A buyer’s guide to Retail Store SWOTs

By Billy Maddock, Partner AdMore Buying & Merchandising Who would not want to go shopping as part of their interview process? This enjoyable and proactive aspect of interview preparation is so important. Apart from the obvious reasons of identifying the culture and familiarising yourself with the product range, conducting a SWOT analysis is the most crucial part of the store visit for retail Buyers and Merchandisers. The SWOT analysis is useful for extracting more focused and specific information about the company you are interviewing for, and the market you are entering into. Here are some things for Buyers and Merchandisers to consider when conducting a SWOT analysis:
  • Determine what the ratio is between own brand and branded products. Are the products mainly own brand or branded? Where do the own brand products lie on the shelves in comparison to the branded options?
  • How are the ranges put together? Are they design led or trend led? What are the prices of the products? How competitive are these prices?
  • How broad are the product ranges? How many SKUs are on display? What is the availability? Which options are the slow sellers and are they being promoted accordingly? How is labelling and packaging used to support the promotional activity of heavily promoted products?
  • Does the retailer offer a good/better/best product option (depending on size of the store) to ensure the customer is offered a variety of choices? How are the goods displayed? Are they going to maximise sales?
When compiling the SWOT analysis, it is also important to consider:
  • The image of the store and its footfall. This fundamentally depends on the socio-economic factors of the town/city the store is located in, as different products will be promoted and different price points will be set in accordance to the location of the store.
  • What methods are in place that encourage repeat purchases and the return of consumers to the store? For example, Tesco club card points and the Sainsbury’s Nectar card. If the company you are visiting has a loyalty scheme, try and figure out how this can directly influence consumer behaviour.
  • What is the margin in comparison to competitors? (i.e. price differences on branded products)
  • Are there in-store concessions that could affect sales/ranges? If so, where are these concessions situated within the store? What are the tactics behind this?
  • What are the USPs? How does the retailer try and differentiate themselves from their competitors? (E.G. have they got a CSR policy?)
In order to go that one step further, visit more than 1 store. You could visit a huge flagship store (the M&S Marble Arch store – 170,000 sq ft.) as well as a smaller store (in a small town centre) and try to spot the differences by referring back to the points made above. To stand out further, visit a competitor. This is useful to make comparisons between the two as well as painting a picture of what the market looks like, especially if the market is an unfamiliar one to you. For example, if you are a Furniture buyer interviewing for a stationery buying position then it’s important to look at the products in more detail. It is highly likely that there will be other candidates going for the same vacancy as you for the same retailer, and if they have visited multiple stores and show some of the information discussed above in their interview, and you haven’t, that could be the difference. Don’t take the chance! Click here to follow us on LinkedIn
 

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...
 

How to talk about your strengths in an interview

How to talk about your strengths in an Interview Despite the frequency with which this question gets asked, in my experience it is still one area in which many people fall down. I wrote a blog earlier in the year about talking about your weaknesses (click here to read) and following conversations with a number of candidates I felt it would be beneficial to focus on the other side in terms of talking about your strengths, something which people often assume will be easier. So why is it so difficult to talk about yourself in a positive way? Is it because we don’t want to come across as arrogant or is it that we are worried about underselling ourselves? What is certain from my conversations with many candidates and clients is just how difficult people find these questions and how poorly many interviewers feel they are answered. So what are people getting wrong? Getting it wrong Confident versus arrogant – in reality many candidates actually find it very difficult to promote themselves. In my experience depending on the industry sector, it is actually much more likely that people will undersell themselves than oversell. This can particularly be the case in professions or company cultures where you are not required to promote yourself. Too generic – people often talk too generically i.e. “I am a great team player”, a strength that every other candidate could and will possibly talk about and which will therefore do nothing to make yourself stand out. Irrelevant – if people are unprepared they will often talk about personal strengths but ones that just may not be related to their target role or at the very least will do nothing to support their application. Talking about skills not strengths – strengths are general traits whereas skills are often the result of training and experience. Although there is some overlap, skills can be trained whereas traits need developing and therefore it is important to talk about both. No self-awareness – people’s inability to talk about themselves, their strengths, weaknesses and development needs shows a real lack of self awareness and focus on personal development. This may leave the interviewer questioning your ability to grow and develop. Top Tips What are your strengths - Some people, particularly those earlier in their career may not be aware of their strengths and may never had to really talk about them. So the first step is to sit down and think about your strengths paying particular attention to their relevance to the role you are looking to perform. These strengths could be experience-based or specific competencies /personality traits. Either way, try to focus on more than just the standard list that every other candidate will talk about such as being a great team player or having great communication skills. This is an opportunity to set yourself apart from the other applicants so think about traits that may suit the role, like persistence or tenacity for a target-driven role, for example. Ask other people for their opinion - If you struggle to think of your key strengths, you can bet that your nearest and dearest or trusted former colleagues will be able to enlighten you! Ask them for their opinion and crucially, why they have this impression of you. Focus – in most interviews you won’t necessarily have the opportunity to talk about all of your perceived strengths but you should aim to have 5 or so to talk about, focusing on those you believe are most relevant for the role you are pursuing and the company culture of the employer. Different interviewers will spend varying time on this question – so be prepared and be ready to be challenged. Leave behind your modesty – as mentioned above, people can feel uncomfortable about talking positively about themselves however it really is important in an interview situation! It demonstrates a lot about you as an individual, your self-awareness, your openness and your ability to communicate. By thorough preparation and practice, you can learn to talk about yourself in an authentic and confident manner. After all, you need to convince yourself you are the best person for the role as well as convincing the interviewer. One way to do this is to frame your answer by saying “I am often complemented by others on my strength in……” rather than it all coming from you. Matching your CV – it sounds obvious but make sure that if you have talked about your strengths on your CV that you are prepared to talk about them. I often find people will state some very generic strengths on their CV and then come across as unprepared when asked to talk about them. Back it up with examples – don’t be afraid to use examples to provide evidence of your strength in a particular area. It can also be compelling if you talk about how you have worked on a particular strength as this demonstrates your ability to develop yourself over a period of time. Base it around fact and the example is going to land much better than just talking about a trait you feel you possess. Be candid – as I have talked about before, it is important not to try and be something you are not otherwise you are unlikely to succeed in the role even if you are successful at interview. An honest and authentic approach is more compelling and will hopefully leave the employer convinced about your ability to perform the role. They don’t want to hear clichéd answers like “I work very hard” – what they really want to see is how self-aware you are and to get an understanding of the real you. Not being able to talk about your strengths generally doesn’t make you come across as humble or modest. In fact it is more likely to portray you as weak and incompetent. Given the regularity of use, this question is a really important consideration when looking at your interview performance. With preparation and thought you can improve your answers and help yourself secure the role you desire.        
 

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…
 

Top 10 tips: Writing a Retail Business Plan for interviews

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The last few months have seen a significant improvement in market conditions and the volume of vacancies is increasing significantly. However while the pool of immediately available candidates has dropped sharply in recent months there is still some strong competition coming from ‘passive’ candidates entering the market for the first time in several years. As a result it is still important that you approach every interview process you enter with energy and focus. We are finding that Retailers are increasingly using business presentations as a useful tool for judging the calibre of candidates. Presentations provide a huge amount of insight in to candidates, covering your capabilities in research, written communication skills, verbal communication skills, analytical capability, financial and commercial acumen, leadership / management style, key focus areas, strategic thinking, detail…. The list could go on and on! The temptation in any recruitment process is to focus on the interview but in reality the presentation will often be the element that can set you apart from other candidates and therefore determine your success. We have compiled a few tips, some very obvious, that might help you prepare your presentation. 1. Read the brief. Read the brief, Read the brief and keep reading the brief. It is all too easy to take the presentation in the direction that you want to go but ultimately does it answer the question? This is both the easiest thing to get right, but often the first thing to get wrong. Revisit the brief title throughout your preparation and after each draft to ensure you are on track. 2. Keep your slides to a sensible number. We have all heard of the saying, death by power-point, but it is well versed for a reason! The number of slides required will depend on the presentation time allowed and the information you are required to present, as a rough guide you should allocate 2-4 minutes per slide. A useful tip might be to include additional information such as a PEST or SWOT analysis in to an appendix rather than the body of the presentation. This allows you to demonstrate methodology and perhaps detail without killing your presentation. 3. Keep text to a minimum and break it up. Text heavy presentations tend to miss an opportunity in that you will fail to demonstrate a multi-skilled approach to communication. People have different preferences in how they absorb information and it is best to vary the presentation of your slides; pictures, graphics, diagrams, graphs and charts will have a greater impact that just text. Slides with text should have no more than 3-5 bullet points. You can take additional notes with you to act as a prompt. You will lose the interviewers if they mentally ‘wonder’ off while reading a text heavy slide. 4. Ask a peer or recruiter to review each draft. It is crucial that you seek advice and support throughout your preparation. Depending on the circumstances of your application you should try to get someone with knowledge of the interviewer to review your presentation. They may be able to provide some insight in to style or specific preferences. Take on board any feedback and act upon it. 5. Cover the obvious Key areas. People, Profit, Product. It is crucial that you relate this to the customer throughout your slides and verbal presentation. 6. Know the business you are presenting to: In order to get the right tone you should be mindful of the company’s vision, values and mission statement. It is also important that you have read any press releases or industry press articles about the business. If a company is doing well they are likely to be looking for a different candidate than a business that is issuing profit warnings. 7. Be mindful of confidentiality. In all likelihood during your research you will pick up confidential information from conversations with various people. It is important to strike a balance between demonstrating an intimate knowledge of your prospective employer and putting people in an awkward position. Where you have any concerns it might be best to keep some points for verbal reference only. 8. Punctuation, spelling & Font. The devil is in the detail and a failure to get this right could undermine your entire presentation. I recently presented to a client whom picked up on what he thought was a spelling mistake, he became quite fixated on this and it was quite disconcerting. Fortunately the spelling was correct but it serves to show that you need to be confident that you have covered the detail! 9. Judge your audience. Is humour appropriate or perhaps something highly creative? If you are presenting to a fashion retailer then the style and imagery will be critical. Likewise some people just want it to be very simple. Either way, ensure you understand what the interviewer’s preferences are. 10. Structure, structure, structure. Ensure your presentation has an introduction, perhaps detailing the brief, the body of the presentation and a conclusion. The main body should flow from slide to slide. I would be interested to hear any other tips that you may have. Get your FREE CV Template
 

Your Job Search – How to Create a Successful Campaign

How to create a successful job search campaign

Two years ago, after 6 years as a Recruitment Consultant, I left my job without anything to go to. This was a massive leap of faith and I must stress, this is not something I would ever recommend you do!  However, 6 weeks into my gardening leave, I found a new role and I haven’t looked back since.

The experience of looking for work and of being a candidate again was interesting, terrifying and bewildering at the same time. As a professional recruiter, I knew the job market and (thought) I understood how to market myself effectively however I still learnt a lot from the experience and here are some of the main points to consider before entering the job market.

Set your strategy

Create a project plan outlining your different approaches and the channels you are planning to use to market yourself. This should include direct channels (sending your CV directly to a company), recruitment agencies, your own network and social media.  We are in a multi-channel market place and social media has an important role to play in marketing of both products and people. If you are unsure how to use social media effectively, seek advice!

What is your Unique Selling Point?

What qualities do you possess that make you stand out from your peers? Seek 360° feedback from people you trust. In order to sell effectively, you need to fully understand your product…You!!

Define your goals

Before you do anything else, think about what kind of role you are hoping to find and what you can realistically hope to achieve. Deciding what you want to do and are qualified to do will dictate where you target your efforts and also how you market yourself.

What is your personal ‘brand’?

This is the message you convey to the market and to future employers. Your ‘brand’ should be a positive representation of your skills, experience and personality and this should be consistent across all the media you use to engage with others eg. Your CV, Linkedin, Twitter etc. Don’t forget that your brand message should also be consistent in person so think about body language, presentation and how you communicate with people around you.

Identify your target market.

Knowing which companies you want to target will help you refine your ‘message’ and ensure it is delivered to the right place. Research companies and brands to identify those which fit with your goals and align with your values.

Re-write your CV

Merely updating your CV is not enough. It may be several years since you last looked at it so it is worth looking at the whole thing and checking that it is representing you accurately and is in a format that will be well received in the current market. At the very least, you will have achievements to add and your skills and experience will have progressed. This is your shop window - it must present you in the best possible light and accurately reflect your brand message.

Create/Update your Linkedin Profile

Like it or loathe it, Linkedin is widely used by recruiters when sourcing candidates (some would argue that it is its principle function!). Your Profile must be up to date and must portray you and your experience in a positive light. I found Linkedin invaluable when I was looking for a role as it enabled me to identify key individuals in my target companies and where appropriate, make an approach.

Set yourself targets.

Like any good campaign, it should be SMART (Simple, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely). Setting specific time frames for a job search is very difficult – timescales are often a moveable feast and you will need to remain flexible and organised to keep track. Be prepared to review your time frames and re-adjust if processes are delayed or postponed. This will help you remain focused and ensure you are not putting all your eggs in one basket.

Conduct regular brand reviews

As you progress along your job search campaign, you may reassess your goals and identify new companies to target which you hadn’t previously considered. Ensure that you keep your message clear.

Review your strategy

It is important that you regularly assess the effectiveness of your strategy and if necessary, make amendments. Has your target audience changed? Do you need to try a different approach? The more exposure you have in the market, the better idea you will have of your own marketability. You may need to amend your brand ‘message’ following the feedback you have received along the way.

By managing your job search campaign in a pro-active and positive way, you will be master of your own destiny and ultimately increase your chances of landing the role you want.

Click here to download a free CV template.

 

15+ great website links for Retail & Hospitality interview research

By Jez Styles, AdMore Recruitment

15+ Great Website Links for Retail & Hospitality interview research

Apparently Monday 6th January was ‘Massive Monday’ in recruitment (definitely not a reference to working at desks all year and eating stodge solidly for two weeks). I’m not entirely sure about that but I do get the sense that there is going to be a lot more recruitment activity this year than in 2013. The economic data would suggest that things are picking up, and the recruitment ‘churn’ is showing signs of gathering pace. We have certainly seen a significant change in a) mind-set and commitment to hire and b) the volume of vacancies.

So, if you have made a New Year’s resolution to look for a new position and you have written your CV (Free template here), then you may be close to securing an interview or accepting an offer. It is likely to be a competitive market this year so it is imperative that you set yourself apart with some good quality Retail & Hospitality interview research. Our clients generally feedback more favourably on the candidates that have clearly researched the company and the market vertical. You could of course ‘wing-it’ with a simple read of the corporate website and a quick google search, however if you are looking to go a little deeper it would be worth checking out some of these sites for additional analysis.

Industry Magazines: Retail Week / The Grocer / The Caterer / The Morning advertiser .

Industry magazines are still pretty much the top place to go when you are looking to build a base of knowledge or to read recent news stories. Depending on which sector you are looking to specialise in you may find there are other useful sites to visit, for example if you are looking for a job in Pharmacy retail it might be worth checking the Pharmaceutical Journal (not a light read!). The Retail Week site will require a subscription for detailed viewing but it might be worth doing so for a short period. There is a lot of information in their Resource Bank including a league table of over 200 retailers with detailed financial information.

TIP: If you want to access an article without paying a subscription fee you could try running the keywords (I just cut and pasted the headline below) through a search engine and then clicking the link to the site, hey presto you can read the full article!

Before:

After:

Glassdoor My colleague Sophie wrote a blog earlier in the year about the launch of the UK Glassdoor site here in 2013. If you haven’t seen the site before it is a ‘compare the market’ / ‘trip advisor’ combination for companies. There are reviews from current and former employees alongside interview advice for specific information. There are still gaps for many UK based retailers but you could get lucky with some of the information that is on there. Mint If you are looking for a greater level of detail in your research then Mint can provide information such as company hierarchies and financial performance that is unlikely to be in the public domain. You can get a free trial initially but as with other sites you will need to subscribe for the juicy information. I would advise that you only use this site if you are interviewing at board level given the potential cost involved. Conlumino , Planet Retail  and Verdict Retail are three companies that specialise in Retail analysis. As with other sites there are various options for either free information or subscriptions. They are worth looking at for predictions of future performance and analysis of business models. The Social Sites: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+. A lot of companies are posting content unique to those sites. To generalise, the majority are using LinkedIn for Recruitment purposes, Facebook for Consumer branding, Twitter for a combination and Google+…not so much. If you are looking for a job in Retail check out our FREE report on over 200 retailers for details on which Retailers are using which channel for recruitment purposes. If you are researching an interviewer ahead of an interview the above sites can provide an excellent level of insight. There are more tips for researching individuals here . We will also publish another blog with specific guides on how to use these sites later in the month. News sites For further analysis and recent news it would also be worth checking the FT, BBC, The Times and The Daily Telegraph. All have excellent business sections so there will be a good level of coverage for the larger retailers and of course a broader view on the economy. It always pays to add a broader context to any specific research you are carrying out. Duedil A great site for those candidates who are considering joining a less well known company. Smaller companies can be tricky to research and importantly you will want to understand their financial position before accepting an offer. Duedil offer information from companies house which you can access for free with detailed reports being available to purchase on an ad-hoc basis. Some of the information could be old though so check what you are buying before you make a purchase. Boolean search Finally, not a specific site but more of a search technique. If you are looking for very specific information then it might be worth running a ‘Boolean string search’. In essence this is a way in which to bring up targeted results on a search engine using specific text and key words. This should really be a last resort and there should be something very specific that you want to find! The link above will take you to a site that offers information on how to look at an individual’s LinkedIn profile via a Google search who is not a 1st degree connection. It is an advanced technique and perhaps one for the back pocket! There are plenty of other sites and techniques to keep in mind for both research and keeping up to date with industry news. I tend to use pulse on my phone to personalise various news feeds and ensure I can browse multiple articles more easily.

There are of course other useful sites which I haven’t mentioned, it would be great if you could add them in the comments below.

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How to survive a role-play interview exercise and live to tell the tale!

By Sophie Mackenzie, AdMore Recruitment

Role-play interview…these two words tend to send a shiver down the spine of most people. Whether called upon to do them as part of training and development at work or as part of an assessment process for a new role, chances are the very prospect will fill you with dread!

Fear not, like most things, by understanding what is expected and knowing how to approach it, you should be able to perform well. As someone who has had the dubious pleasure of taking part in role-plays as both candidate and assessor, here are some tips from me.

What is a role-play exercise?

A role-play interview exercise is in simple terms, an artificial simulation of a scenario. It is a way of replicating (albeit falsely) actions and behaviours in a specific situation in order to give a demonstration of how you may perform in reality.

Still widely used in assessment centre processes and training courses, they can be a useful way of judging how a person will behave in order to either decide whether they have the capability to do a certain role or in order to coach someone to improve certain behaviours. They are also a useful way of conducting a cultural assessment of a candidate.

What format will it take?

I am focusing here on role-plays used in an assessment or interview process however the basic principle is the same whatever the reason you are doing them. For the purposes of illustration, I am using an example of a role-play I wrote for a client’s assessment centre process which was used to assess Area Manager candidates.

You will get a brief outline of a scenario with details of the character you will be playing and an outline of the character you will be role-playing with.

For example:

You are an Area Manager for a home wares retailer.

Having joined the business 3 months ago, you are in the process of getting to know your store teams and are conducting detailed follow-up audits of all the stores in your area.

There will usually be some guidance about what you are trying to accomplish from the ‘meeting’ and further details to add context.

For example:

A recent visit to one of your previously top performing stores has identified several issues:

A marked decline in store standards since your first visit 6 weeks ago. Key issues are:

Cleanliness and health and safety in the warehouse and staff areas.

Poor presentation on promotional carousels and issues with availability on key, volume products (kitchen and bathroom basics).

The Store Manager, Andrew Smith, has been late on several occasions. The last time, he was 30 minutes late for a visit from the Commercial Operations Director so this has now been noticed at senior level. Andrew has worked for the company for several years and is well regarded. Until recently, his store has been consistently in the top 5 in terms of sales and mystery shopper scores.

You have arranged a meeting with Andrew Smith to discuss your concerns and investigate the situation.

It is likely to include guidelines about how much time you have to prepare and how much time you have to complete the role-play exercise itself.

For example:

You have 15 minutes to prepare for this meeting.

After 15 minutes, Andrew Smith (played by an Assessor role-playing ‘in character’), will arrive to begin the meeting. They will be joined by another Assessor who will observe the role-play and take notes but not take part in the role play.

You have 30 minutes to conduct the meeting.

How to prepare

Don’t panic!

Read the brief carefully. Take particular note of the timings and work out exactly how much time you have to prepare.

Read the brief again and this time, make notes with your observations.

For example:

Andrew - previous top performer…what has changed?
Store standard issues are all basic things so unlikely to be training issue – problem with store team? Delegation?
Why is he late? Issues at home?

Chances are, the role-play will have been tailored to a scenario you would be likely to face in your target role in which case, it is probably a situation that you have faced before in real life.

If this is the case, clear your mind and reflect on when you have dealt with a similar situation. Think about how you handled it, what you were hoping to achieve as an outcome and how the person you were meeting with reacted.

Think about what the assessors are looking for. If you are interviewing for a role where people management is key, then clearly, they are looking for you to demonstrate your skills in particular around communication, empathy, coaching and motivation. Think also about the culture of the organisation so you can adapt your style accordingly.

Equally, as an Area Manager, you will be responsible for overall standards in your area and in turn sales performance, so you need to make sure these issues are addressed immediately.

The assessors will therefore be looking for you to balance your soft skills with a focus on results so you will need to try to agree a plan of action to improve the situation.

Draw out a rough plan of what you would like to achieve.

This will help you focus on the key points and help you to remember to cover the important areas. Bear in mind however that you need to be prepared to adapt your focus depending on how the other role-player approaches their role. They may behave in any number of different ways and you will need to respond accordingly.

Warning: watch out for red herrings – you will undoubtedly be given lots of information, some of which may be superfluous or not relevant to this situation. Identify the key issues and focus on them – remember the main point is to identify the underlying problems which have caused them. The key to finding out what they are is to ask OPEN QUESTIONS.

For instance: "how is your day going so far?" "how are you feeling about your job at present?" "what do you think about the new stock loss procedure/promotion/overtime ban?" "how are your team reacting?"

The role-play itself

Once you have sketched out your plan and thought about your options, it is time to get ‘in the zone’!

This is where you need to ‘suspend your disbelief’. By this I mean that you have to get into character and do your best to forget that you are in an artificial situation. In doing this, you will make it easier for yourself to behave in a natural and ‘real’ way and it will help alleviate any feelings of embarrassment or silliness that you may be feeling. By throwing yourself into the role-play and going with the flow, you are more likely to give a good account of yourself.

Bear in mind that the other role-player is likely to be in character too so if they knock on the door, answer it in character and start your performance!

  • The first thing to do when you meet your ‘opposite number’ is to greet them and offer them a seat.
  • Try to behave how you would in reality. The danger is to launch into your questioning straight away but you should not forget the importance of building rapport and setting the scene. Ask them about their day so far…
  • Assess their body language – are they on the defensive, are they stressed, are they very upbeat or nervous? These observations will help you assess how the role-player is approaching the task and how you should approach the situation. For example, if they are defensive, resist going straight onto the offensive. Instead, spend more time building rapport and breaking down those walls.
  • The temptation is always to make assumptions and move straight onto developing an action plan without really understanding the issues. You MUST start by asking numerous questions. Get them to do most of the talking in order to find out what is going on.
  • Ask OPEN QUESTIONS, make sure you are actively listening, reflect back to them to show you have taken on board what they have said. A good role-play assessor will modify their approach depending on how you are treating them so they should start to give you some clues.
  • Depending on how good an actor your partner is, you should by now have an idea of what approach is going to get the best result.

 

If you have ascertained that someone is under pressure due to personal circumstances, it is important to listen and offer support. Ask the person what would help them to move forward – do they need a day off to sort things out? Would they benefit from working reduced hours for a short period of time? Clearly, you have to be careful about making promises you may not be able to deliver on or wouldn’t have the seniority to authorise however, it is important to think of practical steps which the company could take.

  • Once you have dealt with the root cause, it is important to address the operational issues in store. Again, avoid going on the attack and try to get the person to acknowledge their own shortcomings themselves. It is then much easier to offer support and offer to put a plan in place to help them to improve.
  • The action plan should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable (or Agreed), Realistic), Time-specific). Try to make this a collaborative process to ensure ‘buy-in’ from the person.

NB. It is however important that you make it clear that standards MUST improve immediately. Set a date by which you want the improvements to be made and arrange a follow-up meeting.

  • Keep the overall tone supportive and motivational. If you can combine this with a clear action plan and a zero-tolerance approach to poor standards, you will have achieved a good result!

Dealing with a ‘difficult’ character

Depending on how the company want to assess you, they may try to catch you out by briefing the role-player to be purposely objectionable. This is particularly common (and appropriate) when assessing for sales roles.

Again, assess body language so you can see any difficulties coming and make allowances for this in your preparation. If dealing with an irate customer for instance, remember the importance of listening, empathising and calming them down before talking about what you can do to help.

In the case of a difficult staff member, keep HR best practice in mind. If they are indicating that a disciplinary procedure may be required (perhaps in the case of Gross Misconduct for instance), you may need to approach this in a more structured way.

Other points to remember

  • Stay in character – even if you are faltering, try to stay in character rather than slipping out of character and addressing the assessors directly. It is always better to keep going.
  • Keep track of time and ensure that the meeting reaches a conclusion within the timeframe. Don’t rely on the assessor to warn you when your time is up.
  • Use positive body language in particular a firm handshake and a smile.
  • Remember that the role-playing assessor is likely to be as uncomfortable as you! It is an artificial situation which few people relish – this should help you control your nerves.

I hope this helps. For further advice on navigating the interviewing process, please read our other articles in the Career Management section.

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The value of CSR activities

By Sophie Mackenzie, AdMore Recruitment  

As part of our company CSR commitment, we recently sent a ‘crack’ team to help the Blackwater Countryside volunteers with some scrub clearance at Moor Green Lakes in Berkshire. This is our second year helping them out and the team were blessed with a mild and sunny day for their hard labour.

Apart from the benefit to the Countryside Ranger, Stuart, who has extra pairs of hands to get more done on each session, we also benefit from a day away from the office and the opportunity to feel the sun on our faces, use power tools and ‘burn stuff’ in addition to communing with nature and working alongside our local community. All in all, a great tonic to blow the cobwebs away and escape the pressures of recruitment for a day.

It is also important to us that we do something which is related to our industry and where we can hopefully use our experience in recruitment to good effect so over the past two years we have been involved as panel members conducting mock interviews for 6th formers at a local school.

Last month I attended the first of this year’s events which involved interviewing students who were applying for Oxbridge or Medical degrees. Consequently, I was lucky to meet 4 incredibly bright young people who had achieved high grades at GCSE and were hoping to do the same at A-level. My fellow panel members were a fascinating pair, both scientists and so well equipped to put the prospective medics through their paces. Last night was the second session where we interviewed students who are less certain about their future career path (like most of us!). This presented different challenges but was equally rewarding.

I always have mixed feelings about these events. They are on the one hand inspiring and rewarding and on the other slightly disconcerting when you realise that it seems only yesterday that you were going through the same process! And now, with my humble French degree a distant memory, I can only speculate about what lies ahead for these talented students.

What the evenings did reinforce is the importance of knowing how to present yourself at interview. This is as relevant to these young people as it is for those of us who are established in our careers.

However well qualified you are and however fantastic your experience, if you can’t get this across to your audience, you will lose out to those who can. This is not just about knowing your experience inside out and being able to back it up with hard facts and figures. It is also about how you come across – if you are able to demonstrate deep interest and passion for your subject and a warmth of style that enables the interviewer to picture themselves working with you, then that is worth just as much.

All the students we interviewed had exceptional academic potential however each had differing levels of impact at interview, understandably so, given this was their first attempt! As the interview panel, we were able to give them some advice about what they can do to improve. Interviewing is definitely a skill which can be learnt and this was the message we tried to get across to them. With practice, they can make sure that they are articulating all their potential effectively to prospective universities and employers.

If you get the chance to be involved in a similar initiative, I strongly recommend it. As is often the case with CSR activities, I got just as much out of it as the students hopefully did.

For more information about volunteering for similar activities, a good starting point is the Inspiring the Future campaign www.inspiringthefuture.org.  Inspiring the Future is a free service across England with volunteers from all sectors and professions going into state secondary schools and colleges to talk about their jobs and sectors. Anyone can volunteer with Inspiring the Future - you can be a young apprentice, a graduate recruit or a seasoned Chief Executive - young people will benefit from hearing about your experiences.  You offer to visit a local state school or college for 'one hour, once a year' and can sign up online. It is a new initiative which is supported by industry and educational bodies and the Government.

If you know of any local schools or colleges who need extra support with coaching students with CV preparation or interview skills, please don’t hesitate to contact me at sophie.mackenzie@admore-recruitment.co.uk. We may be able to help…

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Interview tips for Graduates and School Leavers

By Sophie Mackenzie, AdMore Recruitment

I had a ‘milestone’ birthday recently. Not so much key to the door but needing to change the locks! It has made me rather reflective. It seems only yesterday that I graduated and started frantically applying for jobs, partly because of pressure from my parents who were keen for me to start earning as soon as possible but mainly so I could maintain the independence I had started to appreciate at University and which was being decidedly cramped by moving back home to share a room with my younger sister.

With an estimated one in five 16- to 25-year-olds currently out of work (according to figures from the Office for National Statistics)it is so important, with competition so fierce for fewer vacancies, that candidates give themselves the best possible chance of impressing at interview.

As a company, we recruit at executive level however, we are regularly asked by our contacts or indeed our own friends and family for advice on behalf of people starting their career, so we thought it was worth revisiting these key points:

Look the part

Unless applying for a role in the creative/performing arts or in creative media, the dress code for any corporate interviews will be business dress. It is still the case that people make judgements based on appearance and so you must make sure that you look impeccable. This doesn’t mean getting into further debt buying an expensive suit. High Street stores like Next, M&S and Primark do classic suits at incredible prices. Shirts should be clean and ironed, shoes clean and polished. If wearing a tie, learn to tie a proper Windsor knot (a big fat knot or a skinny tie won’t look corporate enough, neither will a tie which finishes half way down your shirt!). Click here for a video guide to Windsor knots from our friends at House of Fraser!  Hair should be clean and tidy. Gents – you should be clean shaven – no excuses. Keep jewellery to a minimum and tattoos well hidden. This isn’t about stifling your individuality rather than ensuring that what you say is what is remembered rather than how you look.

First impressions

You wouldn’t believe how many people don’t greet an interviewer with a smile. This is SO important and will say so much about you as a person and about how you will potentially be perceived by future colleagues, customers and clients. It is widely accepted that people hire people they like and so, like it or not, one of your jobs in an interview is to get them to like you as well as demonstrate your suitability for the role. Your smile should reach your eyes and this will also help you overcome the inevitable nerves.

Practice your handshake. There are people, myself included, who have a negative opinion of someone with a weak handshake. It simply speaks volumes. A firm handshake with a warm smile and eye contact says several things. That you are confident. That you want to be there. That you are interested in the person you are meeting. You will only fully realise the negative effect of this when you are on the receiving end!

Body Language

Approximately 70% of communication is non-verbal and so take care that your body is not letting you down! Sit up straight, don’t fidget, keep hands relaxed on your knee. Don’t lean too far back – you may look too laid back or even worse, arrogant. Getting your posture right will make you look interested, keen and confident even if you are very nervous!

Do your research

Not doing your research on the company is unforgiveable. Information is so readily available online and you should learn quickly where to access that information. The company website should give you oodles of information (but take care not to recite this in the interview - it’s too easy, you need to show that you’ve worked harder to set yourself apart from the crowd). Look for press articles, make sure you understand who their competitors are and how they are performing. Research your interviewers on Linkedin. Check out Glassdoor.co.uk for employee reviews and interview tips. If you are applying to a company led by a well known figure, make sure you have read their autobiography. A classic (if a little clichéd) interview question is ‘which business leader do you most admire and why’. To give an answer without having done your research will not set you apart from the masses.

Difficult questions

There are many different types of interviews ranging from structured competency based interviews to informal ‘audition’ style assessment processes. One thing is certain, you will be faced with some questions that are really tricky. This may be because they are ‘off the wall’ eg. if you were a biscuit what kind would you be (yes, this really happened!) or because they are potentially controversial eg. "why did you drop out of your course/switch courses?"

Again, there are plenty of resources online which give examples of tricky questions so doing your research will help. If the worst comes to the worst and you simply go blank, simply say "I’m sorry, I need to reflect on this question, please could we come back to it later?" This will buy you some time which is useful for those ‘abstract’ questions. If you simply do not know the answer, then say so. Trying to blag your way through could leave a negative impression. Also, the ability to be honest about what you do and don’t know (while showing a willingness to learn of course) is a quality most employers will admire and understand in a school leaver or grad.

Know your subject

If you are applying for a University place or a Grad Scheme and have completed a Personal Statement focusing on your interest in a specific subject, make absolutely sure that you can elaborate in detail about any points you make in your statement. You can be sure that a savvy interviewer will focus on these points and chances are, they will know more about it than you. By reading around your subject and keeping abreast of current affairs, you should avoid getting caught out. For instance, if you are applying for a place at medical school and mention your deep interest in a field of medicine, make sure that you know of any medical advances that have been made which have hit the headlines. Equally, if applying for a Grad scheme at a major retailer, make sure you know the current share price and the latest profit results. You may also be asked for your opinion so again, be prepared to explain your position on potentially controversial subjects which involve taking an ethical standpoint.

Know yourself

Interviewing well is a skill that can be learned and of course honed with experience. However, even in your first ever interview, the one thing that you should be able to talk confidently about is you. This does take some preparation however. Sit down with a blank piece of paper and write down your achievements (at school, university or in your spare time). Think about what made you successful and what you enjoyed about these successes – was it the sense of achievement you felt when you completed a project or was it the buzz of working as part of a team? What role did you play, what did you do well and what could you have done better? Ask your parents, teacher, tutors, friends and peers what they consider to be your strengths and weaknesses and think about how you can ‘package’ these to be attractive to a prospective employer. Remember, you are there to sell yourself and the key to selling anything well is to know the ‘product’ inside out. Most of all, you must be passionate about it!

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