5 Questions to ask at an interview

So you’ve survived a million and one questions during an interview and the recruiter says, “have you got any questions?” It’s so easy to say “no, I’ve got everything” and rush out of the building as quickly as possible but I think this is a great opportunity to stand out and give yourself an advantage. A great set of questions can sometimes give the recruiter that last bit of assurance that YOU are the right person for the role. It might not be appropriate to ask all of the questions below at every interview so use wisdom. 

1. What is the current dynamics of the team and how do you see me fitting in with them? 
I love this question because you force the recruiter to picture you in the role but it also shows that you are aware that there are people within a team and want to respect the dynamics. It’s also great because in actual fact, you might find that you don’t like the dynamics or demographics of the team and have found out at interview stage and not when you’ve got the job! 

2. What concerns do you have about hiring me? 
If they answer honestly, this gives you a great advantage because you will actually have the opportunity to address any concerns or reservations and potentially turn them around. 

3. If I am successful, what would my first few weeks in the role look like? 
By asking this, you’re showing a real interest in not just getting through the interview, but getting into the role itself. 

4. When can I expect to hear back from you? 
Again, this shows you are interested and keen

5. Lastly, if there’s anything you’re unsure about, now is the time to ask

I hope that helps! Go get your job! 
X

How to have a great interview

Oh we all love going to an interview! No? The purpose of this post is to take a lot of the pain out of the interview process. Below are 5 tips that I’ve used during interviews and hope they’ll help you too. 

1. Research the company – the last thing you want is to absolutely ace an interview, then right at the end be asked what you know about the company and blank. Have a look at the company website if they have one and pay attention to the company ethos and any principles they work to. 

2. Dress appropriately – think about the role you are applying for and the tasks you’ll be doing during the assessment process when choosing what to wear. Personally, I have a black polka dot “interview dress”. This isn’t the time to pull out your whole jewellery collection and it goes without saying that clothes should be clean and ironed, shoes clean and hair well groomed – or at least I hope. Ladies, if you struggle wearing heels, don’t embarrass yourself. Opt for low or kitten heels. If you have to wear flats, pointy shoes look more professional than round toe but again, this very much depends on the role you are applying for. When it comes to makeup, don’t cake it on. Enough said. 

3. If offered a drink, always ask for some water. 
Whether I intend to drink it or not, asking for water serves a few purposes
– it gives you a bit of extra time to take in the setting and calm those last minute nerves
– if like me, there are times when your mouth or throat drys up during the interview, a sip of water will be your saviour
– when answering questions, it’s good practice to pause before answering, think, structure the answer in your head and then answer. Having some water during that pause fills in the gap nicely and helps to avoid instances above where your mouth gets dry. 

4. Prepare answers to common questions. 
A lot of recruiters now use competency or behavioural interview questions. These are designed to understand how a candidate deals with certain situations and can often help to further shortlist candidates that on paper, have similar credentials or skills. 
The key to these type of questions is to have a bank of pre-prepared answers that can be adapted for specific questions and be able to give a clear and concise answer. Most recruiters will say in advance what competencies or key behaviours they will be looking for or assessing, but if not, use the person specification as a guide. For example, a competency could be “communication”. I would think about instances in my current or precious roles where I’ve had to communicate difficult decisions, explain something to different audiences or “levels or had to teach something to someone else and create answers using the STARL technique. 
The STAR technique is not a new concept but what it does is enable you to answer a question without waffling or going off on a tangent. Below is a breakdown of what it is. 

S – situation – what was the scenario or issue

T – task – what did you need to do

A – activity or action – what you actually did

R – result – what was the outcome

I like to add an extra bit at the end – “L” for what I learnt from it. 

5. Ask questions – see my post on “Great questions to ask at an interview” 

6. RELAX! – try to focus on your best qualities. If you’re asked about any development areas or weaknesses, don’t be scared to give them but ALWAYS follow up with how you have or are overcoming it and the positive. 

Good luck and happy job hunting! 
x

My Life Plan

So where am I now and how do I feel about it? Honestly? I’m in a good place. I’m happy. Even typing this, I’ve had to stop and think “am I really happy or am I just saying it because I don’t want readers to think I’m a sad wreck?” I can hand on heart say, life is good. It’s not without its challenges, but life is good. I remember being a fresh-faced 16 year old, making what I thought were over ambitious plans for myself but not really having much focus. 10 years later and a mixture of life and love has seen me go down different paths. I’m a 26 years old, single mother to THE most amazing 5 year old (we’ll come to him another time), I have a great job and career that I love and am about to embark on the next chapter of my life that will see me finally go to university. As it goes, if I died tomorrow, I would be proud of what I’ve accomplished but I want more. For those that have read my post on “Starting a Business”, you’ll know I’m a massive advocate of writing a business plan and reviewing it regularly. As far as I’m concerned, my life is my business so you better believe I have a plan! I’ve reviewed it regularly, sense-checked my progress and often changed it in response to life events and different paths I’ve found myself on. At 16, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I knew I was going to do A levels and wanted to work in either Law, Banking or Medicine so opted in to Maths, Chemistry and Biology. Although I’ve always been quite smart, I quickly discovered I lacked drive and motivation and only now realise it’s because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was stuck in that common rut of “I have to continue my studies but I have no clue what I’m doing”. Towards the end of the first year, I applied for a “summer job” at a bank and then decided to stay and take a gap year. That gap year lasted 9 years (whoops!) but my goodness I needed it! During that time, I set myself a goal that my salary must always be higher than my age. Simple, maybe somewhat shallow, but a goal is a goal and it’s kept me on my toes. In those 9 years, I’ve climbed and bank hopped to my current position and built up a nice little knowledge bank but also professional network. Whilst my work has given me a lot of exposure to the legal profession, I’ve found my interest in the law has come mainly from helping friends and family out of tricky situations so it was only right that I consulted my trusty “life plan” and see how I could further develop myself. To date, I haven’t documented my plan but as Habbakuk says, “write the vision, and make it plain…” and so this week, I’m off to buy a journal to write down my vision for my life that I can regularly review and support with affirmations and wise words. In terms of detail, I’m not sure how deep I’m going to go with it, but I’m trying a lil thing! 

Watch this space x

5 tips for an effective C.V. 

So one thing I know I do well is interview, but often the hardest part is getting through the C.V. “sift” so I want to share a few tips that I’ve used to enhance mine over the years. 
At the beginning of the year, I did a volunteering session at a high school in south London where I helped a group of 15 and 16 year olds write their cv. Honestly, I was amazed that a lot of them didn’t know what one was or what the contents were; but let’s face it, a lot of adults don’t either! 

According to our trusted friend, Wikipedia, it’s “a written overview of a person’s experience and other qualifications. In some countries, a C.V. is typically the first item that a potential employer encounters regarding the job seeker and is typically used to screen applicants, often followed by an interview.” So it’s pretty important, yes?! 

Ok, so humour me for a minute: imagine it’s your friends birthday next month. She’s sent out the save the date along with a list of 5 restaurants to choose from and a copy of their menu. Any normal person would check the menu and shortlist the ones where the menu looks appealing and within budget. Think of your C.V. as your menu. Potential employers will pick it up and look for the characteristics that look appealing to them. This brings me on nicely to my first point. 

1. Review and tailor your C.V. every time you apply for a job

Whenever I’ve looked for another role, I always try to get a copy of the “person specification” and the “job specification” and cross check my C.V. against these. There’s no point lying as you’ll often get caught out. But any qualities on these documents that you feel you have and can demonstrate, add them in. 

I.e. 

Job specification – the role will involve complaint handling and resolution 

Person specification – the ideal candidate will have experience dealing with difficult situations 

If any part of your work experience involved dealing with difficult situations or customers, make sure you highlight it. 
If these aren’t available, often a browse on the company’s website will have a section about the types of people they hire and the qualities they look for. 

2. Remove your D.O.B and picture (unless applying for a creative role where you picture is needed). 

Age and race discrimination is illegal but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Give yourself every fighting chance by only including mandatory information. Let your qualities shine through without your age or looks creating an unnecessary barrier

3. Keep it to the point. 

I’m a very wordy person. Trust me, but your C.V. is not the time to test out your 2000 word essay writing skills. You want to sell yourself as best as possible, but recruiters sift through so many C.V.’s and many will admit to just scanning so keep your experience precise and to the point. I’m personally a big fan of bullet points. 

I.e. 

My main duties were:

– Be the named point of contact for a portfolio of large corporate customers

– Identify sales opportunities within the portfolio to grow P & L (profit & loss) 

– Negotiate contract renewals and new customer pricing

– Manage the recruitment and on-boarding of new business

– Offer advice and best practise concerning card scheme rules and fraud 

4. Summarise each role with an achievement. 

Show that you are a high achiever and give them a reason to keep reading. Again, keep it brief and don’t lie. 

I.e.

My main accomplishments at X were:

– Being signed off probation 3 months early and rewarded with a 10% pay rise because of my performance

– Being recognised 3 months in a row as being the top account manager in the region

5. Provide a brief summary at the very beginning. 

As I said above, recruiters often just scan and sometimes only read the first few lines. I think it’s good practise to provide a brief summary at the very beginning so you can get your best qualities across from the absolute get go. 

Mine is too good to share lol so the example below is one I did for a friend: 

– Experienced professional with a successful career in banking and sales 

– High achiever with proven track record of exceeding targets

– Line management experience 

– Confident in coaching and developing others 

– Proactive approach has resulted in outperforming peers

– Possess excellent interpersonal, analytical and organisational skills

– Excel within highly competitive environments 

– Excellent command of the English language 

– Comfortable delivering presentations 

So, I hope somebody finds this useful and good luck with the job hunting! 

X

It’s going to be a quiet week! “What’s going on in your life?” you may ask! Well, tomorrow I jet off on a much needed break with my sister and cousins, so I’m running around today tying up any loose ends and making sure my clients are happy before I leave.

My good ole trusted MacBook is coming with me so I can finish a couple of posts I’m working on so watch this space! 

X

A plea from me…

It’s 2015 – “fleek” is the new “on point”, “squad” is the new “crew” and we’re going a bit crazy over “curvy”. *eyeroll* 

Yes, I jumped on the wagon following various plus size Instagram accounts yada yada bla bla bla and honestly, I’m confused. I’m all for empowerment and feeling confident, but since when did being a fat (excuse me, curvy) confident woman mean half dressed? 

I can’t be the only chunk that doesn’t feel an overwhelming sense of empowerment when I see another big girl squeezing into the most unflattering jeans, or God forbid, baring the bulge in a belly top. I’m not going to post examples because this isn’t about shaming anybody – it’s less of a rant and more of a plea. 

5 years ago, I’d probably be more sympathetic. In terms of choice, it would pretty much be dress like a granny or rummage to the back of the rack for the biggest “standard” size and try and make it work. Times have changed. Aside from specialist plus size shops like Yours and Evans, common high street favourites like New Look and H&M have their own plus size ranges and whilst I cringe at some of the pieces, with a bit of self respect and a good eye, you can really make it work. Personally, I’m an ASOS chick but maybe we can look into that another time. 

I implore my fellow fatties to yes, be confident, yes be comfortable but please, be classy!

Peace x

Productive Mornings

For some strange reason, I’ve been waking up around 5am every morning this week with ideas for new blog posts.

To put this in perspective, I’m definitely in a ‘long term relationship’ with my bed. We’ve got a thing going on. Definitely. I recently discovered my 5 year old son can make his own breakfast and boy oh boy has this worked to my advantage! I don’t set an alarm because I’m cranky if woken out of sleep. Instead, I let myself wake up naturally, which prior to this week, has always been just before or bang on 8am followed promptly by me prodding my son to get up, brush his teeth and make his breakfast. Smooth. This little discovery has earnt me an additional 10 minutes in bed every morning! Not to be knocked! 

So back to this early morning thing. I feel as if I’ve given myself a reason to wake up early in the morning and honestly, I think I like it. In a post further down about my imminent university start, I mentioned that I need to plan and get organised and you know what, my body agrees! I’ll be working full time and going to uni full time in the evening and was getting some advice from a solicitor friend of mine. She told me that by the time I get home from uni after also having a long day at work, my brain will probably need a break and I might find it more beneficial to go home, chill and get up early in the mornings to study with a fresh head. Whilst I absolutely loved the idea in theory, I just couldn’t see myself ‘breaking up’ with my bed. We’ve been through so much! But in all seriousness, this blog has given me a reason to wake up early. It’s kickstarted a new routine for me and I intend to fully embrace it! 

So whatever goals you’ve set yourself, think about what needs to change or improve in your life to make it happen and then more importantly, effect that change! We have all been given a purpose and a design for our life but it’s up to us individually how far we go towards reaching our true potential. Whether it’s changing your morning routine like me, removing certain people from your life or even healing broken relationships, start doing what you need to do to make your ambitions a reality. 

Next on my list: eat breakfast before leaving the house. Pray for me looool. I’m on a journey

X

A new low

A new low!
Tonight, I have reached a new low! I’m casually sat in my living room, catching up on social media and tidying this blog up with the TV on in the background. Now I’m first to admit that my taste in TV is somewhat varied and questionable. To give you an idea, I’ve listed a few below:
Eastenders

Pretty Little Liars (don’t judge!)

Gossip Girl (now finished)

Suits

House of Cards

Teen Mom (Originals and 2)

16 and Pregnant

Hollyoaks

Masterchef
You get the gist. So I’m tapping away and suddenly wonder why I’m hearing SOOOO much swearing and shouting, only to realise I’ve been unknowingly polluting my mind with the horror that is Geordie Shore! The fact this is even ON in my house has dragged me to a new low. I’m really trying to take in whatever insignificant drama is going on but I genuinely can’t get past the scary accent (reminding me that I am in fact almost a northerner. Ha ha! – born in Derby), copious amount of swearing and slack conversation.
Verdict: Geordie Shore, you’re fired!

Starting a business

I’ve been lucky enough to have worked as a business relationship manager in banking for the past 7 years and have looked after businesses from start up right through to large corporates and want to use this blog to pass on atleast some of the knowledge I have acquired.

Today I want to look at start up businesses and 5 key considerations or actions. There are obviously more, but these are a great start.

1. What will the business be
This may seem like an obvious question but you’d be surprised at how many people when questioned, don’t actually know it can’t articulate it.
Are you selling a service or product?
What is/are the service/s or product/s?

Once you have a basic idea, you can move on to the next stage.

2. Plan and prepare
This is quite a meaty chunk and I’d imagine, this is where the majority of your “pre-start” time will be spent. A lot of people straight away think, “Right! This is the part where I write my business plan!” Wrong! Put down the business plan and research.

Research
Whenever I wanted to do anything, they’d say, “Give us all the information and facts so we can make an informed decision.” The same applies here. Before you make any more decisions on what shape the business will take, get some information. Below is by no means an exhaustive list, but use they’re basic “joggers” to help point you in the right direction.

– what legal structure will I be? (I.e Limited, sole trader, Limited Liability Partnership, Charity)
– who else does what I want to do?
– how well do they do it
– why do they/don’t they do it so well
– what can I replicate?
– what would I do differently?
– what will my USP (unique selling point) be?
– who will my customers be? (Demographics)
– what demand is there for what I am selling?
– how will they pay me?
– when will they pay me? (In advance or credit)
– how much will it cost me to source goods?
– do I have enough money?
– will I need to deal internationally?
– will I need to trade in different currencies and what effect might this have on my profits?
– what legislation is applicable to my industry?
– will I need a license to trade?
– what is the market like at the moment for my industry and are any changes coming?
– do I need any qualifications and if so, what and how can I achieve them?
– will I have a physical high street presence or be virtual?
– where?
– how much will it cost
– will I need to take on staff?
– what legislation applies?

As I said, this is just to get you started. Start with a basic question and “funnel” down so you can make your research detailed. Once you have all of this information, writing your business plan will be a lot easier.

Business plan
This is in effect your blueprint for your business. I think a good business plan is specific, sets clear objectives but more importantly, it is a working document. As a start up, you should be reviewing your business plan regularly to check progress and to also see if you are still on the same course. If not, why? Regular reviews will allow you to either alter your business so that you are back in line with your plan, or may even demonstrate that actually, the business plan needs amending to reflect a new direction the business is moving in.
Find a good template as this will help you cover off the necessary considerations.
I quite like http://www.bplans.co.uk but you may find you want a simpler or even more detailed one so have a good look around.
Barclays offers a simpler template on their site

http://www.barclays.co.uk/Startupsupport/Writingasmallbusinessplan/P1242559649359

3. Build you support network
A lot of people wait until they need something before they start looking for advisors. As a new start up, you could save yourself a lot of time and money in the long run by seeking out good advisors early on. You may not necessarily to their help straight away but it’s definitely good practise. A lot of smaller businesses can quite easily look after the bookkeeping and accounting themselves but it’s definitely worth having everything finalised by a professional. Above I mentioned deciding what legal status to take and often an introductory chat with a solicitor can support this decision. There are pros and cons to the different structures but it’s also worth getting some advice from an accountant, as there may be tax advantages to one more than the other due to your nature of business or turnover.
Friends and family can often be a great support, but make sure you gauge the level of support they can and are willing to provide from the absolute get-go. Personally, unless you are setting up a family business, try to keep this to a minimum.

4. Stay organised
Setting up a business can be very time-consuming and stressful but remember to keep a balance, especially if you have a family. Set realistic goals and allocate yourself time to work on them but also give yourself some down time. The last thing you want is to put every living hour into the business and then come to resent it.
Anya Hindmarch says “I have a phrase that was quoted to me which is “as you leave the office at night, fire yourself mentally and come back the next day as you successor”
In order to stay productive, know when to take a break and come back to it. (Especially when writing your business plan!)

5. Keep up to date with industry news and legislation
This is pretty self-explanatory but definitely worth doing. Find out if there are any reputable news feeds you can sign up to and keep up to date with relevant news via newspapers and websites. You may find you watch the news a lot more than before!

Finally, whilst starting a business is not without its challenges, it can be extremely rewarding. With the right mindset and discipline, you can make this work.

Good luck x

The Budget 2015 – Student Maintenance

So with today’s budget announcement, I thought I’d quickly put my own views and thoughts on the matter out there. There were so many points covered but not all are either applicable to me or interest me so I’ll just stick to a few. I’ll probably address one or two over a period of time as there’s lots to talk about.

Within my own circles, opinion is very much split and not surprisingly, this is because some parts affect some more than others. How do I feel about it? Generally, I’m quite unaffected but maybe after jotting my thoughts down this will change. We’ll see.

So to kick off I’ll start with the change to Student Maintenance. From September 2016 Student Maintenance Grants will be scrapped. From the Twitter uproar, I think a lot of people stopped listening at that point but what does this really mean, who will it affect and how?

I think it helps to understand what the grant is in the first instance. According to studentparents.org, it is a non-repayable grant to help cover the cost of living expenses and if you started after 2012, this can be up to £3387. The grant is means tested and so is really for students coming from a lower income household. This is in addition to the maintenance loan that does need to be repaid. Please bear in mind, that for every £1 of grant you get, the loan reduces by 50p meaning that students from lower income households have less of a student debt to pay back than their more well off counterparts.

Today, George Osborne announced that “…from 2016/17 academic year, we will replace maintenance grants with loans for new students, loans that only have to be paid back once they earn over £21,000 a year.” So that’s the what. In a nutshell, the free money the government gave to students from poorer backgrounds is no longer free and will need to be repaid. The good news is that the new loans available will be £8200, which is an increase of £766 compared to 2015/16.

I tweeted Student Finance England this afternoon as I’ll be starting my degree this September but wanted to clarify who these changes will affect. Luckily, they got back to me quite quickly so I can confirm that these changes affect NEW students from 2016/17 so current students will continue to receive the current system of ‘grant and loan’ for the remainder of their course. Whoopty do!

In all honesty, I’m relieved it doesn’t affect me but I really had nothing to worry about. Even if these changes did affect me, it’s so important to remember that all this change means is that the size of loan you have to repay is bigger than if you started in 2015/16 for example. The amount you repay, so far, remains unchanged at 9% of earnings above £21k from the April after graduation. All this means is that it will take longer to pay off the debt as there will be more of it but let’s face it, most people won’t pay back all of their loan anyway as it gets written off after 30 years. The real losers here are the high earners as they will pay a lot more of their loan in the long run.

So what’s my message? Chill! It’s not great news, but if you are starting your course when these changes take effect, repayment is not an issue until you start earning and is a percentage of that income. Go get your education and worry about the rest AFTER!

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