How to get to the heart of job spec

Q: The job spec goes on for miles – 840 words and 22 bullet points. I don’t even know where to start. A lot of it is waffle in my opinion but I have read what you have written consistently about meeting the job spec with your CV. In this case they’re looking for a CV. What should I do?

A: I have noticed a growing trend towards more lengthy and complex job specifications.

I don’t know why this is, and I have regularly heard clients say that they were put off, rather than attracted, by lengthy job specs.

Your challenge is to identify what really matters in the job spec. What are the five or six things that will ultimately decide this job? What is merely making up the numbers or filling space?

How do you identify the things that matter? By talking to people who already work in the organisation or in a similar one, or by getting the input of a trusted lieutenant who knows the score e.g. somebody who managed in the sector previously or now.

When you find the kernel of the job spec, write your CV to capture that. Your CV, at two pages, can only achieve so much and you need to be sure it is hitting the right spots, so you must be decisive.

Of late I am becoming more and more attracted to the notion of the cover letter doing some heavier lifting. The cover letter can directly address key elements of the job spec – so, if your CV nails three or four of the top five or six requirements, perhaps you can hit the other two in the cover letter.

Thus, the combination of the CV and the cover letter, should feel like a manifesto for the job. It should get the attention of the recruiter or employer and, hopefully, put your name on the list for interview.

Prepare, yes; learn off, no

Q: I’ve a big interview coming up and really want to put my best foot forward. I’ve started practicing already but I’m beginning to fear that I will sound too rehearsed. How do I avoid that? (DV, email ).

A: Avoid it by avoiding it: don’t be too rehearsed. Yes, practice, and practice lots, but avoid becoming an automaton. Here are some tips:

1. Know what examples you wish to use to illustrate your suitability for the role but don’t learn off your lines. It’s not a play. Let the words come out as they will on the day: if you’ve thought your stories through, you should be able to tell the story well enough;

2. Accept that you will make errors. You will say something the wrong way or use the wrong word. These things happen so don’t set perfect delivery as your standard;

3. Listen closely to the questions, and answer them – that way you will actually be in the room, as opposed to being represented by a hologram of yourself;

4. On the same theme, ask questions if you want to clarify something. Do not be afraid of generating a conversation – and when you’re fully alert and present in the room, you will be in a much better position to converse rather than just punching out ‘something I prepared before the show’ like an automaton.


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