the tamago report

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Category: The Job-Hunting Series

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.


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.


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.


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.


More Tips for a Healthier CV: Wiggle and Format

by MDY

In our last post on healthy CVs, we talked about how to keep your CV trimmed down and personal for maximum sexiness-effect. Now, let’s get to some of my pet peeves when slicing and dicing your résumé:


Be humble, but state the facts. If you won the Nobel Peace Prize but you’re applying for a bank-teller position, I don’t care if you don’t think it doesn’t matter. You won the Nobel Peace Prize. Significant achievements (and you will know instinctively which ones they are) should be put on display no matter what. On the flip side, don’t oversell yourself. This includes everything from disguising your (menial minion-esque) duties with long words to making up achievements or even entire positions. I’m not going to believe you when you say you single-handedly drove sales up by 300%. I will believe you – and think better of you – if you say you closed around 10 sales opportunities per week, and around 15 by the time you finished.

Better to emphasise your inexperience as an opportunity for you to learn, than paint a picture of someone you’re not. And any good interviewer will tear you to shreds at the slightest hint of bovine manure. Like me and your CV.


Promoted synergies within intra-organisational project management workflows with significant flow-on to KPI achievements, which included: sales growth of 500%, internal cost reductions of $200k p/a, opening of Lunar Office (Dark Side of the Moon).

Not so bad:

Managed client-provider communications. Closed around 25 sales opportunities per week and cut costs by outsourcing more jobs to freelancers. Won the Nobel Peace Prize.


Just…just make it look nice, please? I don’t know why everyone formats their CVs as haphazardly-indented lists of bullet points, but it just looks bad okay? That’s a portrait which screams amateur and hurts my eyes, and I will cut it up mercilessly in revenge. Medium font size, clear headings, none of this “oh I justified my text and now I have a line with only two words on it and they look like they got blown apart by a fragmentation mine” sort of balderdash.

Personally, I use a two-column table in a Word document: one column for position name and date, the other listing very briefly the duties and achievements for each. Some people like to have a single list, but with different font sizes and weights to make sections patently clear. Some people use Powerpoints, slideshow PDFs, or even videos. Don’t care. Just make it easy for me to get a clear overview of your career thus far.

In brief: be concise, be awesome, be well-formatted.

However, following these and last post’s tips will only get you a healthy CV, not one whose fists break through the heavens and reach for the stars in physics-defying glory. Next week, we’ll look at three ways to make your CV stand out – for better or worse. Keep read/writing,


Tips for a Healthier CV: Get Trim and Sexy

by MDY

I actually love reviewing CVs. They help me learn more about the people I know, and more often than not I emerge from my editing-cave with a new degree for the person and their accomplishments. And blood on my fingers. Sometimes plasma. There’s a reason why I lock the cave.

That’s because most of these CVs also require immediate surgery. Superficial surgery usually, not the sort where you have to play jigsaw with the patient’s internal organs. But surgery nevertheless, and rather bloody surgery too. So to avoid having to send your little collection of achievements off to my operating theatre (or at least minimise the amount of slashing and burning sutures and cauterisation involved), I’ve put together some tips to help you…perform some DIY surgery?

Let’s think about what a CV needs to do. Most basic thing: give the reader a reasonable impression of who you are, at least from a professional standpoint. A healthy CV will also reflect well on your character and demonstrate to any potential employers that you can get the job done. I think of a CV as similar to a self-portrait, albeit one with a smarmy grin and tendency to scream “KEEP LOOKING AT ME BECAUSE I MIGHT DO SOMETHING AMAZING”. And a top hat. But yours might not have one. It’s a matter of taste, really.

Now the best way to give the reader an impression of who you are is to list everything you’ve done. Except that’s not an impression, it’s a diary. Which leads me to

IMPORTANT THING #1: Only include what matters.

Rule of thumb here is to include only things which

  1. Relate (preferably directly) to the job at hand, or
  2. Describe you as a unique human being.

Try to think strategically, not rigidly. Your experience as a bartender may seem to have nothing in common with applying for a sales role, for example – but many of the underlying skills in both jobs (being able to establish rapport with strangers, identify often-unclear customer requirements, clean up vomit) are very similar. Your CV should make it clear how each position listed is relevant to how you go about the job you’re applying for: instead of just describing what you did in the role, describe what skills you used and what you learnt. Instead of

Retail assistant: Manned counter. Cleaned up the shop. Got bitched at.


Front-line retail salesperson: Earned a reputation amongst customers for friendly and informative service . Managed store logistics before and after-hours. Learnt to handle complaints with tact.

The second example says what the first does, but in a more constructive way. It highlights your achievements in the role (being known for good service) while also suggesting you have good organisational skills and can take flak without crying. All useful attributes in any role. However, the first example’s brevity and dry humour could endear you at more new-age organisations. All depends on your target, right?

And please, please don’t list your myriad schooling and extra-curricular achievements unless they’re blatantly relevant. Nobody cares that you were Basketball Vice-Captain ’08 or Secretary of the French Society – except perhaps if you’re applying to the NBA or one of the grandes écoles. The only thing from your schooling days which you might want to include is your final grade, and only if it’s impressive. Asterisks need not apply.

IMPORTANT THING #2: Get personal

Inject a bit of yourself into your CV. Talk a bit (but not too much) about things like:

  1. Hobbies (eg sports, crotchet, saving the universe)
  2. Interests (history, pole dancers, quantum physics)
  3. Unusual facts about yourself (owns a vintage Aston Martin, has no eyebrows, writes a blog)

One of my friends puts in his CV that his interests include singing, squash and Haruki Murakami. Mine mentions that I used to be a national percussion champion and currently work as a part-time character assassin. Keep the focus on your professional competencies, of course – but don’t forget that employers want to know who you are as a person too. Preferably one whose personal attribute mesh well with their corporate culture. That’s why they stalk your Facebook.

To summarise: make yourself sound good, both as a worker and a person. Keep your CV trim – don’t let it get morbidly obese.

Stay tuned for more healthy CV tips on Friday! Keep read/writing,