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Making yourself the perfect candidate for that dream role takes thought and effort, writes Tom O'Neil

Ever since Noah placed an advertisement for an animal hygiene consultant on the front door of his ark all those years ago, candidates have been trying to impress employers and convince them they are the right person for their organisation.

Sadly for many people, things don't always go to plan. Why can some candidates consistently perform well during the screening and interview process, while many others make the same mistakes and never seem to get anywhere?

I set out to ask what other career specialists, recruiters and employers were thinking when they looked for that perfect candidate.

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Best practice
Karen Shields, general manager of the Counties Manukau Kindergarten Association, likes candidates who are "well-prepared with documentation that is attractive, relevant to the position, succinct, and never has any mistakes or is incomplete. They exhibit a great first impression and all their information is positively supported by their referees."

Managing director of Farrow Jamieson, Iain McGibbon, agrees wholeheartedly. "It's vital the candidate has read the advertisement or position description and replied with relevant, succinct information." Content, not presentation, is key, as "pretty doesn't make it relevant or the candidate competent to do the job. You must outline clearly in your CV the jobs you have done and the results/impact you have achieved."

Kate Ross, director of Kinetic Recruitment, values "a clear and concise CV - well put together with thought and detail". As well as this, "top candidates ensure the job they are applying for is applicable and when we phone, you are 'on to it' and prepared to answer the questions we need to know".

Christopher Breen, general manager of business support services for Eastland Group, believes candidates must match their skill set with the position requirements as well as ideally "show an 'X factor' - something that we had not considered".

When things go wrong ...
While getting things right is important, what are some of the things candidates do to instantly get themselves in hot water?

James Cozens, managing director of IT and accounting recruiter Attwood Cozens, struggles with candidates who send a generic CV with no cover letter.

"A recent advertisement of mine had 93 responses and only 15 had a covering letter, of which five were generic. Guess which ones I looked at first!" Inappropriately using technology can also cloud a potential employee's suitability for Cozens.

"Using text in a covering email such as 'c u have a job 4 me', or having an email address that is clearly inappropriate (a chartered accountant whose email address was mistressdomntricks@ ... ) does nothing to highlight their professionalism to me."

A CV that does not reflect the candidate and CVs written in the third person are a big no-no for McGibbon.

"Lack of attention to detail, spelling mistakes and cover letter addressed to a different company and/or person" do not bode well either.

You've got an interview!
Hurrah! You have made it through the first cull of your CV and cover letter and have been invited for an interview. What can you do now to make sure you stand out above the rest?

"Arrive on time (not too early) and never late," says Shields. "You want to create a good first impression by being tidily dressed and exhibiting a friendly manner with a big smile."

She also adds that you must "be prepared! Top candidates research the organisation, answer questions enthusiastically and are able to clearly articulate why they think they are the best person for this position."

Cozens also adds: "Ask some good questions - not 'how long do I get for lunch?'. In my personal experience, a candidate with no good questions to ask the employer is really saying, 'I don't care about the opportunity - I only want the money!'."

Ross is turned off by candidates who make it to the interview stage but are "rude to our receptionist, yet pleasant to the consultant".

I once heard of a large company which made the receptionist part of the formal recruiting process.

As the roles available were for cabin crew, the company wanted to get a "true" understanding of what the person was like when they felt the eyes of the employer were not on them. For many candidates this unexpected recruitment hurdle was the difference between a career in the skies and ongoing unemployment.

McGibbon has a warning for those tempted to "gloss over" problems or inflate their experience in their CV and interview. "If we detect a lie or the fact that you aren't telling us something we should know, that creates suspicion about the legitimacy of other facts. Own up early and fully to gaps in your career and any errors."

Present yourself well and be confident - not cocky!
While you cannot "judge a book by its cover", British newspaper the Telegraph cites studies that indicate many people making recruitment decisions will make up their mind in the first five minutes of the interview. A high standard of personal presentation is therefore key to almost all interviews.

Also important is demonstrating a healthy level of confidence, not feigned humility or arrogance.

After the interview
Dick Bolles, author of the world's best-selling career guide, What Colour Is Your Parachute, says: "Thank-you notes must be sent after every interview, by every job hunter ... This is the most overlooked step in the entire job-hunting process." Cozens agrees, saying: "A candidate who calls or emails you after you have interviewed them to thank you for your time really stands out for me."

Don't forget to debrief yourself as well. Think about the things you have done well and reflect on where you can improve. This will only help as you go into your next interview.

Sell yourself
Remember you are there to sell yourself professionally to the employer, whether you are a customer services consultant, plumber or chief executive. Do your research, present yourself well and respond directly to what the employer or recruiter is seeking.

If you keep these principles at the forefront of your job hunt, you can't help but make a great impression and take that next step towards your dream job.

Tom O'Neil is a leading international author, career specialist and MD of cv.co.nz. You can email him at tom@cv.co.nz