We recently caught up with Nicole Woodward, the National Graduate Programs Manager at Ashurst. Nicole has been working with graduates for the past 15 years and knows the type of edge you need to stand out during the hiring process and get hired.
So it seemed an ideal opportunity to ask her some of the most commonly asked recruitment questions that make their way to us.
1 // What’s your take on unsolicited resumes?
Firstly, you need to understand that internships and graduate roles in larger companies have a structure for a reason. When it comes to these programs you need to research and understand the process and adhere to the advertised dates. An application for such programs outside of the process will be unlikely to get you the outcome you hope for. Always start by checking the companies career website.
However, in organisations where there is not such a formal process in place, it may be quite okay to send in your CV and cover letter enquiring about opportunities. But don’t simply assume this will be okay across the board. Take the time to research individual companies and understand their procedures which would be on their website.
2 // How are short roles on a resume perceived?
If you have one (or a number) of short roles on your CV you need to expect the questions “What happened and why was it so short”. The key is to answer truthfully.
If the role has come to an end – simply say as much. These days there is a lot more freelancing and contract work out there than there used to be and people are moving around much more. Recruiters understand this – they just want to know your story and why you moved on after a short period of time.
3 // When applying for a role – how can you best research an organisation?
There is no doubt that when interviewing for any company, it is important to do some research on the organisation themselves. However, almost more important to this, I expect any great candidate coming in showing a sincere commercial awareness, and by this I mean having researched well beyond the ‘about us’ page on the website.
From my perspective, commercial awareness means a candidate will show a good understanding of what the company has recently been up to and how they fit into the industry they are a part of.
If you are interviewing with an accountancy firm, you need to genuinely be interested in being an accountant. Read the publications and industry news, pay attention to how the market is effecting the company and visa versa. All of this is a much stronger display of understanding the company than simply being able to reel off the corporate bio verbatim.
4 // What are some of the things you really dislike in a cover letter?
Similar to my answer in the last question, it’s disappointing when a candidate simply reels off and paraphrases content the website. The cover letter is all about you – so you should use the opportunity to tell us about you and sell yourself. Talk about your biggest achievement or perhaps tell us what you do in your spare time.
If you can engage the recruiter and show why you would be an asset to their organisation you are far more likely to be noticed than simply being a robot.
Also work to the general rule of thumb that a cover letter should be no more than a single page.
5 // Following on from the previous question – how do you ensure the tone of the cover letter is correct?
In short, the cover letter should be written as a business letter and written specifically with the recipient in mind. If you are applying to law firms such as Ashurst – I would expect it to be quite formal in its language – however – if you are applying for marketing roles you would change the tone to suit the company.
It is also worth adding that you should think of your cover letter as the introduction to your CV and both the tone and the formatting of the cover letter should ideally match the CV.
In terms of length, three pages, including your cover letter and CV, is the general rule for student and graduate CVs.
6 // Do you have advice on completing graduate application forms?
Many companies now request you complete an application form online and attach documents to that. If they request this, then it’s best not to email or post an application as you are likely to get a response directing you to apply online.
Take time to familiarise yourself with what they are asking for and avoid copying and pasting in information or standard responses. There have been many instances where cover letters reference materials not supplied or answers to specific questions not applicable to the role.
7 // What is your take on social media photos and how does this influence you in the hiring process?
Personally I do not look at social media through the hiring process – but that is me personally and should not be taken as the rule.
When it comes to social media, some employers will require you to disclose your accounts on the application and whilst they are entitled to do this, you can do two things to help yourself:
> Ensure you have the privacy settings on your account set correctly
> Assume that whatever you do have online may ultimately be found by a would be employer, and if you are worried it will reflect badly on you – perhaps think twice about posting it.
The exception to the above is your LinkedIn profile. Although classed as “social media”, LinkedIn is a professional channel and should be treated as such. Ensure you have a professional headshot as part of your profile (no 21st or wedding photos, no matter how wonderful you looked) and post in a manner that will reflect well on you if a recruiter or hiring manager is reviewing your profile.
8 // When should you use and provide references and referees in the hiring process?
This really depends on the job you are applying for but as a rule of thumb, you do not need to supply references until they are asked for and they do not need to be included on your CV. In some cases you may even receive a job offer prior to the reference check stage, and their offer will be conditional to satisfactory checking of the references.
But in all cases, don’t include a referee that you have not given prior warning too that they might be getting a call. This shows good manners to the referee who will need to give up their time to take the call, and also ensures they are prepared to answer the questions which will ensure you are represented in the most positive light.