9 Nov 2017

Interview Demands

Couple of points to touch on in this month's blog.  I've had a candidate interviewing with a particular client and it has been a long and drawn out process.  This is a demanding client and it has been a very 'robust' process. I'm hoping that we'll have a decision shortly, and whichever way it goes, I'm sure everyone involved will be glad to achieve closure.

The subject of the blog is really that whilst often employers have very speedy recruitment processes with just one interview, there are an equal and opposite number of employers who like the long and drawn out process.  After a fair number of years in recruitment, I'd like to say that there are definitive stats that prove one way is more successful than the other....but there are not!  So many different factors and variables are at play that it's impossible really to draw many conclusions. 

Ultimately though, it's the client/potential employers 'right' to have a recruitment process appropriate to them and their business.  Usually that means a 2 interview process but occasionally can extend to 4.  Typically though, you'll have a first interview which is a chemistry test and then the second interview is a response to a brief or a presentation set by the client.  If there are extended meetings, it tends to be 'meet the team' or 'meet the client'. 

I would say that employers know within the first 5 minutes of meeting candidates, if they like that person, whether that person will 'fit'.  With clients who do speed one interview processes, they rely on gut instinct and whilst they will look at how long someone has been in their past jobs and check out references, they don't see the need in going through umpteen steps to confirm what they already know.

However, if there are a couple of good candidates at the first stage, a second interview is often employed as a test for who is the best.  This can also be construed as 'who wants the job the most'.  Sometime, I can think that a candidate is a 'dead cert' to be offered the job, but client feedback can be that 'they were a bit cocky',  'they hadn't done their homework' or just simply that their 'presentation was weak'.  So, a note of caution that you should always, do your absolute best when it comes to preparation for a second stage that involves a response to a brief or presentation.   These days, the quality of the presentation is as important as the content - as is the delivery. It's not enough to stick a few bullet points onto slides. 

In my current example, the candidate had a good first chemistry test with the client, they both liked each other. This was then followed up with a tough brief which the candidate responded well to. The client enjoyed the presentation, thought the candidate would be liked by the team, thought he could 'technically' do the job.  But still had a couple of reservations... The candidate was very good natured, happy to go with the flow, wanted the job and was putting a lot of effort in - both to find the time to attend multiple interviews and also to put the necessary effort into the preparation - not easy when you've already got a demanding job with a VERY demanding boss and also a busy home life with children too. The client asked the candidate to come back for a 'meet the team' and to complete another brief.  This is quite unusual to have a second brief but equally, the client wasn't prepared to make an offer where there were still unanswered reservations and the candidate took that as a positive.  They too wanted to see really what the agency was like, what it was like 'in situ' rather than with everyone in interview mode.     I spoke to the candidate after the third meeting and interestingly, it served to really cement their interest in the role.  I do say to clients sometimes that it can go the other way. Often, when the recruitment going gets tough, candidates will withdraw from the process because they don't have the time or resources to commit to getting the job - they are aware they haven't got the time to deliver a strong brief....so they pull out.   Whilst I understand that - and sympathise.....clients, generally, don't!  They would simply take that as proof that the candidate didn't want or wasn't up to the job.

Creative candidates often find the interview process the most frustrating.  When they are asked to respond to a brief, it generally involves coming up with a concept and then following it through - designing, writing, artworking etc - it's very hands on. It takes time and effort.  Clients (justifiably) want to see what you are capable of and they also want to see that you want the job.  More senior Creatives, can get frustrated that clients just want their ideas...(I've seen some real fights over this)....but ultimately, if you want the job, you'll do it. If you don't do it, someone else will.  Sorry to be blunt, but that's how it is. 

So again, I am digressing. With the ongoing example, the candidate was late for the second interview.  Just 5 minutes.   Arrived late, apologised, said it was his lunch hour, the delay had been getting into the building, getting a pass organised and getting up to the office. To give credit, the lateness didn't put him off his stride and the interview went well.

But this client is formidable. Zero tolerance really when it comes to lateness.  The candidate didn't call (candidate says....I was in the building, it would have taken me longer to call than just get up there, it is my lunch-hour, it's a rush, I was in the middle of an important briefing....).  Not my problem says the client. It's the candidate's responsibility to get to the interview, on time, well presented and in the right frame of mind to get the job.

That's pretty hard-line. Most clients fortunately are not quite so firm in their views. And in fact, the client here was happy to extend to the third interview, but that 'lateness' is still there in the 'cons' box.  Don't forget that for some people/employers it's the most basic personal skills/habits that they'll rate someone on.  Timeliness, your hand-shake, can you make small-talk, are you smartly dressed, do you exhibit good personal hygeine.  In these examples, they are often deal breakers....so don't let the seemingly 'small stuff' let you down.

In summary, if you are facing an extended interview process, question how much you want the job. If you really want the job, you have to give it 100%.  If you do want the job but you are struggling with time for interviews, time to prepare a brief etc, do talk to the employer or your recruiter. It's not enough to sit in the final interview and say 'I know it's not great but I didn't have time'.  Employers all want to employ people who really want to work for them, they want proof of that.  If you don't want the job, then you shouldn't really be at interview.

Fingers crossed for a positive outcome for my candidate today!

Tips for getting the most out of interviews:

Be punctual!
Give yourself time to prepare for the interview.
Ask the client or the recruiter if they have any reservations from the first interview which you can address head on at second stage.
If you don't get the job offer, ask for feedback. If it's constructive, use it in your next interviews!
Read all the PMP blogs - EVERYTHING has been covered in the past few years!

12 Oct 2017

Competency Interviews

I've got a friend who is currently looking for a new role and in their industry, interviewing for a new role is almost entirely done by HR Professionals who will typically use Competency based interviewing as their main tool in the recruitment process.  Now, in the advertising industry, you're more likely to be asked what strengths you can attribute to your star sign (true story), but we are seeing more agencies taking on HR staff and we're all going to have to be aware of how to interview slightly differently. I said I'd give my friend some tips and then thought I'd kill two birds etc and do a blog on the subject. 

So.  The basics. What is a competency based interview.  Essentially, this is where the questions will all target a specific skill or competency.  Candidates are asked questions relating to their behaviour in specific circumstances which you then need to back up with concrete examples.

The best advice I can give anyone for such an interview is to be prepared.  Years ago, when I was a candidate myself, I did actually purchase a book called 'Top answers to 100 interview questions'. It was brilliant.  Whilst the thought of 'revising' for an interview might seem a bit bonkers, you should never underestimate interviews or be blase about your experience and skills seeing you through.

HR is a sector in itself.  HR Professionals can be quite a challenging breed of individuals.  Some are great - they understand what they're recruiting for and you can have a competency based interview with added common sense.  Occasionally though you'll find yourself with an HR Professional who perhaps does not have a great understanding of the role they are interviewing for - and in this situation, you have to 'manage the person interviewing you' - without being condescending or disdainful.  In the worst cases, you can see the boxes that they have to tick/score and it can feel like a very painful hour.

Anyway, I'm digressing.  You have no control over who is going to interview you so all you can do is turn up on time, be smart and presentable and assess the person yourself when you arrive.  Don't forget to take a copy of your CV (or two), any supporting information you have been asked for and a notebook and pen.  I would recommend that you don't take your iPad and take notes on that  - it generally doesn't go down well.  Plus, with a notepad, you can make pre-written questions for them (often your mind goes blank in an interview when asked 'have you got any questions for us') and if there are specific things that you really want to say, you can highlight those so that you don't forget.  Make small-talk with the receptionist and be friendly and engaging to everyone you meet.  That's the basics.  You'd be surprised how often candidates ignore these and it lets them down.


Back to the questions.   The most common way to answer competency based questions is using the STAR technique. This describes:

The Situation
The Task required as a result
The Action that you took
The Result of that action

Ultimately, interviewers are not trying to catch you out.  Typically you will have been invited to interview based on the strength of your CV.  So this interview is more about understanding exactly the role that you have played and actually, if you prepare well, you will be reminded (hopefully) of your own strengths and this revision will make you respond much more fluently and cohesively during the interview.  

Do a bit of research before the interview.  Obviously, you need to know the job requirements so that you can tailor your answers to that.  Think of the interview as being the opportunity you have to point out where you can add value to each of the requirements on the job description.  Talk about what you can do, not what you can't!  Create a list of predicted questions - it's not that hard, tailor them again to the job description and make sure you are 'answering the question' - don't try and sidestep - treat it like an exam. You have to answer and respond so that the interviewer can 'tick' the box that you do indeed have the right character/skills/fit for the role, particularly relatively to other candidates. 

How to come up with your predicted questions

What are the key skills that employers look for when recruiting?

  • Teamwork
  • Responsibility
  • Communication skills
  • Decision making
  • Leadership
  • Problem-solving
  • Organisation
  • Goal orientation
Clearly, the type of question that you are asked will depend entirely upon the role and industry you are applying for, the common themes that are asked in competency based interviews are:

Tell me a time when…
Can you think of an example of how/when…

Describe a way in which you…

So thinking about your own sector you need to come up with some questions that you are likely to be asked which will be asked in the above manner to demonstrate the above skills.  Take a highlighter pen through the job description and highlight the key skills that are essential to the job. Then create your questions and answers around these.  Make sure you utilise the whole of your career, you can include school/university. The important thing is to use different examples, not just one for every question.
This blog is already long.  If you need sample answers that you can bastardise then use Google! There do seem to be a lot of sites all giving advice in this area so do some research. Or look for that 100 great answers book..
Remember when prepping the answers, it's not rocket science. Stick to the STAR technique. Keep your answers succinct and to the point - answer the question.  If you find you can't answer easily, try using a different example to talk about.  Make sure you don't fall into any 'traps'.  Say for example you were asked to about an example of having to handle a challenging colleague in the work-place. Employers don't want to hear the nitty gritty where you assassinate a former colleague's character because they were lazy, rude etc.  They want to hear what YOU did and you need to keep it positive talking about how your awesome skills allowed you to neutralise/solve the problem.  Negativity goes down very badly in interviews.

Finally.  My top tips:

Write out your list of predicted questions with your model answers.
Practice your answers OUT LOUD in front of a mirror or in front of partner/dog etc
Know when to stop talking. Don't ramble. 
Be positive. Particularly about colleagues, employers, customers etc.
Don't lie
Check out the social media feeds for the business - be up to speed on all their current affairs
Don't forget the notebook, pen, CV, Job Description etc. 
Get a good night's sleep before the interview
Arrive 15 minutes before the interview.
Engage with the interviewers before the interview 'starts'. Try a bit of small talk.

Good luck!

11 Sep 2017

Telephone Interviews...

I never used to be a fan of the telephone interview but they are becoming increasingly common so I am regularly preparing candidates for the experience.  Time poor Managers are trying to reduce the interview lead time by conducting first interviews by phone – although I have noticed that the clients who like to do first interviews by phone tend to interview twice as many candidates – so perhaps they don’t actually save that much time at all! 

The majority of telephone interviews tend to be 20 to 30 minutes long.  The best advice I can give you is to never under-estimate a telephone interview.  Clients genuinely want to be able to create a second interview shortlist as a result of the call and they themselves are usually armed with several questions/filters that they want to resolve during the chat.

So I would prepare much as you would for a face to face interview. That would include website and social media research, review of client case studies, having a copy of your CV and the Job description in front of you having done some cross referencing on where you can add value – use big pointers to highlight things that you really want to get across to the interviewer.  Always have examples of your key skills and have a list of projects/campaigns that you’ve worked on that demonstrate these skills – it’s great to have these to hand when the brain isn’t working quickly enough to think on the spot. Keep your notes brief so that you can refer to them easily without shuffling lots of paper around.

One client said to me recently that the reason he chooses to do first interviews by phone is to avoid judging people based on looks and presentation.  This is a good thing.  I often think that in a face to face interview, an interviewer can decide in the first 5 minutes that someone isn’t right – and that’s got to be built on quick personal judgements as you’ve barely had a chance to say anything at that point!

Another client makes the point that the majority of client relationships are managed by phone so he wants to see if future recruits have a good telephone manner, if they can have a proper conversation, if they can engage and have empathy over the phone. 

As per face to face interviews, do your homework then focus on your surroundings.  Make sure you are somewhere quiet for the call with no interruptions.  A candidate recently thought they’d manage to do a phone interview whilst their 3 year old was in the same room.  Whilst the interviewer was from a family friendly agency, they just felt that the individual hadn’t valued a phone interview with the same importance as a face to face interview – you’d never attend an interview with your child would you? (And remember that recent BBC news reporter who was skyping when his toddler burst into the room. Not good – although very funny.)

I’d recommend that you stand up and try to smile during the chat.  You might feel like a bit of a plonker but I assure you it will make a difference.   Use the name of the interviewer when responding to questions – but don’t overdo it.  Make sure you have enough battery on your phone – you don’t want the technology to let you down. For some candidates, a quick caffeine fix is required 45 minutes pre-call, just to ensure you are firing on all cylinders.  Best not to go to the other extreme with a couple of glasses of wine though.. .(things you’d think I wouldn’t need to advise....#354). Save that for when you’ve got the job.

8 Aug 2017

Are you in your dream job?

Ok.  Here it is.  I’m not sure there is any such thing as ‘the dream job’.   I was reading a competitor’s blog last week and they were advising clients how to make their internal roles, their candidate’s dream roles thus gaining loyalty and staying power from an increasingly transient workforce.  It got me thinking.  What would my dream job be/have been? Probably a travel journalist at one stage and I can definitely remember wanting to be a Doctor, until I saw a corpse and gave up on that one.  I definitely never set out to be a Recruitment Consultant – yet, of all the jobs I’ve had, it has been the most satisfying, most flexible, most rewarding – financially and personally job that I’ve done. So technically, it is my dream job. 

I think there are a few things going on here.  Firstly the definition of your dream job and secondly, the realisation that that definition can change throughout your lifetime and what was your dream job at the age of 25, probably won’t be by the time you are 45.  We’re very lucky really. In my parent’s generation, your job was your job.  You did it for life.  Albeit, you did usually get a final salary pension scheme too so they didn’t do that badly!  These days, we are able to change career and increasingly, people are looking for alternative ways to make a living that don’t involve a relentless daily commute or mind numbing 9-5 . 

 I do see several candidates try to make the break.  And whilst there are a few who have succeeded, there are an equal and opposite number who after perhaps a year or two years doing something different, have come back to the industry.  Often it’s because the grass isn’t always greener but often, simply because the ideal dream role with lots of flexibility and balance, doesn’t always pay very well.  Often, I’ll see candidates who want to ‘Freelance’ or ‘be a Marketing Consultant’.  It’s really important to weigh up the pros and cons of doing this before committing.  I think in the North, there is a great Freelance market for Project Managers, Developers and top quality Designers.  Not so much for client services, account handlers or in-house marketers. The best we can do there is usually maternity contracts.  Most often, the consultants find that they can fill 2 days of work with an old client or existing work but it can be tricky to top up...and then financially it doesn’t become the same win win plan.  Lots of time but not enough money...

We also see quite a few industry leavers who go into alternative therapies, life coaching and yoga teaching. Again, the feedback is that whilst these opportunities are personally rewarding, the financial side of things is a bit of a come down.  And increasingly we find individuals coming back into the jobs market.

So there is definitely something to be said for employers trying to make their employee’s lives as enjoyable as possible.  We’re very lucky to work in marketing. For the most part, it’s interesting, challenging, has lots of variety, is evolving all the time etc.   In my annual surveys, the most important benefit that employees value is the number of days holiday and the ability to buy extra days.  Second in line is flexible working. Whether this is one day a week working from home or the ability to start at 8 and leave at 4 or start at 10 and leave at 6.   Increasingly pensions are both requested and provided. Other softer benefits including  gym membership, free fruit,  pizza Fridays etc – they are nice but it’s the things that allow quality of life with family and friends that make the difference.  I think over the coming years, we’re increasingly going to see individuals wanting to work part time and employers who can accommodate this will probably find increased loyalty and greater staying power in their employees.  In my recent experience, as individuals enter their forties and fifties, they don’t want to stop working, but they’d love to work less.  At the moment, this is more easily accommodated with in-house marketing roles than in agencies but perhaps that will change as the century progresses.  We will see.

So, are you in your dream job now?  As long as you feel like you have a good work life balance, are paid fairly and you get a kick out of what you do? I’d say yes you probably are.  If not, give me a call and we’ll see if we can find it!