Category Archives: Interview Tips

Developing a Career in a Rural Area

Readers will know that highly-paid jobs with the best career prospects are mostly located in and around cities, especially London.  But city life doesn’t suit everyone.  So here are some things to consider if you prefer to live and work in a rural area.

Choice of career?

If you want to work in investment banking, or to be a professional musician in a major orchestra, you will probably need to work in London or another big city.

Other industries and subject specialisms tend to be based in rural areas.  There are few nuclear power stations in major cities.  Marine science laboratories tend to be on the coast for some reason – almost always in attractive locations.  And forestry jobs in major cities are relatively rare.

Jobs in local government, in teaching, or in healthcare are needed everywhere.  But in medicine for example, a GP will have more choice of work location than a specialist needing the facilities of a major teaching hospital.

And academics have a wide choice of locations.  If you want an academic career, think about the Universities in which you would like to work.

Have a look at, for example, Bangor, Lancaster, Cumbria, Sheffield, Aberystwyth or Exeter for easy access to national parks.

Other universities, such as Hull or Lincoln, do not have such attractive countryside but are located in areas with relatively low-cost housing.  So if an early step onto the housing ladder is one of your priorities, look at local housing costs when choosing where to apply for jobs.

Some rural areas have established Science Parks to attract and retain high-value businesses and to provide graduate-level jobs.  Examples include Westlakes on the edge of the Lake District, or the Menai Science Park being built over the next couple of years in North Wales to attract and develop businesses related to energy and the environment.

More information on Science Parks, and a nearly-complete list of UK Science Parks, can be obtained from the UK Science Parks Association (UKSPA), and the website is listed below.

  1. Choice of interests?

Some researchers are completely dedicated to their work.  Others prefer a balanced life, matching work with other interests.  Some of these interests naturally fit certain locations better than others.  Essex does have at least one mountain bike track and Ipswich does have a mountaineering club, but they may not be the best places for these activities.

If you are a nightclub disco-bunny, or are a regular theatre-goer, you may find Lampeter, now part of the University of Wales Trinity St.David, a bit quiet.  But it may be the one of the best spots in the UK for amateur astronomers requiring ‘dark skies’.

Some activities may be possible anywhere.  But if the activity benefits from group involvement, do consider whether or not the local population will include enough people with similar interests to form an active club or group.  Teams from sports clubs in rural areas may need to travel quite long distances for matches against other clubs.

And if you have reached a very high standard in your chosen sport, you may need to live and work near to specialist facilities or training venues.

  1. But surely I can just commute?

Well, you can.  If you really want to.

Commuting may appear to offer the advantages of city jobs and career prospects with the attractions of living in rural areas.

But in the UK you need to commute long distances to achieve this.  Commuting long distances is expensive.  And even if your salary enables you to afford it, you will never get back the time involved.

The hassle of commuting also takes its toll; too many commuters spend their weekends recovering from the week rather than enjoying their lives outside work.  Do you really want that pre-dawn start to get a seat on the train, only getting home in time to eat and sleep?

  1. Beware of the ‘career trap’.

If the rural life suits you and you can get a graduate-level job in a nice area, fairly soon you won’t want to leave.  In most ways this is a good thing – not everyone manages to work in a place where they want to live.

But do be aware of the ‘career trap’.  In a city you can get a job with a different graduate employer without having to move house; in a rural area this isn’t always possible.  And your employer will know this, so, even if you don’t want to change employers, those pay rises and/or promotions won’t arrive quite as often as they will in cities with many employers and a competitive labour market.

If you are in a sector such as IT, where most people are expected to change employers regularly in the early stages of their career, do bear this in mind.

You may decide to move anyway, either commuting (see above) or moving house to take up the next job.  But moving to a new area is costly and time-consuming.  And if you’ve bought that four-bedroom house in rural Lincolnshire, you may not want to swap it for the same-priced tiny flat in one of the less-attractive parts of London.

  1. Dual-career couples.

All of the above issues are even more relevant to dual-career couples.  Two people can easily each have careers in a major city; it is much more difficult to arrange this in a rural area.  So make sure you are both prepared for the compromises involved – either in one of you accepting a lower-level job or in both of you accepting reduced career prospects – if you seek the rural lifestyle.

And if one of you is willing to make financial sacrifices to enjoy the rural lifestyle but the other is determined to have the salary and career prospects only available in a major city, then the very best of luck to you both.  You will need it!

Developing A Career In Outdoor Activities

Perhaps you hate the thought of spending your working life in an office or laboratory? There are alternatives – here are some things to consider if you want to work in the outdoors.

Choice of career

You may have a degree in agriculture, forestry or environmental science which has developed the skills needed to start your outdoor career.

Do your parents own a farm? If not, you will almost certainly need good contacts to obtain one of the few jobs available in agriculture or forestry. Environmental science jobs are more common, but the number of people seeking environment-related jobs is much greater than the number of vacancies available.

Jobs working for National Park Authorities or environmental organisations such as the National Trust or the RSPB attract large numbers of applications. Successful candidates almost always have CVs packed with many years of relevant voluntary experience.

One of the largest areas of employment for in the outdoors is in ‘activity tourism’ – organising and leading rock climbing, kayaking, mountain walking and similar activities, whether for children or adults.

In addition to the conventional holiday companies, there are many new ‘events’ companies that may provide employment opportunities. These may provide anything from triathlons for adults to expeditions for school groups.

Qualifications

The growth of legislation, particularly in health & safety, means that, for anything more than very basic jobs, qualifications will be required. If you are an excellent canoeist, or an experienced mountain climber, skier, surfer, or yachtsman, do make sure you can prove it by having the appropriate certificates.

If you have good experience, many places will offer short courses to enable you to gain the relevant certificates. Check with the relevant governing body for your sport.

If you have relevant certificates in one or two areas but would like to broaden your experience, have a look at (paid) work experience programmes such as those offered by the Plas Menai watersports centre in North Wales.

Perhaps you just want a gap year working in the outdoors before starting a conventional career. This is fine – there are many opportunities with tour operators either over the summer season or as ski guides during the winter.

If you want to work as a ski host or ski leader, do ensure that you have the appropriate certificates of qualification and that they are accepted in your chosen ski resort. Despite EU rules, France in particular has a reputation for making it difficult for non-nationals to work on the ski slopes.

Developing your CV

A gap year or two can add many skills and experiences, such as dealing with people or living and working overseas, to your CV.

But do be aware of the dangers of having too many ‘gap years’. If you return to the UK with a five or six-year ‘gap’, you may be competing against recent graduates for entry-level jobs in conventional careers while your former academic classmates are looking for their second or third promotion.

So if you do want multiple gap years, consider getting some management experience with holiday companies rather than continuing to work in entry-level jobs. It may be less fun – perhaps catching up on paperwork when your colleagues are out in the bars of Val D’Isere or St.Anton – but it may be helpful in persuading an employer to offer you a job if you later decide to take up a conventional career for family or other reasons.

If you find you enjoy management, it is possible to have long-term careers with holiday companies. But do be aware most of them operate on ‘shallow pyramid’ structures, with very few well-paid posts in relation to the number of entry-level and junior posts.

Start your own business?

An alternative to working for someone else is to set up an outdoor-related business, either alone or with others. Almost all universities have people who can give advice and support – including, occasionally, access to grants – to help with this. Ask your careers service, or google ‘graduate enterprise’ or ‘business start-up’ plus the name of your university, for more details.

Salaries

Unless you are very fortunate – perhaps finding a relevant job with a local authority or government ‘quango’ – the pay in outdoor jobs will be significantly below the average graduate salary, with little chance of significant progression.

Money isn’t everything – especially at the start of your career – but lack of it can be frustrating. You may have a low-cost lifestyle, especially if you have been used to living as a student, but you may also eventually want to get a mortgage, or be able to support a family.

So there are plusses and minuses to working in the outdoors, but if it suits you, do go for it!

Can evolutionary psychology help us at interview?

They always say first impressions last. But what does this mean for us in life? Especially in interviews?

Well partly we have to look back at Evolutionary Psychology for clues. And whilst Evolutionary Psychology is not a water tight theory, and like most theories has many critics, but maybe we can take some pointers. For one thing, they always say people make their mind up on hiring decisions in the first few seconds of meeting you. Is this true? Probably –yes.

SamCam speaks out on interviews

There’s a charity that helps people dress for interview when they’re on low incomes. Their website quotes the Prime Minister’s wife Samantha Cameron, a supporter of the charity, on the importance of dressing appropriately for interview. She says: “People say that employers make up their mind about a candidate in the first five minutes. If you are on a low income, have no smart clothes to wear, no interview training and no confidence, it is very hard to make that good first impression”

First impressions make a lasting impression

So why are these first impressions so important? To some extent evolution may be a factor in why we all make snap decisions on a person’s fit. Evolutionary Psychologist proponents argue that as our bodies and brains have evolved over the millennia we now have in-built  certain traits. Everything we do is designed to help us survive, find a mate, and reproduce. Evolutionary psychology, it is argued, can explain why we evolved to learn languages. We needed to, as it’s critical for cooperation. Human beings are social animals that look to form tribes with ‘like- minded’ and similar people.  Hence survival acknowledges these forces but stresses the ultimate (and largely unconscious) gene’s eye view of behaviour. Though it’s arguable whilst preparing a research grant this might not feel quite like that.

Survival of the fittest – and smartest dressed?

Evolutionary psychology postulates that the mind is shaped by pressure to survive and reproduce. The African Savannah was a harsh place and we had to make very quick decisions on who to trust, who to attack and who was safe. We look for little signals that help us decide. This ability is part of being human, and we use it all the time, especially when we first meet new people. We also probably use it to make judgments and decisions in situations such as an interview.

Creating the impression you want

I think Evolutionary Psychology can make us understand why we make such instant decisions. At interview, we know, people who convey confidence, self-assurance and authority will show this through their body language. But they can add to that impression created in how they dress.  The confident, competence persona will be enhanced, for example, through professional sober business dress. I stress the word ‘impression’ as only competency interview questions, assessment centres and psychometric testing can really probe this. We may look fantastic at interview – but it’s only a superficial thing. However, superficiality is part of the interview process and that’s why we all make decisions on people on how they look and dress. And that’s why it’s important to dress for the impression you want to make at interview

What to wear to interviews?

There was a recent article in the tabloids recently about the impression having a tattoo gives to others. On the one hand part of me thinks, what should a tattoo matter, we shouldn’t make judgments on how people dress or adorn themselves, it should only be all about competency and skills in job hunting. On the other hand people get tattoos done, because they want to make statement about themselves, and their personality and who they are. We can manage our visual brand as it were, and nowhere more so, than at interview.

Looking good or Looking the part?

As discussed in a previous blog, we all make snap judgments on people when we first meet them, and it’s been argued that we have evolved as a species to do this for survival. Appearances shouldn’t matter, but really, you are often judged before you’ve even uttered a word, and especially at an interview.

The key thing in dressing for an interview is deciding what the impression is you want to give the organisation – and how best you can manage that. You are in control of this part. So, if you have done your research on the organisation, you will have an understanding of the culture and the type of dress worn there. Some careers advisers say go to the organisation on your day off and observe how most people dress. Most universities for example, are fairly business casual in dress, but with a fair amount of individuality. Professional business consultancies are more formal in dress code.

You can decide how much you want to show you are part of them through how your dress, but retain your style still.

Dressing up

At an interview you might want to show your ‘crazy out of work personality, or that you’re ‘a radical free thinker’. But this is a big risk. You can’t predict the reaction of the panel.

The best advice on how to dress at the next interview you have is to dress one level up from what you would expect to be wearing if you got the job. You will look like you are ‘their type of person’ and will fit into the team but you also show you have made an effort for the interview and take the job seriously. If in doubt, just play safe and go for a classic plain business suit.

7 things never to wear at interview

(yes these seem obvious, but I have seen them all!)

  1. Very uncomfortable shoes. One lady I interviewed bought new shows that were so painful that she asked if she could take them off at the interview. It’s not a killer at interview to do this – but it’s not going to win you points. Go for smart dress – but make sure you feel comfortable – this was you can handle the uncomfortable interview questions better.
  2. Go too casual – jeans and tshirt might be ok at interview at some places – but that’s very rare still. At professional level, it’s important to dress smart. Even for jobs that are say, student facing, it’s still better at interview not to go totally casual.
  3. Wacky ties –Unless you guarantee the entire panel will share the same humour to the tie, don’t’ wear it. I can’t add more.
  4. Too much bling – Don’t accessorise too much and keep subtle make up – this is especially true for academic interviews. Universities are still traditional places and for some reason too much bling is not highly thought of and you can be perceived as a less serious candidate. Until the perception is changed, at interview, it’s better to tone it down.
  5. Too many piercings and tattoos – interestingly are this is increasingly common, and now probably unlikely to deter an employer. But it’s probably again a good idea to tone down. If you can’t remove them, keep any studs small and cover any offensive or obscene body art.

Likability – is it the X Factor at interview?

The X Factor is back on TV. It’s the familiar cringe telly for Saturday night. And like it or not, there is one thing that creates ‘winners’ in a public vote; even if they can’t string a tune together. It is, as Louis Walsh, says; the likability factor. It can be thought of as a ‘hidden trait’ that will get you recruited over other equally qualified applicants. Some organisations say that this is the key factor they look at after the initial competencies and skills are met. I even saw this trait of likability listed as a specified desirable skills in a job advert last week!

According to author Tim Sanders, contrary to the popular saying, actually life is a popularity contest. We gets jobs, partners, friends all based on how likable we are. He suggests that “the choices other people make about you determine your health, wealth, and happiness. And decades of research prove that people choose who they like. They vote for them, buy from them, marry them, and spend precious time with them. The good news is that you can arm yourself for the contest and win life’s battles for preference by raising your likability factor”

What does it take to be likable?

Sanders argues that these are the important factors around likability, and by developing these you will raise you chances of a successful career and indeed, successful job hunting:

1) Friendliness: your ability to communicate liking and openness to others

2) Relevance: your capacity to connect with others’ interests, wants and needs

3) Empathy: your ability to recognize, acknowledge and experience other people’s difficulties

4) Realness: the integrity that stands behind your likability and guarantees its authenticity

Likability might seem a little superficial, but you might think back to when you were either buying  something from a person that you knew was smart, clever and capable, but you just didn’t like – often in these instances people don’t end up buying just because of that reason. You may have even interviewed people yourself, who on paper had all the right qualities – but in person they just didn’t seem to be that likable. Team fit is a criteria often over looked by candidates.

Evidence for likability at interview

According to Careershub, this ‘likability factor’ is essential to recruitment decisions and they have identified five traits of likable people that organisations often look for:

1. They’re good listeners: they listen more than they talk

2. They’re helpful: they’re focused on helping others become more successful, not just their own success

3. They’re humble: whilst confident in themselves

4. They’re respectful:  They respect people’s time and attention, regardless of the other person’s title, status or background

5. They’re positive: they’re optimists who have energy and enthusiasm

So it’s worth considering the likability factor, and aspects of how you display it if you are job changing at the moment.

Presenting yourself, not just your presentation…

In order to discern among highly competent and suitable applicants, selection procedures are increasingly choosing mixed methods of recruitment: presentations, assessment centres (comprising various tasks and group activities), even psychometric tests… You may find your initial excitement at gaining an interview slowly being replaced by performance anxiety; it’s not about simply presenting knowledge, it’s also about presenting yourself.

Here are some tips and techniques to help you through the day:

‘Failing to prepare is preparing to fail’

Worries can be dispelled (or at least held at bay) by good old preparation:

–          Speak to people who have applied for similar positions recently and with relevant knowledge and experience in the field

–          Familiarise yourself with recent debates/issues/documents pertaining to the job and its role

–          Think what typical questions you may be asked e.g. why are you applying for the role, what you would bring (aside from tea and biscuits, though that may give you brownie points)

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Rather a clichéd interview question but worth thinking about: what experiences have you had and how have they developed your knowledge and skills that will transfer to the role? Think about what you value and try to convey this; the more true you are to yourself the more easily what you say will flow, and the more genuine your response will be.

In a similar vein – don’t try to be someone that you are not, or try to say what you think they want to hear (but do remember to answer the question they ask, not the question you wanted to hear!)

Presenting yourself

When asked to deliver presentations the interviewers are not only interested in the content of what you have prepared also how you engage with them:

–          Don’t hide behind Powerpoint: the interviewers are probably able to read. Have some key points but elaborate in your own words, staying relevant to the topic. Use your own examples and ideas.

–          How much to ‘act’? Some may say that to present well you should seem at home at RADA. Evidence does show that acting confidently can increase how confident you then feel (standing tall, using the space to be a presence). But we’re not all natural amateur dramatics. You can stand your ground, asserting yourself and your ideas, without having to exude overconfidence.

–          Bravery and strength can, ironically, be demonstrated by overtly acknowledging perceived weaknesses. Once you say, for example, “I’m aware I’m quite softly spoken; can you hear me ok?” or “I apologise if my voice is shaky; I’m a little nervous”, you then don’t have to try to hide it – you can just get on with what you’re presenting!

Look into the eyes, not around the eyes!

When interviewed by or presenting to a panel, ensure you make eye contact with each person.  Seeing individual people, rather than a collective group, can also make you feel less overwhelmed.

Just like you wouldn’t dress to your interview in clothes too big or small

…It’s about the right fit. You are interviewing them too: Are they the right employers with the type of prospects that you are seeking? Does the role and what it entails fit with your main areas of strengths? Ask them questions. Forget about the other applicants, and everything else that’s out of your control, and just think about what is being asked of you – using yourself and your experiences in your answers.

Whether you like the stage or get a bit of stage fright, the space is yours for that time – be yourself.

Interview Question Suggestions for Faculty-Research Positions

Do you have any questions for us?

An interview for a faculty or research related position in a UK HE institution is never a piece of cake. You can be rest assured of at least an hour long or more, of serious questions to gauge your competence. Recruiters will most certainly scrutinize: your qualifications, main research, publications, past experiences in similar roles and what significant contributions you plan to make if you are offered the post. Despite how well the interview may be going, things can take a drastic turn due to a sudden awkward response to a particular question as many job seekers often tend to focus on qualification, research and experience related questions.

“Do you have any questions for us? – this is one question most job seekers never see coming and are often unprepared for. Responses like: No I don’t, I can’t think of any one at the moment; create impressions of a lack of foresight. Awkward questions on holiday schemes, wardrobe allowances, salary increment and promotions; can seriously put off recruiters. Requesting specific benefit information during initial interviews may seriously jeopardize good impressions created earlier. However, well-constructed response questions can help to strengthen good impressions or even correct any bad impressions you may have created in the minds of recruiters.

The following 5 questions are suggested:

  1. May I know what follows after this interview?

This question gives the recruiters the impression that you are seriously interested in the job. It also shows that you are a result-oriented person; eager to know the outcome of the interview.

  1. If I am offered this post, when am I expected to commence work?

This response gives the impression that you are not only excited and serious about the job, but that you are a good planner, looking ahead to taking on a new responsibility. This response presents you as an organized person who is probably trying to manage time in order to round off current duties or engagements in preparation for the new post.

  1. Can you tell me about research facilities and opportunities?

This question shows that you are focused and research-oriented; ready to embark on programmes to expand the scope of knowledge in your field. It shows that you are not just there for the money and benefits. It gives recruiters the impression that you will be a significant addition to faculty.

  1. What are the opportunities for professional development?

Like question 3, question 4 also shows that you are serious minded and focused on improving yourself while on the job. This question also gives the impression of your humility and willingness to rub minds with peers and to learn from more experienced colleagues in the field.

  1. Can you update me on project XYZ your university is currently engaged in?

This question really sets you apart as a candidate who has thoroughly researched the institution and is ready for work. While recruiters may be not be able to provide specific answers, the question creates the impression that you already know so much about the university and should be the right choice for the post.