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Create SEO Website Content That Clients Will Love

website contentReading Time: 5 minutes

 

This page contains affiliate links which means I may earn a commission if you use them.  I only recommend tools and products that I use and trust.

Website content creation is about more than quirky straplines and pretty pictures.

If you’re an online copywriter or  content writer, you’ll know that web content poses two main challenges:

  1. Making it SEO-friendly…
  2. …without compromising on client requirements

To overcome these, I developed a 5-step process:

Freelance writer for hire website content

Let me explain how it works.

Pro Tip  If you are a beginner freelance writer, I’d recommend this book.  It is better than any copywriting course I have taken.  And is the only resource I use repeatedly to help me complete writing jobs.  

Step 1:  Form A Detailed Brief

Before you think a thought or write a word, you need to form a detailed brief.  This will help you get under the skin of your client’s business and project requirements.

Whether I am creating website content or blog posts, here is the template I use (click to enlarge):

It’s long, I know.

But it is the only way (I have found), to effectively:

  • perform accurate keyword research
  • create content that blends with the brand
  • choose language that resonates with the target audience

It also makes writing easier since the brief alone generates so many ideas.

Step 2:  Business & Competitor Research

So, you’ve had a discussion with your client and formed a meaty brief.

Now it’s time to earn your money.

Business Research

Look through your client’s website.  Make notes about what impression you get as a potential customer, and what questions you have.  This informs you about what content would be valuable to their target audience.  If say, you have been given a title for a blog post, this research will enable you to write in your client’s ‘voice’.

Competitor Research

Although your client has shared competitor information, you need to do some research on your own.

When a business carries out competitor research, they are interested in what they do and how they do it.  Although this is useful, how will you help your client leverage themselves above competition if you haven’t analysed their competitor’s content?

How do I carry out competitor research for website content?

Put your content writer hat on and perform a Google search.

Let’s say your client makes bespoke birthday cakes.  The first thing to do is put yourself in the shoes of a consumer.  What words would you type in?  Here’s what I see when I type birthday cake maker near me:

website content

Circled, is the competitor you want to start with.

You need to analyse:

  • Meta description – see the description underneath the title?  That’s the meta description.  It includes most of the keywords that I used in my search.  Looking at this gives you ideas for the meta description to attach to the website content you’ll create for your client.  If they have already given you a focus keyword to include, this should be embedded into the meta description and title.
  • The online content – what kind of language have they used that has helped them get to the first page of Google search results?  Remember, content is king.  That means that your focus shouldn’t be on stuffing keywords into it.  It should be about creating detailed, unique and purpose-driven content.  Anything less than say, 1000 words, is considered as being ‘thin content‘ by Google.
  • Types of content – people like varied content.  So, that’s what search engines like too.  You should be looking at ways to structure your content so that it is easy to scan.  Things like subheaders and bulleted lists help.  You should also advise your client of other forms of media to include e.g. images, videos etc.

Step 3:  Keyword & Topic Trend Analysis (optional)

I’ve included this as an optional step because your client may not have the budget to pay you for this service or, may have already carried out keyword research.

Without it though, you might create content that your client loves, but will their target audience love it too?

Keyword Research

The process of carrying out in-depth keyword research is vast.  I don’t want to focus on that today, but this guide should help.

If your client wants you to, at this stage, you should research which keywords:

  • their target audience is likely to use
  • have high CTR (the measure that shows you how likely it is likely to result in organic traffic)
  • are not too competitive

When creating online content, try to include the keyword two to three times.  Google is clever enough to pick up on related keywords, so as long as the content is high-quality and focused on the topic at hand, it will perform well.

Topic Trend Analysis

You might be proud of the clever headline you have come up with.  But if your client’s target audience isn’t attracted to it, it’s useless.

That’s why carrying out topic trend analysis is so handy.

Buzzsumo is a great online tool to use for this.  It shows you a breakdown of web pages and blog posts that are trending for the keywords you enter.

Step 4:  Show The Client A Snippet Of Your Work

If you’ve done the background work, you should finally be ready to start writing!

The activities carried out in steps 1 – 3 should give you confidence in getting the content right – both for your client and for SEO purposes.  But, you don’t want to spend hours on it only to find that your client wants something different, do you?

To avoid this I start by writing a couple of snippets of content from different angles.  I send these to my client and ask for feedback.  This feedback strengthens the foundation you have already built for the content.

Step 5:  Use The Feedback & Brief To Create Content

You now have enough information to confidently write the rest of the content.

Go forth and prosper!

Pro tip:  Content should answer a question or solve a problem.  People rarely read information for the sake of it.  It is usually driven by a desire to want to know something.

In the previous example, I wanted to know who the cake makers were near me.  There were two parts to this – cake makers, and near me.  Both of these questions needed to be answered.

Make sure that you keep the purpose in mind when creating the content.

Have you got any tips to add?  Have you tried this?  What did you think?

Don’t forget to comment below so that other people can benefit from your experiences!

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Copywriter or Content Writer – Who Should I Hire?

copywriter or content writerReading Time: 9 minutes

 

This page contains affiliate links which means I may earn a commission if you use them.  I only recommend tools and products that I use and trust.

If you want more sales you need the right writer.  But how do you know whether you need a copywriter or content writer?

This guide will help you to:

  • Understand the differences between a copywriter and content writer
  • Identify the best fit for your content marketing strategy
  • Judge who you need to hire according to where you are in your marketing funnel

Contents

  1. What is a content writer?
  2. Why long-form content help businesses grow
  3. What is a copywriter?
  4. Types of copywriters
  5. What content writers and copywriters have in common
  6. How your marketing funnel will help you decide who you need
  7. The verdict

1.  What is a content writer?

Alan Smith gets it. “Content writing means creating content that markets well.”

A content writer aims to influence, educate and engage an audience.  Their purpose is to create content that will attract potential customers and keep existing customers interested.

Content marketing is not about making a sale.  In fact, it is not unusual for content writers to produce pieces without even mentioning the brand name.

Content writers specialise in writing in-line with your content marketing strategy.  Some of the ways they achieve this is by:

  • Creating SEO-friendly content
  • Structuring content so that it is easy to scan and read
  • Telling your brand story

Their work can be in the form of blog posts, articles, website content, eBooks, social media posts, press releases etc.

Unlike copywriters, content writers typically create ‘long-form‘ content.  There is no strict word count that defines ‘long-form’.  But typically it is high-quality and detailed.

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2.  Why long-form content help businesses grow

If you ask a consumer whether they would prefer to read a 200 or 2,000 worded blog post, they would probably choose the former.  But  longer pieces have been proven to:

  • Get more hits
  • Encourage readers to stay on a page for longer

Also, long-form content help websites climb the search engine ranking ladder.  This is because search engines like Google, recognise that longer pieces demonstrate more topic-depth.  In the eyes of a search engine, this makes long-form content more useful to visitors than shorter content.   As you can see in the graph below from serpIQ, top-ranked content is well over 2,000 words.

content writer

Long-form content, however, is not the same as great content.

Regardless of the benefits of long-form content, quality should still trump word count.

It should:

  • Be related to visitors’ intent e.g. answering a question, guiding them through a process etc.
  • Provide an easy and enjoyable user experience e.g. links should be provided for them to quickly get to the right content

So although content that is over 2,000 words have been proven to perform well, it is because they contain useful, targeted and high-quality material.  Their excellent performance is not solely due to a high word count.  In fact, Moz shares some interesting examples of effective short-form content.

What is the moral of the story?  That content is king.

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3.  What is a copywriter?

“A copywriter is a salesperson behind a typewriter.”  I couldn’t have said it better than Judith Charles, President of Judith K. Charles Creative Communication.  I took this quote from Robert W. Bly’s famous book ‘The Copywriter’s Handbook’.

 

copywriter

Think of an advertisement you have seen recently.

Now, ask yourself why that one, in particular, sprung to mind.  Was it because it was funny?  Perhaps it was so bad, that it was good.  Maybe it had an annoying jingle that you couldn’t shake.

Regardless, the most important question to ask is – did it make you want to buy the product or service?  If the answer is ‘no’ then it doesn’t matter how entertaining or clever it was.  It didn’t do its job.  Copy that sells includes elements like compelling headlines, straplines and calls-to-action.

Most copywriters are the people behind advertising – their purpose is to sell.  Like content writers, copywriters want to attract the attention of a target audience.  But the key difference is that:

Copywriters aim to encourage the audience to take action whereas content writers aim to generate interest.

Since you are not always guaranteed to sell, copywriting should not be prioritised at the cost of content writing.

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4.  Types Of Copywriters

Although copywriting is commonly associated with advertising, this isn’t a copywriter’s only purpose.  Copywriters tend to specialise in particular areas – it is rare to find one person who can do it all.

Here is a breakdown of some of the most common types of copywriters.

Marketing Copywriters

These guys are storytellers.  Great storytellers.

Good marketing copywriters will know how to get the attention of your customer.  Excellent ones will take them on a journey.  And exceptional ones will make the journey end with your customer feeling like they need what you are offering.

Marketing copywriters connect your target audience to your brand.  They understand how to use emotive language and concepts to make your audience react.

Their portfolios should include things like direct marketing campaigns (e.g. email or direct mail), video scripting and product literature.

Look at this great example from UrbanDaddy:

marketing copywriting

This an email that they sent customers.  It gets to the point, is fun (which was the subject line) and is easy to scan.  They know their customers and although the copy is about rubber band guns, you want to read it!

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SEO Writers

An SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) writer will create content that will help your website rank high in search engine results.

They understand how to perform keyword research, can select the best keywords, and know how to embed them into the natural flow of digital content.  Aside from this, they understand how search engines ‘crawl’ through websites.  So, a good SEO writer will also structure content in a way that works.

Don’t confuse an SEO copywriter with an SEO expert.  A strong SEO game is enabled by a network of professionals, not just a copywriter.  But if you have an SEO strategy, an SEO copywriter will certainly help you rank higher in search engine results.  More importantly, they will also help you maintain your position.

Their portfolios should include things like post and website copy.  Even better if their own website ranks high on search engine result pages.

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Creative Copywriters

Creative copywriters craft zippy one-liners and memorable concepts for advertisements.

They are all about the brand.  And they know how to connect the brand to the target audience with the aim of converting them to customers.

Their portfolios should include things like advertising campaigns, headlines and straplines.

Here are some examples of great creative copy (click on images to enlarge).

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Technical Authors

Unlike other types of copywriters, technical copywriters’ work is underpinned by specialist knowledge and research.  They are a unique blend of being technical specialists and writers.  So if it’s a technical writer you are after, don’t forget to look through their credentials.

You’ll find them creating content pieces like manuals since they are experts in explaining complex details in a clear language that an end-user will understand.

Their portfolios should include things like user manuals, whitepapers and knowledge base articles.

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5.  What content writers and copywriters have in common

The main thing that separates content writers and copywriters, is the purpose of their content.   Content writers may still produce material that aims to sell but unlike most copywriters, selling is not their primary aim.

Earlier, I said that “copywriting should not be prioritised at the cost of content writing.”  This is because usually, one does not work without the other.  They are both important components of digital marketing.

Here are some examples of combined copywriting and content writing at its best:

Click images to enlarge.

These examples show how copywriting and content writing complement one another.  They feature headlines that make you want to read on.  And then the high-quality content kicks in.

Because copywriting and content writing go hand in hand, both types of writers have certain things in common.

Here are some of them.

They appreciate how one word can be a game-changer.

CopywriterIn 2013, Michael Aagaard, Copywriter, shared the results of several experiments for his “How to Optimize and Test:  Calls-to-Action for Maximum Conversions” presentation.

From one of his experiments, he discovered that changing “Start your free trial” to “Start my free trial” resulted in a 90% rise in sign-ups.

Content writers and copywriters hone in on the microcopy.

They write for specific target audiences

Whether the aim is to sell or attract attention, any copywriter or content writer worth their salt will ask you the ‘target audience’ question.

They should want to know as much as possible about the potential customers you want to reach out to.  And if they are really good, they’ll do some independent research too.

Once they are confident that they can create accurate buyer personas, their understanding will steer the content, style and tone.

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6.  How your marketing funnel will help you decide who you need

If you have read this far then you will understand the similarities and differences between content writers and copywriters.  You’ll also be aware of the different types of copywriters.  But, you may not be entirely clear on who to hire.  Especially since the broad conclusion is that both types of writers are important for business marketing.

Realistically, you will need different types of writers during the phases of your marketing journey.

Moz shares a useful illustration of a marketing funnel:

marketing content writer

Let’s go through the phases and identify what type of professional copywriter or content writer is best suited to each.

Discovery

Aim: To increase brand visibility so that potential customers discover you

Tone of Content: Educational, informative, influential

Examples of Content: Advertorials, blog posts, newsletters

Ideal Writer: A content writer with copywriting skills

At this stage, you will be trying to generate interest and establish trust so you need long-form content.  A hard sell will be off-putting especially for people who are unfamiliar with your brand.  However, regardless of how good the content is, nobody will read it without a magnetic headline.  That is why your content writer should have good copywriting skills.

Consideration

Aim: To convince the audience to become customers

Tone of Content: Solutions-based, factual, interactive

Examples of Content: Demonstration videos, how-to guides, case studies

Ideal Writer: A content writer with copywriting skills

The ‘consideration’ stage of the marketing funnel is all about demonstrating your product or service’s features and benefits.  This is because a potential customer can only become an actual customer once they are convinced that you can solve their problem.  So a content writer is your best bet.  Again, copywriting skills will help attract attention but the high-quality content will retain it.

Conversion

Aim: To make sales

Tone of Content: Evidence-based, clear, concise

Examples of Content: Testimonials, reviews, transparent sales process, product descriptions, advertisements

Ideal Writer: A copywriter with content writing skills

This is the narrowest part of your funnel and is the phase where you need to make a direct pitch to customers.  If your customer is still hanging around then you know that they’re interested.  Now it’s time to convince them to purchase.

That is why a copywriter is useful here.  You need memorable content that is persuasive.  But, you cannot forget the importance of content too.  For instance, a great product name without a useful description will fall flat on its face.

Retention

Aim: To keep existing customers, as customers

Tone of Content: Benefits based, supportive

Examples of Content: Customer support, special offers, email outreach, upgrade options

Ideal Writer: A content writer with copywriting skills

This phase is particularly important for businesses that rely on a subscription model.  But even if your business isn’t based on continued subscriptions, you will still benefit from repeat custom.

Once you have convinced someone to buy your product, you want two further things from them.  Firstly, your customer should not regret their purchase.  That is why customer service and support documentation is so important.  After all, their testimonials and reviews will help you during the ‘conversion’ phase.  Secondly, you want them to keep purchasing.  Things like email newsletters to keep them updated about the latest products and special offers are effective.

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Want to know about creating a marketing funnel?  Watch Neil Patel’s video below.

7.  The Verdict

The answer isn’t a one (or two) worded one.

This is because copywriting and content writing are like two sides of the same coin.

For example, a copywriter may have written an advert that encourages you to order a product on a company’s website.  But when you go to the website, are you likely to order the product if the content is poor?  I realise that this isn’t the only influencing factor but, it is an important one.

In an ideal world, every copywriter will have content writing skills and vice versa.  But this is not the reality.

The thing to remember is that, while all copywriters write content, not all content writers write copy.  But if a copywriter lacks content writing skills, it is like a book with a cover but no pages.

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Office space vs working at home – Which is more productive?

Reading Time: 2 minutes

When running your own business, one of the decisions you need to make is where you will work.  Many prefer working from home, whilst other prefer to rent office space.  Either way, your business needs should drive your decision.  Here are some of the things you should consider whilst making your decision.

 

Space

Working from the comfort of your own home can offer flexibility which renting office space may not offer in such abundance but, in order to be productive, it is important that you have enough and, the right amount, of space to work in.  Things like background noise or even the environment at home may be distracting in which case renting an office space may be more suitable for you.

In addition to the space you need to work in, you may also need storage space in which case considering renting this may be more effective than trying to find space at home and/or spreading resources over multiple locations.

 

Workforce

If you work as part of a team or manage a team, you should decide whether it is most effective for you to do this remotely or face to face – or even a combination of both.  If you think that face to face arrangements may be needed then working from home as opposed to renting work space may not service these needs in which case you should consider renting office space, even if you do not utilise it  on a full-time basis.

 

Meetings

Does your business require formal meetings?  You can of course rent meeting rooms on an ad-hoc basis if meetings are few and far between, which works well if you are working from home.  But if this is a more frequent requirement and /or you want to offer clients a branded environment, renting meeting rooms on a longer term basis may be an option to consider.

 

Do you have all you need?

Things like internet and telephone access are usually essentials for any business and although this may not be a problem when working from home, it may become one if say, you have to provide this for your staff.  In such cases, renting an office space may be a better option for you.

 

Work-life balance

Although working from home is a luxury that many people enjoy, it can be hard keeping work life completely separate from home life.  Some people are disciplined enough to do this well.  If however this is a struggle for you, renting office space is a good solution for this – it is nice to end the work day and go home to an environment which is not associated with work.

 

If renting office space, meeting rooms or storage facilities is something you feel would be useful for your business Send Business Center is one to take a look at.  They offer reasonable prices and flexible options which makes finding a solution that specifically meets your business needs easy and cost-effective.

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Learn From The Best: J. K. Rowling’s Top 10 Writing Tips

Reading Time: 4 minutes

 

Who is better to advise us on the top tips for writing a book than J. K. Rowling?

J.K. Rowling has a story to tell.  No, I’m not talking about Harry Potter et. al.  I’m talking about her – J.K. Rowling.

She epitomises a modern-day version of the classic rags to riches story.  Her philanthropic efforts and ability to slay Trump on Twitter means we just have to love her.

This talented writer is known for being private.  Her interviews are rare.  But on those rare occasions, she sprinkles fairy dust on anyone struggling to feel motivated to write.

Here are her top 10 writing tips for writing a book.  Not straight from her mouth, the ones I like the best from interviews and articles I have read about her.

#1  Fail to plan, plan to fail

One most commonly preached top writing tips is to plan well. Some people like storyboarding, others don’t.  But one thing is true of all writers – they are rarely successful at writing a good story in one sitting.

‘Harry Potter’ was born in 1990,  Manchester, on a delayed train journey to London.  Rowling proceeded to spend the next five years outlining the plots for the other stories in the series before even writing her first novel.

#2  “Kill all  the adverbs!”

Ok, so this is technically a Mark Twain tip which has been famously backed by Hemmingway.  But, when searching for good tips for writing a book, scattering adverbs sparsely is one that Rowling agrees with.

When interviewed on the Charlie Rose show, she commented on how she wished she could rehash her earlier Potter novels and remove all the adverbs.

#3 “Sometimes you have to get your writing done in spare moments here and there.” J.K. Rowling

As writing is a creative sport, writers often feel like they can and should only write when they feel inspired.  Rowling unguardedly disagrees and claims a work ethos that she drops into her top writing tips – treat writing like work.

Most aspiring authors are desperately trying to write themselves out of a 9 to 5 and if nothing else, can feel reassured to know that J.K. Rowling used to write through the night.  Since having a family she waits for the house to be empty but still puts in a solid eight hours daily into writing.  If you want your writing to pay out, treat it like a job.

#4  You are allowed to have more than one on the go

Many of us writers are guilty of this – pursuing more than one novel idea at a time and feeling guilty for doing so because none of them are getting finished.  To our reassurance, listed in the J.K. Rowling tips on writing is her admission that she often does the same.  She admits that novels get completed faster if you focus on just one but, it is not an unrealistic prospect to be working on multiple projects.

#5  She re-wrote her first chapter fifteen times…

No matter how well you have planned your novel, one of the top writing tips that J.K. Rowling imparts is that re-writing is essential.  She herself reworked her first chapter fifteen times until it was perfect.

#6  Keep your readers on the edge of a cliff

Out of all the good tips for writing a book, this is the one that Rowling had to learn the hard way.

I flinch at the thought of it.

After J.K. Rowling had written her first of the ‘Harry Potter’ series, she realised that she had given away her entire plot – for all seven books!  She had to re-write it in order to keep the readers wanting more.  How?  Well, that leads me to the next of the J.K. Rowling tips on writing.

#7  Write strategically

If you follow the first of these top writing tips you will be in a position to think strategically.  In order to avoid the above-mentioned mistake Rowling made, you should ensure that you do not give too much away.  This sounds obvious but, is, in fact, an easy thing to trip up on.  This is because you know what is going to happen so can struggle to see it through the eyes of the unknowing reader.

#8  “What you write becomes who you are” J.K. Rowling

“… so make sure you love what you write!”

Any successful writer will tell you that they did not wake up one day and say to themselves “Today I have decided to become a writer”, they simply are one.  If you want to write, just do it.

If your aim is to publish, one of the good tips for writing a book is to bear in mind that not everything is publishable.  But, it is important to write from your heart.  One of the most alluring things about the ‘Harry Potter’ series is its passion – the only thing that could possibly drive such a concept that has been so intricately designed.

#9  Create good characters

In a QA session hosted by Stephen Fry, at the Albert Hall, adult audience members asked questions about the Harry Potter characters – as though they were real!

One member asked “Professor Snape has always wanted to be Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. In book five he doesn’t get the job. Why doesn’t Professor Dumbledore let him be the DADA teacher?”

Create a world – it doesn’t have to be a fantasy based one – but one that your readers will be drawn to.  After all, most readers read for escapism – make people want to escape into your world and hang out with your characters.

#10  Be patient

J.K. Rowling openly talks of her struggles to get published – it certainly wasn’t easy for her.  Given that it took around a decade from ‘Harry Potter’s’ inception to being published, being patient is a crucial trait.

It is true that if you have been rejected by every publishing house in the world, it may be time to accept defeat but, equally, consider this.

 

J.K. Rowling – An Inspiration

An unknown Joanne Rowling, an unemployed woman living on state benefits became J.K. Rowling, billionaire author within 5 years.  ‘Harry Potter’ was rejected by numerous publishers for a year.  She waited patiently and it paid off.

Want to feel even more inspired?  Listen to J. K. Rowling’s Harvard Commencement Speech.

 

See more in the Learn From The Best blog series:

How E.L. James Made Millions From Her Midlife Crisis

Dan Brown’s Writing Tips For Page Turners

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The Importance of Setting in Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Great Expectations EssayReading Time: 2 minutes
The setting in Great Expectations is undeniably crucial to the novel.  Dickens uses setting to portray themes, reflect character personalities, situations and feelings. The settings that Dickens describes are not accidental.
Great Expectations tells the story through the eyes of the young working class orphan, Pip, who is raised by his sister and her husband.  It documents his journey from being a young boy who moves to London to become a gentleman.
The setting starts in the countryside, where Pip was raised.  It moves to London where he pursues his goal to be a refined gentleman. Both are symbolic of his journey and life lessons.

The story starts in the misty marshes which is a significant setting in the novel. It creates a sinister atmosphere and foreshadows imminent danger.  It creates a sense of uncertainty. It is where he meets the escaped convict at the start, and later, is where he is kidnapped and nearly killed by Orlick. Symbolically, he passes the marshes on his way to London, a seemingly positive and exciting phase in his life. However, this setting indicates that perhaps this experience will be a dangerous one.

Pip grew up in two places, the forge, where his sister and husband lived and Satis House, where Pip was sent to spend time with the upper class Miss Havisham and her adopted daughter Estella. Satis House is a gothic setting which reflects its owner’s situation.  It is in ruins, like Miss Havisham. Since Miss Havisham was jilted on her wedding day, she stopped the clocks and remains in her wedding gown with the decaying feast of food around her. This setting represents Miss Havisham’s want to freeze time and her wedding dress symbolizes her past. The decaying food represents her decay as she has become frail in her old age.

Satis House was “of old brick, and dismal, and had a great many iron bars to it. Some of the windows had been walled up; of those that remained, all the lower were rustily barred.” The iron bars, as you would see in a prison, symbolises the feeling of being imprisoned.  Pip is imprisoned by his unattainable love for Estella and Miss Havisham is imprisoned in her destroyed life from which she cannot move on. This, alongside the locked main gate and high surrounding walls, adds to the feeling of imprisonment. It can also been seen as symbolising a separation between the upper and lower classes.

Even Miss Havisham’s courtyard reflects her life and situation – overgrown and tangled with weeds – neglected and not loved. The courtyard is lifeless with no animals.  The empty brewery next to the house used to be successful but is now just empty, only with memories to hold on to – another reflection of Miss Havisham.

Another significant setting in the novel is Dickens portrayal of London. Upon arrival, Pip thought London was unattractive and dirty, yet it is where the second, ‘exciting’ stage of Pip’s expectations began.

All in all, setting plays an extremely significant role in Great Expectations and it is an aspect of the novel that determines the mood and tone, reflects the situations and character personalities and contributes largely to the themes.

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Top 5 Job Interview Tips

Job interview tipsReading Time: 6 minutes

Get rid of those nerves and get the job with these top five job interview tips.

Who am I to give you advice?

I’m not a career expert.  Neither am I a recruitment consultant or HR professional.  I’m not selling myself (ironically), very well am I?

A few years ago I received coaching from an HR specialist – she taught me some tricks.  And since I have been through four career changes, I have had plenty of opportunities to put them into practice.  I have learnt what works, and what doesn’t.

Also, having been in managerial positions, I have sat in the interviewer’s seat.  It gave me an interesting perspective on what comes across well, and behaviours that are off-putting.

So here I am, humbly sharing the lessons I have learnt.

These job interview tips are largely based on face to face interviews.  But you can apply most of them to an online interview, and telephone interview too.

 

1  Don’t Prepare Too Much

It’s safe to assume that you have the following in common with the other candidates being interviewed:

  • You’re all qualified
  • Everyone has researched the company
  • All of you will sit in the hot seat and say how much you want the job and love the company

So how can you stand out?

A recruiter once told me, “your CV isn’t a document, it is your story.”

Once I got myself in this mindset, my whole perspective changed.  I was no longer aiming to get as many words from the job description into my answers.  Instead, I just aimed to tell my story.

Of course, you should know about the company, their vision, and their performance.  But it’s important that you need to let them decide whether you’re a good fit for their company.  After all, you may tick all of the boxes of their criteria.  But, if you don’t let your personality shine through, how will they know whether you’ll gel with your potential colleagues or company?

In Nancy Collamer’s article in Forbes, she shares a great technique of storytelling.  The SOAR approach, taken from the book Get That Job!  A Quick and Complete Guide to a Winning Interview by career coach, Thea Kelly.

Here’s how it works.

Situation

Introduce your topic with the where and the pain points.  For instance: “At Company X I realised that our Virtual Learning Environment wasn’t helping teachers work efficiently.”

Obstacles

What obstacles were in your way?  Remember, you are telling a story.  And the best stories are the ones where the lead character (you) overcome major obstacles.  James Bond does it all the time.  And look at his cult following.

Here’s an example:  “Management thought that investing in my suggested platform, ShowMyHomework was too expensive and that changing the mindset of all of the teachers would be too difficult.  After presenting the results of a short survey I conducted and demonstrating how it would reduce teacher workload, I changed their minds.”

Impressive.

Actions

By this point, your interviewer is leaning in.  He/she wants to know what happened next?  Give your audience what they want.  Think of a way to explain how you made it happen without going into the nitty-gritty.

Here’s how I continue this story:  “I researched options and organised demonstrations for the management team.  After we all agreed that ShowMyHomework was the optimal solution, I negotiated a price that worked for us, and coordinated the implementation.”

Results

Finish your story on a high.  You have set up the stage, and this is your mic-drop moment.

When telling your story’s ending, keep it concise.  And it’s even better if you can quantify your results.

Here’s an example:  “Within three months of rolling ShowMyHomework out, the time taken to set homework reduced by 30% and parent-teacher emails reduced by 50%.”

Boom.

 

Show, Don’t Tell

Let’s go back to the beginning.  You want to cram as many elements from the job descriptions into your answers as possible.  But why should someone believe you if you say “I have excellent problem-solving skills”?  SOAR stories demonstrate your abilities, instead of just stating them.

It’s a great way to structure your achievements on your CV too.

 

2  Your Interview Starts From When You Leave The House

It’s the classic story.

You have won the lottery.  You tell your job to stick their job where the sun don’t shine.  You quit your job in a magnificent fashion only to realise there was a huge mistake.  You didn’t win the lottery after all.

Don’t be that guy or girl.

Imagine you are on the train, on your way to the interview.  You’re nervous, so feeling a little uptight.  The guy in front of you keeps bumping into you as the train jerks.  You get irritated and tell him to “watch it”.    You turn up to your interview and it’s him.  From the train.  Your interviewer.

It could happen.  But I take your point, it’s a little far fetched.   It isn’t however, unrealistic, that someone could be eavesdropping on your conversation while you wait for your interview.  It’s also realistic that your interviewer might ask the receptionist who welcomed you, what they thought.

Just be polite, professional and confident.  At all times.  Treat everyone you meet as you would your interviewer.

 

3  Make Your Interviewers Prove Themselves To You

I love this tip.

One of the reasons why I never feel nervous for interviews is because I see it as a chance to decide if that company and that job is right for me.

It’s a great way to kill the nerves, but also a positive approach to instigating a two-way dialogue during your interview.  Also, what better way to demonstrate your rapport-building skills?

Typically, your chance to ask questions comes at the end of your interview.

I recently read a great article from Big Interview where Pamela Skillings says to “avoid yes or no questions”.  Extending this, I believe that a great way to prepare interview questions for employers is to identify what you want to know, and work backwards from that.

For instance, if you want to be able to visualise what this job will look like, ask “what are the day-to-day responsibilities of this job?”.  If you want to know whether you would enjoy working for the company, you could ask “how would you describe the company culture?”.

You need to brave for this one, but Monster share some excellent question ideas.  A particular favourite is to ask “what is the most important thing I can accomplish in the first 60 days?”.

 

4  Don’t Forget The Importance Of What You Don’t Say

We’ve all heard the classics of the do’s and don’t’s when it comes to body language.  In case you need a refresher, I’ll summarise:

  • Make eye-contact
  • Sit up straight
  • Smile
  • Don’t fold your arms

But, let’s go beyond the basics.

In Allan Pease’s TED TalkBody language, the power is in the palm of your hands, he talks about how upturned palms is a sign of honesty.

My description doesn’t do Pease’s fantastic talk justice.  Click below to watch it – you won’t regret it.

Let’s go through some more tips and tricks:

Mirroring

When I deliver my Presentation Skills training course, I always start by explaining how “let me tell you a story”, are the six most powerful words of the English language.  Why?  Because our brains engage in situations that trigger emotions.  And naturally, we mirror.

Ever told someone a story and heard the response “oh yeah, that happened to me”?  That’s because they were mirroring.  They listened to your story, put themselves in your shoes and looked for comparisons.

The same concept is useful for actions.  The Business Insider share that by “mirroring your interviewer’s hand gestures…shows them you’re on the same page.”  The tip comes with a great caveat – “remember, it’s more understated than…copying their every move, which would…come across as creepy.”

Pause Before You Answer

The same article also emphasises the importance of taking some time before answering your question.  If you gather your thoughts first, you will come across as being confident and articulate.  I love what Tim Chi, a user of Quora says about it, “The vibe is that of someone who knows what they have to say is worth the extra wait.”

It’s Not All About You

Of course, it is important that you are aware of sending the right signals through body language and non-verbal communication.  But, don’t forget to be aware of your interviewer too.  Read facial clues – it might help you redirect an answer that might not be going too well.

Just don’t let it wrong-foot you.  Your interviewer may not be that astute about body language as you would like him or her to be.  If you are answering a question and they have their arms crossed, don’t automatically think that they aren’t happy with you.  Go with your gut instinct.  And do your best.  You can’t do more.

 

5  Do I Need To Cover These Bases?

I couldn’t write a job-interview-tip-style blog post without mentioning the basics, could I?

  • Appearance – dress smartly, even if you know that the company has a casual dresscode.
  • Punctuality – don’t just be on time, be early.
  • Prepare – know the job description, research the company and plan your journey, beforehand.   Have a Plan B just in case your train is delayed or you are stuck in traffic.