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 . 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 . Stephen Covey’s 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.


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.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

How to get ahead on post employment referencing

This week I have decided to briefly discuss post employment referencing, its drawbacks and how as a candidate you can take advantage of these to rise above the field.

The problems with post employment referencing

In today’s world many employers will not give a bad reference for fear of the repercussions. In fact it is policy within some of the largest companies in the world to only confirm tangible facts such as start and finish dates and attendance during a period of employment. From a recruiters perspective this makes it difficult to use references as a credible source of information to determine the integrity of a CV and an individual’s performance during each period of employment.

In the cases where we are able to obtain a detailed reference relating to a candidates performance we must also question the value of the source. Most candidates will give a name of a contact that they had a good relationship with on the basis that they can trust that individual to say the right thing. If a friend is giving a reference it is unlikely to be an unbiased version of the truth. The use of intelligent questioning in such cases where the referee is not sure of the answer the recruiter is looking for is a strong tactic for extracting more accurate information.

When an individual leaves a job, negative emotions often enter into the equation and distort the employers’ memories of the value that was contributed by the employee. The best run businesses have staff that believe in the mission and buy in to the business as if they are part of a family or tribe. When an individual seeks pastures new and turns their back on the mission they are sometimes discredited in order that the mission remains paramount. This can again distort the accuracy of the reference that can be obtained and place the candidate in an inferior light.

How to gain an advantage

I believe that candidates can collect reference material throughout their time with each employer and that this can be carried out with minimal time investment.

Most companies conduct quarterly or annual performance appraisals. In these meetings an employee’s performance, competency, attitude and training needs are reviewed and documented. You can hold onto any documentation that comes out of these reviews and create a PDF containing a compilation of these documents to pass to future employers. This gives an accurate and unbiased assessment of your performance throughout the employment.

Stakeholder Management is of key importance to most of our clients. It is easy to claim that you have strong stakeholder management skills but somewhat harder to prove. I suggest that you take it upon yourself to create a post project review document and ask your stakeholder to score their satisfaction based upon your communication, expertise, delivery and results. Also offer an opportunity for the stakeholder to offer additional comments. This can be completed over email and emails can be saved and compiled to present to future employers.

Before leaving a job contact HR and ask for a copy of your file. Data protection law gives you the right to have access this information so you should not have a problem obtaining it. If the file is too big or holds information that you would prefer to keep confidential you should ask HR to provide a letter containing details on your attendance and discipline record during the employment. With the other documents that I have already mentioned a confirmation that you had no disciplinary action and a high attendance percentage should serve to complete all of the information any potential employer would seek to know about you.

How you will benefit

Taking the above action will paint an accurate picture of your credibility, reduce the risk of slander and put you in an excellent light with your next employer when they see how well organised you are. It will also buy instant credibility with recruitment agents who you are asking to represent you as they can be confident that you are a high calibre individual. If you encounter any objections from your current employers to my suggestions I would advise you to explain that it is to their benefit that you are keeping continuous accurate records of your performance as it results in you ensuring that your performance is consistently excellent.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Your Personal Brand

For those of you who enjoyed the television show ‘The Apprentice’ in 2010 like I, you will definitely recall one contestant named Stuart Baggs. Stuart famously said “I’m Stuart Baggs ‘The Brand’ – I’ve got a certain type of charisma.”

Now to most of us this type of arrogance is distasteful and should certainly not be adopted as a strategy to win friends and influence people. However, Stuart is on the correct track in seeing himself as a brand and this perception is missed by many.

Every decision that you make regarding your career becomes a part of your history and therefore determines your future value within the marketplace. You may think that you can be economical with the truth when writing your CV or explaining yourself in the interview room but consistent errors will be difficult to hide and will force recruiting managers to draw a conclusion on your character.

Time within each role

My key activity is hiring permanent and interim procurement professionals. When my clients review CV’s they often comment on the amount of jobs an individual has held. With interims it goes without saying that the individual will be moving on to a new assignment every six months to two years. Over a ten year span, ten to fifteen interim assignments is perfectly acceptable. What clients want to see from each interim assignment is that the objective hired for has been achieved. It is important therefore that when an interim takes on a new assignment that they single-mindedly aim to achieve there objectives and can therefore demonstrate value when discussing the position with future employers.

Permanent candidates should look at their CV’s differently.  If you were hiring a new permanent employee how long would be a reasonable amount of time for you to expect them to stay with you? Two years is a minimum amount of time to stay with one employer unless there are exceptional circumstances. If you move on in less than two years you are unlikely to have achieved all that you can within the role, gained a promotion, fulfilled that role and repaid the faith shown by the manager who hired you.  You may not be worried by any of the above, but what should concern you is how this affects your personal brand.

A potential employer might have questions over your character if you consistently move companies before you have achieved your objectives. Here is a short list of possible conclusions they may draw from perceived job hopping;
  • That you lack commitment
  • That you had character clashes with other employees
  • That you were unable to meet the demands of the role
  • That you were overlooked for promotion and therefore forced the issue by going to the open market
  • That you are motivated by financial greed and acted as a mercenary looking for the highest bidder

The above is an extreme list and does not represent my views. They are however all statements that I have heard from hiring managers in the past. With justifiable reasons to explain each move, I as a recruiter am able to defend candidates, however when a pattern of job hopping arises, it becomes somewhat harder to defend.

My advice is to think long and hard before deciding to change jobs and when you accept a new job, commit in your mind to spending at least two years there.

Day to day effort

From the first day in a post you are contributing to your next reference, unless you plan to stay at the firm until retirement. Think about how you have behaved on each of your first days throughout your life. Clean shoes, clean shaven, neatly pressed clothes, 30 minutes early. Why limit this behaviour to your first day, week or month. The behaviour described should be continued throughout your working career. Never relax or take your position for granted. You should leave work each day knowing that you have given your all and that you would be happy to employ somebody who acted like you.

Be wise with your words

Avoid office politics and do not criticise other individuals. Idle gossip should have been left in the playground. Talking negatively about others does not make anyone think positively about you. Avoid offering your opinions on any taboo subjects. Being impartial and focused purely on the mission will command respect and add to your personal brand.

Social Media

It is advisable to avoid inviting work colleagues into your personal life through social media such as twitter and facebook. Everybody has the right to let their hair down at weekends and have fun. In order to maintain your reputation as a serious professional in the workplace it is better not to share your personal life, it certainly doesn’t aid your personal brand. You should also lock settings in order that only your friends can view your profile, choose your profile pictures carefully as these will be on public display whether you like it or not.

In conclusion, remember that your career will be defined by far more than your talents and abilities. Remembering to make the right decisions and value your own brand does not take a great deal of effort, mastering this art will lead to a rewarding future from both an external and internal perspective.