10 Dec 2018

Handling Rejection...

I do feel genuinely lucky when I sit down at my desk each day.  I am one of the ones who loves what I do - believe me, not everyone loves their job!  Whilst I do enjoy pretty much all aspects of recruitment, it's the ongoing study of people that makes it as interesting as it is.  I'm not claiming to be some sort of cultural anthropologist, but I do see lots of different aspects of an individual's psyche and behaviour and one of the most interesting observations is how people handle rejection differently.  Whilst rejection is clearly a fact of recruitment, there are definitely ways and means to improve your odds and dodge the rejection bullet.

There are, essentially, three different levels of rejection (when it comes to recruitment).  Post application, post first interview and post secondary interview (I'll make the assumption that most positions are decided after 2 interviews).

Post application rejection.
If you're finding that you have a high rate of rejection post application - i.e. after submitting your CV, it's likely that you're not applying for the right roles.  The world of online applications has made it easy to apply for multiple roles with a simple click but I do find that this means individuals have a philosophy of 'the more the merrier' when it comes to the number of roles that they are applying for.  Perhaps in some sectors, the volume approach works, however, I tend to think that a little more time spent researching the right roles to apply for will result in a higher number of responses.     If you identify a particular recruiter who has a high proportion of opportunities advertised that you feel match your skill-set, it's worth contacting them directly and organising a meeting so that they can review you for multiple roles - and a good recruiter will do this.  It's a sign of a poor recruiter if they only look at you in isolation for one opportunity.  I generally recommend to candidates that they identify around 3 recruiters to work with - we'll all have different levels of relationship with different clients.   A good recruiter will highlight any obstacles that you may face (i.e. if you are very specialist or if your sector experience is not so applicable etc.) and identify ways in which you can address this. They'll also identify any issues on the CV that might be improved.   In most cases, the number of rejected applications can be reduced by targeting the right roles on offer.

Rejection post first interview.
First interviews are pretty much always about chemistry and fit.  It works both ways - for the candidate and the employer.  Often, I'll have a brilliant CV and a not so brilliant CV and it is surprising how frequently the not so brilliant CV will come out on top after the first interview.    So I suppose what I'm saying is that you potentially have to kiss a few frogs before you find your Prince. Not too many (or we're back at applying for the wrong roles).  But if you've secured a first interview, it's likely that you have passed the tick box exercise of 'can you do the job'.  At that point, it's then about the cultural fit, the fit with the prospective clients, the teams internally and whether your skills will transfer seamlessly into this new work environment.    Assuming you do, you'll be asked back for a second stage.  If not though, don't take it personally.   Just because someone else had the 'edge' doesn't (necessarily) mean that you were wrong or in some way lacking or inadequate, just that the employer had choice and they made a selection of the 'best' in their opinion for that particular role.  I will add though that you should always ask for feedback as this can be significant in ensuring that you succeed in future interviews.   Yes, I occasionally have feedback that individuals were late, were not enthusiastic (really), did not have good communication skills, looked a mess (I know), could not look people in the eye  - the list is endless!  But with all that feedback, it's possible to do something about it and get it right next time.  I recently had a candidate who was flabbergasted not to be invited back for another interview - the CV was a no brainer, a great fit for the role.  However, the interviewer thought the individual didn't show any enthusiasm for wanting to be there and came across like they were doing them a favour.  That's never going to come across well.  Equally, I have been working with a great Account Manager who consistently never got past first interview.  It turned out they came across too laid back in interview - we addressed it, did a bit of role play and bingo, an offer materialised from the very next interview.  That's why feedback is so important!

Rejection post second interview.
What I will say here is that employers do not waste their time with interviewing. Time is money and all that.  So an employer will not invite you for second interview just for the joy of it.  They are genuinely interested at this point in making a hire.  Unless they have made clear that they are interviewing speculatively in which case you are aware it may not proceed.  Sadly, sometimes post second interview, a role can be dissolved or budget withdrawn and that makes up around 20% of second interview rejections.  Nothing you can do about that so not to worry about it.  Typically at this stage, an employer will ask the candidate to respond to a brief.....This can often be challenging.  All I can say on this subject is that you need to put 100% into the brief.  Anecdotally, often, the 'best' candidates come unstuck when they don't respond well to a brief. Largely they fail to put the work in to get it right and unfortunately at this stage, winging it seldom works.  Someone else (because there usually is someone else) will respond better, have done more research, will have the 'edge' (yep, that word again).  So you need to come up with something that is compelling and therefore a compelling reason to hire you (and not anyone else).  Individuals can often be very unhappy with rejection post second interview.   Usually because they feel they've put a lot of time and effort into something and have then been turned down.  However, it's worth remembering that clients have choices and only one person (usually) can get the job.   Often, I'll have individuals get a bit irritated that they think clients were only interviewing them to get their 'ideas'.  Well, I've not come across a client who has used an individual's ideas from interview (after not hiring them....).  And ultimately that's a gamble that you've got to take. That 'idea' could get you the job. That's your 'edge'.   If there is something in the brief that isn't clear, seek clarification.  Whilst clients are usually keen to see your methods of working and evaluation, they also want the right answer!  As with the other forms of rejection, seeking feedback is key.  If you find you are permanently 'not the one', there could be a reason for that.  It's at this point too where salary considerations come into play so clients will also factor in your 'worth' relative to your cost.  Make sure you understand the salary parameters at the outset of application.  It's very disappointing to have an offer post second interview which is way off the salary mark.

Often, candidates will want to contact a client directly after a second stage rejection.  Usually this is just a note to express disappointment but to hopefully keep the lines of communication open for the future.  That's great.  What isn't so great is contacting the client with a disgruntled missive  - it might make you temporarily feel better but it will usually only serve to convince the client that they made the right decision.  It's OK (professional) to express disappointment and seek clarification and feedback It's not OK to get mad.  

Top Tips:

Apply for appropriate roles
Form relationships with good recruiters - these should be lifetime relationships
Seek feedback at every stage of the process.  Even if you secure a second interview, ask if there are any weaknesses you need to address
Do your prep for each stage.  Going the extra mile can earn those extra brownie points and define your 'edge'.
Don't let something ridiculous let you down. Be on time, be smart, be prepared, be enthusiastic, demonstrate that you really want the job.

Good luck!

29 Nov 2018

Job hopping...

In the olden days....a job was for life.   Things have changed.  Now, I actually think that employers are a bit suspicious if someone has spent a while in their current role.  They worry about lack of ambition or that the employee just wants an easy life.  The other extreme provides just as much suspicion.  Individuals who move roles after less than 12 months cause some concern and those who do it repeatedly cause quite a lot of concern.  I think you can explain staying in a role for a long time quite easily - providing you can demonstrate regular promotion and increased responsibilities, why would you leave an organisation who are giving you opportunities to grow and develop?  But it's harder to justify moving around and becoming a bit of a Job Hopper, particularly early in your career.

I regularly work with individuals who are under 30 years old.  Always very satisfying to help people in the early stages of their career and to see them develop.  Increasingly though, I'm advising them to sit tight for a while with their current employers.  Millenials get a bad rap from a lot of areas and it seems that the label of Job Hopper is yet another of them!  Often deservedly so.  A lot of Graduates arrive in the commercial world and find that starting salaries are £16-18k.  That's not what they thought was going to happen.  However, at that level, it's when you develop skills quickly and individuals are very motivated to keep progressing quickly and to earn more money.   Often too, a Graduate will be 'grateful' initially to get on the career ladder but then within 12 months have confidence that they are now 'more employable' - they are...and will then start seeking out the next opportunity.   I'm not suggesting that people need to spend 5 years in each role.  Rather that a minimum of 18 months in a position is optimal with 2 years being entirely justifiable in seeking a new position (in the eyes of employers).

A note to employers too.  Most employers know that it is easier to retain staff than to hire new ones.  So giving financial incentives at regular intervals for juniors is a good way to improve retention.   Juniors do talk to each other about salaries and the job market (much more than senior staff) and once one moves on, it tends to encourage others to do the same.  Offering a small increase in salary at 6 months and 12 months with another review at 24 months, that can make all the difference.  Obviously it's not all about the money...individuals want responsibility and improved skills.  But I'd say it's 90% about the money for junior staff.

If you've got less than 12 months experience in a role and you are thinking about moving on.  And your key reason is financial....it's always worth having a chat with your boss.  I'm sure that most business owners would prefer to give you a little bit more rather than spending the budget on finding another hire.   If you've only hopped once in your career, that's fine, it's explainable.  However, if you start to hop a bit too frequently, you are going to start losing out to other individuals who have showed staying power and therefore proved they can build longer lasting relationships with clients and colleagues.  Employers don't trust that in 12 months or less that you will have had time to demonstrate true success in a role and therefore someone that they want to invest in.  Put bluntly, they don't want to spend the money on hiring you if you're going to shoot off after 10 months.   When I'm writing job advertisements, one of the key phrases I use very often is 'a good track record' - that's recruiter speak for spending a good amount of time in each role.  It's very visible on a CV and you probably won't get the chance to justify your reasons in an interview - they'll shortlist others who look like safer bets.

I'm not trying to persuade you to sit tight until a clock presents itself but as in all things, balance is best.  Stay in touch though....

29 Oct 2018

When an offer is withdrawn...

I can't remember the last time I heard about an offer being withdrawn.  It's certainly a long time so fortunately it's a rare occurrence.   I had a chat last week, however, with a candidate who had got in touch with me about a fortnight previous to that.  The individual had declined interest in a couple of opportunities that I had in the mix saying that they were at an advanced stage with another potential employer and wanted to see how that went before progressing with anything else (I never understand this one....but then I work in recruitment. I genuinely feel that it's not a good idea to put all your eggs in one basket and it's good to have multiple options).  Anyway, the candidate had a second interview and was subsequently offered the job.  A couple of evenings later whilst out with family celebrating the offer, the phone rang (during the meal), where-upon the offer was withdrawn.  Not a celebration dinner after all.

This individual had applied directly to the employer and no recruiters were involved in the process.  I'm not sure that it would have made any difference to the outcome but I thought it might be useful to cover off in a blog and to give my insight as to what I'd do in such a situation.

My first tips include:

1.  When a formal verbal offer is made to you, ask for the offer in writing.  Do not consider anything set in stone until you have seen a formal offer letter which will include details of the role being offered to you, the salary, the benefits, details of the probation period and an anticipated start date.
2.  Review the offer letter. Don't be in such a hurry to accept that you don't check the detail and the small-print. 
3.  Contracts.  Probably 60% of my clients give an employee their contract on day one in the job.  However, most are happy to provide it early if you are keen to review it.
4.  Don't resign from a current role until you have the offer in writing.
5.  Wherever possible stay on good terms with your current employer.

This candidate was pretty distraught.  The first question was 'isn't a verbal offer legally binding?'.  Technically, yes.  Most offers are conditional only on the receipt of references and occasionally a medical.   However, the majority of agencies that we work with are independently owned and it's unlikely that anyone is going to spend any money on tribunals or employment lawyers if the offer has not yet made it to a written confirmation*.

I had a bit of a chat with fellow recruiters.  We all agreed it was uncommon but occasionally there were extenuating circumstances. Typically, this would be the lost of a major client in the days before a new employee started in the role.  Only one of my colleagues had ever experienced an offer withdrawal due to unsatisfactory references.  Aside from these circumstances, we were unsure why a client would go through the process of hiring an individual, only to withdraw at the last moment. After all, that's a lot of their time they've used in the process too.

In the present situation, it transpired that there was 'A N Other candidate'.  Which is probably the least professional employment process ever.  Ultimately as I say, there isn't a lot you can do at this point and objectively, the best solution is to find yourself another offer ASAP.  I refer to my earlier point of keeping a few different options on the go so you don't find yourself at a standing start again.

If you have resigned from a role to accept a new offer, it's worth chatting to your existing employer.  They may be prepared to keep you on a freelance basis until they find a new employee (if they haven't already...).  Most would be hesitant to take one back permanently as they'd be nervous that you would be off the minute another offer came in - so you'd need to be persuasive in your negotiation.  However, if your present employer hasn't found a new solution, keeping you on would certainly reduce their recruitment pain and cost and also solve any issues of client continuity. So it is always worth having this conversation.

Seek out new opportunities. Make recruiters aware that you are available immediately and that you will consider interim opportunities aswell as permanent. This may open up new avenues to you and often, these interim options are made permanent but will buy you much needed time to consider other options.

As I said at the start, these situations are incredibly rare. Keep a few options in the mix, don't resign until you've had a formal offer letter and in 99.9% of cases, you'll be absolutely secure in your new employment opportunity.

*Note, I'm no lawyer.  Always seek legal advice from someone qualified!!

9 Sep 2018

Psychometric tests....

80% of the recruiting that I do is agency side - that is, for marketing, advertising and digital agencies.  The remaining 20% is client-side.  The key difference between the two is HR departments.  HR people do tend to live up to their stereotypes and they also tend to love psychometric tests.  I can think of one agency who I work with who once tried them....and then ditched it as a costly and time wasting exercise.

And I'm afraid, that's my opinion of them too.  I've recently had a run of client-side marketing roles and they have all had some element of psychometric testing.  I'm a strong believer that a quality candidate/potential employee will have a quality CV.  A decent employer will have a robust interview process, ideally a minimum of 2 interviews where the first is an assessment of 'fit' for the business - culture, personality and chemistry.  The second interview should be a response to a brief of some kind or at the very least something to assess the skills of the individual relative to the requirements of the role. 

Most interviewers will know within the first 10 minutes if an interviewee is right for the role. And it's right that the process continues to a full and thorough assessment of an individual's skills - I get a bit twitchy when an offer is made after one meeting only.  However, I'm pretty sure that after this process, it's sufficient to know if you've found the person you want to hire.  After an offer is made, references should be checked and that, in my opinion, is enough.

In theory, I understand the value of a psychometric test.  Yes, it gives an overall view of the skills of the individual and can raise any red flags that you might need to be aware of - for example, how someone responds under pressure, what their management style is or how they use their persuasion skills.  I asked one of my client-side contacts, what value they gave to the tests and their response was that it's only useful in interviews to give you some basis for questions. However, they also said that each test took £200 out of an already small budget and frankly, they would have been asking those questions regardless of the prompts.  This client also highlighted an incident where they were re-hiring an individual who had worked with the business for 18 months previously and they had to go through the same testing procedure - a bit of a waste of money, what was the test going to tell them that they didn't already know and why would they want to re-hire if that person was no good?  The upshot was that it was something to keep HR departments busy....I don't want to piss anyone off here so I'll just leave that one there.

In a recent example, the additional tests required 2 hours of the interviewees time - that's quite a commitment on top of the 3 interviews they'd already had - and made it quite difficult to reject the candidates who didn't get the job....

I know I would say this, I'm a recruiter...however, when I take a brief, I only supply a small number of CVs for people who are qualified to do the job - and interested in it.  We have a solid interview process to ensure that the client could in fact select any of the individuals based on their actual skills - and then it's down to the client to identify who 'suits' them best - we're back to the best 'fit' - something that is unique to each and every business.  Recruitment is expensive, but the advantage of using a good recruiter is that they save you time, valuable time that you can spend doing your proper job.   Most recruiters offer a rebate period post start date where there is some return on spend if the individual turns out to be less than they hoped.  However, in my experience, rebates are extremely rare -  although that could be due to my excellent recruitment skills!  I also have a very sound radar for when I think a client is not 100% committed to an individual and if asked for an extended rebate period, I will walk away. It shrieks that they are looking to 'test' out someone, safe in the knowledge they'll get their money back.  That's not fair to the individual or the recruiter.

I once worked for a recruitment agency who 'sold' psychometric testing as part of their package for clients....ridiculous.  And recruitment is so much more pleasant when you are not trying to sell useless extras or squeeze more money out of them.  Clients ultimately appreciate you finding people who a) have the right skills to do the job and b) who fit the profile of their business - there is somewhere for everyone....and I'm afraid I don't believe that psychometric tests are going to help with that*.

*I'll put a disclaimer here!  That my experience is solely within recruitment for advertising, marketing and digital sectors, perhaps psychometric tests are useful for say, recruitment of pilots....but again, I doubt it.

6 Aug 2018

Anger Management....

OK.  Here's the thing.  I know that most recruiters are a bit rubbish. Often more than a bit. I don't think 'recruitment consultancy' comes up as a career option in those 'what job will suit you best' questionnaires and I don't know anyone in recruitment who grew up with the ambition of being a recruiter. So what we often find in recruitment are young graduates who have secured a job easily post graduation (most of the big recruitment firms will attract graduates with talk of big bonuses....and for these graduates who initially thought they might make it into the big FMCG firms or accountancy practices, recruitment is probably plan D). Initially they'll be grateful to have a job....then they'll realise what it's actually like.  If you're a Junior Recruiter, it's likely that there are lots of targets and KPIs....ranging from how many phone calls you make a day through to how much money you make at the end of the month.  It won't be a surprise to find that there is a high dropout rate, what initially seems like a great option - 'hurrah I have a salary', turns into something that individuals just can't see themselves doing for longer than 6-12 months.   

When I launched PMP, I swore that I wanted to keep it boutique. Recruiting recruiters is one of the most thankless tasks that there is - largely due to the aforementioned drop out rates.   Recruitment is not Rocket Science, but it is ALL about relationships.  With your candidates and your clients - the two are interchangeable and you build trust over time.  So for many recognisable recruitment firms, this is where they fall flat on their faces.  The high turnover of staff means that candidates and clients become frustrated at the lack of continuity, the lack of understanding over their business, the constant request for a meeting 'just to find out a bit more about you' when we did that 2 months ago.  And so on.

I digress. As per usual. There are, however, a small but select recruiters who are GREAT.  Typically, these are the people who have come to recruitment as a second career and more importantly where they have worked in the industry they recruit for before they moved into recruitment.  They are interested in and understand both the sector and the roles that they recruit for. They don't see it as inferior and they generally avoid the numbers driven KPI systems that perhaps the big recruitment brands rely on. That's certainly my profile. I love recruitment. I can't say that I'm contributing to world peace but I'm certainly helping people find a job that they love, helping businesses grow and there is nothing I love more than placing people as they develop their career. If I help an Account Executive secure their first job, then as an Account Manager - it's very very satisfying.  I loved working in marketing too, but I was so frustrated at dealing with rubbish recruiters that I wanted to do things differently.  I like to think that I do because I can get right to the crux of where a person's skills lie and match them up to a business where the culture and fit are exactly right.  To be honest, recruitment is not dissimilar to matchmaking.

Finally to the point of the blog. I don't often have dissatisfied customers.  However, this last week I had a VERY angry candidate.    This candidate was convinced they were the right person for a role I'd advertised.   Frankly, it wasn't even close. It was a complete mismatch.  Cue several furious, brief, emails (sent from a mobile) of the 'I THINK YOU'RE WRONG' variety. 

Genuinely. If I think that there is a good fit between a candidate and a role - I'll propose the candidate to the client.  Without being crude, that's how I make my money.  It is not in my interest to reject candidates if there is any chance that the client will be able to see a potential fit.  Equally, the main reason a client uses me is because, they want me to provide them with a shortlist of suitable candidates thereby saving them time (and money).  If I supply clients with CVs that are not relevant for the role.....they'll be fed up and stop using my services.   So we're back to trust here.   Candidates need to trust me that if I think there is no chance of the client considering their CV, I'm right. 

The reason I talked so much about rubbish recruiters is because I do understand the frustration of candidates. If you are dealing with a sub average recruiter, perhaps they don't know what they're talking about, perhaps they don't understand exactly what you do.   But I do, and most recruiters do want to make money so they will be happy to represent candidates who match the spec'. 

I've advised my angry candidate that we should meet soon.  They weren't right for that job, but they'll be right for plenty of others.  I'm always happy to listen.  I think there are a few other blogs in here......not sending angry emails is probably the next, have a proper conversation. Email is completely the wrong medium to lash out at people. It also gives me a few red flags as to how that person might behave in the workplace. 

Some tips for candidates if you feel you are constantly being 'rejected' by a recruiter. 

1.  Ask to meet the recruiter for a coffee.
2.  Ask yourself if you are applying for the right jobs
3. Talk to other recruiters, maybe that recruiter is one of the rubbish ones
4.  Reassess your CV.  Fine tune it for specific roles.  Does it display your strengths relative to the roles you are applying for?
5.  Manage your expectations - especially if the rejections are salary related.

19 Jul 2018

Dangerous Peers

My blog subjects are always real life situations that have inspired (?) me to share with my audience and I hope, in some small way, to de-bunk the myth that getting a job is hard work.  I often joke with friends and family that recruitment isn't rocket science - and it's not. However, it does take us back to the basics and core principles of, well, life.  Manners, Enthusiasm, Professional attitude, friendliness, an engaging manner, a smart and well turned out appearance - these are all the things that 'get' you the job.  Most employers are not looking for anything unheard of or uncomplicated....but they do want to get the basics right.

Anyway. I digress. The 'case study' that I wanted to share today is a bit of a double edged one.  I had a brilliant candidate in for an interview with a top agency in the region.  I do know this candidate and I know the client well too, particularly the hiring manager.   There was an initial chat, then a formal first stage interview and then a final stage interview with a presentation.  The client had mentioned a couple of times that they couldn't gauge how 'keen' the candidate was.  He felt that he was 'selling' the business to the candidate with not so much in return.  However, the candidate technically did nothing wrong and there was a good match with the skills and they would compliment the existing skills within that team.  

The client offered the role to the candidate and this is where both I and the client started to get a few real warning signs.   Usually, when a candidate is offered a new role, they are pretty happy - whilst I don't expect hysteria, the usual reactions are positive ones, a whoop or a sigh of relief at least.  In this case, there was nothing more than 'I'll need to have a think'.  Which is fine....Normal practice is to ask for the offer in writing and that can buy some thinking time whilst you see the details in black and white.  But the candidate didn't seem that bothered about getting the offer in writing.  We were negotiating on the money so I think in fairness, we all wanted to get that right before talking about pensions and healthcare.   The client met the candidate again informally to chat things through but at this point, they were starting to question things a little.  After four meetings, there does, at some point, need to be a decision.  A week later, it came.  The candidate declined the offer.

OK.  Fine.  This happens.  Part of the wonderful world of recruitment is that sometimes people decide to sit tight, take different roles, leave the industry etc.  But it's always frustrating if you can't fathom why someone declines a role.  After all, this was a great agency, great clients, a great opportunity for the candidate - genuinely I couldn't see why they didn't want it.  They'd pushed hard on the money and the client hadn't given them what they wanted - but it was a strong offer and would give the candidate a lot more exposure and challenges than they currently had.  So I scratched my head.  What could/should I have done differently?

It turns out that the answer is that it wasn't in my control.  The candidate had done what they referred to as their 'due diligence' and talked to 'people in the industry' that they knew and some 'friends' and people who had 'worked with other people in the agency'.  One person had said something that put the candidate off the job and the agency.

The day after the decline, the candidate had a change of heart.  To cut a long story shot, I went back to the client to see if they would re-consider. However, the damage was done.  The client had a 'back-up' candidate who really did want the job and who wasted no time in enthusiastically accepting the offer.   The original candidate admitted that someone had 'poisoned' their mind a little and that was the main reason they declined the role.

My tips....

1.  Show enthusiasm during interviews.  The client in this situation had time to analyse the previous interviews and thought that the candidate enthusiasm was lacking.  This was the main reason they wouldn't re-consider the offer.
2. Be honest with your recruiter if you have any reservations about an offer.  A good recruiter will be objective.
3. Yes, do your own due diligence.  But if peers are negative in the extreme, perhaps question why that might be.  Are they being objective?
4.  Trust your own instinct.  What vibe do you get for the agency and the Hiring Manager?
5.  Don't turn down a job offer until you are ABSOLUTELY sure you don't want the job!

It's natural that we'd want to ask peers and colleagues for recommendations and feedback on other businesses and people. However, keep an open mind and really question it if someone is hugely negative.  You need to quantify any negativity that comes from other sources and balance it out against all the things that you do know for fact!

21 Jun 2018

Hostile Job Adverts

I saw an article on BBC online recently.  Very topical.  'Why do some job adverts put women of applying'.  I actually thought I'd mistakenly logged into the Daily Mail online....but of course I hadn't.  So I continued reading.

Essentially the article was highlighting that words do matter.  That there are lots of unconscious biases out there.  Apparently when reading job adverts, the word 'manage' is more attractive to men than women.  And that if a woman reads the words 'coding ninja' she will assume that the business is a hostile working environment for a woman.  Similarly, the word stakeholder is a problem word (for me)...  It's a personal favourite, particularly in writing job adverts for Digital Project Managers - context - 'being able to manage multiple stakeholders'.  Apparently the word stakeholder serves as a signal to people of colour that their contributions may not be valued.  Eh? That's what the data says

The article had an interview with an 'augmented writing software' business.   They review job adverts and highlight any wording that might have a masculine/feminine bias and then adapt it and suggest alternatives. Heck,  I thought, are they not reading too much into it?  I tap out job adverts within minutes.  I treat writing job adverts as part of the job, if I thought too carefully about it, I'd never get anything done.

So I wanted to make a couple of points on the blog.

1.  Don't read too much into a job advert.   From my perspective (a recruiter), it's a tool that I use to attract candidates to a role.  I only ever advertise real jobs. I don't use fake adverts to attract people to non existent positions. Why would I?  The respect I get from my candidates is through having relevant and real positions for them.  I use the advert to get across the salient points on the role.  Job title, location, core requirements and a bit about the business environment.  I don't write chapter and verse - that's the function of a job description.  I write enough to give the job hunter enough to whet their appetite or to find out more about it.

2.  I don't consider a response to a job advert to be an application.  Now some recruitment cowboys are different so you need to exhibit caution here.  However, for me, the next step is to talk the candidate through the role, the requirements, to give them the name of the employer, the job description.  This is where we review the working environment and try to ascertain if the fit is right.  This is the bit where I earn my money.  I'm working for the client to ensure I get the right individuals in front of them and I'm working for the job hunter to make sure it's not a 'hostile' environment.  I wouldn't make any assumptions on that from a job description!  

3.  The upshot here is to keep an open mind about any job until you have more information.  Most job adverts are written by time poor recruiters or HR Managers.  They'll be like me, tapping out the essentials without relying on software to tell them if they're attracting the right people.  I'm pretty old school when it comes to recruitment. It is truly all about the person, and that's all about chemistry and personality and that requires communication - not software.

4.  The software is extrapolated by a couple of other businesses to extend to job descriptions.  It all sounds very complicated - rewriting job descriptions to the nth degree.  I don't disagree that getting recruitment right is essential to business productivity and efficiency. Getting the right people to do the right jobs is hugely important.  However, in my experience, the best job descriptions and role profiles are the simple ones that state the role and responsibilities clearly.  It doesn't need to be complex.  

Anyway, I've tried not to rant.  I'm afraid I do use words like manage, competitive, commercial and stakeholder in writing adverts.  My feelings on this topic are similar to my feelings on personality profiles and psychometric testing.  But that's another blog and I fear I may not be able to avoid a rant there!

Happy Job Hunting and don't over-think it. If the job looks interesting, give the recruiter a call. 

10 May 2018

Gaps on CVs

I regularly come across candidates who have 'gaps' on their CV.  As with anything on a CV, there is no point in trying to disguise or cover up anything that you think might be less than impressive to a potential employer.   You are likely to be asked about any gaps at interview so rather than disguise it, I find it's better to rehearse your response to that question and to ensure that it's a positive one.  There are a variety of reasons that individuals might have taken time out of employment and actually that reason is critical in how you respond to the question so that employers don't count it as a negative.

I actually started thinking about this because a friend was made redundant 9 months ago.  She is a confident and experienced individual but was struggling to find a new role.  Her mindset was negative to start with - she was bruised from the redundancy process and as each month went on with further rejections, her confidence was further bruised.  Now, rationally, we know that redundancy is seldom personal, it's about the numbers and the bottom line.  But the mind plays tricks and if you're feeling a bit vulnerable, then interviews can become very challenging.  Success at interview is about confidence and displaying that confidence in an engaging and personable way.  If you're at all defensive or negative about redundancy at interview, and you've been out of work for an extended period, then it starts to come across - and there starts a vicious circle.   My friend has just secured a new role after changing her interview mindset.  She began to:

  • Talk about the positivity of redundancy getting her out of a rut.
  • Highlight all the positive and proactive things she had done during her time out (they don't necessarily need to be work related, community work and the opportunity to do something non work based can also be positive).
  • Talk about how she was re-engaged with the work process, the time out had given her time to realise how much she enjoyed her job and what she wanted to achieve in the next 5 years.
  • Talk about how varied were the opportunities she was now looking at and she had proper time to review what was right for her and she was excited about the future.
We had a conversation where we discussed how things had to change during interviews and within a fortnight, she had an offer.   A great offer.  Because the other thing that can happen after a 'gap' on a CV is that individuals just accept something for the sake of it.  Whilst this is understandable - after all, you need the money, it's not a long term solution and because you know you're accepting something that possibly isn't right, then you're going to struggle to make it work in the long term.    So I think a bit of fine tuning in interviews can go a long way- and the P word is vital.

Several candidates have gaps on the CV because they've taken a sabbatical to go travelling.  This is on the rise as individuals delay the traditional gap year post university to do it in their late twenties/early thirties when they can do it on less of a shoe string budget.    Depending on where you are travelling and your reasons, it can be useful to add in a bit of work experience en route.  I've seen a lot of candidates increasingly spend time in Sydney for a 3 month period before heading off to travel and there are a lot of Australian advertising agencies who love to take on a Brit short term.  The work experience can be useful when you come home - shows that you've added a bit of value by learning more about advertising in other areas of the world.   It's by no means essential though and actually travelling (or gaps due to travel) is generally not something that employers are concerned about.  After all, a well travelled individual demonstrates that they are inquisitive about the world, adventurous, cultured and confident - all skills that are highly rated in the world of work.   The other key difference here is that individuals returning from travelling are not apologetic about having a gap on their CV.  It has been a life enhancing experience and they are ready to re-enter the world of work. Thus, these individuals are positive from the get go.  This is interesting from a psychological point of view.  Your work skills do not disappear when you have a break from work - for whatever reason.  However, in the mindset of a potential employer, I do think that someone whose break has been due to redundancy has to work harder in an interview than someone whose break has been due to travelling. Plus the recently returned traveller is refreshed and confident compared to a battle scarred person who has had 8 months trying to find a new role.  It's important to remember this and even if you're not confident, you must give the impression of being...  

Increasingly too, we're finding individuals taking time out to look after family - not just women returning to work post maternity, but also people looking after elderly parents and then returning to the work environment.  Typically any period up to 12 months is not going to be an issue but with any extended periods of time out, it's essential to stay up to date with changes in the industry and to focus on the positives for an employer in bringing someone on who genuinely wants to work.  I generally recommend to returning mums that they negotiate with their present employer in the first instance for reduced working hours. It's a legal obligation for employers to consider this and it's much easier to find a 4 day week from an existing employer who knows you than a new employer (note we VERY rarely see 3 or 4 day week roles advertised).

If you've been unemployed due to something potentially 'sinister' - i.e. you've been in prison (I've only come across this once so clearly marketing & advertising people are generally a law abiding bunch) - then the only advice is to be honest...and talk about transferable skills and how you have used the time constructively.

If unemployment has been due to ill-health....again, honesty is the best policy.  You'll need to ensure that you are fit to return to work and that the employer is confident of this - anything you can support this with will be helpful.

The final thing I'd say is that regardless of whether you've had a gap in your CV or not, always ensure that you are applying for the right jobs.  There is nothing worse than continuous rejection but I find that often, continuous rejection is most common where the skills are not right for the role.....and individuals returning to work after a gap do have a higher tendency than most to apply for any role that 'looks ok'.  Whilst volume in applications is important...the conversion to interview can only work if you have the right skills for the role.  I'd recommend you talk to multiple recruiters, make LinkedIn your friend - contact old work colleagues and network furiously.  You'll need to be more proactive than someone who is currently in a role but conversely, you'll be available immediately which is usually attractive to employers.  Be prepared to be flexible - yes financially but also on job title and even whether the role is contract or permanent.  Often, all the carrot that an employer needs is the opportunity to go from temp to perm, thus reducing their immediate recruitment costs.   And try to fill your time with enjoyable things - before long, you will be back at the grindstone so make the most of it!

Top Tips:

Be Tactful
Be Honest
Be Professional
Be Concise
Be Candid
Remember that it's normal for people to become unemployed
Focus on your transferable skills
Have written references available
Be Proactive

24 Apr 2018

The right time to resign...

Is there ever a good time to resign? Discuss.

I’ve got a situation at the moment where a great candidate has been offered a great job. She loves everything about the new job and if it weren’t for a pesky notice period, the new employer would take this said candidate tomorrow.

However, the candidate is a really nice person.  Lovely. Whilst she doesn’t like her current job and feels that it wasn’t ‘sold’ to her honestly,  she doesn’t want to let her current employer down.  The candidate has an important role and there are many ongoing projects that are critical for the agency and their key client.

New employer wants a start date.  Candidate wants to hold off resigning until the biggest project is out of the way – in a weeks’ time.  Thus delaying the start date. 


The harsh advice is to resign immediately.  Your loyalty is to your new employer. You are not happy in the existing role.  It’s why we have notice periods – it’s their problem (the existing employer) to replace you, not yours.

No-one really likes resigning. Well, not really.  It’s what can be classed as a ‘difficult conversation’ and I’ve yet to meet anyone who really relishes those. 

Whilst I’d like to advise total transparency and honesty with the new employer.....don’t expect understanding in all cases.  Whilst the new employer may say ‘great, what a nice and professional person I have just offered a job to’, they may equally say ‘what the hell, do you want this job or not’.  

So the situation needs to be managed carefully.  Any new employer expects that as soon as an offer has been accepted, a start date is then agreed.  If there is any stalling over the start date, that sets people off worrying....and that’s not a good basis of trust for the new employer and employee.

You can always try the honest route first and see how it goes down. After all, the worst the new employer can say is ‘we need you sooner’ although they may also see it as a sign that you’re not that bothered about the offer and renege that offer...but that really is worst case. Usually some mediation is possible.

However, don’t be surprised if the new employer does request that you resign immediately. They need to know you are on board, need to know that they can stop their search, let the other candidates in the running know...they need to tell their clients that they have solved the recruitment issue and all is tickety boo.  They need to know that you really really want to work for them!  New employers seldom understand loyalty to an existing employer over them – your new employer.

The other consideration is that you’ll give yourself a week or so of additional nerves - feeling dishonest, having conversations about things that you know will not concern you in the future.  My personal view is that it’s usually for the best to put your big pants on and to have that conversation with your existing employer.  Yes, they could march you off the premises, or they could offer you more money, they might shout a bit, give you a guilt trip etc  etc.  But at this point, you should be thinking about number one.  Once it’s done, you’ll be able to look forward to the future, and it’s not your problem anymore. 

PS.  That all sounds a bit harsh.  Obviously I’ll caveat this with ‘you must be professional in your conversations at all parts of the process and help out the existing employer with a fabulous hand-over document.  Don’t forget, you may need them for a reference in the future...

23 Mar 2018

Why being 'nice' won't get you a payrise

OK, with that Headline I'm as bad as the Daily Mail.  However, this week, my mother in law (a staunch reader of the above rag) sent me a link to an article.  

Their headline was:

Being nice at work will NOT get you a pay rise! Key to success and riches lies in being intelligent rather than kind.    

Whilst reading this, I instantly added the word 'discuss' and started thinking about a blog.  I remember a couple of years ago, I was in a client meeting and they actually had a big poster on the wall with the mantra 'work hard and be nice to people'.  That resonated with me and I generally think it's good advice.  Given too that the Daily Mail was kicked off Wilkipedia in 2017 as their news reporting is 'generally unreliable', I wonder why I'm giving this any headspace.  But then again, blogs don't write themselves and there were some interesting points they made in the article.

The premise of the article was that Intelligence is more important to a successful life than being nice. Generosity and conscientiousness are not as beneficial and cleverness to success and that people with a higher IQ showed higher levels of cooperation in the workplace.

So, I think that there should be a caveat about the sort of job that you do and how that affects the findings of this study which was carried out by a Professor of Economics at Bristol University.  I've tried to think about his results into the context of the advertising and marketing sector, particularly in the agencies which represent 85% of my billing.  I've also considered my own behaviour in the workplace too.    I think I'm quite nice (not a bitch) and quite intelligent (albeit not a rocket scientist) so where would that put me on the assertiveness scale?

The research found that individuals who are agreeable, trusting, conscientious and generous do good for themselves and other people, but only for a limited amount of good and only for a short time.  By contrast, people who are intelligent and less nice are more likely to do better in the long term.  The researchers extrapolated this to find that intelligent people are likely to see the bigger picture and work cooperatively and be promoted and financially rewarded.

When you put it like that, I can't really argue.  When I consider looking at the candidates who are most successful, they (by and large) have followed a traditional path with a strong academic background, good work placements, good degree, moving role every 3 years on average and who have gained significant pay rises over the years.  It's one of the benefits of my job (and having been doing it for so long) that I often meet people at the bottom of the ladder and I'm still working with them when they get to the top of the ladder.  Of course, I'm making this simplistic here.  There are clearly people who are intelligent who haven't followed that traditional path and who have followed the same career trajectory - but they are not the majority.  And also, having a degree doesn't make you intelligent.... BUT doing a good degree at a good university (i.e. not BA in Digital Enterprise and Innovation at the University of Wrexham) will make you attractive to good employers who recognise strong talent and that first role post university often frames the rest of your career - a stepping stone to better things or alternatively a business that promotes you regularly having recognised your talent.

In general, I find that individuals who have stayed in the same business for a long time are either on the same salary that they started on or they have progressed to being the MD. This week I talked to a candidate who had stayed in the same role at the same employer for over 10 years.  The salary was very low against industry standards.  This individual was very very conscientious and reliable - definitely not stupid....but clearly not someone who was going to take on the world.  In the candidate's defence, they didn't want to take on the world. Actually, they were perfectly happy to stay at this level with very little overall responsibility other than doing their own job well.    So in this context, the research is a bit of a red herring.  Often, I find that individuals don't necessarily take into account that whilst a pay rise is nice, it isn't for free and the extra responsibility, pressure, stress, hours etc are all trade offs.  Just an observation.

I gave a talk recently at a University where I spoke to first year students about careers.  I am absolutely of the mindset that a strong education gives you options and choices.  As the bottom line, I say, get your GCSEs, then if you're doing A levels, get good A levels in good subjects (employers still assess this), if you're doing a degree, make sure it's one that is going to count (I refer to the Wrexham example).  Don't get into a whole heap of debt for something that won't enhance your career prospects significantly.  And following the extrapolation of this research by the University of Bristol, they essentially say the same thing:

'With education, our results suggest that focusing on intelligence in early childhood could potentially enhance not only the economic success of the individual, but the level of co-operation in society in later life.'

I'm seeing more apprenticeships in our sector but even then, I urge individuals to get the best possible A levels to give them an advantage. Whilst the big blue chips are now taking on candidates post A level, they're still taking the 'best'.  And at this point, whilst exam results are the measure of 'intelligence', the advice needs to be to do the best that you can.

Ultimately it was a bit of a rubbish headline.  If I was to be truly honest I'd say 'asking for a pay rise will get you a pay rise' - or it possibly will. I'm more a fan of 'if you don't ask you don't get'.  And in my experience, more men than women ask....which is another blog entirely!

26 Feb 2018

How to decide which job to accept...

I often wonder how on earth the recruitment world worked in the old days.  The days when Jobs were advertised in the paper,  CVs  were sent in and interviews were confirmed by post. Things must have sped up when fax arrived and then by the time I got involved, we were on email so the world was constantly evolving, as it does.

I was chatting to a candidate a couple of weeks ago.  He was fortunate to have two job offers. Great offers, good money, benefits and working conditions.  He asked for some time to make his decision. A few days later, he phoned to tell me which role he was accepting.  I asked how he'd made the decision and he replied that he'd 'asked Alexa'.  He wasn't joking.

Initially, I thought ha!  Hilarious!  But then on reflection, it's just another reflection of how the world is moving.  I'm afraid that I'm not an Alexa fan but it's an extension of how we use the internet for just about everything.  The Google Search 'how to decide between two jobs' brings up 5 million results though and I'm assuming you don't have time to run through all of them so I thought I would give my top tips for deciding which job to go for...

1.  I'm quite old fashioned, so I'd start a nice fresh page in my notepad and get a selection of coloured pens (you might prefer to use your iPad!).  First thing to consider is 'why was I looking for a new role'.  Then list all the factors that you are unhappy about/seeking to improve in a change in role. 

2.  Essentially, I would then do a mini SWOT analysis for each role that you have been offered.  I would also run one for your existing role as you should consider 'staying put' as one of your options.  The considerations will be different for everyone but the most typical reasons for leaving a job include:

Seeking more money
Reducing my commute
Better work life balance (hours, flexible working, holidays)
Career development opportunities - now and in the future (job title, managing team etc)
Role variation (different projects or clients)
Business Culture (different ethos, new colleagues, new boss (!))

3.  Actually, writing that list demonstrates that there actually are not so many variations of the criteria that lead us to look for a new role.  In Black and White (or in my case, lots more colour), you'll start to crystallise the pros and cons of each offer versus your current role. It can be more complex depending on how important you weight each option.  In my experience, a big hike in salary can often neutralise a longer commute or longer working hours but for others the chance to walk to work might trump all the other considerations.  Everyone has their own equation for what makes them happy at work.  Review your list and then compare to what you highlighted at the start of the process as being the reason you were looking for a new role.  Which offer most closely matches what you thought you wanted?

4.  At this point, it's where you may realise that your original reasons for leaving a role have changed/morphed during the process of searching for a new one. You may have realised that you needed to lower your expectations of what was possible, you may have realised that actually, the grass is not always greener.  You should, consider if there are any consequences of not accepting the role (s).  You may burn your bridges with that particular company - does that matter?

5.  At the end of this process. Write down which job your gut instinct tells you to take.  This is probably a subconscious feeling where you think you would be happier/more fulfilled in one role than another.  It's the head versus heart consideration.   When it comes down to it, is that extra £2k important, will the clients make a difference?

6. You need to make a decision.  But you've taken into account all the factors.  You can consult others - parents, friends, colleagues, recruiter etc. Make sure if you do ask for advice that you trust the people you are asking - do they understand you and your values.  Parents will usually be most concerned with job security and friends will be most impressed by money and brand names.  Make sure if you take advice, that it is objective.

7.  If your decision is based on further negotiation then now is the time to do it.  You have a preference but it's on condition that.....there is extra money, that there is one flexible day per week, that you can buy extra holiday etc.   As soon as you have a response, it's crunch time.

8.  Once you've made your decision.  I recommend that you decline the other role (s) carefully.  If you can, keep the doors open for the future and hope that the employer understands.  Usually they'll be a bit bruised so don't expect a lovely response but equally, you may find that they then up their offer in some way.  At that point, you have your lovely list for quick reference to see whether that makes any difference.  Your current employer will potentially counter offer a new job offer when you resign so try to consider that during the process. Is there anything the current employer could do that would make you stay?  I will just add here that in my experience, 80% of individuals who are 'bought back' by an existing employer are back on the job hunt within 6 months - promises frequently are not kept and employee patience is exhausted.  Worth keeping this front of mind as 6 months later, it is unlikely that a business you have declined is going to welcome you with open arms.

9.  Celebrate your new role!  It's important to be excited about the new job.  If not, I'd perhaps recommend reviewing your list again!

19 Jan 2018

Crap questions to ask at interview

It's that time of year when everyone says 'New Year, New Career'.  And it's true, traditionally, this is a busy time of year for recruiters where lots of candidates brush up their CVs and prepare to find something new.  It's also true that you see a lot of articles in the media with 'advice' on how to get your dream job or what to say at interview.  I realise that these articles are written by journalists for a broad audience, however I was reading this week's Stylist magazine (freebie found in city centres) and found myself snorting at their suggestions of questions to ask at your next interview.  I'm afraid I'm at odds with their suggestions.  I think most of our agency clients in the North would scoff if asked any of these....

1.  What are you doing to ensure your male and female employees have equal pay? 

Heck, do you want to look antagonistic?  If you're male, they'll wonder why you're asking and if you're female I think you'll automatically put yourself in the 'potentially difficult to manage' category.  Now that might not be politically correct and don't get me wrong, I definitely believe that men and women should be paid equivalent salaries for doing equivalent jobs.  But really....there are many more questions that you can ask directly about the business which don't get people's backs up or which might get their backs up.  Don't go there (at interview) would be my advice.

2.  How flexi is your flexitime?

Seriously.  This is up there with 'what is your sick leave policy'.    There is a time and place to start the conversation about flexi-time. With your recruitment consultant or at second stage.  Not to be asked at first stage - unless the employer brings it up.  Even then, answer cautiously.

3.  How does your company support its employee's wellbeing?

Technically there is nothing wrong with the question.  However, the main focus of the interview IMO is to sell yourself to the potential employer.  I agree it's also the employer's responsibility to sell themselves and their business to you too.  Hopefully they can cover it off without you mentioning it.  I do think there are better ways of asking the question.

4.  How could Brexit affect this role?

I suppose this is fair enough.  BUT again think about context.  For most agencies, I don't think it's too relevant whereas if you're interviewing at a global manufacturing giant then perhaps.  My friend who's a pilot was asked it recently and he talked about oil prices etc so again just consider how you think it could affect the role. If you've no idea, I wouldn't ask the question.  Personally.

5.  How do you encourage staff to give back?

As I progress through these questions.....they are probably more relevant if you're interviewing at a huge blue chip and perhaps by an HR person.  I appreciate that we all want to work in businesses who are socially responsible but most agencies are not going to consider this being a very relevant question.  Review their website in advance and see if they talk about this - if they do, you can broach it if it's important to you.

6.  What new skills can I learn?

Phrase it differently.  You can talk about how adapting and learning new skills are important to you but essentially, it's more likely that the potential employer wants to hear about what skills you're going to bring to them....Make sure you listen to what they are looking for and adapt your answers accordingly - and then work this question into the conversation.

7.  They had a final question....Big picture of a dog and then 'will I have time to walk him?'  Ho Ho. 

Don't even think about it.

I'm not trying to come across as a hard core facist recruiter where the employer holds all the cards and to a certain extent you have to say what they want to hear (sell yourself) if you want to get the job.  Save more 'soft' questions for later interview stages. The first interview should be about chemistry, fit, do you currently have the skills to do the role, what is the progression and career trajectory for you.

If you asked all these questions at first stage, I don't think you'd get the job. You'd potentially look like a challenging individual who isn't committed to working that hard.  Yes it depends on the business, how you ask the questions and the job you're applying for but don't just ask questions that some magazine suggests are good to ask at interview.  Think about it in context of the business and environment that you are looking at and then come up with some more relevant questions that are pertinent to the role.  Save anything tricky for advanced stage (when you know they want you) and go from there.

Finally, I do actually have some agency clients where people take their dogs to work.  Just saying!