separates the bestsellers from the worstsellers.

In the case of CV writing, you could say ‘Sell don’t tell’. To sell yourself on paper means to present a professional version of yourself that proves you’re the ideal candidate. Write not only of the skills you’ll bring to the job but of the value you will add if hired.

The CV demonstrates not only that you can perform the job to a high standard but that you will deliver results as shown by your past experience.

In this sense employers don’t want to see a list of the tasks you performed in your previous experiences, they want to see what you achieved, to this end you could begin your bullet points with phrases such as ‘Raised customer satisfaction by…’ or ‘Supported 5 team members successfully by…’ even ‘Completed group project ahead of time…’ Compare that with ‘Involved customer service…’ ‘Working in a team to…’ and ‘Duties included managing a project and meeting deadlines’. Clearly the first lot of examples makes for an interesting story and presents a character worth putting your faith into.

Bestselling writers always think from the reader’s perspective

Put yourself in the employer’s shoes and imagine assessing the CV from their perspective. You know what the employer is looking for – the blue print of their hero is on the person specification. In a ten second glance does your CV portray this character? It doesn’t take long for a reader of fiction to move on to the next book if it’s devoid of interesting personalities.

Create suspense for the reader to turn to the next chapter

Let’s say the final section of your CV is the end of Chapter One. Chapter Two is the interview. For employers to further your application to the next stage, they need to feel that you’re a character worth investing in. We wouldn’t invest in Harry Potter if we didn’t think he had the ability to vanquish Voldemort. We put our trust in him because we were made aware of his perseverance and personality.

To conclude your CV with a heading such as ‘Interests and Activities’ is a good way to showcase your intention and character traits. After all, the employer wants to know if you’ll be a good fit into the team and it’s a great section to illustrate your values – hopefully these match the objectives of the company or organisation too.

Don’t just write Travelling, Playing football, Calligraphy, Photography. There’s no credibility here. Treat each passage, each sentence and word as a step in the ladder to your ideal destination. Like fiction, provide details and build a world that a reader believes in. For example, ‘Travel: extensively journeyed through South East Asia, recently visited Paris.’ Equally you could use this area to reflect again key attributes listed in the employer’s specification. ‘Meeting people from different backgrounds and cultures: travelled to South East Asia and Europe within the last year.’

If you play a sport write how often you train and for how long you’ve been playing, e.g. ‘3 years playing football, training twice weekly.’ The same goes for other hobbies and be specific about them explaining your interest, ‘Digital photography: undertaking an online course.’ This shows commitment and dedication—virtues in the workplace.

Are you commercially aware? What reflects this? Perhaps you’re subscribed to relevant newsletters, magazines and journals that show you’re keeping up-to-date with news and changes in the industry.

Aim for writing succinctly holding back just enough detail so the reader will want more.

Suspense is about engagement as it is about leaving an air of mystery. ‘There is definitely something about this person. I want to meet her face to face.’ Meeting you in person will solve that mystery.

All great books have that page-turning quality; all you must do is follow the rules of fiction!

Come and get your CV checked by one of our Application Advisers.

– Payal Patel, Application Adviser, UCL Careers