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Advent Calendar advice Applications competencies Interviews STAR

Careers Advent Calendar: Demonstrate your problem-solving skills

Employers want to know how you would tackle problems. Can you use logic and imagination to find solutions? Better still, can you anticipate problems and find ways to prevent them?

Good problem-solvers possess the following skills:

  • analytical skills
  • innovative and creative thinking
  • a lateral mindset
  • adaptability and flexibility
  • level-headedness
  • initiative
  • resilience (in order to reassess when your first idea doesn’t work)
  • teamworking (if problem solving is a team effort)
  • influencing skills (to get colleagues, clients and bosses to adopt your solutions).

How can you prove your problem-solving skills?

You might be asked in an interview to talk about a time you solved a problem, or you could be given a hypothetical situation and asked how you would respond to it e.g.

Give me an example of a time when you ran into a problem on a project. What did you do?

OR

How would you react if given negative feedback by a manager on an aspect of your performance?

In both these cases, you should refer to the above list of skills and how you demonstrated each when giving your answer. 

Developing your problem-solving techniques 

The following situations are all good examples of using problem-solving skills:

  • Sorting out a technical problem with your phone, device or computer.
  • Resolving a dispute with a tricky landlord in order to get your deposit back.
  • Carrying out DIY.
  • Serving a demanding customer or resolving a complaint.
  • Finding a way round a funding shortfall in order to pay for travel or a gap year.
  • Turning around the finances or increasing the membership of a struggling student society.
  • Organising a student society’s trip overseas, overcoming unforeseen difficulties on the way.
  • Acting as a course rep or as a mentor for other students.
  • Course assignments that involve problem solving

Articulating your skills

You will need to explain how you identified the problem, came up with a solution and implemented it. Follow the STAR technique outlined on our website. If you tackled a problem as part of a team, explain how your role was important in ensuring the positive solution, but also explain how your group worked together. This could be an opportunity to promote your teamworking skills as well – bonus!

For more advice on developing your problem-solving technique, visit the Target website

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Advent Calendar advice goals motivation self-motivation

Careers Advent Calendar: Three top tips for Self-Motivation

1.Only compete with yourself

Comparing yourself to others can leave you flat, when it comes to self-motivation, it’s much better to set your own benchmark. Set yourself daily or weekly targets that move you closer to where you want to be.

2. Back yourself

Imagine someone asked you to describe what was so great about your best friend. Now imagine they asked you the same question about yourself. Would you be as kind about yourself as you are about others? Whether it’s through daily affirmations or just by talking to yourself more kindly, positive self-talk can super charge your motivation.

3. Show the haters

There is nothing like the promise of proving the haters wrong to speed you along the path towards your goals. Next time you are lacking motivation, think about that person who said you couldn’t and aim to prove them wrong. 

For more top tips on interpersonal skills, visit the skills section of our site 

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Advent Calendar Leadership personal skills Skills

Careers Advent Calendar: 15 Skills That Make a Good Leader

  1. Honesty and integrity

2. Confidence

3. Inspire Others

4. Commitment and Passion

5. Good Communicator

6. Decision Making Capabilities

7. Accountability

8. Delegation and Empowerment

9. Creativity and Innovation

10. Empathy

11. Resilience

12. Emotional Intelligence

13. Humility

14. Transparency

15. Vision and Purpose

Read more about the 15 leadership skills here

Discover more about leadership on the skills section of our site. 

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Advent Calendar advice communication skills personal skills presentations

Careers Advent Calendar: 5 quick tips for effective presentations

  1. Prepare – think about the audience, what you want to achieve, and create a rough outline of what you need to include and what visual aids you will use. Presentations vary in formality so try to get a sense of what your tutor expects in advance. 

2. Organise – a presentation, like an essay, needs an introduction/overview, main body with clear sections and a conclusion to reinforce important points. A good presentation needs interesting content. Think about how much information you can adequately cover in the time that you have. 

3. Deliver – use notes, cues and prompts (rather than reading word-for-word from a page) and speak to the audience (not to your page!) Look around the room, make eye-contact with the audience, if you can, and speak slowly and clearly. Think about your posture and voice. 

4. Visual aids and handouts – spend some time working on a complementary and informative way to present your information and highlight the main points. This often includes PowerPoint’s: use a large font size, avoid more than six points on a slide and use colour, pictures or graphs to keep your slides interesting. If you are using handouts, avoid large lumps of text; keep these brief and informative too. Be sure to refer to specific slides or sections of the handout in your presentation. 

5. Deal with nerves – A presentation is a performance. To control your nerves, be well-prepared: keep practising and then practice some more! Make a one-to- one appointment to practice in front of a tutor or ask a friend to watch you practice. Make sure that the presentation runs to the right time. Use confident and friendly body language to convey that you are relaxed. Use a clear voice and speak loudly enough. Slow down – it is natural to speed up if you are feeling nervous but breathe and take pauses. 

Want more communication tips? Visit the skills section of our website. 

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Advent Calendar advice group projects group work Learning development personal skills Teamwork

Careers Advent Calendar: Succeed in Group Work – Despite Social Distancing

Tips for the first meeting 

✔️ Make a positive start: Smile, ask questions, offer suggestions, make notes, talk predominantly about your group project 

✔️ Introduce each other: Some people might not know each other 

✔️ Take time: Don’t rush into the first meeting, first impressions are important 

✔️ Identify the task: Make sure everyone understands the assignment and what is needed to successfully complete the group work i.e., read the assignment instructions together


✔️Agree on rules: Everyone should be clear on what to expect, how to contribute and what happens if he/she does not participate appropriately


✔️ Identify areas of expertise: Who is good in what? Look up Belbin’s Team Role Inventories to help you with that process 

✔️  Identify common practice: Who will be taking notes, who are you going to decide on things? 

✔️ Make a plan: In one of the earlier meetings agree on a schedule e.g., when is what finished by whom? 

✔️  Have a set agenda: Agree at the beginning of the meeting what issues need to be addressed 

✔️  Be organised: Leave the meeting knowing what each of the group members has to do 

✔️  Evaluate: Start off the meeting with a summary of what has been achieved so far 

✔️  Be democratic: Let all people have a say and be polite to each other 

✔️  Keep records: Keep clear records of meetings and attendance and make sure there is a record of who has done what 

Things to consider 

✔️ Before you submit or give the presentation make sure
you’ve met all the demands set out by your lecturer or school 

✔️ In case you are asked to work on a written assignment be aware that in should be a coherent piece of work i.e., allocate who will proofread, who edits the paper, how are you referencing, what kind of abbreviations etc. you will use 

✔️ Email communication can be a challenge. Be aware of
your tone of voice as written words can often sound harsher than intended 

Group work will be successful if you… 

✔️ Have clear objectives, agreed goals and allocated roles 
✔️ Reach agreements at most meetings
✔️ Complete tasks as agreed
✔️ Are all participating 
✔️ Are listening to each other
✔️ Generate an open and trusting atmosphere 
✔️ Allow opinions to be questioned
✔️ Respect each other
✔️ Use your time effectively
✔️ Have a systematic approach to discussion 
✔️ Regularly review the process
✔️ Share information
✔️ Can keep up a good communication 

Group work will go wrong if you… 

✔️  Are wasting time 

✔️  Are not taking the task serious 

✔️  Have no clearly articulated roles and tasks 

✔️  Have a weak leadership 

✔️  Lack planning 

✔️  Have no clear agendas 

✔️  Lack support 

✔️  Isolate certain group members 

✔️  Are going into too much procedural detail 

✔️  Shot down ideas of each other 

✔️  Lack innovation and communication 

Learn more about Teamwork and other vital personal attributes to develop at university

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Advent Calendar advice Employers Interviews personal skills Skills

Careers Advent Calendar: Personal Skills Audit

Personal skills

Organisation

Time keeping 

Time management

Planning 

Self-motivation

Work quickly/ accurately

Using initiative

Coping with stress 

Self-awareness

Working to deadlines 

Multi-tasking

Prioritising

Working under pressure 

Assess and evaluate my own and others work 

People skills

Team work

Customer service skills Leadership

Interpersonal skills Communication (oral and written)

Presenting/ Making speeches

Networking Negotiating

Handling Complaints

Management/Supervisory experience

Persuasiveness and influencing

Technical Skills

Collecting and analysing data

Foreign languages

Technical skills/ Knowledge specific to industry

Use sign language

Write reports 

Occupational area specific knowledge/ information

General skills

Problem solving

Decision making

Numeracy

Arrange events and activities 

Business/Commercial awareness

I.T.Skills

Identifying/evaluating options 

Editing/summarising information

Identifying problems (troubleshooting)

Qualities Sought By Employers

Enthusiastic/willing to learn 

Honest Reliable/dependable 

Resilient

Creativity

Can accept criticism 

Hardworking 

Conscientious 

Sensitive to others

 Assertive 

Friendly/likeable 

Outgoing 

Driven/ambitious 

Independent

Proactive

Cooperative

Trustworthy

Fair 

Patient/Calm 

Energetic 

Socially confident 

Optimistic 

Respectful

Polite

Original

Detail orientated

Adaptable/flexible

Able to take responsibility

REMEMBER – when saying you have certain skills you need to be prepared and be able to demonstrate HOW you have EFFECTIVELY used this skill

Some sources of examples:

Placements/internships

Part time Jobs/ holiday work Voluntary work

DegreePlus

Practical/Technical knowledge Project/ research work Student representation

Clubs and societies Enterprise programmes Courses and Seminars

Sports

Music

Drama

Travel Languages Charity Interests

Anything that involves teamwork or skill will be highly desirable

Find out more about how you can develop your personal skills on our website. 

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Advent Calendar advice Body Language interview interview tips

Careers Advent Calendar: Body Language

First impressions are crucial. From what you wear to what gestures you make, be assured, that people will take note. In fact, studies have found that non-verbal cues have over four times the impact on impression you make than anything you say. Here are some common non-verbal cues: 

Arched Eyebrows – When we raise our eyebrows it means we are contemplating what we’re listening to and that we’re mildly intrigued.

Direct Eye Contact – Means we’re interested, we’re listening, and that we’re focused on you

Feet Facing Forward – It shows that your focused on the other person.

Positive/ Open Body Language

Akimbo Arms – Planting your hands with your thumbs backward on your hips and elbows out in a ‘V’ shape displays dominance and authority.

Mirroring – Mirroring someone’s body language means they’re interested in you and trying to build rapport.

Negative/ Closed Body Language

Shaking Your Legs – Means you’re anxious, scared or impatient.

Lowered Head – Means you’re ashamed of something, shy or have something to hide.

Squinting – When people see what they don’t like, feel threatened, or are unhappy, they squint their eyes.

Blinking Too Much – Means we are nervous or anxious.

Arms Crossed – presents a barrier and suggests an image of defensive, reserved and uncomfortable.

Common Non-Verbal Mistakes Made During an Interview

26% Have a weak handshake

21% Close their arms over their chest

33% Fidget too much

21% Play with their hair or touch their face

67% Fail to make eye contact

38% Don’t Smile

33% Have bad posture

Quick stats of first impressions

First impressions are formed within 7 SECONDS of meeting someone

In a survey of 2000 managers, 33% claimed to know whether or not they would HIRE someone within 90 seconds

80% of information people remember is Oral & Visual

In a study, researchers identified 5000 DISTINCT HAND GESTURES in humans

55% of first impressions are formed by your dress, act and walk through the door

38% of a person’s first impression is determined by TONE OF VOICE and just 7% The words you choose to say

65% Of hiring managers say that clothes can be a deciding factor between two similar candidates

Don’t let your clothes talk for you. Choose something neutral avoiding distractingly bright or coloured heavily patterned clothing 

For more top interview prep tips, visit our website

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Advent Calendar advice Cover letter

Careers Advent Calendar: The Perfect Cover Letter

DO

1. Be succinct and to the point, your letter should be one side of an A4 page.

2. Use the same high quality paper used to print your CV.

3. Address your letter to a named person wherever possible for maximum impact.

4. Tailor your letter to the job advert and include the skills they are looking for.

5. Get someone else to proof read your letter, don’t rely on the computer spellcheck. 6. Use a professional formal letter layout and make full use of the space available. 7. Ensure you have the company name, address and details correct.

8. Read your letter out loud and delete any unnecessary or irrelevant

9. If posting on hard copy leave space at the bottom and sign your name in pen

10. Show your enthusiasm for the company and the vacancy

DON’T

1. Don’t repeat what is written in your CV.

2. Don’t spill over on to a second page – you’re writing too much.

3. Don’t share unnecessary personal details.

4. Don’t focus solely on your qualifications and forget about your experiences and transferable skills.

5. Don’t include any spelling or grammar mistakes.

6. Don’t address it ‘To whom it may concern’ – use a named person

or ‘Dear Sir/Madam’

7. Don’t send the same cover letter to every employer.

8. Don’t forget to include your correct and complete address, including postcode. 9. Don’t send a letter (or CV) with any marks or stains on it.

10. Don’t fold your documents, use an A4 envelope where possible.

For more cover letter tips, see our help sheet

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Advent Calendar advice Applications Graduate success

Careers Advent Calendar: Job Application Tips

  1. Give yourself time. Some employers expect that you will spend around 6-8 hours completing their application form – including the time taken to research the company/industry. It’s better to do a few good quality applications than lots of poor quality applications, so choose wisely which companies you want to apply to.

2. If completing a personal statement, make sure you address each of the criteria in the personnel specification/job advert. If you haven’t received selection criteria, research the company to identify what they are likely to be looking for.

3. Online forms may time-out so read the questions first, then draft your answers, then copy and paste into the form. This also means you can spell and grammar check your answers.

4. Keep a note of the answers you submitted.

5. Try to include many points, described concisely, rather than one or two points expanded at length.

6. You don’t need to use the full word count, but writing too little means that you’ve probably missed some key points.

7. Use the STAR format when answering questions about competencies: Situation, Task, Action, Result. Employers usually provide details on their website of the competencies they are recruiting against.

For more job application tips, visit Target Jobs

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Advent Calendar advice interview interview tips Interviews

Careers Advent Calendar: Interview Questions Decoded

Question 1

What they ask: Tell me about yourself

What they mean: Talk me through your CV and tell me how your experiences relate to this particular job.

They don’t mean: Tell me your life history, hobbies and interests and take 20 minutes to do so.

Question 2

What they ask: What do you know about the company?

What they mean: Are you up to date with what our company is currently doing, our main successes and where we plan to go in the future. Prove you want to work here.

They don’t mean: Please recite the first page of our website like everyone else and show you have done no original research.

Question 3

What they ask: What skills do you have for this job?

What they mean: Give me a summary of your top three skills and make sure you’ve taken them from the Essential Criteria. Prove you know the job.

They don’t mean: List me over 20 skills and make sure 90% will not relate directly to the job.

Question 4

What they ask: What is your main strength?

What they mean: Pick something from the Essential Criteria that you believe to be most relevant to the position and give me an example of how you have used it. Prove you can match your skill to the job.

They don’t mean: Tell me something totally unrelated to the job and don’t explain it. Or

tell me the heaviest weight you can lift in the gym.

Question 5

What they ask: What is your main weakness?

What they mean: Tell me about something work related you struggle with and how you have been taking steps to overcome this. Show me you are proactive and looking

to progress. Prove you have self-awareness

They don’t mean: Tell me something critical to the job that you can’t do or that you have no weaknesses. Or tell me about a health condition you have.

Question 6

What they ask: Can you give me an example of a time when….

What they mean: Talk me through a practical, relevant example that will show me you have experience in this area. Tell me the Situation and set the scene, explain the Task, detail Action and what YOU did then tell me the Result (STAR). Prove you can transfer your previous

experience to this job.

They don’t mean: Please spend 20 minutes rambling about a story and with as much excess and unnecessary information as possible so that I forget the question.

Question 7

What they ask: Why should we hire you?

What they mean: Give me a summary of your key skills and how they fit this position.

Prove your suitability and your passion

They don’t mean: Give me an arrogant answer that will negate anything good you have previously said.

Question 8

What they ask: Do you have any questions?

What they mean: Ask me something original and relevant that shows you are serious

about wanting to work here. Prove you can use your initiative.

They don’t mean: Tell me I answered them all in the interview without saying what you had planned to ask.

For more interview tips, please visit the Careers, Employability and Skills website.