In the competitive job market, it is important to make as good an impression as possible when applying for a vacancy. Yvette Essen finds out what employers like to see and hear.

When Charles Darwin talked about the survival of the fittest, he might have been referring to the state of the job market today.

In this competitive industry, the chances are that when a vacancy is advertised the employer will receive a sack load of correspondence from hopeful candidates.

But how do you distinguish yourself from the rest of the competition and sell yourself as the ideal recruit?

Dr Geraldine Kaye, managing director of GAAPS International Special Actuarial Recruitment Group, believes there is no such thing as the perfect employee.

"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," she says. "You can be the ideal candidate for one person but not for someone else."

The idea is to convince the employer you are an individual who can grow into and develop the vacant role better than your rivals.

A Curriculum Vitae is usually the first point of contact, and it is that sheet of paper which will get you through to the next selection round. Many people have a fair idea of what details to include on their resume but there are some things that you should avoid.

Kaye emphasises those who lie will be worse-off in the long-run. "If you falsify details on a CV and the employer finds out, then the company has every right not to take you on or to throw you out, because it shows dishonesty," she says. "However, one can be economical with the truth. There is no need to state information you do not want to. But if someone asks you a question in an interview, you have to tell the truth."

Richard Griffiths, director of Hays Inter-Selection, believes the introduction profile can be the most important thing. "Be detailed and specific about your achievements," he says. "In your introduction profile, don't try to be a jack of all trades and a master of none. You need to be specific, as we live in a target market society."

Think carefully
There are certain things you should avoid on the "additional information" section of the CV according to Kaye, such as including your children's names, which a lot of people will add, in order to personalise it.

She says: "But if you put down too much information and the wrong person comes across it, you can get unsolicited calls. It is much safer to leave it out."

She also believes you should think carefully about what hobbies you write down. "They should add to your CV from a work point of view," she explains. "For example, being treasurer of your local rotary club shows you are good with figures, are honest and mix with people.

"It is better to say you like `playing' football as opposed to `watching' it since this suggests you are healthy. But don't go overboard on the sporting activities - you only need one example to show fitness is important to you."

If you do take part in high risk activities like bungee jumping, don't be afraid to put them on your CV. It shows the type of person you are. As Kaye puts it, "If the employer doesn't want anyone who does dangerous sports, then you wouldn't fit into the company anyway."

The length of the CV does not really matter, but Kaye believes that a CV should not be more than two pages long, as those reading it are busy.

"A lot of people need reading glasses now," she adds. "Try to use font sizes ten upwards."

Finally, when sending in your application, Teresa Carr, a consultant at recruitment agency LFI, suggests enclosing a covering letter to "give a brief summary of why you are interested in the job".

Be prepared
If you are called up for an interview or told to do a presentation, the key to success is to be ready. According to Griffiths of Hays Inter-Selection, about 90% of people do not prepare themselves but just turn up and wing it on the day. Most people think they know the company and turn the charm on, and for a few it does work.

He says that it is absolutely critical to prepare for an interview. The more research you do, the more it removes fear and gets rid of your nerves. There are several ways of finding out more about your potential employer - use the internet to do searches, talk to people you know in the industry and ask them what they might know about the company and the position.

Look the part
Study the job description carefully and think of some questions to ask in the interview, which are not holiday, benefit or pay related. Perhaps you will want to enquire about where the company is going in the next few years or what their expectation is of you, as this shows you are keen to move on in your career.

It goes without saying that looking smart and approachable will make an impact.

"Don't wear too much jewellery," says Carr. "If you do have lots of gold rings on they may draw attention away from what you are saying. Just concentrate on smiling and try to relax as much as possible."

Jayne Coles, managing director of Lime Street Recruitment, adds: "The London and Lloyd's Markets are quite traditional, and you will be expected to dress in a certain way.

"Women should wear a skirt suit or dress and jacket in a dark colour if possible with plain tights, even in the summer. Nails should be short and neat. If you wear nail varnish make sure it is a neutral colour and keep make-up understated.

"Men should opt for a suit in a dark colour with a white, blue or pastel shirt, understated tie and dark socks. And if you wear aftershave or cologne, make sure you do not put too much on!"

Most people think that interviews and presentations are going to be awful, but you should come out of them feeling positive.

Griffiths says: "Imagine having a good meeting - it is psychological and a two-way process and you are just having a talk with someone."

Asking questions shows an interest in the job, but also gives you some control, helps to bring about a flow of conversation and allows you to build up a rapport with the interviewer.

Coles believes there are a few important points to remember when you meet people.

"Start with a good, strong handshake and maintain eye contact," she suggests. "Be honest in your answers and, if you are asked a technical question that you do not know the answer to, don't try and bluff! Always be positive and enthusiastic and, in particular, never criticise your current or previous employer."

Even if you get the job, the process does not end there.

Griffiths says: "People have to be continually adding to themselves as a product. If they learn a different language, for example, they can not only go on holiday, but can also work abroad."

Current and future bosses also like staff to do work-related courses and become computer literate. Doing training courses and studying for professional qualifications makes the employee more valuable as it gives the impression of being interested in the job and committed to it.

Carr says: "Employers are looking for people who are willing to work and study.

"Degrees are good, and qualifications like the ACII (chartered insurance exams) and CIP (proficiency exams) show up the people who are going to make a difference to the organisation, and are in time looking to move on."

Interview Questions
Thinking ahead and being prepared for an interview is absolutely critical. But what kind of questions should you expect and what is the best way to answer them? We asked Richard Griffiths, director of recruitment company Hays Inter-Selection, to reveal what the employer wants to hear.

1) QUESTION: "What is your most significant achievement?"

TYPICAL ANSWER: "I restructured the department".

RICHARD SAYS: "Give details about a work-related success but don't waffle. The best answers are `STAR' ones. Describe the situation (S) and why there was a need for change, explain the task (T) you had ahead of you, talk about the action (A) and how you did it and finally mention what the result (R) was."

2) QUESTION: "What are your weaknesses?"

TYPICAL ANSWER: "I work too hard."

RICHARD SAYS: "This is a vomity answer. Instead, say you occasionally take on too much work and can get stressed about it so you do need to plan out each day and be aware of it, but you like a challenge. Don't give smart-arsed answers."

3) QUESTION: "Why are you interested in this company?"

TYPICAL ANSWER: "Because it is a big organisation."

RICHARD SAYS: "This sounds as if you haven't done any research. Look at the firm's different attributes and say you want to work there because of them."

4) QUESTION: "Why are you leaving your current job?"

TYPICAL ANSWER: "I hate my employer/company."

RICHARD SAYS: "Be truthful and positive, not negative and abrupt. Give more in depth examples and say you feel your employer is holding you back from being promoted."

5) QUESTION: "Why did you choose insurance?"

TYPICAL ANSWER: "I fell into it."

RICHARD SAYS: "This is probably the truth but give an answer that is more structured. Wording is the key. It is better to say you saw an advertisement for an insurance company, did some research and became interested."

The perfect Curriculum Vitae
Traditionally, the CV has been a tool for listing your work experience, education history and qualifications. Employers are now looking for much more than this. With so many people applying for the same vacancy, your CV has to stand out from the rest.

Style and Content

  • Contact Details: Start the CV with your name, address, phone/fax numbers and email address - you want to make sure you can be easily contacted by a potential employer.
  • Profile: This should be a brief statement which incorporates your main skills and reflects your objective. It will give an employer a general description of you.
  • Career History: List your previous positions, with dates, job title and a brief description of the company. Start with your current or most recent position.
  • Achievements: Your CV should be in the form of an achievement CV. This means listing achievements you have done and quantifying or qualifying them.

    Other Information
    Once you have completed the hardest parts of your CV - writing your Profile and Career History, consider what other information an employer would like to know, or whether you have any other selling points. Consider:

  • Date of Birth
  • Education and Training
  • Interests
  • Membership of Professional Bodies

    Make sure that you include this information on your CV, but ensure that such information is kept brief and relevant.

    General Tips

  • Remember that the aim of the CV is to get an interview.
  • Don't lie on your CV - the truth will come out in the interview.
  • Keep your CV short - as a rule, two pages is best; three pages is okay if you have enough relevant information.
  • Pay attention to detail - look at fonts, alignment, spelling, grammar and overall presentation.
  • Use good quality white A4 paper for your correspondence.
  • When sending your CV, always include a relevant covering letter, detailing the position you would like to apply for and brief details of why you should be seriously considered for that position.