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By Shane Horn, AdMore Recruitment – Specialists in Retail and Hospitality Recruitment, Search & Selection, Talent Management and Career Development.

I’m an odd recruiter. Not in the sense that I don’t fit the traditional image we all know (and love?!) but because I went in-house, came back out again, and am far better because of it.

My recruitment agency career was going well – I had managed teams, moved to a search firm but still had an itch to scratch. The Holy Grail was an in-house role – how great would that be? No more business development days (fancy dress was not my bag!), no more internal arguments about candidate ownership, no more end of the quarter panic to hit your numbers. No, it would be great. Lots of jobs to fill, with warm line managers who wanted to work with me – heaven!

I really enjoyed my time in-house. It opened my eyes to the issues faced by my clients, which, without the experience I would have no idea of. I had many recruitment consultants ask me; “what’s it like? It must be great working in-house.” Or; “how did you make the move, I am keen to but always get rejected.” Oh, if only they knew! The role of an in-house recruiter is complex, where you are often accountable to multiple stakeholders. It is frustrating and rewarding in equal measure. It is impossible to understand the challenges that are faced everyday unless you have seen them yourself.

What I learnt very early on is that you can’t walk away from a problem. You can’t look at a tough job to fill and say ‘you know what, I don’t fancy working on that’. You can’t put it at the bottom of the pile and hope it goes away. Your clients (the majority just down the corridor) want results, and in some cases can’t understand why a shortlist isn’t forthcoming within 24 hours of the brief! You need to be on top of your game constantly. Who knows who will walk round the corner next and need to know why they haven’t seen any CV’s. You have to give answers and responding with “the market’s tough out there” just doesn’t cut it. Control was also an issue, as it is in any recruitment campaign, but in-house, the variables were huge. If it wasn’t a line manager going off PSL or a recruitment consultant not following process, it was a role cancelled at the last minute or issues getting salaries signed off. Fire fighting is something that is often talked about, but at times, it was a raging inferno and all I had was a garden hose!

Saying all this, I certainly felt valued in my role and felt a part of the HR team. Though my particular role was lonely at times (I would find myself calling recruiters on my PSL for a chat!), I did feel I was making a difference and that I was supporting the business move forward. With an outsider’s point of view, I felt I brought a commerciality to the role and certainly improved the process. So, why did I leave? Something was missing and ultimately it was this that led me back to the shark infested waters of agency recruitment.

What I missed most was the variety offered by working with both client and candidate. I admit, I may have been unlucky with my move in-house as I am sure there are many of you who have the variety I craved. But, as agency recruiters we build relationships on both sides and I really missed this. I missed updating with people to understand how they were doing, helping to shape their careers and offering advice. I missed talking about the wider market with clients, understanding their challenges and looking to help where I can. I also missed the commercial aspect. Reading an article in the press, keen to share that with my network and add some value.

My role now is more varied than ever before, and this is down to the fact I worked in-house. I’m involved in assessment centre design, CV re-writing and job profiling, something I wasn’t in the position to do before making the move. Previously I was in the rut of filing jobs, and didn’t really view recruitment as anything more than that. I feel I now work better with clients, and understand their frustrations and demands. I am certainly treated better – like I still have the old school tie!

By performing both roles I can understand what role is better suited to me, what plays to my strengths. More importantly I was able to join a firm that mirrored my values and beliefs.  I am sure the tag ‘failed recruiter’ sticks with many  in-house people after moving on from an agency because they end up treating recruiters how they were treated.  NOT ALL AGENCIES ARE THE SAME!  It’s not all about sales targets, and constant no finish line mentality. I am sure if more in-house recruiters thought about moving back over the fence the market would be all the better for it. You can still work with clients as if you were part of their HR team, and you can add real value to a business and make a difference – you just need to find the right agency for you. Have a look around, you never know, you might be tempted back to the dark side!

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By Sophie Mackenzie, AdMore Recruitment– Specialists in Retail and Hospitality Recruitment, Search & Selection, Talent Management and Career Development.

Keeping the magic alive: how to nurture the relationship with your recruitment agency partner.

So you’ve been together a while. Although the initial frisson of excitement you experienced when you first met has dissipated, you are faithful to them (for the most part) and they have really met your needs. They know you better than anyone – even better than you know yourself sometimes – you trust them to give you honest advice. Your relationship has settled into comfortable companionship.

And then…you stop communicating as much (“there just never seems to be enough time”), you both start taking your relationship for granted and before you know it, the spark has gone out. You are left feeling, well….dissatisfied.

No, I’m not moonlighting as a marriage counsellor; I’m talking about the tenuous relationship between you, the Client and your recruitment agency partner! Given that it can be so hard to find a recruitment agency that you like and that can actually deliver for you (let’s face it, you have to kiss a lot of frogs…), it is worth both sides making the effort to make it work.

So what can you do to ensure you get the best out of your preferred agency and don’t have to go back on the market?

Spend some quality time

It is often the case that you meet an agency initially to establish the relationship and rarely feel the need (or have the time) to follow this up with regular meetings. As an in-house recruiter or hiring manager, you will be constantly asked by new agencies if they can meet you to introduce themselves in the hope that you are sufficiently convinced to give them a go. There is no question that looking at the ‘whites of someone’s eyes’ will tell you more than any glossy website about how they operate – values like empathy and integrity and ultimately how they will be representing your brand in the marketplace. However with the best will in the world, your packed diary will mean it is near impossible to meet on an ad hoc basis unless you are actively looking to brief new agencies with work.

However, there are some really good reasons why it is worth investing time in update meetings with your existing agencies. Firstly, it reaffirms your commitment to the partnership. You are saying “this is more than just a transactional relationship. I am investing time in you as a trusted supplier so you understand the needs of the business. In return I will expect you to deliver results”. Secondly, it will move your relationship forward. It is incredibly hard to build a strong, intuitive relationship over the phone. Face to face meetings tend to facilitate more open and frank discussions. This can be useful to you if you need to renegotiate terms or deliver a sensitive or confidential assignment. It also builds trust on both sides which ultimately makes for better results.

An update meeting is also a great way to ‘refresh’ a brief for an on-going assignment. The fundamentals of the vacancies may not have changed however, chances are the consultant will have been working on it for a while and, particularly if you have struggled to provide detailed feedback on rejected CVs; they may have lost their initial momentum. By meeting the agency again to let them know what the business is now focusing on and what profiles are likely to work best, you will renew their enthusiasm to attack the assignment with new vigour and also increase the likelihood of you both getting a result.

Keep talking

As an in-house recruiter, you can find yourselves in difficult situations and under intense pressure. You are at the whim of the wider strategic decisions taken by your company which inevitably affect recruitment: restructures, redundancies, new store openings, new business wins. All of these will affect your job flow in a positive or negative way leaving you to adapt accordingly. When recruiting directly, you will need to inform your own candidates of any change in order to protect the candidate experience and the employer brand. When using agencies, you will need to inform them of cancelled vacancies, delayed processes and changes of brief. This can be really difficult, particularly when you know an agency has been working hard for you over often a significant period of time. You also have to manage the expectations (realistic or otherwise) of your hiring managers and will need to educate them about the challenges and opportunities presented by the current recruitment market. Being able to influence internally is one of the challenges faced by in-house recruiters and one which is often under-estimated by those on the agency side. As they say, a problem shared is a problem halved and by communicating issues you are facing internally, your agencies will at least understand the context of decisions and be able to communicate these to candidates in an appropriate way. One thing a good consultant responds to is open communication – even if it means that they won’t make their fee, being informed will help them deal with pressure on their side. This is also an interesting test of an agency’s commitment to your business. If they have a tantrum when faced with a cancelled brief or rejected candidate and never call you again, this tells you all you need to know.

To err is human, to forgive divine

However strong the relationship and however well the agency has performed so far, you can bet your bottom dollar that at some point, a mistake will be made. Recruitment is a sensitive business and this, combined with the pressure many consultants work under and the time restraints imposed, mean that errors do occur. Chances are it will be unconsciously done or a simple case of human error and of course, it depends on what the consequences are, however it is rash for a simple mistake to wipe out the positive history you have together. This works both ways and the agency should be equally magnanimous if the mistake is made on your side.

Push the right buttons

Knowing how recruitment agencies work, how consultants are managed and what therefore motivates them will help you get the best from them. They will have a range of vacancies to work on and the truth is that they will focus on those vacancies that give them the best return – this may mean ease of fill or revenue. That said, when there is a positive relationship with a client, most consultants will genuinely want to help you. However, when negotiating terms and conditions, it is naïve to think that you will get the best result if the role is non-exclusive and at rock bottom fee rates, irrespective of how strong the relationship. It’s about making a commitment on both sides and, by ensuring that the agency has an incentive to prioritise your vacancy, you will get the result you want. When cost is an issue as is so often the case, give a period of exclusivity. Commit to interview dates in advance or facilitate a meeting with the hiring manager so the briefing is thorough. Remember, when working on a contingency basis, the agency will only get paid if they get a result.

A gentle stroke…

Real recruitment industry professionals want to be successful. This isn’t just about making as much revenue as possible (yes, let’s be completely frank – we need to make money, just like everyone else!) but it is also about feeling that we have supported our clients. That, because we did our jobs well, your job and that of your hiring manager will be just a little easier. Most of us are genuinely passionate about our clients’ businesses – we learn a lot about you and spend a lot of time selling your business to the wider community so we actually get a real sense of satisfaction from placing someone with you. Getting acknowledgment of a job well done is also an effective way of rewarding loyalty amongst your supplier base.

Honesty is the best policy

If you are really not happy, then let your agency know. So often, relationships break down because of a misunderstanding or an assumption made on either side. Most people would agree that the worst thing is not knowing – if we know what we have done wrong or what you aren’t sure about, we can try to fix the problem. Recruitment people are very think skinned – we can take it!

Tie the knot

Working on a retained or project basis is another effective way to get results. By paying a proportion of the fee up front, you are paying the agency for the work they are doing along the process – particularly important if you need them to add greater value by conducting detailed screening interviews or if a full search methodology is required. The total fee paid is the same, however by agreeing to work in this way, both sides are demonstrating their commitment to filling the role. The pressure is very much on the agency to deliver. Furthermore, I always found the biggest benefit of this approach was only having to talk to one consultant about a particular vacancy – no multiple briefing, update or feedback calls required!

I would be interested to know about the best agency relationships you have and what makes them work?

I wonder what the longest lasting client/agency relationship is in the industry?

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Previous Blogs from Sophie Mackenzie on in-house recruitment:

How to win the heart of an in-house recruiter

Leaving the dark side – How agency experience benefits the in-house recruiter

How to build your influence in an in-house recruitment role

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By Sophie Mackenzie, AdMore Recruitment– Specialists in Retail and Hospitality Recruitment, Search & Selection, Talent Management and Career Development.

 

For those of you who are as yet unaware of glassdoor.com, it is a US based site whose aim is to create a community providing a source of information about prospective employers, job roles and salaries based on anonymous reviews from employees. They have recently launched their UK site, glassdoor.co.uk .

The format of each review comprises Pros and Cons and Advice to Senior Management along with star ratings given for the following criteria: Compensations & Benefits, Culture & Values, Career Opportunities, Senior Leadership, Work/Life Balance and CEO Rating.

It is a simple format and undoubtedly can prove a useful resource when researching companies or preparing for interviews.

Under each company profile, it includes a Recent News section which is useful for ensuring you are up to date with latest Press Releases, results or general news.

Understandably, the large, global businesses have the most reviews (often in their thousands) with some sectors being more broadly represented than others, particularly the Management Consultancies, Technology companies and Financial Services. I would guess therefore that reviews on these businesses are a pretty accurate reflection of working life within those companies.

Within Retail, the major UK brands are represented although many have a limited numbers of reviews – I’m sure this will change as more people in the UK become aware of its existence. Until there is a significant body of material on each company, I think it will be a while before it provides enough insight to accurately reflect what it is like to work for a particular company.

In their Community Guidelines, glassdoor are clear that participants should write balanced reviews without reverting to bitter or overly personal accounts of their own experience. Reviewers must be current or former employees of that business within the past 3 years and so there is reason to assume that the integrity of the reviews is good.

As always with reviews, you must take each contribution in context and look at the overall theme which emerges from a number of reviews. Other factors to bear in mind are the level of the person reviewing (junior candidates will have a different perspective than senior managers although their opinion is no less insightful or valid). Equally with the Interview section, where people provide sample interview questions and insight into their application process, it is wise to be cautious. Interview processes can change and your preparation still needs to be thorough enough to deal with any unforeseen eventualities.

We are all becoming increasingly reliant on reviews whether that is before booking a holiday or buying something and they can be an incredibly powerful tool. Recently, before leaving on holiday, I accidentally stumbled upon some Tripadvisor reviews on my destination. They were so bad that I was tempted to cancel, however I kept an open mind and sure enough, I had a lovely time albeit with my eyes wide open and expecting the worst! With something as important as your career, the more research you can do the better, and as long as you keep an open mind, glassdoor.co.uk should prove to be a useful addition to your ‘career toolbox’.

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How to avoid joining the wrong business

8 great smartphone apps to support candidates in their job search

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By Russell Adams, AdMore Recruitment Specialists in Retail and Hospitality Recruitment, Search & Selection, Talent Management and Career Development.

Having just enjoyed four days off with my family and friends, I was struck by a conversation this morning with a candidate who had worked all four days and was bemoaning his lack of work/life balance. What interested me most was his attitude and reasoning. His perception was based around the view that he simply can’t afford a work/life balance – that if he isn’t prepared to put in the hours then someone else is and that the expectation of his employer was to work that hard. He genuinely felt he had no choice.

But is it true, can any of us afford a work/life balance in today’s world?

What does it mean to you?

Firstly work/life balance is very difficult to define as it certainly means different things to different people. In reality, a balance to one person is an in-balance to another and an individual’s perception of this is likely to change over time as they go through the cycle of life. Interestingly, studies suggest that peoples’ perception of excessive work is to some extent governed by their enjoyment and satisfaction. Therefore, if you enjoy your job, you will enjoy working hard. Despite this, I think for everyone there are points where it is felt to be excessive.

However, we had a very lively debate in the office and some of my colleagues argued that for some individuals, career is everything and that they really are not interested in a work/life balance but only in career advancement and progression. We also discussed the fact that it changes considerably during your life, for example, starting a family was a major factor that affected your view on balance. Companies should understand that individuals may be in a slightly different gear career wise during their life phases and think about how they can get the most out of them. Indeed, people in their 20’s may be more focused on their career as they have little family responsibility…conversely, they may be less focused if they have a heavy social life which impacts on their work!

Take control

What was also debated is that actually it is also about life/work balance because to feel that a balance exists, individuals need a sense of fulfilment from their role. Too much life balance against work can for some people reduce personal or emotional fulfilment and the sense of purpose they require. Working hard can be very powerful. When surrounded by people of equal capability it is one clear way to differentiate you and achieve the progression and reward you desire.

It is all about delivery

In most companies and in most cultures, it is often not about how hard you work but what you deliver. That old adage of ‘work smarter not harder’ is certainly true. I often think for individuals it is easy to get sucked into a pattern of working very hard but without taking the time to reflect on how you are going about your role and whether you are actually being efficient with your time. A big factor at play here is peer pressure – often people work unnecessarily long hours because everyone else does. You need to be courageous to break away from the pack (and this is easier to do if you have the results to prove you are more effective in fewer hours!) That said, I think we all acknowledge that expectations on individuals have without doubt risen over the last few years and so sometimes you have to work very hard and long hours to get the job done.

It’s personal

I genuinely believe that many of us focus on our employers when it comes to work/life balance and don’t look in the mirror at ourselves. What is stopping you from being more effective?

How do you need to develop in order to be more efficient and effective at your job? How can you change the way you approach your role in order to deliver more in less time? As we all acknowledge it is often difficult to analyse what we could be doing differently, however in doing so, you will definitely give yourself the opportunity to achieve a better work/life balance.

Decide what is important to you

So many people desire a greater balance in their life between work and home but how realistic is it? Can you really have your cake and eat it. Fundamentally, at whatever stage you are in your life or career, you need to decide what is important to you. For some people they may be able to have it all – maybe this is because of their occupation, maybe it is due to the attitude of their employer and maybe it is because they are prepared to make a greater compromise. Whatever the case, it is down to the individual to look at what factors they can change and ultimately for them to make the decision that is right for their life. Utopia may be out there but for the majority of us it is very difficult to achieve despite the changing times in which we live.

Times are changing

Times are changing but I am still not sure in which direction. On the one hand, many businesses are looking at how they can enable individuals to work more flexibly and often remotely thereby giving more autonomy to the individual about when the work gets done. However, for many the very technology (smart phones, broadband etc) that is supposed to give us more flexibility, actually generates a considerable deterioration in work/life balance, as we are constantly available to our employer. This gives us very little time, if any, to switch off and allows employers to place a greater demand on our time either wittingly or unwittingly.

For Generation Y it is important that companies change their cultures to try and create better work/life balance. However, the juxtaposition is that as a result of the recession, people have to work harder than ever. In many organisations, reduced head counts have led to much higher work loads for the surviving workers. In addition, there is additional pressure because if you don’t deliver or are seen to be working hard; you face very stiff competition from both external and internal individuals.

So what can you do to achieve a better work/life balance?

  • Analyse your efficiency– consider how efficient you are in your role and what steps and actions can you take to improve your efficiency. There are several things you can do to assess your position, with the simplest being the use of a 360 feedback survey. Feedback from line managers, colleagues and your own team will enable you to spot some opportunities to reduce unnecessary workload. Alternatively, you may find you need to improve your technical skills through specific training and development – ask for support from your HR team.
  • Set targets and objectives; work smarter not harder – think about why you are working the hours you do. Is it really required in order to hit your targets or is it because that’s what you feel you should do? Work the hours required to over deliver but not just for the sake of it.
  • Manage your use of Technology – it is here more than anywhere where you need to take control, set some clear parameters and ensure you have a sensible balance. Does your phone always need to be on? Do you really need to check your e-mail every 10 minutes? Make use of your out of office and consider whether to have a separate telephone for personal use.

I am sure there are dozens of other examples and I would be very interested to hear your views.

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By Russell Adams, AdMore Recruitment– Specialists in Retail and Hospitality Recruitment, Search & Selection, Talent Management and Career Development.

In a market where organisations are increasing their proportion of direct hires, do you still need to be talking to recruiters and what are they actually doing for you?  Are they really adding any value and what are they doing that you couldn’t do yourself? Indeed with LinkedIn it is now easier than ever before to be found by organisations looking to hire. So are recruiters really adding any value? The answer to that question will definitely depend on who you are talking to. Sadly the industry is lightly regulated and with no formal qualifications it is very easy for poorly trained individuals to operate without much scrutiny or redress. As we are all aware, the market is still tight. With strong competition for most roles it is likely that you will need to engage the services of recruiters in order to try and access the best opportunities in the market.

So what should a good recruiter be doing for you?

Career Advice

A specialist recruiter should be able to give expert career advice and both challenge and assist you in your career goals and objectives. They should be highly knowledgeable in your field and very well connected.  Your recruiter should be a career partner and not just an agent that will place you in a role.

Recruiters can and should provide impartial career advice. When paid commission you need to appreciate that some may have a short term attitude and advise what is best for them and not for you as the candidate. However, the best recruiters will take a look term approach, appreciate that people will remember great advice and certainly never forget bad advice. Although in the short term they may lose out on a fee, longer term if they do the right thing then you are much more likely to engage them when you are looking to recruit. So look out for the signs that they are thinking long term.

Recruiters can if they are willing provide advice across a range of areas including advice on CV’s and Interviewing. They typically do not change for these services but do it as a way of adding more value to the candidates. Again they are likely to only provide in depth advice to those individuals who they have built a relationship with.

Job Search

In addition to some of the added value areas, fundamentally you want your recruiter to give you access to the best jobs in the market. So, do plenty of research and ask plenty of questions; what roles are they recruiting? Who are their key clients? Are they recruiting the types of roles you are interested in? The competition out there is fierce and through building a strong relationship with key recruiters in your sector you can try and ensure you gain access to these roles. A good recruiter should always call you back. In the current market, recruiters are incredibly busy, there are large number of candidates on the market chasing relatively fewer roles, however if you agree up front how to communicate and how frequently then you should be able to find a way that works for both parties.

 Process Management

A good recruiter should “coach” you through the recruitment process.  They should be using their in depth knowledge of the client and the individuals within it to guide and advise you on how to position yourself. They should be able to give you a strong insight into the culture and how you will fit.  The are also likely to get in depth feedback from the client after each stage so make sure they are sharing this information with you, so you can understand what you may need to do more or less of.  In fact a really good recruiter will always think long term. The better ones will coach you through a process even when they aren’t representing you but it is with a client they know. They will appreciate the long term benefits of doing this and the potential for the future.

 Offer Negotiation

Whilst there are a multitude of reasons for moving jobs, increasing your salary and benefits is often an important aspect.  Your recruiter should be instrumental in negotiating the right salary for you.  They should know the client well and will have a real feel for what the client may be willing to pay for someone with your skill set.  But make sure they are clear about your parameters because as much as you want to receive the best offer you also don’t want to put yourself in a situation where you are jeopardising a potential offer because the recruiter is demanding an unachievable  salary on your behalf. Also make sure you understand the full package. The benefits on offer may vary considerably from your current role and other roles you are considering and it is wise to look at the package as a whole. This will both influence your thoughts around basic salary but also may give you some leverage. Make sure you have this information early in the process. Like any negotiation the Recruiter will be aiming to find middle ground that is acceptable to both you and the client. It is ok to push but get a feel for where those boundaries lie.

Post Placement

A good recruiter won’t just place you and collect their fee, they will support you through your notice period and then though your induction into the business. They should provide you with an insight into the key players in the business you are joining, the culture and advice on how to integrate into the business. They should keep in touch and ensure that your induction runs smoothly, feeding back to the client where appropriate.

Conclusion 

Identifying and then building a relationship with the right recruiters will be critical if you are determined to make the best career move possible.

So how can you ensure your recruiter is doing all these things for you? Firstly please choose wisely. It is best to get recommendations and check their credentials.

Secondly to gain this level of advice, support and opportunity you need to invest time in building a relationship with the recruiter. This is easier said than done when working in a demanding and consuming role, so select a small number of well connected recruiters. For some additional advice on job hunting please read our recent blogs Looking for a job in 2013and How to avoid joining the wrong business.

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By Jez Styles, AdMore Recruitment– Specialists in Retail and Hospitality Recruitment, Search & Selection, Talent Management and Career Development.

Whenever I brief a candidate that there is an assessment centre in a recruitment process I tend to encounter a range of responses. I use the word ‘range’ pretty loosely as in truth the vast majority of candidates dread an ‘AC’ at worst and are ambivalent at best. Occasionally, when working with sales driven businesses you will encounter candidates that positively live for ‘out of the comfort zone’ experiences. Overall, I think my favourite response is from the AC veterans, the guys who have assessed other candidates, been assessed on multiple occasions and probably helped to write exercises previously. They know how it works, what they need to do and more importantly…how to impress. And yes…sssshhhhhh… some even enjoy the experience!

Here are some tips from AC veterans I have worked with:

  1. Prepare. Ask your recruiter for a copy of the competencies/qualities that are being assessed on the day. There is a good chance that the day will include an interview so you will have a great opportunity to really impress. If you are unable to clarify the competencies then ask for a job description or research the business. For further tips for an interview click here; Top tips for a competency based interview
  2. Get your mind-set right. Sales based candidates can skip to point three…this is not a competition. Most companies use assessment centres because they are looking for multiple candidates and/or because it gives a different insight in to candidate behaviour. If you enter an AC with the belief that you need ‘to win’ there is a good chance this will influence your behaviour in the inevitable group exercise and also social situations. It is better to think about being the best you can be. Also, avoid comparing your performance to your peers on the day. Most AC’s have a benchmark score for passing the day so if you beat everyone else but still do not benchmark you will fail.
  3. You are always being assessed. I have attended numerous ACs where candidates have hit the benchmark score, but in the ‘wash-up’ an assessor has recounted a conversation or observation that has created a negative impression. Avoid taking a cigarette break if you can. If you do take a break be aware any conversation you have is still being assessed. Similarly, if lunch is included be sure to maintain good manners and dare I say it sensible food choices. If an overnight stay is involved – stay clear of the alcohol! Finally, be aware of your body language, do not lean, slouch or invade people’s space. Think about your facial expressions when part of any group conversations or exercises – be positive and smile…a lot!
  4. Network. At the start of the day you should make a note of all the assessors, ideally name and job function. Over the course of the day you should spend time with each individual. It is crucial that you prepare a bank of insightful questions prior to the day. They might be geared towards an HR or Operations Director or other relevant function. Assessors will tend to remember the people that have asked intelligent questions and truly engaged them. It is also worth spending time getting to know the other candidates; there are networking opportunities for the future.
  5. Plan each task. In the heat of the moment it is easy to just launch in to a task. However, it is crucial that you take the time to read all relevant instructions. I assessed an AC last year where 5 individuals in a Group task all failed to read one crucial piece of information which led to them all failing the task. You should plan your time and allow for unexpected changes to the structure of the exercise (normally about ten minutes before you are due to finish!). All exercises are generally designed to put you under pressure to complete within a tight time-frame. Do not panic and importantly, ensure you complete the exercise. Finally, if you are offered various materials you would be wise to use them. An obvious one would be the provision of a flipchart for a presentation. Use it!
  6. Nail the Group exercise. Most candidates hate Group Exercises, often describing them as fake or ‘not a reflection of real life.’ While this may be true they are also remarkably affective at putting candidates under pressure which results in a multitude of interesting behaviours that you would not see in an interview or other exercise. There are a few things you can do to ensure you are perceived positively. Most importantly do not ‘over dominate’ the exercise. Avoid (contrary to popular belief) being the person that writes notes or prepares the flipchart presentation, you will quickly end up being side-lined from the conversation. Use your peers name when addressing them and invite the quieter participants to voice their opinion. Express your own ideas and ask for feedback. Ensure the group is on target to complete the task on time and if required steer the group to complete tasks as required. Finally, stand by the group’s ultimate decision/conclusion. Do not fall in to the trap of criticising other group members if faced with ‘apprentice’ style questions from the assessors.
  7. Do not let one bad exercise ruin your day. Confidence is crucial on an AC day and a single exercise will not usually determine your success or failure. If you perform badly on one exercise you must pick yourself back up and move forward.
  8. Take Psychometric exercises seriously. Psychometrics are being increasingly used in advance of AC days to either highlight areas to explore over the course of the day or to provide additional evidence of capability.
  9. Be positive. Over the course of the day you will have numerous conversations and will experience a range of emotions.  It is important that you remain positive and that you express this. Do not fall in to the trap of making any negative comments about the assessors, the AC, other delegates, current employer, ex-boss or your consultant. I have witnessed numerous candidates ‘de-selecting’ themselves through a flippant remark to the wrong person.

I hope this helps and please share your tenth tip in the comments below or via our Blog page on LinkedIn:

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Click one of the links below for further blogs from AdMore:

Do Today’s candidates have a ‘hierarchy of needs?’

8 Great Smartphone apps to support candidates in their job search

How to avoid joining the wrong business

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By Jez Styles, AdMore Recruitment– Specialists in Retail and Hospitality Recruitment, Search & Selection, Talent Management and Career Development.

I have always been a big fan of Maslow (click here to learn more) and despite modern Psychological doctrine having exposed flaws in this theory of motivation I cannot help but feel that it has a great deal of relevance to how many candidates manage their job search today. I believe that the recession has fundamentally changed how many candidates view their future job selection and crucially what is most important. Having spoken to a number of colleagues within recruitment, and admittedly this evidence is purely anecdotal; we have seen a very real shift towards a ‘hierarchy of needs.’

Having spoken to many hundreds if not thousands of candidates over the course of the recession the first question that the majority of candidates will ask is; does it pay enough? Interestingly, prior to the recession the same question was probably being asked with a slightly different emphasis; how much can I earn? The key difference is that candidates are now focused on whether the salary will cover their costs rather than enabling them to invest. Arguably, it amounts to the same thing but it does indicate a rather different mind-set. I have found that salary has acted as a much smaller ‘barrier to entry’ than prior to the recession when candidates were more focused on achieving a significant uplift in package rather than merely covering their costs.

The second most important element is Job Security. Prior to 2008 the majority of candidates barely talked about security. Unsurprisingly, and against a backdrop of numerous business collapses this has become the second most important criteria.

The third element that most candidates will tend to want to judge is their cultural fit. One key consequence of the recession is that many people have taken jobs under duress (whether that is financial or emotional) that they might not otherwise have done so. Often, these individuals have been perfectly capable of doing the job but for whatever reason have not been a good cultural fit. In the early to mid part of the recession that led to further turnover and as a result, increased anxiety in the market.

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These first three elements, in blue in my pyramid, are I feel the most essential for candidates today. The next two elements tend to be asked by fewer candidates but interestingly they are perhaps the most important for future financial, intellectual and emotional prosperity.

The fourth element is a two way street! Will I be valued and will I value them (employer & colleagues)? Many candidates tend not to think about this prior to accepting an offer as the first three elements can often be all consuming in importance. However, this will often determine the longevity of the role. It has a particular relevance for Gen Y candidates whom often place this as a key requirement for future positions.

The final element, the famous ‘self-actualisation,’ in my pyramid is; will I grow?

Many candidates will ask what the opportunities for progression are but I think they are missing an opportunity here. In truth most companies will, during a hiring process, indicate there is room for progression without committing to anything specific. The more savvy candidates will ascertain what the company does to ‘grow’ their people. What is the performance review process, what support and development is there, do they even have an L&D team post recession, how much money are they prepared to spend on external education?

So what does this mean for recruiters? The way in which we attract candidates through technology and social media continues to evolve at a dramatic rate.  I believe that most candidates seek to satisfy the first three elements early in their job search with the further two elements being a focus further in to an interview process. Given the lack of confidence in the current jobs market it has become crucial that employers and their recruiters seek to address these basic needs early in any recruitment campaign. A failure to do so will only serve to reduce the pool of available talent!

NB: You will note that I haven’t placed any emphasis on whether candidates question their level of capability / competence to do the job. The reason behind this is that I believe most candidates have a much higher level of self-confidence in today’s market and to some extent rely upon the employer’s ability to select on capability.

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By Jez Styles, AdMore Recruitment– Specialists in Retail and Hospitality Recruitment, Search & Selection, Talent Management and Career Development.

cartoon-stuck-in-a-rut

By Jez Styles, AdMore Recruitment– Specialists in Retail and Hospitality Recruitment, Search & Selection, Talent Management and Career Development.

Last year I wrote about the lost generation of middle managers in retail whom face limited progression opportunities as a result of the recession. Since that article the redundancies have continued to flow thick and fast with all sorts of rumours about which retailer is going to collapse next. One might think that with all the doom and gloom in the market that the opportunities to develop your career are few and far between. However…

If you are ambitious and do want to avoid this scenario you have two very simple options, either ensure you are promoted in your current business or move to another organisation where there is genuine opportunity for advancement.

How to progress your career within your current business:

  • Does your Line manager, Head of Talent, HRBP know you have ambitions to progress? Sounds simple but don’t assume so. Be explicit about your career targets. Clearly you will need to judge when and how to position this conversation but it really is the starting point.
  • Are you getting the results? You know in your heart of hearts if you really are delivering, if you are not you need to address this.
  • So, you are doing well…does everyone else know that? It is all well and good if you run the most profitable part of the business but if the board / functional heads don’t know this you will have few sponsors when the next round of restructuring starts. I have met a lot of candidates with relatively modest results but who were fantastic self-publicists and as a result they were promoted!
  • Seek feedback. The old 360 appraisal can be painful but it will do two things; firstly it will highlight what you need to do to improve and secondly it says a lot about your focus on self-development. This is a competency that is being increasingly measured in assessment of stretch potential.
  • Work harder, it sounds old fashioned but to be blunt it makes an enormous difference to your senior stakeholders. Admittedly there has been a societal push towards work/life balance (and rightly so) but once again those who do more…achieve more.
  • Get involved in project work. If you are Head office based get in to stores, if you are operations based get in to Head Office. A key determinant of progression is breadth of experience. Your Operations Directors, Managing Directors and other board members will have done this at some point in their career. This will also expose you to other stakeholders and will give you a chance to self-publicise!
  • Socialise. Get to know the senior team on a more informal basis. Once again, the people whom are liked by the board tend to get the better jobs.
  • Identify sponsors, people whom have a vested interest in you doing well and will fight your corner / put a good word in when necessary. It’s an ego boost for the other party and you will also get good career advice.

You need to look elsewhere…what do you do?

  • Put together a ‘campaign’ plan with short, medium and long term objectives.
  • Identify what you want to do next. It is worth sense checking with your contacts that this is realistic. A major salary increase and a promotion are highly unlikely.
  • Call your contacts in the recruitment firms. While we recruitment consultants are often grouped together with estate agents, double glazing salesmen and those chaps whom knock on your door to kindly inform you they have just tarmacked your drive and you owe them 200 quid… However, we do on occasion add real value. There is an art to working your relationship with consultants – in short, what you put in you will get back. Behave transactionally or with contempt and expect a mirrored response. Similarly, if you want to get the best out of a consultant, treat him like a human being and they will do the same.
  • Speak to your sponsors. If you have built a few up throughout your career they should be able to put you in touch with their contacts, hopefully with a recommendation.
  • Call old bosses. If you did a good job for them before they will be inclined to give you another go.
  • Fire up your Linkedin profile. It is beginning to position itself as a job board these days and most internal and external recruiters use it as a secondary database. While you are there delete any old profiles on the job boards – they are very much aimed at the junior end of the market. Bear in mind that this is your shop window and as every Operations Director will tell you, customers won’t go in and buy if it isn’t well cared for.
  • Don’t be afraid to invest in some external support and advice this may be as simple as a CV rewrite or career/life coaching. A good quality CV rewrite will cost between £300-£500…roughly the same amount as a new set of wheels for your car…
  • Finally, do your research before accepting an offer. A large number of candidates have found their CVs becoming very patchy over the course of the recession as they have hopped from one business to another. The one factor that generally underpins any mistake in a career move is a lack of due diligence. Would you buy a house without having it surveyed?

Good luck…

Jez Styles

juggling mum

By Sophie Mackenzie, AdMore Recruitment– Specialists in Retail and Hospitality Recruitment, Search & Selection, Talent Management and Career Development.

A friend of mine started a new job a month ago. For her, this wasn’t a straightforward decision as this was her first role after leaving work to have twins 2 years ago. This was a role she was perfectly suited to and qualified for and which, crucially, would allow her to work part-time. Given that they need to pay for 2 nursery places (in Greater London, this cost is extortionate…), the family was going to be only £50 per month better off however she was keen to work. Being career minded, she was also conscious of not leaving too big a gap given that, once the children start school, she will need to refocus on her career. So, she went through the process of selecting a nursery, leaving the children for settling in days and making the other arrangements necessary for a return to work.  She has been through the emotional wrench of leaving her children who have taken a while to adjust but who have started to settle into their new routine. 4 weeks in however, and her (female) boss has  questioned why she has had to take a couple of days off because the children were sick and now feels she is over qualified for the role.

I decided to write this post to highlight the difficulty women can face when re-entering the workplace. I thought that my own less than positive experience was unique, being in the cut throat world of agency recruitment, however I have spoken to several women recently who have faced similar challenges in different industries.

When I left the office to start my maternity leave, I cried all the way home. It dawned on me that for the next 6 months, I was no longer needed at work. I was, like all of us, fundamentally dispensible. For someone who enjoyed her job, this was a sobering thought.

When I had broken the news of my pregnancy 6 months earlier, I was shocked by  the number of younger female colleagues who came up to me and expressed genuine surprise that I was pregnant – their thought process being that the corporate work ethic was such that this would surely not be tolerated by the powers at be! A sad indictment that, although only in their mid 20’s, they clearly thought that having a family would be at odds with a long term career in that business. Of course, there were working mothers at the company however they generally held one of 2 positions – in office support where they were able to work part-time or senior Directors who employed full time au pairs. There were few role-models at middle management level.

I returned after 7 months to a very different environment. My (very supportive) boss had left along with several trusted colleagues. On my first day back, I received a 30 minute ‘handover’ and was left to crack on. I had no pipeline.  Although I returned to work 4 days a week, I spent the 5th day taking calls, dealing with escalation issues or managing offers when a member of my team was on holiday. Doing any of these things with a screaming baby in the background was difficult and unprofessional – not my usual modus operandi but I was determined that people at work wouldn’t get any sense that I wasn’t pulling my weight.  I needed to work ‘normal’ office hours so I could do the nursery run and so I was arriving later and leaving earlier than everyone else on my team, an uncomfortable situation in a culture of long working hours.  In my first month back, my childcare provider changed their opening hours meaning that I had to change my day off, further compounding my ever increasing feeling of guilt.  A few months later, in only my second conversation with my Director since my return, he expressed concern about my lack of progress. I was mortified and despite his comments about ‘understanding what it’s like to be a working mum’ (really?!), I realised that things had to change. I sought out support, enquired about other roles I could do internally until ultimately I took the decision to leave.

It is a subject I feel passionate about and so, on International Women’s Day  http://www.un.org/en/events/womensday/  , here are my thoughts on the challenges women face when returning to work and what employers should bear in mind:

  • Lack of confidence. Even the most effective, professional and successful woman can be reduced to a quivering wreck by the challenges of parenthood. Add to this a long period away from the working environment (up to a year), with adult conversation generally limited to discussing feeding and sleeping routines and it gradually erodes your self-belief. This is also a symptom of women undergoing such a dramatic change in body shape and weight. Chances are they won’t fit into their pre-baby power suit and won’t have the time (or money) to buy new clothes. All these things affect confidence levels.  The biggest piece of advice I can give is to use your allowance of 10 KIT (Keep in Touch days) to make the transition easier.
  • What people never tell you about when you have a baby is that they are ill ALL THE TIME! And, whatsmore, they incubate germs so effectively that by the time they pass them on to you, they have taken on the equivalent potency of the Ebola virus. I have never been more ill than in the months after my son went to nursery, coinciding of course with my return to work.  New parents (men and women) WILL undoubtedly take time off because their child is ill or they are ill themselves. It won’t last forever and showing flexibility in those difficult early months will really help.
  • New parents are sleep deprived – I have witnessed several male colleagues whose performance at work has been affected by an insomniac baby. A new parent returning to work may well have had a disturbed night’s sleep and have been up for several hours before they even get to the office. Again, some of these issues are short-lived and giving extra leeway for a few months is surely worth doing for someone who is a valued member of staff.
  • Handovers. Unless you have been through a period of redundancy or been on maternity leave yourself, it is likely that you simply will not know what it is like to have 6-12 months away from your role and to try to pick it back up again. In a sales environment this is particularly challenging however in any role, there should be a period of time spent enabling the employee to re-familiarise themselves with the business. So much can change in a 6 month period – companies can restructure, people come and go, priorities change. If you do a formal induction for new employees, you could argue that this would be equally useful for mat leave returnees.
  • Take the time at the outset to really iron out details regarding working hours and any implications this may have on performance targets. Both parties have a responsibility to do this to ensure that there is transparency and above all fairness.
  • Emotional stress. I hesitated to talk about this for fear of compounding stereotypical views however returning to work is always going to be an emotional wrench, however career focused the employee is.  In my case, I took great pains to hide my emotions about leaving my son to show that I was just as work focused as my colleagues (as if the 2 things are mutually exclusive?!).
  • Be patient. It will take some time for those confidence levels to creep up but when they do, you may find you have a formidable employee. Most mothers I know can achieve more in an hour than you would think humanly possible and are even more focused in order to cover their workload in fewer hours.
  • Don’t make the following assumptions:

a. that the employee will have ‘gone soft’ since having a baby. Frankly anyone who endures a painful 24 hour labour culminating in an emergency C-section has reserves of strength you will never fathom. Yes, I do cry at anything emotional on the telly (but so does my husband) and I pretty much did that before anyway – it’s called compassion.

b. that the employee is passing time before she gets pregnant again.

c. that the employee is no longer interested in progressing her career. That assumption is never made of new fathers and arguably new parents have even more motivation to earn and achieve more.

Of course there are exceptions to all my points however, in my view, if a woman wants a fulfilling career in addition to being a mum, she has, in the 21st century, every right to have one.  It will be interesting to see what the take-up is of the new paternity rights for men which take effect in 2014 enabling them to share equally the period of maternity leave and what affect this has on the level of understanding in the workplace for returning parents.

What is your experience of returning to work post mat leave?

 Useful links:

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/reform-of-flexible-parental-leave

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By Sophie Mackenzie, AdMore Recruitment– Specialists in Retail and Hospitality Recruitment, Search & Selection, Talent Management and Career Development.

William Morris, the designer, famously said “have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful”. It occurred to me over Christmas that we could apply the same sentiment to the changing face of British Retail. If a store isn’t fundamentally useful or temptingly beautiful then it simply won’t survive long term.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder but what I mean by a ‘beautiful’ store is somewhere that offers an experience that you simply can’t get elsewhere, not least of all online. Somewhere that is exciting, where you can touch, feel and try the product, somewhere which is inspiring to look at and where you are made to feel special. Brands like Apple and Hollister and shopping centres like Westfield have created retail experiences and product so desirable that people are simply compelled to leave their homes to visit.

Useful is somewhat harder to define. To be really useful in retail terms, customers firstly need to have absolute clarity about what it is you sell and what makes you the specialist in that market. They must have confidence in your ability to deliver the product or service quickly and efficiently. You must deliver great service consistently. Lots of retailers may think they are specialists, however do their customers agree? To me, the perfect example of this is Timpsons. There is no ambiguity about what they do – they are true specialists and they offer a useful and good old-fashioned service along the way.

Like many people, driven by lack of time and pure convenience, I did most of my Christmas shopping online. I was lucky, all my purchases arrived promptly, making the whole process very efficient, however I couldn’t help but feel a little sad at having missed the frisson of excitement from actually visiting a shop and looking at tangible product. However, without the ultimate ‘useful’ option of online shopping, I would really have struggled to get the job done. Not all online retailers get it right, however they are fundamentally ‘useful’ in that they save us time – so critical in today’s pressured world and this is why they are becoming so dominant, at the expense of some of their bricks and mortar competitors.

However, when we returned to the office in the new year, I compared notes with my colleagues about our positive retail experiences and the following stood out.

B&Q – not the obvious place for a delightful shopping experience – but it was just that. I was greeted on arrival by not one, but two employees, one of whom helpfully explained that I could sign up online to receive special offers. While browsing around their Christmas decorations, I received a jolly “Good Morning Madam!” from the Manager, leaving me to wonder whether I had, in the manner of Marty McFly, inadvertently been transported to the 1950’s! When I asked for assistance in finding a product, I was cheerfully escorted to the correct aisle and on my way to check out, I passed a group of children doing an early morning arts and crafts workshop, their Dads hovering nearby. It felt vibrant and inclusive, despite the fact that my purchase of lime-scale remover (?!) was in fact, completely mundane.
John Lewis – here I was genuinely inspired by the range of products, all displayed beautifully. The store was packed and everywhere I could see staff buzzing around, often in dialogue with a customer. This was the retail we know and love – a busy, exciting store with lovely brands, an ambiance which encourages browsing and if needed, helpful and knowledgable staff. Here I was genuinely tempted to part with more cash to supplement my online purchases.

And finally Kiddicare which my colleague described as “functionally brilliant”. It was easy to park with wide aisles (big enough to accommodate a double pram). The range was amazing with clear signage and pricing and the service was exceptional with staff being customer-focused rather than task-focused. They have a reasonably priced café and soft play area which resulted in significantly increased dwell time, despite having lively 20 month old twins in tow!

In my opinion, in years to come we will see one of two things in our high streets and shopping centres. Either businesses selling a useful product or service (and doing it with a genuine affection for the customer) or beautiful stores where you can spend time and where you are made to feel special. As ruthless as it seems, the market is ‘de-cluttering’ and I can’t see that there will be latitude for those retailers who fall within the middle ground.

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By Sophie Mackenzie, AdMore Recruitment- Specialists in Retail and Hospitality Recruitment, Search & Selection, Talent Management and Career Development.

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