How do you know whether you are being engaging at interview?

In some ways, attending an interview is like a first date: two potentially interested parties meeting for the first time to see if there is a spark, a connection which warrants further exploration! Arguably, an interview is more like speed-dating – more likely to be conducted under pressure in a limited time frame rather than over a lingering 3 course meal. Like mobile phones and Facebook (!), speed dating didn’t exist when I was young, free and single so I have limited experience of this phenomena however I know of one marriage at least which has resulted from it. When it comes to interviewing, you have a very short amount of time to win over your audience. It is no cliché to say that first impressions count (we have written about this here) . Getting things off to a positive start is crucial – some people may make their minds up about you instantly and so the rest of the interview will either be spent reinforcing their positive first impression or doing everything you can to turn them around! But how do you know how it’s going? What indicators should you be looking for to ascertain whether you are being engaging? Body Language We all know the classic negative body language indicator of folded arms. Likewise, crossed legs, sitting back in their chair, fidgeting, looking around the room or checking the time may all be a sign that your interviewer is losing interest. Positive indicators are: leaning towards you, ‘open’ body language (arms and shoulders relaxed), taking notes. From the first handshake, your interviewer’s body will be giving you clues about their level of engagement. Don’t be alarmed if you pick up on some of these negative indicators early on in the interview – it may not be about you. They may have just finished a meeting or a discussion with their boss, they may be thinking about a deadline they have to meet later in the day. Your job is to get their attention and make them glad they spent an hour with you! Eye Contact Put simply, if someone likes you, they look you in the eye. To clarify, a continuous hard stare may be an indicator that they are unimpressed however, if your interviewer looks you in the eye regularly and it feels naturally part of the conversation, then chances are they are engaged with what you are saying. Active Listening There is an art to listening well. You have to show someone that you are listening and when someone is engaged with what you are saying, they will do this subconsciously. Nodding, responding to what you are saying with facial expressions or an encouraging “hmm” and reflecting your words are useful indicators. When someone is actively listening you will feel that you are being heard. Smiling A smile is often faked but if this is the case, it will be glaringly obvious. A genuine smile however will make you feel encouraged and will help you relax. If your interviewer is smiling, they will be enjoying the interview and hopefully thinking ‘great, I have found someone I would like to work with’! Rapport Call this rapport or chemistry – it is almost impossible to define but we all recognise it when we experience it with someone. In an interview situation, this may be something as simple as using the same phrases/language or laughing at the same thing. It is usually more obvious when discussing your interests outside work when there is more chance of finding shared experiences. If your interviewer opens up about their own personal life – talking about their family for instance, this is a good indicator that rapport has been established. Closing the deal We have all been interviewed by someone with a poker face who is impossible to read. I have taken feedback from candidates so many times when they say that their interviewer ‘gave nothing away’ and this is a proven technique for some interviewers. However, you will often find that if it has gone very well, the interviewer will not be able to help themselves! They may give some definitive feedback or make it clear that you will be invited back for the next stage. In some cases, they will get so carried away that they will make an offer there and then – be wary if this happens and, while being suitably grateful and pleased, suggest that you need to discuss with your family and will give them an answer asap. Chances are, your gut reaction will let you know whether it has gone well however, take heed – I know of one candidate many years ago who was so pleased with how their interview went, they hugged the interviewer on their way out! Probably wise to keep Public Displays of Affection out of the interview process...

What recruiters really want to see on a CV

What recruiters really want to see on a CV There is so much advice out there about how to write a CV, some of which can be found on this very blog! There is no question that people struggle when it comes to writing a CV and need guidance about how it should be structured however, this is only part of the story. As confidence returns to the economy, more people will decide to take the plunge and change jobs. In this highly competitive market, you need to ensure that your CV stands out so, over and above making sure it is well presented, what will make you more attractive? What do recruiters really want to see on a CV? In recruitment, whether working for an agency or directly for a company, we see a myriad of CVs on a daily basis. We are used to screening CVs quickly to ascertain whether they match our client’s brief however, rest assured, we are doing more than giving CVs a cursory glance. With limited time to speak to every candidate who applies, we need to look for clues in a CV which indicate whether a candidate is strong and also whether they are likely to match the values and culture of our clients. Here are some of the things recruiters like to see on a CV: Track record Recruiters love to see hard evidence on a CV. Tangible results and achievements, preferably with specific numbers, £s and % increases will set you apart from other candidates who use generic statements about their performance. Saying you’re good isn’t enough – you need to prove it. Brand consistency This very much depends on the individual situation and the preference of each client however, seeing a candidate who has worked for a number of competitor brands can make them attractive if this is important to the client. Conversely, the client may be looking for someone who has worked in a variety of sectors in which case brand variety will work in your favour. There is no question though that having worked for a market leading brand, whatever the sector, is extremely powerful. Clear progression Evidence that you have been promoted or been given greater responsibility is clearly an indicator of good performance. Seeing clear progression every couple of years will make you an attractive candidate and is particularly important if you have worked for a long time in the same company. Extra-curricular activities Are you a member of a working party in your company? Are you a mentor or coach for someone in your team? Anything which suggests that you go above and beyond your role remit gives the recruiter an indication that you are a. committed, b. passionate and c. a good candidate. After all, to be invited to do extra-curricular activities, you generally have to be good at what you do. Giving back CSR is important for most companies now and so evidence that you are involved with your company’s CSR programme or indeed involved with voluntary activities in your personal life can indicate a cultural alignment which will be of strong interest to some companies. Whether it is holding the post of School Governor or fundraising for a local charity, your willingness to give something back gives insight into you as a person and your value-set – something which is very important for many of our clients. Out of hours Tread carefully when listing hobbies and interests and use sparingly making sure they are interesting and different. Some would argue that spending time with family should be a given and does not qualify as a hobby!? Coaching your child’s football team or running marathons gives the recruiter yet more information about you and is useful as an ice breaker in an interview. Testimonials Used sparingly for added impact, testimonials on your CV can be hugely powerful however they must be from a credible source. Referees The credibility of your referees speaks volumes, especially if they are from your current company as this indicates that you are confident about your performance in your current role. Always take care of course to specify on your CV that the referee should only be contacted with your express permission and after you have resigned. And what Recruiters may worry about… Mind the gap! Recruiters are very good at spotting anomalies on your CV so be careful to explain the reasons for any gaps. Change in status Any significant change in status – a perceived reduction in remit/responsibility or drop to a lower grade/role will raise questions. There are often legitimate reasons for this (career change, relocation for instance) so it is worth adding a note to explain. Attention to detail There is simply no excuse for spelling or grammatical mistakes on a CV. A lack of attention to detail suggests to the Recruiter that you don’t care.   As ever, the key is to make yourself as attractive as possible to recruiters, giving yourself the best possible chance of being invited to interview. Paying extra attention to some of these areas will hopefully tempt recruiters to give you a call.   For further reading about CVs, click here: 6 reasons to keep your CV updated Is it really that difficult? Top tips on how to write a CV     Get your FREE CV Template

Flexible working – what it means to me

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For those of you who stumble across our blog regularly, you will know that I recently returned from 6 months’ Maternity Leave. I have previously compared life with a new baby to the scene in the film I am Legend where Will Smith cowers in the bath with his dog, waiting for night to fall and the zombies to arrive. Night time brings no relief, at least not in my house, so the past few months at work have seen me struggling on very little sleep and amusing my colleagues with my inability to get the tea order right!
In addition to chronic sleep deprivation, I have had:

One sick day (Norovirus, yuk)
One early finish (to collect sick baby from nursery)
Two days off looking after my sick baby (virus)
One early finish (to take said baby to the doctors)
One day working from home (traffic issues)
Several early finishes to ensure I get back in time to collect children from childcare (due to said traffic issues)
One late start due to School Nativity

You may well be thinking that I am the world’s most unreliable employee and I must admit that this is how I have felt in recent months. Had my company not been so understanding, I fear for my sanity! Furthermore, this list doesn’t account for the other steps I have had to take to keep family (and work) going, namely, calling the cavalry down from the North (my parents) to babysit so I could make up the time lost and come in to work on my day off, drafting in my long-suffering neighbour to pick up the children when I was stuck in traffic, my husband taking days off to minimise further impact on my job and the evenings spent in front of the laptop so as to not miss a deadline.

For working parents, I’m guessing this may hit a nerve and I know from speaking to friends in a similar position that they too are stretching their employer’s flexibility to the limit - compounded at this time of year with bad weather, traffic and never-ending child-born viruses.

I am incredibly grateful that I work for a company who are able (and willing) to be supportive of my personal situation and (I hope) they know that I will repay that flexibility in the months and years to come when my children are older and less prone to sickness.

But what of my colleagues who don’t yet have children and may never have them? Is their personal life less important? Absolutely not.
Over the past few months, I have been acutely aware that I have been given latitude that some of my colleagues have not needed. Although I have greater need of flexibility at the moment, what does flexibility mean to them and how, as a company, do we make sure our approach is equitable?

There is no question that, until I had children, I could count my total career sick days on one hand. As life moves on, employees arguably have greater need of flexibility, whether that be when they start a family or god forbid, when they need time off to care for sick relatives. What is clear is that a company’s willingness to show flexibility speaks volumes about their Values and how they treat their people.
This needs to be balanced with a sensible approach on the part of the employee and requires trust on both sides.
For my part, it helps that I am in a role which lends itself to flexible working – I am in control of my own workload and am able to work from home in emergencies. I appreciate that in some positions, it is impossible to work flexibly without prior notice and someone to replace you.

In January, we are launching a formal Flexible Working Policy. The new policy will enable team members to stagger start and finish times so they can factor in social time – to go out after work, catch an earlier flight, have a lie in, book a hair appointment, hit the golf course – without detracting from core business hours. Hopefully, in addition to our current ability to work from home, this will enhance our team’s work-life balance and ensure that everyone feels the benefit of flexible working.

Flexibility will always mean different things to different people depending on the life stage they are at and the challenge for any company is how they tailor their approach to the individual’s needs. As our own business grows, this will become a greater challenge. For the moment I am just grateful that my company is willing to bear with me until I get back on an even keel and trusts me not to abuse their generosity.



Why it’s important to be consistent with your salary expectations

Why it's important to be consistent with your salary expectations   Thankfully, the job market is really picking up so if you are looking for a new role currently, you will hopefully be called upon to manage a job offer in the near future. Offer Management, as we call it in the wonderful world of recruitment, is possibly the most important part of the recruitment process. Too many people make the mistake of thinking that once they’ve nailed the interview process then that’s it, however years of experience has shown me that sometimes the offer stage is where the problems can start. A lot of this comes down to little or no management of this in the early stages of a process. As a recruiter, you are always taught that Offer Management begins in the first conversation with a candidate and should continue in every subsequent conversation. Indeed, if you have worked with a Recruitment Consultant, you may have wondered why they ask you so regularly what your salary expectations are or whether any of your circumstances have changed? If they do this, you can be reassured that, rather than losing their marbles, they are actually doing their job properly which will hopefully serve you well in the long run! The reason a good consultant will ask you this in every conversation is two-fold: Firstly, to check that something actually hasn’t changed – that you haven’t had a pay increase or promotion at work which may then affect your expectations for instance. Secondly, to get you thinking about it! With the stress and excitement of getting through the interview process, you may not have given much thought to what getting the job will actually mean. For instance, you may have said at the beginning that you were open on location however when it comes down to it, you really don’t want to move. There are so many factors which should be considered when managing an offer however the single biggest factor is salary. Get this wrong and you can lose the opportunity. I recently experienced this with a candidate who, at final stages in a process, drastically changed their salary expectations mid way through the process. Despite having covered this in detail with them since our first conversation, the candidate hadn’t discussed it in depth with their partner and so, when they finally got round to doing so, their partner had very different ideas about what they could afford. Note to self – ALWAYS check that the partner has been consulted and is in agreement! Having already communicated detailed salary expectations to the client, I had to go back and say that the candidate now wanted more. Despite explaining the situation, the client couldn’t help but feel that the candidate was ‘land-grabbing’ now that they were in a favoured position. Let’s be clear - this is not clever negotiation but rather smacks of greed, not the best way to start a relationship with a potential employer. So how can you make sure that you don’t find yourself in this position?
  • When you enter into a process for a job you are serious about, ensure that you have visibility of what the salary, package and location are likely to be.
  • Ensure that you have a detailed breakdown of your current salary and package – only then can you compare like for like. Click here for guidance
  • As the process develops, keep track of any changes which may affect your decision. For instance, if the location changes, check that this is still feasible and if not, communicate this ASAP.
  • Crucially, if you have a partner and dependents, talk to them. Discuss implications of any offer on salary and benefits. Can you afford to make the move and what is the minimum salary you would accept? If taking the role would require a house move, check that the whole family are in agreement. I once had a senior candidate who nearly rejected a role which required relocation because his wife didn’t want to change gyms…
  • Keep your partner updated throughout the process. Offer Management isn’t just about managing yourself but managing those around you too.
If you do have a genuine change in circumstances which cause your expectations to increase, communicate this as early as possible in the process and explain the reason why. If it is a genuine reason, for instance because you have had a pay increase or your costs have increased significantly, being open and demonstrating flexibility will hopefully lead to a more beneficial and positive negotiation.

How to overcome interview nerves

How to overcome interview nerves I have this friend. He is keen to move jobs however there is one major problem – he has a fear of interviews which has stopped him applying for roles. Recently, he took the brave step of sending his CV for a role and was lucky enough to get invited to attend an interview. Instead of being happy (let’s face it – getting to interview stage is cause for celebration in itself!), he was instantly anxious at the thought of going through the interview process. His anxiety wasn’t just the nerves that most of us experience when faced with the prospect of an interview, it was full-blown panic which occupied his every waking hour. He became increasingly withdrawn and edgy as the interview date approached. Clearly, working in the recruitment industry, I was seemingly well-placed to help him but I must admit I struggled. As someone who enjoys interviews and interviews people for a living, it doesn’t hold much fear for me simply because it is my job and crucially, I have had so much practice. I really had to put myself in his position to try to understand what he was so afraid of and to help him get through it. His biggest fear was that he wouldn’t be able to articulate his experience in a clear, concise way and at worst, would freeze completely. In order to help him prepare, we broke this down into the following areas: Know yourself If you are very lucky, you will work for a company who give you regular performance reviews. “Lucky?!” I hear you say, I know that regular appraisals are rarely the highlight in anyone’s calendar. However, they equip you with many of the skills you need to be good at interview (clearly, not something your company is actively trying to encourage!). Fundamentally, they make you think about your role in detail and give you the opportunity to talk about it. They make you analyse what you are good at and what you need help with. In short, they get you thinking about all the things you are asked at interview. Unfortunately for my friend, he works in an industry where decent performance management is a rarity and he hasn’t had an appraisal for around 15 years! In my opinion, this is tantamount to human rights abuse, but that’s one for another blog! Despite being a highly skilled, professional and motivated employee, he struggled to articulate his experience at all - he simply hadn’t had the practice. For him, we had to start at the very beginning in order to get him to the point where he could talk about his role. Preparation A good analogy when talking about Interview preparation is that you should have an imaginary filing cabinet in your head which you then fill with examples of your experience in different areas eg. People management, working under pressure, problem solving etc. Your preparation should involve ‘filling’ your files with good examples so that in the interview itself, you can quickly find the relevant ‘file’ and retrieve the example. Rather than trying to memorise numerous answers to questions (which you may or may not be asked), this technique focuses on your own experience in different areas. This is what you should learn, rather than stock responses to standard questions. This will also mean that you are more able to cope with ‘curveball’ questions. A useful way to structure these is to use the STAR / CAR format – click here for more info That said, there are some categories of question which you would be wise to prepare for (what are your strengths/weaknesses? Why are you interested in our company/role?). Be wary of over-preparing My friend spent a lot of time preparing for his interview. He, quite rightly, researched the company in depth. However he spent lots of time trying to anticipate questions they would ask and rehearsing his answers. He even went as far as writing these down. In a way, there’s nothing wrong with this if you are using it as a technique to understand your key strengths but the problem he found was that he put so much pressure on himself to remember these perfect answers word for word, that as soon as he messed up, which everyone does inevitably, he was unable to get back on track. Also, the way you write is very different to the way you speak and so this may not be the best way of helping you prepare. It would be much better to jot down bullet points and key words as a prompt. Plan the logistics It may seem obvious but I have lost count of the number of people I know who failed to plan their journey and turned up late or worst, went to completely the wrong place! Making sure that you know exactly where the interview is being held and if possible, doing a dummy run to suss out the parking situation etc. will give you one less thing to be nervous about. Likewise ensure your interview attire is clean, ironed and not missing any buttons. Anticipate anything likely to cause last minute stress and ensure it is sorted. Learn to relax My friend is a passionate music fan however when I suggested he listed to some music to help him relax before the interview he was adamant that this wouldn’t work as he needed to be completely focused. He clearly felt this was the best way to handle it, but ultimately it didn’t work and he entered the interview as jittery as ever. Perhaps, using music as a last minute form of distraction would have helped calm him down. However you do it, spending time trying to relax before an interview is a vital part of your preparation. Understand what/who you are up against Part of your preparation should include research into your interviewer – read here for advice. If you don’t know who you are meeting, call and ask. It may just be that the person you are meeting has a similar background to you (and therefore you have some common ground) which will help reassure you a little. Either way, forewarned is forearmed. Equally, try to find out what the style of the interview will be. Is it a formal panel interview or a more informal sign-off? I appreciate that it can be very difficult to find this information out if you are dealing with the company directly however it is worth asking. If you are being represented by a Recruitment Consultant, I would be surprised if they didn’t ensure you were fully briefed on this. Clearly, you need to prepare yourself anyway, but it may help your nerves if you know what to expect in advance. Think of it as a conversation. I know this is akin to saying ‘picture your interviewers naked’ but if you can tell yourself that an interview is merely two parties getting together to learn more about each other, it may dispel some of the fear factor. It is a two-way street – you are there to learn about the company as much as they are there to learn about you. Please also bear in mind that many interviewers will be inexperienced and may well be suffering from nerves themselves! Don’t be afraid to acknowledge your nerves. In my friend’s case, they had an insightful interviewer who could see he was paralysed by nerves and who addressed this head on. He was mortified that they had noticed but let’s face it, if you are very nervous, your body will give you away. Much better to acknowledge it by saying “please bear with me, I am very nervous” or “I haven’t had an interview in a long time”. This will make you more human and approachable and a decent interviewer will then be able to help you come through it. In the interview itself, if offered a drink, always accept a glass of water which will help guard against the dry mouth which nerves tend to produce! It also gives you a device to buy some valuable thinking time if you get a question which is particularly tricky. Unfortunately, the best way to get better at interviews and keep the nerves at bay is to do more of them – something which few of us are likely to do unless we are active in the job market. Interviewing well is a skill you can learn however coping with severe nerves requires you to prepare more thoroughly to ensure that you are feeling as confident as possible, minimising any superfluous anxiety. Ps. Despite his declaration that the interview was a complete disaster, my friend was offered the job! Clearly, he had prepared well enough that the interviewers got a good enough feel for him despite his shaky start. Thankfully, he didn’t allow his interview-phobia to stop him from seeking a new opportunity…

Is it really that difficult?

By his own admission, my Dad’s political views lie just to the right of Attila the Hun, so it’s fair to say we rarely agree on anything. However, as I listened to one of his recent rants about the education system and level of literacy among the ‘youth of today’, I started to think about the hundreds of CVs I sift through and the many common CV errors.

I am always dismayed by the spelling mistakes and grammatical errors in CVs however, given the level of roles we recruit for, the culprits are not school leavers or grads but experienced senior candidates

Maybe my Dad has got a point but in these days of the spellcheck, it’s worrying that so many CVs are published with glaring spelling mistakes.  In a market that is fiercely competitive with recruiters receiving large volumes of candidates, first impressions really do count.

Clearly there is no substitute for the human touch – a spellcheck won’t recognise words spelled correctly but used in the wrong context.

Is it really that difficult …? The most common and grating example of mis-spelling on CVs is "Manger" instead of "Manager".  A simple mistake like this says so much about the candidate’s attention to detail and gives such a poor impression it can tarnish an otherwise strong CV.

Combine this with the increasing trend for PDF CVs (don’t get me started) and this means that the Consultant representing you isn’t even able to correct your mistakes (before you even start discussing whether it should be our job to do it!) We are dealing with Senior candidates  - is it so wrong for us to expect well written, grammatically correct CV’s?

When I recruited in-house, spelling mistakes on CVs were often a deal breaker for my hiring managers, particularly in an industry where multi-million pound contracts and bid processes were the norm and therefore attention to detail was a pre-requisite.

The answer: use the spellcheck and then check again before sending your CV out into the world for all to see. It is a massive frustration within our industry and one so easily corrected. As we all know, you only get one chance to make a great first impression – make it count.

On that note, I’m off to get my pedantic colleague to check my spelling…!!

 Sophie Mackenzie


How to write an interview script – with FREE Retail Area Manager Interview Template

We are often asked by clients for sample interview questions for certain roles. This tends to be by smaller companies who perhaps have a small HR function and who have never had reason to write a formal interview process or script. With this in mind, we thought it would be useful to outline how to draw up a standard interview script. It may sound simple but there is more to it than googling ‘top ten interview questions!’ – at least if you want the interview to effectively assess potential candidates! NB. I have kept this intentionally simple. If we were designing this for a client from scratch we would need to go into more detail, designing a competency matrix as the foundation before writing both the job description and subsequent interviews. Why have a standard interview? There is a balance here between making the process too standardised and having an informal process which purely relies on personal opinion rather than hard evidence. If the process is too formulaic, you may miss out on some of the candidate’s less tangible qualities. If you have no process at all, chaos tends to ensue with each hiring manager looking for something different, no audit trail and worst case scenario, questions being asked which are discriminatory or even illegal! Also, a big problem companies face when recruiting is that the people doing the interviewing may have had no interview training and be nervous themselves when called upon to interview. Having a (good) interview script can help give inexperienced interviewers confidence. What are the competencies/capabilities you are looking for? This should be the starting point for any recruitment process. Of course there is more to it than that (culture fit, personality etc.) however at the very least, you need to know that the candidate has the capability to do the job before you factor in their potential ‘fit’ with the company. If you don’t have one already, it is worth drawing up a list of competencies for the role you are recruiting for. These should be a clear guide to the specific skillset required, ideally with key measures for each competency attached. Keep the list brief – any more than 6 competencies and it will be very hard to assess these effectively. Think about what the absolute pre-requisites are and ask yourself “what will the person be doing to demonstrate success in this role” and “how will we measure their success?”. The format should look something like this: Once you have your competency matrix agreed with the key stakeholders, you can use it as the basis for the job description and the interview process. What structure do you want your script to have? For a straightforward interview, e.g. for the first stage of a process before an assessment centre or where there will be a 2 stage process with a structured interview first followed by an OJE or sign off interview at final stage, then I would suggest the following: a combination of a competency based interview and a more fluid set of questions to assess culture and team fit. That way, you will be assessing in a rounded way while still providing a robust audit trail and a consistent set of questions for every candidate. How many questions? This is a tricky one. Ideally, an interview like this should last between 1 and 1.5hrs – anything less and I would question its validity. However, different interviewers will have different styles – some more verbose than others and some more skilled at keeping an interview moving if the candidate’s responses are too long-winded. I would use the competences as a guide and aim to ask 2 questions per competency. This will keep the interview balanced and then you can allow additional time for the more open, culture based questions. What format should it take? Again, simplicity is key here. Having worked in-house and knowing how difficult it was to get any interview feedback from hiring managers at all let alone anything in writing, it needs to be a document which is easy to use. There should be enough space for notes and there should be specific enough questions to guide the interviewer about how much detail they need to give in terms of feedback. To score or not to score It is possible to assign a mark for each question, enabling you to give a total score for the interview. This can be done by apportioning a score per competency e.g. if you have 5 competencies for an Area Manager role, you could assign 4 points per competency, giving you a total of 20 possible marks. The scoring for each competency is based on a scale for instance: 4     Excels in demonstration of capability 3     Demonstrates capability 2     Demonstrates some areas of capability however has some development areas 1       Does not adequately demonstrate capability   If the assessor feels the candidate has excelled in their demonstration of the competency, they would get the full 4 points and so on. This tends to work particularly well when used as part of an overall assessment process. We have created a free Area Manager interview script template, download here:

Are people now looking to return from In-house to agency recruitment?

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In our constant attempt to understand the idiosyncrasies of Google SEO, we are able to look at what people are searching for when they stumble upon our blog. This is really useful as it gives us an idea of what content we can potentially write which may answer their questions. In recent weeks, we have noticed that there have been numerous searches concerning making the move from in-house to agency recruitment…an interesting indicator which made me wonder what is causing people to raise this as a dilemma?

Shane wrote a while ago about this in a blog titled The Recruitment Hokey-cokey in which he described his own situation when he decided to go back to an agency.

I also wrote about how agency experience benefits the in-house recruiter in Leaving the dark side but this was very much focused on people taking the well-trodden path from agency to in-house and not the other way round.

So what is driving this potential shift in direction?

Well, the recruitment market is certainly changing (at least it is in the Retail & Hospitality markets).

  • More positive economic forecasts and some decent results from retailers over Christmas is manifesting itself in increased job flow and a greater commitment from clients to recruit.
  • There are increasing numbers of strong candidates coming onto the market which is resulting in multiple job offers and companies are missing out if their processes aren’t up to scratch.
  • There has been a noticeable change in LinkedIn’s functionality as a recruitment tool – something we have certainly noticed. They are changing the search functionality regularly and the general ‘word on the street’ is that they will move towards a paid model in the near future. Unless companies have a large recruitment team, it is unlikely they will invest in LinkedIn recruiter licences which would leave  an individual recruiter without the ready source of candidates which LinkedIn has provided in recent years.
  • We have also noticed that more and more candidates are ‘turning off’ to LinkedIn and removing their profiles. This could be because it is widely perceived as a job board and therefore if they are overly active on this medium it could indicate to their boss that they are looking to leave. (Indeed, we know of a couple of instances where companies are implementing stricter policies concerning their employees’ use of LinkedIn…). It could also be because it has now become so widely used by agencies and in-house teams alike and that people are tuning out the white noise of email introductions and headhunt approaches. Either way, this will mean that all recruiters have to be much more inventive about how they source, and most importantly, engage prospective candidates…

There is no question that this change will put added pressure on in-house teams who are already stretched in terms of time and resource.

There is much talk about the end of recruitment agencies and there is no question, the larger organisations are investing in their in-house functions by employing senior recruiters from the search firms, enabling them to proactively target candidates without incurring agency fees. However, we are along way away from this being the norm and I think there will be a place for agencies for a long time to come…but then I would say that wouldn’t I ?!

Seriously though, for those people working in-house without the luxury of a well-resourced team, it will become increasingly difficult to source candidates (particularly the good ones) and therefore to fill vacancies directly.

There is a hackneyed view that in-house recruiters are all ‘failed’ agency recruiters and I strongly disagree with this. I love the assumption that being successful at an agency (normally measured by revenue billed alone) is somehow the measure that all must strive to live up to!?  In my view it is a completely different role and requires a very different set of strengths (albeit requiring the same knowledge of the recruitment process). I have argued before that you can take the highest agency biller and put them in-house but they are likely to struggle with the demands of servicing multiple internal stakeholders where they are not able to simply work closest to the fee. The problem now is that the expectation is that in-house recruiters will not only navigate the internal politics of their company in order to facilitate a better recruitment process but they will also be genius direct recruiters! I just think it’s really hard to do both well and will only get harder as the market changes.

The people that will excel in-house as the market changes are likely to be skilled at managing both their internal capabilities, (sourcing directly when it is easiest to do so) and getting more out of a select group of agencies – driving value for money rather than purely lowering cost of hire. These people will need to be so much more than even the most successful agency recruiters and this may well mean that there is an exodus as people realise that in-house is not the ‘easy’ option and does in fact require a more sophisticated skillset (when done properly….). Companies may well start to streamline their recruitment functions again leaving some people in these roles at risk.

Earning potential could well be a factor too. During the recession, it was tough to hit bonus on the agency side and many people will have moved in-house for job security and a decent overall package (higher basic salary and corporate benefits). However as the market shifts, people may start to calculate that they could earn more by returning to an agency role.

If people are open to a move back into the agency environment, this could benefit everyone, as having more agency consultants who have in-house experience and can genuinely empathise with their clients will raise service levels and hopefully break down some of the barriers that exist…the ‘them and us’ mentality.

However, agencies will need to offer these people something different than the environments which probably caused them to cross over in the first place. There are lots of agencies out there who are trying to offer their clients more than a CV shop and they will undoubtedly value people who can demonstrate that they can not only source candidates but can manage client relationships in a more sophisticated way.

As ever not all in-house and agency roles are the same and it all depends on the company, how they operate and what value they place on their recruiters. Being open-minded about making a potential return to an agency is the best approach if the opportunities in-house start to change. Both sides of the fence have value and offer rewarding careers.


Top interview tips! What to ask your interviewer

So, you've tried to build rapport with your interviewer and answered a smorgasbord of competency questions. You are reaching the end of the interview and the interviewer asks the dreaded question "do you have anything you would like to ask us?" Gulp...your mind is blank and so you say "no thanks, everything has been covered" or something similar to get you off the hook. But it's okay because that question is merely a formality, isn't it? Well, in some cases perhaps but in my view it is an absolutely critical part of the interview. Here's why: 1.If the interview has been particularly structured eg. Competency based, then you will have had to give very specific answers and probably will not have had any leeway to expand on your other selling points. 2.By asking the right questions at the end of the interview, you can subtly give the interviewer more information about you in addition to what they have already gleaned about your ability to do the job. 3.An interview is a two way process and you should ideally walk away knowing more about the role and the company you are applying for. These questions therefore are an invaluable way of finding out things that are not readily accessible online or in the job spec. 4.As this tends to be a more relaxed part of the interview, it is an opportunity to get your personality across. 5.Remember the truism that people love talking about themselves (and the company they work for). If the interviewer has conducted back to back interviews, they may well be glad to talk 'off script' for a while. So, how do you make sure that the questions you ask are insightful, illuminating and useful?! Here are just some ideas for brilliant questions to ask your interviewer:

About the role

What is the common quality that is demonstrated by the people currently doing this role? What is the biggest challenge facing the person who is appointed? What will the expectations be for the first 30 days in the role? How will success be measured? Who is the key stakeholder for this role? What will they be looking for?

About the company

What attracted you to the company? What does the company brand mean to you? ...a good way to frame this would be to say "as a consumer, I love that the brand has a strong British heritage....what does it mean to you?" That way, you get to impart another positive viewpoint to demonstrate your interest in the brand. How would you describe the company culture?

About the interviewer

What is the key quality you look for in a member of your team? How are your team performing? What is your next move within the company? And finally, the killer questions which I always love to be asked by a candidate: Do you have any feedback you can give me about my performance today or Do you have any reservations about me that I can try to reassure you about? ...these last questions demonstrate an openness, self-awareness and a willingness to improve that many people value in their employees. Clearly, you need to be able to handle the response with finesse and grace..!


You may want to ask questions about the next stage in the process, the induction and the training offered - just remember to preface these with "if I was successful...." If appropriate, ask about the benefits package offered however I would avoid asking anything about salary - depending on who the interviewer is, they may be unable or unwilling to discuss this and it is such a hot potato that it is better to wait until they broach the subject with you. See our follow up blog on how to approach questions about salary in an interview! As ever, these top tips are not exhaustive but will hopefully get you thinking about what you can ask which will set yourself apart from your competitors. Good luck!  

How to prepare for Maternity Leave and ensure the best possible hand-over

If there’s one thing that Maternity Leave teaches you, it’s that nobody is indispensable. However important you think your job is and however integral you think you are to the company, they will manage without you – and rightly so!

For anyone preparing to go on Maternity leave, this can play havoc with your already fluctuating hormones. On the one hand, you are crippled with guilt because you are leaving your company in the lurch for anything up to 12 months and on the other, you desperately hope that they will miss you when you are gone and be relieved when you return!

For the employer, they have to tread a delicate path: if they make too much of the inconvenience caused by you leaving, they risk making you feel even worse (and risk breaking numerous employment laws in the process). Conversely, if they reassure you by saying that everything will be fine in your absence, they risk making you feel worthless and dispensable!! It’s a tricky one for both parties – a considerate and forward-thinking employer will want to demonstrate a duty of care, allowing you to go off on leave able to fully focus on your new ‘adventure’. The dedicated employee will want to ensure that the transition is smooth and the impact minimised while they are away.

As someone who has to work and also loves their job, I am approaching my imminent Maternity leave with mixed feelings. However this will be my second child and so, having been through the process of leaving and returning once before, I feel much better prepared and equipped this time around.

I wrote previously about the challenges of returning to work after Maternity Leave (click here) and so I thought it might be useful to talk about my preparations for Mat Leave this time around, particularly in the context of working for a small business.

NB. This is based on my personal situation where I know I am definitely returning to work. It is worth reiterating that you are under no obligation to confirm your return date until later in your Maternity Leave and you may well decide not to return at all – clearly this is a very individual decision.

Breaking the news

When you break the news about your pregnancy is up to you and will depend on your situation. Legally, however, you must inform your employer by the end of the 15th week before your baby is due. This time, I was 4 months pregnant before I told my boss, partially to do with wanting to wait for the 12 weeks scan and also because I wanted to wait until he was back from holiday. One thing to bear in mind, if you wait several months like I did, you will have had lots of time to mentally adjust to the news and make a plan. Your boss however will be hearing it for the first time (unless you have been obviously suffering from morning sickness and have given the game away!). I made the mistake of presenting my boss with my carefully drawn up plan of action including detailed timescales regarding maternity leave and with hindsight, I should have given him time to digest the news first.

There are numerous reports of the issues women face after they announce they are pregnant – missing out on a promotion, being taken off key projects etc. Hopefully you will not face this prejudice but it would be naïve to pretend this doesn’t happen. All the more reason to judge your individual situation before announcing the news too early. Also, 9 months is a long time and it can be wise to wait a little while, at least until the 12 week scan confirms that all is well, before letting people know.

Think about a solution An employee leaving on Maternity Leave presents a company with a problem, no matter how supportive and positive that company is. So, as is best practice when faced with any problem, it is useful if you can come up with a solution or at least, have some ideas about how to cover your role. This may be doing research about temporary solutions, thinking about internal options to cover workload or writing a draft advertisement for your replacement. If you don’t have a Job Description for your role – write one. All these things will be a useful support for your company in finding a solution.


You are legally entitled to time off for ante-natal classes and midwife appointments but you can minimise the impact of these appointments by planning in advance and ensuring that this is visible to your team (on your Outlook calendar for instance). Booking appointments at the beginning or end of the day will minimise disruption to your working day.


As we know, due dates are notoriously fickle but you will have a date to work towards. When you know what date you will finish work, it helps to plan backwards from this date to ensure that the necessary steps are taken to hand over before you go. If you need to train a replacement or if different people are ‘caretaking’ parts of your role, you may need to schedule several different training sessions to ensure they have a good understanding before you go. Planning this well in advance will help everyone adjust to your imminent absence.

Get organised

The nesting instinct isn’t just relevant for your home – I don’t think my desk has ever been so tidy!

  • Go through drawers and files and get everything streamlined.
  • This is a great opportunity to clear out email folders and organise your PC documents. If someone will need access to your documents while you are away, ensure everything is clearly labelled. It really crystallises the mind when you realise that your boss may need to access your files – a scary thought!
  • Check your storage capacity and if necessary, clear out Deleted or Sent Items to ensure your mailbox doesn’t grind to a halt after a few weeks.
  • Unsubscribe from junk email (eg. Groupon), Linkedin updates, non-essential Blog subscriptions. This will make it much easier to clear your inbox when you return and is incredibly satisfying!

SOP (Standard Operating Procedure)

This is a great tool that I learnt from my lovely former colleagues at Capgemini. If there are parts of your role that are very process-driven and that someone will have to cover while you are away, start to write a ‘SOP’ for each of them. This is essentially a document with step-by-step instructions, the principle being that anyone could pick up the document and carry out the task or procedure. Like most of us, there will be lots of aspects of your role which you instinctively carry out without needing to think about it which is great until you have to train someone to take over. The SOP approach works particularly well for computer-based processes where you can use the ‘print screen’ function to take screen shots of the various stages of the task or process which you then embed in a Word document. This can be time consuming but is a great way to create a body of training material which you can then use for your replacement but also on an ongoing basis in the future. One word of warning, be wary of doing this too early. I prepared some of mine well in advance only to find that a couple of the systems had been upgraded making my lovingly prepared instructions obsolete – very annoying!

Visibility of information

If, like me, you carry a lot of information around in your head, now is the time to ensure that the important stuff is recorded somewhere. Examples that spring to mind are points of contact (for suppliers for instance), contact numbers, log in and password details. Some of this may be sensitive or confidential so make sure you save it securely and only give access to those that need to know.

Preparing to hand over

Whether training a new employee or handing over to an existing colleague, a great place to start is to create a list of daily, weekly monthly or quarterly tasks. Having a well organized list of tasks, and how frequently they should be done, will help a newcomer quickly acclimatise to your job and also know how to prioritize their tasks throughout your maternity leave. It is also a useful exercise to analyse the different elements of your role and can help if you need to write your own job description.

Out of Office

An obvious one but when the time comes to set your Out of Office, make it clear who people should contact, particularly if different people will be taking on different elements of your role.

Keeping in touch

You are entitled to 10 keeping in touch (KIT) days during your mat leave which is at the discretion of you and your employer. This may not be something you want to think about at this stage but worth bearing in mind in advance of your return. They can be useful if there are any important meetings while you are off which would be beneficial for you to attend or if there are tangible things which you could achieve in a day. For instance, if you would normally be involved in the recruitment process for your company and there are likely to be hires made while you are away, this could be a great use of a KIT day – enabling you to feel involved and minimise the impact on another team member’s time.

How often you want to be contacted during your mat leave is a matter for you and your company to agree. This will depend on your personal circumstances – some people are happy to have no contact whatsoever. For me, this would be the equivalent of being exiled for 6 months so in my case, I would prefer to keep in touch, if only on a monthly basis. Again, there is a balance between what works for you and what works for your company who will be understandably focused on business as usual.

Getting stuff done

If you are lucky to have a 2nd and 3rd trimester where you are feeling well, you will be amazed at how much you can get done. Having a deadline to work towards has made me more efficient and focused and in turn has helped me feel more prepared to leave knowing that things are in good shape. I have tried to focus on getting projects completed so that the team can focus on the daily operation for 6 months, hopefully without having to deal with any additional workload. This has also given me a feeling of control at a time when I have felt rather out of kilter.

Plan your return

I have already discussed in detail what my role will be on my return, clearly not everyone will be so lucky and indeed, you may not want to think about it just yet. If you do have an outline of the role you will come back to do, whether that it is staying exactly the same or changing, it is good to spend a bit of time reflecting on some of the things you will want to focus on. You may need additional training which could be planned in advance for instance. One of the issues I faced when I returned from mat leave last time was a lack of confidence and I’m under no illusion that I will feel differently this time. However, at least I am aware of this and by giving some thought now about my return, I think it will help me get up to speed more quickly when I get back. On a practical note, I am unlikely to be capable of rational thought for at least a few months so it makes sense to think about it now!

This list is by no means exhaustive and I’m sure there are other things I could be doing – I would love to hear of any other tips you can share if you have been through this yourself.

Anyway, as I count down my last 2 days before mat leave, I can now start worrying about some of the minor things like who will water the plant in my absence…and, oh yes, giving birth.

See you in 6 months!

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