18 Dec 2014

Is honesty the best policy?

Just a short post.  I was chatting to a candidate last week who was in a bit of a conundrum.  They wanted to be honest with their boss and tell them that they were looking for a new job.  Is this a good idea? they asked.

Erm...the short answer is no. It's not.

Obviously it's a tricky one.  The candidate worked in a small agency environment and she got on well with the boss.  She felt that she would be letting him and the agency down by leaving them and wanted to give them time to find someone new.

I've said before that when you are looking for a new job, it is important to look after number one.  It's also important not to shoot yourself in the foot.  It's always much easier finding a new job whilst you are in the secure position of having a job (and earning a salary).  By making your boss aware of your plans, at this point, they'll start to look after number one too - themselves.  Ultimately they will want to ensure they have client continuity and there will not be any impact on client service levels.  Even if you think that you and your boss are best buddies with lots of mutual respect, everything would shift if you give them this heads up.

Whilst in an ideal world, the conversation would be nice and mature, with your boss agreeing that you can keep your job until you find a new one.  In this ideal world, you'd leave and there would be a lovely period of overlap with the new person so that you could dance off up the career ladder and your boss would be happy to have the new replacement all inducted before you'd gone.

I've never known that happen.  I've seen bosses throw tantrums, ask people to leave straightaway (not ideal, you're now vulnerable and whilst you might be paid until the end of the month, it can take a long time to get a new job and the freelance market in the North isn't great.  I've seen candidates treated horribly whilst they continue to work in the same environment - but not part of the team - you're not one of them now.

This strategy has occasionally worked where couples are relocating from London to the regions and candidates know they are moving city.  I think the difference is that the client knows that the candidate is moving for geographical reasons and they're not off to a competitor or just to earn more money.  I'd still be very nervous though.  It can take up to 6 months to find a new role, longer if for the higher salary bands and whilst it depends on your financial circumstances, the worst case is your boss asking for your resignation and  you finding yourself out of work because they found your replacement really quickly and then didn't actually need you.

The other occurrence that I see is where there are long notice periods, candidates are now handing in their notice and gambling that they are going to find a new job in that timescale.  Again, this is risky although it is a calculated one.  Mostly, clients would prefer not to wait 3 months for a new starter....so if it's a choice between someone available in a month versus 3 months, you might lose out.  Several candidates had found themselves second choice for this reason and therefore handed in their notice with no job to go to.

I'm not advocating dishonesty with your boss, I don't see it like that.  It's commercial. People do move jobs - it's a fact of life and companies understand that people want to progress their careers.  If you want to tell your boss you're on the lookout, take a really long look at what your motives really are - is there a subconsious hope that they'll suddenly pay you more & beg you not to go?  I guess really, each to their own but I say you're not obligated to tell them and unless you have a start date lined up for your new role, don't even mention your plans until you are ready to resign!

20 Nov 2014

Working hours...

I’m increasingly being asked by candidates to find them a role within an organisation where long hours are not the norm.  It’s a tricky one.  Approximately 80% of my placements are made within marketing, advertising or digital agencies....and long hours tend to be part of the culture.  Not in all agencies, but historically, that has certainly been the case.  In the majority of clientside businesses, people do pack up their bags at 5pm and they are out of the door. With an increasing desire for the work life balance, agency candidates are increasingly seeking clientside positions – even if it means compromising their enjoyment of the overall job.

I’m no particular fan of long hours.  In my last agency role, my Timesheets regularly exceeded 85 hours – I sustained this for 5 years before packing it in and going in-house.  But for the majority of those 5 years, I loved the buzz, I was actually productive (this wasn’t about presenteeism) and I actually thought it was the norm.  In my twenties, I felt it was my time to shine and to develop skills – and that meant putting the job first, and my clients, all the time.  Outside of the office, I mostly drank wine or slept.  In my thirties, it changed, I got married, I wanted to spend time with my husband, I started doing Triathlons, I took up learning French and joined a choir.  Work didn’t define me (as it had earlier in my career), work continues to be something I do to enable me to enjoy other parts of life.  I’ve got the balance I want, but then I work for myself!  And I am often at my desk at 0600.

So, anyway, less about me.  Agencies do generally expect employees to put the hours in. As in any industry where you are managing client relationships and projects.  Every agency contract will stipulate normal hours....but they’ll also have a clause that states ‘from time to time you may be expected to work additional hours....’.   Many agencies demand this from their junior staff in particular and competition being fierce for such positions, candidates do have to grin and bear it.  A candidate recently was rejected from a role because her first question was ‘what are the working hours?’  swiftly followed by ‘how long do I get for lunch’.  I understood the client’s position.  They take on 6 Account Executives a year and they provide proper training and development, great clients and marketing campaigns to work on and serious progression.  If a candidate questions hours so early into the interview, I’m not sure that it gives the right impression.  In your twenties, it is right that the career comes first, you’re in a work hard, play hard mould  - and if you’re not prepared to do that – someone else will be, and they’ll get the job.  The client later said to me that for the past 3 months, their team had been launching a major brand and that rarely did she get home before 9pm. It won’t be like that forever but they needed people on board who would roll up their sleeves and get on with it.
Most of the agencies I work with have relaxed slightly since back in the day.  Many now do offer a start of up to 0930 – particularly if you have worked late the night before.   Most agencies will pay for Pizza for the team so that they don’t get too grumpy and most will allow some form of time off or additional holiday/benefits if the hours are consistently excessive.

I’ve said in previous blogs that there is somewhere for everyone.  I’ve got a pretty good understanding of the agencies across our region and I know which ones have long hours and which don’t.  I know the agencies who will look at flexi-working or the odd day working from home.  The advantages of agency life are that no day is the same, you’re constantly challenged with new briefs, different brands – variety etc. The downside is that a client can ring you at 5.30 and demand that something is on their desk for 0900 the next day....There are pros and cons!

Most of my candidates in their thirties, step back a little.  They’ve generally proved themselves career wise and in the case of women, this is where they start a family and the hours of many agencies can make it challenging to say the least.  As most client services people are women (let’s say 75%), agencies have had to adapt a little.  Flexible hours to allow them to do drop off and pick up – followed by being on the mobile/laptop from home.  Generally at this level, the women are now Account Directors or senior enough to have a team, who are back at the office doing the do. 
There are not many agencies allowing people to work from home.  And whilst yes, lots can be done via email and Skype. Creative agencies do require team working, brainstorming, planning conversations etc and that’s not generally practicable from home.

My top tips:

If you’re a junior in client services or creative – long hours are to be expected. You’re developing your career and these hours will pay off.

If everyone else is putting the hours in (genuinely & not under presenteeism), you need to.  Be a Team Player. Morale will be dire if one of the team isn’t seen to be pulling their weight.

If you want some flexibility. As for it.  The worst that your boss can say, is no.  But they’d rather keep you happy than have to spend a fortune on replacing you.

If you really and truly only want to work 9 to 5. You probably need to go clientside.  You can be honest with your recruiter and tell them this but never ever ask what the hours are in a first interview – on either side of the fence.

If you really don’t want to work long hours. Don’t go into events management.  These guys work the most hours of any other candidates in the industry!  (But they generally love what they do)
Clients are more open to flexibility the longer you have worked for them.  Bear in mind that you do have to prove yourself first to earn the right to more flexible working (it does require trust on the part of the employer.

Be your own boss.  Working for yourself you can do as many hours or as few as you want.  But you won’t be guaranteed a salary at the end of each month!

If you really want to work in an Advertising agency with a short working week.  Learn French and go and work in a Paris agency....the French work less hours than anyone else in Europe, and they seem to manage OK.

4 Oct 2014

Non Competes...

I’m going to start this one by reminding you all that I’m a Recruitment Consultant, not a Lawyer.  I have no lawyerly qualifications and as with any kind of legalese,  the only way you can be really sure that you’re not going to be sued, is to consult someone who is qualified to give you that sort of advice.

And even then, they generally won’t give you a definitive answer.  Because Lawyers never do.

However....as a Recruiter, I do get to observe employment contracts all the time.  In my humble opinion some of the contracts businesses ask their employees to sign are not really worth the paper they're written on.  Whilst many companies do take the contractual side of things very seriously, many don’t!  Well, they don’t until you want to leave, and then they kick up a stink.

I should say that it’s not often that employees and employers end up wrangling over contractual conditions.  But recently, there have been a couple cases that I thought worth sharing should you end up in this position.  The main area of contractual dispute tends to be "non-competes"; essentially these clauses are intended to stop an employee heading off to a competitor taking key clients  with them, sharing sensitive information or poaching other employees.

I think it's fair to say that few people really read employment contracts fully when offered a role.  Generally, the candidate is excited to have been offered a role and they really only look to confirm salary, hours, holiday allowance and bonus structure. I'd advise taking the time to review some of the small print and challenge anything you're not happy with as this is much easier done up front. Once you’ve signed something, you can’t really take it back.

When it comes to non-competes, the comment I hear most often is "it wouldn’t stand up in a court of law".  But to be honest very very few cases actually end up in court, which makes the couple of examples I've seen recently of companies threatening to enforce non-compete clauses seem quite ridiculous.  Going to court to prevent an employee potentially taking information, clients or other staff when they leave would cost an employer a lot of money. Most of the time, it isn’t worth it, for all but the most senior roles who'd have close relationships across a number of key client accounts. 
When an employee has decided to leave, chances are they're going to be staying in the same industry and, likely as not, in the same locality.  So an Account Manager leaving Agency X in Manchester for a promotion, better pay or just to work on different clients is quite likely to end up at a direct competitor of Agency X also in Manchester.

Recently this happened to a candidate of mine.  When handing in her notice to the small independent agency she was working at, her boss reminded her that only that week, he had put a contract appendix on her desk which included new clauses saying that she could not go to work for a competitor. He stated that therefore she could not leave and if she did leave, he would take her to court.  Bearing in mind that this was an Account Manager earning £25k per year, yes she was the day-to-day contact with clients but realistically her leaving wasn't a threat to her current agency.  In this case her original contract (which she had signed 2 years previously) made no mention of these non-compete clauses and whatever her current boss had landed on her desk, had not been discussed, nor signed.  Therefore, I’m pretty sure that would let him down ‘in a court of law’.  Secondly, the agency she was going to worked only in a very specific sector.  Her current agency had no clients in this sector.  So there was no direct threat of her ‘stealing’ clients.  The ‘new appendix’ wording was also extremely broad along the lines of ‘you will not be able to work for any competitor business within a 30 mile radius of Manchester’.  Even had this been part of the original contract, I understand this would be extremely difficult to enforce as it's far too unspecific therefore preventing the candidate from earning a living.
Essentially this boss was a bit of a bully, felt aggrieved that someone wished to leave and wanted to make it as difficult as possible.  After 3 years solid and efficient service this seems a shame rather than recognising that few staff stay in one business for life these days.  In the end the candidate felt they needed to take legal advice and was reassured that a) the new clauses wouldn't be considered part of their contract and b) even if it had been, it was highly unlikely to have been enforceable or to have got to the stage of her being sued.

When I did a bit of research into this, the application of non-compete clauses come down to reasonableness in terms of an employer being able to protect their legitimate interests in ensuring their business isn't damaged by key staff taking commercially sensitive information or directly soliciting specific clients and other staff to encourage them to move with them a new employer. The clauses should not serve prevent staff leaving altogether or even going to a company in the same sector or region where this can't be shown to directly lead to loss of business to the original employer. Thus a court would generally only consider enforcing non-competes for senior level employees who have been instrumental in acquiring and directing client accounts.  In this case, I can quite understand that they may be able to influence clients and there could be multi-million pound accounts at stake, so yes the non compete clauses do become much more important. 

The second example I came across was where the client asked an employee to leave the business.  Not redundancy, just ‘mutual agreement’ (I want you to leave...).  In this example, the candidate had two months notice period and before she left, asked for confirmation that she would be paid her 2 months salary,  which the client concurred.   This is dicey ground, had the candidate taken legal advice, I am pretty sure that this would be classed as unfair or constructive dismissal and yes, in the films, you’d leave with mega bucks.  However, the candidate hadn’t been terribly happy and was very shocked to have been faced with this on what was a normal Monday morning and they thought, they’d rather just leave and take the 2 months salary.  The problems came about when the client reminded the candidate that they had clauses in their contract stating that they could not work for a competitor within a 20 mile radius for a period of 12 months.  When faced with the loss of your job, surely the natural reaction is to find another job – in the same industry and city as that is what you do!  The candidate felt that they’d been effectively told to leave thus surely all bets were off.  Not the case, these clauses can survive termination of the overall employment contract for whatever reason.    The candidate in this case has taken this as a spur to set up on her own but is being extra careful to try and find completely new clients as she is only to aware that if her old boss suspected she was even speaking to previous contacts he'd almost certainly be issuing legal letters. 

As with all legal stuff, there often isn’t a black and white answer.  Which is why I’m a Recruiter not a Lawyer.  But my advice is read your contract before you sign it.  Clarify anything you are uncomfortable with.  This is the time to negotiate and if the employer wants you on board, they’ll negotiate.  Be wary of anything that looks unreasonable – it probably is.  Get a lawyer to check it if you are really worried – it’s the only way you can put your mind at rest.  And also, it is worth remembering that employers are super protective of their businesses, they take it personally when you leave and often, they’re not reasonable or nice about it. No matter how long you’ve given them loyal and committed service.

23 Aug 2014

Salary....the gender gap?

I've been reading a lot about the gender pay gap.  According to the Chartered Institute of Professional Development (CIPD), whilst the gap has been significantly reduced since the 1970s, wages still differ dramatically between the sexes after the age of 30.

Now, I'm only really qualified to make observations on salaries in the marketing sector.  My experience is that we don't follow the trend. Particularly in advertising and marketing agencies, salaries are largely banded and companies go to great lengths to ensure that individuals doing the same role (i.e. level) are earning roughly the same.  A person's sex is largely as irrelevant as it should be.  However, one observation that I have made, time and again, is that men negotiate harder!  

One area of the recruitment process I focus on is managing salary expectations.  Clients expect a clear understanding of remuneration expectations from a candidate and it's often my role to help guide in terms of what is reasonable and what is outrageous.  It's a bit of a balancing act to keep everyone happy.  If subsequently, upon receiving an offer, a candidate changes their salary demands, it tends to upset the client and they don't like haggling with someone who has moved their goalposts.

What I've increasingly found is that it tends to be men, much more frequently than women, who increase their demands at the last minute.  While this is a generalisation, more often than not, women will ask for a certain salary and if offered that salary, will be happy to accept.  Men, on the other hand, nine times out of ten, ask for more.  Occasionally they succeed but not often.

Rather than a pure focus on salary, women are often looking at other benefits and this can mean they sacrifice a little salary in order to take up a role closer to home or with more flexible working conditions.  I'm not being disloyal to the sisterhood but do find there is also a case of women, after the age of 30, prioritising other things (most commonly family) and, while wanting a decent salary, not necessarily being desperate to continue clambering up the career ladder.  Whereas the alpha males continue their drive and ambition for world domination - and big salaries.

Ultimately, most agencies have fixed salary bandings - they know staff talk about money and don't want disgruntled employees who find out they are on less than their colleagues.  Yes, salaries can vary from agency to agency, but by and large salary bands for say an Account Manager or Account Director will be roughly the same across all agencies. It's certainly not true to say that male Account Directors earn more than their female counterparts.  Overall in our marketing sector, I don't see much salary discrimination.  The sector is actually (particularly in client services) far more female heavy than most industries, and on a secondary note, men can possibly be less favoured through a perception that women are more organised and better at multi-tasking (I couldn't possibly comment).

Where we do follow the gender trend of other industries is with less women in board level positions across the agency world although having said that, there are several notable Manchester agencies with successful women at the helm (women with families too). But very often I see women unable to return to the workplace following maternity due to a lack of part time opportunities.  More flexible working is coming through but I can see that this is where men will continue to secure high profile and visible roles over their female counterparts, thereby taking the promotions and salary rises that often elude women.

I'm not sure I've said anything particularly new or radical here, I thought it might comfort a few people to know that just because you're a man, you're not automatically entitled to more money and actually across the North, because agencies are closely managing their staff overheads, there is actually very little variation in salary and it is mostly based on merit - surely a healthy sign.

31 Jul 2014

Sloppy Applications...

This is going to be one of those posts where I really will have to try not to rant...Here goes!

I've been handling more junior roles that usual in recent weeks.  I think realistically that whilst the market is definitely improving, it's improving at the junior to midweight level most of all, this level being where clients can justify increasing the overhead without too much difficulty.  It creates a bit of a recruitment nightmare for me though because the volume of applications really does go through the roof.  To give you a bit of an insight into the world of a recruiter we'll generally advertise roles on various different jobsites.  Some jobsites are better than others for quality over quantity but for junior roles, it's evident that junior candidates really do just apply for anything that they see.  The skill of a good recruiter is to be able to scan a CV and to see if it has any relevance to the role that has been applied for or any other positions that you might be handling.   It does help if candidates apply to roles that they have skills for and equally it helps if they get some of the basic rules about job applications right.  I find that for junior roles, clients have absolutely zero tolerance on basic grammatical errors, punctuation issues, mixing up dates etc so don't shoot yourself in the foot before you even get through the door of the interview.  I know that people are just 'clicking' to apply but it's essential to keep some application etiquette in there. Here's some basic suggestions:

1.  Make sure the application is addressed to the right person.  This week I've had Dear Annie, Dear Julie, Dear HR Person, Dear (blank).  Not good.  Personalise it, to the right person. Please.

2.  War and peace of a covering letter.  For a completely different or unrelated role.

3.  All the jobsites send a recruiter a precis of the applicant.  If under current role it says 'Subway Sandwich Artist'. I'm probably not even going to open the CV.  If you're currently temping you need this profile to say 'Currently temping whilst seeking my Perfect Marketing Job' - or 'Recent Graduate with 2.1 in Marketing seeking permanent marketing role'.  This is what will hook the recruiter. Remember the recruiter has to filter 100-200 applications per day, at speed. It's very easy for them to hit delete.  Make sure your profile on relevant jobsites is up to date and accurate and enticing (although not with a holiday snap!)

4.  In the main body of the text.  Brief can be good - especially if it's short, succinct, relevant and to the point. For example;  'I saw the role of Marketing Assistant advertised on Reed.co.uk.  I have just graduated from Lancaster University with a First in Marketing and I have 12 months work placement experience in a similar role. I'd love to have the opportunity to chat with you about this position.  My number is xxxxxx'.  That's fine.  What isn't fine is 'Call me!' or 'I'm your man'.  Do try and target the application in any way you can - give me a reason to open the CV.

5.  I've written lots before about CV writing and how to avoid certain pitfalls.  In short.  No typos. Ever.  It's worth reviewing previous blog posts for more tips.

6.  If you're really interested in a role. Follow it up.  Call the recruiter to ensure they have received your details.  Keep a list of everything you have applied for an when.  It's a bit worrying when I call a candidate to discuss an application that they can't remember completing...

I genuinely do enjoy working with good junior candidates. There is nothing better than securing someone their first role and staying in touch with them throughout their career.  However, the volume of juniors in the market is significant and I'm only going to work with those who can demonstrate that they're quality candidates - and that means taking a little bit longer over those applications and being noticed for the right reasons!

1 Jul 2014

Flexi Working...

The right for all employees to request flexible working came into force yesterday triggering warnings that the change will cause strife between staff and problems for businesses.  Previously, workers who have children under 17 and those who are carers have the right to ask to be able to work flexibly.  This can include flexibility on how long, where and when they work and can include practices such as going part-time, job sharing, or working from home.  From yesterday, this right was extended to all staff with 26 week's service which means employers could face a rush of requests from workers eager to improve their work life balance.

Generally, I see flexible working most commonly with clientside marketing roles and I do advise candidates that if flexible working is particularly important to them, it is far easier to negotiate with the larger corporates who tend to have flexible working policies in place and will do their best to accommodate requests.  Currently I know of several marketers who have managed to negotiate flexible working including early starts to avoid rush hour commutes, longer lunch breaks to allow for extended gym visits (one such candidate is training for an Ultramarathon) and one who simply wanted to work a four day week.  The most common request is to be able to work from home one day a week.  Essentially if a case can be made to the HR Department to show that the job will be done to the same quality level, most employers will do their best to be flexible.  In the past 5 years, where salaries really haven't risen much at all in our industry, employers have moved to the 'softer' benefits such as more flexible working to ensure that employees stay with the business. In fact, I'd say that it has definitely worked to such an extent that once a candidate has negotiated some flexible working, it would need to be a very big pay increase to encourage them to move role and to lose those benefits.  For some clientside businesses, where in the past, you might need to be present for meetings, tele-conferencing is now par for the course which enables much more home working than in the past.

In my experience, whilst people always used to say that working from home was a jolly, I now find that people who work from home go the extra mile with their output on that day- simply to prove it isn't a jolly. For many people, a day working at home allows them to catch up on essential work without being distracted and losing time to a meaningless commute.  I myself am a huge advocate of home working. I spend at least 3 days working at home each week and my productivity is far higher than in the days when I would go into an office and have endless meetings (or endless discussions about last night's TV). However, it does take a certain type of person to be able to discipline themselves and in a non scientific piece of research, I found that many more women choose to work from home than men.  A male candidate recently said to me that he felt if he was working from home, his wife (who doesn't work) kept asking him to help her with chores and childcare - she didn't understand that he still had to work - and so he prefers to go to the office.

Anyway, I digress.  I wanted to talk a little about how flexible working affects marketing agencies.  The BBC Breakfast programme yesterday used their case study for flexible working as a Digital Agency in the Midlands where they talked about the huge success they have had by having 60% of people working from home and lots of flexibility.  This surprised me as I genuinely haven't seen much evidence of this across the North.  Typically, the people who can negotiate a shorter working week, are mums returning to work post maternity and the number of advertised roles for a 4 day week are negligible.  Most Agencies in the North are owner managed and not part of a global network and as such, many can be defined as SMEs.  They don't always have the same ability to provide flexibility and generally I say to candidates that they need to choose the type of company they work for according to the amount of flexibility that they want & need. For example, joining a small 8 man agency which is independently owned you are going to be a big fish in a small pond, and it's likely you're going to be needed in the office, all the time.  Equally, it depends on the role that you do. Most client servicing teams need to be client facing and whilst they can respond to client requests anywhere, they do need to be around the creative teams to manage the creative process and output of work.  Don't get me wrong, I know plenty of smaller agencies who do try to provide flexible working, it's just not as practical and typically you'll find it easier to secure flexibility either in a larger agency or in-house.

It is going to be interesting to see how this change in the law affects the market.  Companies have the right to refuse a request for flexible working if there is a valid business reason, such as the changes creating extra costs.  The journalist on BBC Breakfast pushed MP Jo Swinson with several 'what if' scenarios if the employer said no and ultimately the employer could be taken to a tribunal.  But realistically, it's not in anyone's interest to be going to court and one hopes that common sense and compromise could be reached to retain a happy employee rather than a disgruntled one who will just react to a 'no' by hunting for a new job.  It is for this reason, that most employers will do their best to try to compromise - the cost of having to recruit a new member of the team is a real incentive!

Another important point is that there are already a significant number of people who feel they are already having to make up the work of colleagues working flexibly because they have children. With everyone able to request flexible working, the number of grievances is only set to rise.  For SMEs, there really does need to be compromise.  Managing competing requests for flexible working is not going to be easy and will pose some tricky employee relations issues.

So I'll be watching with interest to see how agencies adapt to this.  Of course, it could just be a big hoo ha by the media.  I do know lots of candidates who love working in agencies and part of the reason for this is the buzz and environment in an agency with lots of creatively minded people all coming together to come up with innovative and inspirational marketing campaigns.  They genuinely love going into the office each day and I think for the most part, it's the ability to come in at 0930 and leave a bit early if they need to rather than having a clocking in and out system or to take a slightly longer lunch hour if required is all the flexibility that they need.  Watch this space for further updates.

30 May 2014

Handling Rejection...

It has always been interesting watching how candidates respond to rejection post interview.  It says a lot about how someone views themselves and their self esteem and to an extent, how ego centric they are too.  In fact, often it's not so much about how they handle rejection, but it goes hand in hand with how well they prepare for interviews in the first place...

This week I've had someone completely throw their toys out of the pram when they weren't offered a role. The client had had this candidate into the agency for 2 interviews and had asked them to respond to a brief.  There were two candidates in the mix and both candidates presented on the same day.  One candidate had the edge and was offered and accepted the role.  The client provided feedback to the second candidate and said that whilst their presentation had been good, it hadn't shown the depth of research that the first candidate had and that demonstrated to them that the offered candidate, was both a stronger candidate and wanted the job more.  Actually this was fair enough and the candidate admitted that they'd been away over the bank holiday whereas the offered candidate had spent all weekend preparing and practising their presentation.  The next morning though, the candidate was furious. Having slept on it, they felt hard done to and that their time had been wasted.  I had to point out that interviewing is the key element in securing a new role and that clients (particularly in the present climate) have choice of candidates and they'll select the one who comes across as 'best' - whether that is in terms of fit, knowledge, personality and past experience.  Often it's a difficult choice for clients and only one person can get the job - in this case, one needs to accept the decision, ask for feedback and then to ensure that in future interviews, they apply any of the constructive feedback that they have been given.  It's seldom that anyone is offered the job for every interview they go to so rejection is part of the recruitment process.  I have a policy that I will absolutely feedback honestly to candidates so that they can avoid making the same mistake twice.  One (strong on paper) candidate was knocked back three times at first interview and when I questioned the clients, the candidate had only asked questions about 'hours of work', 'holidays', 'really wanting a work life balance' etc....In the agency world asking these sort of questions at first interview really is shooting yourself in the foot. So we corrected it, and the candidate is now happily working clientside!  Sometimes a candidate will lose out on a job because someone else had 'just a bit more experience' - it's again fair enough. An employer wants the best person for the job relative to who is on the market at any given time.  As long as you have presented yourself well and there is no other negative feedback, you just need to move onto the next interview and carry on.  Here's a selection of my most common candidate profiles in terms of how people interview....and how they handle rejection.

All Talk And No Trousers - The candidate who doesn't prepare enough - generally a bit cocky and thinks they can talk their way out of anything.  Generally we spot these as people who don't stay in their jobs very long and flit from role to role. Usually very gregarious and engaging but ultimately when they need to knuckle down and get on with things, they struggle.  These people interview very well and need to be given a brief to test their actual knowledge.   If they get rejected post interview, they never consider that they could have done anything different - the typical response tends to be 'well I didn't want it anyway'. Hmm.

Beaten and Defeated.  This candidate generally is a good candidate. They're often selected for interview but finding all too often that they are pipped to the post and they're just narrowly edged out by someone else.  There are two things I look at here; are they going to the right interviews? and confidence.  Generally the more times that one is rejected, the harder it is to pick yourself up and brush yourself down to perform 100% at the next one.  I offer interview coaching to these individuals and it's important for them to realise that interviews are a 'performance' - you've got to give a fabulous presentation of yourself to your future employer and if for any reason you come across as a bit pessimistic, a bit down or just not very engaging, that gives A.N. Other Candidate carte blanche to walk in and get the job.  Relatively easy to rectify!

The Creative.  Actually these guys have a class of their own!  I find it relatively easy to find feedback as the interview process is all about the portfolio.  If a client doesn't like the portfolio, you don't get the job.  At second interview, clients often give a brief to respond to. If they don't like your concept, they won't give you the job.  Creatives, generally are not good at rejection but from a recruitment perspective, it's quite straightforward.  An important piece of advice to creatives though....if you are working on dull projects with dull clients....you need to do 'stuff' in your own free time to show clients what you are really capable of. Clients understand we can't all be working on Coca Cola and the top brands but they do still want you to demonstrate what you can do.  The most common complaint I hear from disgruntled (rejected) creatives is that the client just wanted their ideas.  Hmm.  To be honest, their time is more important to them than to interview a lot of creatives just to get some ideas. I don't buy that.

Tenacious Tom.  This candidate can often over think the interview process and actually just needs to relax a little.  They often become so obsessed with preparing for the interview that they actually forget about the human aspect of the interview and coming across as a warm and engaging human being that a client would want to have in their team.  Often these candidates just need to relax a little and be a little less intense.

Happy Larry.   This candidate is definitely a cup half full kind of person.  Generally they'll need to go to 3 or 4 interviews before securing a role. They apply for the right sort of roles where they have a good skills-fit - so ultimately the interview process will come down to 'fit' and 'chemistry'.  They understand that there are other good candidates around, they have good self-awareness of their strengths and weaknesses and can articulate themselves well.  When I'm giving feedback it tends to be just a case of another candidate fitting with the client better (but agencies will often keep them in mind for other teams).  The candidate takes rejection on the chin and absorbs any appropriate feedback.  In interviews, they are polished but not scarily so, come across as good team players and enthusiastic about working for the company.

Negative Nell.  Exhausting high maintenance candidates during the recruitment process....Will often say upon rejection that they were only going to the interview for practice. Or 'I didn't want to work there anyway'.  Fair enough. Interviews are a two way process and it's for both parties to see if the 'fit' is right for the job. This candidate never takes any rejection constructively - it's never down to anything they've done.  In fact, I'm not sure Negative Nell actually wants a job.  I give them a couple of opportunities but then I'd rather be helping all of the above profiles instead.  Sorry if that sounds harsh.

So in summary, to give yourself the best chance of getting the job, do some homework.  I always advise that even if no formal presentation is required, do some reading around, use Google, talk to people in the industry, find out about the clients you'd be working on etc.  This bit of homework could give you the edge over the candidate who just rocks up and tries to talk their way into the job.  Interviewing isn't rocket science - if a client is interviewing you, they generally want to hire so all you can do is come across as the sort of person they'd like to have in their team. A positive, enthusiastic, humorous, hardworking and engaging individual who they can let loose on their clients to build relationships.

My recruitment mantra is that there is somewhere for everyone and that you've got to kiss a few frogs before you find your Prince so going to a few interviews to find your perfect role and being rejected a bit along the way is no bad thing. You will absolutely get there in the end.

1 May 2014

Watch your Tweets...

Social Media.  It's something that has changed the way we all search for jobs but a word of caution, it's worth remembering that prospective employers can and do utilise the powers of Google to look at candidates - 'Your first impression isn't made with a firm handshake - it's with a Google search' (Dan Scawbel, author of Me 2.0).   This week I had forwarded a number of CVs to a client and the first thing he did was to check them all out on Twitter - the role was for a Content and Social Media role so it was particularly important for him to see how the candidates represented themselves (their own brand) on social media.    Two candidates were rejected outright for having Twitter feeds that were nothing more than rants and negative comments.  I was honest in giving them feedback - I'm finding more and more that clients are looking people up before they invite to interview so this needs to be considered when you're posting that picture of you on a pub crawl, quaffing cocktails on holiday or ranting about a rubbish day at work.  Here's some tips on how to keep your virtual self, virtuous:

Choose which of your platforms you want to be public.  If you're the sort of person who invites everyone you meet to be a Facebook friend, then you need to exercise caution. If you've already kept it small and you're on top of your privacy settings then, you just need to use common sense!

Go through your social media sites. Clean them up.  Take off any complaints about your boss, any confidential information, and any photos that could be construed as inappropriate.  Do this too for any photo sharing services.

Start a blog.   It's good for prospective employers to see that you're up to speed with technology, in the know and well connected but also passionate about something. It doesn't even need to be industry specific but it can help.  I recently found a graduate a job - he had absolutely no work experience, but he'd been writing a blog about advertising for the last 12 months.  It was insightful and intelligent - it showed he loved the industry.  Clients loved it.

Don't share anything you wouldn't want an employer to discover about you. Obvious.

Linked In.  One of the most important social media sites for job hunting.  It's typically the first port of call for recruiters and employers.  Make sure you've got a good photo (no beers in hand, no bikinis, no raving).  Try to secure recommendations from previous employers and colleagues.

Never lie.  We all know most people exaggerate on social media - (often when I meet a candidate, I can't actually reconcile them to their Twitter feeds....). Keep it real and remember these things come back to haunt you.

Keep job news offline.  Don't start posting news about your new job until you've spoken to your employer and employer to be.  People have been fired for this.  Stick to spreading your good fortune in person.

Mostly it's all about common sense.   It's essential in our industry to have an online presence, but it's essential to that your online reputation is a good one and not one that's going to shoot you in the foot.

24 Mar 2014

Interview Porkies...

There seems to have been a bit of press recently around Top excuses for sneaking out of work for a job interview.  According to a survey in Metro a couple of weeks ago, we're a nation of work sneaks.  It's no surprise to me that up to 80% of us have been successful in giving our boss an excuse just so that we can attend an interview at another company.  The survey also highlighted that most of us are also afraid of being busted and interestingly men are more likely to be found out than women.  So here's the most common excuses that were identified...

  1. I have a doctor/dentist appointment (31%)
  2. I’m not feeling very well (15%)
  3. The repairman is coming over so I need to be in (9%)
  4. I’m awaiting a delivery so I need to be in (8%)
  5. I’m having transport issues so I can’t get in (4%)
  6. My child isn’t well and there’s no one to look after him/her (4%)
  7. I have an ill relative and need to look after them (3%)
  8. I need to take my pet to the vet (2%)
  9. My child has a school event I need to attend (2%)
  10. I need to go to a funeral (3%)
It's a tricky thing to get right.  It's much easier if you don't need to make any excuses!  Typically, I'll ask my clients if they can interview out of hours and usually, they are flexible.  We have most interviews taking place at 0800 or 1800 slots.  Some clients, particularly the smaller agencies which are owner managed, will be happy to interview at weekends too.  For candidates who work in the city centre, we'll also try for a lunch hour chat.  It's much easier to tell your boss you're going to be in just a bit late or early or that you need an extra 10 minutes over lunch.  You're not actively taking time off your job to interview so it doesn't feel so deceitful.  
If you're fortunate to have lots of holiday allowance, obviously then it's a good idea to take a half day holiday. This allows you to be more relaxed and less stressed by either the thought of rushing to work post interview or having had a stressful day prior to an interview in the evening.  Clearly if you're going to several interviews, asking for multiple odd days off is going to arouse some suspicion in your boss so try and secure as many interviews on the one day.
There are some clients who are not happy to be flexible on interview times and they can be quite bullish in their approach  - 'if John really wants to work for us, then he is going to pull out all the stops to do it at this time'. When you come up against this, you just have to make a decision about how much you really do want to work for this company and judge for yourself how much effort you're prepared to make.
A good recruiter will do all they can to make the interview process as seamless as possible and they'll work with you to try and find a compromise for both client and candidate.  Sometimes, candidates suggest a telephone interview but in my experience, these can shoot you in the foot.  You can only get a good feel for a role/agency/company by meeting them in the flesh.  If a client wants to interview by phone, it's generally because a lot of client communications will be by phone and they want to check your telephone communication skills before committing to an actual face to face interview.  By and large, I'd always push for a face to face.
Try to save your excuses for when you need them is my advice.  Wherever possible, try to interview out of hours or on a half day holiday.  If you are making excuses, keep them brief and remember what porkies you have told and when.  I remember when I used to manage a large recruitment team, one of the consultants (a man!) was so creative in his excuses, that they just became unbelievable, I think he went to his grandmother's funeral about 6 times!  Bosses do tend to remember this sort of thing....

28 Feb 2014

Creative CVs...

I read an article a few weeks ago which reminded me of a scene in Arrested Development which finds an aspiring actor Tobias Fünke posting out copies of his CV in glitter-filled envelopes trying to stand out from the crowd.  The next scene shows a casting director covering her entire workspace in glitter and yelling 'Never hire Tobias Fünke!' at the top of her voice.

Welcome to my world!

 Getting yourself noticed without getting yourself ridiculed. Discuss. 

 It's a tricky one and often a fine line.  We're seeing more and more video CVs and other left of field applications now as candidates try to stand out, but 9 times out of 10, it dies a death.  Yes it might catch our attention but most organisations don't really have time for that.  They just want to know as quickly and as comprehensively as possible what you do and why you'd be good for their business.  If I'm being honest, it tends to be the candidates who don't have the right skills and experience who do the 'creative' approach and frankly, they'd have been better spending their time on a work placement to improve their actual skills.

To counter my own argument, it's worth knowing when to tailor your CV and the approach that you use.  Applying for any role where the CV is likely going to a Head of HR, best stick with the traditional route.  Applying for an Art Director role at a start up in Shoreditch, a CV attached to the inside of a pizza box might work - just to get you noticed.  Whichever route you choose though, you must ensure that the CV contains substance and does demonstrate a) your ability to do the job and b) why are you interested in this particular company.  Without substance, the creative route is never going to work.

Other sure fire ways for your CV to head straight into the bin:

Typos.  Really, just inexcusable.
Word overload.  A recent CV had the following word counts, Experience, 67; Fantastic, 37, Extremely, 34, Strategic, 23.  Just a long list of meaningless words.

Photos.  Particularly holiday snaps, photos with cocktails in hand, in beach wear and a particular favourite of mine, someone lying down with a tiger.

7 Jan 2014

New Year, New Career...

Happy New Year!  

I usually scoff a little at the media hype surrounding the New Year.  Whether it's a new diet, a new man (or woman) or a new job, apparently now is the time to do it.  As someone who (obviously) works in recruitment, I don't scoff too much at the finding a job bit, but this year, everywhere I look, there is encouragement that this year is the year to find that new opportunity and to fulfil all your dreams. Etc.

Yesterday morning on Sky News, Eamon informed me that in the world of recruitment, it was Massive Monday - the day when many workers kick off the new year by searching online for a career change.  Hmm, I think the Media have called in Massive Monday but it's certainly true that in the period between Christmas and today, I've had a lot of interest from candidates and a lot of updated CVs.

Gone are the days when a job was for life.  For those working in marketing agencies, the average Account Handler stays in their role for two and a half years before they get itchy feet.  New Year is a traditional time to get those itchy feet.  Everyone has spent all their hard earned salary on Christmas presents and the sales and over the holidays, they realise they need a pay rise to be able to pay off their credit cards!  But more seriously, the holidays are a period to switch off and reflect on things and often, that's when people start thinking it's not what they want to be doing.  

The media message yesterday was all about switching career and the (high) number of people choosing to ditch their current role to pursue a dream job.  Sky in particular, had someone who had 'given it all up' to write a novel.  Further questioning revealed that actually, the person was an IT contractor (on a high salary) who'd actually been able to move to a 4 day and then a 3 day week before taking the plunge.  It's not really an option for most people.  I wasn't sure if this person was the best example to demonstrate their point - it was a bit misleading.

My advice to all my candidates is that you should always keep your CV up to date anyway  Talk to a couple of select recruiters and ask them to keep you in mind for anything that comes in under your 'dream job' category. The perfect marketing role seldom comes along when you expect/want it to so it’s worth just keeping an eye out.  This also avoids the ‘desperate sell’of yourself in interviews (often seen by people who are either out of work or very unhappy in their job)

I also recommend to candidates that they evaluate what it is they want out of their job.  Ultimately the majority of us are going to be working now until we’re seventy and each of us have a different equation to formulate the definition of our perfect job.  Usually we’re trying to factor in enjoyment with challenge, exciting clients and projects, some form of progression, reasonable working hours & conditions – all for the highest salary possible.  Different people put different weighting on each of the different criteria and it’s important to have a fair amount of pragmatism in terms of where your priorities are.

It is then important to share your objective with your recruiter and to make them aware where the boundaries are and how much flexibility there is in your criteria.  A good recruiter will then keep you posted over time with various possible roles and it’s up to you as to whether it appeals or not.

As a summary, here’s some good general tips for job hunting:

1.     Look for a job when you’re happy in your current job.
2.     Use a multitude of resources. Find a good recruiter (!), sign up to (relevant) job sites, follow companies who interest you on social media sites.  Treat it like a project.
3.     Make sure your CV is as good as it can be.  For advice on this, run through previous blogs! 
4.     Take your time on application. Avoid the ‘spray and pay’ approach to applications.
5.     Don’t take the first job you see.  Usually this will be a quick fix solution – analyse if you are truly attracted to it or just riled by your current job.

If you do want to do something totally different, obviously you’ve got far more research and analysis to do before you take the plunge.  I’ve seen a few marketers head off and become reflexologists or life coaches....only to return to the job market within 12 months.  Usually due to financial constraints so it is essential to do your own personal financial audit before deciding on a career change. It’s not always easy to return to the job market after time out – although not impossible either. Better to be as sure as you can be before biting the bullet.

If you’d like to have a chat about your career options for 2014 with some practical and objective advice, feel free to give me a buzz!