19 Dec 2017

The Whole Package

It's that time of year when I start to run through my stats to collate the Annual PMP Salary Survey.  I always plan to use the week before the Christmas break because it'll be quiet - right?!  But it never is and it's pretty much an end of January weekend that I manage to hit the save button.  Anyway.  I've had a few roles get to offer stage this month (ha!  I am good at what I do) but some of the offers and decisions have been challenging and I thought it would be useful to raise a few points.

When I start a conversation with a candidate about a new opportunity, one of the first questions is traditionally, 'what's the salary' - historically I'd say this is the most important factor in determining if someone is interested in a role.   Then we look at location, clients, creative output, fit etc.  In the agency world, whilst lots of the global networks do have 'packages', there is still some catching up to be done with regards 'benefits' within the smaller independents.  Not all of them - but most.   In the old days, if someone was moving from a global network to an independent, we'd try to ensure that the basic salary was higher to account for a lack of pension provision/healthcare etc and we'd approach things from that angle.  Recently though, I've noticed that candidates are seeking 'pension' increasingly frequently and often choosing to stay within the relative security of an agency that offers decent additional benefits rather than moving (even if a slightly raised bonus allowed them to organise a personal pension or healthcare).  I understand this and I get it.  I think increasingly that independent employers are getting it too.  A recent example where the candidate chose a role with a long list of 'benefits' instead of an agency where it was the statutory pension deal, said that of the benefits, it was the 6% contributory pension that made the difference.  We're all aware of hopefully living for longer and we're equally aware that living longer isn't going to be much fun if we're all skint.

Interestingly, also 'in the old days', it was considered a benefit to have a nice company car but then money savvy candidates realised that actually on a tax basis it wasn't such a benefit and they'd take an allowance if it was on offer instead.  Now it's pretty rare that cars or car allowances are on the agenda at all - candidates are far more concerned with planning for the future with their benefits and that's where pensions, healthcare and life assurance play a big part in their choice of new employer.  Whilst lots of employers will include on their list of provisions, free tea and coffee and big fruit bowl and a personal favourite, a mobile phone and laptop (ha, to do your job!) - these are 'nice to haves' - and everybody does it anyway!

So in a roundabout and rambling way. This blog was meant to be about asking yourself as an employee what the most important criteria are for you?  If it is a 6% contributory pension, you need to find out at the outset if the employer provides it.  It's not likely to be something they can just organise for you at the last minute so if it's a deal breaker, it's better to know that at the start. 

And it is the difference, largely, between the big and small agencies. So you need to weigh up what are the other pros and cons.  In a smaller agency, you may secure a slightly higher basic, you'll have less rules and regulations, you'll potentially progress quicker, you'll potentially be exposed to more challenges etc.  In the larger agencies (ok lots of generalisations here), you'll have support, bigger teams,  potentially bigger budgets and clients - but you'll be a smaller cog in a bigger wheel.    Overlay all of that with the 'benefits', location, typical projects & campaigns etc - and you'll be closer to finding out where your boundaries are and what is of interest and what isn't.

Looking at my stats, it seems that this year the top five employee preferred benefits are:

Contributory Pension
Free Gym Membership
Free Parking
Ability to buy extra days holiday

Flexible hours which is also a popular one is also up there in the top 10 but apples and bananas are nowhere to be seen!

Merry Christmas!

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!

19 Jul 2017

What not to wear...

With the recent good weather, it has been tricky to get interview apparel right.  One doesn't want to arrive at an interview with sweaty armpits or perspiring gently on your forehead.  However, one candidate got it very wrong by arriving for an interview in her flip flops.  I've reviewed this with several recruitment colleagues and it's surprising how many companies have a (unofficial) 'no toes' rule for interviews.

It is made trickier in the advertising sector.  In many of my agency clients in Manchester and Leeds, dressing down is the norm.  This is a creative sector and individuals do use their personal style as an opportunity to demonstrate that creativity.  Once you've got the job, that's absolutely fine.  In fact, when I visit agencies, there are usually a few people in sandals and shorts, very rarely do I see suits.  However, it's important to treat interviews with respect and to acknowledge that even in the most creative agencies, it's important to understand the etiquette for what not to wear.  

Surely it's common sense?  I generally advise candidates when I am confirming their interview, what they should aim for.  Mostly, it's 'smart casual'.  If I'm unsure, I'll call the client to confirm what they expect.  Seldom will you be judged for being too smart (you can always say you were interviewing somewhere more formal earlier in the day).  However, if you get it wrong, that's not going to give you any extra points.  Most agencies will be happy for smart casual to be the format as the tendency is only to wear suits for pitches and very important clients.  Make sure you double check if it's an in-house client employer though. Often, if you're being interviewed by HR, they are especially conscious of interview attire so you may need to up the ante a little.  I don't deal with many companies these days who expect a tie but again, double check.  

General rules of thumb:

No open toes
No jeans (and it makes no difference if they are 'designer'
Nothing with rips in (it has been done)
Tuck your shirt in (seems obvious)
Don't wear your sunglasses on your head (immediate judgement - and not positive)
No tattoos or irregular piercings on display
Cleavage. Less is more.
No 'too short' skirts
Nothing leather
No pants on display
Nothing 'spray on' (seriously)
Give yourself a good sniff before you go in. Poor personal hygiene is something else that clients don't react well to.

Remember, polished is good and shows that you respect both yourself and the potential employer who you are meeting.  Any level of slovenliness will imply that you are similar in other areas of your life and behaviour.  Don't let something so simple as personal presentation let you down. Good luck!

15 Jun 2017

How long does it take to find a job?

How long does it take to find a job?  One of the most common questions that I get asked.  And to be honest, there is no fixed answer - other than 'it depends'.

At the time of writing (June 2017), the market in the North is reasonably buoyant.  However, it's more buoyant in certain areas than in others.    The digital market is buzzing and there will always be a role for a Digital Project Manager or Developer.    Similarly for integrated agencies, the market is reasonably consistent when it comes to AE to AM level - there are usually several opportunities around for people at this level.  The caveat here is that often when the market is more buoyant, candidates have choice and this often frustrates clients as the candidates will reject offers whilst waiting for something more 'attractive' - something that doesn't happen in the less busy periods.

But timewise....If a Digital Project Manager lands in my inbox today - a solid and traditional PM who has min 3 years experience in a pedigree agency....I can probably place them within 3 weeks. Possibly sooner.  However, if a Digital Account Director comes along looking for £55k, they may have the perfect CV but it is likely to take a little longer.   The market contracts as we head towards the senior roles and the bigger salaries. As a rule of thumb, the bigger the salary, the longer it takes to find a job.

In the agency world, we don't normally see recruitment cycles around the financial year or seasons. It's just down to supply and demand. If clients have won new pitches, they'll recruit.  However, recruiting an Account Executive or Project Executive is a reasonably small impact on client overheads so the decision making is not normally extended or long winded. If I put a good CV in front of a client at that level, they'll make a hire.  Proactively trying to engage clients in senior/expensive candidate CVs is more likely to result in a coffee rather than a formal interview - it's something that I do but without any expectation that it's going to lead to an immediate placement.

I usually advise people to keep their CV up to date (yes, I know I would wouldn't I).  If you're SAM level and above, I would say it doesn't hurt to keep an eye on the market.  The roles are not so frequent and if you wait until the day that you really want to find a new role, you'll have less choice. I encourage candidates to stay in touch regularly, even if they're not actively hunting for a new role - I'm a useful contact if you're trying to gain a pay-rise or to get the most out of your appraisal. Equally, if you have a vision of your 'dream role', it's worth making your recruiter aware of it so that if it does land, they'll call you immediately.

Rough guidelines:

Account Executives: Should find something within a month
Senior Account Executives & Account Managers: Should find something within 3 months (depending on how choosy you are!).
Senior Account Managers: Currently this level is quiet.  Largely because most SAMs are looking to move to an AD role....and the AD market is flat.  So it can take 6-12 months.
Account Director and above:  6-12 months.
Digital Project Mangers: Up to £35k and a solid CV - Within 2 months
Search Marketers (SEO, PPC, Display): Up to £30k - Within 2 months.
Search Marketers (SEO, PPC, Display):  Up to £50k - Within 6 months - market quiet busy at the moment and candidates short in supply so likely to be shorter lead time.
Brand Planners: Usually in high demand and short supply so it can be very quick....but again, at the senior end, it can take longer to find a client with budget to hire.
Digital Development & Design:  Clients at the moment are looking for quality and strong agency backgrounds.  I'd almost go so far as to say that we could place 'quality' within a month across both sides of the Pennines such is the shortage of candidates.  But you must have recognised agencies on the CV and have impressive portfolios.

Ultimately, agencies are increasingly wanting quality candidates with solid work backgrounds and people who have stayed in their roles.  This gives them confidence in hiring strong talent and they'll recruit quickly.  My advice is that it doesn't hurt to keep an eye on the market as you never know when the perfect role will present itself. I send out a weekly jobs update to candidates and if you'd like to be on this circulation, email me at fiona.christian@perfectmarketingpeople.com.  This has all the latest opportunities on both sides of the Pennines and if there is anything that appeals, it's easy to drop me a line - but equally easy to ignore if the timing isn't right for you!

8 May 2017

Does Age Matter?

I'm up and at it early this morning and have been listening to the Today programme (yes, really) with the News that Emmanuel Macron has won the French Elections.  Interestingly, much of the reporting is focusing on his age - 39.  Has he got the experience to do such a big job at such a young age?

I see ageism on a daily basis.  Not always, as you might think the typical 'on the scrapheap after 45' but more commonly what I call 'reverse ageism' - I've just looked it up and it is actually a thing. Monsieur Macron, whilst having a sound career background commercially has not had much political experience and we'll probably now see the media focusing on that.

Often in this industry, we see very young individuals doing jobs with a senior job title.  The initial reaction is often a certain degree of cynicism, however, over the years, I've learned to address each candidate individually as for some early achievers, it is entirely possible that they have the right skills and abilities to do the job.  I'm also experienced in recognising the agencies in the North who do tend to promote rapidly and which agencies do that the right way and with the right people.

I was recently chatting to an Account Director who was 25.  Just over 3 years experience post graduation with a global agency.  They were earning £40k.  Instantly I saw the agency that this person had worked for.  It's an agency where they spend a huge amount of time and money on their Graduate recruitment process and similar to perhaps management consultancies, a lot of responsibility is given to relatively junior people who are fast tracked into senior positions.  They are one of a handful of agencies in the region who do this BUT I do recognise that this agency trains well and given the quality of their graduates, the type of work that they do and the training they gain, they can generally justify their salary.    It is, however, often challenging persuading other agencies of their worth, particularly since most agencies do have structured salary brackets which often depend on 'number of years in the job'.

To be fair to (agency) clients, it's not always the case that they'll question the specific skills of the individual who has 3 years experience and is an Account Director. They'll question the overall commercial experience, the ability to work with challenging clients, specifically they will question the 'strategic' knowledge of that candidate as this skill does extend over time.  They will wonder how credible the candidate will be whilst working with very senior client decision makers - how much gravitas will they command and will they be respected both internally and externally.

The agency world is reasonably structured. For someone in Client Services, the entry level is Account Executive and the progression is to Account Manager, Senior Account Manager and Account Director. We're also increasingly seeing the title of Business Director where at a senior level, it is all about profit and loss, client development and leadership.  There are not many agencies who deviate from this structure and hierarchy. With a starting salary of £17/18k in most agencies for an Account Executive (Graduate with 6 months experience), it's easy to see why agencies might question an Account Director title and commensurate salary after 3 years.

Every year I write a salary survey to give clients guidance on the broad benchmarks for salaries for each job role in our sector.  Ultimately, we do not work in one of the 'high' salary sectors - individuals will make far more in Law, Accountancy and Management Consultancy.  So the Early Achievers really need to focus on a career plan to ensure that they can continue their trajectory.  With several of the 'fast track progression' agencies, the staff retention rates are extremely high. This is because they offer the swift promotion, tend to offer different opportunities - perhaps to work on different sectors or clients or to work in a different global office. If one leaves a 'fast track agency' it can be a struggle to join one of the more mainstream agencies where salaries and levels are much more traditional.   I will try to introduce such candidates to as many agencies as possible and to facilitate a meeting for them to prove their worth.  It's my knowledge of the agency world that enables me to know instinctively who will, and who won't be open-minded and who will see these high flyers as an asset to their business.

So good luck to Monsieur Macron. I hope that he will be able to convince the naysayers.  Fresh experience can often be a very good thing and as in any business, it's the skill-set and the abilities of a cross-functional team that contributes to overall success. Let's hope he has the leadership skills and the credibility side covered too!

1. Not written with any kind of political messaging - just about age!
2. I listen to Today to try and gain some kind of 'intellect'. Not entirely sure it works. 

11 Apr 2017

How to write the perfect CV...

I had a CV last week from a new candidate.  The file was named; ‘Joe Bloggs CV Short’.  It was 6 pages long.

One of my most commonly asked questions is ‘how long should my CV be’.  In the old days, the standard answer was 2 sides of A4.  On balance, it’s probably still optimal.  However, you’re not going to not get the job just because it’s 3 pages....but it does rather depend on how you populate those 3 pages.

I understand that in this day and age, employees have many more jobs than they did in days gone by which will make a CV automatically longer.  Clients do hold it against a potential employee if they have to look too hard for what they are looking for and they have a very short attention span when they are reviewing CVs. If yours doesn’t make an immediate impact, you won’t be shortlisted for interview.

But to get around this, it’s important to remember that writing a CV is not rocket science. Some of the worst CVs come from the most experienced candidates – and even worse, they are the people who usually are the most critical of candidate CVs when they themselves are recruiting!  All you have to do is be aware what the client is recruiting for and then ask yourself, does my CV tick their boxes?

Clearly if you are working with a good recruiter, they will advise you when you need to tailor the CV for a specific role.  For the majority of roles, a good generic CV will do the job and most recruiters will send a mini profile with your CV which essentially will highlight why you are relevant for the role and why you should be selected for interview.

For the record, it’s not acceptable to direct employers to look at your LinkedIn profile.  It may be 2017 but the CV still holds a lot of power.  To refer someone to LinkedIn makes you look lazy.
And sorry, but no... I don’t do CV templates.....every CV across the North would look the same!  I can however, share some tips which should help you ensure that your CV is going to secure you an interview.

What I do like:
  • ·         Clear and concise copy. I like to instantly be able to see who you are, what you do, where you’ve done it.
  • ·         Bullets are great for this
  • ·         Results and Examples of success.  I don’t want to just read that you manage projects from A to B. If you can, give succinct examples where you can demonstrate what you did for a particular client
  • ·         Employment History should start with the most recent. So start with the current role and work backwards. Typically you need to write less for the older roles.
  • ·         Make sure you write your CV from scratch every 2 years. Too much ‘updating’ is obvious and a bit lazy.
  • ·         A really strong personal profile that is a summary in 3 or 4 lines who you are and what you are looking for. It must be meaningful!

What I don’t like:
  • ·         Lots of Blah in the personal profile (lots of words just added together....passionate, ambitious, strong, strategic, team player, hard working – like I say – blah). Say something meaningful or don’t bother.
  • ·         Photos.  Admittedly this is a personal thing.  I just don’t think they add value and if they do, it’s not necessarily for the right reason. It offers employers an opportunity to judge you.
  • ·         First person descriptions.  I do this and I do that etc. It can come across a bit Peter and Jane.  My personal preference is for the third person – so ‘Responsible for leadership of a team of 3 and revenue generation of £XXX per month’.
  • ·         No need to add referees to the CV. You can supply them when required.  Use the space to sell yourself. Lazy recruiters automatically add referees to their databases too – don’t make their lives easy.
  • ·         Typos.  No excuse. Ever.
  • ·         American Spelling.  Too many people are still against so stick to proper English!
  • ·         Bolted together CVs.  Some people maintain that they keep their CV up to date whereas they just stick another paragraph on top of the old one.   They then don’t check if the old copy is still relevant and in the right tense. Check! You should keep editing it down each time you add a new role onto the CV.
  • ·         No need to mention salaries on the CV.
  • ·         If you got a 2.2. or a 3rd you are better coming clean.  Saying BSc in Business Studies with no classification is a giveaway.
  • ·         You might as well add your Date of Birth. Employers will only count backwards...
  • ·         Holiday jobs in pubs, hotels and restaurants are only relevant if you are a fresh Graduate where you can argue that they add value to show you are capable of hard work and discipline.  Once you have more than 2 years work experience, these can come off the CV.
  • ·         Absolutely no need to mention the names of your pets. Keep the interests nice and simple.
  • ·         CV tinkering.  Once you’ve got a good generic version, that should be fine unless you are advised by your recruiter to tailor it specifically for a role.  No recruiter wants to get your updated CV every single day!

A real cynic (not me....) would say that 99% of recruiters/employers will look at the first page only. They will check out your Date of Birth, your last two jobs and what degree you did and where, and they’ll have made a decision about you.  Opinions on CVs are always going to be divided. There is a school of thought where they would argue that the more ‘creative’ the better. I’m afraid I’m not in that school.  Wacky doesn’t do it for me and bizarre clip art and six different fonts just looks a bit daft.  However, once you’ve got your CV as you would like it, show it to a couple of recruiters for feedback and then amend accordingly.  CVs still play a huge role in day to day recruitment and it’s the mechanism by which you’ll get your foot in the door. It’s worth spending time on it to get it right!

Finally. It’s worth remembering that when a client receives your CV, they will then check you out on LinkedIn and check out any social media feeds. Make sure whatever you post on the web is clean!

23 Mar 2017

Terrorism & Job hunting...

I wasn't really sure how to approach this one. I'm a recruiter not a political commentator and I'd like to make clear that this blog is just an 'observation' rather than me giving some kind of expert opinion on terrorism and security in the UK.

I'm sure most of the UK today is feeling a little unsettled following the London terror attack yesterday (22nd March 2017).   I was in Manchester for most of the day and as I headed back to the train station (around 4pm), I did think that there was a much higher than average police presence around and a feeling of nervousness/edginess in my fellow commuters.  I assumed there must be a football match on that evening and tried to dodge the torrential downpour and to get onto my train as quickly as possible.  I'm trying to be less glued to my mobile so I used the journey to write my 'to do' list for the following day and it was only when Mr PMP came home around 7pm that I heard about the situation in London.  I felt sad for all those involved, grateful for our emergency services and thankful that I no longer have a job which requires me to travel regularly to the capital.

I've seen a lot of social media posts today stating the stoicism of Londoners and Brits and 'we can't let them win' statements.  However, conversely I've had CVs from 3 candidates today who have specifically cited that they are looking for roles in Cheshire/South Manchester, to avoid having to commute into the city, particularly by train and to try to avoid, in as much as anyone can, the threat of a terrorist attack.  These candidates got home last night and updated their CVs specifically as a result of the London attack.  I've also had a couple of London based candidates get in touch to say that they are relocating North - the perception being that Manchester is safer than London.

We are all advised that our security risk levels are extremely high and we all live with the threat of an imminent terrorist attack. The media don't exactly help with their comments that all you need is a knife and a car - it does nothing to calm an anxious population.  But whilst we've seen tourism affected around the world as a direct result of terrorist attacks, I hadn't really computed that it could also affect job hunting and where individuals are prepared to travel to in order to work.

Presently, the bulk of job opportunities in the North are centred in and around the city centres so limiting job searches specifically to say Cheshire (for agency candidates) would give quite a small pool of opportunities.  But having said that, smaller agencies often cite the city centre business rates and rentals to be too high and then choose to base themselves in Stockport, Macclesfield, Didsbury or further North such as Bury or Bolton.  Historically the bright young things working in advertising have sought the bright lights of Manchester or Leeds and we've struggled to find good individuals for a small independent in the suburbs.  Perhaps we'll see a shift in this over the coming months and years.  I also think that candidates may avoid public transport more and be inclined to drive to try to have some more control over their safety and to avoid the major rail hubs and stations.

It is a sad state of affairs. Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds - they are all huge creative hubs and I hope they remain so. And yes, we must be rational about what the risks to us actually are (the usual being that we're more likely to be run over by a bus than involved in a terror attack). I'd like to think that we'll prove we're a hardy lot and not give into the fear. But it's hard not to. I know I've started to avoid busy areas and I actively avoid the Arndale Centre*, Market Street and Piccadilly in Manchester - I'm scared.  It will be interesting to see how this develops and whether my observations today are the start of a trend, or just a reaction following a shocking day in London.

*To be fair, I've pretty much always avoided the Arndale Centre. With the exception of the Fish Market.

20 Feb 2017

The dangers of autopilot...

I saw a news article in the Telegraph recently.  It attracted my interest with the Headline - Teen shocked by interview feedback shaming her 'basic' answers. http://ow.ly/MoQi309a2AT.  Really, it was a headline befitting one of the tabloids and whilst I read the story, I then felt that the whole story was more suitable for the Daily Mail - really very few facts in the article and just a headline designed to shock/antagonise the reader.

In essence, an 18 year old had gone for a job interview with a local pub/restaurant - part of a chain.  It was for a waitressing job. Minutes after the interview, she was texted to say she hadn't got the job. An inappropriate text saying it was a no, and then another one (when she queried  why), to say answers were 'like' basic and she was not engaging. There was also a 'cry-laughing' emoji.

It turned out that the HR person who interviewed, had thought it was an internal person they were texting and that the texts were not meant for the candidate.

So I was thinking. There were so many places to pick holes in the story and for me, the overriding message wasn't about candidate feedback, being professional in interviews, not even selling ridiculous stories to the media etc. It was more that we all need to slow down a bit.

I work at the speed of light. I come from a client services background so my default setting is working at pace with a sense of urgency. I often think I am superhuman so great is the volume of work that I can get through (only half joking...). I bang on and on to my candidates about the importance of attention to detail and typically, I pride myself on this - whether it's typos, grammar, proposal writing etc.  But last week, I made a cock up. Not a big one and as it happens, I don't think anyone actually noticed, but I did, and I beat myself up and suffered at least 24 hours of self loathing.  When I analysed why it had happened, I concluded that I'd just been going too fast.  I was on autopilot and I just didn't check the email (which went out to 500 client contacts...).  And this is the problem now.  With the speed of digital, we bang out the email and hit the send button and 'pow', it's gone.  And if you've made an error, you're sat staring at the screen in disbelief and thinking, 'how am I that stupid?'.  If we all just slow down a bit, rely less on the autopilot and 'check' before we hit send....run through the mental checklist, is it going to the right person? is the subject line right (my blooper), no typos, check sign off etc etc. I'm sure we'd make less slip ups.

The pub chain apologised and said that the text had been meant for the recruiting manager and that they'd take steps to ensure that such errors never happen again.  But really, it's human error and I'll bet it's a classic case of someone texting too fast and then just hitting send - without checking who it has actually gone to.

I'm trying to slow down but it's not easy.  I know I won't make that mistake again but if I don't rein in my power working tendencies, I'll fall off the treadmill with another cock up. The alternative is to lower my expectations (of myself) but I think that's harder. In the meantime, I've started Yoga classes - I have amazed myself with the power of breathing and 'taking a moment'.  So for now, that's my advice.  I can't slow down too much  - I'd be out of work pretty quickly, but if a slower pace means less cock ups, well, that's a good balance.

Top tips for interview feedback:

As a candidate in an interview, ask during the interview what the process for feedback is.
As a client. Make it a policy to telephone feedback to direct applicants.  Try to avoid email and NEVER use text.
As a client, make feedback constructive. Don't be afraid to highlight the negatives so that candidates can improve their performance for future interviews. 
If you're 'banging' out anything, you need to stop and breathe.

24 Jan 2017

How to avoid Karoshi...

When I was in my twenties, I thought I was Superwoman.  Seriously.  I was a very young Client Services Director for a data driven marketing agency, I had a BMW, I lived in the city, I worked (really) hard and I played (quite) hard.  I took clients to the River Cafe for Dinner, I entertained other clients at various sporting events which we sponsored - in other words, I played the game.  And at the time, I think I enjoyed it. Most of the time.  BUT, I did not live a normal life.  I was regularly taking a cab to the office for 5am to start my working day. I'd finish work around 8pm and take work home with me.  I was travelling to London two or three days a week (in a chauffeured vehicle so that we could work on the journey) and when I wasn't working, I was doing post work compulsory socialising.  I lived that life for around 5 years - 90 hour weeks were not infrequent. And then I stopped and discovered that actually, not every business works like that, expects that or would even respect that kind of behaviour.  Since then, I have always worked for businesses who expect and appreciate that employees are entitled to a good work life balance and now that I am my own boss.....well, I work hard still but I choose when to work hard and that makes a big difference.

So why is this relevant?  Recently I've been writing my annual salary survey and when I do this, I also do a bit of a 'state of the nation' type of address and evaluate what employees are looking for, what the trends are and what employers can do to retain and keep their staff motivated and happy.  More and more candidates are citing the 'work life balance' as the most important criteria in searching for a new role and whilst they are happy to work hard during working hours, they want and need down time with their families and to spend time doing (the other) things that they love.   When I look at the cross section of advertising/digital/marketing agencies that I work with, I know which are the agencies which demand long hours and which do not.  I know which agencies will consider flexible hours and which won't bat an eyelid if you need time off for sports day. I know which agencies will suit the party animals and hedonists and which might prefer the geeks.  Horses for courses right?  And to some extent that is true. But I also think that as you go through life, you probably suit different environments and the agency life that you lived in your twenties shifts as you move into your thirties and forties.

It's made a bit more complex by the onset of Smartphones and being on-call all the time.  The French, who in my opinion have a pretty good attitude to work, have just passed a new law where French workers are given the right not to check work emails after 6pm.....(the caveat is that it applies to businesses with over 50 employees).  This is called the 'right to disconnect' and is set to put a stop to compulsive out of hours email checking.  It became legal on the 1st January and I'll be keen to see how it catches on and how they implement it. I know in many owner managed businesses in this country, it would be pretty difficult to refuse to 'keep an eye on email'.  The French do have around 35 days holiday a year plus 11 Bank Holidays and their 35 hour week is one of the best in Europe.  During August, the country shuts down, everyone uses their holiday allowance and I think more tellingly, the French ALWAYS stop for lunch.  And eat proper food, away from their desks.  I'd like to be French.

The Japanese have also been in the news a lot.  Their word is 'Karoshi' which is basically 'death by overwork' - sounds dramatic but they have hundreds of thousands of people a year who have Karoshi listed as a recognised cause of death - essentially anything over 60 hours a week can classify this.  The Japanese do have a gruelling work culture and they also, apparently have a higher than average fear of bad performance evaluation and a very small percentage take their annual holiday allowance (20 days).  The government has now passed legislation to reduce the number of employees working a 60 hour week but a big change in culture is required (and it's not just advertising agencies!).

So it has to be taken seriously.  Working long hours at the grindstone cannot be maintained for long periods of time without the wheels falling off.  Everything from relationship problems to sleeplessness and burnout are all attributed to working too long.  Try to find out about the working culture of a business when you are interviewing. Ask to speak to people in the team so you can get a clear idea of what the work life balance is all about.  Ask how much time will be required socialising with clients and if you'll receive any time off in lieu.  Ask if employees do use up their holiday allowances and if it's possible to buy extra days. If you get this information at the outset, you'll know what the expectations are and if you can live up to those expectations - if you want to...

I wasn't unhappy for those 5 years.  I lived that life thinking it was 'normal' but I had chronic eczema having never suffered previously and drank quite a bit too much wine. I lived on adrenaline and excessively exercised in the moments I wasn't sleeping or working.  Now, a few years on, I've got many other things in my life and I run my own business. I still work hard, I occasionally play hard, I train for triathlons, sing, play the piano,have an imaginary dog, spend time with family, travel, write chick lit and after 8 years of lessons, I'm nearly fluent in French.  Watch this space!