Selling yourself in 500 characters

by MDY

Today’s post deals with a rather unsavoury topic: selection criteria questions. These are the leeches of the hiring process: draining, mindless, and best taken with a pinch of salt. Personally, I’d rather slap myself in the face than apply to work for people who use standardised questionnaire results as a litmus test of talent. Then again, we can’t always get what we want. Here are some tips for when you can’t avoid having your soul bled dry:

NUMBER ONE: Bullet points. Questionnaires are usually online. They have character limits. These limits hurt – particularly because they negate one of your best assets, which is your unique voice. But also because they often include spaces. So what do you do if the rules suck? Remove their adhesive and BREAK THEM.

So instead of:

Describe a role where you demonstrated leadership capabilities (250 chars)

When working as Chief Security Officer in the Special Taskforce Group of the 21st Ninja Battalion, I oversaw a large-scale interdiction operation against around 800 pirates, co-ordinating several heavy weapons strike teams to I have less than 25 characters remaining.

Try:

Describe a role where you demonstrated leadership capabilities (250 chars)

-Chief Security Officer, 21st Ninja Battalion’s STG

-Stopped 800 pirates with 2 heavy weapons teams and 1 grappling hook

-Cool under fire, kept teams organised, held morale strong

We won. (185 characters)

NUMBER TWO: Get factual. Obviously, these selection criteria questions aren’t aimed to test your creative flair outside of egregious ASCII art (which, sadly, usually gets formatted out of all recognition by the time it gets to the target of your job-seeker’s ire). They’re looking for “quantifiables”, by which they mean “things which sound impressive”. Fluff-words like “synergistic concatenation” or “exquisite sales extenuations” are not impressive. Put down the core facts which answer the question, and move on.

NUMBER THREE: Answer the question.

NUMBER FOUR: Be sneaky. Already attaching your CV to your questionnaire? Reference it in your answers (with page numbers!) Got online portfolio samples, testimonials, or a decent-looking LinkedIn profile? Add the URLs. The questions may have character limits, but the Internet doesn’t.

NUMBER FIVE: Be terse. Certain situations demand certain tones of voice. Terseness is often considered rude, but it’s very appropriate when addressing hostage-takers, telemarketers, and selection criteria questionnaires. Cut out unnecessary adjectives, personal pronouns, and verbs. Not only does it save your breath, it demonstrates to the other party that you mean business. Don’t kowtow to the (wo)Man. Give him/her a respectful kick in the balls.

Bad:

What do you believe your main strengths to be?

I like to think my key strengths are an ability to work well with others while also retaining strong leadership control in achieving deliverables targets. I try to be a “team player” in order to better imbue my colleagues with a sense of the important mission and values of the company, focusing on strategic-level goals while recognising the individual skills of my team.

Badass:

What do you believe your main strengths to be?

Unswerving loyalty from team. Never misses a deadline. History of terminating obstacles with extreme prejudice. “No negotiation” counter-terrorism policy.

NUMBER SIX: What is this question actually asking you? Selection criteria questionnaires are as blunt and direct as a face-to-face interview, but without giving you the chance to start a conversation or ask a question. So you have to get it “right” the first time. Unfortunately, there is no hard-and-fast rule to reading the mind of a glorified online survey. But you can at least make a decent guess. Here are three common questions:

Tell us about an important achievement in your career. Good chance to extend the definition of “important” beyond promotions and sales deals. How about the time the school bully made you sniff his underwear? Or when you had to rescue your dog from the garbage truck? The really important experiences are the ones which only you could have had.

What is your greatest flaw? They want honesty, not fob-off answers. So speak what you think to be the truth, but also say how you’ve aimed to address that flaw. Trying to hide your weaknesses is a sign of greater weakness in itself: people who cover up their mistakes inevitably cause businesses to die. So don’t say you “work too hard”. You monster.

If you were a fruit, what would you be? This is when you hit the big “X” button at the top of your browser and NEVER APPLY FOR THAT COMPANY AGAIN.

In brief: I really hate these things.

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