Applications & Interviews
A job application is your opportunity to show potential employers your skills, expertise, personality type and eligibility for an advertised role. They should look professional, be easy to read, and be relevant to your chosen field of proficiency
A resume (also known as a CV, short for curriculum vitae) is a professional document detailing your professional qualifications. This demonstrates suitability for the job you are applying for. Your resume is a type of marketing document that shows an employer:
- Your ability to do the job;
- A strong desire to do the job, and;
- You are a good match for the organisation’s culture and values.
SHOULD YOU USE A “ONE-SIZE FITS ALL” RESUME?
As each job is unique, you should try to write your resume targeting the employer or field in which you are trying to gain employment. This will present your most relevant qualifications up front to your employer. Remember, many resumes are “machine read,” scanning for relevant keywords before they are even shown to a person.
You should write a “template” resume that contains all your biographical and employment information, so you can pick and choose what you may include in your targeted resume. Keep this resume updated at all times, so you can use it as a reference for any new opportunities.
You can also think of your LinkedIn profile as a template resume.
When refining your resume, consider:
- What to include and what to leave out
- Order of details (for example, if skills are more important than formal education)
- How much detail to include about certain activities
- How to organise your experiences (for example, an engineering firm may want to see your list of completed projects; a nursing job may require you to list your accreditation first.)
A cover letter is a written introduction formally presenting yourself to a prospective employer. Your cover letter must communicate two points: why you want the position and why you would be a valuable addition to the organisation.
Your cover letter should:
- Be professional yet approachable – employers are looking for well-rounded candidates
- Be concise and focused so that your letter can fit on one A4 page
- Be written in simple, straightforward language – avoid jargon
- Tell the employer why you are applying for the position in their organisation
- Include the name and position of the person who will receive your application (if possible)
Selection criteria are a list of the qualifications, skills, personal attributes and performance standards required to make a successful application for the job.
Employers use them to identify the best person for the job. Sometimes selection criteria are given a heading in the job ad, or are woven into the document (e.g., must have 3 years of experience).
Your employer will express the selection criteria as a series of key questions or attributes, which must be addressed in your cover letter or a separate document.
Using the STAR method
Selection criteria may pose questions about your behaviour under certain circumstances. A good framework to use when addressing this type of question is the STAR (or CAR: Circumstance, Action, Result) approach:
Describe the situation that required you to use a requisite skill to achieve an outcome or solve a problem.
Within that situation, what were your responsibilities? What was the nature of the problem?
Demonstrate the skills you used (or developed) to carry out the task in a narrative format.
What were the outcomes of your actions? Did you solve the problem? After you’ve written your response, ask yourself these key questions:
- Does my answer address the question? Is my response complete? One part many applicants overlook is the results (R). If you don’t mention the outcome of your actions (A), the employer cannot determine if your work contributed to a successful resolution.
- Is my example appropriate / tailored to the position? And, have I used my best example? The goal of addressing the criteria is to show you are a good fit for the organisation. Your application should reflect this.
- Have I presented a diverse range of experiences? Employers like ‘well-rounded’ applicants, with breadth and depth of skills. Using different experiences as the basis for describing your skill development makes a good impression.
A face-to-face or Skype (teleconferencing) job interview aims to further assess your skills and experience. Interviewers will evaluate your values and work style, figuring out if you will be a good match for the organisation and culture. Practice and preparation is key; this will help your confidence and grace under pressure.
- Read the company website.
- Re-read your application – make sure you aren’t surprised by any questions.
- Review the most common interview questions.
- Be prepared to talk about your key strengths and assets.
- Review the selection criteria and ensure you can provide further supporting examples to demonstrate your abilities.
- Prepare a couple of questions to ask at the end of the interview.
EXAMPLE INTERVIEW QUESTIONS
General questions A number of questions are general in nature and trying to expose your motivation, interest, self-awareness and career aspirations. Examples include:
- Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
- What do you bring to this job, if you’re hired?
- Why do you think you are the ideal candidate for this position?
- Why did you apply for this position?
- What do you think the position will entail on a daily basis?
- What do you think about [current affair affecting the industry]?
- Have you applied with other organisations?
- Why are you passionate about [this field]?
- What is your greatest strength/weakness?
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
- What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
- Can you tell me about your greatest achievement?
- What do you know about / think about [technical or specialist knowledge or skill]?
- If you could be anyone for a day, who would you be and what would you do?
- Why do you think you would be successful in this position?
- Which subjects did you most enjoy at University and why?
- What influenced you to enrol in your degree?
- What are your future career plans?
- What do you hope to achieve in your time within Organisation X?
- Describe yourself as an employee?
- You seem to be interested in ………….? Tell us about this.
- What are the key factors that sets our company apart from the competition?
Behavioural questions Behavioural questions aim to find out about your past behaviours to predict future competency, i.e. if you have shown particular behaviours (e.g. skills) in the past, you’re likely to be able to show these behaviours (e.g. use these skills) in this new job. Employees use your past behaviour to evaluate your behaviour in the future. As such, questions will often come in the form of: “Can you tell me/us about a time when…”. When you hear this question, your employer is specifically asking about past behaviour. Examples of competency-based and behavioural questions include:
- Can you tell us about a time when you worked in an effective team?
- Tell us about your experience working with people.
- How do you handle conflict?
- Can you tell us about a time when you used your initiative to suggest a practical solution?
- This position requires strong interpersonal skills – could you tell us about a particularly challenging situation that required interpersonal skills?
- Describe a time when your team was successful?
- Give an example of a time when you had to resolve a conflict.
- Tell us about a significant problem you have you encountered and how you dealt with it?
- Tell us about a time when you have had to adapt to change.
- Tell us when you had to work independently to achieve a team outcome.
- How would you persuade someone to accept a new idea?
- Describe a time when you used effective verbal communication skills to communicate information to an audience.
- Describe a time when you have needed to convince someone of your point of view. How did you go about this? What would you do differently if you had the experience again?
- Describe a project you have worked on that involved a high level of analysis.
- Describe a time when you had to think on your feet to solve a problem.
- How do you go about making a particularly difficult decision?
- Describe the accomplishment you are most proud of.
- Describe a time when you had competing deadlines to meet. What steps did you take?
- Tell us about a time when you failed to complete a project on time. What went wrong and what would you do differently?
- Can you tell us about your work ethic?
- Tell me about a time when you felt you had to make an unpopular decision based on your beliefs and values, and what the outcome was.
- Describe a situation in which you went against your core values to accomplish something. What did you learn?
- Describe a time when you told the truth when it would have been easier not to
- Tell me about a time when you didn’t admit to a mistake. What did you learn?
Using the STAR approach
Just like the Selection Criteria, the STAR approach is an effective outline to use when answering competency-based questions:
Describe the situation, professional role, or context of the task at hand.
State the tasks that were associated with that role. Or, you could also describe the challenges or problems you faced in that situation.
Try to be explicit and specific when you describe overcoming the challenge: use a specific example (or two) and include qualifiers, i.e. relevant information about ‘how much…’, ‘how many…’, ‘how long…’ etc. Use quantities in dollar terms to demonstrate value (“We made $X in sales”)
Results are outcomes – what happened at the end of the experience? When you describe the Situation, Task, Action and Result in your response, you provide the interviewer with evidence: the information they need to make an assessment of your skill level and depth. Again, you need to tailor your answer to the particular context in which you answer, so make sure you choose examples that are most relevant for the job and organisation.
Asking questions of your prospective employer
Being inquisitive can show you’re eager for a certain position. Here are some example questions you may consider asking your interviewer. Consider what may be relevant before an interview, and practice some of these questions:
- What is your background (both academic and experience)?
- How did your background lead you to this position?
- Why did you become interested in this type of work and how did you get your present job?
- How long have you worked in this field?
- What is the most challenging/rewarding aspect of your work/career?
- How would you describe your day-to-day responsibilities?
- What are the duties/functions/responsibilities of this job role?
- What is unique about your job as compared with others, which are similar?
- About what percentage of time would I spend on each type of task?
- What kinds of problems and challenges do you face this role?
- What constraints, such as time and funding, make the job more challenging?
- What kinds of decisions do you make?
- Describe some of the toughest situations you’ve faced in this job.
- To what extent do you interact with customers/clients?
- With which other departments, functional units, or levels of the hierarchy do you regularly interact?
- How much flexibility do you have in determining how you perform your job?
- Can you manage your own workflow, or does the nature of your work dictate the pace?
- Do you work individually or predominantly in groups or teams?
- How are work teams or groups organised?
- What part of this job do you personally find most satisfying? Most challenging? Least satisfying?
- Is multi-tasking a skill that is required for this job?
- What projects have you worked on that have been particularly interesting?
- What are the challenges facing the department?
- What are the key strategic initiatives?
- What priority projects or services are ongoing?
- What are the core activities and services of this department?
- How would you describe internal or external clients? What is important to them?
- Where do you see growth or change occurring in the organization?
Job roles overview
- What skills and knowledge are most critical in this organization?
- What personal characteristics do you feel contribute most to success in this department?
- What are some typical job roles in this department? Entry? Mid-Level? Senior roles?
- What job roles would utilize skills in (e.g. marketing, presentation, data analysis, negotiating)?
- What do you see the opportunities for growth and development?
Structure & culture
- What is the management style in this organization?
- How are decisions made? Do people feel included in the process?
- Is there a dress code?
- Who would I immediately report to?
- What is a typical day like?
- What are normal work hours?
- Do people work long hours? Is there flexibility? Are holidays encouraged?
- How does your use of time vary? Are there busy and slow times, or is it even?
- How would you describe the pace and cycle of work in this area?
- Are the time demands of your job specific to this department, or would anyone in this career be expected to work similar hours?
- What factors would most improve your capacity to provide quality service to your organisation?
- I’ve built a target list of organisations in this field to research. Would you be willing to look at my list and give me suggestions?
- What are the characteristics and competencies of people who are successful in this field?
- What does it take to be successful in this type of career?
- What does it take, in your view, to succeed in this field, department, division, role?
- What type of person is best suited to the work in this area?
- What specific functional or technical knowledge is critical to this work?
- What sacrifices may be necessary to be successful?
Career path & occupational outlook
- What are typical job roles available in this profession?
- Is there chance for career progression?
- What are typical career paths in this field?
- What experiences, paid or unpaid, would you encourage for anybody pursuing a career in this field?
- What did you do to make yourself marketable?
- What opportunities for advancement are there in this field?
- Is the field growing? If so, in what areas? What are the biggest challenges facing this field?
- What trends would likely to affect someone just entering this profession? At mid-career?
- How do you see jobs in this field changing in the future?
- What changes in demand have you seen in the profession?
- Where do you see the growth opportunities?
- How does this career affect your lifestyle and work/family balance?
- How can I learn more about the field (e.g., journal, publications, professional associations, workshops, seminars, conferences, etc.)?
- What special advice would give a person entering this field? At mid-career? Late career?
- What do you wish you had known about this field or organization before you entered it?