20 Sep 2019

What to do if your new job is awful!

I'm really very fortunate that it is a rare occurrence for a candidate to get in touch with me shortly after starting in a new role.   No recruiter likes to get into a rebate situation with a client and we genuinely want our candidates to love their new job.

However, it does sometimes happen and I thought it might be worth offering a few words of wisdom in case you're finding yourself in the unenviable position of feeling out of place within the first few weeks of starting a new position.

Usually I recommend to candidates and to clients that the interview process is robust. Ideally it should be two interviews which will include an opportunity to meet other team members and a chance to visit the offices and get a feel for the place.  I recommend that clients take up references and ideally speak to previous employers wherever possible.   Clients are paying recruiters a decent fee to ensure that we find them good employees and I take that responsibility seriously.  Clients pay a fee in good faith that it's a service worth paying for, they need someone to do a job and therefore they want the employee to stay and be happy too.

But sometimes, for whatever reason, the two sides don't gel.   Many people are nervous when they start a new role and it does take time to settle into a new team.  So if you're feeling a bit wobbly in the early days, I'd advise to sit it out and see how you get on for the first month. 

If you have very specific areas (lack of structure, process, direction), then do speak up and ask your employer for help.   Find some allies within the team who can give you guidance  - many agencies do have mentors for new starters and this is something worth asking about at interviews.

Employers are not mind readers.  Whilst in bigger corporates, there are structures and processes in place with HR teams and internal support, the smaller independent agencies are often owner managed and it can take a bit of confidence to verbalise that you're not entirely happy.  In this situation, I'd ask for a short meeting with your boss/line manager and set out how you think you can resolve the problems that you are having. Try not to shoot yourself in the foot - bosses don't want to think you're about to run away and lose faith in you.    Often a busy owner manager can be so busy with 'running the business' that they don't recognise that a new starter is overwhelmed.  Communicating this to them, you can start to put in place a plan so that you feel settled and supported.   They offered you the job - you have the skills for the job, it may just require a few tweaks for you to settle.  They really won't want to a) lose their recruitment fee and b) go through a lengthy recruitment process again to find a replacement.  So hopefully, this is a solution that can work.

However, often you just know it's not right, it's never going to be your spiritual home.  Instinct, gut feel, whatever you want to call it.  Maybe the boss is a chameleon who on a day to day basis is a different animal to who interviewed you.  Perhaps the team is entirely disgruntled and gives you a very negative outlook on the whole business.  In this situation, you can see that things won't change.  At this point it's likely that you are still in your probation period and a lot of new employees who are unhappy will seek to find an alternative new role ASAP before the notice period changes post probation (typically from a week to a month or more).  How you handle this is dependent on many factors, not least, how your personal finances stack up.  I would generally never advise leaving a perm role with no job to go to.   However, that's a personal decision and clearly, if a role is adversely affecting your health, I would always look after number one first.   But you can quietly and unobtrusively apply for other roles and then once secure, resign, happy in the knowledge that you are not having a period out of work and not earning.

In an ideal world, perhaps it would be nice to be super honest with your boss and tell them you know it's not right for you and make them aware that you'll be looking for something new.  OK, at least it gives them the opportunity to try and find a solution to keep you but equally, you may aswell resign on the spot.

Everyone has at least one 'bum steer' on their CV.  We can't always be sure all of the time.  But taking time during the interview process to go through your own 'due diligence' and making sure you don't make any rash decisions will undoubtedly reduce the chances of accepting something that you later come to regret.

15 Aug 2019

Mental Health and Interviews...

I thought long and hard about writing a blog about Mental Health.  I was prompted when a candidate who I was pitching a role to asked me what the organisation's mental health policy was.  The recruiter part of me instantly wanted to add the question to the list of 'things not to ask at first interview', however, I was struck with an uncomfortable sense of that not being a reasonable response.  We live in different times - enlightened times and of course one in four of us will have a mental health problem at some point in our lives.  Whilst mental health problems are common, most are mild, tend to be short term and are normally successfully treated.  So, on balance, it's certainly not an unreasonable question to ask, particularly if you know you are prone to suffering from mental health issues. 

It is a very tricky area to advise upon.  An employer at interview may clearly interpret this question in different ways. In an ideal world, the question would be answered as per any other question and the employer would outline their policy and how it is implemented.  80% of the roles at Perfect Marketing People are agency led and many of these agencies are independently managed.  When I first started looking into this, I thought it would be unlikely that the smaller agencies are as proactive in managing their mental health policies as perhaps the global networks are or large blue chip corporate businesses.  In a smaller business, one is less likely to find a HR team who can implement a mental health strategy.  It turns out that I've had to eat my words, I've been in touch with several clients this week to ask them about their policies for mental health and I'm pleased to report that they are there! 

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has set out a framework of actions called 'core standards'.  These have been designed to help employers improve the mental health of their workplace and to enable individuals with mental health conditions to thrive.  Employers have a legal responsibility to help their employees whether work is causing the mental health condition or aggravating it.   A happy employee is a productive employee and so the Core Standards encourage employers to:
  • Form a mental health at work plan
  • Promote communications and open conversations by raising awareness and reducing stigma
  • Provide a mechanism for monitoring actions and outcomes
By nature, I'm quite cynical and to date, this is not an area that I've been asked about previously. Are employers really doing all this?  I asked Mr PMP for some insight.  Working for a global financial services business, he had a very different perspective.  If he hadn't shown me some of the case studies, I wouldn't have believed him.   This organisation does A LOT for their employees. They proactively talk about mental health. Senior Board members have done internal awareness campaigns where they talk about their own issues with mental health and how they manage/overcome them.  They have what they call resilience roadshows  which form part of a 'it's OK to talk' campaign and they work very closely with the Andy's Man Club (look it up if you've not heard of it). They have found that this open and proactive approach is proving successful.

I mentioned that I'd had to eat my words previously when it came to smaller and independent agencies.  I've spoken to several this week and all do have policies in place. All of the big agencies have firm policies in place and they are very good at the implementation too.  As a client has said to me, most mental health issues are invisible so a major part of their programme is for employees to keep an eye on colleagues too.  All the agencies that I spoke to had individuals who were trained up to be mental health tsars and wellbeing officers.  Employees know who they can talk to and what is on offer to help them.  A few agencies have had 'mental health weeks' so that the policies are promoted properly internally.

So back to the original subject. If you went along to an interview with either a corporate or an agency, and asked the question 'what is your mental health policy' you'd get a very thorough response.  That's great.   The next part of this, however, is whether you might be judged because you'd asked the question (in the same way if you asked about how many holidays there are or what time can you go home each day).   And that's the thing I'm still not sure about.  I can't answer it.  Mental health awareness is still in a development stage, can we guarantee no judgement?  No.  Does this mean you shouldn't ask the question?  I don't think so.  One of my most trusted clients, said that if this was asked at first stage, he'd feel that he would need to respond, obviously first with the answer but then to follow up with a few questions of his own surrounding how that person responded to pressure at work or whether they'd found themselves in difficult situations. It's a minefield for employers too!  I think as long as you can justify you have the right skills and personality for the business and role, my research shows that employers have made huge in-roads in looking after their staff and putting people first.  I've been really impressed!

17 Jul 2019

Ghosting in recruitment...

I originally had a think about Ghosting as a blog subject because a candidate had told me that she was convinced a couple of recruiters had 'ghosted' her or rather that she thought the roles were 'ghosts'.  I had to do a bit of research - as someone from Generation X, I'm not as au fait with some modern parlance.  So I discovered that Ghosting is originally from the dating realm - a practice when one partner suddenly goes quiet on a suitor after a period of communication or a couple of dates...a result of our tech driven, dispensable approach to romance.  Frankly there are several areas of recruitment where I actually think ghosting applies.  Interestingly I've seen ghostly behaviour from clients (employers), candidates and recruitment firms.   I thought I'd try and summarise my experiences as having done a bit of Googling, I think a lot of the stuff out there is just bored journalists trying to come up with stories.

Ghost Jobs:

As a bona fide recruiter....every role that I advertise or talk to candidates about is a real one.   Yes, really!  I am busy, really busy, I don't need to fabricate jobs to attract candidates, however, it would appear that some recruiters are not so busy and they perhaps do advertise false roles.  So I guess, this is the first example - a role which is advertised which doesn't really exist.  It's not good practice and I'd recommend that if you apply for a role online and you then speak to a recruiter who can't give you a strong role outline and tell you about the employer, then park it, and that relationship and move on. Trust your instinct. Do you think they are genuine?   I'm not sure how much of a 'thing' this is in recruitment, I'm sure that the recruiter would then go and dangle your CV in front of a few clients and see if they can speculatively get themselves some quick wins.  I can honestly say I've never done it. Never needed to...

I think perhaps more common is the phenomenon where you talk to a recruiter about a role....and then never hear from them again.  You might chase them, and just never hear back.  They won't accept your calls, don't respond to emails, it's as if you don't exist, never mind the job that you talked about.  To my mind, this isn't ghosting, it's just bad recruitment practice.    If I register a candidate, it means that at some point, I consider that I will be able to help find that person a job.  I may have current roles for them or it may be at some point in the future. The key is that I do recruitment by relationships. I communicate regularly with candidates and give feedback accordingly.  If  I can't help a candidate I won't waste my time or theirs. If I have talked to them about a role, they'll get feedback - even if that is that I haven't had feedback from a client!

Some roles come up, and then are put on hold...not quite the same as a ghost job.  Again, a good recruiter should be feeding back to you and letting you know what is happening with the role.

Ghost Clients

I'm not convinced this is a thing per se.  However, what is a thing is that many clients do begin their recruitment process by 'looking speculatively'.  So it's often a vague chat with a recruiter where they'd like to keep them on the radar for some specific profiles.  Quite often, clients who are pitching for new biz know that if they win the biz, they'll need to resource up.  However, they may not win the biz...If this is the case, I'm always honest with a candidate and I'll say that it's speculative.  Clients will often interview in this situation and the feedback can be outstanding for months!  They won't commit one way or the other.  A good recruiter will tell you this and manage your expectations. 

Clients don't actually disappear but they can go AWOL.  After all, they are running their own businesses.  Recruitment is a painful necessity but they'd prefer not to spend much time on it.  When they've got a full inbox, it's not always the recruiter who is the priority for a response.    I can find this frustrating but I do accept that my role is about being in the right place at the right time....and I don't want to shoot myself in the foot.  So again, I communicate regularly with clients and generally have a low AWOL rate.

Candidates have a choice.  There are several recruiters around, often there is overlap with clients.  Deal with the recruiters who you like, deal with people who communicate with you.  If you think the communication is sub standard, ask to unsubscribe from their systems.    Of course, this leads me to my next one!  Ghost Candidates.

Ghost Candidates:

This profile definitely exist!  I'm sorry to do some more bashing but it's most common in Millenials and Generation Zers.  Frankly, I wouldn't call it ghosting, it is rude and annoying though.  Ultimately it's candidates going AWOL.    These generations don't generally use the phone, decisions are often made quickly with a swipe and will quite happily hit delete on an email.  Most commonly candidates will go AWOL by just not replying to communication - whether it's by phone, text or email.  Frustrating but generally I take the view that they know where I am when they need me.  It's quite difficult to build loyalty in this sector because response is only forthcoming if there is something in it for them - i.e. if the role is of interest and they want to talk.  It's not as easy to be able to chat through requirements and to run opportunities by them.  A lot of my job is getting to understand what someone will be interested in and then being able to call when that something lands.

It's more annoying when it's someone going AWOL from an interview.   This is a deal breaker for me, it's zero tolerance.  As is going AWOL in the first week on a job.  It has only happened once but the candidate disappeared, never to be heard of again.  I still wonder what the heck happened.

So.  Ghosting in Recruitment.   I'm not totally convinced by the jargon.  A lot of it is just poor communication and poor practice by bad recruiters and occasional lack of professionalism and conduct by candidates.  Fortunately it's all pretty rare in my world!

12 Jun 2019

Negotiating Notice Periods...

In the past 6 months, I've seen an increasing number of individuals with longer notice periods than I would traditionally have expected to see.  In the past, only senior agency employees who were critical to the business would have a notice period of longer than one month and it was pretty rare to see anything longer than this.   However, I think that over the past few years, agencies have found that recruitment of new staff to be costly and it is usually easier to retain an existing member of staff than it is to find a new one.  Thus gradually, we're seeing new contracts being issued and new employees being brought in on increased notice periods.  Whilst extending a notice period is unlikely to retain an unhappy member of staff, it will likely impact on the time taken for a) the employee to find a new job as employers faced with two good candidates will generally offer to the one who is available soonest...and b) for the employer to find a new employee to replace the one who is leaving.  Ultimately they want a minimum impact on their clients and a longer notice period gives them time to replace with the right person.  

Of course, increasing notice periods does come with potentially higher costs for employers too.  If they seek to make redundancies then they will be affected by this so it's a calculated gamble for them to increase a notice period.  We're seeing as many notice periods for 2 months as 3 months so I wonder if the 2 month is a 'happy medium' for several clients.  6 months thankfully is rare - typically only at board director level and these individuals don't tend to leave their roles very often.

When signing a contract for a new role, it's typical that initially there will be a probation period where usually there is a notice period of a week on either side for both employee and employer.  We're actually seeing longer probation periods too - historically these were 3 months but more recently we're seeing 6 months become standard.  After a probation period, it is common for more benefits to kick in - pensions and healthcare etc and also for an extension of notice period.    Probation periods to work both ways.  Occasionally, employees find during a probation period that it's not the role they were sold or that they hoped it would be, thus they will aim to secure a role before the probation period comes up and they will be tied in for longer. These individuals will also be available quicker to new potential employers which may be advantageous.

Anyway, I digress.  

Most employees will sign their contract and even if there is a notice period of 3 months, they don't tend to question it.  After all, they would imagine that worst case scenario is them taking gardening leave whilst being paid if redundancy did affect them.  What they don't consider (being in the euphoria of signing up to a new role that they will love), is that if they do want to leave the role, 3 months can feel like a lifetime when searching for a new position and often, new employers either don't want to or can't wait 3 months for someone to start in a new position.

A further complication is that in these straitened times.  Employers will only make a new hire absolutely when they need to - they will not increase their costs until a new client is generally signed, sealed and bedded in....by which time, the existing team may be squealing and the new hire is required quickly....only for the employer to find they need to wait 3 months for the right candidate.

In the old days, it was pretty much true that a new employer will wait for the right person.  If they really want you on board, and you're absolutely right for the role....yes, they'll wait.  But it's less true than it was.    Employers searching for new staff do have choice, generally speaking it's a buyers market and as I said earlier, if there are two good candidates and one is available in one month, one in three....the three month candidate would have to have a significant edge for the employer to wait.   So the point of the blog really (at last she gets there...), was to talk about what to do if you do have a longer notice period and how to approach an employer to see if this can be negotiated.

The first thing I'd recommend is that you are always honest with the new employer from the outset (of the interview process) about what length your notice period is.  Manage their expectations from the get go.    Most individuals know how flexible their existing employer is re' notice periods as it's likely they'll have seen colleagues in the same situation previously.  You can, of course, give your new potential employer an idea of how likely it would be to flex that notice period based on prior knowledge.  

It's quite a complex debate.  Often candidates ask me if they should talk to their existing employer when they start to hunt for a new job and ask in advance if the notice period can be negotiated.  I'd say 99% of the time that this isn't a good idea.   I'd wait until you have a concrete offer and you know how and when your new employer wants you to start.  Most new employers know that worst case scenario, they'll have to wait for you to work your notice period, however, if it's a three month period, they'll probably ask you to see if you can negotiate.  It's always worth asking!  I'd say in 50% of cases, a shorter notice period can be negotiated. You may find that your existing employer was looking for ways to cut costs or that they don't want someone who is leaving to negatively influence the rest of the team. However, they may also need you to stay to give them time to replace you and legally, you are contracted to do that.

I rarely see the situation where a new employer issues an offer and a contract stipulating that the offer is conditional that the individual can get out of an existing contract earlier.  New employers, if they are aware of your notice period from the start of the process will be able to work around it if they can.

I wouldn't recommend calling an existing employer's bluff or just walking out of a contract.   Of course, only you know your employer and what the repercussions might be.  Yes, it's rare that any agency would take you to court (unless you are absolutely pivotal to the business or that you are taking clients with you) but it's a small world that we work in and you will need references in the future.  It's a personal gamble though and only you can make that call. 

There is a whole other subject around this one - that of non competes in a contract.  Again, I can't remember a time when this was ever brought as a case in court but it's very worth being aware what you have signed as it might come back to haunt you.  It's most likely that you'd just get an official looking lawyer's letter but restrictive covenants are rarely enforceable (unless again you are critical to the business or taking confidential information). 

Generally speaking, it's best to ask for a conversation with your MD or line manager. Explain that you have an offer you will be accepting and that you would appreciate a reduction in your notice period. Whilst you may be able to reduce it a little with any due holidays, you are relying on them being reasonable and sporting about it.  It'll be a decision based on costs, client continuity, impact on team and is rarely personal.  Ultimately, you don't know until you ask the question...Good luck!