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.