From job ads to CV and interview: how to get that position

Standing out from the competition

‘The first stage of an interview is probably the most crucial as your future employer is judging you based on your job application and CV.’ Photograph: iStockphoto/Getty Images

‘The first stage of an interview is probably the most crucial as your future employer is judging you based on your job application and CV.’ Photograph: iStockphoto/Getty Images


Starting a job-hunt can be like picking up a big bag of stressed cats and hauling them around for a few months.

“How will I know if I’m interested in any of these jobs advertised? Is this twelvety-dozenth draft of the CV perfect enough? Yes, it is, send; oh holy flip, I’ve just mixed up two applications and sent the wrong CV to the job I really wanted. And what are they looking for at the job interview?”

The job hunt

Marie McManamon is an independent careers consultant with, and she says that graduates need to cast a wide net in their job hunts. Look at job ads in the print media, use their network, use job websites, LinkedIn’s search tool and also, and recruitment agencies. She also strongly advises students to actively engage with their college career service during their final year and to make sure to attend career fairs.

“Someone who comes out of college with a general degree may not always know what they want and they can struggle due to a lack of knowledge of the labour market and workplaces. Graduates can be reluctant to take a stab at applying for a particular job, but it’s always good practice to put together a relevant CV, prepare for the interview and get some experience of applying.”

The CV

When it comes to the CV, it’s important to make sure that it’s well presented and has no spelling or grammar doozies, but candidates should also make sure that it’s relevant to the job they’re applying for.

“A CV stands out when it’s tailored to the position,” says Sorcha Mulcahy, deputy director of the UCD careers development centre. “For graduate roles, they’re not looking for loads of experience but they will identify candidates with the key skills or competencies they need. The graduate CV should have demonstrated teamwork, leadership, commercial awareness or whatever it is they have stated they are looking for.”

I’m good at teamwork, leadership, or commercial awareness, a poor CV might declare, without giving examples as to how they have proven these skills. Teamwork might include examples of college projects or being involved in a voluntary organisation, leadership might mention a campaign or club you led, commercial awareness might refer to sponsorship money you raised.

“The key to standing out in a sea of 2.1 graduates is to illustrate to the recruiter that they meet the requirements of the role/field within the first 30 seconds of opening the document,” says Deirdre Parker, careers adviser at UCC.

“The opening summary, often called ‘profile’, is key. This summary should be a unique and well-written snapshot of the graduate’s relevant qualifications, achievements, skills, personal qualities and aspirations. As recruiters will often press “delete” in the first 30 seconds, the profile needs to be followed quickly by relevant education and achievements.

Relevant qualifications or internships should not be hidden on the second page as it might never be seen! So put last year’s marketing internship above your current Saturday job in the café.

Duties and responsibilities can be vague and uninspiring, so summarise them in one or two points and then move straight to the important stuff: your achievements.”

Parker advises candidates to be as specific as possible when describing their achievements, use metrics such as the size of the team they led, the budget they managed, the cost or time saving of a new initiative or the members of a society.

And yes, she says: involvement in a club, society, volunteer organisation, students’ union or college paper is regarded favourably, and sometimes is essential, particularly because these unpaid roles can be a way of displaying achievements.

Is there any point in a cover letter? McMananon says that, while about half of the letters are often thrown away, they’re still important to write. “This is where you can match yourself to the requirements of the job, and two solid paragraphs outlining how you have what they looking for, even in bullet point form, is valuable.”

The interview

A recent article by Jason Dana in The New York Times highlighted studies showing that interviews rarely, if ever, give the company the information they need about the candidate and that, in fact, they are often worse than useless. With this in mind, how can someone make the best of the interview?

Parker advises candidates to thoroughly research the interviewer using online research tools and to identify what you have in common.

“Greet them by name and show them that you have done your homework. Interviewers generally ask questions linked to the competencies of the role, such as influencing or organising, so make sure you have two strong examples for each to discuss at interview.

Make sure you prepare for the ones that can lead you into negative territory such as conflict or failure so that you are ready to emphasise the learning and positive outcomes and keep the tone on an upbeat note.”

Mulcahy recommends that graduates come armed with research, making sure they have thoroughly explored the company’s website and annual reports as well as any google news stories that have appeared about it.

College careers services are worth a visit and UCC careers centre has run a number of simulated assessment centres giving students a chance to experience the creative problem-solving or business case study tasks that employers often use to select candidates.

Follow these steps and you’ll be in with a good shot.

Students and graduates can find advice on CVs, interviews, graduate employers and more on

Panel: The best and worst CVs

The best CVs

– Use a consistent format to describe your qualification and roles, and describe dates consistently. Abbreviate months or use the same date format throughout.

– Use bullet points opening with action verbs; use present tense for current roles and past tense for the past

– Expand on your life outside of work and education and show how, in voluntary roles or through extracurricular activities, you have demonstrated the skills needed for this job.

– Are relevant to the job description and show exactly how you have the demonstrated the skills required by the job ad. One way of doing this is to put together a key skills profile.

– May come with a link to short video, blog or business plan you have produced.

The worst CVs

– Are so badly presented that the candidate is mentally dismissed as unsuitable on opening. Visuals matters and recruiters can be pedantic, so abiding by these principles will avoid your CV being deleted in the first few seconds of opening.

– Have spelling mistakes which, as soon as the document is opened, are underlined in red by the word processor.

– Have bad grammar and vague and short job descriptions such as “helped my company work with clients”.

– Have different fonts throughout, stick to one. Make sure you don’t over use capitals or bold font as it makes for a busy mess.

– Have not been proofread – make sure to ask someone to do it for you.

– Have not been tailored for each job.

Contributions from Deirdre Parker, careers advisor at UCC; Sorcha Mulcahy, deputy director, UCD career development centre; Marie McManamon, independent careers advisor

Panel: My job experienceEmma Cleere, sales executive for Siteminder

“Looking for a job can seem daunting at first but if you take the time to think about what you really want from your graduate job, then you are off to a great start.

“I have always known that I wanted to work in a business environment. I had spent four years studying at NUIG and I loved the city life Galway offered, so I narrowed my search to companies operating here.

“Last October, I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in commerce international with German. I feel that having a language definitely made me more employable and it gave me an edge which helped me get past the first round of interviews.

“The first stage of an interview is probably the most crucial as your future employer is judging you based on your job application and CV. It is essential to highlight the reasons why you should be hired for this position; don’t be afraid to boast in your application.

“Life outside of college/work was also a topic of interest for employers, so speak up about your hobbies and how you give back to the community.

“The next stage can be a self-recording. Here graduates are given various questions about themselves, the role and why they believe they are a suitable candidate. A graduate can then be expected to complete one or two interviews via Skype before being invited to an interview where you finally get to meet your interviewer face to face.

“This is your chance to make a lasting impression, the employer has liked you this far so don’t hold back on impressing them.

“I would advise that you initially apply for roles in your field of work. This will give you interview experience which will then be invaluable when it comes to the job you really want.

“I am now working an Australian tech company based in Galway city. It is a fantastic place to work and both employee welfare and career progression are key considerations from management.

“Their mentoring program fully prepared me for the transition from a graduate to a corporate role. I feel very lucky to have had such an amazing opportunity working with this company and I look forward to the future here.

“Finally, don’t become disheartened if you don’t get that job offer. Maybe it wasn’t right for you and I am a full believer that something will come up when you least expect it, always keep trying.

“Good luck!”