Job Seeking Piggy

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Contractor Taxation Vocabulary: 

We'll be using this section to give you updates on the life of our little blue piggy - shortly to appear on the website. The little pig is looking for work at the moment and having any number of interesting adventures. It's not just you who have dealt with strange recruiters, unreliable employers and all sorts of odd encounters... our poor piggy has too! Stay tuned to find out more.

Job Seeking

10 Things You Need to Do Before Becoming a Contractor

Contractors enjoy greater autonomy over their work, more freedom in choosing projects, and significantly higher earnings.

However, to make sure you’re fully reaping the benefits of contract work, you need to cover some basics before you start.

Plan your job seeking process

Aside from the ability to do actually do the job, this is the most important skill a contractor can have.

That means you should be formulating a job seeking strategy. You’ll probably end up tweaking your process a lot, especially in the early days, but it’s crucial to have some sort of plan before you begin. Head here to learn some of the most effective methods for job searches.

Work out your rates and requirements

Setting your market rate is vital to optimising your earnings and, in some cases, even landing any contracts at all. Before you set your rate, you need to have an idea of your needs and goals.

How much do you need (and want) to earn? How much should you be charging? Will you only work in certain roles or industries, and will you only work in certain locations? If you expect to realise any of your contracting goals, you need to first understand exactly what they are.

Company and payment structures: umbrella companies vs limited companies

While you might not have to decide for good until you have a contract, it’s still helpful to work out how you’ll be getting paid. This can give you an idea of the kind of taxes you’ll be paying, which you can then factor into your rates.

When you’re just starting out, you may not be as well-versed in all the accounting, insurance, and admin that goes into using your own limited company, especially for international contracts. A solutions provider can free you to focus on contracts and finding work.

PI & PL insurance

Especially if you’re working through your own company, you’ll need insurance for professional indemnity and public liability. Many insurance packets can be costly, but neglecting them will bar you from a lot of contracts, or even land you in some dire financial/legal disasters.

A large number of agencies and umbrella companies cover your insurance costs by taking a small cut from your earnings. As such, you should factor insurance into any considerations about personal companies versus umbrella companies or recruitment agencies.

Register for taxes

If you’re using your own limited company, you’re responsible for both your personal taxes and the company’s taxes. You’ll need to register your company, as well as register for VAT, payroll taxes, and more.

The kind of registration you need to do will depend on your home country, as well as the country in which you’re contracting. Keeping up with all the different kinds of registration that comes with your own company is difficult (but very important). New contractors might be better off avoiding these duties by working through an umbrella company.

Have a plan for your taxes

You’ll need to consider whether you want to attempt your taxes on your own, hire an accountant, or use an umbrella company.

Be aware that this issue can be further complicated if you’re contracting overseas. You may owe something in your home country, and you might end up having to navigate a foreign tax system, to boot. You should know how you’re going to approach your taxes before they become a problem.

Find health insurance

Aside from PI/PL, your own health insurance will also be a necessary consideration. If you’ve been a full-time employee before this, you’re probably used to discounted health coverage.

As a contractor, you’ll need to seek out your own health insurance and, if you’re working internationally, understand the extent of coverage overseas.

Figure out pension

Without an employer making pension contributions, will you make them yourself? Can you use this to minimise your taxable income whilst still getting enough cash to meet your requirements?

Plan out your cash flow

If you’re using your own company, you’ll need to carefully plan how to use your earnings. Will you have enough to set aside for taxes? Pension?

Will you have enough for down time between contracts?

Work out how much you need between contracts

After figuring out your market rate, you should have a good handle on how much money you need. Use this to establish how much money you’ll need to set aside for down time.

Ideally, you’ll have only a few, brief gaps between contracts. However, things don’t always work out like that, so be sure to keep a reserve that can last about six months between contracts. 

10 Ways to Travel Smarter as a Contractor

Setting up health insurance, finding and moving into a decent apartment, registering for tax or social security, sussing out a decent ISP, applying for a driver’s license: you’re probably familiar with these little joys of life. Now imagine doing all of those, plus a lot more, simultaneously, from another country where you don’t know anyone – possibly even in another language.

When you’re contracting in a new country, making a smooth transition can seem like an impossibility. The good news is that you can break it all down into manageable tasks.

One of the best ways to do that is an organised plan of attack. We’ve compiled a list of ten considerations to get you started.

(1) Cover the basics

Work out as much paperwork as you can, as early as possible. Nobody has ever said on their deathbed, “My one regret was preparing too much for my move overseas.”

Double check that your passport is current, gather all relevant documents like tax statements or medical files, and back up as much as you can on a flash drive that you keep in your carry-on. Sorting out admin is burdensome enough without trying to do it while in another country, or – worse – from inside an airport terminal.

(2) Figure out accommodation at home and abroad

You’ve got two challenges: figuring out where you’ll stay overseas, and what to do with your current housing.

In your home country

Are you going to be away long enough to justify selling your home or exiting your lease? If your move is short enough, you might consider subletting or simply having a friend house-sit while you’re away.

In your new country

This one is a little more challenging, because it’s difficult to make arrangements before you’re even in the country. The easiest route is to book a decent hotel in a nearby area. Keep details like the address or phone number in your wallet in case of emergencies (a lot of countries ask for specific accommodation details when you go through customs, as well).

If you’re content with your hotel, set up home base for a few days. From there, you can check out neighbourhoods, ask co-workers for housing recommendations, and get a feel for your new location before committing to long-term accommodation.

Depending on the length of your stay, you might be better off with a serviced apartment. We tend to take for granted all the mundane necessities of living (furniture, dishes, lamps, rubbish bins, etc.), and gathering all of them in an unfamiliar location can be annoying.

(3) Arrange transportation beforehand

After a tiring flight, long queues, miserable food, and no sleep, how does getting stuck in a labyrinthine airport sound? Even if you’re lucky enough to not be starting work the very next day, you’ll probably want a real bed and a hot shower ASAP, so research your exit plan well before you arrive.

Ideally, you can ask your client to collect you from the airport. If that’s a no-go, look into your options for car hire or cabs. There’s nothing worse than realising you don’t have the necessary docs for a rental, or finding out last minute that this particular country’s cab drivers have a penchant for ripping off new arrivals.

(4) Figure out your financial means

Imagine you’re in a brand new country. You don’t know anyone, you don’t have a permanent place to stay, you’re trying to settle in – and you can’t access any of your major accounts or use your expected card. Work out all the fine details with your bank(s) before you leave or, better yet, figure out suitable traveller’s checks or cards.

The advantage of travel cards is that you can avoid the wrath of bank fees or terrible exchange rates. Compare your options on a site like mozo.com.au.

You need to consider how you’re getting paid, too. Do you need to set up a local or offshore account? Are you getting paid in an easily convertible currency? Consult your client prior to leaving to avoid any unpleasant surprises.

(5) Make arrangements for spouses and dependents

If you’re bringing partners or family members, you need to consider issues like schooling and health insurance well in advance.

Likewise, if you’re taking your dog, cat, or pet tarantula with you, be aware of all immigration barriers. Be prepared for quarantine times or obligations like local registration or license applications and fees.

(6) Travel with cash

There are about five thousand potential scenarios that can leave you needing cash when you’re flying internationally, and ATMs aren’t always handy. Pre-empt any sticky situations by carrying a $100 bill on you or in your carry-on.

(7) Stay charged

Buy at least two power adaptors for your new country and keep one in your carry-on. If your luggage gets lost or you need to charge a device in between flights, you’ll be prepared.

Also, consider a portable power supply. Not only will it keep your mobile or laptop going in worst-case scenarios (ever tried to find a power outlet in a busy airport?), it’ll give you options on extra-lengthy flights.

(8) Buy a local SIM card or prepaid mobile

Don’t get hit with unexpected carrier fees or astronomical prices while you’re travelling. Plan to buy a prepaid SIM or mobile as soon as you get in the country. If you’re using a SIM card, you might need to unlock your phone beforehand.

(9) Take advantage of social media

The internet is one of the best ways to connect with people in a new place – use it. Things like Facebook events and expat forums can help you stay current with work functions, networking opportunities, or simply meeting new people.

(10) Allow for delays and adjustment periods

Some people hit all the green lights, but shrewd travellers don’t bank on winning that cosmic lottery; making plans based on lightning-fast processing or perfect timing is a fast track to aggravation. Allow some wiggle room for red tape, bureaucratic delays, or even just getting lost in a new city.

Certain countries have more red tape than others, so keep your destination in mind when you plan ahead. 

5 Ways to Get Your Contract Extended

5 Ways to Get Your Contract Extended

Contract renewals look great on your CV. They show that you deliver what you promise and reassure future clients that you’ll be a worthwhile investment.

You should also be aware of how and when you should renegotiate a contract renewal, but the step one will be ensuring that clients want to keep you around in the first place.

(1) Be the expert

Help your colleagues in whatever way you can. Not only will it make you indispensable and increase your chances of a contract extension, but it can help you score recommendations for future jobs.

(2) Bring measurable value

Always look for ways to improve on an existing process, generate revenue, and/or save the company money or time. If you can point to measurable achievements, your value becomes more obvious and clients will be much keener to extend your contract.

(3) Deliver what you promised

You probably surmised the company’s goals through your interview process, or at least sometime shortly afterward. Your accomplishments should be in line with these goals.

Make sure that you’re delivering what your CV promised the client. If you’re not applying your skills to company goals, then any additional value you bring will be superfluous.  

(4) Ask for feedback

As long as you don’t go overboard, asking for feedback helps you adjust your performance and ensures that you’re accomplishing what the company actually wants.

Moreover, it gives you a chance to subtly remind clients of what you’ve already achieved. By asking them how you can improve on your work, you’ll bring attention to your achievements while showing that you’re actively trying to do even better.

(5) Take initiative

If you have any sort of down time, be sure to ask others how you can help or contribute. This will make you more valuable, of course, but it also reminds people of that value and keeps you on their radar, without having to obnoxiously remind people of how great you are. Everybody wins.

8 Things Expert Contractors Do to Dazzle in an Interview

Your ability to seek out and land contracts will be one of your most important skills as a contractor, second only to your ability to actually do the job.

Knowing how to network and utilise LinkedIn, prepare a CV, and ace phone interviews are only the first part of the equation. Here are 8 ways to dazzle interviewers and seal the deal for your new contract.

(1) Get the basics right

We know you know to prepare beforehand, to arrive early, dress smart, be polite and confident (or, at least act confident).  You’ll have heard this before, but let’s go through the checklist to make sure:

  • Know how to get there. Rushing around right before an interview can throw you off big time, plus you risk being late – one of the worst first impressions to make. Plan your route and even do a practice run if you have the time and resources.
  • Dress conservatively. Unless you’re specifically instructed to dress casual, it’s best to err on the suit side.
  • Prepare everything the night before. Don’t leave anything til the last second. Bring copies of your CV, pack a notepad and pen, prepare your portfolio and gather any samples of your work that might be relevant. Organise everything in an accessible way so that you aren’t fumbling around in the middle of the interview.
  • Shake hands and make eye contact. Seriously, don’t be weird. If you struggle with this, practice on a friend, dog, infant, etc.
  • Turn your phone on silent. No doubt you have lots of other clients interested in you, but they can wait an hour for you to call them back.
  • Don’t talk negatively about a former employer. Badmouthing reflects badly on you and sets a negative tone. If you were part of a disastrous project, you don't need to lie or avoid the topic - simply focus on what you learned from the experience. 
  • Be likeable. This means not interrupting, being a know-it-all, or dominating the direction of the interview. Be aware of your body language, too; crossed arms, slouching posture, and a total lack of smiling can denote defensiveness.

(2) Do your research and understand the company’s needs

Research the company and the position. Check out news stories to get an insight into recent projects, awards or changes. Take a look at LinkedIn profiles. Brush up on the latest industry news.

Don’t be afraid to ask direct questions about what they need. The more you know about the company and what they’re looking for, the better you can sell yourself for this particular project.

Having a solid picture of the company and their goals will highlight that you understand the bigger picture. It will also help you to communicate how you see your role fitting into the overall company strategy and direction.

(3) Prepare your responses in advance

You don’t need to script your answers, but you should know your greatest strengths and skillset well enough to recite them after ten beers and a head wound. Going further, you should know which of these strengths are most relevant to this company’s needs.

Moreover, you should prepare specific examples that demonstrate these strengths. Have a strong artillery of achievements and anecdotes, but remember to practice talking about them out loud. Under pressure, it’s easy to start rambling. If you have a loosely prepared response, you’ll be able to concisely and confidently answer almost any iteration of “tell me about a time when…” or questions about your greatest weakness.

Have you worked on a project similar to this one? Have you solved a problem that this company might currently be facing? Be ready to focus on the attributes that will benefit this company the most.

(4) Be curious

Selling yourself is important, but you’re not the only focal point here. You should be trying to find out as much about them as they are about you.  

Ask questions and engage your interviewer on their projects, processes and goals. A good problem solver tends to also be a good listener, and creating a dialogue instead of a stilted interrogation will leave both parties feeling confident about doing business together. 

If you’re still feeling vague about what they need, the interview is a good time to clear it up. You want to start at the business level and then drill down into specifics, like:

  • "What are you trying to do?"
  • "How did it come about?"
  • "What outcomes are you looking for?"
  • "What will it mean to the business?"

Listen closely and never assume you already know what answer they will give. You can show that you’re paying attention by getting them to explain any unusual jargon or internal terms which they use.

Of course, be careful not to go overboard. You should still let them steer the direction of the interview and avoid barraging them with irrelevant questions.

(5) Gauge your interviewers’ technical knowledge

Fairly early into the interview, you should be able to get a feel for the technical knowledge of your interviewer(s). You don't need to barrage them with a whole lot of technical information if they don't understand it.

On the other end of the spectrum, don't get waylaid by the technical expert. There may be a technical expert in the interview who uses it to highlight their knowledge in front of their bosses. They may feel threatened that their boss feels the need to bring you in and can even get a little aggressive in firing obscure technical questions at you.

Don’t be afraid to have a "deep dive" with them, but remember to turn things back around to the interviewer who will actually make the decision. An easy trick is to go back and forth on technical issues for a while, throw them a compliment about how you like working with someone with such extensive knowledge or passion – then ask the key interviewer a question.

(6) Be prepared to demonstrate technical skill

This is particularly important for contractors. Some clients may want to evaluate technical skills through tests or questions and, while many will let you know beforehand, it doesn’t hurt to ask and be sure.

If you know that they’re after certain skills, make sure to brush up on those. Your agent should also be able to give you some insight into what tests you might be facing.

Don’t jump to answer questions as soon as possible, either. A polite, “let me think about that” gives you some time to answer the question, and nobody will expect you to respond with the lightning quickness of a robot (at least, nobody you’ll want to work with).

If you find yourself legitimately stuck, try a response like, “I haven’t encountered that before at [insert previous project here]. How important is it to [this project]?”

(7) Finishing up the interview

Most interviews end with a chance for questions, so if you haven’t engaged them before, this is your chance to show that you’re switched on to the position.

This is your chance to close, so don’t shy away from questions like, "Are you satisfied that I meet your requirements?" It's great to resolve any objections, but often you'll forget to mention something or be travelling home and going over the interview in your head when you realise there was an objection you missed. You can send the interviewer a follow-up email addressing this, or pass it back to your recruiter as feedback.

Ask them when they will make a decision and what happens next. What they say here will give you a good indication of whether they want to hire you.

After you’re done, be sure to thank them for meeting with you. Some people find sending “thank you” cards antiquated, but a brief, polite “thank you” email is a good compromise.

(8) Move on

Once you’ve given it your best shot, the most productive move is to start looking at other contracts and clients. If you feel you made a mistake in the interview, learn from it, but don’t obsess or dwell on things. There are other opportunities and the best way forward is to keep exploring them. 

Behavioural Interviewing

Increasingly interviewers are turning towards behavioural interviewing techniques. The pig has done some research in this area and today shares tips with you on how to do well in a behavioural interview. The concept of behavioural interviewing is simple : it gives the interviewer a more rounded assessment of a candidate.

 

It allows the interviewer a deeper view into the "why" and "how" of your previous experience and it also helps them guage whether you are a good fit to their requirements and chemistry. For most roles, particularly in a competitive job market, companies will be looking for candidates who meet a whole range of criteria including hard skills (like 5 years knowledge of excel) as well as soft skills (like the ability to persuade people).

 

Behavioural interviewing is good at showcasing your soft skills and also it helps organisations evaluate you as a fit. Do you talk their language? Do you handle obstacles the same way they do? Do you have the same goals and motivation? How do they do this? By asking more detailed questions about specific experiences and outcomes. These may be structured or non-structured. The job seeking piggy recommends that in either format you frame your responses in a structured way. You may remember that the pig tends to talk alot and can lost their way.

 

This can be a real problem in a behavioural interview as you don't want to overload the interviewer with information. Stick with a structure and make sure you get your most important points across. Here is a simple method for doing it, called the STAR approach. Situation Task Action Result You break up your answer into the 4 parts

 

1) describing the situation

2) outlining your specific task or role

3) what action you took to accomplish your task

4) what the results were Why use this format?

 

Because its simple and easy to remember! If you lose your way or get confused or flustered during an interview (even the pig gets hot and bothered sometimes!) you can fall back into the structure and refocus your answer. But the main reason for using this structure is because it shows you have a clear and logical understanding of what you were doing and why. You walk the interviewer through the end to end process - proving at each step that you understood what to do and were effective in doing it.

 

Behavioural interviewing - be a STAR! Here is a specific example of a S T A R response. Interviewer: Mr J.S. Pig, have you ever had to implement a new policy in difficult circumstances. Tell us more about how you put this in place.

 

Job Seeking Piggy:

SITUATION: At the Animal Farm we went through a management change with profound impacts on the business model and organisational structure. Several key stakeholders were struggling to adapt.

 

TASK:

I was responsible for building grass roots support for the change and getting stakeholders to buy into the new organisational structure.

 

ACTION:

With stakeholder consultation a new company charter was developed with 7 rules which articulated the rights and obligations of all participants. I created a new logo and motto "four legs good, two legs bad"

 

RESULT:

Workplace contentment rose by all measures, productivity was higher than before the management change and operating costs were significantly lower.

Dealing with recruiters

We looked around on the web and the offerings were pretty dire (can you recommend any good posts for this?). So we wrote our own list. Bear in mind we’re talking from the perspective of contractors who often have to get their next contract under time pressure. The process is a bit slower and more personal if you’re a permanent employee.

  • Don’t take it personally. No sugarcoating. You’ll probably deal with lots of annoying people. You’ll probably get asked dumb questions. You’ll get promised updates that don’t come. You’ll leave messages that aren’t returned. Yes, this sucks! But that’s the game, so try not to take it to heart. Just cross them off your list and move on.

  • Make them work for you. Get them to find out more about the job and company. Get them to tell you the steps in the application process. Ask them is there an approved budget for the position, when will the final decision be made and are they also looking at internal candidates. Follow up with them regularly for updates.

  • Make a preferred recruiter list. Remember the good ones and keep in touch with them. If they contact you about a job and you’re not interested, let them know if someone else is. When you change jobs drop them an update. Unfortunately good recruiters are rare. If you find one, stay in touch.

  • Make it easy for them. Be specific about what you do and what you want. We never want to pidgeon hole ourselves, but guess what? Recruiters try to match the job description with the perfect candidate. Crazy as it sounds, to an average recruiter an overqualified candidate is almost as bad as an underqualified one. You should base your CV, cover letter and conversations with them around exactly what they are asking for in the job description. The client should be interested in your full range of skills but the recruiter? Not so much.

  • Don’t give too much away. There are horror stories of the worst recruiters trying to pry information so they can place someone into your current or previous jobs. On the other hand good recruiters will be put off if you aren’t open and honest. You’ll need to use your judgement. Just be aware of the potential consequences in telling where you are working now (if you have warning bells - tell them the industry but not the company), what you are earning (ask them what the client is offering and then say whether its in the right ballpark), your references (you can give them after you’ve had an interview with the client).

  • Sell yourself. First you sell yourself to the recruiter. Then the recruiter sells you to the client. Be positive, be interested, be confident. It helps to prepare a few short stories of career highlights and successes that you can refer to when asked.

Employees should always be jobseekers

Looking for work when you already have a job... who could be bothered? During the topsy turvy years this little pig spent as an IT Recruiter one theme constantly stressed to contractors was that they should always be looking for work. It was surprising how few people paid attention.

An older wiser pig can understand the reasons why most people prefer to treat getting a job as an occasional burden. It's something they only deal with when they feel uncertain about their job security, their contract nears its conclusion or they just can't stand their current job any more.

Employed but looking

Job seeking is intensive and some people find it unpleasant. Looking for work is often stressful and as such it's a huge relief to get a job. So it's natural to achieve your goal and then want to relax. Why not focus your energy on your new role and stop looking? The pig says these are reasonable excuses, but they aren't compelling arguments.

A job is leasing your services to an employer

Everyone in the employment marketplace is effectively a trader. They are trading their skills, experience, time and energy for reward, benefits and opportunity. This is true regardless of employment status, skill level or preference. Everyone is trying to maximise the return they get from working. And if they aren't doing this then the pig refers you to Clubber Lang in

Rocky 3.... I Pity the Fool. However the Job Seeking Pig is here to inform, not to offend! The very fact you're reading this post suggests you're interested to get the most from your employment opportunities. So lets break down this concept: Your work is a commodity.You take all your experience, skills and attributes and compete with other workers for opportunities. You lease your skills and energy to an employer in return for reward.

Don't Work Forever

You only have a limited amount of this commodity to sell. You will not work forever. You have roughly 250-260 working days per year, less holidays. Want to know how many working days are left in this year? http://www.working-days-left.com/ You should be ensuring you get the best return from selling this commodity. Whether you define return in terms of money or benefits, enjoyment, further opportunities, career advancement, intellectual stimulation, etc The simple fact is that employers treat workers like a commodity. They invest in training and team building exercises to increase productivity. They invest in benefits to increase staff retention. These actions are aimed at increasing profit.

Earn the most Money for your work

You, as an employee, should understand the rules of the game. Even better - use them to your advantage. How?

1) Understand the market. Understanding the market is key. What are you worth... which of your skills are in demand, what are becoming more popular, what do recruiters think you can earn in the current market? Who is employing, who is not. You'll feel much more confident negotiating pay rates if you understand what the market is offering. This does not just help you find new roles, it also helps you evaluate your current position. Perhaps you're lucky, salaries have fallen and you should be doing everything you can to keep your job. This information is fairly important to know, don't you think?

2) Always look for opportunities Are you in the perfect role? Will it last forever? If you can't answer yes to both those questions then you should be thinking about how your next role should be an improvement. And what that improvement should look like. Is it paying more money? Is it a promotion? Will it be closer to home? Will it involve international travel? Will it be exposing you to new technologies or industries? Whatever you want to achieve, the first step is to quantify it. How else would you recognise it? Then go looking for it.

Your perfect opportunity won't just find you, you need to take action! Let's take a very simple example. James is working in IT and wants to get into Financial Services. He applies for every role he can find but never gets an interview. He mentions his aim at a dinner party and is introduced to Martin. Martin moved into FSI recently by focusing on certain niche skills that were in demand due to PCI Security Standards. With this advice James was able to redo his CV and got a the role that he wanted in a multinational bank.

3) Give yourself options The Job Seeking Piggy loves choice. Call me a greedy pig (I take it as a compliment!) but there is nothing better than having the power of choice, especially when it comes to selecting a role. But there is more to this. The Global Financial Crisis highlights how insecure many jobs actually are and how crucial it is to always have an understanding of the employment market, of what roles are out there and what you're worth. The pig saw alot of people get made redundant these last few years and it was the ones who were disconnected from jobseeking that suffered the worst.

Free Job Seeking Advice

Remember: Looking for roles is a skill. It takes practice. If you haven't used these skills in a while it takes some time to get back up to speed. And if you're unlucky enough to find a sudden end to your employment it's likely you'll feel pressure to find work quickly. You can reduce the risk by keeping an eye on the market.

Summary: Job Seeking Piggy is not suggesting that looking for work when you're already employed has to be a huge undertaking. It's more of a mindset than a physical commitment. Maybe its an hour a week to search an internet jobsite, enquire about a couple of roles and talk to a recruiter? Possibly even attending an interview every now and then.

Certainly its being mindful that you won't be in your current role forever and keeping eyes and ears open to opportunities.

Everybody wants to rule the world

I don't think the pig is the only one who starts off with lofty ambitions (e.g. world domination) and ends up with a slighlty lesser result (e.g. holding a giant sign saying "golf sale" by a major intersection each weekend). Is this necessarily a bad thing? Whilst the reality may suck, the dream of a better day is a positive and neccessary thing.

And the same applies to job searches. Without coming over all Richard Simmons on you, you should aim for the best job you can get... or even a job you think is too good for you to get. Then reset your expectations (if you need to) based upon the feedback you get.

It's also a great means to focus your career plans - if you don't know where you want to go then how will you ever get there? In fact this little piggy has used this on a number of occasions.

Step 1: Apply for a job that seems beyond reach.
Step 2: Utilise any feedback about shortcomings or gaps as opportunities to reshape CV and how JSP explains its experience.
Step 3: Apply for another job with the newly perfected CV and experience.

Now what's that you are saying? I'm applying for these jobs but not getting any feedback? It's not always easy, but maybe you should sharpen your CV and interview techniques?

More to come on how to write your CV shortly...

Free Things Contractors Can Do to Earn Money and Upskill Between Contracts

In a perfect world, you’d jump seamlessly from one contract to the next, but most contractors find themselves with some time between jobs.

So what’s the best way to utilise that down time? Of course, there’s tweaking your CV for the thousandth time, scouring LinkedIn for new opportunities, and exhausting all available job boards.

However, there are other things you can do that make you more marketable and hone your skills between contracts.

(1) Take smaller freelance jobs

Set up an Odesk or Elance profile for side income. If you want more info on getting started with either, check out this article.

Not only will this give you some sort of income, it will broaden your network, keep your skills fresh, and give you something to show to future clients besides your (admittedly admirable) one-week power marathon of every Sopranos episode.

(2) Contribute to industry discussions on sites like Quora

Start a profile on Quora, StackOverflow, and other industry sites. Then, get busy answering questions and contributing to conversations. It’ll raise your profile and keep your mind and skills active.

(3) Take on side projects

Do a side project that allows you to explore a new area – bonus points for projects that are visible on the web. Maybe it’s a mobile app for a friend, or helping out a charity. Maybe it’s a proof of concept that never got off the ground in your last job.

Whatever it is, you’ll have a chance to broaden your skillset and round out your CV. Speaking of your CV…

(4) Polish your CV and LinkedIn profile

Even the best CVs can stand some tweaking. If you’ve stayed busy through your interim, you’ll also have new things to work into your CV.

Your LinkedIn profile is just as important, and fresh content keeps you looking as attractive as possible to prospective clients.

(5) Don’t neglect your other skills

You can always take an acting course, public speaking course, or a variety of other classes that make you a more well-rounded option. There are often free courses ran by the government or local universities, so take advantage. 

Getting more money

How do you get more money?

This is possibly the most important question for any working person. Everyone has their own motivation for working... but this pig is in it for the money and not ashamed to admit it. There are many things the job seeking piggy would rather be doing with it's time than working - but mrs pig and the piglets need food, shelter and clothing and so your porcine correspondent has to work.

Asking for more money

So bearing in mind that work is unavoidable and money is the main consolation from working, how does one maximise the pound and minimise the pain? Minimising the pain is a topic for another day... but here are some steps towards earning more.

Ultimately earning more comes down to one thing. ASKING FOR MORE.

ask for a payrise

It sounds so simple doesn't it? And yet it can be such a difficult conversation to have, especially when you have built a relationship with your boss and team. Maybe you are expecting the Oliver Twist reaction?

Whether you find it easy or hard to confront your superiors about remuneration, you should approach it like going to court. You want to demonstrate that your case has merit and for this you will need facts, examples and compelling arguments. Perhaps you can pull off the type of court room fireworks that Tom Cruise managed in A Few Good Men, but for most of us it's more of a Perry Mason exercise. Gather information, build your case and then deliver it.

Make sure you pick a good time to deliver your proposal - e.g. don't do it at the end of financial year when your boss is  loaded with work. If your boss asks for time to consider, make sure you schedule another meeting time.

Why should you get a payrise? 

 

You need to be worth it 

What can you highlight that justifies a payrise? Maybe its because other people at the company with the same role are earning more. Maybe its because you have been exceeding your targets. Maybe its because you haven't had a raise in 2 years. Build a list of work related reasons. Please don't say you need a payrise because you need the cash to renovate your house. 

 

You need to be in demand

It helps to have checked on a job board or with a recruiter that there are companies looking to hire people like you. This can boost your confidence in the negotiation and as you'll see below it also helps if things don't go to plan.

Contractor skills in demand with employers

You need to be demonstrably valuable to your organisation

Mention any homeruns you have hit recently, like the time you went above the call of duty to ship a release or when you sorted out a problem with a key customer. Remind them that you are a valuable contributor to the firm and they should want to keep you happy.

 

You need to show awareness of your worth

Don't threaten to leave, but you can mention that as part of your preparation in asking for a raise you checked what the market value is for your skills.

 

Prepare for the best: You need to have a wishlist of what you want

You must be able to answer the question "What will make you happy". Think in terms of money, responsibility, role and tasks. Get anything that is agreed to be confirmed in writing.

increase earnings

Prepare for the worst: What will you do if they refuse?

Sometimes your argument will be rebuffed and you won't get what you want. It's hard not to take this personally but it is important to try. You can ask for feedback on what you can do to change their mind e.g. wait 3 months? do more? do better? learn to fly? etc. Ask if there is anything else they can offer you instead of a payrise?

Don't get into an argument and do ask them to make a note of any commitments. E.g. if they say you'll get a payrise in 2 months - then they should be able to give you a letter or email confirming that.

In fact this happened to the Job Seeking Piggy not too long ago. Having done the necessary preparation and made a fair case for a pay increase it was finally agreed that a raise would be given in 2 months but it was never confirmed in writing. Then when the big day came they refused!!

There is no denying this is a bad outcome and it can be hard to deal with. But if you've done your preparation properly then you know whether to gut it out or start your plans to leave.

It's best to be a bit guarded in these circumstances... you need time to work out the best course of action. So the Piggy said "Obviously I'm dissapointed in the outcome. Thanks for taking the time to review my request." And went back to work feeling quite depressed.

But luckily this little pig had done the necessary preparation and knew there were better opportunities in the market... so 1 week later the resignation letter was handed in and the pig moved to a higher paying job. 

Summary of key points

1) Know what you're worth.

2) Know your skills are in demand.

3) Highlight that you're worth it.

4) Keep track of other opportunities.

5) Get it in writing!

10 Ways to Renegotiate Your Contract and Get a Pay Rise

Toward the end of a contract, a client might want to negotiate a “renewal” or an “extension" to continue your services. If you’re in this position, you already have some experience with negotiating a contract. Renegotiation, however, introduces a few new elements.

You’ll now have a relationship with the client, which often puts you in a better position to argue more favourable terms. However, don’t rely on the idea that simply doing a good job will guarantee better terms. Knowing how to renegotiate a contract is just as important as knowing how to negotiate an initial contract, so read on to learn what you should be doing to get the most out of your renewal.

(1) Look for other contracts

“Dating around” accomplishes two things:

  1. Gives you a better idea of your value and the going market rate, and
  2. Puts you in a better bargaining position if you line up alternative jobs.

If this feels dirty, it shouldn’t (more on actual dirty tactics later). This is business strategy: both your agency and the client will be more amenable to negotiation if they think they might lose you to a higher rate.

(2) Justify a higher rate

When you’re negotiating a contract renewal, there are several justifications for a higher rate:

  • You’re doing more work than you agreed to in your initial contract. Whether the scope of your project has widened, or your client has asked you to pick up additional tasks, this is a strong card to have in your deck.  
  • You’re being paid under the market rate. The market may have surged since you signed your original contract, or maybe you agreed to a lower rate because of your own circumstances. A reasonable client won’t be surprised when you ask for a standard rate.
  • You’ve developed skills that make you more valuable. In many cases, this will be arguable, but you’ll have a better chance if you’ve picked up a skillset that is specific to your client.
  • Your agent is enjoying a generous margin. Agencies want to keep their clients happy; if the client is intent on keeping you around, they might pressure the agent to lower their margin.

(3) Be realistic about your bargaining power

This goes back to knowing the market and being honest about your personal situation. Has the market taken a downturn? Do you have other contracts lined up? If not, do you have enough in savings to justify a gap?

You should have a good grasp on your irreplaceability, as well as your relationship with the client and the agency.

(4) Don’t appear overly keen to renew

Contract renewals look great on your CV, but be cautious about looking like you want it too much. There’s a line between appearing desperate to stay, and appearing arrogant. Learn to straddle this line, because if you come off too keen, you’ll tip your hand to clients and agents; they know you won’t really walk, because it’s clear you want to stay.

Keep your poker face steady by letting them know you’re open to renewal, but that you have options.

(5) Be wary of early contract renewals

If you renew early on, it could inhibit your ability to look elsewhere; few clients will be interested in a contract when you can’t start working for months.

If you’re not happy with the contract terms and have a strong justification for a better rate, avoid agreeing to anything too early. As the end of your contract nears, the client might start readjusting some of the terms in an effort to get you to renew.

(6) Negotiate with the client directly

It’s important to speak with both your agency and the client, but know that your agent will see minimal benefits if you negotiate a higher rate. Rather, they make more money from filling as many new contract positions as they can. Their best interests are in keeping the client happy and reducing the amount of time they spend on less profitable distractions (like renegotiating a contract).

Moreover, agents may not have the same technical knowledge as you or the client. Even if an agent goes to bat for you, can you be sure they’ll deliver as compelling and informed a sales pitch as you would?

(7) Sell yourself

Without going overboard, remind the client of what you’ve accomplished during your contract with them. Persuade them that keeping you on, even at a higher rate, is still a better and more frugal solution than finding someone new.

(8) Stash a healthy reserve

A healthy reserve of savings will float you in between contracts, ensuring that you’re not trapped in a raw deal because of financial need. About six months’ worth of savings will tide you over while you look for a contract that better reflects your value.

(9) Avoid holding your skills for ransom

If a project depends on you or there’s a critical deadline approaching, you’re certainly in a better bargaining position for renegotiation. However, absent any other justification, demanding a higher rate in these contexts can look like exploitation.

Understanding your worth and negotiating better contract terms is smart business, but brute tactics are short-sighted… which segues into our final tip.

(10) Don’t burn bridges

Contract renewals show future clients that you’ve got staying power, so keep that in mind (especially if you’re just starting out).

A contractor’s reputation is key to future contracts and renewals. Don’t compromise yours for a slight pay rise.

If negotiations fall through, do what you reasonably can to keep the client happy. You can negotiate a brief six-week contract extension while they look for a replacement, or even work one week for free if it’s not to your detriment.

Picking Your Market Rate: 7 Tricks the Best Contractors Use

As a contractor, figuring out your market rate is crucial. Set your rate too high and you won't get any interviews. Ironically, set it too low and you may have the same problem, because it looks like you don't actually have the right skills - otherwise you'd know what to charge.

You’ll develop negotiation skills throughout your contracting career, but make sure you’re already incorporating these tips…  

(1) Do peer research

Talk to at least five other contractors with a similar skillset. Ask around and get a feel for what other people are charging before you start coming up with your own figures.

(2) Figure out your actual minimum rate

This isn’t the rate you need to tell recruiters, but you should still know the lowest your rates can go. Work out how much you need to earn, and then reverse engineer it into a rate. How much do you need to pay your mortgage? How much will you pay in tax and fees on top of that? Divide the total by the days you expect to work per year, and that’s your minimum daily rate.

Remember: If you’re just starting out, these numbers could be a little off. You’ll dramatically improve their accuracy after a year or two of contracting.

(3) Appear as flexible as you can

When you’re talking to recruiters on the phone, try to be non-committal. If you stand firmly on a high rate, you might not get an interview; if you go too low, you almost certainly won’t maximise your rate.

Instead, ask questions like:

  • “What is the client offering?”
  • “What’s the rate?”
  • “How much is the client expecting to pay?”

If you can’t get out of a recruiter’s direct question, offer a range of rates, making sure that the top rate is higher than you’d expect and that the low rate is a little higher than your actual minimum rate. Then, let them know that these rates depend on what the client wants and is willing to pay. Appear flexible so you don’t shut yourself out of a job or a higher rate.  

(4) Do recruiter research

Talk to at least ten recruiters advertising roles and find out how much they’re offering. If you can get them to name a figure, say you expected more (add 50-100 to the figure) and gauge their reactions. If they’re okay with it, try the same trick with another recruiter, only start with the higher figure this time.

(5) Don’t overcommit

If you think you might undercharging, take a shorter contract term and renegotiate after three months. Once you’re a few months into the job, you’ll be in a better position to use achievements with that client to argue a higher rate.

(6) Tailor your rate to the circumstances

You might get a higher rate for working as a "technical consultant," as opposed to "developer.” Or for working in London versus Surrey. Or a bank as opposed to an advertising agency. Or for a job that you match exactly versus one where your experience isn't as relevant.

Appearing flexible to recruiters isn’t the only important part of rate negotiation; actually being flexible will ensure that you aren’t put out of pocket by holding out for unlikely rates or jobs.

(7) Look at the overall economy

Tailoring your rate to the circumstances also means you need to be aware of the demand for your skills, which will vary based on economic ebbs, location, and more.

You can keep a pulse on market, demand and going rates by looking at job postings and talking to recruiters. You can also check sites (such as www.itjobswatch.co.uk) that amalgamate data from online sources.  

In conclusion...

Keep in mind that rates can vary dramatically, even for the same role within the same company. It depends on a bunch of factors, like your negotiation skill, the recruitment agent’s margin, the clients state of mind, and the level of competition at that particular moment.

Savvy contractors also keep in mind the big picture. How much money are you missing out on if you turn down a £50ph job today, in order to get a £55ph job in 3 weeks? Hint: a lot!

The most important thing at the beginning of your contract career is to get jobs. You’ll find rate discussions become a lot easier once you've got a few projects under your belt.

How to Phone Interview

Excellent article on the Wall Street Journal on the Initial (screening) Phone Interviews (includes a video): http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124390348922474789.html   A couple of other tips that the pig finds helpful:
  1. Have a copy of your CV (CV's) and the Job Description handy. Tailor your experience and communication to the qualities they are seeking.
  2. Don't be afraid to reschedule or buy yourself some time. You want a time that is free of distraction and when you feel composed and capable. You need a pen and paper handy to take notes, you'll need your calendar open to schedule the interview, you will ideally want to have searched the company online. If that time isn't right now, then get them to call you back in half an hour.
  3. Be positive. In every contact with a potential employer or recruiter you should always give your best effort, even for jobs you are clearly not interested in. If you impress everyone you deal with you greatly increase your chances of being considered for ANY roles an organisation may have or know of. Its that old saying that you get back what you put in.
  4. Keep your answers short and to the point. The job seeking piggy has a tendency to ramble on and on when answering. It puts the burden on the interviewer to sort through the information and find what they are looking for. Instead its best to give "sound bites" - short summaries of a couple of sentences focussed on strengths. If the interviewer wants more detail then they'll ask. This little pig works through his responses with Mrs pig the night before an interview.
  5. Take notes. Very few people will recall everything that was said in perfect detail after a conversation. But in these phone interviews often its the detail that will set you apart from other candidates. The recruiter will typically have dealt directly with the decision maker at the employer and will use snippets of that conversation when talking to you. These can be the keys to selling yourself to the employer. Write down all the characteristics they mention as required for the role and look back at them afterwards. Do you have specific experience that demonstrates these characteristics? Be sure to mention it in the next interview!

Taxonomy upgrade extras: 

Preparing for a job interview by Skype

  1. Reboot your computer
    • The goals is to save as much memory as possible for video processing.
    • We suggest that you consider disabling some of the programs you automatically load at startup. For Skype interviews, only load the essential utility programs.
    • Launch as few other programs as possible.
    • Keep as few tabs open in your browser as possible. Additional tabs consume additional memory.
  2. Connect to the Internet via a wired network connection
    • If you can, wired network connections are faster than wi-fi
    • Try it first and make sure it's working (you might need to turn off wi-fi just to make sure)
  3. Use a decent webcam, ideally HD.
    • The inbuilt webcam in most laptops isn't great quality. If you are doing alot of video conferencing its worth getting a dedicated HD webcam.
    • I use the Microsoft LifeCam Cinema which is outstanding
    • Microsoft also sell the HD-3000 for $40, you can find some even cheaper on ebay - although I can't attest to their quality.
  4. Turnoff Skype notifications.
    • You don't want to have other conversations pop up while you are on a video call. It is distracting.
    • Depending on your version of skype you can either disable all notifications, or check the box to disable notifications when you are doing a video message
    • Go to Skype>Tools>Options>Notification settings

  5. Turn off your phones (cell phone and landline)
    • You can just mute them, but with the cell phone it might be better to turn it off if you are using a wi-fi internet connection just to avoid any potential interference.
  6. Adjust the volume
    • Practice talking into your microphone and check the settings back in the Skype options
    • Go to Skype>Tools>Options>Audio settings
    • When you speak the green line should be consistently into the right third of the meter - the highlighted box below

  7. Consider using headphones
    • On some older computers, especially if you aren't using a dedicated HD webcam with microphone, the sound from your speakers will cause an echo in your microphone. If this is the case then headphones will solve it.
    • If you are using headphones go for the least visible, most comfortable ones you have.
    • If you aren't comfortable using headphones (I'm not - my voice sounds all muffled in my head) and you do experience echo on video calls then shell out for a decent webcam with microphone.
  8. Make sure your face is well lit
    • Test this in Skype by looking at your video settings.
    • Go to Skype>Tools>Options>Video settings
    • In the example below there are a few things that need to be changed.
      1. You want a plain background if you can - people moving behind you is distracting to the viewer. 
      2. The camera is too far away, you should make sure your head is taking up most of the screen
      3. There is a reflection on my glasses so I need to face away from that light source
      4. Avoid having shadows on your face
      5. Don't have lights on behind you - or have the camera facing a sunny window because you will end up backlighting yourself.

  9. Adjust your distance from camera to mimic your interviewer
    • You want to your video image to be roughly the same size as the interviewer, within reason. 
    • You should be able to see your shoulders, but you don't want to be so far away that your facial expressions are difficult to see.
  10. Keep your clothes simple
    • Patterned shirts or tops can get distorted on a video conference so it produces an effect which looks like you are twitching
    • Similarly really bright colours can be distracting
  11. Get any reference material (like your CV) ready
    • Anything that you might need in the interview should be arranged on your screen underneath the webcam, just like a newsreader. This means if you need to look at it (and keep these brief!), you are only looking slightly down from the camera. This is much less visible than looking to the side.
    • You should have these documents at a minimum:
      1. The job description
      2. Your CV
      3. A list of questions you want to ask or topics to discuss
      4. Some information on the employer like their webpage or a recent news article
      5. Some information on your interviewer like their LinkedIn profile. You can use this to get a sense for the sort of questions you might get. For example does your interviewer have a technical background? Have they been with the company for a long time? Do you know any people in common? Have you shared any work experiences like clients, training courses or previous employers? Don't try to connect with them on LinkedIn before the interview (save that for after the interview). And don't ask them questions that are too in depth based on their profile. 
  12. During the interview
    • Look directly at the camera. It is the equivalent of looking into the eyes of the interviewer.
    • Smile and look friendly. Don't be afraid to laugh!
    • Don't move too much. For example I use my hands alot in normal conversation, even when I'm on the phone. But on a video conference even with HD camera and great internet connection the video quality can show rapid motions as jumpy or blurred. I have to use fewer, slower and smaller gestures when I am on a webcam.

How to get a job in a new country

When you’re trying to find a contract job in a new country, you probably already know that one of your most powerful tools will be the internet. The internet allows you to connect with contacts from all over the world. You’ll also benefit from a well-maintained network and the ability to sell yourself to recruiters and potential clients.

However, before you start applying for work, your first step will be lots and lots of research.

Do your research

This step might be the most important one. Since recruiters and companies are on the lookout for contractors who can start working quickly, you should be prepared to answer questions and express definite interest. This requires knowing your stuff, which generally requires research.

Know your market

You need to have a clear understanding of how many employers are looking for your skillset in your preferred country; in other words, you should know the probability of actually getting hired for this type of work, in this particular country.

Every step that comes after this one will be premature if you’re not decently confident about the demand for your work. Even if the market is good in your current location, seeking contracts in a new country means you need to understand the conditions of a totally different setting.

Work out your plans beforehand

You should also be confident about relevant details: are you taking any family members with you overseas? If you’re currently a permanent employee, have you given notice? If you seem unsure about your plans, recruiters might not take you as seriously and could write you off in favour of another candidate.

Where do I start?

You can talk to recruiters from the country in which you’re wanting to work. Having an extensive network of business contacts also helps (more on that later).

Another vital resource will be job postings. Project sites are important for keeping track of possible work, but also because they can help you assess the demand for your skill-set in your desired location.

Before you begin applying for positions in earnest, researching job ads can tell you which skills are in shortage, what sort of rates you can expect, and the kinds of companies that might be looking for help.

Online Postings and Job Search Websites

Combing through job posting websites is an obvious avenue, but also an important one. Many contractors find a significant portion of their work through intermediary parties, so learn how to use them to your advantage.

Finding useful job sites

Doing your own research on project sites is beneficial for feeling out your job prospects, but it will also help you discern which sites deserve your attention.

It’s best to stick with known, trusted sites. While bigger doesn’t always mean better in this aspect, established sites  are less likely to post spurious ads and will have a fresher crop of postings.

Further, many countries have their own unique job-searching sites, so try to familiarise yourself with them through your own investigation. If you aren’t sure where to start, search message boards and forums for expats in that country.

We have listed the most popular job boards for many of the countries that we cover; just select the country from the drop down menu above.

Set up alerts

Once you’ve got a handle on the market and have found some reliable sources for job opportunities, take advantage of the notification systems that a lot of sites offer. This way, you can stay up to date on the latest offerings without having to log in to different sites each time.

Get specific

You don’t have to limit yourself to job search sites. Many companies will advertise positions on their own websites; if you know you’re interested in working with a specific company, make sure you check out their website to see if they’re looking for anyone with your skillset.

Add your CV

Many sites allow you to upload your CV, allowing potential clients or recruiters to find you, instead of vice versa (jump here for more on writing a great CV). 

Know your audience

It’s tempting to throw CVs and cover letters at every job posting that fits your specifications, but take the time to know a potential client and what they’re looking for. Companies often need temporary workers for extremely specific projects, so you want to be sure that you’re selling the right skills.

Also, since you might be looking for work in a completely different time zone, it doesn’t hurt to be aware of when you’re contacting people. Browser plugins (for example, Boomerang for Chrome) make it easy to send emails at scheduled times.

LinkedIn

If you’re working independently, it’s crucial to establish a network of relationships that assures clients you’re a low-risk solution to their problem. LinkedIn is an indispensable tool for building this sort of network internationally and can help you stay current with market demand, potential clients, and job opportunities.

Go here to read our comprehensive guide on networking and finding work on LinkedIn.

Do even more research

It sounds redundant, but a little bit of extra time scoping out the playing field can make a huge difference in finding work.

Take a look at potential clients, other contractors, and recruiters; observe how they communicate and use LinkedIn. Are they commenting on groups? Sending invitations? Familiarise yourself with your market so that you can better advertise yourself to potential clients as a trustworthy, efficient option. 

Networking and Referrals

It probably shouldn’t be a surprise that many companies would rather hire a specialist referred to them by a trusted contact, so broaden your connections as much as possible.

Map out your business contacts

Make a list of every past professional contact you have, including all former associates, colleagues, and clients.

Connecting with them is a lot easier thanks to social media, and LinkedIn will probably be your best instrument. However, there are other platforms, as well. You should consider social media outlets like Twitter, Facebook, or networking sites specific to your preferred countries.

Participate

Social networking isn’t just about advertising your skills and experience. Join in discussions, answer questions, write your own blog posts, or otherwise find ways to contribute to communities where you can connect with potential clients or contacts.

Instead of simply seeking out new connections, it’s also important to maintain existing relationships with past contacts.

CVs and Interviews

Once you’ve laid the groundwork by researching your job prospects, potential clients, recruiters, and clarifying your goals and plans, you’re ready for the brass tacks of getting hired.

Perfecting your CV for contract work

Your CV is perhaps your most important means for securing a job in a new country.

A good CV is one that is attractive to both recruiters and employers

Your CV needs to speak to both recruiters and employers. However, recruiters may not understand a lot of the jargon specific to your industry, and they’re simply looking to match your skills with position description. Conversely, employers might want to see a little more technical detail about your experience and skills.

For more in-depth advice on writing your CV, check out our guide here.

Preparing yourself for interviews

Once you’ve showed recruiters and employers that you’re cut out for the job, you need to sell them on the kind of worker and person you are.

When you’re looking for work overseas, in-person meet-ups aren’t always feasible. If you don’t have much experience with alternate types of interviews, read over some information on phone interviews and Skype or video interviews.

Even for international work, in-person interviews still happen, so it’s a good idea to prepare by going over the job description, your experience, and information about the employer. Formulate a few likely responses in advance.

Regardless of the type of interview you’re doing, take a look at our advice on behavioural interviewing.

How to interact with recruiters

Recruiters are an integral piece of the puzzle for most international contractors. If you’re new to the recruiting world, we suggest taking a look at our guide to dealing with recruiters.

If you want further information on finding work in a new country, check out the rest of our job-seeking guide here

How to network and get work on LinkedIn

How to Maximise Your Use of LinkedIn – A Complete Guide

Introduction

LinkedIn is the professional social network. With over 200 million members worldwide and expanding at the dizzying rate of two new members per second, it’s quickly becoming an essential part of how people do business in the 21st century. It’s reaching the point where it could be considered unprofessional to not use LinkedIn, so establishing a presence is absolutely vital. You can read more about finding contracting work in general here, but it's crucial to understand LinkedIn or you could deprive yourself of a significant number of opportunities.

The modern world has introduced a lot of additional elements to our lives – whether it’s checking in with friends on Facebook, posting to Twitter or staying in touch with colleagues over Skype, and there is a lot to keep up with. Adding a new social media site to your already crowded collection might not seem like a good idea, but if you’re looking for new clients or a different position, LinkedIn can be an essential component of your strategy. Plus, it really is quite intuitive to use, so you won’t have to get to grips with loads of complicated terminology or complex processes – it’s pretty easy!

This guide takes you from first establishing your profile through to networking, using LinkedIn as a job searching tool and getting involved with discussions going on through the groups feature. It’s a definitive look at how to get the most out of the medium, whether it’s a higher-level position, collaboration with one of the key figures in your industry or the opportunity to communicate with like-minded professionals.

So let’s get started!

How to set up your profile

Setting up your profile is your first step towards maximizing your use of LinkedIn, for the simple reason that it’s how important contacts, new clients and potential employers will find out who you are and what you do. With the number of social media outlets there are online, it’s easy to switch off when you’re creating a profile and just enter bland, basic information. This can cost you new positions and contacts, so it’s important to take your time with it and really make your profile shine.

  • Fill in your details on the homepage. You’ll be asked for your name and email address, as well as to create a password. Use the email address most closely associated with your business or professional life if you have more than one. When you’ve finished, click on the “Join Now” link to fill in the remainder of your basic information, which includes your current employment status and position. Click “Create my profile” to establish your LinkedIn presence.
  • Check your email. LinkedIn will send you a confirmation mail to ensure that the email address you’ve entered is correct. Click on the link in the mail to confirm the address and be taken back to LinkedIn.
  • Searching contact lists. One of the most effective ways to find people you know on LinkedIn is to allow the website to search your email contact list and find anyone who has a profile. You’ll be offered the option to do this here, but you can click “Skip this step” and do it at a later stage. There is no real harm in doing it before your profile is complete, but why send professional contacts to look at a work in progress? The best advice is to wait and come back to this later. The same goes for sending invitations, “Skip” this for now.
  • Go for the basic account. Like the previous point, it’s better to get to grips with LinkedIn before you commit to a Premium subscription. It’s never too late to upgrade, so click “Choose Basic” for now.  You’ll be taken to your current profile page. It will look a little bare, but don’t worry; it’s about to be fleshed out!

Understanding Keywords

Before you go any further with your profile, it’s important to understand the importance of the words you use. Employers use LinkedIn to search for new talent, and the results are filtered according to which profiles contain those vital search terms. This means that to use LinkedIn successfully you need to know the words people will use to search for professionals like you. Most people are pretty familiar with search terms, so your instincts will usually be right. For example, if you’re involved in digital marketing, the words “digital marketing” or “digital marketer” will be the best approach, and similarly an IT project manager should use that phrase or “IT project management” as keywords.

You can use the search bar on LinkedIn (found under your name in the top right of the screen) to check if your keywords match the suggested searches or whether they need to be adjusted. Keep keywords in mind, and remember that LinkedIn is one of the few sites that ranks higher based on the density of the keyword in the text. So if there are two project managers with the same profile length, the one with the particular keyword – “project management” – contained within the text five times will rank higher than the one who only mentions it twice. It’s not great for readability, but if you can fit the keyword in more without sounding like an automated spam-merchant, you should do it. So, with that in mind, let’s get back to your profile:

  • Fleshing out your profile. To continue editing your profile, you can hover your mouse over the “Profile” tab at the top of the screen and click “Edit Profile,” but when you’re first getting started LinkedIn will display boxes at the top of the screen which ask you for information. You can use either method, but clicking the “Edit Profile” link makes things easier because you can make edits in any order and view the entire package as you go along.
  • Upload a profile picture. The image you choose for your profile is integral to your personal “brand” image on LinkedIn. Ideally, you should use the picture from your other social media sites to create a cohesive online presence, but LinkedIn is a professional social media site, so your Facebook image may not be suitable. Professionalism trumps cohesion here, so use a standard, smiling headshot if your other social media images are more whimsical. Click the camera icon in the top-right of the current image (a generic bust if you haven’t uploaded one) to upload an image. You can zoom and centre it before applying it to your profile, if needed.
  • Fill in your history. Your educational and employment history gives potential employers vital information about your experience and expertise, so fill them in and include a description of what you did, in the same way you would on your CV or in a conversation with a potential client. This is a great place to stick in some keywords if you can! Be concise, though – you aren’t writing a dissertation!
  • Link it up! One of the most useful elements of social media is integration. Your Facebook page, Twitter feed, company website and LinkedIn profile don’t have to exist as separate entities – you can link them all together. Click on the “Edit Contact Info” link underneath the top section of your profile. This opens up a drop-down list where you can add contact information and link to your Twitter feed, blog or website. Just click on the pencil icon and fill in the details.
  • Customize your URL. Most people are used to receiving links with random strings of numbers and letters in them, but LinkedIn offers you the option of customising your URL, which helps maintain a sleek, professional image. Click on the “Edit” link beside the URL and then choose “Customize your public profile URL” from the page you’re taken to (in the top right of the screen). Ideally, you should include your name in the custom URL. Use dashes for separating names, and add a company acronym or name if your name is taken.
  • Complete your summary. The “Summary” section of your profile is like a compressed, sharper version of your CV. It gives an overview of your experience, education, and your company. You only get 2,000 characters, so get to the point. The start of your summary will be shown alongside a link to “View more,” so make sure you get any important points into the first paragraph. You can ordinarily stick keywords in naturally here, but focus on readability first and foremost.
  • Write your professional headline. This is the short section of text directly underneath your name, and is the place where you have to make yourself look good in the shortest word-count. Write something that explains who you are, what you do and what makes you stand out from others in your industry. You have to show potential employees and contacts what you have to offer them, so go with your biggest selling points. Focus on the job you’re positioning yourself for rather than the one you’re in if you’re looking to move forwards in your career. You can normally add a keyword or two in here without affecting the text, so include some if you can. You can come back and edit your profile whenever, so don’t worry if it isn’t perfect straight away!
  • Fill out your “Skills and Expertise.” This is a great place to list the various things you do and your areas of expertise. When you start typing, LinkedIn will suggest entries for you. You can add up to 50, so treat it as a keyword dumping ground. If you offer a specific service, have experience in a specific industry or are an expert in a specific platform (such as Wordpress), list it here.
  • Don’t forget the “Additional Info.” This isn’t a throwaway, irrelevant section; it’s a great place to reassure everybody that you’re a real person with a vibrant personality that is a pleasure to work with. Give a more personal view of who you are by adding your “interests,” if you’re learning to play the guitar or love travelling, it lets people know more about you than just your job history.
  • Add Connections. Now your profile is looking more complete, you can start adding your connections. As we covered earlier, LinkedIn can browse your email contact list to find people you already know. Click on the “Add Connections” link (in the top right of the screen) and you’ll be taken to the page to add your email contacts. Simply click “Continue” underneath your email address and sign in as you ordinarily would. LinkedIn will display the profiles of the people you know on LinkedIn and you can select anybody you want to add. After this, you’ll be able to invite anybody you know who doesn’t use LinkedIn yet.
  • Get Recommended. Recommendations add authority to your profile, which helps you find work and build your own personal brand on LinkedIn. You can ask for recommendations (the “Recommendations” link under the “Profile” drop-down menu), but ideally you should give recommendations or ask in a personal email. Most people won’t mind giving you a recommendation, but it’s more polite to ask in your own words. If you do it through LinkedIn, you should always personalise your request.

A Word of Warning on Linking: You can integrate LinkedIn with Twitter easily, but be careful not to do so with a personal Twitter account where your tweets aren’t always professional. If you have a professional Twitter account, however, you can easily post LinkedIn updates to Twitter and vice-versa. This same advice goes for personal websites or links to Facebook pages. 

Your profile should now be looking more like a unified, professional page and less like something that was cobbled together in five minutes, and you’ve already drastically increased your chances of finding a position. However, there is much more to maximising your use of LinkedIn than simply listing your employment history and personal information. Next, we’ll look at networking on the site, which leads nicely to finding work.

Networking on LinkedIn

One of the major benefits of using LinkedIn is that it’s a great way of building your professional network. Like all social networks, it’s a hub of activity – like a perpetual cocktail reception with new people flitting in and out and conversations going on everywhere. Although you may have an ulterior motive, whether it’s to find a new business associate or secure a new job, it’s important to treat everything you do on LinkedIn as a two-way street. If you follow this basic rule, you’ll have much more success, but there are many different steps you can take to forge new bonds and build your network on LinkedIn.

  • Focus on people you know. With so many potential contacts at your fingertips, you may find yourself tempted to try connecting with a big influencer in your industry (or a potentially valuable contact for any other reason) even if you’ve never met them. Think of it the other way around and you’ll see the issue. Imagine somebody you don’t know coming to you and asking for a favour – you’d ignore it and pretend it never happened given half the chance. However, if you’ve met them at a conference or event (for example), you have a legitimate link and you’re more likely to get a positive response.
  • Use groups. LinkedIn groups are a great place to connect with new contacts you would have been unable to meet otherwise. Join a group in your niche or industry and get involved with the discussions going on there. If you can add something to a discussion, you may be noticed by somebody influential and gain an important connection. We’ll return to groups later on, but you can find potential groups under “Groups” and “Groups you may like” from the top navigation.
  • Link to your Twitter. This was covered in the previous section, but it’s also a valuable tool for building your network on LinkedIn. Applications like Tweets make it easier to create Twitter lists for your LinkedIn contacts, and also let you know which of your LinkedIn contacts also use Twitter. By linking the two networks, you can build your Twitter followers and your LinkedIn connections simultaneously.

Creating Appealing Invitations

When you find someone who you know and want to connect with, you do it through an invitation. LinkedIn automatically populates the field for you with a bland “I’d like to add you to my LinkedIn network,” but you shouldn’t settle for this. This tells the person absolutely nothing about who you are, whether you’ve met before and what you have to offer them. Remember, LinkedIn isn’t a place for handouts, if you’re going to build your networks it always has to be a two way street.

  • Start with how you met or found them. The first piece of information anybody who you’re trying to connect with is going to want to know is where they may remember you from. If you spoke to them at a conference and suggested connecting with them (or want to follow-up after a good conversation), mention the name of the conference and remind them of what you were discussing. This should jog their memory and put your smiling profile picture into context. If you just read an article they wrote or attended a talk they gave, it’s only best to connect with them if they gave their LinkedIn details or if you have something specific to offer them, because they’re unlikely to remember you specifically. In these cases, it’s a good idea to mention a specific point they made which interested you because it helps to give them an idea of your personality and approach.
  • Why connect? After you’ve jogged their memory, you should tell them why you were looking to connect with them, remembering to propose a mutually beneficial relationship rather than asking for a handout. You might go with something simple, like offering a connection to build your respective personal networks or to further explore a topic or area of interest. If you’re networking for a particular reason, such as seeking a new position, you can mention it here too, but be sure to include the next point.
  • Offer your help. This cements the mutually beneficial element of your offer. Ideally, you can mention a specific area in which you might be of assistance to them, but you can always offer them introductions to your contacts. One of the best things to do is offer general help, saying something like “Of course, if there’s anything I can do to help you, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.” This keeps avenues open and still shows them that they can get something out of the connection.
  • End politely. Finally, finish your invitation appropriately and politely. If you’re hoping to arrange a meeting you can suggest potential times, or if you’ve read an article or attended a talk, thank them for sharing their points. You can also thank them in advance for accepting the invitation, if you like!

Before you send, give the grammar and spelling a final check. It’s hard to look more unprofessional than you do when asking a high-ranking executive for a “recomendation” or thanking them for accepting your “invatation.” Also, be as concise and short as you can – there’s no need to write a novel!

Get Networking!

As you can see, networking isn’t actually difficult, you just have to avoid some common pitfalls and make sure you try to connect with the right people. Don’t worry if your number of connections isn’t high at first – new relationships develop over time, and existing connections often lead to more. Keep at it and your network will balloon in no time.

How to Get a Job Using LinkedIn

This is one of the most common reasons for starting to use LinkedIn, and if you’ve followed the advice you’ve received so far you’ll already be well on your way to maximising your chances. Joining relevant groups, posting up interesting points in discussions, getting recommendations and networking are all ways of increasing your visibility to hiring managers and other relevant figures in your industry. These are more passive ways of finding a position, which could result in you being approached if done correctly, but there are also some more direct steps you can take.

Basic Tips

  • Use the job search function. LinkedIn has a dedicated board for searching for a new position, which can be found under the “Jobs” link on the upper navigation under “Find Jobs.” This works in the same way as most job boards, but there are several positions posted up that you won’t find anywhere else. Check the board each day to stay up to date and get your applications in early.
  • Announce that you’re looking for a position. If you’ve built up a strong network of contacts from your previous positions and groups you participate in, you might alert the right person with a simple update. You’ll see the space to do this right beside your picture on your homepage. Remember, this isn’t Facebook! Be professional and simply inform your contacts that you’re looking for something new.
  • Sort your results by “Relationship.” When you’re conducting a job search, you can click on the “Sort by” drop-down menu and choose “Relationship” to prioritise jobs where you’re directly connected to or two degrees away from the hiring manager. Unsurprisingly, your application will garner more attention if you have a connection to the person sifting through the CVs.
  • Keep updating your profile. Profile updates become news stories on the feeds of everybody in your network – so in a sense they’re like advertising. Don’t go overboard, but keep working on your profile (making changes where needed and filling in any uncompleted sections) and your improvements will find their way across your network.
  • Make sure you’ve been recommended. Recommendations are never as valuable as when you’re searching for a new position. If there are any which you could still get from previous employers or educators, do it!

Taking Advantage of LinkedIn

The points above are only the basic tools you need to support your job search, but there is a lot more to using LinkedIn to find work than that. LinkedIn is basically a directory of companies, their employees and anybody who has worked for them in the past. As a result, when it comes to a job search, there are numerous extra steps you can take to maximise your chances.

  • Research the companies you’re considering. You can use company pages on LinkedIn to find out valuable information about the positions you’re planning on applying to. Click on the “Search companies” link from the “Companies” menu to find a particular organisation. Choose the relevant company and look through their profile. The tabs at the top of the profile can help you find out some useful information. Many list their “Products and Services,” which you can use to familiarise yourself with what they do before you put your application in.
  • Look at the current list of employees. Finding the list of people currently employed by a company helps you understand what they’re looking for in their staff. This is listed under the “Careers” tab, and you should focus on people in your proposed department or similar positions. You can see the positions they held previously and look at their qualifications and skills to understand how the organisation decides who to hire.
  • Use the “Insights” tab to look at new and old employees. This works in much the same way as the previous step, but allows you to look at new hires and those who’ve left the company. If you’re particularly bold, you can even get in touch with one of the new recruits (much easier if you have a link with one of them) and find out about how they got their position. Likewise, looking at where people went who left your previous company can give you an idea of companies who might be interested in your skills and experience.
  • Get the inside scoop. You can safely assume that the company you’re interested in has numerous employees who also use LinkedIn. If you have any existing ties with any, you can find out about what they’re looking for in a new hire for your specific position. This is often hidden in the subtext of the job description, so having someone with the knowledge to tell you directly can be invaluable. You can also network with someone in the HR department to give your CV a more direct (and trustworthy) path to the hiring manager.
  • Look up people in your industry. Use the “People” search (you can access this through the main search bar in the top left, just change the drop-down box beside it accordingly) to find other professionals in your area who work in your field. Look at their profiles and see which companies employ people like you and find out more about common career paths in your industry.

Keep Working at it

Although LinkedIn is a great resource when you’re searching for a job, it can inevitably be discouraging from time to time. If you follow the advice above consistently and put plenty of time into each application, you’ll land your position when the right one comes up. The only way you’ll be consistently ignored is if you’re too passive in your approach.

Dos and Don’ts on LinkedIn

By this point, you know most of things you need to effectively use LinkedIn to increase your professional network and find yourself new positions, but you could still be falling into several pitfalls. These dos and don’ts are general guides to making sure you come off favourably in your communication.

Things You Should Do

  • Update your status regularly. Your status is the primary way you communicate with people on LinkedIn, so don’t leave it sitting idle for weeks on end. Many professionals suggest updating your status once a day, but it’s more important to do it regularly – even if it’s only once a week. It’s very much like Twitter, in that you’re limited to 140 characters, so your updates should be concise.
  • Respond promptly to any communications. As an inherently social website, many businesses class LinkedIn messages as less important than direct emails or other communications – this is completely untrue. It’s a real platform for communication, networking and job-seeking, so don’t mentally devalue it and wind up ignoring messages. You should respond to them just as promptly as you do to any other mail.
  • Get involved with the conversation. Social websites are a hub of conversation, and the best way to establish your presence is to become a part of it. If somebody posts and interesting status update, leave a well-thought out comment and participate in the conversation that ensues. This introduces you to new potential contacts and further associates your name with your industry.
  • Post relevant content. As an expert in your field, the majority of your posts should relate to relevant industry news, whether it’s through links to news articles, interesting blog posts or YouTube videos. You can also link to your own blog posts, offer relevant advice and even things like inspirational quotes. You should strive to become a valued source of information on your industry.
  • Measure your results. The best thing about generating interest in yourself or your organisation online is that it’s exceptionally easy to keep track of how effective your efforts are. Use the links underneath your post to gain a better understanding of how well you engage your audience with each update. You can see the number of times the post has been viewed and the overall “Engagement” with the post after 24 hours. The engagement is determined by the number of likes, shares, comments and clicks the post achieved, and you should aim for at least 1 percent engagement per update.

Things You Shouldn’t Do

  • Give full links. Full links look messy and eat up your character allowance, so use a service like Bitly to shorten any URLs you post.
  • Be too self-promotional. There is an undeniable element of self-promotion for any business-related usage of social media, but the general rule is that 80 percent of the things you share should be useful information, not promotion. Sharing things of value (as described above) shows that you’re involved in your industry and adds value to being in your network. Then the small nuggets of self-promotion will reach a more engaged audience. The more you promote, the more you become like a spammer.
  • Spell things incorrectly. Spelling mistakes are natural consequences of using a keyboard or touch-screen to communicate, but they don’t look like that. To potential employers and important contacts, spelling mistakes are a sign that mistakes creep through into the things you do. It seems like nitpicking, but there is no way spelling mistakes ever look good – so don’t risk creating a bad impression.
  • Get too personal. It’s worth mentioning again that LinkedIn is not like Facebook or Twitter. You can have a personality, of course, but everything you say should be something you’d be happy for an employer or potential employer to hear, because they may well be listening. Be courteous, professional and helpful at all times.
  • Expect too much. Remember that people have different schedules and unique ways of networking. You may be eager to continue a conversation or arrange a date for a meeting, but if the person you’re trying to communicate with is busy you’ll just become an annoyance. Understand that everybody uses LinkedIn their own way, so don’t get inpatient or badger anybody for a response.

Using LinkedIn Groups

It’s now time to look at groups in greater detail. They’re arguably the most important resource on LinkedIn, because they allow you to communicate directly with key influencers in your industry or your specialty. Whether you’re hoping to get early notification of any job openings, looking for a good way to establish a connection with somebody or just want to establish yourself as an authority on a topic and gain new customers, groups are the perfect way to do it.

Finding Groups

There are numerous groups you can get involved with on LinkedIn, but the best way to decide which ones to focus on is to think about your specific goals. If you’re looking for new clients or to connect with potential business partners, you’ll use different groups to someone who is searching for a new employer. Generally speaking, you should only really use groups that are relevant to your industry (or intended industry). Browse the Groups Directory or click on “Groups You May Like” underneath the “Groups” link on the main site navigation. These are the main types of group you can join:

  • University and college groups. Groups set up for graduates of a particular university or college can be useful for connecting with old contacts, networking and opening yourself up to new opportunities.
  • Industry groups. There are many groups set up specifically for people in your industry. Again, the contacts you can gain here could be useful for a wide variety of reasons. These are excellent places for answering questions (to offer help to fellow members and establish your expertise) and getting involved with relevant conversations.
  • Specialty groups. These work in pretty much the same way as industry groups, except they are tailored towards a specific niche. This means you can often join the group for your overall industry (such as retail) and your specialty (such as marketing) so you can connect with more people and open yourself up for more opportunities.
  • Executive peer groups. Other groups are solely dedicated to CEOs, CIOs, CFOs, COOs and similar executives. This is useful for those looking to network with their peers and share advice, expertise and opportunities.
  • Career groups. If you’re looking for a new position, there are several career-related groups which can help you along in your job search. You might be able to join a more specific group for the type of position you’re looking for, so browse the options and choose something both relevant and active. Search “Groups” for “career” to bring up a list.
  • Employer alumni groups. Many Fortune 500 companies have groups for their previous employees, which enables you to connect with old colleagues for a variety of purposes. If there is one for your previous employer, join it and see what your colleagues have moved on to.
  • Social media groups. Businesses need to use social media more and more in the modern age, so social media groups can provide valuable information and give you a place to share your expertise. Facebook and Twitter have dedicated users’ groups, for example.

Starting Your Own Group

Choosing “Create a Group” under the “Groups” section of the main navigation gives you the option of starting your own group. This is only really a good idea if there is a conversation you think really should have a space on LinkedIn, or your industry or specialty doesn’t have a dedicated group. This can really set you up as an authority (since you’re much more likely to be intimately involved with the discussions), but you shouldn’t do it without conducting a thorough search to ensure that the same role isn’t already being fulfilled adequately on the network.

General Tips for Using Groups

Once you’ve found some groups that suit your purpose or created one of your own, it’s time to start using them. The most important thing to keep in mind is that if you’re searching for a new position or looking to find valuable contacts, groups are a somewhat passive way to do so. Your main aim should always be to join the community and become a reliable source of information, advice and insight. When you’ve established a presence you’ll be able to reap the rewards much more effectively.

  • Check the group and make posts regularly. The simplest step you can take to maintain a presence on the site is to make checking it part of your routine. You don’t have to do it every day (although if you can find the time it’s ideal), just make sure you spend a little while actively participating as often as you can. If you’re pressed for time, focus on the groups which are most closely tied to your goals.
  • Be insightful. Just posting in the group discussions isn’t enough. A good general rule is to think objectively about whether you can actually contribute to the discussion which is going on. Do you have expertise or experience in the area? Do you have a valid point that nobody else has raised? If you still feel like your comment will be constructive and helpful, then it’s probably a great thing to post up!
  • Share. If you’ve read something that people in the group may find interesting or useful, post a link up for them! This is in line with the 80/20 rule of social media discussed earlier – you don’t want to be too self-promotional.
  • Read about the members. Finding out about the positions, history and goals of the people in your group helps you identify people you may want to connect with. If there is someone who you’d benefit from connecting with, you can watch out for their comments and see if you can open up a dialogue in any way. Don’t force it, of course, but you should take any opportunity that arises.
  • Make direct connections. This is one of the only obviously pro-active thing you can really do as part of the group, but you should wait until it’s justified. It can provide common ground for you to mention in your invitation to connect, but you’ll still risk being treated as a spammer if you just both happen to be in a group of 10,000 members, for example.

Conclusion

You can see that using LinkedIn is actually extremely simple, but only if you’re willing to really get involved with the site. Social media is one giant, international conversation, and if you’re intending to get something out of it you have to be a part of that conversation. Hiring managers often like LinkedIn because it’s used for a passive form of job-seeking, where they can approach candidates rather than the other way around. This means that all you have to do is be visible, active and engaged with the medium – if you have the expertise, approach and attitude they’re looking for, they might just get in contact with you.

If you’re mainly interested in networking, things work in much the same way. You can directly network, but if you’re approaching people who you don’t really know, you’re basically just a spammer. You have to remember that you’re communicating with a person, and treat them appropriately. Always think about how you would feel upon receiving that invitation or message before you send it.

Of course, there is much more to the effective use of LinkedIn than those broad points (as you have no doubt discovered!), but they’re the threads which tie the whole thing together. If you only take two messages from this entire ebook, it should be those. Remember, you can always come back and check the relevant section if you’re struggling with a job search, invitations to connect and anything else to do with using LinkedIn! You only have one chance to make a first impression, so you should ensure it’s a positive one.

Spotting a fake

One of the difficulties in looking for work is the level of deception that goes on. Job seekers exaggerate their experience, managers exaggerate the opportunities and conditions, recruiters exaggerate everything.

Far be it for this little pig to take some the moral highground... after all my day is spent in a swampy mix of mud and my own mess. But the point remains, it's hard to know what and who to believe.

Tell it like it is

As the job seeking piggy sets off for yet another interview it should be pointed out to anyone reading (e.g. Mrs J.S. Piggy) that there are only three things that anyone should say to a job seeker who has just received bad news.

1) They're crazy not to offer you the job. They clearly don't know what they're doing.

2) You're too good for them. You can do so much more than just that job.

3) Better to know now rather than find out later. Everything happens for a reason.

Whether its true or false, stick to these three phrases and keep everybody's spirits up. You can also, of course, tailor these expressions to your own means and even embellish a little. For example:
"They don't sound like a very good company."
"You would have outgrown that role very quickly."
"It's not what you really want to do."
"I can't understand how they wouldn't pick you. Their must be something wrong there."
etc.

I'm sure you get the drift.

Whatever happened to feedback?

Once upon a time, in a land far far away, there was a concept called feedback. You applied for a job and then you would receive some contact from the recruiter. A phone call, an email, something just to let you know. It helped the job seeking piggy know whether to file an opportunity as open and closed.

It was almost like they kept you regularly updated on the status of your application. I remember when it used to be a letter informing you that you had not been successful or occasionally that wacko you are selected for an interview. Whilst a fresh faced graduate from the University this little pig collected a huge pile of the less desirable form of this letter.

Job Seeking Piggy Rejection Letter Pile

It was, in a sense, depressing with its size being testament to how undesirable a commodity the great engines of commerce found me. But it also gave closure. You're better of knowing, as they say... Somewhere between then and now this crucial art of feedback disappeared. Where did it go? Why did it leave? These are questions for another rant by the job seeking piggy.

Instead this little oinker prefers to lament its passing. One day perhaps feedback will return. It seems that with the rise of internet based recruiting softwares that automated emails informing of application received and then rejected are on the rise. It's not full of detail, but it is a start. Who knows? Perhaps the Web 3.0 version of Taleo will even analyse unsuitability and give pertinent reasons. Now that would be talent management!

5 reasons why every recruiter should be sending feedback to their candidates

The last article discussed the annoying fact that very few recruiters give feedback to job applicants. The Job Seeking Piggy feels this is a big mistake, both in terms of politeness and sales strategy. In fact a sales strategy that doesn't incorporate politeness and responsiveness at its foundation is a poor one, but thats a topic for another day. Now to be clear in this instance the pig is talking about feedback to an application such as emailing in a CV.

It isn't conceivable to this little pig that a recruiter wouldn't give feedback to a candidate after sending their CV to a client or the candidate interviews with the client. Please tell the pig this never happens! 

Here's 5 reasons why every recruiter should be sending feedback to their candidates: 

  1. It helps you stand out. This is an advantage when every recruitment firm offers the same buzzword laden services. It is, in effect, free advertising for your services and expertise.
  2. Candidates really appreciate it. The candidates of today are the clients of tomorrow and they remember who treated them well. Here at Contractor Taxation we regularly get emails from people thanking us for responding to their email - even when all we did was email them to say we couldn't help them. They are much more likely to remember to come back to us when we can help them. The converse is also true - many applicants won't send their CV in for roles to companies where they don't even get feedback.
  3. Its really easy. It only takes a couple of minutes. IT or technical recruiters will mostly deal with candidates who know how easy it is to do a mail merge which makes it all the more annoying to them if it doesn't happen. We'll even show you some ways to setup automated feedback emails.
  4. It is a great chance to start a dialogue with your target market - at the very moment they are most open to your services. Surely you want to attract the best candidates and help them be more placeable? The information you gather gives you greater understanding of your candidates and the market. It is also invaluable in demonstrating your expertise to your clients. The Job Seeking Piggy, in its previous incarnation as an IT Recruiter, was able to dazzle clients by telling them what candidates were generally looking for in terms of training and career progression or what they really thought of upgrading to the latest software release. Clients can use this to make better decisions, deliver more compelling offers and attract better employees.
  5. Its good manners... the kind your parents taught you. 

Contractor Taxation is releasing a course that shows how to setup automated feedback emails and has proven templates that improve your reputation with the best candidates. You can get it for free by sending an email.

Writing your CV

For many of us there are few things more painful than writing a CV. The pig is a boastful creature and in another lifetime may have been a writer of romantic fiction... and so quite enjoys it! It helps to keep things in perspective. Some of the advice contained here is so simple if could be seen to be offensive. But fear not - the job seeking piggy doesn't want to upset anyone.

However its often true that people forget why they are writing their CV and end up with a document that doesn't serve its purpose. To this end the Job Seeking Piggy has included a document that it wrote in a former life as an IT recruiter - this is a guide to writing CV's for IT and Finance contractors in the UK and European market but the basic principles apply to CV writing in general. It is important to remember the purpose of your CV and its role within the process of gaining employment.

Your CV is your primary means of obtaining an interview with an employer and thus getting a contract. It should showcase (in order of importance) your experience your skills your qualifications your personality For example, In order to obtain contract work in the UK you will be required to use recruitment agents. Recruiters will call hundreds of managers a week searching for vacancies. When they get a requirement they will search through their internal database for suitable candidates and/or advertise on sites like www.jobserve.com for people to fill these jobs.

Using recruiters is the quickest and easiest way for you to get an interview with a client. The primary means for a recruiter to assess your suitability is your CV. The average recruiter will have seen thousands of CV’s and be able to tell a good one from a bad one quickly. It is important to have a well-constructed and clear CV in order to make it through this initial selection process. If your CV is full of grammatical or spelling mistakes, poorly laid out or just hard to read then you run the risk of the recruiter putting your CV in the unsuitable bin, even if you are a good match for the job.

So what will recruiters look for in your CV? Firstly let’s talk a little about the recruiter mentality. As a salesperson their main motivation is to successfully place a consultant with the client and earn some money. So they want to put forward candidates who have the best possible chance of getting that job. Generally they have no background in Computing or Finance, so for most recruiters the specific skills and jargon mentioned on your CV have no real meaning for them.

They are just trying to match the words on the job description to the words on the CV. If they can match the words then they will read your CV a little more thoroughly to understand whether your experience matches the experience the client is looking for, what sort of companies you have worked for in the past, whether you have good qualifications, and what sort of employee / person you are. Initially they are reading your CV to include you in their shortlist, then they are reading it looking for selling points – reasons why you will get the job as opposed to any other candidate.

If your CV satisfies the recruiter it will get forwarded to the client who will look through it from a similar perspective but dwell more on the projects/companies you have been involved in and your specific experience with the various skills and technical tools they are looking for. Clients look for a contractor to be able to come in and perform a specific piece of work within a given timeframe. They want to see from your CV that you have previously performed the same piece of work (or something very similar) in a commercial environment.

If they find this in your CV then you have an interview! So how do you tailor your CV to work with the technically illiterate recruiter and the technically literate client? As you will see, we do this by providing a combination of summaries and detail. This enables a recruiter to work out within two minutes whether you match a job description and also allows a client to understand exactly the business objective, technical environment and particular duties of your recent projects.

Your CV should have the following sections: Personal information: Name, Contact details, date of birth, visa/passport held, education (If you have a degree and have completed a few appropriate courses. If you want to list every course you have done – put only the most important to getting work at the front. The rest can go in Additional Information at the end of your CV). Skills Matrix: List the skill and the amount of commercial experience you have. This should not dominate the CV or be excessively long. It should be concise and easy on the eye. Its purpose is to provide an easy way for a recruiter to compare your skills to the job specification they have available.

You may want to group your skills according to Languages / Operating Systems / Database / Methodologies / etc. It is important to be realistic with your matrix and avoid the temptation to put in everything you have ever used or studied. For contract work employers are generally only interested in commercial experience. It is not relevant that you did a 3 month assignment using VB in second year Uni. If you want to give a really detailed matrix then put it in an appendix at the back or a separate document. This initial matrix is just for the recruiter/employer to tick of that you have the skills they need. You can even tailor this on the fly as you're submitting your CV... be sure to highlight the skills that were mentioned in the advert.

 

Employment History:

This is the most important part of your CV and is where you should focus most of your time and effort when writing the document. You should start your employment history on the first page, so at least your description of your most recent job appears on the first page. The skills matrix has an important role, but you don’t want it to detract from your single biggest asset in seeking work:: your previous commercial experience. You need this section to be easily understood by the layman as well as having the technical detail to satisfy the scrutiny of an IT manager or technical specialist. In order to do this you should go into progressively greater detail as you describe each job. Each role should have the following basic sections.

 

Company Name & location:

You may also like to include a description of the company, especially if it was not a UK firm. UK recruiters and employers will likely not know of the clients and companies you worked for in your home country. Even the largest companies in South Africa, Australia or New Zealand are relative minnows in the UK. So if you worked for the 3rd largest investment bank in South Africa it is well worth mentioning here.

 

Job Title

 

 

Duration

 

Skills Summary :

outlining the environment and various technologies you used. You will likely be repeating the technologies listed in the skills matrix, but here you are showing that you used these specific skills in this particular role. Eg: J2EE, SOAP, XML, RUP, Rational Rose, Visio, Weblogic Integrator, Apache, Tomcat, Oracle, Documentum, CVS, Solaris, AIX, Linux, Windows.

 

Description of Duties:

Description of duties is where you can give the reader a really good understanding of your experience and abilities. If you write it well they will also get a picture of what you are like and whether you were good at your job. If you were in a permanent role you might want to break your description down into the various projects you were involved in. You can then devote a paragraph to each major project and maybe a general paragraph covering any other duties. It is best to start with a description of the project’s business objectives.

You can use this to show you understood the needs of the business and how your work fit into achieving these needs. It sounds straightforward but a surprising number of people leave this out. In a competitive marketplace it is good to show the client that you have a well rounded understanding.

 

e.g. Westpac are one of the largest banks in Australia. For the “MyLife” project Westpac commissioned an online virtual marketplace and service center through an ecommerce portal. This allowed Financial Advisers to offer customised financial planning and management utilising product offerings from Westpac and their partners from the customer site or any remote location. The products offered ranged from bank accounts to investment funds and disability assurance. I worked as technical pre-sales on the bid and then took over the role of Lead Architect for the project itself.

 

Then give a detailed description of the technical needs of the project and your involvement. Use this chance to show what technology you have used and in what capacity within the project. Especially mention additional benefits you were able to offer like training other staff, internal consultancy, mentoring or any other things you did that set you apart (in a good way!) from other consultants.

 

e.g. Architecture, design and implementation of a Weblogic 6.0 portal and components interfacing with a number of bespoke applications. The portal had a single-on and supported different authentication methods with the rear portal applications. The implementation used JSP, Servlets, Sockets, HTTP1.1, Tomcat, Weblogic 5.1, Weblogic 6.0, Netbeans and extreme programming. The portal was required to deal with up to 50000 enquiries a day ranging from delivering mortgage quotes to opening trading accounts in a secure environment. Extensive stress testing of the application and components ensured fast and error free functionality. Since implementation the portal has experienced less than 0.02% downtime. Mentored junior developers throughout the project. 

It is a very good idea to include any special achievements. If your project saved the client millions or if your personal contribution saved the project from disaster. Make sure you mention it! 

 

Additional Information:

In this section you can put any other information you feel is pertinent. This could include the following:

  • Interests and hobbies
  • More detail of your university degree or thesis
  • Courses completed
  • Other achievements
  • Extended skills matrix 
  • Further personal details 

Remember that your CV is primarily a tool to sell your experience and skills to an employer so if there is anything that you feel makes you more employable, then include it.

By including it in a section at the end you give the reader the option to find out as much or as little information as they need to. If you overload them with too much detail at the beginning of your CV they may not pay as much attention to the most important part, your experience.

Answering common interview questions

So many interviews follow the same format... how do you stand out from the crowd?

This little piglet has been to a lot of interviews and it can be boring responding to the same questions over and over. Job seeking piggy also remembers time spent as a recruiter and the boredom that comes from asking repetitive questions. For both sides it can be a long and tedious tennis rally where everything sounds the same.

Answering Interview Questions

So what is a job seeker to do when you walk into an interview and see the interviewer with pen poised over the dreaded form with standard questions on it?

The job seeking piglet resorts to playing mind games (mostly with itself) which keeps things interesting. 

Imagine that for each formulaic question there exists a perfect formulaic answer. The interview process is a showcase for your perfect response. Best of all you can prepare beforehand!

For example if they ask

"What is your greatest weakness?"

You can say

"I am a perfectionist and get totally absorbed into my work" and stop right there. If it is a question you are uncomfortable with then don't give too much detail. It is said that the best way to get out of a hole is to stop digging.

Of course most interviewers know the game well and will prompt for more information. So you can qualify your answer.

"I have had to learn to step back and focus on the big picture to make sure I'm going to meet my deadlines."

This shows that you are aware of your weakness and modify your behaviour to change it. Have an example ready if you need to go further and make sure it makes you look good!

"There was a huge backlog of work after the floods and my natural instinct was to just get stuck into it. But I realised we had a major deadlines that we would miss so we restructured our process to balance the load."

And so a negative is actually a positive :)

But what about the all time classic

Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?

(aka What do you want to be when you grow up?)

Here are some prospective answers:

"I haven't really thought about it"

- Perhaps for an interview at 7-Eleven, but not good when going for a career defining role

"Retired on a beach in Baha"

- This might work in the startup industry... but not many other places.

"I want to be part of a great team atmosphere, be considered essential within my role and know that I am making a difference. If there are opportunities within the next 5 years (or longer" to grow - then that is icing on the cake"

- Great answer if you aren't sure of the promotion prospects.

"I want to be considered a leading expert in , to be in a position of seniority and be helping to shape the strategic direction of the firm within ."

- Good answer for technical specialists in a consulting or services company.

"I would like to advance and take on more responsibility. I expect that if I do a great job and am flexible to the needs of the organisation - even if it means changing roles - that opportunities will come up in that timeframe."

- This is the most balanced answer

Now you can see 3 answers here which would meet the bill. What happened to the perfect formulaic answer mentioned beforehand? As with most things in life you should tailor your response based on the situation. Hopefully you have some ideas from above on how to find the answers that work best for you. Of course you could also politely suggest that behavioural interviewing is a more enjoyable and productive process :)

Best of luck!