Friday, 10 June 2011

Social Networking or Socialising and Not-Working?

The growth of social networking continues to spiral out of control, leading sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to become as important to us as our newspapers.

There are three big differences between social networking and other forms of media: accessibility, participation, and live updates. These differences have led to many employees wasting time at work getting their latest fix.

In 2006, I recall a few colleagues becoming ‘facehooked’. At the time I had not joined the revolution, and did not understand the distraction that seemed to be on offer. Productivity was dropping, and some of our best people were underperforming. Our employer blocked the site, much to the dissatisfaction of those that wished to use it. The effect was positive for business as results improved, but employees were left disgruntled.

In the past two years, the growth of the smart phone market has made social networking sites even more accessible. I have heard certain businesses now insist that mobile phones are kept out of site during working hours. This is, of course, not practical in all professions.

The big question that comes to my mind is why do individuals lack so much self discipline?
Employees have entered into a contract to carry out certain duties, and I have never seen a contract in which an employer requires employees to entertain themselves regularly to keep their morale high. However, some people now feel like it is their right and do not even attempt to hide their wrongdoing.

LinkedIn is branded as the business networking tool, and it is certainly changing the way that businesses recruit. It can also be used as a good tool to gain information from your professional network. But use must be carried out in a disciplined way. All of the social networking sites are laid out in a way that is designed to distract and keep you on the site for as long as possible to maximise your exposure to their sponsors. This is how they make money.


I have found a few effective methods to help me get more out of these sites than they get out of me. 

Tip 1
Set up a separate webmail account (e.g. markssocialnetwork@gmail.com). Use this address for all of your social networking accounts to ensure that update emails do not clutter your main inboxes and can be managed in your own time.

Tip 2
When you go online, do so with a purpose or task. Perhaps you wish to find articles related to your current project. Find them, read them, and log out. Don’t be distracted by the ‘people you may know’ or ‘whose been looking at your profile’ tabs. These will suck you in and eat your time.

Tip 3
Set aside a fixed amount of time on a regular basis to update your profile, have a browse, be nosey, and do the things that we love about these sites. Do this in your own time at home; it’s better for your career.

Tip 4
Remove the apps from your phone. Your phone spends more time with you than anything else. It can imprison you if it is set up in the wrong way.


Remember, the majority of information on these sites is of low quality. If it were food, it would be McDonalds - quickly prepared, convenient and appealing, but without much nutritional value. It is easy to fall into the habit of over-consuming social media, but this will not be of long-term benefit to your career.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

The benefits and constraints of being an interim manager

Interim contractors are used today across all major industries and governmental departments. They have become a vital cog helping to turn the wheels of productivity in the UK. Often they divide opinion. They can be seen as expensive and if recruited carelessly, quality is not guaranteed. I believe that when used effectively interims offer a solution that is unmatched in the market place, they bring recent experience of delivery within multiple environments that a committed permanent employee can not match. They cost 50 – 75% less than management consultants who are the other main alternative.

Anybody can take the plunge and become an interim. Before doing so it may be useful to consider some of the benefits and constraints that come with this lifestyle.

Benefits

  • The first obvious benefit is the financial reward available. In the procurement profession a candidate who is earning £65000 in their permanent position can expect to charge themselves out at a daily rate of £500. On this basis gross earnings based on working 46 weeks would be £115000. This takes into consideration holidays, bank holidays and any other absence. Therefore if an individual can obtain a 12 month contract then they will be set to nearly double their income.

  • Another benefit of working as an interim is that you are somewhat removed from career politics. Fighting peers for that all important promotion will become a thing of the past. Appraisals and annual reviews are equally obsolete. You are the master of your own professional development and tasked to deliver on an assignment by assignment basis. Interims do have to be politically astute in order to deliver in the majority of cases. They must be able to quickly fit into a structure and understand the existing relationship dynamics. Interims that are slow to adapt to a new environment have a tendency to struggle.

  • Working for a variety of different organisations and people is an element of being an interim that I am often told is very enjoyable. For example, moving from an Investment Bank to an Oil Major gives a brand new environment with its own culture and unique practices. We all experience this when we move jobs, Interims have the benefit of this being a frequent occurrence, one that serves to broaden the mind and keep the individual fresh.

  • Once you have reached a certain point of your career you may find the most satisfaction comes from delivering change or major projects. For those that thrive in such a situation, interim work serves this need well. It is to the clients benefit to use interims as assets in such situations as their deep experience is often not available in house.


Constraints

  • Working as an interim leads to a lot of uncertainty. In the bull market that existed 4 years ago, well qualified candidates could move from one assignment to the next at their own leisure with little fear of a lengthy gap. The market downturn has led to a reduced demand for interims as major projects and change programs have declined in popularity. Redundancy victims have marketed themselves as available for interim work as well as permanent which results in an increased supply. The knock of effect is higher competition for each assignment and in some cases lower reward.

  • Interims are responsible for picking up the costs for their own training and development. It is important that a credible interim is well qualified and up to date on the latest legislation. They are financially responsible for ensuring that they are continually enhancing their skill set.

  • Unlike permanent employees Interims do not receive any assistance with their pension or retirement planning in general. It is therefore their responsibility to arrange for the day when they decide to stop taking assignments.

  • Interims are often victims of misconceptions due to a small minority who over charge and under perform. They are also sitting ducks to be used as scapegoats once they have left a client as they are no longer able to defend themselves. Having a thick skin can be very useful when working as an interim manager.

  • Rate fluctuations mean that it is difficult to predict how much your next assignment will pay. Permanent employees typically experience an annual increase in their wages, interims can experience a large increase or decrease dependant on reasons such as demand, economic conditions, assignment continuity and many others.

  • Legislation is also another responsibility that interims must comply to. Interim managers tend to operate under the umbrella of a Ltd company. They are required to have appropriate insurance policies and be aware of the tax implications of operating in this way. Without good professional advice from their accountant, there is always a risk around IR35.


Permanent candidates who are considering making the change to become a professional interim should carefully consider all of these factors and speak to interims within their network to gain direct feedback. There are many financial and lifestyle benefits on offer to interim managers but these do not come without risk. Being aware of the potential risks and preparing for periods between contracts is advised.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Writing a new CV – 5 things to consider

The CV in many ways is like the ‘elevator pitch’. You have a limited amount of space to create as much interest as possible without knowing what your prospect is actually looking for. There are many companies who will compose a CV for you. We see these CV’s coming across our desks regularly. Whilst having a CV professionally compiled is an effective way of getting a quality document it will not make you unique.

Before we explore five key things that we would advise you consider when building your CV it is important to remember that this is one of the most important documents that you will ever create. Its presentation should be immaculate; you should treat this as seriously as a successful business would treat its website and other literature.

1 - Order

The order that you present the information on your CV is vital. The market place is currently candidate rich and employers may well see 30 CV’s for each vacancy. Some will only read the first page of each CV. If your first page is full of address details and personal statements then the employer will have no where to reference what you do in your current position. In such a situation the CV could be discarded before page two has been read. We would advise putting contact details at the end of the CV or in the footer. Our preferred order is Name, Statement, Key skills, Career History, Secondary & Tertiary skills, Qualifications, Contact details.

2 - Content

It is important to keep the content factual and remove emotion from the document where possible. If you have worked on a specific project detail length, value, deliverables and achievements / outcome. Tangible information is the key to grabbing many employers attention. Also include geographical coverage, reporting line, and details of managerial responsibilities where applicable. Avoid writing in the first person, it uses more words and reduces impact. We also encourage candidates to remove the personal interests section of the CV, there can be benefits to including this section if it proves to be a common ground but we often find it to be irrelevant.

3 - Context

Set the scene for the reader when explaining your achievements within each role. If you worked on a major project it is important to define your specific responsibilities. One complaint that we frequently hear from clients is around the term

‘Was part of a team that delivered…’

this is vague and leaves the client in the dark as to the level of responsibility the individual had. When describing major projects that you have contributed towards, we advise that you should explain your personal key objectives for that project.

4 - Lay out

The lay out of the document should be easy to read. Avoid unusual fonts in unusual sizes. Bullet points complement the way that many clients score CV’s and make it easy for the employer to go back and find a specific nugget of information that was of appeal. The document should look like a CV so resist attempting to re-invent the wheel; it is more likely to hinder your chances than enhance them.

5 - Length

Typically candidates are advised to keep the document to two or three pages. This is good practice. Many candidates that we deal with have two documents, a concise and a detailed version of their CV. If you choose to follow this method then it is best to keep the concise version to two pages as some clients will insist that the CV is a maximum of two pages. The detailed version can be advertised at the bottom of the concise CV so that the client can request it if they wish to further explore your credentials.



Once you have created a new CV pass the document to people within your professional network and ask them for ideas of how it can be improved. When you have a final draft that you are ready to circulate keep a record of the number of applications that you make using it and how many interviews it generates. Such statistics will give you an idea of how well received the document is.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Interview advice – The 'What are your weaknesses?' question

One interview question that comes up time and again relates to the candidates weaknesses. I recall that a television sitcom made a parody of this situation in which the candidate answered ‘Eczema’. I found this funny but it did make me think about the best way to answer the ‘Weaknesses question’.

I have interviewed candidates who have told me that they have no weaknesses; I concluded that they had a lack of self awareness and an arrogance which will lead to future problems. Some publications advise that you should choose a characteristic which can be seen as both negative and positive such as being ‘a perfectionist’ or ‘a workaholic’. This is better than not identifying any weaknesses but is still clich├ęd.

We all have strengths and weaknesses and we do not need to hide these in order to be successful. Whether you are looking for your next career move now or not I would advise you to spend some time conducting self analysis.

In order to carry out self analysis I advise to breakdown the technical and soft skills that are required to carry out your profession and grade yourself for each attribute. This exercise will allow you to identify your strengths and help you to market them in the future. It will also highlight your areas of weakness and will allow you to create a personal development plan.

In our professional lives we are constantly analysing our suppliers, competitors, service offering etc. We work at firms who conduct appraisals to assist our professional development but these appraisals come with an agenda to serve the companies needs more than our own. I am suggesting that you use your comprehensive analytical skills to analyse yourself and create a development plan. This development plan is a document that should continually be updated as your career journey develops and your skill requirements change.

If you believe in the value of continuous improvement and self evaluation then take some time to present your ‘self analysis document’ as if you were going to pass it for your current CEO to read. The more pride you take in this document, the more you will buy in to its contents. A high quality document can be taken as a prop to use in interviews when the ‘weaknesses question’ comes up. You can display that you are aware of your weaknesses and show how you are constantly working on improving them. The likelihood is that the client will want to flick through the document, at this point they will also see your strengths, in text form without you having to brag.

The most important thing is to put time aside to maintain this document, re-evaluate your skills and development needs. It will help you improve in the areas that you need most and enhance your confidence and credibility in the interview room.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Interview Advice - Questions to ask at the end of an interview

Many interviewers will give the interviewee an opportunity to ask questions at the end of an interview. This is an opportunity for the interviewee to further impress upon the potential employer their credibility as a strong candidate for the vacant position. If the candidate asks the wrong questions or does not have any questions, it can also leave doubts. It is therefore important that candidates prepare for the likelihood of being given the opportunity to ask questions of their own.

The typical mistakes made by candidates are that they either have no questions or that they ask selfish questions regarding financial and working conditions. Why are these mistakes? To have no questions is a mistake as many interviewers will see this as an indicator that you are not that interested in the role or have not given that much thought to what has been discussed. Even if this is the case, every interview is an opportunity for you to enhance and practice your interview skills and also gain confidence from clients wanting to progress you to the next stage. Therefore having no questions is unacceptable. Asking questions regarding working times, salary, monthly pay date, amounts of holiday, parking etc. is probably worse than having no questions. Such questions position you as a candidate who is only interested in what you can get out of the job and not what you will bring. If you wish to work in the best performing organisations in the world, such an attitude will not help you through the door.

I believe that the best type of questions to ask focus around the teams objectives and how you would be able to help achieve these once you were in the post. In order to ask more than one question and prompt conversation at this stage I would advise starting with a closed question such as

‘What is the team’s savings target for the year?’

followed by an open question

‘What will be our/the biggest obstacles to overcome and beat this target?’

At this point you can position yourself as already having the role if you feel comfortable that the interviewer will not see this as presumptive. To be safe you should avoid using the term ‘we’ until you have been offered the job, however, when judged correctly, positioning yourself as already being part of the team can really win over interviewers.  In the line of questioning I have started above, the natural progression is to focus on how your role can help overcome the perceived obstacles and to speak positively about your experiences in a similar environment. Everybody has obstacles that they would like to overcome and if you position yourself as a candidate with the specific experience to help the interviewer on what is important to them, you are increasing your value.

The danger of pre-prepared questions is that the information you are asking for may have already been covered in the interview. For this reason it is important to consider a number of different subjects that you might centre your questioning around and then either focus on the one that hasn’t come up, or link your question to something that you have been told. Here is an example of how you could link earlier information

 ‘You mentioned that the team’s savings target for 2011 was £25000000, what do you see as being the main obstacles that will need to be overcome to beat this target?’

It is crucial to be taking notes during the interview in order that you can quote back what you have been told. Misquoting is a fatal mistake as it would appear that you have not been listening.

To summarise the above, I believe that the best way to impress and win over an interviewer is to focus on what he or she wants and how you can help them achieve this. Using the end of interview questions as an opportunity to display how you can help the interviewer beat their own targets is a tactic that will serve to help increase your chances.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Interview advice – giving the correct amount of information

In many ways an interview has similarities to an academic examination. Candidates have to answer a series of questions and are scored on the accuracy and detail given in their responses.

One major difference between an academic examination and an interview is that in most cases on academic examinations the examined individual knows how many points can be scored from each question. Interviews are not so kind. During my years in recruitment I have witnessed many cases whereby a candidate will major on a question which carries minor importance to the hiring manager. Often the temptation is to talk as much as you can about your strongest skills, this may not be what the client is looking for and has led to many well qualified candidates missing out on jobs that they should have secured.

What is the answer to this problem?

Firstly I would advise candidates to speak to their recruitment agent before the interview and ask what are the most important aspects of the job specification from the clients perspective? Clients will typically impress the two or three ‘must have’ qualities upon a recruiter in order that an accurate short list is produced. Preparing information around these aspects and being ready for these questions is a key to success.

Secondly I recommend that candidates aim to offer a concise accurate answer to each question containing some form of tangible information where possible. Finish each answer by asking if the interviewer would like a more detailed description of what you have just stated. Think of plenty of ways to phrase this invitation for an expanded answer so that you do not sound like a parrot.

Finally, learn to read the interviewers body language to help you to identify whether your answer is stimulating positive engagement or not. It is human nature to give away tell tale signs of disinterest, picking up on these can help you as a candidate to steer away from the subject in hand and move on to what is important to your potential employer.

There are many other considerations that you may take when deciding on how to approach each question and I have just skimmed the surface in this article. The most important thing to remember is that the interviewer’s desires and needs are your key to impressing them, identifying these factors and avoiding subjects of non interest will give you a great advantage.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Evaluating and enhancing your secondary skills can make a big impact on your career

Regardless of your profession, core expertise is vital. Employers seek qualified individuals who have frontline experience and who deeply understand their primary activities. As the economy has contracted and competition for jobs has increased, employers often have to choose from multiple candidates who come with such expertise. This means that secondary and tertiary skills are now more important than ever.

If you are not familiar with the term secondary skills I am sure you will gather what I am referring to. Secondary skills are effectively any skills that are used outside of primary skills in order that a professional can complete their objectives. In some cases tertiary skills are also referred to coming after secondary skills in terms of importance.

Examples of secondary skills include your competence on everyday programs such as PowerPoint and excel, stakeholder management and time organisation. There are many other secondary skills and you will often see them described on a job description in the desirable box rather than the essential box. If you wish to be more desirable, developing and improving on these skills sets will certainly help.

Excel and PowerPoint

Technology varies considerably from one company to the next but Excel and PowerPoint are used everywhere. Almost everybody can use both of these programs but there are few experts who are able to truly unlock their potential. The candidates who I have worked with who can produce leading class tables and decks are always those who sit in the higher pay brackets.

One of the best candidates I have worked with managed to double his pay rate over a two year period. A contributor to his success was that he made it his objective to become an Excel expert and played with the program on his home pc for hours on end honing his expertise. Most of us have access to Excel at home so why not copy this individual. You do not need to pay for an expensive course or commit to learning at a fixed time. Youtube has hundreds of excel tutorials that you can follow and soon move from intermediate to expert user.

Like Excel, PowerPoint is installed on most home computers and most procurement professionals that I know of have an intermediate skill level in creating decks. Executives will pay management consultancy day rates to have a PowerPoint expert prepare their decks. Taking the time to develop this skill will enable you to demand instant credibility when presenting to stakeholders, vendors or your own management.

Stakeholder Management

People skills are paramount. Almost every vacancy that we work at Ronin has a requirement for excellent stakeholder management skills. Some people are born with better people skills than others but we can all improve. If you have not yet read ‘How to win friends and influence people’ by Dale Carnegie then this is an excellent place to start http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/How_to_Win_Friends_and_Influence_People . This book was originally published in 1936 but remains extremely relevant. If you have read this book then I am preaching to the converted; but there are many other titles available covering the subject which can be read to achieve continual development.

Time Management and Organisation

If two professionals have the same levels of qualification and aptitude one can achieve far more than the other by being an efficient operator. Time management, organisation and prioritisation are key factors that when effectively executed can multiply output. There are many schools of thought on the most efficient way of organising ones day and as always wikipedia offers a comprehensive overview http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_management . Stephen Covey’s http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Seven_Habits_of_Highly_Effective_People is also a very good read on this subject.

I recently heard of an individual who broke every waking hour inside and outside of work into 2 half hour activity slots and planned what he was going to achieve within each and every slot. His career has excelled at an extreme pace as he literally never wastes any time. Most of us are unable to practice such incredible discipline but improvement in our organisation skills typically leads to better output.


Conclusion

If you are able to identify and develop the secondary skills that have the biggest impact on your success then you will become more successful. This is relevant whether you are trying to achieve a promotion or looking to move to a new company. Enhancing the described skills and other secondary and tertiary skills will not only gain you recognition, it will also make your working life easier and allow you to focus more energy on your core activities.