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!

23 May 2019

The most annoying mistakes on a CV....

I've not blogged for a while about CV mishaps but on a regular basis I find myself rolling my eyes at a new CV in my inbox.  Recent highlights include someone who didn't even remember to put their name on it and don't get me started on the people looking for new rolls working with lots of steakholders.  Anyway, this isn't a rant, it's meant to be a helpful look at what you can do to ensure that your CV gets noticed for the right reasons.  And a reminder that your CV is the one single thing that a potential employer first sees which will 'sell' you to them and that you will be in a pile with a few other CVs.  Any glaring mistakes and you'll be at the bottom of that pile.  I'm surprised how often a CV is rushed together, quickly amended with a new paragraph to include updated job details which then leads to different fonts, a cock up with the dates (usually), use of the wrong tense in the previous role and a CV that just gets longer and longer.  So here are my most annoying mistakes on a CV.  If I find them annoying, you can bet that your potential new employer will find them annoying too.


I could write chapter and verse on just the typos that I see on CVs. But I won't as it just really comes under 'Sloppiness'.  Attention to detail is one of the key strengths that employers look for in their staff and if you can't demonstrate that on your CV, you won't get the job.  It's game over without even an interview.  Typos are the obvious one but under this heading I also want to see the same font (and nothing fancy or italicy), I want the dates to be consistent and I want anything outdated to come out of the CV.  If a potential employer thinks the CV is sloppy, they'll think you're lazy.  You can't be bothered to make sure that the CV is the best thing you have to represent you....and they'll translate that to how you will be in the work-place.

Personal Profiles.

If you are going to have a personal profile (and genuinely I don't have anything against them per se) then it's important to get it right.  The most annoying profiles are the ones which are basically a long line of adjectives, popular ones include passionate, driven, flexible, determined, enthusiastic....At some point, I just think Blah and switch off.  So a potential employer will too.   A good personal profile can make a real difference, the key is to make it personal to you rather than the list of adjectives.  Make the profile about key achievements and objectives.


If I never see the phrases 'strategising' (or even strategizing)  or blue-sky thinking or outside-the-box again, it will be too soon.   Keep your use of buzzwords to a minimum.  It's jargon.  You know it and the potential employer knows it too.  They'll be visualising you as someone who is full of hot air.


To be fair, if I had to write a CV, I'd probably look online for a template too.  But I'd make sure I customised it properly.  It's meant to help give you some structure and a 'look'.  As with everything these days, everything is about content so make sure you adapt the template to you and your experience.

Bullet Points. 

Generally I love bullet points.  But not when they all start with 'responsible for.....'.  Bullets give you the ability to highlight your strengths and achievements so that the reader immediately 'gets' you.  Don't make them think 'Blah'.


In the old days, we (recruiters) used to bang on about 2 sides of A4 being sufficient for a CV. And generally speaking, that's still true.  You'd be surprised how easy it is to edit a CV if you give yourself time to do it properly and to consider if you really need everything that is in there. You don't really need to list all your university holiday jobs when you're an Account Director and don't waste 6 lines on personal details.  Equally, don't feel the need to reduce everything to 6 point font with extended margins so that you can fit it all in....Employers want to read something that is pleasing to the eye and not all crammed together. 


I get it.  It's the part of the CV where you get to show your human side, where you get your personality across.  I'm sure there are different schools of thought on this but my own personal view is to keep it brief.  We don't need chapter and verse.  Nicely self deprecating but not boastful.  I don't particularly need to know the name of your cats (true), that you gained grade 1 violin at age 10 or even your golf handicap.  Neither do I think it's a great idea to list gambling as a hobby (also true).


It's an interesting fact that seldom do I look at a CV with a photo and think that it was a good idea to include it.  Very few people have a great CV photo.  If you are going to have one, use an excellent quality photo, definitely not a holiday snap, definitely not with you in a bikini (true), or with a tiger (true) or with Richard Branson (true).  Keep it as a headshot, fully clothed with a nice neutral background.  Friendly but not scary.  You see, it's fraught with potential problems and the use of a poor choice of photo also has the capacity to put an employer off - yes, people do judge on appearances, no they shouldn't but they do.   Much easier all round not to have one on there.

In summary. Writing your CV is a task for a weekend.  Do it properly, it's an investment in time worth making.   If you are putting it off, I'd actually start from scratch. The worst CVs are those which have been cobbled together and bits added to again and again - these are full of errors, grammatical, the wrong fonts, old and useless information etc.   Keep it precise and concise. Not too wordy, not too flowery.  Not too formal, not too informal.  It's all about balance.  If you are going for a specific role then yes, it's worth tailoring the CV specifically for that role....but then remember when you later use the same CV that it was tailored for a different role (!).   I try to do my bit and spot the errors or gently recommend amending CVs if they need it but really it's in your interest to get it right.  Get a close friend to check it for you and above all, make sure there are no typos.

1 Apr 2019

Marginal Gains...

I'm a big fan of cycling.  Specifically road and track racing.  Actually triathlon too but in today's blog I'm going to be borrowing one of Sir Dave Brailsford's greatest contributions to the wonderful sport of cycling.  The concept of using 'marginal gains' to succeed has been adopted within the business community since he first put it to use when he was with British Cycling and later with Team Sky.  I've adopted it too - for many different areas of my life!  But specifically, today, I'm going to apply it to the world of interviews. 

I'm often surprised and frustrated when candidates let themselves down whilst interviewing by not paying attention to the simple and often most basic elements of interview technique.  It's almost as if people are freely giving away the advantage to other individuals.  These 'basics' are the easiest points to score but also 'offend' the most if you don't get them right.  Of course, there are then the more in-depth areas of the interview to get right but you can gain 'edge' over other candidates in the process, at every stage  and it is the sum of these little advantages (these marginal gains) that will build into something significant that will make you the stand-out candidate.

So.  Where can you make these gains?  They are mostly pretty obvious, however, you'd be very surprised how many people get things wrong.....

Here are some tips:

1. Arrive at your interview a little early.  Not too early but specifically, don't be late!
2. Dress appropriately.  Ask in advance to verify.  I usually recommend smart casual, there are few environments in the marketing world where it's necessary to be suited and booted.  However, being too casual can run the risk of offence (even if day to day attire in an agency is dress down, it still pays to respect an interview with a polished look).
3. Personal Hygiene & Presentation. Be clean.  Give yourself a sniff... A new one for me recently too was a client who commented on chipped nail varnish....they felt that this indicated general 'sloppiness'.
4. Greet the receptionist. Make small talk.  I once got a job by doing this.  The MD of the company saw two strong individuals for 2nd interview.  He couldn't make his mind up so he asked the receptionist who she liked best.  She gave me her vote and I spent 4 years there.  This is also good for settling nerves before you start the interview.
5.  Have a good handshake and look your interviewers in the eye.  Have good posture.
6.  Make sure you have prepared in advance.  Take a copy of the job description, and your CV.  It looks good if you have annotated the description with where you can add value.  Have a notepad with some pre-prepared questions.  Have a strong answer to 'what do you know about us'. 
7.  Whilst most marketing interviews, particularly agency side are not very formal, don't be fooled into thinking it's 'just a chat'.  You have potentially only one chance to 'sell' yourself so don't shoot yourself in the foot.  It's a good idea to spend some time preparing answers to a variety of interview questions in advance.   Having thought about it, you are then able to answer questions much more fluently and with some strong examples that demonstrate exactly how good your skill-set is.  This sort of preparation should serve you well in every interview that you go for - so it's worth doing. 
8.  Make sure you are enthusiastic and engaged.  Come across like you want the job, this job, not any job.  Articulate why you do!
9.  If you are asked to respond to a brief.  Do it properly. Don't do a half baked presentation.   Going the extra yard on a brief can get you the job.  Immerse yourself in what they are looking for.  Make sure you address every aspect of the brief.  Ensure that the presentation itself is engaging.  Don't kill the audience with slides. Make it look professional.   Whilst some candidates can get a bit snappy about responding to a brief, it's a sure-fire way for a prospective employer to see what you can do and how you will approach a task.  It's an investment of time to get a job offer.
10. Before you leave the interview, ask if there is anything else you can say whilst you are there to overcome any reservations that they may have.  Leave the interviewer knowing that you really want the job.
11.  Because we're specifically in advertising and marketing. Have examples of brands you love and brands you hate up your sleeve. Be on the ball with regards to current campaigns in the media and have an opinion on them. Demonstrate that you understand what the brand was trying to do.

Quite often, a candidate who I consider to be a 'shoo in' on paper, is absolutely the opposite in the flesh.  Generally this is for reasons of over confidence and under preparation.  Whilst it does obviously vary according to the role that is being interviewed for, most employers just want good employees who are hard working, engaged, love what they do, are skilled at what they do and who will fit into the business and it's culture.   As with all things, it's about balance.  Employers don't want arrogance but neither do they want a retiring wallflower or someone who is overly self deprecating.  They want positivity and drive, enthusiasm, innovative thinking and someone who is always ahead of the game - pretty much regardless of the actual role.  It's the little things that add up to a clear advantage. Good luck!