With increasing competition for good OH positions, CV presentation and
interview preparation can make the difference to those on both sides of the
recruitment process. By Kate Rouy
It seems many of us are still making fundamental errors when it comes to
putting ourselves forward for the interview. Susan Lamb, recruitment consultant
at OH Recruiters, outlines a number of points for success, both for interviewer
Speaking at the recent Occupational Health Nurse Managers Forum, she advises
job seekers to avoid "the dreaded CV of War and Peace", to watch
grammar and prose – "an immediate filter system" – and to keep
covering letters short.
"You need to make an impact with your covering letter," she says.
"A long covering letter is a complete disaster. A good covering letter
will be concise, but will speak volumes."
She also counsels recruiters against being too narrow-minded when it comes
to selecting potential staff. For example, those who have changed jobs many
times should not be rejected out of hand – the reasons may not be down to
problems with that individual. "You have to look at them quite
Those looking for a new role should also be aware of the job they might be
taking on and ensure it is within their capabilities, she says.
"We try to make sure that the person knows the realities of the
position they are applying for and to make sure that that is what they really
want. No one should be criticised for having aspirations, as long as they are
"Managers are looking for evidence of education, self-motivation, for
risk takers and those who act with confidence," she says. "But it is
also important that people realise their limitations."
So what are those in OH recruitment looking for in their ideal candidate?
Margaret Mercer, senior nursing adviser at Unilever, says communication
skills are most important for anyone wanting a successful career in
"People have to be able to talk convincingly, informatively, and to
motivate people to do things," she says. "That is key for anyone
working in a service profession.
"This is particularly the case when there are not any tangible measures
of what we do. Great long strings of qualifications do not do the job. A
candidate has to demonstrate that they get on well with people and they have
got to be customer-focused."
She is also surprised by the number of people coming for interview who do
not know anything about the company.
"Lots of people do not do any homework, " she says. "I expect
people when they come to ask to have a look around, to ask questions."
Sharon Horan, occupational health manager at Aon Occupational Health agrees
that prior research is important.
"A candidate who impresses is someone who has researched the job and
company prior to interview. Any employer is likely to be more impressed by a
candidate that has given some consideration to their application.
"OH is playing a much more important role in the commercial world and
there is a growing need for candidates who are commercially aware. If they can
demonstrate how they can add value to our existing service, so much the better.
The candidate stands a much better chance if they have thought about the
company in both a commercial context and in the context of current OH issues in
the UK and internationally."
Horan says it is also impressive to an employer if a candidate brings a
portfolio with them to interview.
"It not only provides a record of their work, but also indicates they
have reflected on their experience and learned from it," she says.
"This demonstrates self awareness about their own practice and abilities
and an understanding of their career progression."
She says candidates should also prepare a list of questions for sensible
discussion points, and should also try to relax.
"It is a two-way selection process and a chance to exchange ideas and
to sell yourself," she says.
Mercer agrees: "Candidates should remember that it is a two-way
process, not an exam that we are putting them through," she says.
"I find recruiting really rewarding and I have interviewed some really
good people," she adds.
"Verbal and written communication skills are important as well as
up-to-date clinical knowledge. But if you can’t market yourself, persuade
people and justify yourself convincingly, you might as well not be there."
"Things that stand out on a CV are evidence of networking and looking
at the bigger picture of OH, not just the job in mind," says Horan.
"For instance, are they a member of a professional body, a local OH group,
or have they given papers at a conference?
"The final piece of advice for people wishing to apply for a job in
occupational health is that a genuine interest and commitment to OH can be at
least as important as experience."
Susan Lamb agrees – urging recruiters to look at the bigger picture.
"My belief in picking winners is for us all not to be blinkered,"
she says. "If as managers and recruiters we keep those blinkers on, we
will miss the gems."
– Ensure your CV is well structured.
A CV that is hard to read may be rejected
– Check your spelling and grammar
– For each of the jobs you have done, make sure there are three or four
snappy bullet point phrases. These allow you to sell yourself by highlighting
your most important responsibilities and achievements. Include your most recent
post first and work backwards. Put down enough information to stimulate
interest but not so much to bore the recipient. Three pages is the maximum
– Don’t go overboard listing hobbies and interests. Avoid listing anything
– Keep the CV up to date. An out-of-date CV looks lazy and may exclude you
The covering letter
A good covering letter should
– Earn readership of the CV
– Be used to pick up points that space or modesty prevented you from putting
on your CV
Who are you?
Think about your skills, competences, qualifications and experiences
How are you perceived?
Talk to friendly colleagues about their view of you as a team member and
what they think your strengths and weaknesses are. Then ensure that these areas
are highlighted in your CV
What is your objective?
What job functions can and should you do. Make sure your goals are clearly
Who are your targets?
– Which consultancy is likely to
understand your needs? Recruitment consultancies have access to vacancies that
have not been advertised, will market your skills widely and give you accurate
advice on job-finding techniques and/or improving your CV
– Once you have been offered an interview, what do you need to know about
them? Products, size, location, style,
reputation and so on. Ask your consultancy to give you some information, or
phone the company and ask them to send you the annual report
– When you apply for the job, which letter and CV are you using? Do remember
what you put in each so you don’t sound too vague at the interview. All your
good points ought to be in writing already; saving them for interview may mean
First impressions count. Are you well groomed with tidy hair, shoes and
clothing. Practice a good positive handshake. Not to strong, not too weak. Ask your consultancy what the dress code is
Plan a reliable way of getting there which permits you to be a few minutes
Last few minutes
Re-check your paperwork and your script.
Be polite to support staff you meet, including those at the consultancy
– they may influence a decision in your favour
During the interview
– Try not to monopolise the meeting. Let the interviewer talk
– Find out about the key job specifications
– Ask how the job contributes to the success, efficiency and profitability
of the firm
– Try to show, without being contrived, that you have done some research
– Avoid too much self opinion. Don’t let nervousness put you off
– Never smoke and it is probably safer not to accept tea or coffee as it
gets in the way. If you are taking papers to the interview, put them in a
– Keep your replies simple. Offer positive information. Don’t give bad news
– Don’t criticise previous employers
– Make sure the employer knows the benefits of employing you
Get web-wise to get ahead in the job game
Anyone wanting to boost their employability should consider improving their
computer skills, especially their competency with the Internet. This is
according to recruiter Office Angels, which claims one in three companies
expect new staff to have Net know-how.
In its report, it found 83 per cent of companies surveyed believe the
Internet will become increasingly integrated onto the workplace. This report is
backed up by a recent study from the Association of Graduate Recruiters which
reveals the majority of blue-chip companies are now hiring staff on-line.
"Job seekers need to be web-wise to get the benefits on offer,"
says a spokesman. "Interactive web sites give candidates a clearer view of
the company and the job on offer, and they have the power to deselect
themselves if they don’t like what they see. On-line recruitment saves time and
And in an age of instant access, occupational health needs to follow these
examples and embrace computers and the Internet, many in the profession
"Computing expertise is one of the key requirements these days,"
says Margaret Mercer, senior nursing adviser at Unilever. "We don’t expect
anyone to be a computer ace, but anyone coming to work with us does need to be
able to use them."