10 Dec 2018

Handling Rejection...

I do feel genuinely lucky when I sit down at my desk each day.  I am one of the ones who loves what I do - believe me, not everyone loves their job!  Whilst I do enjoy pretty much all aspects of recruitment, it's the ongoing study of people that makes it as interesting as it is.  I'm not claiming to be some sort of cultural anthropologist, but I do see lots of different aspects of an individual's psyche and behaviour and one of the most interesting observations is how people handle rejection differently.  Whilst rejection is clearly a fact of recruitment, there are definitely ways and means to improve your odds and dodge the rejection bullet.

There are, essentially, three different levels of rejection (when it comes to recruitment).  Post application, post first interview and post secondary interview (I'll make the assumption that most positions are decided after 2 interviews).

Post application rejection.
If you're finding that you have a high rate of rejection post application - i.e. after submitting your CV, it's likely that you're not applying for the right roles.  The world of online applications has made it easy to apply for multiple roles with a simple click but I do find that this means individuals have a philosophy of 'the more the merrier' when it comes to the number of roles that they are applying for.  Perhaps in some sectors, the volume approach works, however, I tend to think that a little more time spent researching the right roles to apply for will result in a higher number of responses.     If you identify a particular recruiter who has a high proportion of opportunities advertised that you feel match your skill-set, it's worth contacting them directly and organising a meeting so that they can review you for multiple roles - and a good recruiter will do this.  It's a sign of a poor recruiter if they only look at you in isolation for one opportunity.  I generally recommend to candidates that they identify around 3 recruiters to work with - we'll all have different levels of relationship with different clients.   A good recruiter will highlight any obstacles that you may face (i.e. if you are very specialist or if your sector experience is not so applicable etc.) and identify ways in which you can address this. They'll also identify any issues on the CV that might be improved.   In most cases, the number of rejected applications can be reduced by targeting the right roles on offer.

Rejection post first interview.
First interviews are pretty much always about chemistry and fit.  It works both ways - for the candidate and the employer.  Often, I'll have a brilliant CV and a not so brilliant CV and it is surprising how frequently the not so brilliant CV will come out on top after the first interview.    So I suppose what I'm saying is that you potentially have to kiss a few frogs before you find your Prince. Not too many (or we're back at applying for the wrong roles).  But if you've secured a first interview, it's likely that you have passed the tick box exercise of 'can you do the job'.  At that point, it's then about the cultural fit, the fit with the prospective clients, the teams internally and whether your skills will transfer seamlessly into this new work environment.    Assuming you do, you'll be asked back for a second stage.  If not though, don't take it personally.   Just because someone else had the 'edge' doesn't (necessarily) mean that you were wrong or in some way lacking or inadequate, just that the employer had choice and they made a selection of the 'best' in their opinion for that particular role.  I will add though that you should always ask for feedback as this can be significant in ensuring that you succeed in future interviews.   Yes, I occasionally have feedback that individuals were late, were not enthusiastic (really), did not have good communication skills, looked a mess (I know), could not look people in the eye  - the list is endless!  But with all that feedback, it's possible to do something about it and get it right next time.  I recently had a candidate who was flabbergasted not to be invited back for another interview - the CV was a no brainer, a great fit for the role.  However, the interviewer thought the individual didn't show any enthusiasm for wanting to be there and came across like they were doing them a favour.  That's never going to come across well.  Equally, I have been working with a great Account Manager who consistently never got past first interview.  It turned out they came across too laid back in interview - we addressed it, did a bit of role play and bingo, an offer materialised from the very next interview.  That's why feedback is so important!

Rejection post second interview.
What I will say here is that employers do not waste their time with interviewing. Time is money and all that.  So an employer will not invite you for second interview just for the joy of it.  They are genuinely interested at this point in making a hire.  Unless they have made clear that they are interviewing speculatively in which case you are aware it may not proceed.  Sadly, sometimes post second interview, a role can be dissolved or budget withdrawn and that makes up around 20% of second interview rejections.  Nothing you can do about that so not to worry about it.  Typically at this stage, an employer will ask the candidate to respond to a brief.....This can often be challenging.  All I can say on this subject is that you need to put 100% into the brief.  Anecdotally, often, the 'best' candidates come unstuck when they don't respond well to a brief. Largely they fail to put the work in to get it right and unfortunately at this stage, winging it seldom works.  Someone else (because there usually is someone else) will respond better, have done more research, will have the 'edge' (yep, that word again).  So you need to come up with something that is compelling and therefore a compelling reason to hire you (and not anyone else).  Individuals can often be very unhappy with rejection post second interview.   Usually because they feel they've put a lot of time and effort into something and have then been turned down.  However, it's worth remembering that clients have choices and only one person (usually) can get the job.   Often, I'll have individuals get a bit irritated that they think clients were only interviewing them to get their 'ideas'.  Well, I've not come across a client who has used an individual's ideas from interview (after not hiring them....).  And ultimately that's a gamble that you've got to take. That 'idea' could get you the job. That's your 'edge'.   If there is something in the brief that isn't clear, seek clarification.  Whilst clients are usually keen to see your methods of working and evaluation, they also want the right answer!  As with the other forms of rejection, seeking feedback is key.  If you find you are permanently 'not the one', there could be a reason for that.  It's at this point too where salary considerations come into play so clients will also factor in your 'worth' relative to your cost.  Make sure you understand the salary parameters at the outset of application.  It's very disappointing to have an offer post second interview which is way off the salary mark.

Often, candidates will want to contact a client directly after a second stage rejection.  Usually this is just a note to express disappointment but to hopefully keep the lines of communication open for the future.  That's great.  What isn't so great is contacting the client with a disgruntled missive  - it might make you temporarily feel better but it will usually only serve to convince the client that they made the right decision.  It's OK (professional) to express disappointment and seek clarification and feedback It's not OK to get mad.  

Top Tips:

Apply for appropriate roles
Form relationships with good recruiters - these should be lifetime relationships
Seek feedback at every stage of the process.  Even if you secure a second interview, ask if there are any weaknesses you need to address
Do your prep for each stage.  Going the extra mile can earn those extra brownie points and define your 'edge'.
Don't let something ridiculous let you down. Be on time, be smart, be prepared, be enthusiastic, demonstrate that you really want the job.

Good luck!

29 Nov 2018

Job hopping...

In the olden days....a job was for life.   Things have changed.  Now, I actually think that employers are a bit suspicious if someone has spent a while in their current role.  They worry about lack of ambition or that the employee just wants an easy life.  The other extreme provides just as much suspicion.  Individuals who move roles after less than 12 months cause some concern and those who do it repeatedly cause quite a lot of concern.  I think you can explain staying in a role for a long time quite easily - providing you can demonstrate regular promotion and increased responsibilities, why would you leave an organisation who are giving you opportunities to grow and develop?  But it's harder to justify moving around and becoming a bit of a Job Hopper, particularly early in your career.

I regularly work with individuals who are under 30 years old.  Always very satisfying to help people in the early stages of their career and to see them develop.  Increasingly though, I'm advising them to sit tight for a while with their current employers.  Millenials get a bad rap from a lot of areas and it seems that the label of Job Hopper is yet another of them!  Often deservedly so.  A lot of Graduates arrive in the commercial world and find that starting salaries are £16-18k.  That's not what they thought was going to happen.  However, at that level, it's when you develop skills quickly and individuals are very motivated to keep progressing quickly and to earn more money.   Often too, a Graduate will be 'grateful' initially to get on the career ladder but then within 12 months have confidence that they are now 'more employable' - they are...and will then start seeking out the next opportunity.   I'm not suggesting that people need to spend 5 years in each role.  Rather that a minimum of 18 months in a position is optimal with 2 years being entirely justifiable in seeking a new position (in the eyes of employers).

A note to employers too.  Most employers know that it is easier to retain staff than to hire new ones.  So giving financial incentives at regular intervals for juniors is a good way to improve retention.   Juniors do talk to each other about salaries and the job market (much more than senior staff) and once one moves on, it tends to encourage others to do the same.  Offering a small increase in salary at 6 months and 12 months with another review at 24 months, that can make all the difference.  Obviously it's not all about the money...individuals want responsibility and improved skills.  But I'd say it's 90% about the money for junior staff.

If you've got less than 12 months experience in a role and you are thinking about moving on.  And your key reason is financial....it's always worth having a chat with your boss.  I'm sure that most business owners would prefer to give you a little bit more rather than spending the budget on finding another hire.   If you've only hopped once in your career, that's fine, it's explainable.  However, if you start to hop a bit too frequently, you are going to start losing out to other individuals who have showed staying power and therefore proved they can build longer lasting relationships with clients and colleagues.  Employers don't trust that in 12 months or less that you will have had time to demonstrate true success in a role and therefore someone that they want to invest in.  Put bluntly, they don't want to spend the money on hiring you if you're going to shoot off after 10 months.   When I'm writing job advertisements, one of the key phrases I use very often is 'a good track record' - that's recruiter speak for spending a good amount of time in each role.  It's very visible on a CV and you probably won't get the chance to justify your reasons in an interview - they'll shortlist others who look like safer bets.

I'm not trying to persuade you to sit tight until a clock presents itself but as in all things, balance is best.  Stay in touch though....

29 Oct 2018

When an offer is withdrawn...

I can't remember the last time I heard about an offer being withdrawn.  It's certainly a long time so fortunately it's a rare occurrence.   I had a chat last week, however, with a candidate who had got in touch with me about a fortnight previous to that.  The individual had declined interest in a couple of opportunities that I had in the mix saying that they were at an advanced stage with another potential employer and wanted to see how that went before progressing with anything else (I never understand this one....but then I work in recruitment. I genuinely feel that it's not a good idea to put all your eggs in one basket and it's good to have multiple options).  Anyway, the candidate had a second interview and was subsequently offered the job.  A couple of evenings later whilst out with family celebrating the offer, the phone rang (during the meal), where-upon the offer was withdrawn.  Not a celebration dinner after all.

This individual had applied directly to the employer and no recruiters were involved in the process.  I'm not sure that it would have made any difference to the outcome but I thought it might be useful to cover off in a blog and to give my insight as to what I'd do in such a situation.

My first tips include:

1.  When a formal verbal offer is made to you, ask for the offer in writing.  Do not consider anything set in stone until you have seen a formal offer letter which will include details of the role being offered to you, the salary, the benefits, details of the probation period and an anticipated start date.
2.  Review the offer letter. Don't be in such a hurry to accept that you don't check the detail and the small-print. 
3.  Contracts.  Probably 60% of my clients give an employee their contract on day one in the job.  However, most are happy to provide it early if you are keen to review it.
4.  Don't resign from a current role until you have the offer in writing.
5.  Wherever possible stay on good terms with your current employer.

This candidate was pretty distraught.  The first question was 'isn't a verbal offer legally binding?'.  Technically, yes.  Most offers are conditional only on the receipt of references and occasionally a medical.   However, the majority of agencies that we work with are independently owned and it's unlikely that anyone is going to spend any money on tribunals or employment lawyers if the offer has not yet made it to a written confirmation*.

I had a bit of a chat with fellow recruiters.  We all agreed it was uncommon but occasionally there were extenuating circumstances. Typically, this would be the lost of a major client in the days before a new employee started in the role.  Only one of my colleagues had ever experienced an offer withdrawal due to unsatisfactory references.  Aside from these circumstances, we were unsure why a client would go through the process of hiring an individual, only to withdraw at the last moment. After all, that's a lot of their time they've used in the process too.

In the present situation, it transpired that there was 'A N Other candidate'.  Which is probably the least professional employment process ever.  Ultimately as I say, there isn't a lot you can do at this point and objectively, the best solution is to find yourself another offer ASAP.  I refer to my earlier point of keeping a few different options on the go so you don't find yourself at a standing start again.

If you have resigned from a role to accept a new offer, it's worth chatting to your existing employer.  They may be prepared to keep you on a freelance basis until they find a new employee (if they haven't already...).  Most would be hesitant to take one back permanently as they'd be nervous that you would be off the minute another offer came in - so you'd need to be persuasive in your negotiation.  However, if your present employer hasn't found a new solution, keeping you on would certainly reduce their recruitment pain and cost and also solve any issues of client continuity. So it is always worth having this conversation.

Seek out new opportunities. Make recruiters aware that you are available immediately and that you will consider interim opportunities aswell as permanent. This may open up new avenues to you and often, these interim options are made permanent but will buy you much needed time to consider other options.

As I said at the start, these situations are incredibly rare. Keep a few options in the mix, don't resign until you've had a formal offer letter and in 99.9% of cases, you'll be absolutely secure in your new employment opportunity.

*Note, I'm no lawyer.  Always seek legal advice from someone qualified!!

9 Sep 2018

Psychometric tests....

80% of the recruiting that I do is agency side - that is, for marketing, advertising and digital agencies.  The remaining 20% is client-side.  The key difference between the two is HR departments.  HR people do tend to live up to their stereotypes and they also tend to love psychometric tests.  I can think of one agency who I work with who once tried them....and then ditched it as a costly and time wasting exercise.

And I'm afraid, that's my opinion of them too.  I've recently had a run of client-side marketing roles and they have all had some element of psychometric testing.  I'm a strong believer that a quality candidate/potential employee will have a quality CV.  A decent employer will have a robust interview process, ideally a minimum of 2 interviews where the first is an assessment of 'fit' for the business - culture, personality and chemistry.  The second interview should be a response to a brief of some kind or at the very least something to assess the skills of the individual relative to the requirements of the role. 

Most interviewers will know within the first 10 minutes if an interviewee is right for the role. And it's right that the process continues to a full and thorough assessment of an individual's skills - I get a bit twitchy when an offer is made after one meeting only.  However, I'm pretty sure that after this process, it's sufficient to know if you've found the person you want to hire.  After an offer is made, references should be checked and that, in my opinion, is enough.

In theory, I understand the value of a psychometric test.  Yes, it gives an overall view of the skills of the individual and can raise any red flags that you might need to be aware of - for example, how someone responds under pressure, what their management style is or how they use their persuasion skills.  I asked one of my client-side contacts, what value they gave to the tests and their response was that it's only useful in interviews to give you some basis for questions. However, they also said that each test took £200 out of an already small budget and frankly, they would have been asking those questions regardless of the prompts.  This client also highlighted an incident where they were re-hiring an individual who had worked with the business for 18 months previously and they had to go through the same testing procedure - a bit of a waste of money, what was the test going to tell them that they didn't already know and why would they want to re-hire if that person was no good?  The upshot was that it was something to keep HR departments busy....I don't want to piss anyone off here so I'll just leave that one there.

In a recent example, the additional tests required 2 hours of the interviewees time - that's quite a commitment on top of the 3 interviews they'd already had - and made it quite difficult to reject the candidates who didn't get the job....

I know I would say this, I'm a recruiter...however, when I take a brief, I only supply a small number of CVs for people who are qualified to do the job - and interested in it.  We have a solid interview process to ensure that the client could in fact select any of the individuals based on their actual skills - and then it's down to the client to identify who 'suits' them best - we're back to the best 'fit' - something that is unique to each and every business.  Recruitment is expensive, but the advantage of using a good recruiter is that they save you time, valuable time that you can spend doing your proper job.   Most recruiters offer a rebate period post start date where there is some return on spend if the individual turns out to be less than they hoped.  However, in my experience, rebates are extremely rare -  although that could be due to my excellent recruitment skills!  I also have a very sound radar for when I think a client is not 100% committed to an individual and if asked for an extended rebate period, I will walk away. It shrieks that they are looking to 'test' out someone, safe in the knowledge they'll get their money back.  That's not fair to the individual or the recruiter.

I once worked for a recruitment agency who 'sold' psychometric testing as part of their package for clients....ridiculous.  And recruitment is so much more pleasant when you are not trying to sell useless extras or squeeze more money out of them.  Clients ultimately appreciate you finding people who a) have the right skills to do the job and b) who fit the profile of their business - there is somewhere for everyone....and I'm afraid I don't believe that psychometric tests are going to help with that*.

*I'll put a disclaimer here!  That my experience is solely within recruitment for advertising, marketing and digital sectors, perhaps psychometric tests are useful for say, recruitment of pilots....but again, I doubt it.