I have had a break from working for five years while my children were little.

I would like to go back to work part-time now but feel that my skills are out-of-date. Do you have any suggestions?

Judith’s answer:

Many people lose some confidence after taking a break from work and it makes it difficult to present a positive image – on paper and at interview. One way to tackle this is to start with a bit of voluntary work – if you can find the time – as just a couple of hours a week will get you back into things and remind you of all the skills you actually have.  As far as the application form goes, you have a lot to offer from your time at home (and many things won’t have changed at all in five years!).  You will probably have developed excellent organisation skills, be calm in a crisis, have good time management, project planning, self-motivation, discipline, communication skills, budgeting and stamina.  All of these are skills and qualities which employers seek – no matter what the nature of the job.  So, it’s time to look at what you can do, not what you can’t.  Please get in touch if you would like some help.

For my next job interview I have to make a five-minute presentation. Will it be OK to use notes?

Yes, it will be OK to use notes (unless you have specifically been told you must present without them) but they must be discrete (not a thick pad of A4) and you should be so well-prepared  that you should only need to refer to them occasionally.  The best way to prepare is to practise your presentation over and over again until you know it really well and you have the timing right.  If you are using Powerpoint, then the slides can act as prompts but don’t rely on this.  Always be prepared to present without any aids just in case the equipment fails or isn’t available after all. The best notes are probably still those little index cards as they will fit into your pocket or bag and can be held in your hand.  I suggest you punch a hole in the corner and fix them together with a Treasury tag – sounds really old-fashioned – but it works. If you drop them they won’t go out of order and you can also flip them over as you go.  I can help you structure and practise your presentation – using video if required – and we can make sure ‘the words, the music and the dance’ (content, tone and body language) are all at their most effective!

I am a sole trader and have just become a member of a couple of business networks.

I go along to these on my own but I don’t really make the best of them. Everyone seems to know each other and I feel like a spare part. How can I join in – without feeling like I am butting in – and promote my business?

Judith’s answer:

These events can be very off-putting.  You have had the courage to set up your business on your own so you will be able to find the courage to network more successfully –it’s just a matter of deciding what to say to people and how to find a ‘way in’.   I can help you develop some introductory phrases to use which are neutral (business-wise), friendly and welcoming and we can gradually work on techniques to get you involved.  Then it’s back out there to practise them and back to me to help you refine and improve them – and back out there again…  We’ll have you networking effectively in no time!

I don’t think I want to see myself on video when I come for a practice interview – it’s going to make me feel worse – why do you suggest it?

Using the video is entirely optional – some people go for it and some just won’t entertain it!  It is up to you.  I suggest it for some circumstances because I think it will help.  Don’t forget, we are not just looking for faults and areas for development – we also look for the things you do well and this can really boost your confidence.  I often like to show people clips to convince them of how well they are doing – because sometimes they don’t believe me when I tell them – they want proof!

I am trying to get work for my business but my proposals are being rejected even though I know we could do the job really well? Have you any advice?

It is difficult without seeing the proposals myself but a common problem that occurs is that businessesdescribe themselves and their products (ie. they write about their features) rather than supplying  information about what they can offer to the prospective customer (ie. write about the benefits).  It may be that this is what is happening to you.  Please get in touch so that we can look at your proposals together and see how you could change them to get better results.

You offer practice interviews. How do you help me with technical questions and what are practice interviews like, generally?

Well, I obviously can’t be an expert in all subjects for university and college courses and all jobs – so I research the technical area and develop my own bank of questions.  This enables me to ask you technical questions and gives you practice thinking about how you would answer them, succinctly and with examples.  I can’t test the content of your answers (in other words whether you are technically right or wrong or have given a valid opinion), but I can feedback to you how you answer questions and the impression you are making.  You will also know yourself, from our dry-runs, whether you are as well-prepared as you should be and it will highlight areas to brush up on. I always encourage applicants to set up a separate practice with someone who is a subject specialist. More than anything, though, practice interviews are vital for developing confidence and managing nerves.  However ‘relaxed’ the interviewer tries to make it for you, you are still under the spotlight and are the centre of attention – and this can be uncomfortable. The idea is not to produce model answers but to help you become better at managing your situation, thinking on your feet and giving of your very best when you attend the real interview. The practice interviews I do are a great way to learn and also, believe it or not, good fun!    Why don’t you give one a try?

What do Admissions Tutors actually look for in a personal statement?

Generally, they are looking for applicants who are enthusiastic, motivated, passionate about their subject and keen to learn. Birmingham University has produced a very interesting and useful video with a number of Admissions Tutors for different subjects on it and they give a good insight into what they look for. (See the link on the right hand side of this page.)  There are common themes.  You will see from the video how much the content and style of the personal statement matters!

How long will it take me to write my UCAS personal statement?

Quite a long time if you want to do a really good job!  Before you even start to write you will need to have done some solid research and have established some clear aims.  For example, which course(s) you are interested in and which universities you would like to apply to.  You will also want to visit some universities. Once you have a purpose, you will find your personal statement easier to construct. UCAS has a very helpful question sheet which is excellent for preparing your thoughts prior to writing.  So, to answer your question, realistically, I would allow about  20-24 hours (excluding research) of your own time to get from a blank sheet to the finished statement – which will be about 6-8 drafts.   Don’t be put off by this – if you start drafting the statement early in the summer holidays after the Lower VIth/Year 12 – then you will be relaxed and have time to produce something outstanding and ready to discuss with school when you go back for the Autumn Term.  Working to this timetable is especially important if you are applying to Oxford or Cambridge or to do medicine, veterinary science, dentistry or law as the deadlines are much earlier.  I usually help people with their UCAS statements for between two and four hours.

What are the key points to consider when completing a job application?

Accuracy and completeness are critical. If there are gaps where information has not been provided – or gaps between jobs or education that aren’t explained – then the person recruiting will wonder why. If they are busy (and they probably will be), they may decide that they can’t be bothered to find out and so your application goes on the reject pile.

Selling yourself well is also very important.  Use the additional information section for this purpose, explaining what you bring to the role and why you are interested in the job.

I can help you produce your application from scratch or take the role of editor/proof reader, making comments and highlighting any errors in phrasing, grammar, punctuation, etc.

Six steps to liven up your CV and get you noticed.

Far too many CVs lack personality, verve and vitality.

These six steps will inject liveliness and enthusiasm into your CV and grab the attention of employers.
1. Layout: Clutter is claustrophobic. Make sure there is plenty of white space to allow your reader to ‘breathe’. Achieve this with clear headings, spacing between paragraphs and an open font (like this one). Bullet points are brilliant.
2. Lively words and phrases: use verbs and adverbs with movement and feeling. Say what you ‘enjoy’, ‘look forward to’, are ‘good at’, ‘find rewarding’, ‘have achieved’. This is a much livelier and more interesting way of writing about your work than merely stating what you do – such as ‘deal with’, ‘handle’, ‘administer’, ‘file’, ‘manage’.
3. KISS – the old adage Keep It Short and Simple: two pages is the maximum for a CV – one page is even better.
4. Use plain English: plain English is saying what you mean using short sentences, simple language and words with fewer syllables. It does not mean writing like a child but it does mean the reader can understand something the first time they read it. Your prospective employers will quickly read your CV on paper or on a screen – so make it easy for them. Use plain English and your CV will be crystal clear and concise.
5. Be relevant: we all have stories to tell – but your CV is not the place to tell them. Don’t give all the background – give the outcome or result. An employer is going to be interested in how you make a difference. If it’s a customer service job – write about how you improved customer service. If it’s a team leader’s job – write about how you increased the productivity and morale of your team.
6. Activities and Hobbies: we tend to use ‘safe’ outside interests – like reading, cinema, football – because we don’t want to be controversial. That’s sensible. You can, however, add detail to an interest that will catch someone’s eye and make them think of you as someone with a bit more about you. For example, ‘enjoy reading, particularly books on famous leaders’ or ‘enjoy running and am preparing for my first half marathon next month’ or ‘chair the school PTA and raised £5000 this year towards a new minibus’.


Follow these six steps and transform your CV! Good luck with your job hunting…