3 Ways you are Turning Recruiters OFF

The recruitment process is a fragile one where one wrong move can cost you a gamechanging opportunity. Having relevant experience and a well-formatted resume is not enough to land a competitive job. I have personally witnessed strong candidates being sacked because they sent a rude email to HR or because they weren’t able to schedule an interview.

The job market is a battlefield and only the strong survive! In order to stand out you need to go above and beyond the average candidate.

To help you do that, I’ve listed 3 common pitfalls candidates often fall into when going through the recruitment process. Notably, these pitfalls don’t only apply when seeking a job, they apply when going through the process for any opportunity.

1. You’re messing up the details 

I had heard of the importance of paying attention to detail long before I started giving career advice but I didn’t really get it the way I get it now. I used to think that while it’s not ideal for someone to have a typo in their resume, it shouldn’t be a big deal. Right? 

Wrong. Oh so very wrong. Here’s how I came to really get it: 

Last year, I offered to mentor a few graduates who were having a hard time securing a job. I was excited at the prospect of working with someone to achieve a goal that was of such high importance to them. I was excited to give them hope and learn from them as I helped them. 

I keenly opened an email from one of my new mentees. I wanted to enjoy the email and be further invigorated. As I read the email, however, I couldn’t help but be put off by the bad grammar and typos.

That’s when it all made sense to me. 

When a recruiter sees your resume or receives an email from you, this is essentially them meeting you for the first time. Similarly to in-person interactions, virtual interactions also evoke first impressions. Now, if a recruiter is slapped in the face with bad grammar and typos, this will likely taint their first impression of you. It may make them perceive you as careless or worse, incompetent. It may even make them question whether you respect the opportunity. 

Not a great first impression. And as I learned from my experience, not so easy to look passed. 

While they may still move forward with your application, that tainted first impression may cause them to judge you more harshly when you make other mistakes throughout the process. It increases the likelihood of confirmation bias. If a recruiter has a suspicion that a candidate is careless then they later forget to include a requested document in an email, they will be more inclined to think “Hm! This person really is careless” as opposed to “Oh, probably a innocent mistake”. 

2. Your motives are questionable

Recruiters want to hire candidates who are particularly interested in and passionate about the specific job. A candidate who seems like they simply want any job and perhaps a big brand name is major turn off. That is to say that if your recruiter is unsure of whether your reasons for wanting the job are rooted in passion and an alignment of values, skills and vision then you’re in trouble. 

This turn off can be evident in your resume, cover letter and interviews. 

Resumes 

I’ve mentioned before that it is of utmost importance to customise your resume for each role you apply for and the reason is simple: relevance. Not all your experiences and skills are relevant to all jobs. If your resume gives the recruiter the impression that your passions, interests and skill don’t align with the job you are applying for, that could be a red flag. 

For example, when I was applying for a marketing & sales role, though I had limited direct experience, I reworked some of my job description bullet points to highlight my ability to communicate, craft stories and understand consumers needs. When I later was applying for an entrepreneurship program, I altered my resume such that it highlighted my self-starter nature and drive. Read more about how I create killer resumes here.

Cover Letters

Cover letters serve as a unique opportunity for candidates to share their stories. From what inspired you to apply to the company to what past experience you have and how it uniquely positions you for the role.

If your cover letter includes generic statements which could apply to a variety of companies and roles, its likely to leave the recruiter uninspired. Cover letters which lack displays of passion, proof of understanding of the job description, identification of transferable skills and show no understanding of the company are bound to turn recruiters off.

Interviews 

A common question that is asked when a company is interviewing an international candidate for a role is why they are interested in relocating to that country. For firms who originate from said country, a candidate’s answer is of even more importance. 

When I was interviewing for a role in Tokyo, I was asked why I was interested in Japan and my answer which detailed what intrigued me about the country and what I hoped to learn left the hiring manager smiling. I ended up getting an offer.

In contrast, one of my friends was rejected by an international company because they said his reasons for wanting to relocate to that specific country were questionable. 

Notably, different recruiters value different motives differently. However, in general, it’s important to have an authentic, purpose-driven reason for applying for an opportunity and then ensure that that comes across in your resume, cover letter and interviews. 

3. You’re not being proactive 

What some candidates fail to realise is that the interview begins from the first interaction between the recruiter and the candidate. Everything a candidate does thereafter can and usually is used to determine how they would perform on the job. Some of the key skills you can portray during the recruitment process are attention to detail (as explained in point 1), passion, personality, communication and lastly, proactivity. Proactivity is essentially the ability to take control of a situation rather than just respond to it. 

For example, you have an interview scheduled for 10am. It’s now 10:10am and you haven’t heard from the interviewer. A proactive approach would be to message the interviewer, let them know that you are ready to have the call or happy to reschedule if this is no longer an ideal time. 

What I usually do is let the interviewer know on the hour that I am ready for the call when they are. This shows my commitment to punctuality but also let’s them know that I am happy to wait until they are ready. 

Another simple example is if the recruiter said she would reach out on Monday and it is now Friday. Instead of silently wondering what is going on and making scenarios up in your head, simply send a polite email that gently follows up while recognising that the recruiter may be busy.

The key to effective proactivity is being polite and considerate of what the other party may be dealing with. 

These might seem like small things but the risk of not being proactive is coming across as uninterested or indifferent. Furthermore, given the fast-paced, busy nature of the workplace, proactivity is a highly valued skill and one that’s personally helped me stand out. 

There you have it- 3 simple pitfalls which could cause you to unknowingly turn a recruiter off. To maximise your chances of landing that dream job, make it a habit to avoid them.

Thanks for reading! 😀 Let me know if you have any further questions and use #moredetails if you’d like me to elaborate on something. 


How To Smash Any Interview

So you’ve submitted a killer resume, crafted a powerful cover letter, made it past the screening round and now you’ve been invited to an interview! At this point, you may be experiencing mixed emotions. You’re excited that you’ve gotten to this stage but you’re also a bit nervous about what lies ahead. I mean you’ve shared your work experience in your resume and expanded on why you’re interested in the role & company in your cover letter so can’t help but wonder what more do they want to know? More so, what more do you need to do?

The interview stage is typically the make-or-break part of any recruiting process. At this stage, the recruiter has likely shortlisted candidates they believe are suitable for the role and are now on a mission to identify the most suitable candidate. It’s no longer about being good enough to do the job, it’s about being the best for the role out of the candidate pool.

Daunting, I know. The good news, though, is that the fact that you’ve secured an interview means that the recruiting team sees potential in you and with the right preparation, you can secure the job!

I think of interviews in 3 stages, namely: before, during and after. I’ve broken down what I do in each stage to maximise my chances of success.

BEFORE

For me, this is usually the most time consuming stage because I go above and beyond to find all relevant information. As I said in my Google story, I studied for my Google interview more than I studied for my exam in that same month (needless to say, it paid off!).

There are 3 key areas that you need to prepare for (and one bonus area for those of you who want to be extra!). The good news is that you should have touched on all of them when preparing your cover letter and resume. Interview preparation, however, differs in that you need to understand each area such that you are able to discuss it comfortably from varying angles.

Since I elaborated on each of the below areas in my article on cover letters, I won’t repeat what I already said. Instead, I’ll focus on how these areas are nuanced when it comes to interviews.

1. Company

Most companies have characteristics which they consider unique to them, whether it be their culture, their problem-solving approach, the calibre of their people or their work schedule flexibility. Take the time to understand and practice articulating what attracts you to this company in particular.

2. Job Description

The interview is a great opportunity for the interviewer to test whether you really understand what the job entails. I won’t elaborate on this too much because it differs from role to role but ensure you have a comprehensive understanding of what the role requires. Also, be ready to answer technical, case or pitch questions (whichever is most relevant).

3. YOU

This is likely the part the interviewer will hone in on so it’s best to have thought it through thoroughly beforehand. A good way of doing this is by going through lists of ‘commonly asked interview questions’ and ensuring you have an answer for each one.

Naturally, we are diverse humans with a variety of experiences so it’s important to take the time to identify what the most relevant experiences are to share. Ask yourself which experiences best highlight your ability to succeed in this specific job.

I once had an interview where the interviewer just stared at my resume and asked me about each and every single point so be ready to do that too! What usually catches people off guard are the questions around strengths and weaknesses, “tell me about a time when…” and the plain old “tell me about yourself”. I usually have my answers to these questions pre-planned.

If there’s a particular interview question you are unsure how to answer, comment it below with the #moredetails hashtag!

*Bonus: The Interviewers

This may sound a bit strange but a trick I have found quite handy is to stalk research my interviewers beforehand. This includes reading up on their work history, checking out their LinkedIn and even going through their YouTube & Twitter pages! (I usually skip out of stalking their Instagram though). The idea is to get a good understanding of who will be interviewing you and to identify and possible commonalities.

Prior to one of my interviews, I had looked up the interviewer and found a video where they discussed a marketing framework they frequently use. I took note of the framework and during the interview, mentioned it when asked a marketing question. The interviewer was so impressed that I knew about it and that undoubtedly earned me some brownie points!

I also highly recommend you do a couple of mock interviews (even if just with your friends) beforehand and ask for honest feedback. Sometimes you sound one way in your head and a completely different way out loud!

DURING

Okay, so the moment is finally here! What do you say? How do you start?

A lot of interviewers like to begin with a conversational style. This means general greetings and small talk. Don’t let this fool you though, as soon as the interview says “tell me about yourself” (or a question along those lines), it’s officially game on!

If you’re someone who gets uncontrollable nerves, try to pay attention to your speaking pace and breathing. We often speak strangely fast and forget to breathe when we’re nervous. If you need some time to think about your answer, don’t be afraid to ask for it. What I often do is take three deep breaths right before the interview and even practice power poses!

Lastly, make sure you are dressed appropriately (I suggest risking being overdressed rather than risking being underdressed). Make sure you are punctual and friendly (remember to smile). If the interview is in person, make sure you smell alright and pay extra attention to the details of your appearance. If the interview is via video call, make sure the lighting isn’t too shabby and the background noise is minimal.

AFTER

I cannot emphasise how important it is to be polite to all the people you engage with from the company throughout the recruiting process. While your formal interviews may only be an hour or so, all your interactions with the company serve as opportunities for them to assess your character.

At one company I worked with, a candidate was the preferred person until he sent a rude email to someone from HR. He was then disqualified completely! Moral of the story is to be polite and stay humble (even if the company has not responded for over a week or you lowkey believe you’re overqualified for the job and ‘deserve’ it).

At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that interviewers are people too and the more you’re able to connect with them on a human level, the higher your chances of getting the job. At the heart of connection is authenticity and commonalities. The latter can include what attracts you to the company, how you deal with challenging situations or your career aspirations.

So as you prepare and study the company and interviewers and whatever else, remember to be yourself and simply focus on highlighting the aspects of you and your experiences that make you an ideal candidate for the position.

As usual, let me know if you have any further questions and use #moredetails if you’d like me to elaborate on something. 

Thanks for reading! 🙂


Crafting Powerful Cover Letters

I vividly remember writing my first cover letter. I was perplexed, there was so much I felt I could say but I wasn’t sure what to prioritise or where to start. Naturally, I binged on “How to write a Cover Letter” articles as I searched for direction. I scraped together a one-page document and submitted it as a cover letter. Since then, I have written and edited more cover letters than I can count as a Career Development intern and a budding young professional.  

I have come to understand that writing a cover letter is essentially telling a story. More specifically, it’s about telling your professional story through which you carefully position yourself as the most ideal candidate for the role.

That still sounds a bit abstract so I’ve broken it down into three key questions. A powerful cover letter frames your story such that it answers these three key questions:

1.Why are you interested in this company?

Of all the companies in the world, why are you applying for this one? I know you don’t always have a deep attachment to the company you’re applying to and sometimes it’s just one of many on a list. Even if that is the case, it’s important to take time to understand what’s unique about this company (whether it be its mission, experience or culture) that attracts you to it and places it, even marginally, above other companies in its industry.

This section is particularly important if you’re applying to a big brand which likely gets thousands of applicants, many of whom solely want to be affiliated with the company and its brand. To stand out, you need to show an appreciation for the company that goes beyond its strong reputation and is rooted in the core identity of the company.

2. Why are you interested in this specific role?

At this stage, the reader understands why you are attracted to this company but why are you applying for this particular role? What do you perceive the key skills of this role to be? What potential impact do you envision making if given this role? This section is an opportunity to exhibit that you understand the expectations of the role and then take it one step further by painting a picture of how you, given the role, can go beyond the job description and positively impact the company.

3. Why should the company select you over all other applicants?

What skills have you acquired that uniquely position you to succeed in this role? What characteristics and soft skills do you possess that make you an invaluable addition to the company? In this section, it’s important to sway away from saying things such as “I am better than all other applicants because of xyz”. Rather, expand on experiences from your resume which show the reader that you are capable and inclined to succeed in this role. Try to avoid explaining small details of your past experiences and instead elaborate on the skills you learned and the results you achieved.

While answering these questions, the key aspects of a killer resume still apply. Namely, storytelling, brevity with a focus on impact and attention to detail. Cover letters should generally be one page and no typos or grammatical errors should be present.

The letter should flow and it should not seem like you were simply answering a list of questions. To take it one step further, I usually format my cover letters to align with the company’s branding (do this with caution as you do not want to come across as unprofessional).

Below, I have attached one of the cover letters which I used to apply to and secure one of my internships. I hope reading it helps you see how to apply to concepts detailed above.

Cover Letter Example

As usual, let me know if you have any further questions and use #moredetails if you’d like me to elaborate on something.

Thanks for reading! 🙂

FAQs: Getting a (Google) Internship

I was fortunate enough to intern with Google at their EMEA Headquarters in Dublin this past summer. I enjoyed it more than I imagined possible and would do it all again if I could. I have since gotten a lot of questions about applying to Google and ‘standing out’ amiss the piles of applications. 

The Google Internship is considered one of the most prestigious internships in the world and thus, they get thousands of applications each cycle resulting in a low acceptance rate. Below, I am going to detail my answers to some of the questions I get asked most often. Notably, a lot of the answers are applicable to many other internships/job applications. 

If you have an additional question, submit it via my website & I’ll share an answer! 

Q: Did you know someone at Google or apply via referral? 

No. I applied via the website (careers.google.com). 

Q: How do I stand out when applying for a job? 

This is the question I have been asked the most! The answer is relatively simple to understand but difficult to implement… 

Standing out essentially means catching the recruiters attention as one of the best candidates for the position. The best way to do that is to actually be one of the best candidates for the role. This can be achieved in 3 steps:

1. Understand the type of candidate they are searching for

This goes beyond simply understanding the qualifications or linguistic abilities they’re looking for. This step includes understanding the person they want on a holistic level…What is their culture like? What type of people thrive in it? What key characteristics do they value? What type of experience is relevant to the job? What’s the job description? What are the non-negotiable skills? 

2. Understand yourself relative to their ideal candidate 

Once you’ve taken time to understand their ideal candidate, you have to be honest with yourself about your suitability for the role. Are you a suitable candidate? Do your experiences, skills, values and working style align with that of the organisation and of the role? 

This is an extremely important, often underrated step. Many a times, I get people messaging me saying “I want to work for Google too!” but are only drawn to the brand name with little to no understanding of the company culture (it’s more than free food) or even the role they would want. 

While Google’s brand is certainly appealing, that is not why I applied. My decision to apply to Google came after I undertook step 1 (understanding) thoroughly. After my first internship with Bain & Company, I realised that a crucial part of my experience was my alignment with the company’s culture. I became fascinated with the concept of company culture and it’s effect on an organisation’s success. This lead me to learn more about Google’s culture and what it’s like to work there.  

I spoke to a few Googlers & Xooglers (ex Googlers) with the intention to gain insights from their experiences, identify common misconceptions and objectively decide if it would be a good fit for me. Notably, I did not slide into anyone’s DMs asking for a referral. This is a trend I’ve noticed that can come across as entitled, naive and even ignorant. I find this request particularly annoying if I have barely ever spoken to the person, never worked with them or generally have no insight into their professional capabilities. Referring someone is putting your brand behind them and it’s borderline nonsensical to ask someone that barely knows you to do that for you. 

What I suggest instead is this: after rigorously researching the role and company on the internet, note down any additional questions you have. Then approach people with authentic curiosity and a desire to better understand. Your goal should be to understand if the company and role really is a good fit for you because in all honesty, being unhappy at a job with a prestigious company is as easy as being in a miserable relationship with a gorgeous supermodel (it’s incredibly simple). 

Having worked for a few ‘big’ brands, I can tell you for free that the excitement of being associated with the brand is not sufficient to overshadow not enjoying your day to day work. So do yourself and the company a favour and try to find a role where you can excel, add value, grow and be happy. 

If you find that the role reflects who you would want to be and perhaps not who you are just yet, I would say apply! Sometimes we underestimate ourselves and our abilities and at the end of the day, we don’t know who else is applying. You may be the best suited applicant or the recruiter may see something in you that you’re not able to see in yourself. 

That said, you should also work on building relevant experience. This is a continuous process that I strongly recommend regardless of whether or not you get the role. Personally, I am constantly looking at what roles I want to take up in the future and then working on gaining relevant skills and experience now. 

Also, interviewers aren’t stupid. They can see right through candidates who are more drawn to the brand/opportunity location/perks than the actual role or company mission. Don’t be that guy. It won’t get you far. 

3. Invest time and effort into figuring out the best way to present yourself 

If you do not do steps one and two properly, you’re at high risk on wasting your time by completing step three. Simply because if you’re not at least half suited for the role then you’re wasting your time and the company’s time by applying. You are better off carefully selecting 10 opportunities and applying to them then blindly and hurriedly applying to 40 opportunities. Of course you shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket. But by applying to too many opportunities, you risk not investing the necessary time into the opportunities that you are most well suited for. 

As you know, securing job opportunities is increasingly difficult so every detail counts. I customise my resume and cover letter for each and every opportunity I apply for. This has worked extremely well for me. I almost never put all my work experience on my resume simply because it’s not all relevant (and I don’t have space as I usually opt for a one pager). Notably, a lot of companies ask for all your work history at some point or at least the link to your LinkedIn so don’t worry too much about trying to include everything. 

When it comes to putting together a resume, I detailed my key tips in my last article. I use Novo Resume as I appreciate the visual appeal. 

Q: How do I prepare for the interviews?

At the risk of making this article 10 pages long, I am going to try to keep each answer short but if you would like me to elaborate, use the hashtag #MoreDetails & the relevant topic in the comments. For this particular question, I may even elaborate with a video! 

When it comes to preparing for an interview, there are 3 key areas I focus on (yes, I like threes a lot!).

1. Interviewer: understanding who they are, what the role in the company is and what past experience they have. 

2. Commonly asked interview questions: making sure I am comfortable answering all the commonly asked interview questions. From “Tell me about yourself” to “what are your strengths and weaknesses”. 

3. Role-based & company knowledge: understanding the company’s business model, key activities, competitors and latest projects. This also includes familiarising myself with the latest news about them, their vision and expansion plans. On the other hand, role-based knowledge is about understanding key elements of the role and any products or technical skills associated with it. 

For example, the role I interviewed for with Google was sales & (digital) marketing centred so I spent some time learning about the digital marketing industry, notable statistics as to why digital marketing can be more effective than traditional marketing and the advantages of Google marketing solutions over their competitor’s products. 

Q: Should I write a cover letter? 

My take- if you can then yes. If you’ve taken my above advice then you should have a relatively concise list of opportunities you’re applying for which you believe you stand a chance at. Thus, it makes sense to do everything in your power to position yourself as the ideal candidate. 

Notably, I usually use cover letters to explain my thinking/reasoning behind certain decisions which I couldn’t elaborate on in my resume. For example, why I dropped out of ‘Africa’s number 1 university’, University of Cape Town, to start again at the African Leadership University.  I also use cover letters to elaborate on the most relevant projects I have worked on which showcase a skillset likely to be useful in the role I am applying for. 

Overall, a cover letter should concisely describe why you are interested in that particular company and that particular role and what experiences and skills position you uniquely to succeed in that role.

Q: Can you refer me or share my resume with HR/a hiring manager? 

Refer to answer 2 🙂 

There you have it! Answers to the questions I am asked most frequently about applying for an internship at Google. I hope you found the answers useful! If you have any further questions, don’t hesitate to reach out via the “Ask a Career Question” feature on my website 🙂