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!