Interview with Sarah Schadek-Keane: Professional advice on how to apply at any stage in your career
Which advice can you give professionals to prepare for their application(s)?
Read the job specs carefully that you are interested in and go by the description of tasks to identify if a role is of interest to you, not by the level the position anticipates / hints at or the qualifications asked for the position. There are qualifications like language or programming requirements that will need to be met. However, on level of experience there is usually room to negotiate unless we are talking about lead positions.
Which would you define as essential information to bring into your CV?
The current position / most recent position in your CV should have a good overview of the tasks you have been focused on; here I am referring to technical / hard skills specifically. We are currently observing an increase in candidates mentioning soft skills within their CV; while this can be used as an add-on, it’s highly subjectively rated by the individual and should be backed-up by extra training ideally. To give an example – if you mention project management in your CV, employers are looking for certifications like PMP, Lean Six Sigma or at least the likes of Prince2; if you haven’t done one of these yet, I would only mention this particular experience within an interview where you can articulate the frame of the project (budget, people involved etc.) and highlight what you learned from it.
Another point to highlight is to rate your level when mentioning skills like languages and programming / IT skills; if you decide to mention you have a good level or better in either a language or a programming language, you should expect to be tested on this within the interview process, so please rate by ability and not what the employer wants to hear!
In addition, could you define some basic rules regarding form and length of a CV? What should candidates be looking out for when writing a motivational letter?
Unfortunately, there is not one answer, as this depends on the company you are applying for. These days you should have two versions of your CV, English and German versions if you are deciding to apply to companies with a focus on Germany as well as international headquarters as you won’t get far with a German version when applying to the likes of Allianz, ERGO, Munich Re, Gen Re etc. and vice versa. We recently observed an increase in only mentioning the current employer’s name and title of applicant’s roles. This is for both versions not enough; you should have a min. of at least 3-4 tasks put down for each full-time job you ever held to give an idea of your skills. Considering this, it’s likely your CV will need to have 2-3 pages, which is fine, depending on the work experience you have in total.
My tip for a motivational letter: don’t do generic ones! Companies want to see that you read the job spec carefully and did a bit of research on the potential employer, which should be mentioned within the motivational / cover letter. The cover letter is also good to disclose your soft skills instead of the CV, mentioning situations where you learned a certain relevant skill. Please also don’t forget what drives you to this application; it’s important that potential employers get an idea on why you want to move before even entering a first round Interview!
Employers seem to value soft skills more than they did in the past. How can applicants find a good ratio with their skills?
Find your strength(s) and support those with extra qualifications as well as trying to nurture them in your work environment (ask your team or boss for help on this, too). As individuals, we are not good at everything, so the key here is to find out where you really shine and to use this to progress within your role and career. Not everyone can be a leader and not everyone is comfortable in talking to big / multiple groups and manage stakeholders; reflect on your own strength, get external feedback on this as well and see what would fit you best! Are you technically really strong and love programming? Try to become an expert in R, Python or the likes! Are you exceptionally good at modelling / building models within the risk area? Do the CERA, FRM, GARP or any extra risk qualification to support your skill.
Performing well in a job interview is said to be crucial. Which are the most important Do’s and Don'ts?
As most first round Interviews are virtual these days, please make sure you have the right computer / mobile set-up as well as a good camera angle on yourself; keep a steady place during the interview and don’t move around as that will create traction and might distract the interviewer on the other end. The below Do’s and Don’ts will apply to any format of interview and can be useful for initial phone contact also.
- Make a good first impression by arriving on time and by being dressed accordingly to an interview format.
- Sell your strengths and expertise!
- Prepare questions to ask on the role and company you apply for; most job specs are rather generic so it’s likely you don’t have a clear picture on the role, where it sits and what daily tasks would be involved yet.
- Mention weaknesses first when asked about strength and weaknesses – nobody is perfect and if you mention the weaknesses before the strengths in an interview, you come across as more reflective and interviewers will still rather remember your strengths as you have mentioned them last!
- Keep eye contact and make sure that your interviewer feels that you are listening.
- Don’t speak badly about your current employer.
- Don’t look at your mobile! Keep it switched off or on airplane mode during the interview.
- When asked about strengths and weaknesses, don’t use a weakness that is rather seen as a strength, like “being a workaholic”.
- Don’t use long sentences or divert from a question! If you don’t have the answer, be honest and say you don’t know about it, but you are happy to learn / read up on it instead of diverting and starting to mention something you do know.
- Don’t interrupt your interview partner within the conversation.
- Be honest! Don’t pretend you know something or are an expert in something as this will be tested sooner rather than later and it always makes a bad impression if you are not up to the level that you mentioned you were on then! Rather undersell and then overdeliver as the other way around.
Overall, good interview technique and preparation (from writing your CV to dressing well for an interview) will improve your chances of showing your best professional self to the company you are applying for. In any market, if you are clear, honest and able to prove your experience and knowledge, you can succeed.
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