14 ways to make a good first impression with an ag employer

You only get one chance to make a good first impression. Farmers Weekly asks two top recruitment experts, James Trett and Stuart Goodinson, for their tips on how to wow when you’re applying for a job.

1. Back to basics

Some people nowadays think that spelling, grammar and punctuation don’t matter. They do. So don’t rely too heavily on your spellchecker and get someone else to read (and re-read) your application.

See also: Eight secrets to progressing up the ag careers ladder

Make sure you do exactly what you’re asked to do. If the company asks for a CV, send them one; if they ask you to fill out an application form, do that. No matter how senior you are, never fall into the trap of thinking the required process doesn’t apply to you.

2. CV layout

Don’t try to be too artistic. If a CV includes a picture of you waterskiing or has lots of different colours, it can look like you’re trying to hide something. It should be easy to follow, and list your jobs in reverse chronological order.

Always tweak it for the particular position you’re applying for, too – this emphasises your suitability and demonstrates your enthusiasm.

See our tips on creating a CV.

Why preparation is important

  • Interviewers tend to form a strong impression about the candidate in the first couple of minutes. If it’s a positive one, it’s unlikely that the candidate can do anything to dent that; if it’s a negative one, you’ll have to work incredibly hard over the remainder of the time allotted to you to turn the situation around.
  • It’s all about “marginal gains”. Cumulatively, getting your approach right could give you the edge.
  • Never, ever lie, because you will be caught out. Think about how you’ll respond to any points you might be challenged on – a gap in your career history, for example.

3. First things first

You need a powerful opening statement/personal profile on your CV. Limit it to a maximum of four or five sentences, but include facts and figures rather than waffle and subjective/meaningless phrases. Show how you’ve made a difference in previous roles.

4. Research

This is basic, but essential. Do some research on the position, the company and the person/people who will be interviewing you.

Look at the company’s website, do an internet search for news about it, its market and its people. Talk to others who are familiar with it and, if relevant, maybe even visit its premises, look into its financial performance and familiarise yourself with its products.

5. Arrival

Make sure you know where you’re going, plan your journey and do a dummy run if necessary so you can arrive five or 10 minutes early. Turning up late (or worse still, not at all) can be a deal-breaker.

Similarly, arriving too early can be problematic as the employer then has to babysit you and you might get into the awkward position of bumping into the previous interviewee as they’re leaving. Best not to park in the MD’s car-parking spot either.

6. Everyone’s the interviewer

Don’t make the mistake of feeling you only have to be on your best behaviour when you’re in front of an interview panel.

The moment you step on to company property, treat everyone – from the receptionist to the cleaner – as if they are the person who can make or break your application.

The same sentiment applies if you’re dealing with an HR department or a recruitment consultant.

7. Be smart

Wear clothing that’s appropriate, but err on the side of smartness if in doubt. “Presentable” is the watchword. You can get a sense of the ethos of the company by looking at pictures of its people online, or perhaps you’ve already seen them at events or shows.

Stand up straight, be polite, be confident and give a firm handshake. If you’re waiting in reception, think about how you act there – don’t slump in the chair or clamp on your headphones and listen to music.

8. What to take

It’s a good idea to take a clean notebook or a smart, leather-bound folder and, of course, a pen. Making notes during the interview shows keenness, but don’t stare down at the pad too much.

If more than one person interviews you, engage with them all and make eye contact with each of them. If you are being interviewed by telephone, don’t be lulled into thinking this is merely a chat – prepare and behave with all the concentration and professionalism that you would at a face-to-face encounter.

9. Enthusiasm

People are sometimes so nervous they forget to come across as if they actually want the job. Act like you really do, and don’t be afraid to say it, either.

If you have a jovial personality, try to put that across, but be wary of trying to be funny as this can backfire. Don’t sound arrogant or flippant. Be enthusiastic, but don’t butt in or talk over an interviewer.

10. So, do you have any questions for us?

Yes. Absolutely. But don’t make them too “me, me, me”. This isn’t the point at which to ask what phone you’ll be given and how many days holiday a year you’ll get. Ask about the company and the role, and learn as much as you can in order to decide if this is the job for you.

Some candidates might try to ask something that they feel is quirky or amusing, like: How did you feel that interview went? But this can fall flat.

11. Get social

Follow the company and its team on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. Interacting with them and engaging with some of their content shows you’re interested, that you understand how this technology works. It might make you familiar to them by the time you sit down in front of them, too.

Don’t overdo it, though. You don’t want to mark yourself out as a nuisance. On the subject of social media, it’s worth a quick audit of your content and, if necessary, make sure your accounts are closed to all but your friends to avoid any potentially embarrassing questions.

12. Look around

Be aware of – and sensitive to – your surroundings. Best not to rant about cyclists on the road, for example, if your interviewer has a photo on their desk of them on a bike. What you see – a photo of a favourite sport team or a family portrait, for example – might provide an opportunity to open up a new avenue of conversation. Everyone loves talking about themselves, after all.

13. Second interview

You have to make an amazing first impression all over again. Don’t think that you can repeat what you said at the first interview.

By the time of a second interview, the company will know you, your strengths and weaknesses, and will want to dig deeper. There might be new people brought in to interview you; be prepared for the “good cop, bad cop” routine.

14. Exit strategy

Remember, last impressions can be every bit as important as first ones, so behave as if you’re still at the interview until you’re fully off the company premises.

Basically, don’t tear your jacket off, spark up a cigarette or yell into your mobile the instant you get out into the yard or car park.

About the experts

JP Trett Ltd has bases in East Anglia and the Midlands as well as a partner network in France, Germany and the Netherlands. Its managing director, James Trett, who has a degree in land management and is a qualified general practice surveyor, was born into a farming family and has a background in crop science. 

De Lacy Executive was formed in 2000. Its managing director, Stuart Goodinson, has more than 30 years’ experience in the agricultural supply industry and came to the firm after six years as country manager for Lallemand Animal Nutrition in the UK, Ireland and South Africa. 

Ag Careers Live

Ag Careers Live is a Farmers Weekly event showcasing for some of the most exciting and rewarding education and career opportunities in food and farming.

It brings together leading academic institutions and some of the sector’s most dynamic companies, all looking to recruit new talent, either through open vacancies or apprenticeship opportunities.

Join us at the event, on 15 November 2018 at Villa Park in Birmingham and find your new dream job.

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See highlights from last year’s Ag Careers Live.