Should you be worried about ‘cultural fit’?

When you hear of companies ‘interviewing for cultural fit’, that often means that recruiters are looking for someone with a specific set of attitudes, assumptions and biases that they think will fit neatly into the existing cultural framework of the company. This can be problematic because it can damage efforts to increase diversity, resulting in a workforce that may look diverse but is actually made up of people who all think the same way. Says the Harvard Business Review:

“We might be creating a situation in which companies will be very diverse in appearance, but intrinsically homogenous. They will be hiring the same profile of people even though they might have very different backgrounds. Thus the company will appear diverse — but we know that appearances can be deceiving.”

That doesn’t mean that culture isn’t important, but from the candidate’s point of view, not the employer. The important cultural question is, does this company’s culture fit with my personal values?

If, as a woman in STEM, you rate a company’s ethics and culture highly, you are not alone. The Futuretrack study by the Higher Education Careers Services Unit found that “socially useful work” ranked higher than “competitive salary” in qualities graduates were looking for in jobs. And women were more likely than men to say that “the opportunity to perform socially useful work or work for an ethical organisation” was important.

Interviews are a two-way street

Interviews are always a two-way street: You are evaluating your future employer just as much as they are evaluating you.

“I’d recommend thinking about the characteristics of a business culture where you’d be happy and successful,” suggests Caroline Plumb, founder of Fluidly. “What type of place gets the best out of you and why. Then think about what you can bring to that sort of business, how you’d be able contribute and how you’d shape it. Demonstrate what you can bring and add, rather than how you ‘fit’.”

As you’re searching for jobs to apply for, take a look at the company’s background try to find out what kind of culture they have.

“Do a little research before the interview to find out what to expect from the company’s workplace culture, and check that your values are aligned,” says Inga Rudzitis, Operations Manager from Float. “I’d always encourage people to be open and honest in an interview, so it’s not really different for questions about cultural fit. If the company’s values fit with your own then you can just answer from the heart, which always come across better than an overly rehearsed answer that could be completely fabricated. I know that can be really difficult advice to hear when you’re job-hunting as it can feel like there’s a lot of pressure to “get it right”, but the thing about culture is that there isn’t a right and a wrong type. Some people just prefer different types of working culture, so questions about culture aren’t about determining your skill or your value.”

Ask about culture in your interview

If it’s not clear what kind of culture a company has, or if you’re not sure about whether you’d like to work there, don’t be afraid to ask.

“We try to be quite upfront about what our culture is like so that applicants have a good idea of what to expect,” says Rudzitis. “For example, in our job ads for engineering roles we bring attention to the fact that our engineering team works closely with our marketing team because in lots of companies these departments are really separated from each other, in terms of physical distance as well communications, decision-making, and working practices. We also like to show interviewees our office and introduce them to a few members of the team, so we don’t get a huge number of questions about our culture as applicants can see what it’s like for themselves.

“When we last hired for a part-time role we got quite a few questions about that: how many others worked part-time and how that would impact the way they worked with others. We’ve also been asked before why we like working at Float and what would be challenging in a particular role. It’s great to hear questions like this because it also tells us something about what the applicant is looking for in work culture, and we can improve our future job adverts to make sure we’re really getting across why we think Float is a great place to work.”

Culture is important, but as a metric for you as a potential employee to decide whether you will be happy working for a particular company.

 

If you want to know more about the Finding Ada Online Careers Fair for Women in STEM on 1 February 2018, we’ve lots of information for candidates, plus a quick overview of the companies and job types on offer. Job hunters can sign up free: https://findingada.gointro.io/

Xero logoThe Finding Ada Online Careers Fair for Women in STEM is sponsored by Xero, a beautiful, easy-to-use online accounting software for small businesses and their advisors. It has over one million subscribers in more than 180 countries, with more than 250,000 of those in the UK.

How to identify and develop essential soft skills

Soft skills are in great demand but short supply, according to many employers. But what are they? Soft skills are often described as being personality-based behaviours, such as working well in a team, taking direction, managing your time, and communicating clearly. Hard skills are related to your specific area of expertise, so being able to develop software is a hard skill, but collaborating with your colleagues is a soft skill.

“At Fluidly we believe that engineering is a team sport so ‘soft’ skills are very important to us and we assess for them for every role,” says Fluidly founder, Caroline Plumb. “In particular, curiosity, communication, and empathy for people and customers are key skills we look for. We believe this makes the team stronger, product development faster (& more enjoyable) and customer experience far better. Technically brilliant candidates who don’t have these skills aren’t a fit for us – they might be talented individuals but we are looking for the people who make the team perform.”

Excellent soft skills are essential for small teams, as Inga Rudzitis, Operations Manager at Float points out: “We’re a fairly small team and we really pride ourselves on being one team. We don’t like to silo ourselves, so we work cross-departmentally all the time. This means soft skills like communication and teamwork are key for us. We’re also really interested in people’s potential, not only their past experience. Soft skills are typically the most transferable, so they’re a really meaningful part of understanding somebody’s potential.”

Soft skills to develop

Our societal perceptions of soft skills do come with a gender bias that we, as individuals, need to be aware of. Women are often assumed to be good at communication and men are assumed to be good leaders, but that doesn’t mean that women can’t improve their communications skills, or that they can’t be good leaders. Of all the soft skills that women should focus on developing, Rudzitis believes that assertiveness should be at the top of the list.

“It’s a word that can get a bad rap because people confuse it with aggression, but that’s a real misrepresentation. It’s also not a personality type, it really is a skill that you can practise. When I chose to focus on improving my assertiveness it made a huge difference to my working life and it ultimately led me to joining the world of tech startups and working at Float.  

“At its heart, assertiveness is all about being open and honest. It’s bound up with a host of other great soft skills such as active listening, communication, delegation, and receiving feedback well. It’s about learning to understand and value your own needs and opinions, expressing those appropriately, as well as being empathetic towards other people’s. Being more assertive can dramatically improve your management skills, relationships with other people, and your own happiness in your role.”

What are your strongest soft skills?

Of course, it’s easy to see soft skills in others, but slightly harder to know how good your own soft skills are. Plumb suggests that, if you want to understand your own soft skills repertoire, ask others for to tell you what they think your strengths and weaknesses are.

“Good people to seek input from are peers, reports, a line manager, a senior leader and someone outside the reporting line but who is also a stakeholder,” perhaps in a different team, says Plumb. “It’s good to get a wide range of opinions from people who’ve seen [you] in different circumstances, from succeeding to being up against it and under pressure. Ask open questions and listen hard for the answers without being defensive.”

Rudzitis also suggests self-reflection as “a really valuable and under-appreciated practice. Whenever I get frustrated about something going on (at work or at home), I try to think about why I got so annoyed, why I responded the way I did. What result did I want from that situation and how would I try responding differently if this happened again? More often than not, this usually flags something I realise I should probably work on for myself. It can be really empowering because you learn to focus on what you can change, rather than blaming external circumstances or things beyond your control.”

Practice, practice, practice

It’s also a good idea to develop your soft skills outside of a work context. “Communication skills could be improved through drama, a toastmaster course or even comedy classes,” says Plumb. “Leadership could be for a project rather than running a team, or organising a large group activity. Think about opportunities to develop, make a plan of what you’re going to try and then reflect on it afterwards. The best way is to keep trying and learning – it doesn’t have to be perfect, some of the best learnings can come from the worse outcomes.”

That kind of self-development takes “bravery and practice,” says Rudzitis. “The more you practise something, the better you get at it. Sometimes it’s hard to take those steps though, which is where the bravery comes in. If it doesn’t come naturally to you, skills like networking can be so daunting, but ultimately you’ll never get better if you don’t take the plunge and give it a go. And then another go, and another!”

Rudzitis recommends that, in an interview, you use “the STAR method, describing the Situation, Task, Action taken, and Result” to illustrate your soft skills. “How did you identify the problem and analyse the situation that led you there? How did you communicate and work with others to solve the problem? Sometimes it can also be helpful to explain why you opted against an alternative course of action, as this can show a different side to your decision-making skills and an awareness that there are other ways of working.”

Soft skills are very important to employers across the board, so when you’re writing your CV and preparing for an interview, spend some time reviewing your own soft skills and think about how you can most effectively communicate them. Demonstrating strong soft skills will help you gain the attention of recruiters and land that job!

 

If you want to know more about the Finding Ada Online Careers Fair for Women in STEM on 1 February 2018, we’ve lots of information for candidates, plus a quick overview of the companies and job types on offer. Job hunters can sign up free: https://findingada.gointro.io/

Xero logoThe Finding Ada Online Careers Fair for Women in STEM is sponsored by Xero, a beautiful, easy-to-use online accounting software for small businesses and their advisors. It has over one million subscribers in more than 180 countries, with more than 250,000 of those in the UK.

Could flexible working be right for you?

If you’re returning to the workforce after a career break, fractional – the new name for part-time work – or flexible work might be exactly what you need to get you back in the swing of things. With the competition for STEM talent heating up, more and more companies are offering flexible working schedules.

“Returners often need to balance their return into the workforce with a decreasing caring workload, eg as children go to school,” says Caroline Plumb, founder of Fluidly, cash flow management software.

People are attracted to fractional and flexible working arrangements for many reasons, not least of which is balancing work with caring responsibilities, which still rest predominantly on women’s shoulders.

A ‘fractional’ job is a part-time role where the employee works for a specified fraction of a full-time equivalent (FTE) role, for example a 0.5FTE role would be for half of a standard 35-40 hour working week. Flexible roles allow employees to choose when they work, often including hours outside the standard work day. They may also include the option to work from home. Both fractional and full-time roles can be worked flexibly.

Flexible working offered as standard

In the UK, anyone who has been employed for six months may request flexible or fractional working, and companies are increasingly offering fractional and flexible roles as standard.

Inga Rudzitis, Operations Manager from Float, a cash flow forecasting app, says, “Our founder, Colin Hewitt, has always been keen for Float to be a family-friendly place to work, so we’ve always been flexible about things like school runs and making it to sports day.”

“I think it’s important for employers to think about this intentionally and build this into their values so that there’s trust and employees feel comfortable managing their work and personal lives. If you lay this foundation, you can adapt to people’s changing circumstances and have open conversations about what needs to change and what will work for all parties,” she says.

Exactly how these roles are managed can vary not just from company to company, but from employee to employee.

“As someone who’s personally taken three periods of maternity, my experience is that there is no one-size-fits-all process for any returning process,” says Plumb. “Employers need to support not just with a variety of potential working arrangements, but easing the transitions around returning – from building confidence, ensuring there are no limits on potential and being willing to flex arrangements over time as needs change and children grow up.”

Rudzitis agrees: “By its very nature, flexible working can mean so many different things! There are some structured methods, such as specifying core hours, but for us at Float it’s more of an attitude. We know that people have lives outside of work, so being flexible means being adaptive to people’s circumstances. Sometimes people will leave early to do the school run and work from home for the rest of the afternoon, others prefer to stay a bit later in the office and have more of the morning to themselves.”

Flexible working is not just for carers

Not all flexible workers choose that model because of caring commitments. It’s also valuable for those who want to get more qualifications, or for students who are transitioning from a higher degree into the workforce.  

“I started working part time on four days a week to give me time to finish my post-graduate degree,” says Rudzitis, “and decided to continue working this way after graduating. So flexible working for us includes some remote and fractional working.”

When we talk about remote working, where staff work from a location that’s not the office, we often think about jobs such as software development where workers need to spend a lot of time focused on specific tasks. But the very nature of flexible working is, itself, flexible.

“I think any kind of role can be flexible,” says Rudzitis, “you’ve just got to be intentional about how you set it up. You’ve got to know what’s important to you, and how that can work with different types of working patterns. If team meetings are important, make sure any remote workers can join via video call, and make sure they get a chance to speak. Make sure that your part time workers can join by scheduling them at the right time.”

Communication is key

A lot of employers now use communications software that makes flexible working even easier. Tools like Slack, video calling, Google Drive, Dropbox and even project wikis are often used by teams even when they are sitting next to one another at the office, so extending that to provide a communications platform for remote workers is easy.

“We use Slack to communicate a lot,” says Rudzitis, “even when we’re in the office, so people who are working from home don’t miss out on the important things that are being discussed. Having said that, as a company we’re looking ahead to the future and are considering whether we might want to set up an international office in a year or two, so we’ve already started to talk about how we’d manage that.”

Fractional and flexible roles are becoming more common as the technology improves, and as attitudes become more accepting. Some industries, such as engineering, are so short of skilled employees that companies are radically rethinking how they work and how they can tempt women back into the workforce.

If you’re finishing off a doctorate, caring for elderly relatives, or would like to work alongside caring for your children, then fractional and flexible working could be for you.

 

If you want to know more about the Finding Ada Online Careers Fair for Women in STEM on 1 February 2018, we’ve lots of information for candidates, plus a quick overview of the companies and job types on offer. Job hunters can sign up free: https://findingada.gointro.io/

Xero logoThe Finding Ada Online Careers Fair for Women in STEM is sponsored by Xero, a beautiful, easy-to-use online accounting software for small businesses and their advisors. It has over one million subscribers in more than 180 countries, with more than 250,000 of those in the UK.

Five ways to highlight your skills in your STEM job search

When applying for jobs, whether you’re a recent graduate, more experienced, or a returner, it can be difficult to know how to get your your CV into tip-top condition. Don’t worry. You’re not alone!

We’ve distilled some of the best advice on how to create a great STEM resume that highlights your skills and packages your work and life experiences in a way that shows off both your technical expertise and personal strengths that employers are looking for. These tips will help you stand out from the crowd when you’re writing your CV as well as when you are speaking to recruiters during the Finding Ada Online Careers Fair for Women in STEM.

Make sure to tick the basic boxes

In your CV, and also discussions with recruiters, don’t get so nervous that you forget to include basic information. List your technical skills and experience right at the top or early on in the conversation with the recruiter. If you’re a recent graduate, include all your relevant coursework and projects, plus any placements or internships you’ve had.

“An effective resume must convince prospective employers that hiring you benefits their business,” says Leslie Toth, a professional resume writing coach, who has posted a guide to writing a STEM CV on Slideshare. Your CV must be concise, no more than two pages long, but not boring. Don’t just list the jobs you’ve had, talk about your responsibilities in each position, and skills you’ve developed.

Choose skills that are relevant to the position

When applying for jobs, think in terms of quality not quantity. It is tempting to want to increase your chances by spamming employers with an identikit CV, but this is self-defeating. Don’t apply for positions that you really want just for the sake of it — that’s a waste of your time and the recruiters’ time.  

You want to be happy in the job that you do, and you’ll have a better chance of landing your dream job if you focus on high-quality jobs that stretch you a little bit.

Read the job description carefully, make a list of the experience, skills and knowledge that the employer is asking for, and highlight the parts of your CV that are relevant. Do not be put off if you find that a job is asking for a bit more than you think you have to offer. Job descriptions often include shopping lists of qualities which include every single thing the recruiter can think of. That doesn’t mean they expect you to tick every box and, indeed, research shows that your male peers will be applying for jobs even when they don’t meet all the criteria. So take a chance and let the recruiter decide if you have sufficient experience.

When you speak with recruiters during the job fair, highlight the skills you have that are relevant to the roles and company that you are speaking with. Remember, one of the fastest ways to make a great impression is to show that you’ve done your homework and researched the company as well as their products and services. It is a great way to demonstrate that you see yourself as meeting their needs.

Look at the CVs of researchers you admire or want to work with

If you run into writer’s block while you are working on your CV, or trying to think of things to say during your chat with recruiters, Smith College in the US has a great guide to writing a STEM CV. They have this excellent piece of advice: Review the CVs of “researchers you admire or seek to work with (generally available online), as these can provide good examples to follow.”

And Prospects has a variety of sample CVs in different styles, such as chronological or skills-based, and for for different types of job, such as academic, teaching, or technical jobs. Take a look through the examples and let them spark ideas on how to package your own skills and experience.

Transferable skills are important

One of the most important bits of job hunting advice you will ever get is that all skills are transferable.

Whether you’re a graduate with work experience opportunities through internships, in your first or second job, or are returning to work after a career break, it’s certain that you have more transferable skills than you think you do. These are skills might be specific, such as knowing how to use Microsoft Office, understanding how spreadsheets work, take minutes in a meeting, or organising a schedule, or they might be more personality-related, like being able to communicate clearly, work in a team, take direction and respond well to feedback.  

CV writing service Craft Resumes gives this bit of concrete advice: “For students just starting out in their careers, adaptive skills are shown in their coursework, while transferable skills are established in their internship or any summer jobs. Some graduates may omit these skills thinking they are irrelevant, but they do carry weight in your job search efforts.”

Even temporary jobs in unrelated fields like hospitality or retail can prove that you have good transferable skills. They are worth highlighting when they fill gaps in your subject-specific experience, but keep this experience lower down in your CV, below any technical skills and directly relevant experience you have.

Pay attention to detail

Finally, one of the most important skills for any candidate is attention to detail. Entry level roles are often quite competitive, and recruiters will reject a CV with spelling or grammar mistakes, so make sure your CV is well written and free of errors. Ask a friend or colleague to proofread it and, for a final check, read it out aloud — that will highlight any mistakes or phrases that read badly.

Your CV isn’t a static document, it should change as your job search evolves, and as you learn what employers respond well to and what might be missing. Don’t just write one CV and use it for everything, rather, create a suite of CV templates for different types of job, and then tailor your CV specifically for the job you’re applying for right now. It might feel like a lot more work, but will get easier with practice, and will increase your chances of landing that all-important interview.

Your CV will make your first impression, so work hard on making it a good one.

 

If you want to know more about the Finding Ada Online Careers Fair for Women in STEM on 1 February 2018, we’ve lots of information for candidates, plus a quick overview of the companies and job types on offer. Job hunters can sign up free: https://findingada.gointro.io/

Xero logoThe Finding Ada Online Careers Fair for Women in STEM is sponsored by Xero, a beautiful, easy-to-use online accounting software for small businesses and their advisors. It has over one million subscribers in more than 180 countries, with more than 250,000 of those in the UK.

How to prepare for an online video interview

One of the biggest challenges when you’re looking for a job, especially that first job, can be getting a conversation with a recruiter, which is why the Finding Ada Online Careers Fair for Women in STEM is an excellent opportunity to get over that hurdle.

The fair has attracted some of the biggest names in business including semiconductor maker ARM, consulting giant Accenture, the Government Digital Service, the European Patent Office, tech company Capgemini, and specialist recruitment agency STEM Women. The IET will also be on hand to talk about ongoing professional development and accreditation for engineers. 

Make a good first impression

Making a good first impression is key to making the most of the fair, and we spoke to Dr Amanda Barnes, employability manager and cell biologist at the University of York, to get tips on preparing for the interview and also for how to navigate an online interview. (Watch the full interview with Amanda now!)

“The first thing I’d say is that although this is not a formal interview, this is your first opportunity to show yourself to that company and a way in,” she said. So you should dress formally, just as you would for an in-person interview, and make sure that you use formal, professional speech in your interview.

Key in making a really good first impression is doing your research on the companies you want to talk to, she said. Make sure that you know what products or services they offer, and what type of roles they have open that are suitable for you, such as graduate schemes or entry-level positions if you’re just leaving university, or mid-level roles if you’re early in your careers. If you’re returning to the workforce, find out if they offer specific returnships and see if they have public information about flexible or fractional (part-time) working.

Interviews are a two-way street

It’s also important to remember the interviews are a two-way street: They aren’t just about an employer getting to know you, they are also an important opportunity to find out whether they are a company you want to work for. Dr Barnes suggests that you should ask what kind of potential career paths would be available to you if you join the company, and that could include asking about future training and career development opportunities.

Another plus of the Finding Ada Online Careers Fair is that it gives “you an opportunity to find out how your values fit with that of the company”, Dr Barnes said. “What do you want your typical day to be like in your world of work? … What is the culture like at the company and will I fit in there?”

Think about what’s in view of your camera

The default interview format for the Finding Ada Online Careers Fair is video, so make sure that there isn’t anything in the background that might distract the interviewer. Most laptops have a way to test the camera, so do that before the day and move anything that’s distracting. if you’re living in a student house, make sure that your flatmates know about the interview and don’t interrupt you.

If you are using a laptop, make sure it is fully charged or plugged in. That might sound like a simple thing to remember, but if you’re nervous, you might forget.

Keep your energy up

In addition to keeping your devices charged up, be sure to keep your energy levels high during the conversation, and be prepared to drive the interview. Have a list of questions, just out of the view during the interview that you can refer to, she said, adding you can plaster sticky notes behind your screen to remind yourself to make key points, especially about your skills or key questions that you have.

As for the structure of the interview, it’s a good idea to think ahead, and plan a question to kick off the discussion based on some of the research that you’ve done. Then you can move on to specific job opportunities, before finding out about the company’s culture and the work environment.

Make sure to end your conversation on a positive note. Recap the main points that you’ve made during the interview, and thank the interviewers for their time. And don’t forget to find out about next steps such as how to follow up with the recruiter or next steps in the application process.

 

If you want to know more about the Finding Ada Online Careers Fair for Women in STEM on 1 February 2018, we’ve lots of information for candidates, plus a quick overview of the companies and job types on offer. Job hunters can sign up free: https://findingada.gointro.io/

Xero logoThe Finding Ada Online Careers Fair for Women in STEM is sponsored by Xero, a beautiful, easy-to-use online accounting software for small businesses and their advisors. It has over one million subscribers in more than 180 countries, with more than 250,000 of those in the UK.