8 Benefits of having a career mentor

Investing in a career mentor may be an obvious thing to do if you are driven and ambitious and want to rapidly develop your career, but sadly, not enough people take the step of finding someone who can really help them develop professionally. This could be because they don’t know where to find a mentor or feel they do not have the time, however I genuinely feel people are missing out. The reality is that it does take both time and effort to develop a fulfilling and successful relationship with a mentor, however, as I have outlined below, the benefits of this are considerable and can make a real difference in helping you further your career. 1. Focus: One major benefit of having a career mentor is that it can help you stay focused on your objectives and keep on track. We all suffer from distractions, but by expressing and sharing your goals with a mentor you are allowing yourself to be held accountable for achieving those objectives. This added motivation and pressure should therefore enable you to deliver quicker results. 2. Personal Development: Not only can a good mentor share with you their own personal experience, but they are often able to identify your talents and help you to develop them further. Your mentor should help you grow an extended network, which will also benefit you from a development perspective. Talking through things with people more experienced than yourself can only help you to learn and grow quicker, increasing your knowledge and understanding of the field in which you operate. 3. Career opportunities and progression: Having a mentor from within your industry is also another great way to find out about new career opportunities. It is highly likely that they will know what is happening within key organisations and this information can help guide you. Not only could this allow you to be aware of a role before it reaches the open market, but they may also be able to provide you with an introduction or recommendation. In addition to accessing more opportunities, your mentor is likely to be able to give you guidance and advice about moving your broader career forward. 4. Networking: A good mentor is likely, over time, to introduce you to more like-minded individuals from their own professional network. This extended network, if managed correctly, should provide valuable connections throughout your career. A good mentor can open doors for you in a number of different ways and in other areas of life as well. 5. Impartial Advice. The fact that a mentor is independent and not involved directly in any particular situation allows them to provide you with an impartial viewpoint. Whilst you shouldn’t expect your mentor to provide all the answers they should be able to provide you with some “counsel” which will hopefully avoid you making costly mistakes. 6. Developing relevant skills Having a career mentor, particularly one with skills and experience in your sector, can greatly assist you in developing new skills and experiences quicker. This can only be of benefit in accelerating your development and progression. 7. Real life experience A very obvious benefit of having a career mentor is learning from their real-life experiences in the field in which you operate. Due to a mentor’s knowledge of you and your sector, their advice and guidance will be very tailored and specific and therefore much more useful than generalist advice available online. 8. Shared success A mentor is not only someone to provide you with support and advice, but it is also someone to share your successes with. This makes the whole experience rewarding for them as well as for you. This can add further motivation to you and drive you on to even greater success. MAKING IT WORK WITH YOUR MENTOR The theory and indeed benefit of having a mentor is obvious, so why don’t more of us have them? One of the main reasons is that making the relationship work is not that easy, especially amongst the other demands on our time. So what do we need to think about to try and make sure it works, not just for us, but of equal importance, for the mentor. Make the effort Like any relationship, it takes time and effort to get things going and to foster a strong relationship. In this relationship, although it is two-way, you are likely to be the main benefactor and therefore it is only right that you are seen to be making the appropriate level of effort. Establish goals In order for both you and your mentor to gauge and measure the success of the relationship, it is important that you establish goals and objectives and share this with your mentor. Listen and act The acting element is a critical factor because any mentor is going to want to see that you are taking on board their advice and doing something with it. If you do this and it works, it is important to give that feedback to your mentor displaying the gratitude they deserve. Make it formal It is important for both parties to be very clear about what the expectations are. Although a lot of relationships may start informally as they grow and develop, it is important for both parties to understand the parameters around areas such as frequency of contact and subjects to be covered. Mutual benefit A mentor may have a range of motivations for giving up their time, but it is also worth thinking about what you can give them in return. You might perceive, with significantly less experience, that you have a limited amount to offer, but there will always be certain areas such as Social media etc. where you can share your knowledge and experience.
 

Why the way you treat exiting employees is so important

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“Everything ends badly, otherwise it wouldn’t end” (any of our dear readers who can identify the film that this quote comes from will win nothing except my admiration, for what it's worth!) Although a fine example of 80s cinema, I disagree with this quote, particularly when applied to the end of a working relationship. In my view, when you leave a job it doesn’t have to be a negative experience and, while the circumstances of your departure may have an effect on feelings on both sides, it is in everyone’s interests to leave on good terms. We spend our days talking to candidates who are in the process of resigning/working their notice and one thing is clear, this is an area that companies often get wrong. Take the example of an acquaintance who, despite working for a company for 15 years, received no acknowledgement of his departure other than a request to return company equipment. Likewise, a candidate who, despite having an exemplary performance record, was made to work their notice in an office on their own, with nothing to do. There are so many examples like this and I can’t help but feel that the worst examples stem from individual behaviour (and the respective egos involved) rather than a systematic approach by the company involved. One could argue that if an employee is leaving, what does it matter? However, the way outgoing employees are treated speaks volumes, both to the colleagues they leave behind and to the wider market. Let’s be clear, people leave jobs all the time (indeed my mortgage repayments depend on them continuing to do just that!) and it is often the best thing for the individual and for the organisation. It is a difficult time for both parties as they navigate the leaving process – there is an inevitable erosion of trust as soon as an employee resigns (irrespective of how understanding the employer is) and this is exacerbated if the resignation is unexpected. It is so important that employers get over the shock as quickly as possible and strategically ‘manage’ the employee’s departure. By this I mean that they need to take the same care as they would when someone joins the business. But surely, an exiting employee doesn’t deserve the same care and attention as a new joiner, I hear you ask? Well, I would argue the following: Credit where it’s due Chances are that the outgoing employee has served the company well, often over a number of years. Acknowledging this openly can only reflect well on the Manager and the Company and sends a positive message to those employees that remain that their work is valued. It’s a small world It’s a cliché because it’s true – be careful how you treat people because you never know when your paths may cross again. Next time, the shoe may be on the other foot. Don’t speak ‘ill of the dead’ I have worked in environments when, as soon as someone leaves, their name is mud and their (previously glowing) track record is undermined to anyone who will listen. There is a big issue with this in that those who remain will see through this and start to question your integrity. However angry you are about the employee leaving, keep your negative comments to yourself. Use the opportunity Few companies use exit interviews effectively – often they are scripted, tick box exercises to go through the motions. However, I would argue that companies are missing a trick here. Handled effectively, this is a great way of getting some honest and frank feedback about your operation. You reap what you sow As with most things, the way you (or your company) behave towards an exiting employee will leave a mark and this can either be negative or positive. In the world of Social Media, bad feeling and poor practice is easily communicated to the wider market and this can do serious damage to your employer brand. Glassdoor.co.uk illustrates this perfectly. Conversely, handling your leavers with grace will serve you well. When I left my previous employer Capgemini, they were supportive, positive and gracious till the day I left and beyond: my immediate line manager didn’t change their behaviour towards me in any way and a senior manager took time to pop and say goodbye on my last day, thanking me for my efforts. They kindly provided LinkedIn recommendations, which I reciprocated and we have exchanged the occasional email since, if only to wish each other a Happy Christmas. This is typical of their culture and I am consequently vocal about this at every opportunity! Here at AdMore we have so far maintained our zero % staff turnover – something which is incredibly rare in recruitment and which I am fully aware is unlikely to last forever. That said, I hope that when the worst does happen, we manage the situation with good grace and positivity.
 

There is no such thing as "Social Recruitment"

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There is no such thing as “Social Recruitment”   The term social recruitment really bothers me. I’m a pretty literal chap and while I can see a lot of candidate sourcing takes place on ‘social media’ platforms it rarely ever gets truly social. I have read a good number of blogs and discussions about social media and recruitment and I never get the sense that there is a fluid connection between the words ‘social’ and ‘recruitment.’ I ran a google search on ‘Social Recruitment’ and as always Wiki came up with the first hit. The entry was telling: the quote below is the opening statement on Wikipedia, which has referenced Matt Alder’s blog in 2011: “Social recruiting (social hiring or social media recruitment) is recruiting candidates by using social platforms as talent databases or for advertising. Popular social media sites used for recruiting include LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Viadeo, XING, Google+ and BranchOut. Social recruiting is at the intersection of recruitment and social media.[1] The two things that stand out for me are that the entry is relatively short with a definition that is 4 years old, not a bad thing in itself, but that there is a ‘notability’ warning that indicates that the page has been flagged for potential deletion if not given more weight i.e. secondary sources. Also, the definition honestly states that it is all about databases and advertising, whereas 4 years on in 2015, much of the advice from the sages of social recruitment is to avoid ‘broadcasting’ i.e. advertising vacancies. Hmmm, Social? I went back to my google search but the first couple of pages are filled with sites offering tips on how to improve your social media recruitment strategy / plan. So I thought I would go back to what social actually means. I found this definition on Merriam Webster:   : relating to or involving activities in which people spend time talking to each other or doing enjoyable things with each other : liking to be with and talk to people: happy to be with people : of or relating to people or society in general   I am quite prepared for many people to shoot me down here but let’s break this down and think about it from the candidate’s perspective. The first point is really interesting and I am going to be extremely literal (and very Gen X, the Gen Ys will cry!) but talking generally involves the use of one’s mouth which means meeting in person, using a phone or perhaps Skype (etc.). This isn’t ‘social recruitment,’ it is, well, erm…recruitment. It is attending meetings and/or interviews specifically with a recruiter or through general networking. The second point ‘liking to be with,’ is where it gets really interesting and where there is a hard truth to be confronted. Most sane candidates are not a big fan of looking for a job. Granted, there are narcissists in every facet of life, but really, do you honestly think that candidates generally like the process of;  
  1. Writing a CV.
  2. Editing your social media profile(s) to convey the sense that you are not an individual…that you don’t have colourful friends, opinions or a social life.
  3. Sharing detailed personal information with complete strangers.
  4. Being rejected by complete strangers.
  5. Completing online applications for jobs that are, to be honest, not always that exciting but require the candidate to massage the ego of the hiring company by telling them why their brand is the most exciting thing on the planet.
  6. Attending interviews that sometimes are wonderful experiences but all too often soul destroying for anyone over the age of 10.
  7. Doing all of the above under the attentive gaze of a recruiter (internal or agency).
  8. And repeat, and repeat, and repeat.
  Do you really think that candidates like this, that they like looking for a job and talking to recruiters? Do you honestly believe that candidates ‘like to be with’ most recruiters. Of course the most salient point of all is that most candidates don’t like to advertise the fact, through open dialogue on a social platform, that they are engaging with a recruiter. With that in mind there are some very BIG obstacles to recruitment ever being particularly social.   Now, don’t get me wrong, many consultants in recruitment form extraordinarily strong bonds with their candidates, going on to become genuine friends. Sometimes this starts through an introduction on a social media platform. However, this doesn’t make the updates on LinkedIn, your tweets or your blog particularly social. Most interaction on these sites is between other recruiters and consultants to the industry. This is fine but it doesn’t constitute ‘social recruitment’ to me.   Social recruitment does indeed have a place and yes perhaps it occurs after a Digital introduction but; for any aspiring recruitment consultants looking to build a long term career, I would focus a little less on building a ‘social’ digital footprint and a little more on networking (face to face, physical, in the same room, literally, I really mean where you could actually touch each other) with candidates and getting to know them. When the next recession hits the only recruiters that will survive will be the ones with real, tangible, mutually beneficial relationships.   That said, all the advice on ‘social recruitment’ and how to use the various social platforms to interact with candidates and potential clients is absolutely of benefit. It’s the semantics (or maybe pedantics!) that bothers me. “Digital recruitment” perhaps?  
 

Confessions of a broken-hearted recruiter

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As you may have noticed, we are growing our team currently and the responsibility for finding new hires has fallen to me. Now this isn’t the first time I have recruited ‘in-house’ but blimey, can there any be more pressure than recruiting for other recruiters!?? As with any in-house role, you feel acute pressure to deliver results for each vacancy, not least because your client is ever-present and usually extremely senior and influential in the wider business. Fail to meet their expectations and you risk damaging your reputation internally. This is a risk that agency recruiters also face with their clients however the difference being that they don’t have to sit in the same office/ attend meetings/have lunch with said client on a daily basis! The pressure also comes when you have a personal stake in the results. AdMore need new people if we are to grow and my own career development and that of my colleagues depends on us doing just that. Like any recruitment, in addition to finding people that can do the job, I also need to make sure that they will fit within the team – something which becomes more important when you know the individuals in the team so well. Anyone working in agency recruitment will tell you that finding great consultants is difficult, unless you are employing a ‘bums on seats’ hiring strategy! Finding people with the right values, who will be able to engage with candidates and clients at all levels and crucially, win over clients who may have had a poor recruitment experience previously, is no mean feat. They also must be highly commercial, results driven, resilient and hard-working. Most challenging of all, they need to have a ‘spark’, that dreaded Holy Grail that is impossible to judge on paper! Having said all that, recruiting for a company I know inside out and am hugely passionate about is a privilege and great fun so I feel more than up for the challenge. Recently however, I had a reminder of how brutal the role of a recruiter can be and thought it worth sharing the experience. I met a guy. He was capable, driven, well presented, commercial and best of all, he had the ‘spark’! Those of you in recruitment will recognise the feeling when you meet a great candidate, one who you know your client will love. I left our first meeting floating on air. Fair to say I was excited! I was confident that my Directors would like him and that he would fit into the team. Before I knew it, I was imagining him in the office, joining in the daily banter, bringing something new to our team social events. I envisioned him becoming a top biller, delighting candidates and clients with his professionalism and charm. And I, having found this rarest of gems and persuaded him to join our team, would bask in this reflected glory! The problem is, for a moment I forgot the fundamental rules of recruitment, namely: If something is too good to be true, it usually is. If something can go wrong, it probably will. NEVER EVER celebrate a placement until it is water-tight. Like all whirlwind romances, the spark is easily extinguished and it turned out that my candidate had a hidden past, one which I should have explored more thoroughly before getting so carried away. My fantasy disappeared faster than you could say ‘pathological liar’ and left me, well, more than a little broken-hearted. A loss of appetite and sleepless night ensued…how could I have been so stupid? I felt hurt and humiliated that I had put my faith in this person only to be let down and worse still, championed him so passionately him to my Directors. Those of you in recruitment know that this happens and you don’t have long to wallow in self-pity. So, I have dusted myself off and have reminded myself of the fundamental rules of recruitment, namely: Move on quickly and keep focused on the next placement Get back on the bike (phone!) – the next great candidate could be just a call away and… You can’t keep a good woman down!   If you are interested in joining the lovely team at AdMore and have drive, resilience, commerciality and integrity, please contact me at sophie.mackenzie@admore-recruitment.co.uk  
 

Making the move into a Resourcing Career

After leaving university I, like many others, felt very uncertain about the career path I was looking to go down and where to get guidance from. If this is you, don’t worry you are not alone! I began to use the graduate job websites such as Milkround, Target Jobs and Indeed, to have a look at what was out there but I was still unsure whether I wanted to enrol onto a graduate scheme. There are a vast range of websites and tools you can use and to be honest it was a lot to take in. On graduation, I found myself in the leisure industry which I enjoyed for 2 years but ultimately knew that this wasn’t the industry for me long-term. When the opportunity arose to move into the world of resourcing and recruitment, I have to admit it was not an option I had considered before but I went into it with open eyes. It is fair to say that the recruitment industry does not have the best reputation. My initial views of a recruitment role were that the job involved a lot of cold calls to potential candidates, trying to contact them multiple times in one day, texting, emailing until you got through to them. My perception was that recruiters would send across your CV for a number of roles that may not even be suitable for you, suggesting a lack of knowledge around the role and as a candidate being unsuccessful on most occasions. I suppose my experience with a few recruitment agencies in the past meant that I thought all agencies were like this, but I now understand that this is not true. There is a lot more care and time taken in the process which I have learnt during my time with AdMore. So what does my role involve? It is hard to summarise the role into a sentence as it is more complex than you might think and the role often varies. In essence I would say it is a combination of three key components: Assisting in finding the perfect candidate - supporting the consultants in their search. In order to find this “perfect candidate” (ie. the one that gets the job!) it is important to first get a detailed and clear brief as to what the client is looking for and the culture of that company. It is all very well finding the perfect candidate on paper but they also need to fit culturally and finding the right balance can be difficult. Once the brief is understood we then go about using the various tools we have to start the search - this includes getting job ads out there, carrying out searches on social media sites and communicating with potential candidates. Along with this comes the challenge of keeping to strict timelines ensuring consultants have a good selection of candidates to speak with, as well as adapting the search to any changes within the brief. The first brief you search for may change during the course of the process based on feedback from the client and feedback from the consultant. It is key to keep up to date with these changes and keep communicating with the consultant to make sure this is fed through to the sourcing team. Social Media and Recruitment Tools - staying in the loop with the latest tools and advances in social media. Social Media plays a big part and is used in the sourcing team’s daily role. It’s continuously changing and keeping up to date with this is pivotal to our role and the way we search. There are the sites which most people will be familiar with such as LinkedIn or tools such as using Boolean strings in your search, but it is also about finding new tools which can open up new doors to find even more relevant candidates. A recent tool which has been very useful in our recent projects is called ‘Prophet’ and is an extension available on Google Chrome; the tool can be used with a LinkedIn profile and searches the web to find a relevant email address for the profile. Tools such as this help to save time in carrying out the usual email search process and can open up paths to even further information. The power of social media will continue to grow and within sourcing it is important to utilise this as much as possible. To check out our blog on what makes a great sourcer for more information; Click here. Continuous Learning From understanding the difference between area management and buying and merchandising roles to building your knowledge of the Retail & Hospitality industries, there is so much personal learning and development to do in the role. Particularly for those of us who have not had any experience in recruitment it has changed the way I look at Retail, Hospitality and Leisure. Even walking down the high street my eyes have been opened to a whole different side of things. With bundles of specialist knowledge in our team I am constantly learning new things everyday which helps me to better myself and improve my knowledge. Asking questions and making mistakes is all part of the learning and development process but it is all about pushing yourself to continue doing this. Has sourcing been the right move? Having been in the role for 6 months I’m happy to say that the move for me has been the right one; both in terms of the job and the company culture. My initial views of recruitment agencies has been changed and I now see that the right agencies will take time to get to know the clients and their company culture as well as understanding their candidates, their experience and what they are looking for in a role. Now I work in sourcing I have also had the opportunity to view the job search process from the other side. I have a better understanding of what is involved in finding the right person for a job and have also been able to use my previously negative experience as a candidate to create a more positive communication channel with the candidates I speak with. So if you have recently graduated from university and you find yourself in a similar situation to me, my advice to you is to take your time and consider your options. Make sure you do your research around an industry/company and don’t rule out industries based on reputation or hearsay - different companies have different cultures. It is important to find the right one that suits you and if you are open to a role within sourcing I would recommend taking the leap. For more tips on what to do when you graduate, check out our blog
 

10 Things that will happen when you resign

Resigning from your job is often a bit of a rollercoaster - excited by your new position you will be keen to press on and resign, your focus will be on how your line manager will initially react. However, there are a few other things to take in to account. Here are some of the classic points that candidates have mentioned to me in the past:
  • Buyback - You may be offered an incentive to stay with your employer, otherwise known as ‘buy-back.’ I have chosen to highlight this first as, contrary to the nonsense spouted by many within the world of recruitment, I do not believe that ‘buy-back’ is necessarily a bad thing. Depending on your motivation to leave (more money, promotion, change of direction etc.), if your current employer offers you what you want then it won’t necessarily be the end of the world if you choose to stay. Some line managers may take your decision to resign personally, but if they are mature and are able to offer you what you want to stay then that might be the right decision. What I would say is, do not accept anything other than a formal offer/contract specifying the changes. Where buyback does often go wrong for the candidate is when the employer reneges on ‘verbal’ promises. If you would like a slightly longer debunking of the counter-offer myth, Mitch Sullivan’s blog makes excellent and succinct reading! whats-the-real-truth-behind-counter-offers
  • Hero to Zero - Some employers will take your decision to leave personally so if you know your line manager well you will probably be prepared for this. If they are an emotional individual be prepared for a negative reaction. Stay calm; this will often pass once the line manager calms down. They will often come back to you in the future with their blessing…or not at all!
  • The Fire Exit – Yep, we have all heard about removal via fire exit, and it does happen on a remarkably regular basis. You will probably know whether this is likely to happen, based on previous corporate behaviour. It is worth ensuring that you have recorded contact details from your phone / laptop if there is a risk you will have it removed from your possession for confidentiality reasons. It is also worth compiling a list of ‘must’ calls to colleagues to let them know in the aftermath that you are leaving. Noses will be put out of joint if you don’t deliver the message personally.
  • The silent treatment – Depending on the personality of your line manager, or indeed whether they are under pressure, you might find yourself on the receiving end of…nothing. Complete radio silence. Keep professional and see your notice period out without incident.
  • Communication lockdown – Candidates often find the most difficult element post- resignation is being locked out of communications. In all likelihood you will be removed from group email lists, conference calls and other formal communication methods. Don’t take this personally or feel that you are no longer valued; it is merely the business protecting its confidentiality and learning how to cope without you!
  • A mixed reaction from your team – It is great for the ego when you resign and employees break out in floods of tears but equally don’t be surprised if one or two employees are indifferent or worse. Be prepared to factor in additional support for the team members you have made a tangible difference to. A call to each team member after an announcement is never forgotten, even if you didn’t always get along on a personal level.
  • Rebellion – well maybe not quite so dramatic (!) but once you have informed your team and, depending on your notice period (3-6 months is often the most problematic period), you may find that your team stop responding to you in the same way they have done previously. Your and their priorities have changed and you should accept that. Don’t be surprised if there is some political manoeuvring, your team will be keen to impress your line manager. There is an opportunity for you to sponsor one of your team for your own position so it is worth thinking about this ahead of your resignation.
  • Ever decreasing motivation levels – You will of course believe that, as you’re normally highly energetic and motivated, nothing will change post-resignation, that you will remain ultra professional. Well, a lot changes mentally when you resign but perhaps more importantly and due to some of the above points, the scope for what you can achieve changes. Be prepared for your motivation levels to drop significantly - that board meeting or store visit won’t have quite the same edge. Look for opportunities to do things that you didn’t quite find the time for previously - it might be a good time to get back to the ‘shop-floor’ and support a struggling member of your team. Whatever you choose to do ensure you are adding value.
  • The knives are out - Depending on the culture of your employer (this might be why you are leaving of course) you may find that your performance suddenly comes under scrutiny. Those audits that weren’t quite perfect will gain a little more focus, questions will be asked about employee engagement and your P&L will be picked apart by applicants for your role. Just look at Tesco, a new leader will invariably be keen to air any dirty laundry as quickly as possible. There is little point getting involved in these discussions, a dignified response will speak volumes.
  • It’s been a while, but… - People will get in touch with you for the first time in a while - the colleague who moved on 5 years ago and never returned your call, the person in marketing who rarely speaks to you at conference or a supplier you have had challenges with. They will have probably had their reasons for limited contact previously but now is a great opportunity for strengthening your network; listen and offer support to those that seek it. You will be surprised by how many colleagues confide (often for the first time) that they feel the same way as you and will ask for your advice.
  I hope this helps and doesn’t put you off making your next job move!
 

How should a Buyer prepare for interview?

I recently caught up with a Head of Buying who I placed in her current role. We were discussing her disappointment that a lot of Buyers she had interviewed in the past hadn’t sold themselves to her. They didn’t talk about the results they had delivered for the business and if they did have the results / numbers they then weren’t prepared to explain how they had delivered them. This meant that she had to invest extra time and effort just to understand how good they were (or not). This is not the first time I have heard this from a client or indeed experienced it myself when interviewing. There is a variety of reasons this can happen: Short notice for interview means the candidate has a lack of time to prepare. Can you remember what you delivered 5 years ago off the top of your head and how you went about it? Can you talk confidently and credibly with those numbers in your head? It is rare to be able to do this without some level of preparation, particularly when nerves come into play. It can also happen when a candidate has been loyal to a business and has been there some time. When was the last time you had to remind people of what you have delivered and sell yourself? Probably in a performance review some time ago. Since then you have built a reputation internally so don’t need to revisit the numbers or the detail. This puts you at a disadvantage simply because you are out of practice at interviews and at selling yourself. I find it frustrating that really good candidates aren’t always successful in interviews for reasons like these. So, here is the advice I give my candidates about preparing for an interview…in short, Prepare! Obvious? You would be surprised. To thoroughly prepare for an interview, here are some considerations:
  1. Working in Retail gives you the significant advantage of being able to research your prospective employer by visiting a store (if it is a bricks and mortar retailer) or visiting their ecommerce site. Even if you did it a month ago by chance, do it again before the interview! Look at the range, the promotions, pricing, the store layout, what is good/ bad, how do you feel going in, and on leaving? You will be able to provide valuable insight for the business to consider and this demonstrates great commitment from you. This will really help the conversation if you are nervous as it gives some common ground to discuss.
  2. SWOT – Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Even a one page of notes at first stage will be useful to show you have prepared, are keen and have some thoughts to bring to the conversation. This will also help you as a candidate to understand the business better and evaluate if this is a business you want to work for. It’s impressive to a client and can help you be the one they invite back. As the process progresses, you may be asked to prepare a SWOT on a product range specifically and this is your opportunity to demonstrate your creativity, commercial knowledge and insight into the market.
  3. Be prepared to discuss your Black Book. As a buyer, your industry contacts and supplier base form part of your professional ‘brand’ and any prospective employer will want to know what you will be bringing with you. This may need some discretion however it is worth thinking about this as part of your preparation.
  4. Highlight your key achievements for each of your roles separately from your CV, refresh yourself and do a STAR – Situation, Task, Action and Result or CAR. For further guidance on this, click here. These notes will be revision for you and give you confidence.
  5. If you have a JD, read it thoroughly and make notes where it highlights the key requirements and where you have that relevant experience. Combine this with your key achievements notes above, and it allows the interviewer to tick off what they are looking for. This is especially helpful if the first stage interviewer is a member of the HR or Recruitment team and is not the commercial line manager.
  6. Be passionate – show you want the job. Not any job - this job, with this
  7. Know the company - Look at the company website, look at the news on the business in industry publications, Retail Week, Drapers etc. Make sure you know what is going on right now and that you are able to list 3 reasons why you are interested in working there.
  8. Look at the company on LinkedIn. Have you worked with someone who now works there? If so, drop them an invite to ask them how they are getting on.
  I am sure there will be additional rituals you have in order to prepare - I tend to power dress and buy something new for the interview to give myself more confidence and ensure those first 30 seconds of impression count! The key is preparation and I can’t stress enough how important it is to allow enough time to prepare for any interview, after all, “retail is detail.” Good luck!  
 

How to find the right company culture for you

With a rapidly improving jobs market candidates are starting to enjoy more options when it comes to developing their career than they have experienced for a number of years. So, with candidates facing more career choices both internally and externally, making the right career decision is critical. We have previously talked about how to handle multiple offers (click here) we want to focus on how to make sure you identify the right cultural fit. Finding an organisation where you “fit” and where your values are aligned is as important as finding a role which has the right scope and challenge. So, what do you need to consider when identifying whether the culture will be a fit and is it really that important? Why is it so important to work in a culturally-aligned organisation? Working in an aligned culture is important on a number of levels.
  • Success - your level of success is likely to be greater in an environment where your style and behaviour are in line with those of the company and its other employees. Being great at your role is sometimes not enough to develop your career. In some cultures it is also about how you do your role and whether you are seen to embody the values and ethics of the business.
  • Happiness – most of us spend the majority of our lives at work and so working in an environment that doesn’t fit and where we don’t enjoy the working environment can have a very negative impact on our happiness. Different organisations have quite different expectations of their employees not only on a professional level but also on a social level. Some cultures are work hard/play hard and this type of environment won’t suit everyone. In a smaller business some of these issues can be magnified and therefore finding the right working environment will have a real impact on our happiness in the workplace.
  • Culture is more than just values – there are lots of definitions out there about culture but ultimately, it is a combination of how a business expects it’s employees to behave and work and how it treats them in response. It is about style and expectations. There are a lot of elements to consider when determining whether you think it is the right fit for you.
  • Horses for courses – often people assume that there are good cultures and bad cultures and that Google and Facebook are the best companies to work for in the world. Google has a fantastic culture but the point is that their culture won’t suit everyone. Yes, there are generic elements that make companies a good place to work but many elements of a culture are much more personal. For some people, joining a highly sociable business where the expectation is that you are out socialising with colleagues all the time is fantastic but for others it just doesn’t suit their lifestyle. When trying to assess a culture it has to be in the context of what is right for you as an individual.
  What cultural factors do you need to think about? Here are some of the factors which affect culture and whether someone will fit in:  
  • Social Life – are you looking for a highly social culture or one where there is much greater separation? What are the organisation’s expectations of activity outside of working hours?
  • Behaviours – what drives the culture and the people in it? How professional or fun is it (these needn’t be mutually exclusive!)?
  • Environment – do you feel you fit best in a highly structured, corporate, political environment or more so in an open, creative, unstructured environment?
  • Working patterns – what are the organisation’s expectations? Is there the freedom to work at home? Does the business have a long hours culture or expect you to undertake a significant amount of travel? Does it have reasonable expectations of its people?
  • Office – do you want a loud, social and open plan office environment or one with closed offices and very individual ways of working?
Again, it all comes back to what you believe is going to be right for you and the next step is to try and find out more about an organisation’s culture. How to research a company’s culture? Some would argue that the time to research the company is before you even make an application, saving you and others time if it is clearly not going to be a good fit. Whether it is part of your pre-application or indeed pre-interview research, it is really important that you conduct as much research as possible to understand culturally what the organisation is like to work for. There is a wealth of information out there for you to review prior to your interview.
  • Social Media – the rise of social media has significantly increased our accessibility to information about organisations. By looking at companies on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter you can gain a really useful insight into the attitude of the company and how it interacts with its customers and employees.
  • Glassdoor – this is a site that we use and is a great way to gain an insight into what it is really like to work for an organisation. It has a number of different features but in essence, it is a review site of organisations.   Clearly most organisations will have some negative reviews from disgruntled employees looking to leave but you can read between the lines to understand more about the realities of working in their culture.
  • Company website - an organisation’s website is a good indicator about how they want to be perceived in the market. It will give you some good information around size, market focus etc. It should also give you an insight into their strategy and goals. The point I would make here is that this is just a shop window; this is how they want themselves to be viewed and in some cases may be quite different from the reality of working for the company.
  • Backgrounds of other employees – using LinkedIn to identify the backgrounds of the other people working in the business/department/team may give you further insight. What type of businesses and cultures have they worked in previously and do they seem to employ like- minded people?
  • Use your network – do you know anybody that currently or has previously worked for the business? In some circumstances, confidentiality may prevent you from reaching out but in most cases you will be able to speak to people to find out the realities of working for the organisation. My word of caution here is that, of course, their overall perception will be governed by the extent to which the culture suited them personally however again, this is another tool that will help you build a greater understanding.
  What to ask at an interview to understand a company’s culture?  
  • Ask direct questions about the culture. Most interviews will of course try and be as positive as possible because they are trying to sell the opportunity however you will still be able to read between the lines and pick up some additional information about how the organisation works.
  • Ask about reward and personal development. This will give you a good indication as to its philosophy on people and how they are treated. How much investment does it make in its people?
  • Ask about leadership style in the business? Is the culture very direct and results driven or perhaps more values-led? What style will suit you best?
  • Ask about the company’s values and objectives – does the interviewer know them? Are they just written on a poster somewhere or is it the real DNA that determines how the business works day to day.
  • See for yourself -attending an interview gives you a great opportunity to get a true sense of the working environment. Not only from a physical perspective i.e. how it is laid out but also from in terms of its vibe and feel? Are people chatting? Is the energy positive or negative? Although this is only an insight, it will build upon the picture you are building.
  Due Diligence Making the effort throughout the recruitment process to really understand an organisation’s culture and how the reality may differ from perception will greatly assist you in making the right career decisions. Going for team drinks is another way to try and find out the “real” culture of the business, this will give you the best possible feel for the personality of the people you will be working with. Making the right decision As I have discussed the first part has to be about understanding what is important to you as an individual and what style of working will suit you best. Once you understand this you can better assess potential employers doing the necessary due diligence discussed above to see how well you will really fit into the organisation’s culture. Being successful is hard work for everyone but find yourself in the wrong culture and the odds are steeply against you. In reality, it will be very difficult to find a company culture that is totally aligned however it should be achievable to find one where your values can co-exist. Finding a culture where your values, beliefs and ways of working are in some way aligned should make for a much happier, rewarding and successful employment.
 

Now is the time to push your salary up!

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Now is the time to push your salary up! One of the best things that I get to do in my job, albeit not so much over the recession, is to advise candidates that they should be asking for more money.  
  • We are not in recession any more, we are in growth.
  • The jobs market is tightening; More jobs & fewer candidates.
  • Most retailers have by-and-large stabilised…even Tesco.
  You will have seen the press recently about large scale pay increases in the US, with Walmart, McDonalds and Dominos all making significant pledges: http://www.mlive.com/business. There is also a growing pressure on government, in the UK, to increase the minimum wage or move to a living wage model. But how does this impact you? Well, anecdotally, we have seen significant improvements over the past 12-18 months on salary & packages at the mid-senior management level (£50-150k). Indeed, the job market has tightened quite considerably since Autumn 2014. The unemployed candidate pool has shrunk to almost normal levels (in Retail at this level), with the usual ebb and flow one would expect in this space. The influx of people coming out of P4U and Tesco over the last 6 months has barely been felt with most people back in employment incredibly quickly. When you compare to the collapse of Woolies, Comet et al, it is a different world. Many people at mid level look at some of the less positive national employment data and wrongly assume that this applies to all job functions and levels. It doesn’t. Retail cut faster and harder than any other employment sector. A full year ahead of Lehmans, we saw this from late summer 2007.  8 Years ago! The public sector is still trying to align itself to the real world with various predictions of the budget not being balanced until 2020, or beyond (12 years to get the house in order… you are lucky if you get 12 weeks in retail if the numbers drop, but hey-ho!). Retail is now under-resourced in many functions, especially the newer areas such as digital. Over the recession Area Managers and Divisional Managers were seen as a cost centre, and were cut accordingly. As a result succession was stymied and a talent shortage is developing across the market. As growth kicks in, plenty of big retailers are knocking on the door of double digit L4L’s in some categories / geographies; and field managers will be seen as a profit centre. L&D is getting investment again too. I am seeing this talent shortage now - in the agency world you have the benefit of working with multiple clients so you develop a relatively balanced view. So demand is beginning to exceed supply and we all know what that drives. A cynic might accuse me of driving the wrong behaviours or expectations. Go for it, that’s fine. The reality is that many large employers have taken advantage over the recession because supply exceeded demand. So, at long last, I am getting the opportunity to say to some candidates… “Don’t undervalue yourself, you should be asking for more.” Happy days!   P.S. I am seriously going to regret this blog given I have a number of offers pending!
 

How to discuss your salary expectations at interview?

How to discuss your salary expectations at interview? What salary are you looking for?  This question is asked in most interviews but remains for many candidates, one of the most awkward and challenging questions to deal with at interview. The reason behind this is the fear of losing out – either losing out financially by ‘low balling’ your expectations versus what the company is happy to pay or on the other hand, pricing yourself out of the running because they feel your demands are too high. Clearly, neither side wishes to waste their time if your target salary is way off. As the employment market continues to strengthen and the market becomes more ‘candidate driven’, we are going to see an upward shift in salaries. Negotiating an appropriate salary in a rising market takes thought, consideration and understanding. So how is the best way to discuss your salary expectations at interview?
  • Don’t ask too early - When it comes to discussing salary at interview it is all about ensuring it is done at the appropriate time. From your perspective, asking about it too early can create a perception that you are purely financially motivated and mercenary in approach thereby potentially ruining your chances. For obvious reasons you will be much better placed to ask the question and hopefully agree a higher amount, once you have demonstrated your capability and culture fit and they are interested in you joining their organisation.
  • Deflect the question if asked too early - If the question of salary is poised by the client at an inappropriate time i.e. too early in the process, then do not be afraid to deflect the question. There are a number of ways to do this in a professional and courteous way. The first may be to suggest that you really need more information about the job before you can start to discuss salary. Alternatively, you could just try to bounce it back to the interviewer by asking what the budgeted salary is for the position or indeed the salary range they are looking to pay. It makes it difficult for them not to answer your question but you should be aware that some interviewers will still come back and ask you for a figure. A more positive approach could be to suggest that you can come to an agreement on the right compensation if the position represents a good fit for both parties or “perhaps we can revisit this question when we get to that point?”
Another possible way to deflect the question is to respond by stating that salary is not an important factor to you. However, if that is the message you wish to convey then don’t be surprised if, when it comes to negotiating your offer, your bargaining position has been weakened. You may want to position instead that you are flexible with regards to salary because of the attractiveness of the business, the role and future career potential. Which ever of the above tactics you choose it is really important that it is handled in an appropriate way. You may be a fantastic candidate with all the right skills and experience but mishandling the question at this early stage could well jeopardise your chances. Just to be clear though, you cannot deflect the question completely it is just a case of establishing the most appropriate time to have that discussion. Failure to discuss it at all could lead to them guessing what they believe you are looking for!  
  • Clarification – depending on how you identified the opportunity in the first place hopefully you will have some awareness of the salary parameters. If the role was advertised the salary bandings may have been outlined in the ad or if you were called by a recruiter then they should have indicated the bandings to you. If you have not been made aware, if asked for your salary expectations you have a good opportunity to push back and seek clarification from them before asking for some time to reflect.
 
  • Research the market - Prior to attending the interview it is worth researching your sector to try and best understand the market rate for the role you have applied for. Although every role will be specific in terms of responsibilities you should still be able to get a feel for a salary range or benchmark for the type of role. This can be used as a way of discussing your salary expectations based on what you understand the market rate to be rather than being pushed to provide a specific figure. There are a number of websites such as Glassdoor.com which may help with this.
   
  • Think it through – this may be a surprising comment to make but candidates often make changes to their salary expectations once they have really thought it through. In reality there are many factors and variables that will affect this figure and they should be taken into account. Make sure you have dedicated time to think about how that particular role, working patterns, office location etc. etc. would impact you and where the salary would really need to be in order for you to make a move. It will land poorly with the client if you provide guidance of one figure only to increase it by 15% at the end of the process. This is likely to be interpreted as brinkmanship and may erode the good will you have built up through the process.
 
  • Use a recruiter – clearly one of the major benefits of using a recruiter to secure a new position is the part they play in negotiations. With a strong relationship and a good understanding of the client they should be best placed to push the salary without jeopardising your application. It is generally in their interest (within reason) to negotiate you a higher salary and so, positioning this in the right way at the right time, they will be focused on trying to deliver an offer that is acceptable to both parties. Many of the comments above apply to you dealing with the consultant but it is important that you are fully open and honest with them to ensure they can negotiate effectively on your behalf.
   
  • It’s actually about the package – one of the major reasons in my opinion that salary is difficult to talk about is that actually it is all about the package. If the package for the prospective role is better than your current package on every level in terms of pension contributions, holidays etc. etc. then you might consider a modest salary increase because overall you will be better off. To be able to accurately weigh up your salary expectations it is really important to know the detail of not only your current package but also the package for the role you have applied for. Considerations should be made to the following factors and their importance to you - all of them will have a bearing on your desired basic salary. Pension – level of company contributions, car – does it include private mileage? Healthcare – single or family? holiday days, car or car allowance. When considering the offer they will offer base it on the information you have provided them with. So when they ask you for your current salary information, be as detailed as possible eg. list your basic salary, car (what this is worth), pension (%contributions), and benefits. Crucially include bonus potential and ideally tell them what you earned in bonus in the last qualifying period. It also makes it clear that all these things are important to you.
 
  • Negotiating - when it comes to the actually negotiation your salary, like any negotiation it will fundamentally be about how much they want you to join, how many other candidates they have to choose from and of course, from your perspective, how much do you want the job? Towards the end or at the end of the recruitment process when you are asked the specific question it is clear that you need to have a considered and rational view about why you should be paid a particular figure. It is important that this is not delivered in an aggressive or defensive manner but a calm and reasoned way. The rationale is very important and should be backed up by key points, whether that is to reflect the difference in packages, a greater commuting distance or the market rate. Explaining that you need more money to pay for your kid’s education is probably not going to wash. You should be realistic and look for a respectful increase on what you are currently being paid.
As a candidate, your negotiating power increases the later it is done in the process, assuming of course, that the client is interested in hiring you. However, the balance to this could be that if you are worlds apart in your views around what you are worth, then this may lead to ill feeling and a waste of time for everybody. It has to be said that much of the advice provided above could be looking at this question from an overly cynical perspective. After all, you would hope that most organizations would be paying a fair market rate for the skills and experience you would bring to the role and won’t be going into these discussions hoping to get someone “on the cheap”. However, let’s be realistic. In these days of austerity and cost control, if a line manager believes that they can secure you for a few thousand less, then in reality they are likely to do so. This isn’t without its risks of course. Paying you much below market rate would be risking your potential tenure in the role. It is important that if you give the minimum figure you would look at, be sure that you really mean it! Don’t assume that an employer will want to be generous – rest assured they will take you at face value. Think about your absolute minimum. Then think about how you would feel if they offered you that figure. If you are left feeling disappointed, with a bitter taste in your mouth and a knot in your stomach, chances are you have sold yourself short!!! Your minimum figure should be one that you will be happy to accept. Whilst my comments above will hopefully give you some ideas about how to handle the salary question unfortunately there is no single approach that will be right for every situation. Depending on the timing of the questions and the circumstances for both you and the client, you may need to handle the situation in a different way. Hopefully the advice above will assist you and ensure you are better equipped when asked the inevitable question.   salary cartoon