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Employment

How to sell your skills for a job application and prepare for interview

Build your confidence and play to your strengths by following these expert tips.

The Big Issue is on a mission to help employees battle pandemic headwinds and keep Britain working.

The job market is looking healthier again, with the ONS estimating a record high of 953,000 job vacancies between May and July, up 44 percent on the previous quarter.

But how can you stand out from the crowd?

Dusting off CVs and cramming for interviews can be daunting, especially if you’ve lost confidence after redundancy, been trapped out of work by the pandemic or seen rejections stacking up.

So we spoke to experts to get you the tips on landing your dream role — how to identify, sell and deploy your skills to get your income flowing and your bills paid.

How do I identify my skills and strengths?

First, it’s worth spending time identifying your skills.

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“Before an applicant can sell their skills, they need to know what they are,” said Tammy Harman, specialist career coach at Evenbreak, an accessible job search site for disabled people.

According to Evenbreak, to identify your strengths, start by asking yourself three questions:

  • What skills do I have?
  • How will an employer value them?
  • How can I prove I have them?

“Sit down and list all the jobs you’ve done and all the activities you did there. Narrow it down further and think about the skills you used,” Harman said. This will help you discover transferable attributes.

You can also identify your strengths by asking for feedback or taking an online skills quiz.

“Skills aren’t just about the workplace, they can be from any aspect of your life.” Harman added, such as “soft” skills like dealing with people in a professional setting.

Experience can range from jobs whether they are paid, work experience or part-time, plus voluntary activities or hobbies like coaching a sports team.

You may have gained skills through disability. You might have examples of finding ways around obstacles that demonstrate creativity or succeeding despite barriers that show your determination.

Working with a career coach or trusted friend may help you build confidence if you have experienced a rough patch or had a difficult period with an employer.

What’s the best way of marketing my skills?

Let’s talk about CVs and cover letters. A good CV is readable, has a strong structure and is tailored to the industry and job you’re applying for.

“It’s important to include power words that highlight your most valuable skills and demonstrate what you have achieved,” said Carol Hobbs, principal branch manager at Adecco UK, a recruitment firm.

One trick for a readable CV? Action verbs. “Rather than stating you have strong communication skills, use verbs like ‘wrote’, ‘published’, ‘edited’ or ‘swayed’, and rather than writing that you always achieved your target goals, try ‘reached’, ‘surpassed’ or ‘accomplished’,” said Karen Young, director at recruitment company Hays.

The cover letter is an opportunity to tell a story about your motivations and suitedness for the role.

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“Your covering letter is a great way to highlight your soft skills, which you can draw upon further should you be asked to interview,” Hobbs said.

She added: “For any technical achievements, ensure to include how your soft skills helped. For example, if you introduced a new process at your previous company, explain how communication and resilience were key to ensuring it was successful.”

The CV and cover letter aren’t the only ways to market your skills. Professional social networking site LinkedIn “allows you to showcase your experience and achievements, join relevant groups and share and post your insight,” Young said.

How can I stay on top of job searching?

You’ll likely be applying for multiple jobs simultaneously, so it’s important to keep track.

“Set up alerts to notify you of suitable jobs to apply for, and keep a log of any applications you’ve completed,” Hobbs said. “This will help you to decide when the most suitable time to follow up with companies of interest is, and will also give you clear visibility of your overall job search.”

It’s worth monitoring jobs boards like Indeed, Totaljobs, or The Big Issue’s own jobs platform.

“Collate all the jobs that appeal to you and then prioritise your applications according to which interest you most,” Young said. Or, consider working with a recruiter, “who will help by understanding what you want out of your next job.”

How do I prepare for a job interview?

Ok, so you’ve been offered an interview. What now?

Beforehand, research the company online. This will help you feel prepared for questions about why you want to join their team.

Plan ahead. If you have an in-person interview, you may want to test the journey the day before to be sure of timings. If you need adjustments for disability it is important to ask for them in advance. If your interview is remote, make sure your camera and microphone are working.

“Know your work and life history inside out,” Harman said. Think of a few successful examples from your experience that are must-mentions.

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Harman said it can be useful to ask someone to give you a mock job interview. There are resources on questions you might be asked. “The questions might not exactly match but it will help you express yourself well,” he said.

Get a good night’s sleep beforehand so your brain is firing on all cylinders.

“When you get to the interview, if you’re able to, sit upright in your chair with your feet flat on the floor and your shoulders back — because it opens up the chest and makes breathing easier,” Harman said.

He added: “If you’re breathing more clearly, your brain will work better and you also won’t stumble and rush over your answers.”

Remember, make a good impression, smile and be friendly. These might be your future colleagues.

“Believe in yourself because that’s just half of the challenge,” Harman added. “It’s easier to convince someone else you can do it if you know you can do it.”

What’s the best way to follow up after an interview?

A nice touch is to send employers a note thanking them for their time and repeating your interest.

“If you have interviewed directly with an employer, best practice is to send them a follow-up email to thank them for their time either on the day, or the day after your interview. Use this as an opportunity to reiterate your interest in the role,” Young said.

She added: “You could even explain that upon meeting with them and learning more about the opportunity, you are even keener than before, and how you look forward to hearing from them.”

After two weeks you can send a further follow-up email, Hobbs said, but it’s important to give the interviewers enough time and space during the decision making process.

I got the offer! Now how can I negotiate a salary offer?

Many employers will have a salary range when hiring for new positions, so it’s always worth emphasising your skills if you feel you deserve a higher wage.

“Before you head into the interview process, familiarise yourself with current salaries for the role you are applying for. Once you are prepared, be ready to discuss openly and professionally how much you think you are worth,” Young said. “You can justify this with examples of your expertise and previous successes in roles, such as reaching sales targets, growing and managing budgets.”

Don’t make your salary pitch too early, she added. Wait until you know you’re in the running for the role.

“It’s really important here to have examples of your achievements and how they’ve benefited the company,” Hobbs said. “You’re more likely to have your salary request granted if you can show that the work you have done has helped the organisation in some way.”

Get career tips and advice from our Jobs and Training series:

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