Top tips on how to do the CV, get the interview, pass the test and land the job

The world of work is forever changing, so is it any surprise that how we get jobs is changing too?

Employers and recruiters increasingly look beyond the more traditional interview methods as they explore new ways of ensuring they get the best candidate for the job. Photograph: iStock

Employers and recruiters increasingly look beyond the more traditional interview methods as they explore new ways of ensuring they get the best candidate for the job. Photograph: iStock


Employers and recruiters increasingly use online assessment, video interviews and even situational judgement questionnaires to see how people would respond to events in the workplace.

In the modern workplace, this means companies are using tools like Athena Assessment, which helps them evaluate a job applicant’s judgement, HireSelect, which helps them measure the candidate’s personality and skills, and Sabeer, to see if the candidate would be the right fit for the team and if they would gel with their future colleagues. These are less familiar to job applicants, but they’re not impossible to prepare for (see below).

As well as this, some employers will organise group interviews and they may ask applicants to perform tasks they would do in that workplace. This is in stark contrast to the traditional understanding of a job interview, with a candidate sitting across a table from one or more interviewers and being grilled by them.

That said, the formal job interview as we understand it is not going anywhere and applicants are well advised to prepare for them. Before they get that crucial interview, of course, they will need to put together a CV and a cover letter. We spoke to two experts about what job applicants need to do from the start of the job application process through to the end.

Brendan Baker is head of the Career Development Centre at Maynooth University and chair of the Association of Higher Education Career Services (AHECS). Colm Cavey is a professional career consultant who specialises in providing advice to middle and senior management through his company

How are firms recruiting?

Brendan Baker: “Graduate recruiters are finding it increasingly expensive to recruit so are increasingly taking on people through summer internship. Any good organisation will do a lot of “onboarding” – previously this was known as induction. This is all about getting people familiar with the company and mentoring them.

“The average graduate doesn’t stay with a company for the long-term and it is expensive to train them, so firms are increasingly looking at what is important to new recruits as a way of reducing staff turnover – with that in mind, we see a lot of environmental, diversity and corporate social responsibility policies. Wages only seem to be about third on the list for graduate recruits because they know the starting salary will rise.”

Should you tailor your CV for each job?

BB: “All employers are looking for people with good work ethic, attitudes and skill sets so your CV should be consistent here. But it is a good idea to tailor it for the requirements of particular jobs. More than 40 per cent of jobs are now open to graduates of any discipline so, for instance, you don’t need an accounting degree to go for a place on a graduate recruitment programme with one of the big firms.”

Colm Cavey: “You’ll always put a word in here and there but I am cautious of people making too many changes. I ask them: what are you putting in there? If it’s important enough, why is not in your CV in the first place?”

What should go in your CV?

BB: “Do make sure to mine the richness of your experience: this can be the fact that you worked in a local shop or the DIY centre stacking shelves; you could put down the job title on the CV and emphasise that you worked on product placement and that customer service was key. If you had a position of leadership in a college club or society, this is important – put it down. If I take the profile of a Maynooth University graduate, they have worked hard to get a good degree and so they have a good work ethic, and most will have a part-time job so they have strengths in time management and organisation.”

CC: “Think of a day in the life of a business where you worked and recall all the things you were involved in. You may have opened and closed the restaurant, did cash sales and credit-card transactions and taken and made orders. From all of this, an employer sees you were trusted to be honest and accurate with money, and that you met and greeted customers so you have good interpersonal skills. I’d break a CV into four parts. Firstly, your name, address and contact details. Second, your profile – about two paragraphs – should be like the synopsis on the back of a book, perhaps that you are a graduate with a BA or BSc in an area, that you have additional certs in something, that you have work and volunteer experience in Ireland and abroad. Then, your skill sets: this is the work experience you have and how it reflects your skills. Finally, education.”

What are the big no-nos?

BB: “Don’t tell a lie or pretend you have experience in a particular area. Make sure you don’t have any spelling or grammar mistakes. Get someone to proofread the CV.”

CC: “A big sprawling CV. Your CV is your brochure and it needs to be to the point. Pluck out anything that is not 100 per cent relevant or can be shortened: I had a client who wrote that she ‘took over the running of the office while the managing director was away on business’; I advised her to change this to ‘deputised for the MD in his absence’.”

If the CV gets you called to interview, what should you do?

BB: “Practise. Here at Maynooth, we do interview skills and one-on-one coaching with our soon-to-be graduates. We tell them that graduate recruiters are not trying to trip people up: they’re trying to get the best graduates to highlight their strengths. Anyone who has sat on an interview board has sympathy for applicants – they’re trying to coax the answers out, not be adversarial.

“Do your research, and this means looking at traditional media as well as social media – it’s great to be able to go into a company and tell the interview board that you know they won an award because it shows you have done your research. Think of the impression you want to make on the board and what strengths you want to highlight, such as time management or communication. Your answer should be like a paragraph in an essay, starting with a strong statement like ‘I have experience in X’ and following that up with evidence. What would you like them to say about you after the interview? If it is that you are ambitious, talented and motivated, make sure that your words stand out. If you are not authentic and not enthusiastic about the role, that will come across.”

CC: “Interviews are competency based. They don’t want you to agree that you are good at a particular area such as accounting. Instead, they might ask how did you become good at accounting. Think of the topics you will be asked and they could include accounting, regulation or taxation. Think of a few times you dealt with these topics: what was the problem, what action did you take and what was the result achieved?”

Why do people fall short at the job interview?

BB: “Not being prepared. Not being clear about the role and responsibilities of the job. Not knowing enough about the company and its product. Not being sufficiently self-aware: stating that you have great problem-solving skills isn’t as strong if everyone has said it, so you need your examples of problem-solving skills to stand out. I’d also urge students to seek feedback on their interview so they can learn from it. It may also be the case, if you’ve had a bad interview, that this is not the right company for you.”

CC: “I’d say that 99 per cent of the time people fail at interview it’s because they don’t know their CV. They think they do, of course. They run it through a spell check but they walk into the interview and clam up when four to six people are throwing questions at them. Knowing your CV is knowing your script. Also, some people might be a bit shy or awkward at the job interview, but it’s best to say so. “

Situational judgement and other assessment techniques: can you be ready for them?

Situational judgement tests aren’t new, but this form of psychometric test is increasingly common. The employer is trying to get a feel of how you would respond to common scenarios in their workplace, and they will give you fair warning of such a test. These tests are usually in addition to an interview, but you may also have to do some tasks that would be required in the workplace. Practice is important here – students who have ever sat the HPat for entry to medical courses will be familiar with the concept.

You’ll find plenty of these tests online, so it’s a good idea to put in some practice if you’re about to go into one. As you do these, you’ll spot trends in your approach. They’re all slightly different but usually in a multiple choice format asking you to pick the best or worst option. There isn’t always a “right” answer but there is one that you’ll judge as most or least appropriate. Think of what is best in the long-term and what is the most ethical and honest response given the requirements and limitations of the job.