How not to get your next job

Third Sector HR columnist John Burnell offers a tongue-in-cheek guide to the best way to land that job you want in the voluntary sector.

John Burnell
John Burnell

You know what it's like when you go for an interview for a new job - you're desperate to make the right impression, and great impressions usually start with a great CV. My experience from the other side of the interview table, however, suggests that there are many things that can go wrong, even before your fingers have even hit the keyboard to create that impressive career summary.

So how can you make a mess of things at every stage? Adhere to the following four-stage advice and you're guaranteed to fail - if not at the beginning, then definitely at interview time.

1. Putting your application together

Ensure you misunderstand the nature of the job. Make sure you apply for jobs only when you've no chance of meeting the minimum requirements set out in the person specification. Better still, make sure you completely misinterpret what the employer is looking for. I once interviewed someone just like this for a foreman post. When asked "What will you bring to the job?", he responded "Well, I've got a bicycle and a briefcase, won't that do?" It was the perfect retort, I can assure you.

Send in a handwritten application

Who cares if your handwriting is appalling? If your prospective employer is into equal opportunities, they'll consider you on your merits and happily spend a bit of time deciphering your words of wisdom. And as for grammar, punctuation and spelling, they're yesterday's story. Who cares if you can't spell 'liaison' or the name of the organisation you're applying to work for?

Over-embellish your CV

We all know employers never bother to check up on these minor details anyway, and they never spot the inconsistencies in the document. In fact, the more imaginative you are, the more likely they'll be to appoint you for your creativity.

2. Taking pre-interview screening tests

If you don't think tests are morally right, refuse to do them

Employers who were hoping to gain some insights into 'the real you' through validated exercises that have stood the test of time will happily forgo them in order to accommodate your high principles. Just tell them you're not comfortable with taking the tests. They won't mind.

Tell them what you think they want to hear. With personality tests, you can easily outwit both the designers and your potential employer by second-guessing what they're looking for and giving it to them. Your mate once told you that the lie detectors in such tests never work anyway. Oh, and if you're faced with a multiple-choice exercise, just guess. You're bound to get enough answers right to pass.

3. Preparing for the interview

Don't bother to research the organisation

All you've got to do is prepare some slick, off-the-shelf answers to show you meet the job requirements, haven't you? You don't really need to show them you're interested in what the charity actually does, do you? After all, they're only really interested in you, aren't they?

Don't worry about silly old instructions

Sure, the application asks you to prepare a 10-minute presentation on your vision for the charity's future. But wouldn't it be much more fun running an interactive session with the interview panel on their own views? They'll surely be impressed by your ingenuity. And besides, it'll save you having to do any further preparation.

Get yourself in the right mood

It's much more relaxing going out with mates the night before your interview than being a killjoy, staying at home and swotting it all up. After all, you have supreme confidence in yourself and being able to wing it whatever the circumstances. And you never look even the slightest bit the worse for wear, do you, after a night on the beers?

4. Interview time

Be late: punctuality is over-hyped

It's not your fault if there's a Tube strike, or you didn't have the right change for the meter or your partner forgot to set the alarm. This is a charity you're planning to work for, and they'll wait patiently for you. There's no point in calling to say you'll be late, either, because they'll be too busy with the previous candidate to answer the phone.

Don't worry about your appearance

If you've been decorating the house before your interview, there's no point in changing into decent clothes or scrubbing paint spills off. It's the real you, inside, that they're concerned about.

Be nervous: they'll understand

It doesn't matter if you can't get your words out - they'll know what you want to say, and any practice beforehand will only make you seem artificial.

Give a bravura performance: they'll be impressed

Being over-familiar with the interview panel will put them at ease. It'll also give them confidence in your inter-personal skills. Cocky is king!

Answer the questions you want to answer, not the ones they want to put to you

Think of it as a boxing match - take control by giving the interview panel your prepared answers to cover up your lack of knowledge. They'll be conned, and you'll blag your way into a job. It works every time. Honest!

John Burnell is director of Personnel Solutions UK Ltd.

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