18 Nov 2019

Chinese Whispers...

I think that as a recruiter, you need to be lots of things.  Whilst what we do isn't rocket science, there are certain skills that will differentiate the good from the bad and the great from the good.  For me, one of the key skills here is the ability to be objective.   So much of recruitment is subjective....that the ability to step back and look at things with clarity and without influence of outside influences can be very helpful in aiding decision making. 

I work with many advertising, digital and marketing agencies across the North.  Over the years, I've seen many changes in different agencies. Changes in ownership, structure, clients and often in the services that they provide too - agencies evolve over time.  People change too and this can often alter the fabric of an agency and it's a key factor in the 'reputation' of an agency or business.    Candidates, when they are seeking a new opportunity will have a number of criteria that they are looking for a new role to meet.   In our industry, this is often about creative output, the mix of clients, the hours of work, career progression,  the salary and of course people and management.   Candidates will usually do some form of 'due diligence' prior to allowing a recruiter to send their CV to a prospective employer.  Due diligence might be checking out the website or it might be asking your friends and colleagues who also work in the industry.     Increasingly it might also include looking for reviews on Glass door.   So reputation is important.   Even for a truly great agency, if a candidate has heard anything negative at all, they are quite likely to sit tight. 

In our current Economic and Political climate I'm finding that candidates are quite cautious in making a move.  That is, they are only moving role if they are absolutely sure it's the right opportunity.   I've had several situations recently where candidates have commented that they'd spoken to people and that had led to them withdrawing from opportunities where previously they were perfectly content.  I certainly don't object if someone withdraws from a recruitment process generally - they do so for all sorts of reasons!  However, if it is because they've heard something on the industry grapevine, then I'll ask them to take a step back and review that 'feedback' objectively.   

Over the years, most agencies that I've worked with have had 'reputations' and what I've learned is that reputations last for a long time and as is often the case, the more conversations about a subject, the likelihood is that the facts can be distorted -  particularly if it's recounted as a friend of a friend worked for agency x or similar.  I should add that reputations can be positive too!  But recently I've had to caution a few candidates where I've thought that they've had feedback that hasn't really been objective.   Often, an individual will not enjoy a workplace due to a personality difference or it just might not be the right 'fit' for them. But that doesn't necessarily mean it won't be a fit for someone else.  I'm often reminded of this because I am speaking to a lot of individuals who work for agencies across the North and I hear different things from different people.   

It's hugely important here to have an objective recruiter who can honestly tell you how it is.  For every agency that a candidate has told me something negative about, there are an equal and opposite number of people who'll tell me something positive.  Some people stay at agencies for years whereas others may not be able to hold out for 6 months.   I suppose what I'm trying to say is Horses for Courses...  By all means chat to friends and colleagues but do keep an open mind, stay pragmatic and actually, go along and have a chat with the agency so that you can find out if it might be right for you.  Most agency bosses are happy to answer direct questions about the work environment. They don't want to spend money on hiring someone who only lasts a short time....that first chat is the opportunity for both parties to explore if they might be right for each other.  Don't discount an opportunity purely on hearsay and by all means, call me anytime for an objective lowdown on any agency across the North!

25 Oct 2019

Money, Money, Money

It's very difficult really to ascertain what any job is worth in terms of salary.   I always think that we're relatively lucky in the world of advertising and marketing that we make a reasonable amount of money, that there is career progression and that we mostly enjoy what we do too.  Every year, I do a salary survey for my clients so that they have something to benchmark where salaries are in the Northern region of the UK relative to different job roles.  Of course, there are always salary bandings because there are variables but they are useful as I use the information from the candidates who I work with and the roles that I place, so the data is pretty reliable and accurate.

It is a universal truth, however, that everyone thinks they are underpaid.  Nearly everyone I talk to who is looking for a new role is doing so predominantly to make more money.   Over the past 2 years I've seen a marked decrease in the length of time that individuals spend in a role - particularly in the areas of search marketing, social media and junior client services.  I think this is partly generational - young people are ambitious and constantly pushing the boundaries to make more money.  Equally, particularly in search and social, the ability of someone to do the job is very visible and results driven which demonstrates to these employees just how useful they are and they are confident that they can pitch themselves to new employers with higher salary expectations - after all, they will prove return on investment very quickly.   Equally their market is buoyant and employers are keen to hire people with these skills.  In more creative agencies where the client services teams still have to serve their time as an Account Exec, then Manager, then Senior Manager before arriving at the giddy height of Account Director, their progression remains much steadier without sudden leaps of promotion.  Talking to clients, this is often because for these individuals to be taken seriously by clients, they have to have served their time moving up the ladder, to earn the credibility.  It seems that perhaps for search marketing and social media roles, the talent is there early on and the younger generations prove their credibility by creating results and fast. 

The average UK salary currently stands at £29k.  Which is higher than I'd thought it would be.  So I'd say generally that marketing and advertising hold up pretty well with salaries that become higher than this average after perhaps 4-5 years in the industry.  Starting salaries in our industry are not high - compared for example to a Doctor or Dentist but then they've spent many more years training!

Regional salaries in marketing and advertising do not change significantly over time.  I'd say that in the recent economic climate, we have seen that there are less 'senior' roles than perhaps we would expect to see.   Employers are keeping an eye on their bottom line and often promoting internally rather than hiring senior people externally.    The market for £25k-35k roles is usually pretty busy and it's only over the £40-50k mark that we see individuals needing to continue their job search for a little longer before they find their perfect role.    It is rare in regional marketing and advertising to see salaries for over £100k and indeed over the £70k role.    Senior marketers are earning well but they're not earning mega bucks.  Agency marketers always think the grass is greener in-house and expect that their Marketing Director clients will be on silly money.  Whilst they're usually on a little more money, it's not always a lot more.

Whenever I meet a candidate, money is usually one of the first things we talk about and I always ask candidates if they have requested a pay rise where they are currently.   Interestingly I would say only around 30% would say yes to this.  Women, particularly do not want to be considered awkward or difficult for asking for more cash.  Men will statistically ask their bosses for a pay rise at least twice a year - interesting!   Additionally, I find that those individuals who resign and then are 'bought back' by their existing employer, will stay in the role for an average of another 4 months before being back on the market.  Often this is due to unfulfilled promises or more commonly the realisation that perhaps....money isn't everything.  Job satisfaction, work life balance, flexible hours, gym membership, decent pension contributions, bring your dog to work, gin and tonic on a Friday....there are plenty of other criteria which do also get a look-in. 

On a final note.  A (good) recruiter will always give you an honest and objective view about your current salary and your expectations. They will also try to secure you as high a salary as is possible.  Within the realms of what is realistic, reasonable and essentially whatever the new employer thinks you are worth - to them.  It's not an exact science!

20 Sep 2019

What to do if your new job is awful!

I'm really very fortunate that it is a rare occurrence for a candidate to get in touch with me shortly after starting in a new role.   No recruiter likes to get into a rebate situation with a client and we genuinely want our candidates to love their new job.

However, it does sometimes happen and I thought it might be worth offering a few words of wisdom in case you're finding yourself in the unenviable position of feeling out of place within the first few weeks of starting a new position.

Usually I recommend to candidates and to clients that the interview process is robust. Ideally it should be two interviews which will include an opportunity to meet other team members and a chance to visit the offices and get a feel for the place.  I recommend that clients take up references and ideally speak to previous employers wherever possible.   Clients are paying recruiters a decent fee to ensure that we find them good employees and I take that responsibility seriously.  Clients pay a fee in good faith that it's a service worth paying for, they need someone to do a job and therefore they want the employee to stay and be happy too.

But sometimes, for whatever reason, the two sides don't gel.   Many people are nervous when they start a new role and it does take time to settle into a new team.  So if you're feeling a bit wobbly in the early days, I'd advise to sit it out and see how you get on for the first month. 

If you have very specific areas (lack of structure, process, direction), then do speak up and ask your employer for help.   Find some allies within the team who can give you guidance  - many agencies do have mentors for new starters and this is something worth asking about at interviews.

Employers are not mind readers.  Whilst in bigger corporates, there are structures and processes in place with HR teams and internal support, the smaller independent agencies are often owner managed and it can take a bit of confidence to verbalise that you're not entirely happy.  In this situation, I'd ask for a short meeting with your boss/line manager and set out how you think you can resolve the problems that you are having. Try not to shoot yourself in the foot - bosses don't want to think you're about to run away and lose faith in you.    Often a busy owner manager can be so busy with 'running the business' that they don't recognise that a new starter is overwhelmed.  Communicating this to them, you can start to put in place a plan so that you feel settled and supported.   They offered you the job - you have the skills for the job, it may just require a few tweaks for you to settle.  They really won't want to a) lose their recruitment fee and b) go through a lengthy recruitment process again to find a replacement.  So hopefully, this is a solution that can work.

However, often you just know it's not right, it's never going to be your spiritual home.  Instinct, gut feel, whatever you want to call it.  Maybe the boss is a chameleon who on a day to day basis is a different animal to who interviewed you.  Perhaps the team is entirely disgruntled and gives you a very negative outlook on the whole business.  In this situation, you can see that things won't change.  At this point it's likely that you are still in your probation period and a lot of new employees who are unhappy will seek to find an alternative new role ASAP before the notice period changes post probation (typically from a week to a month or more).  How you handle this is dependent on many factors, not least, how your personal finances stack up.  I would generally never advise leaving a perm role with no job to go to.   However, that's a personal decision and clearly, if a role is adversely affecting your health, I would always look after number one first.   But you can quietly and unobtrusively apply for other roles and then once secure, resign, happy in the knowledge that you are not having a period out of work and not earning.

In an ideal world, perhaps it would be nice to be super honest with your boss and tell them you know it's not right for you and make them aware that you'll be looking for something new.  OK, at least it gives them the opportunity to try and find a solution to keep you but equally, you may aswell resign on the spot.

Everyone has at least one 'bum steer' on their CV.  We can't always be sure all of the time.  But taking time during the interview process to go through your own 'due diligence' and making sure you don't make any rash decisions will undoubtedly reduce the chances of accepting something that you later come to regret.

15 Aug 2019

Mental Health and Interviews...

I thought long and hard about writing a blog about Mental Health.  I was prompted when a candidate who I was pitching a role to asked me what the organisation's mental health policy was.  The recruiter part of me instantly wanted to add the question to the list of 'things not to ask at first interview', however, I was struck with an uncomfortable sense of that not being a reasonable response.  We live in different times - enlightened times and of course one in four of us will have a mental health problem at some point in our lives.  Whilst mental health problems are common, most are mild, tend to be short term and are normally successfully treated.  So, on balance, it's certainly not an unreasonable question to ask, particularly if you know you are prone to suffering from mental health issues. 

It is a very tricky area to advise upon.  An employer at interview may clearly interpret this question in different ways. In an ideal world, the question would be answered as per any other question and the employer would outline their policy and how it is implemented.  80% of the roles at Perfect Marketing People are agency led and many of these agencies are independently managed.  When I first started looking into this, I thought it would be unlikely that the smaller agencies are as proactive in managing their mental health policies as perhaps the global networks are or large blue chip corporate businesses.  In a smaller business, one is less likely to find a HR team who can implement a mental health strategy.  It turns out that I've had to eat my words, I've been in touch with several clients this week to ask them about their policies for mental health and I'm pleased to report that they are there! 

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has set out a framework of actions called 'core standards'.  These have been designed to help employers improve the mental health of their workplace and to enable individuals with mental health conditions to thrive.  Employers have a legal responsibility to help their employees whether work is causing the mental health condition or aggravating it.   A happy employee is a productive employee and so the Core Standards encourage employers to:
  • Form a mental health at work plan
  • Promote communications and open conversations by raising awareness and reducing stigma
  • Provide a mechanism for monitoring actions and outcomes
By nature, I'm quite cynical and to date, this is not an area that I've been asked about previously. Are employers really doing all this?  I asked Mr PMP for some insight.  Working for a global financial services business, he had a very different perspective.  If he hadn't shown me some of the case studies, I wouldn't have believed him.   This organisation does A LOT for their employees. They proactively talk about mental health. Senior Board members have done internal awareness campaigns where they talk about their own issues with mental health and how they manage/overcome them.  They have what they call resilience roadshows  which form part of a 'it's OK to talk' campaign and they work very closely with the Andy's Man Club (look it up if you've not heard of it). They have found that this open and proactive approach is proving successful.

I mentioned that I'd had to eat my words previously when it came to smaller and independent agencies.  I've spoken to several this week and all do have policies in place. All of the big agencies have firm policies in place and they are very good at the implementation too.  As a client has said to me, most mental health issues are invisible so a major part of their programme is for employees to keep an eye on colleagues too.  All the agencies that I spoke to had individuals who were trained up to be mental health tsars and wellbeing officers.  Employees know who they can talk to and what is on offer to help them.  A few agencies have had 'mental health weeks' so that the policies are promoted properly internally.

So back to the original subject. If you went along to an interview with either a corporate or an agency, and asked the question 'what is your mental health policy' you'd get a very thorough response.  That's great.   The next part of this, however, is whether you might be judged because you'd asked the question (in the same way if you asked about how many holidays there are or what time can you go home each day).   And that's the thing I'm still not sure about.  I can't answer it.  Mental health awareness is still in a development stage, can we guarantee no judgement?  No.  Does this mean you shouldn't ask the question?  I don't think so.  One of my most trusted clients, said that if this was asked at first stage, he'd feel that he would need to respond, obviously first with the answer but then to follow up with a few questions of his own surrounding how that person responded to pressure at work or whether they'd found themselves in difficult situations. It's a minefield for employers too!  I think as long as you can justify you have the right skills and personality for the business and role, my research shows that employers have made huge in-roads in looking after their staff and putting people first.  I've been really impressed!

17 Jul 2019

Ghosting in recruitment...

I originally had a think about Ghosting as a blog subject because a candidate had told me that she was convinced a couple of recruiters had 'ghosted' her or rather that she thought the roles were 'ghosts'.  I had to do a bit of research - as someone from Generation X, I'm not as au fait with some modern parlance.  So I discovered that Ghosting is originally from the dating realm - a practice when one partner suddenly goes quiet on a suitor after a period of communication or a couple of dates...a result of our tech driven, dispensable approach to romance.  Frankly there are several areas of recruitment where I actually think ghosting applies.  Interestingly I've seen ghostly behaviour from clients (employers), candidates and recruitment firms.   I thought I'd try and summarise my experiences as having done a bit of Googling, I think a lot of the stuff out there is just bored journalists trying to come up with stories.

Ghost Jobs:

As a bona fide recruiter....every role that I advertise or talk to candidates about is a real one.   Yes, really!  I am busy, really busy, I don't need to fabricate jobs to attract candidates, however, it would appear that some recruiters are not so busy and they perhaps do advertise false roles.  So I guess, this is the first example - a role which is advertised which doesn't really exist.  It's not good practice and I'd recommend that if you apply for a role online and you then speak to a recruiter who can't give you a strong role outline and tell you about the employer, then park it, and that relationship and move on. Trust your instinct. Do you think they are genuine?   I'm not sure how much of a 'thing' this is in recruitment, I'm sure that the recruiter would then go and dangle your CV in front of a few clients and see if they can speculatively get themselves some quick wins.  I can honestly say I've never done it. Never needed to...

I think perhaps more common is the phenomenon where you talk to a recruiter about a role....and then never hear from them again.  You might chase them, and just never hear back.  They won't accept your calls, don't respond to emails, it's as if you don't exist, never mind the job that you talked about.  To my mind, this isn't ghosting, it's just bad recruitment practice.    If I register a candidate, it means that at some point, I consider that I will be able to help find that person a job.  I may have current roles for them or it may be at some point in the future. The key is that I do recruitment by relationships. I communicate regularly with candidates and give feedback accordingly.  If  I can't help a candidate I won't waste my time or theirs. If I have talked to them about a role, they'll get feedback - even if that is that I haven't had feedback from a client!

Some roles come up, and then are put on hold...not quite the same as a ghost job.  Again, a good recruiter should be feeding back to you and letting you know what is happening with the role.

Ghost Clients

I'm not convinced this is a thing per se.  However, what is a thing is that many clients do begin their recruitment process by 'looking speculatively'.  So it's often a vague chat with a recruiter where they'd like to keep them on the radar for some specific profiles.  Quite often, clients who are pitching for new biz know that if they win the biz, they'll need to resource up.  However, they may not win the biz...If this is the case, I'm always honest with a candidate and I'll say that it's speculative.  Clients will often interview in this situation and the feedback can be outstanding for months!  They won't commit one way or the other.  A good recruiter will tell you this and manage your expectations. 

Clients don't actually disappear but they can go AWOL.  After all, they are running their own businesses.  Recruitment is a painful necessity but they'd prefer not to spend much time on it.  When they've got a full inbox, it's not always the recruiter who is the priority for a response.    I can find this frustrating but I do accept that my role is about being in the right place at the right time....and I don't want to shoot myself in the foot.  So again, I communicate regularly with clients and generally have a low AWOL rate.

Candidates have a choice.  There are several recruiters around, often there is overlap with clients.  Deal with the recruiters who you like, deal with people who communicate with you.  If you think the communication is sub standard, ask to unsubscribe from their systems.    Of course, this leads me to my next one!  Ghost Candidates.

Ghost Candidates:

This profile definitely exist!  I'm sorry to do some more bashing but it's most common in Millenials and Generation Zers.  Frankly, I wouldn't call it ghosting, it is rude and annoying though.  Ultimately it's candidates going AWOL.    These generations don't generally use the phone, decisions are often made quickly with a swipe and will quite happily hit delete on an email.  Most commonly candidates will go AWOL by just not replying to communication - whether it's by phone, text or email.  Frustrating but generally I take the view that they know where I am when they need me.  It's quite difficult to build loyalty in this sector because response is only forthcoming if there is something in it for them - i.e. if the role is of interest and they want to talk.  It's not as easy to be able to chat through requirements and to run opportunities by them.  A lot of my job is getting to understand what someone will be interested in and then being able to call when that something lands.

It's more annoying when it's someone going AWOL from an interview.   This is a deal breaker for me, it's zero tolerance.  As is going AWOL in the first week on a job.  It has only happened once but the candidate disappeared, never to be heard of again.  I still wonder what the heck happened.

So.  Ghosting in Recruitment.   I'm not totally convinced by the jargon.  A lot of it is just poor communication and poor practice by bad recruiters and occasional lack of professionalism and conduct by candidates.  Fortunately it's all pretty rare in my world!

12 Jun 2019

Negotiating Notice Periods...

In the past 6 months, I've seen an increasing number of individuals with longer notice periods than I would traditionally have expected to see.  In the past, only senior agency employees who were critical to the business would have a notice period of longer than one month and it was pretty rare to see anything longer than this.   However, I think that over the past few years, agencies have found that recruitment of new staff to be costly and it is usually easier to retain an existing member of staff than it is to find a new one.  Thus gradually, we're seeing new contracts being issued and new employees being brought in on increased notice periods.  Whilst extending a notice period is unlikely to retain an unhappy member of staff, it will likely impact on the time taken for a) the employee to find a new job as employers faced with two good candidates will generally offer to the one who is available soonest...and b) for the employer to find a new employee to replace the one who is leaving.  Ultimately they want a minimum impact on their clients and a longer notice period gives them time to replace with the right person.  

Of course, increasing notice periods does come with potentially higher costs for employers too.  If they seek to make redundancies then they will be affected by this so it's a calculated gamble for them to increase a notice period.  We're seeing as many notice periods for 2 months as 3 months so I wonder if the 2 month is a 'happy medium' for several clients.  6 months thankfully is rare - typically only at board director level and these individuals don't tend to leave their roles very often.

When signing a contract for a new role, it's typical that initially there will be a probation period where usually there is a notice period of a week on either side for both employee and employer.  We're actually seeing longer probation periods too - historically these were 3 months but more recently we're seeing 6 months become standard.  After a probation period, it is common for more benefits to kick in - pensions and healthcare etc and also for an extension of notice period.    Probation periods to work both ways.  Occasionally, employees find during a probation period that it's not the role they were sold or that they hoped it would be, thus they will aim to secure a role before the probation period comes up and they will be tied in for longer. These individuals will also be available quicker to new potential employers which may be advantageous.

Anyway, I digress.  

Most employees will sign their contract and even if there is a notice period of 3 months, they don't tend to question it.  After all, they would imagine that worst case scenario is them taking gardening leave whilst being paid if redundancy did affect them.  What they don't consider (being in the euphoria of signing up to a new role that they will love), is that if they do want to leave the role, 3 months can feel like a lifetime when searching for a new position and often, new employers either don't want to or can't wait 3 months for someone to start in a new position.

A further complication is that in these straitened times.  Employers will only make a new hire absolutely when they need to - they will not increase their costs until a new client is generally signed, sealed and bedded in....by which time, the existing team may be squealing and the new hire is required quickly....only for the employer to find they need to wait 3 months for the right candidate.

In the old days, it was pretty much true that a new employer will wait for the right person.  If they really want you on board, and you're absolutely right for the role....yes, they'll wait.  But it's less true than it was.    Employers searching for new staff do have choice, generally speaking it's a buyers market and as I said earlier, if there are two good candidates and one is available in one month, one in three....the three month candidate would have to have a significant edge for the employer to wait.   So the point of the blog really (at last she gets there...), was to talk about what to do if you do have a longer notice period and how to approach an employer to see if this can be negotiated.

The first thing I'd recommend is that you are always honest with the new employer from the outset (of the interview process) about what length your notice period is.  Manage their expectations from the get go.    Most individuals know how flexible their existing employer is re' notice periods as it's likely they'll have seen colleagues in the same situation previously.  You can, of course, give your new potential employer an idea of how likely it would be to flex that notice period based on prior knowledge.  

It's quite a complex debate.  Often candidates ask me if they should talk to their existing employer when they start to hunt for a new job and ask in advance if the notice period can be negotiated.  I'd say 99% of the time that this isn't a good idea.   I'd wait until you have a concrete offer and you know how and when your new employer wants you to start.  Most new employers know that worst case scenario, they'll have to wait for you to work your notice period, however, if it's a three month period, they'll probably ask you to see if you can negotiate.  It's always worth asking!  I'd say in 50% of cases, a shorter notice period can be negotiated. You may find that your existing employer was looking for ways to cut costs or that they don't want someone who is leaving to negatively influence the rest of the team. However, they may also need you to stay to give them time to replace you and legally, you are contracted to do that.

I rarely see the situation where a new employer issues an offer and a contract stipulating that the offer is conditional that the individual can get out of an existing contract earlier.  New employers, if they are aware of your notice period from the start of the process will be able to work around it if they can.

I wouldn't recommend calling an existing employer's bluff or just walking out of a contract.   Of course, only you know your employer and what the repercussions might be.  Yes, it's rare that any agency would take you to court (unless you are absolutely pivotal to the business or that you are taking clients with you) but it's a small world that we work in and you will need references in the future.  It's a personal gamble though and only you can make that call. 

There is a whole other subject around this one - that of non competes in a contract.  Again, I can't remember a time when this was ever brought as a case in court but it's very worth being aware what you have signed as it might come back to haunt you.  It's most likely that you'd just get an official looking lawyer's letter but restrictive covenants are rarely enforceable (unless again you are critical to the business or taking confidential information). 

Generally speaking, it's best to ask for a conversation with your MD or line manager. Explain that you have an offer you will be accepting and that you would appreciate a reduction in your notice period. Whilst you may be able to reduce it a little with any due holidays, you are relying on them being reasonable and sporting about it.  It'll be a decision based on costs, client continuity, impact on team and is rarely personal.  Ultimately, you don't know until you ask the question...Good luck!

23 May 2019

The most annoying mistakes on a CV....

I've not blogged for a while about CV mishaps but on a regular basis I find myself rolling my eyes at a new CV in my inbox.  Recent highlights include someone who didn't even remember to put their name on it and don't get me started on the people looking for new rolls working with lots of steakholders.  Anyway, this isn't a rant, it's meant to be a helpful look at what you can do to ensure that your CV gets noticed for the right reasons.  And a reminder that your CV is the one single thing that a potential employer first sees which will 'sell' you to them and that you will be in a pile with a few other CVs.  Any glaring mistakes and you'll be at the bottom of that pile.  I'm surprised how often a CV is rushed together, quickly amended with a new paragraph to include updated job details which then leads to different fonts, a cock up with the dates (usually), use of the wrong tense in the previous role and a CV that just gets longer and longer.  So here are my most annoying mistakes on a CV.  If I find them annoying, you can bet that your potential new employer will find them annoying too.


I could write chapter and verse on just the typos that I see on CVs. But I won't as it just really comes under 'Sloppiness'.  Attention to detail is one of the key strengths that employers look for in their staff and if you can't demonstrate that on your CV, you won't get the job.  It's game over without even an interview.  Typos are the obvious one but under this heading I also want to see the same font (and nothing fancy or italicy), I want the dates to be consistent and I want anything outdated to come out of the CV.  If a potential employer thinks the CV is sloppy, they'll think you're lazy.  You can't be bothered to make sure that the CV is the best thing you have to represent you....and they'll translate that to how you will be in the work-place.

Personal Profiles.

If you are going to have a personal profile (and genuinely I don't have anything against them per se) then it's important to get it right.  The most annoying profiles are the ones which are basically a long line of adjectives, popular ones include passionate, driven, flexible, determined, enthusiastic....At some point, I just think Blah and switch off.  So a potential employer will too.   A good personal profile can make a real difference, the key is to make it personal to you rather than the list of adjectives.  Make the profile about key achievements and objectives.


If I never see the phrases 'strategising' (or even strategizing)  or blue-sky thinking or outside-the-box again, it will be too soon.   Keep your use of buzzwords to a minimum.  It's jargon.  You know it and the potential employer knows it too.  They'll be visualising you as someone who is full of hot air.


To be fair, if I had to write a CV, I'd probably look online for a template too.  But I'd make sure I customised it properly.  It's meant to help give you some structure and a 'look'.  As with everything these days, everything is about content so make sure you adapt the template to you and your experience.

Bullet Points. 

Generally I love bullet points.  But not when they all start with 'responsible for.....'.  Bullets give you the ability to highlight your strengths and achievements so that the reader immediately 'gets' you.  Don't make them think 'Blah'.


In the old days, we (recruiters) used to bang on about 2 sides of A4 being sufficient for a CV. And generally speaking, that's still true.  You'd be surprised how easy it is to edit a CV if you give yourself time to do it properly and to consider if you really need everything that is in there. You don't really need to list all your university holiday jobs when you're an Account Director and don't waste 6 lines on personal details.  Equally, don't feel the need to reduce everything to 6 point font with extended margins so that you can fit it all in....Employers want to read something that is pleasing to the eye and not all crammed together. 


I get it.  It's the part of the CV where you get to show your human side, where you get your personality across.  I'm sure there are different schools of thought on this but my own personal view is to keep it brief.  We don't need chapter and verse.  Nicely self deprecating but not boastful.  I don't particularly need to know the name of your cats (true), that you gained grade 1 violin at age 10 or even your golf handicap.  Neither do I think it's a great idea to list gambling as a hobby (also true).


It's an interesting fact that seldom do I look at a CV with a photo and think that it was a good idea to include it.  Very few people have a great CV photo.  If you are going to have one, use an excellent quality photo, definitely not a holiday snap, definitely not with you in a bikini (true), or with a tiger (true) or with Richard Branson (true).  Keep it as a headshot, fully clothed with a nice neutral background.  Friendly but not scary.  You see, it's fraught with potential problems and the use of a poor choice of photo also has the capacity to put an employer off - yes, people do judge on appearances, no they shouldn't but they do.   Much easier all round not to have one on there.

In summary. Writing your CV is a task for a weekend.  Do it properly, it's an investment in time worth making.   If you are putting it off, I'd actually start from scratch. The worst CVs are those which have been cobbled together and bits added to again and again - these are full of errors, grammatical, the wrong fonts, old and useless information etc.   Keep it precise and concise. Not too wordy, not too flowery.  Not too formal, not too informal.  It's all about balance.  If you are going for a specific role then yes, it's worth tailoring the CV specifically for that role....but then remember when you later use the same CV that it was tailored for a different role (!).   I try to do my bit and spot the errors or gently recommend amending CVs if they need it but really it's in your interest to get it right.  Get a close friend to check it for you and above all, make sure there are no typos.

1 Apr 2019

Marginal Gains...

I'm a big fan of cycling.  Specifically road and track racing.  Actually triathlon too but in today's blog I'm going to be borrowing one of Sir Dave Brailsford's greatest contributions to the wonderful sport of cycling.  The concept of using 'marginal gains' to succeed has been adopted within the business community since he first put it to use when he was with British Cycling and later with Team Sky.  I've adopted it too - for many different areas of my life!  But specifically, today, I'm going to apply it to the world of interviews. 

I'm often surprised and frustrated when candidates let themselves down whilst interviewing by not paying attention to the simple and often most basic elements of interview technique.  It's almost as if people are freely giving away the advantage to other individuals.  These 'basics' are the easiest points to score but also 'offend' the most if you don't get them right.  Of course, there are then the more in-depth areas of the interview to get right but you can gain 'edge' over other candidates in the process, at every stage  and it is the sum of these little advantages (these marginal gains) that will build into something significant that will make you the stand-out candidate.

So.  Where can you make these gains?  They are mostly pretty obvious, however, you'd be very surprised how many people get things wrong.....

Here are some tips:

1. Arrive at your interview a little early.  Not too early but specifically, don't be late!
2. Dress appropriately.  Ask in advance to verify.  I usually recommend smart casual, there are few environments in the marketing world where it's necessary to be suited and booted.  However, being too casual can run the risk of offence (even if day to day attire in an agency is dress down, it still pays to respect an interview with a polished look).
3. Personal Hygiene & Presentation. Be clean.  Give yourself a sniff... A new one for me recently too was a client who commented on chipped nail varnish....they felt that this indicated general 'sloppiness'.
4. Greet the receptionist. Make small talk.  I once got a job by doing this.  The MD of the company saw two strong individuals for 2nd interview.  He couldn't make his mind up so he asked the receptionist who she liked best.  She gave me her vote and I spent 4 years there.  This is also good for settling nerves before you start the interview.
5.  Have a good handshake and look your interviewers in the eye.  Have good posture.
6.  Make sure you have prepared in advance.  Take a copy of the job description, and your CV.  It looks good if you have annotated the description with where you can add value.  Have a notepad with some pre-prepared questions.  Have a strong answer to 'what do you know about us'. 
7.  Whilst most marketing interviews, particularly agency side are not very formal, don't be fooled into thinking it's 'just a chat'.  You have potentially only one chance to 'sell' yourself so don't shoot yourself in the foot.  It's a good idea to spend some time preparing answers to a variety of interview questions in advance.   Having thought about it, you are then able to answer questions much more fluently and with some strong examples that demonstrate exactly how good your skill-set is.  This sort of preparation should serve you well in every interview that you go for - so it's worth doing. 
8.  Make sure you are enthusiastic and engaged.  Come across like you want the job, this job, not any job.  Articulate why you do!
9.  If you are asked to respond to a brief.  Do it properly. Don't do a half baked presentation.   Going the extra yard on a brief can get you the job.  Immerse yourself in what they are looking for.  Make sure you address every aspect of the brief.  Ensure that the presentation itself is engaging.  Don't kill the audience with slides. Make it look professional.   Whilst some candidates can get a bit snappy about responding to a brief, it's a sure-fire way for a prospective employer to see what you can do and how you will approach a task.  It's an investment of time to get a job offer.
10. Before you leave the interview, ask if there is anything else you can say whilst you are there to overcome any reservations that they may have.  Leave the interviewer knowing that you really want the job.
11.  Because we're specifically in advertising and marketing. Have examples of brands you love and brands you hate up your sleeve. Be on the ball with regards to current campaigns in the media and have an opinion on them. Demonstrate that you understand what the brand was trying to do.

Quite often, a candidate who I consider to be a 'shoo in' on paper, is absolutely the opposite in the flesh.  Generally this is for reasons of over confidence and under preparation.  Whilst it does obviously vary according to the role that is being interviewed for, most employers just want good employees who are hard working, engaged, love what they do, are skilled at what they do and who will fit into the business and it's culture.   As with all things, it's about balance.  Employers don't want arrogance but neither do they want a retiring wallflower or someone who is overly self deprecating.  They want positivity and drive, enthusiasm, innovative thinking and someone who is always ahead of the game - pretty much regardless of the actual role.  It's the little things that add up to a clear advantage. Good luck!

17 Mar 2019

Employer Reviews...

I was chatting to a new candidate recently and I'd sent him a shortlist of digital agencies to look at.  The agencies all had live vacancies and so I'd advised him to take a look at the websites and social feeds so that he could get a general idea of the clients and the culture of each agency.  When we reconvened to review which roles he was interested in, he surprised me with his own shortlist which had a couple of glaring omissions.  When I asked why, he cited that he had done his own 'due diligence' and looked up the agencies on the website Glassdoor.  I'm afraid that was a bit of a new one for me so I hotfooted it to my laptop and started checking out the website.    Now, what I'd say, is that there are some agencies with lots of reviews and there are some agencies with absolutely no reviews so I don't think it can be considered a definitive tool for job hunting, however, I was a bit shocked. If this is a growing trend, then employers do need to watch out.  I'm sure that as with all reviews online, there are some which are accurate and some which are not and I definitely got the impression that some reviews were probably posted by disgruntled ex employees.  But when it comes to job hunting, individuals are put off by any negativity when it comes to long hours, irregular salary reviews, lack of progression or poor management.  Plus, if there are many reviews which seem to give this impression, then it's often game over and the individual in question will decide to find alternative employers.

My guidance to candidates is usually to go and find out for themselves if they are interested in a potential employer.  In the past, I've found that the greatest barrier is when a candidate knows someone who knows someone else who has worked for a business.  If they weren't wholly positive - it can put people off that business for life. And obviously, they pass this onto all their friends and colleagues too.  This sort of Chinese Whispering can be very damaging for businesses and is often unfounded - again, remember those disgruntled ex-employees...I also genuinely believe that there is somewhere for everyone, and whilst one business might not suit one individual at all, it may be perfect for another.  

Back to Glassdoor.  I was chatting to a couple of senior in-house corporate people recently who said that their businesses and HR teams were actively campaigning for employees to leave (positive) reviews on the website.  Incentives may have been involved....and there are definitely more reviews for Corporate businesses on there than independent marketing agencies. 

I'd like to encourage job hunters to keep an open mind.  To be objective and to not rely on these online reviews.  Clearly, this is something I'll be keeping an eye on and I am sure that employers are too.   I do believe that Feedback generally is important....but I do wonder at the motivation for some of the individuals who go to town with their online negativity.   Make up your own mind whether you trust these anonymous folk and trust your own judgement!

18 Feb 2019

Job interviews are pointless...

Actually, I don't believe that at all but it makes a good Headline. Or at least, it did in the Independent last week (http://ow.ly/fmsO30nJCxi).    The story came about after a young graduate, Olivia Bland had a pretty appalling interview in which she felt that she'd had been grilled and intimidated during an interview - with a company boss (http://ow.ly/3Xkr30nJCz2).  To summarise, Olivia was actually then offered the job but chose to decline having been well and truly put off by such character assassination during the interview. She then tweeted her story and of course, it went viral. 

I've long suspected, well, actually, I've always known that the best candidates do not always interview well.  I also know that many employers do not have good interview techniques and procedures.  I tend to take quite a 'laissez faire' approach to this.  After all, I know my clients and I know my candidates.  As much as I can, I will prepare candidates in advance of an interview so that they know the likely style, format and type of interview that they can expect.   A poor interviewer does not always mean a poor employer so it is important to differentiate the two.

The article was spot on where it highlighted that often the shiny interviewees who talk a great talk during an interview.....are often the least good hires.  And you know, I'm not dissing them (those who I call the Shiny Shoe Brigade - my Dad used to call them Piss Artists), I do think it's the role of the interviewer to draw out the important skills and behaviour traits to find out whether the candidate is the right one for the role. I also think that if that interviewer is impressed by such things/people then they are quite possibly right for each other.  There is somewhere for everyone.

One of the most common pieces of feedback or reasons for not securing a role is 'fit'.  Often indefinable which can make it frustrating for both the candidate and myself.  BUT, it's my job to be able to predict 'fit' - as much as I can based on my entirely non scientific instinct.  Having thought about this news story, I think that as a candidate, you have to find out as much as you can about the organisation and whatever you can about the person interviewing you prior to your interview.  I often bang on to people about only going to the 'right' interviews and only applying for the 'right' jobs.  Ultimately that reduces the chances of interview failure significantly.  If you then prepare for that interview, you have the best possible chance of success.   In my experience, interviewers fall into a small number of categories.

The Formal.
There are the clients who focus on the traditional competency interview questions. Mostly this is the larger Corporates who have HR teams who earn their own salary based on complicated psychometric testing and point scoring.  One could say that this is, at least, 'fair' - interview answers are scored on skills, experience and ability to do the job.   I do know lots of big businesses who do this well, really well.  But done poorly, it's very frustrating - as in 'computer says no' frustrating. 

The Owner Manager
Quite common in marketing & advertising, where there are lots of boutique agencies who are independently owned.  These business owners can quite commonly not be accomplished interviewers.  They can run a business yes, but they're not always 'people focused' - sounds like a dichotomy!  Often they just want to make a hire, and quickly.   You'll find that the interview is very short and whilst you're anticipating a second interview, you get a job offer.  This can feel too fast....However, the boss just wants to get someone in the role.  To be fair, these people are busy and they themselves are relying on gut instinct too.   They tend to believe that you can do the job you say you can do, they trust the CV to tell them about your skills and ability. Then it's a case of whether they like you. To be honest, they probably know in the first 5 minutes if you 'fit'.   As a candidate, you're wanting them to 'sell' the opportunity to you....but it's quite transactional, they assume you want the job!  This can work very well, low fuss and high speed recruitment.  

The Ego 
Typically someone in a senior role in a larger advertising agency, but not a partner or an owner.  Someone who doesn't have formal interview training themselves but they like to think they know how to get past the gloss and see the real person.  Usually quite an unconstructed interview, but these interviewers are the most likely to have read the '100 best interview questions' book.   They like to throw in the odd random 'Googlesque' question.   Or ask you what you'd do if you won the lottery or what your friends would say about you in the pub.  In my experience, these interviewers are fair but they like to get their own 'ego' out there during the interview.   Typically during the interview, they'll do 90% of the talking.

The Genuine.  How an interview should be.  An interviewer who listens and asks questions specific to the role, the requirements and your responses. Someone who respects that you have taken time out to interview and to research and prepare prior to that interview.  Someone who is prepared to put in a bit of time (usually an hour) to find out if you are right for the job.  Someone who, even if they think after 10 minutes that they're not sure....they will continue to process to get a full and fair view of the interviewee.  These people do exist!  In fact, they're pretty common.  

I don't know any employers who 'grill' interviewees like the chap in the Olivia Bland case.    Perhaps she did just get him on a bad day....(being generous here).   It doesn't make sense to make someone struggle so much during an interview, if you really want them to work for you.  In careers such as the army, I expect the interview process to be arduous and tough - and so do the interviewees.   The interview process is surely specific to the role that is being applied for.   My advice is that if possible (and it should be if you are going through a recruiter) is to gain all the insight you can on the person/people interviewing you and the structure and format of what you are likely to experience in the interview process.  Forewarned is Forearmed.   And don't forget that an interview works both ways, if you don't like how it goes, you can decline.    Do your homework, do your research and be your most genuine self.  

2 Jan 2019

New Year, New Career!

No points today for my hugely imaginative blog topic.  However, I know that traditionally January is a busy time in recruitment and individuals resolve to put right the things that they want to improve in their lives. Unsurprisingly, their job and work life balance is pretty high up on the list of things we want to get right.

I know I would say this....but my personal feeling is that if you are in any way thinking about a move in your job in 2019.  Get in touch!  Ha!  I know what you're thinking but honestly, around 30% of the people I meet and talk to, I encourage them to stay where they are...sometimes the grass isn't actually greener on the other side.  If you are looking for an open and honest conversation about your options, your salary expectations, what alternatives would you be looking at, then it's worth a chat just so that you know what your options are and what the market is like at the moment.

I would also add that it's seldom that the perfect job is just there - the minute that you look on the job-sites.  That's why building relationships with good recruiters is essential.   My database has been lovingly updated over the past 10 years with regular contact with individuals who have been candidates, clients and candidates - multiple times!  We've built a rapport that allows me to know that if I drop a note or call with a great opportunity that pops up, then I'm not a faceless recruitment shark who has just found them on LinkedIn (really detest the LinkedIn Recruitment Stalker Approach).  I've also got a super high referral rate with candidates which hopefully speaks for itself. 

There is no commitment in having a chat, there is certainly no cost - other than time. It's always worth having an up to date CV.   If you're interested in just having an informal chat then give me a call on 07976 125963 or alternatively email me at fiona.christian@perfectmarketingpeople.com.   I do a weekly jobs round-up so if you would like to be included in that, please provide consent in the email that you're happy to receive emails.  I do regularly advertise jobs on Twitter and LinkedIn so feel free to follow me there too.   Lots of options to stay in touch.  Hope to hear from you soon!