Monthly Archives: September 2014

How to Ace Competency Interviews- Part 2

Over the past 12 months, I have interviewed over 300 graduates from all over the world for a range of fabulous roles. It is a real privilege to talk to so many people and find out about your education, career aspirations and some of the experiences that have made you who you are today. You are fascinating! But I must admit that there is one area that graduates sometimes struggle with…the competency questions!

So I want to give you some insider’s tips to help you prepare for your big day focusing specifically on how to tackle the competency part of the interview. Oh and before I do, I want to give you a really importance piece of information. Your Futureboard interviewer is not there to try and intimidate you or catch you out! When I speak with my interviewee, I really, really want them to give their best possible interview! My role is to help put you at ease, listen intently and ask you exploratory questions to help draw out your potential. This helps me to understand whether I think the role is going to be a good fit for you and vice versa.

How to Prepare

The content

The likelihood is that even if you haven’t got a lot of work experience, you will have plenty of strong examples (from internships, university and extra-curricular activities like volunteering) that are relevant for a competency interview. This is where preparation is absolutely crucial. Think about the role that you are applying for and the skills and competencies that you would need to be successful. It is likely that your Futureboard contact has discussed these with you or there may be some clues in the job description.

To prepare, brainstorm some different examples that you could use to demonstrate a competency. For instance if you think that the role will require strong communication skills, brainstorm some examples that demonstrate where you have used your excellent communication skills.

Even though you only need to talk about 1 example for each competency, I would suggest that you have at least 2 but ideally 3 examples that you could use. Give yourself as much choice as possible. This is not over-preparation for the sake of it, there is a good reason why I suggest this!

This is a common scenario:

It is likely that you will have one favourite example of a specific project or piece of work that has gone extremely well. It is your biggest success and you definitely want to use it for the competency part of the interview. The first competency question you get asked is asking for an example of your excellent influencing skills so you decide to use your favourite example. But then the next question is about leadership. Actually your favourite example demonstrated your leadership skills even better than your influencing skills, but you have just used it already and you don’t have a back-up example for leadership. Oh no! This is why it’s worth preparing two or three different examples for each competency.

 The Structure

The STAR method is an extremely useful way of structuring an answer to a competency question. I can tell when candidates use it and when they decide to freestyle instead and I can safely say that those who use it always do better in this part of the interview! It is likely that one of the Futureboard team will have briefed you on the STAR technique prior to your interview and this previous Futureboard blog is well worth reading

During the interview

  • Take a moment to think about the question before you start to answer it. Competency questions do require a bit of thought and mental preparation. If you want to take a minute to think before you launch in to your answer that is absolutely fine with me. All of the Futureboard interviewers have lots of experience of interviewing. We are fine with waiting in silence whilst you think about your answer; it won’t make us feel awkward!
  • If you start to give an answer and suddenly realise that this isn’t the best example you could use, just stop and ask the interviewer whether they mind if you start your answer again. It is far better to do this than carry on with an example that you know is not as strong as it could be.
  • A common mistake that people make when answering a competency question is to use ‘we’ rather than ‘I’. For example:

‘We were able to convince our manager that this would be the best approach’

I really want to hear examples of what YOU have done. When you use ‘we’ I don’t know whether your influencing skills were able to convince your manager or whether actually your colleague did that. So ask a friend for help practicing competency questions and make sure they correct you if you say ‘we’ instead of ‘I’.

  • Relax in to it! It is completely normal to be a bit nervous particularly during the competency interview. But with good preparation and practice, I’m sure you will impress. This is a great opportunity to show off how brilliant you are!

Good luck!

Lucy James, Associate Coach at Futureboard

What can I do if a Graduate Degree is insufficient in today’s job market?

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University is approaching fast and for many students, the prospect of entering the final year provides graduates with a variety of prospects and opportunities as they become available on the job market. The undergraduate degree is undeniably a component part in kick-starting a career in any given field.

Is the undergraduate degree enough anymore? Does it set you apart from other candidates? According to the Telegraph, ‘almost half of people aged between 25 and 64 will have a degrees or higher level qualifications within the next eight years.’ This is a ‘10 per cent increase which will see Britain rise from 11th in the international rankings to seventh.’ These statistics are an indication of the fierce competition that graduates should expect when applying for specific roles and jobs. If so many people are qualified, how do we set ourselves apart in the build up to final year or, from what many employers will see as another pile of CV’s from successful graduates?

Your Options

  1. Conjoined Study and Work Experience

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Positives: The ability to juggle a job alongside your studies takes considerable organisation (particularly if you are already part of a society or sports club!). Potential employers like to see evidence that you’re actively developing core work skills and building your CV alongside your studies. A job outside of university would be a more ideal place to test, hone, and understand what your specific strengths are in the work place. It will also help you what makes you tick and what doesn’t as a career option.

Things to Consider: Testing your strengths and weaknesses is crucial. Go outside your comfort zone and once you find your strengths focus on them. Too often people tend to jump into internships, jobs and career paths that they unsure of doing. That or they may have originally thought that a specific career path suited them only to find out that it wasn’t their cup of tea. It is also useful experience in that you are less likely to be overwhelmed by applications, cover letters, interviews, and adapting to a particular working environment.

  1. Further Study

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Positives: Undergoing a postgraduate or even a PhD is a significant way to bolster your C.V credentials and developing a more specific career path. Research carried out by LSE and Surrey University has revealed that those with a higher degree earned an average of £5,500 more a year. A postgraduate degree should be the chance to make internal and external connections (which you may have missed as an undergraduate) who can provide you with references, job links and opportunities through individuals, societies and specific institutions. A post graduate also allows you to focus your into academic studies relevant to a specific career path. I chose to do a postgraduate degree on the basis that it would bolster my CV, be more career orientated and would help give me an edge over other competitors and graduates in the market.

Things to Consider: There are naturally downsides to doing a postgraduate. The increase in student debt (already an excess of £30,000 – 40,000) to £60,000 is unappealing for anyone seeking to avoid extra payload on educational qualifications. Another consideration you should ask yourself when applying for a postgraduate or PhD is whether it is career relevant? Are you making the most of opportunities provided by your specific university institutions? Another question to ask of a postgraduate (much like an undergraduate) is whether or not they have a balanced CV with an array of work experience and activities to go alongside their educational qualifications. Have they maximised (within reason) their time outside course modules, exams and dissertation?

  1. A Year Out

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Positives: Taking a gap year before or after university is a rewarding experience for anyone has the opportunity to do this. I took a year out after completing my undergraduate degree for various reasons. Firstly it gave me a necessary amount of breathing space to consider my options. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do and lacked work experience. The gap year allowed me to develop a road map for the career that I really wanted to do.

Secondly I felt that my C.V needed development whereby I would use the year away as a ‘testing ground’ to find out what jobs and working environments suited me and which ones didn’t. Finally it helped me develop work skills that I lacked on graduation. Societies and clubs are useful, but they are no substitute to working in and gaining insight into a professional working environment.

Things to Consider: Have a strategy for the year especially if you are taking one after graduation. Make sure you actively develop your work skills and boost your CV in the ample time you have. Gap years can range from 9 – 18 months, rarely come around often and will be wasted if you haven’t used it advantageously to develop key skills employers will look for, work experience and dipping in and out of part-time roles and jobs. Be sure to have some time off but don’t lose focus of the big picture.

Be willing to work various jobs and some of them for free. This can range from internships to programming or to simply creating a weekly or monthly blog. If you cannot afford to travel or work abroad for that length of time make the most of applying for and securing useful summer jobs and opportunities. Sign up for courses that can help your development in areas you aren’t comfortable with in the work place.

The part-time work experience does not necessarily have to be a commercially orientated or a major company to utilise it.  For example if you are a sales assistant working in a shop but interested in finance- ask your manager to talk you through the accounts and reporting. If you’re interested in HR and work in a bar- ask the manager to talk you through the hiring process and see if you can sit in on any interviews.

If you find your passion in the duration of the year, work on it. However if you don’t exactly gauge what you want to do the average person taking a year out will have gained valuable life skills, developed some expertise in a working environment and diversified their CV by experimenting in various part-time jobs. This will make them more flexible in the eyes of potential employers as they are not always guaranteed talent through their company-run graduate programmes and internships.

Matthew Williams

The Alternate ‘Black Gold’

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“I can’t imagine a day without coffee. I can’t imagine!”

Howard Schultz

The world is dominated by petro-politics and oil. Great powers and states compete to harness the ultimate energy source that we can get our hands on. Yet another form of energizing ‘black gold’ has absorbed mankind. If the world has been divided on beliefs, religion, politics and almost every other fathomable topic of contestation we remain united on our adoration and obsession with coffee. Since plausible civilisation began man has been chewing, ingesting and eliminating coffee cherries for more than 10,000 years. It’s expanded into a cultural phenomenon as well as a major global commodity.

Ten facts about coffee industry:

  1. Worldwide coffee is worth $100 billion, second only to the most valuable commodity on the planet; oil.
  2. According to the Guinness World Record the largest cup of coffee ever made contained 14,228.1 litres and was created by Caffe Bene (South Korea) in Yangju, South Korea, on 17 July 2014.
  3. Despite coffee only starting to intrigue American traders in the 19th century, September 29th is celebrated as ‘National Coffee Day’ in the United States.
  4. The rise of Islam popularised coffee. They couldn’t drink alcohol so they turned to coffee as an alternative for social and political discussions.
  5. On average worldwide, we drink over 500 billion cups of coffee every year and 1.7 billion cups are drank a day.
  6. Coffee was discovered in Ethiopia. Legend says that the first coffee ever consumed was by a 9th-century Ethiopian goat herder after being perplexed by the excitement of his goats who had come across and eaten some beans from the coffee plant.
  7. Forget Lucozade and water before doing sporting activity! According to sports nutritionist Mayur Ranchordas (via Four Four Two) the caffeine content of coffee will power you up ahead of kick-off.
  8. Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Slovakia all reside in the top ten biggest consumers of coffee per capita. Coffee consumers in the U.S.A reside in sixteenth place.
  9. The first European coffee house was opened in Rome in 1645.
  10. Coffee was prohibited in 1675 by King Charles II of England to dissuade people from discussing plots over the hot beverage.

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These facts are several of innumerable reasons as to why coffee gains such traction to both individuals and companies across the world. The globes ‘coffee belt’ represents how coffee is inherently valuable to developing countries as a major part of their economy. It provides livelihoods for millions, excellent business opportunities for commercial coffee chains and whilst it is just behind oil in terms of value, coffee satisfies the customer more frequently (unless of course you give someone a bad cup of coffee!)

Futureboard is recruiting for a major international Coffee and Vending Solutions company. Over the last 40 years they have developed and changed to become Europe’s most renowned provider. The organisation concerned is a fast paced and dynamic organisation, serving delicious coffee and providing premium vending solutions since the early 1970s and currently over 5000 employees based in 11 countries. Think about it over a cup of coffee and contact us if you’d like to know more.

Matthew Williams

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