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MOTW Staff Workshop – November 2021

Focus is on a desk plant, and in the background is a blurred shot of a laptop screen with multiple people on a video call

We recently hosted the last Staff Workshop of 2021, and what a workshop it was!  Delivered remotely via TEAMs and hosted by our Programme Manager Nicola Barraclough we welcomed two guest speakers – Helen Boyd from Smart Works Newcastle and Emma Wood from PurpleCV.

Our workshops are a chance for us as colleagues to network with other services and one another, it’s a great opportunity to learn more about what local providers can offer our participants, ask questions, and get a good understanding of the support on offer.  The first speaker was Helen from Smart Works.

Smart Works give women the confidence, the self-belief, and the practical tools they require to succeed at interview and start a new chapter in their lives.

We’ve referred participants to them before, however Helen was keen to come along to our November workshop as we’ve recently welcomed some new members of staff and their offer has changed slightly due to the pandemic – so it was a great opportunity to discuss all this with our existing members of staff too.

At the core of the Smart Works offer is a two-hour appointment, where a woman will receive a complete outfit of her choice which can be worn for their upcoming interview and kept afterwards too.  They’ll receive some dedicated one-to-one interview training which helps any woman who visits them to believe in their own ability, grow in confidence and succeed (they have an impressive 72% success rate!).  On top of this, they now offer job coaching which includes supporting women with their cover letters and CVs, helping to identify skills and conducting mock interviews.  This arose because of the pandemic as they wanted to help women find the direction they wanted to go in once job opportunities opened again.  By adding this element to their offer, they are now also able to support women if they don’t have an interview lined up.  Once a woman has been offered a job, they can return to Smart Works where they’ll be kitted out with a work wardrobe so their first paycheck doesn’t have to go towards clothing (they get to keep all the clothes they’re given and thanks to partnerships with brands such as M&S, John Lewis and Barbour, each woman can be confident in the quality and longevity of the clothes they’re being gifted).

Another new addition to the Smart Works offer is their Volunteer Cohort Days where women are welcomed into their offices in groups for the day.  They volunteer their time and support a range of tasks and activities, and in return they get lunch, drinks, and a one-to-one coaching session.  This experience is great for a CV, developing new skills and can be talked about at application or interview stage.

It was a brilliant and inspiring talk, where our Navigators were reminded of the different elements of Smart Works offer.  One of the other benefits of this fantastic service, that resonated with our Navigators, is their blended approach.  As a result of the pandemic, they began to offer virtual fittings and online coaching, and this element is staying.  This helps to open their service up to our participants who may not be able to travel into Newcastle and means any last-minute appointments can be scheduled and accommodated!  We’re looking forward to working with Smart Works more in the future and would like to thank them for spending the time to talk to us all.

The second speaker was Emma from PurpleCV, a professional CV writing agency.

PurpleCV believe that every CV should be as unique as the individual and support people to write CV’s that put them head and shoulders above the competition.

They’ve kindly agreed to talk to MOTW colleagues on a quarterly basis and cover a range of job search topics that our Navigators want to know more about.  This time the workshop focused on using Job Descriptions to tailor CV’s and Job Applications to the role being applied for.

Our Navigators have been supporting participants to find employment since 2017, and they’re exceptional at what they do.  Once a participant is ready, Navigators support them with all aspects of the job search process such as creating and using online job site accounts, writing applications, creating CVs, and writing personal statements.  This support is crucial for participants to move forward with their employment journey, so this workshop was organised to help Navigators understand the tricks of the trade and hear tips and techniques from a senior CV writer who has years of experience writing CVs for a range of different clients with varying levels of experience.  As part of the workshop Emma hosted an engaging and interesting Q&A session which gave Navigators the opportunity to chat through some specific examples, queries and challenges they face when undertaking these activities.

Emma’s tips for our participants were to:

  • Use the company background within an application as it shows you’ve done your homework and are interested in the company. Don’t just say you want to work there, say why by referencing a particular element of the company (such as their values, their reputation, their future plans etc.)
  • Address their ‘must-haves’ and provide evidence for the essential criteria listed by providing specific details of the task and the result of that action. This doesn’t need to be work specific, Emma encouraged us to chat to our participants about the skills they’ve developed as a result of their involvement in other areas such as volunteering, or an extra curriculum activity.  An application for a job doesn’t need to solely focus on work experience, and by opening up the applications to include personal experience it can help to encourage our participants to promote themselves as they’ll see the skills they have and won’t feel overwhelmed.  She reminded us that it’s not enough to just say “I have great people skills” but that participants should say why and give an example that backs this up.  Emma pointed out that if a participant doesn’t meet all the essential criteria of a role it shouldn’t put them off applying.  So long as they reach 80% they’ll be considered – this was a huge confidence boost to our Navigators who have often encouraged participants to apply for positions they wouldn’t have considered on their own.  We often talk about transferrable skills and Emma spoke passionately about the potential for anyone to apply for a job and to use these transferrable skills when addressing the essential criteria of a role – in particular for those who want to change careers which is a common theme for our participants.
  • Don’t forget about the ‘nice-to-haves’ and address these within an application too. They might not be essential, but they’re important enough for the organisation to mention.  Even elements such as ‘driving licence desirable, but not essential’ should be addressed – if you have a driving licence say you have one!
  • When looking through Job Descriptions and Adverts it’s all too easy to copy the essential criteria into an application and quote them word for word, however Emma recommended paraphrasing as it shows how you’ve thought about it and it looks better than copying and pasting. She did give a word of caution here though and reminded us to use the key words to ensure any computer sifting would pick our participants applications and short list them.  For example, an essential criteria may be ‘excellent communication skills’ so rather than just saying ‘I have excellent communication skills’ paraphrase it with the key word by saying something like ‘Communication played a key part in my previous role and as such I am confident in my abilities to communicate with people of all levels’
  • Tailor the content! A Navigator spoke about how she had helped her participant to create several CV’s as he was unsure what sector he wanted to work in.  Emma praised her and said that was the right thing to do – whilst it means more work, it means that the CV submitted is relevant to the field he’s applying for.  She did suggest going one step further and tailoring each CV before submission to the job role and making sure essential criteria is listed within there as these will differ from organisation to organisation.
  • Often participants come to us with gaps in their CV, and Emma gave our Navigators some great advice on how to address these gaps as it’s important to complete every relevant section within an application.  Whilst each individual case is different there are some things we can consider adding in – such as to mention the courses they have been on as a result of their involvement with us. After much discussion the general consensus between Emma and our Navigators was not to mention the MOTW programme; whilst working with us is nothing to be ashamed of, the worry is that being linked to an employability programme that only works with those with a mental or physical disability might lead to discrimination.  However, saying that a participant is part of an employability programme shows they’re keen to get a job, and the courses and workshops they’ve attended shows they’re working on their development.
  • If an application form asks our participants to explain any gaps in employment Emma’s advice was to only address any gap that was longer than 6 months. What to say is up to the individual, it’s important not to lie, but you don’t want to be the victim of unconscious bias.  Using the term ‘health issues’ could relate to a number of things and would be a reasonable explanation that could be expanded on further should the application be short listed.  Alternatively stating that ‘Gaps can be explained at interview’ would allow our participants to chat openly about why they have been out of work in a face-to-face setting but means they would need to be comfortable with doing so.
  • Personal Statements are often really difficult for our participants, however how do we make them as impactful as possible? Emma’s advice echoed what she’d already spoken about, in that they need to be tailored to the position our participant is applying for.  There isn’t a ‘quick fix’ for this, but to help she did say that depending on the role a personal statement could be as succinct as 4-5 lines.  The maximum it should ever be is one page of A4, however that isn’t always necessary.
  • When applying for a role, our participants don’t always have the experience, but they want to apply for the role in order to gain that experience. Whilst we can draw on their personal experience, extra curriculum activities or volunteering one of our Senior Navigators asked whether Emma would agree that being honest in an application by saying this is the sector they want to work in, this is what they want to do and they need to be given a first chance was the correct thing to do.  She agreed that it’s better to be upfront and honest but to enhance the application by listing all the skills the employer would be looking for that may not be listed on the Job Description – such as they enjoy working as part of a team, they’re punctual etc.
  • MOTW have no upper age limit, and support anyone over the age of 18. Some of our older participants have a substantial CV detailing their previous work history, however Emma recommended that when applying for a role you should only refer back to the last 10 years, or the last three roles.  Anything further back is deemed irrelevant and takes up valuable space (as no CV should be bigger than 2 pages of A4) However, if you are wanting to go back into a particular field and have experience of working here in the past that should always be included regardless of when it was.
  • Hobbies and Interests used to be a feature on any CV or application form, however often people see this section as now being irrelevant. Emma agreed, to a point, and suggested that you could still include elements of these but make them more professional.  For example, don’t say you enjoy socialising, instead say you’re a people person who can build effective and strong relationships.  Younger participants, or those with no working experience may want to include Hobbies and Interests to demonstrate their key skills and this is important to do, but Emma encouraged our Navigators to talk through these items, double check the wording and suggest alternatives as employers won’t want to read that someone enjoys walking on a weekend, however they would want to learn that someone is a member of a Community Group and co-ordinates or facilities events.

The session was brilliantly informative, and our Navigators came away feeling reassured that they’re doing the right things, but also with some handy tips, guidance and increased confidence to enhance their participants applications and CV’s even further and help them get the jobs they’re aiming for.

Emma received the most questions ever submitted in a workshop previously, and the hour flew by.  Following the session, she emailed to say:

Thank you so much for this morning, I really enjoyed the workshop and found the Q&A session really useful, I hope the rest of the team did as well.

We really did! And we’re looking forward to our next talk from PurpleCV scheduled for early 2022.

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