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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How to prepare an interview presentation

 

By Russell Adams, AdMore Recruitment

Interview presentations are often used as part of the recruitment selection process particularly to differentiate candidates applying for senior roles. They are most commonly used at the later stages of a recruitment process when the field has been narrowed and the interviewers are looking to make a final decision. The presentation topic might be about you and what you will bring to the role, a particular issue the client faces or the future of that industry or marketplace. Getting your "pitch" right in this situation is not always easy but can be an excellent way for you to set yourself apart. It can be a daunting experience for many but with some thought and preparation you can ensure you present yourself in the best possible way.

Below is some guidance that may help you in your preparation.

Understanding the brief – You can be the best presenter in the world but if you do not fully understand the brief and aren’t clear on the expectations the interviewers have, then you are potentially setting yourself up to fail. If you are using a recruiter, make sure they are able to give you the required information. If they cannot answer your questions then make sure they seek guidance from the client. If you are dealing directly with the client then I would suggest you make a list of questions to ask so that you only have to talk to them once. Going back constantly with lots of questions will not reflect well on your ability to plan. It is crucial that you repeatedly check that your presentation answers the presentation topic.

Questions to consider

  • How long should the presentation last?
  • Who will be present at the presentation?
  • What is the expected format?
  • How clear is the presentation title – do you need to clarify?

Know your audience – it is absolutely imperative that you find out exactly who is going to be at the presentation. With multiple individuals you need to consider the different agendas they may have and their level of knowledge and expertise to ensure that you pitch your content at the appropriate level. It can be difficult to cater for individuals from different functions, however try to establish the key decision makers and ensure you tailor your presentation appropriately.

Points to consider

  • Think about how you can ensure all angles are covered i.e. if you have both Line Managers and HR present how can you ensure that your presentation appeals.
  • Your presentation may also be to individuals of varying seniority – make sure you get the correct level of detail but draw this together taking consideration of the strategic elements
  • Research the individuals online, there will be a wealth of information on LinkedIn and Twitter that will give you a taste of individual preferences.If you want to get a little more complicated search media interviews or try a ‘boolean’ search for PDF documents.

Timing – it is really important that you know in advance how long your interview presentation should last or be expected to last. Trying to cram in too much information into a short period of time is one of the most common mistakes. I recently had a candidate who sent me his 20 minute presentation which included 35 PowerPoint slides! Getting this element right is critical to your success.

Points to consider:

  • It is difficult to provide a definitive guide as it will depend on the presentation but as a broad guideline you are likely to need a minimum of 3- 5 minutes per slide.
  • Less is more – ensure that the slide just provides highlights and is not crammed with text. In fact it could be just a picture or even one word – it is about using different ways to get the message across.

Substance over style - Beware of high tech imagery and animations (unless of course you are going for a role in IT!) Being serious though, lots of imagery can be distracting for your audience and may dilute the messages you are trying get across. For most roles, the interviewers are much more likely to be interested in the content of your presentation (which is an opportunity to display your knowledge and experience) than it is about style. That said, you must ensure that your presentation is interesting. Try and break up the slides a little so that you don’t have slide after slide of heavy text. If the organisation is considering a number of candidates and the interviewers are sitting through a number of presentations, think about how can you make sure your presentation is memorable?

Points to consider:

  • Work within your comfort zone – if you are comfortable with using animations etc. that is great but if not, be wary and ensure you are comfortable with the format you have chosen.
  • Try and break up slides of text using picture, diagrams or images. Using single words and images can be a powerful way of reinforcing your message.
  • Make sure you check and check again for spelling mistakes.

Message – You need to identify the primary message you want to deliver. This will determine the structure that you follow and needs to be clear and consistent throughout your presentation. Another common fault is the temptation to cram each slide with information in order to help the audience remember all the key points. Using the presentation as an autocue is a sure way to switch the audience off. In short you should have a strong introduction and a memorable ending. Think about what it s that you want your audience to take away from your presentation.

Points to consider

  • Delivering a great presentation is all about structure. You need an engaging opening giving an overview of your presentation. Consider how you can capture the hearts and minds of the interviewers. A memorable close is also crucial.
  • Use occasional anecdotes to build rapport with the interviewers and reinforce part of your message.
  • Point –reason – example – point – use this simple structure to provide convincing and reasoned points.

Format – again this is an area you should seek to clarify in advance of your meeting. The setting, the number of people attending and their expectations are all factors that may affect how formal or informal your presentation should be. This can range from using a projector in a board room (in which case you may be expected to take along your laptop or perhaps a memory stick with your presentation on) through to a printed hand-out to one person in a small interview room (and of course everything in between).

Points to consider

  • Don’t just go for the easy option involving the least work. The client will be looking at the effort and energy you have put into the presentation as a sign of your commitment and interest in the role.
  • Also take multiple printed copies of the presentation.
  • Email a copy of the presentation to the recruiter in advance to allow for any technical glitches!

Keep it authentic – I recently had a client give feedback on a candidate’s presentation saying that it was one of the best she had ever seen in terms of style and content. However, she felt it was a little too slick and perhaps a standard format that had been used in other interviews. It is crucial that the presentation is written for the interview and not a ‘cut and paste!’

Points to consider:

  • There are a number of techniques to make it personal and authentic. The use of stories and examples ensure relevance to the interviewers can all help in this regard. It is particularly important if the presentation is about you rather than being about the company you wish to join.
  • Include your own photos, particularly if you are presenting for a Retail position.

Practice and practice again – the most effective presentations are those that are delivered without the need to read word for word. Presentations are definitely an area where time invested pays off. Lack of preparation will definitely hamper your performance. It is important that you run through your presentation out loud. Ideally this would be in front of a friend or even videoing yourself to ensure that you can critique your performance.

Points to consider:

  • If you only run through your presentation once then you are highly unlikely to deliver a great presentation.
  • Time yourself when practicing to ensure you are within the time frames given.
  • Don’t memorise your presentation word for word – being too slick makes it less engaging. However you must know the content inside out – using cue cards will mean you are looking down at the cards and not engaging with the interviewers.

Presenting style – this is a widely written about subject. Just remember to present with confidence, energy and enthusiasm. Take your time – one of the most common errors is rushing. My personal view is to always stand; I think it allows you to inject more energy and command of the room.

Points to consider:

  • If you are offered a glass of water then accept it as you may need to drink part way through your presentation.
  • Breathing techniques can used to control presentation nerves. Try not to speak too quickly and allow yourself to breath naturally. Just imagine it as a conversation with one of the interviewers.
  • Try and move around during your presentation to engage and interact with the interviewers – although you should avoid pacing.
  • Modulate the tone, pitch, and speed of your speech. Do not speak in a monotone. Vary the pitch and speed of your voice for emphasis and effect. Use appropriate pauses. Rather than using filler words such as "uh," for example, simply pause before moving on to the next idea or point.
  • Make sure you try and show passion and energy in what you are delivering.

Questions – it is easy to forget sometimes in all the planning and preparation that you will be asked some questions at the end. Try and think what questions you would have if you had just heard your presentation and prepare your answers accordingly.

Points to consider:

  • The questions are likely to be focused on your recommendations, your analysis and observations. They are likely to probe how you have come to those conclusions so you need to be prepared to discuss this in detail.
  • If the presentation is about you and how you would perform in the role then be prepared to provide examples if asked.

 

Hopefully some of the guidance above provides some simple but effective tips to delivering a great presentation. Most of the advice above is common sense but despite this we see all too often great candidates forgetting some of these golden rules and falling in the ‘Death by PowerPoint’ trap.

I do accept that some people find presenting much easier and natural than others but unfortunately it continues to be a well used tool in selecting candidates.

With time effort and preparation you can hopefully ensure you deliver a convincing and stylish presentation.

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Top tips for an On The Job Experience interview

By Sophie Mackenzie, AdMore Recruitment

So, you’ve had great feedback from your first interview and are on track for a final interview. Before that is confirmed however, there is the small matter of an OJE to get through.

An OJE (on the job experience) is regularly used as part of the recruitment process in the Retail & Hospitality sectors and typically involves spending anything from a few hours to a whole day, out in the field or in store, getting a feel for the role you are applying for and the culture of the company.

It can take many forms. Irrespective of the level of role you are applying for, you may be asked to work in store to see what it’s like at ‘grass roots’ level. You may be asked to go out on the road with your line manager or alternatively, with a prospective ‘peer’. Whatever the format takes, this part of the recruitment process is fraught with potential pitfalls and can cause you to come a cropper!

Drawing on our years of supporting candidates through these stages, here are some tips to help you prepare and get the best from the experience:

If you are spending the day at ‘grass roots’ level, perhaps working on the shop floor or in a restaurant, the key is rolling your sleeves up with the rest of the team. Build rapport with your colleagues and make it clear you are there to learn and find out about the company (now is not the time to share with them your thoughts on how things could be improved…).

  • Talk to customers about their experience. Talk to staff at all levels. Remember to smile!
  • Get a feel for what is done well and what the opportunities are for improvement – you may well be asked about this if you are invited to final stage.
  • You can be sure that the team will be asked for their feedback so bear this in mind. You may have interviewed well, however this is where they want to see if you can ‘walk the walk’ and apply your skills in the real world.
  • Be vigilant too. One of our candidates famously did an OJE at a funeral services company for an Area Manager role and had the misfortune of spending the day with a member of staff who had missed out on a promotion to the very role he was applying for. Such was the extent of her wrath that she took great delight in showing him some of the more ‘grizzly’ aspects of the role – he is still having nightmares to this day!

If you are invited to spend a day on the road with the line manager or someone at their level, ensure you are prepared with a raft of insightful and intelligent questions. This is an effective way of showing your interest, enthusiasm and knowledge whilst getting them to do most of the talking. You could well be with them for several hours so be prepared to maintain your energy and focus – no mean feat!

  • Chances are they will be taking you to visit key stores on their patch and this will undoubtedly include some high performing stores and some with performance issues. Your ability to assess different stores and draw conclusions from your observations is clearly part of the test. In preparation, it may be useful to familiarise yourself with the format for conducting SWOT analyses, click here for more info.
  • Remember, you need to strike a balance between giving an accurate analysis and using diplomacy, bearing in mind that the state of the area as a whole will reflect ultimately on your companion for the day! That said, missing out glaring  issues will raise questions about your operational capability so it is more about how you deliver this information.

Spending any time with a prospective peer is tricky. You need to navigate any potential political minefields and to do this, you need to assess the situation at the start of the day. By asking the right questions, you should be able to gauge how open you can be with the individual and what their own situation is. Remember that they will hopefully be a future colleague and winning an ally at this stage could prove invaluable. The rule about diplomacy applies here too – being overly critical of one of their stores will not go down well so focus on the positives and only give negative feedback if specifically asked. If you feel that you can be relatively frank, this is also a great opportunity to ask questions that you may not necessarily ask in an interview situation eg. what is the work/life balance like?

Finally, some practical points to consider:

  • Make sure you have a decent breakfast – you don’t know how long it will be before you have lunch and it may be difficult to grab a snack along the way.
  • As with any interview, plan your journey and know who you are meeting. Having their mobile number is useful too.
  • Make sure you have cash in case you want to buy your companion a coffee en route.
  • Dress appropriately, particularly if spending the day in store – you need to be comfortable and need to mirror the rest of the team. Your recruiter or HR contact should guide you on this.
  • Clear your diary for the day. An OJE can often over-run and you don’t want to be worried about getting to another meeting later in the day.

Good Luck!

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Interview questions you may be asked at Operations Director level

By Russell Adams,AdMore Recruitment

Before focusing on some of the questions you are likely to be asked at interview, I cannot emphasise enough the importance of preparation for interviews at Operations Director level. Whilst people always talk about preparation, senior candidates need to ensure that if they are interested in pursuing a role, they are able to dedicate enough time to present themselves in a credible way. You are likely to be put through a robust and probably lengthy recruitment process which will be designed to test and stretch, assessing both your capability and cultural fit for the business you are considering joining. Leadership, management style and culture are critical at this level, as is the need to fit with rest of the executive or leadership team. In addition to the traditional interview process, it is highly likely you will undergo psychometric testing and a possible assessment with an Occupational Psychologist. These steps are designed to provide a rounded picture of you as an individual from an intellectual, personality and capability perspective.

My personal opinion is that as the interview process moves forward, the importance of preparation increases. The risk for senior candidates is to assume that their experience will speak for itself however this is a highly competitive market and you must be able to provide evidence to back up your track record and be able to demonstrate your behavioural qualities which are so critical in a senior position.

I recently met a senior candidate to talk through his preparation for a third interview. Having met the client twice, he was in the position of understanding the three areas of potential concern the client had about him as an individual and his ability to deliver in this role. As a result he had used a "mind map" to develop a clear plan and strategy of how he would provide evidence to the key stakeholders in the next interview to overcome these concerns. By completing this preparation and seeking the counsel of others he was giving himself the best possible chance of overcoming these potential objections.

During the selection process clients will be looking to identify your capability across a number of key competencies and will question you accordingly. I have listed some of the major competencies below and some questions that you could possibly be asked:

Leadership

Leadership is a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal. In today’s world it is accepted that it is about engaging individuals to maximising their discretionary efforts. From a client’s perspective they are looking for you to provide evidence of how you have led your team to deliver great results.

Typical leadership questions may include:

  • Why do you believe you are the best person for the role? Although somewhat crude at a senior level, it is about the individual’s ability to illustrate a clear view on what they feel they can bring to the position.
  • How do you inspire others around you that are looking to fill your shoes?
  • When have you found recently that old solutions no longer work?
  • Describe a time where your team did not agree with your proposed course of action, how did you manage that situation?
  • How have you communicated your Vision and ensured your team are fully engaged? How have you measured this engagement?

 

Strategic Insight

Being ‘strategic’ in simple terms is having the ability to develop a plan to gain a future advantage. From a client’s perspective they will be looking to assess your ability to think in time, i.e. that you can hold past, present and future in mind at the same time to create better decision making and speed of implementation. Also, that you have the ability to create, analyse and implement a clear strategic vision and plan.

Typical Strategic Insight questions may include:

  • What will stop you achieving your goals?
  • When you envision your business in three years - what does it look like and what will it take to get it there?
  • What do you foresee as the possible future in your sector and potential opportunities that you may be able to exploit through your business's product or service?
  • How do these ideas and decisions tie in with your company's mission, vision, and goals?
  • As you develop a strategic vision for your organisation what are the key criteria that you should focus on?
  • How do you adapt your leadership style in a growth business versus in a turnaround situation?
  • What is your opinion on our current strategy? What would you do differently?

Change Management

This could relate to change in the mission, strategy, operation or culture of the business. The economic downturn has forced most businesses to adapt and change and there continues to be considerable structural change in the retail sector. These challenges have required businesses more than ever to rethink the way they do business. Clients will want to understand examples and evidence of where you have delivered change within an organisation. What actions did you take, what challenges you faced and how these were overcome.

Typical Change Management questions may include:

  • What’s the biggest risk you have ever taken? How did you mitigate this risk? Did it pay off?
  • What are the most common reasons why change fails in most organisations?
  • When have you broken the rules in order to deliver the right result?
  • How have you restructured your business to ensure it is "fit for purpose"?
  • How has technology changed the way in which you approach your role?

 

Stakeholder Management

Stakeholder management is about managing relationships with a broad range of individuals or groups who have a vested interest in the various outcomes of the business. Your ability to effectively manage these challenging and sometime conflicting relationships is essential when operating at a senior level.

Typical Stakeholder Management questions may include:

  • How have you sought to gain the buy-in of your fellow directors to your strategy?
  • How do you deal with underperforming peers who are impacting your business?
  • How have you utilised Social Media to engage different groups?
  • How have you balanced the short-term versus long-term demands of investors?

Commerciality 

Commerciality concerns your ability to exploit business opportunities and deliver great results. It is imperative that you know your numbers inside out as you are likely to be questioned hard about the results you have delivered and how you have achieved them.

Typical Commerciality questions may include:

  • How is your business performing year to date?
  • How does this compare to other regions, divisions or competitors.
  • What is your lasting legacy at company X?
  • In the last three years how have you balanced the need to cut costs whilst delivering for the customer?
  • What action have you taken that has had the biggest impact on sales?
  • Explain our brand?
  • Who do you view as the biggest competitive threat to our business? Why?

  

General questions 

  • What are you looking for in an employer?
  • Why do you feel you have succeeded where others have failed?
  • How do you ensure your team are bought into your vision and company strategy?
  • How would you deal with one of the direct report’s for this role who believes this role should have been theirs?
  • What are you going to do if you are unsuccessful in securing this role?

 

Fundamentally the client is measuring you on the evidence that you provide, your ability to articulate that evidence, the results you have achieved and how these have been delivered.

So, preparation is key – whilst you aren’t going to be asked all of the questions listed, you will undoubtedly be asked about questions covering these competency areas and it is critical that you have prepared examples and are clear about the messages you wish to convey.

As a client said to me yesterday, "I can only assess the candidate against the evidence she gave me during the interview…"

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Be a S.T.A.R. at interview – use the C.A.R!

By Sophie Mackenzie, AdMore Recruitment

When attending any interview, there is a significant amount of preparation required if you are going to give yourself the best possible chance of success. Each interview process will have its unique elements and navigating these different styles of interviews can be a challenge in its own right!

Irrespective of which format the interview takes, you need to be prepared to answer the questions in the best possible way. This isn’t just about saying the right thing; it is about structuring your answer in the right way and providing tangible evidence so that the interviewer is absolutely clear about what you are capable of.

One of the biggest mistakes people make in an interview is talking too much. If you have a good interviewer, they should be allowing you to do most of the talking however it is important to strike the balance between verbosity and clarity! There is nothing worse as an interviewer, than meeting a candidate who you know can do the job but who either cannot express their abilities clearly enough or who bores you senseless with overly long-winded responses!

So, what can you do to prepare yourself to answer questions thoroughly and succinctly?

The most accurate predictor of future performance is past performance and this is the reason Competency Based interviews are so widely used. It is worth brushing up on Competency Based Interviews in general and ensuring you have a good idea of which competencies the interviewer will be looking to assess for a particular role. Click here for some general advice

Once you have drawn up a list of the competencies needed to do your target job, you should then create your list of examples of how you have demonstrated each competency. This will give you confidence that, whether the question posed is about Leadership or Problem Solving, you will have a mental list at the ready!

The next stage is to get your structure right and this is where the CAR or STAR formats can help you.

A Competency Based Interview asks you to outline how you have performed in a specific situation in the past. Using the CAR or STAR structure will enable the interviewer to get the detail they need from you in the limited time available.

The STAR format tends to lend itself to more complex examples where there is greater detail required and where you need to guard against being too long-winded.

The key to each of these is to break down each example into the relevant section. It encourages you to separate out the Context of the situation from the Action you took. Most importantly, it makes you focus on the end Result. What did you actually achieve? Can you back this up with specific figures or percentage increases?

By working through each of your examples in this way, you will find that you naturally adopt this clarity of style. As ever, you will get better with practice and rest assured that your interviewer will appreciate your efforts!

Doing this well will make you credible and enable the interviewer to visualise you in the role along with providing tangible results to reinforce your examples. Hopefully, it will also mean that, however structured the interview, it will flow well and give the interviewer time at the end for more informal questioning.

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7 Tips for building rapport in an interview

By Jez Styles, AdMore Recruitment- Specialists in Retail and Hospitality Recruitment, Search & Selection, Talent Management and Career Development.

I read an article late last year that has kept coming back to me in recent months. The article (a study by Lauren Rivera) from the December issue of the American Sociological Review suggested that Employers are often more likely to hire a person they would want to socialise with than the ‘best’ individual for the job. The article didn’t suggest that employers were hiring the wrong people, but that they would prefer to hire someone that they have bonded with, would perceive to be a future friend or who made them feel good about themselves.

Given the amount of focus on CVs, interview techniques, innovative job searches (etc, etc) most candidates could be forgiven for focussing on the ‘technical’ side of looking for a job. Getting ‘in front’ of an employer is for most candidates the primary focus and in an increasingly results driven culture it is easy to forget how important it is – to put it simply – that you and the employer like each other. Talk to any recruiter and they will confirm, if there is a shared past or common interest the candidate has a much better chance of getting the job. I believe this is particularly true in Retail where often there are no technical qualifications to differentiate one candidate from another.

So, if you are looking for a job, what can you do? Here are a few tips on how to build rapport and give you the best possible chance of landing a job offer!

  1. First impressions are crucial -  I wrote about how to create a great first impression (read here) in the first ten seconds previously. It is fairly obvious but if you don’t get the first impression right you will face an uphill battle to build rapport. You really want your interviewer to have an immediate gut reaction that they like you.
  2. Positive Body language – Smile, make eye contact, and lean in when you want to really engage. Again, you are appealing to the interviewer on a subconscious level. Where possible you should try to match your interviewer…
  3. Mirroring & Matching – This often seen as a bit of a ‘dark art’ but it is quite simple to do. The best way to learn how to do this is to just focus on one element at a time in every day conversations until you are a little more adept at combining several elements. Where possible you should match voice tone, speed and sound; breathing rates & body posture; speech patterns including specific buzz words and the level of detail. The interviewer will see a similarity in how you come across which was central to Lauren Rivera’s research.
  4. Use the person’s name wherever possible - There is a huge amount of research available but in essence people like to hear their own name. This is linked to how your brain reacts on a subconscious level and is linked to your development as a child. Read here for more information.
  5. Take a genuine interest in the interviewer and focus on them not the organisation - It is worth setting yourself some specific objectives about what you want to find out about the ‘person.’ The simple fact is that people tend to like talking about themselves. Be prepared to ask follow up questions and show genuine interest. Show empathy and indicate wherever there is common ground. Again, any chance you get to indicate commonality will give the interviewer the impression you could be a potential friend in the future.
  6. Similar activities , similarity matters - It is worth doing some research, via contacts and social media, in to what the interviewer does in their spare time and what they are passionate about. Are they a sports fan, do they go to the opera, do they have kids (and therefore do none of the aforementioned activities!)? Where possible you should get this in to the conversation. Once again, if there is a similarity of interests the interviewer will be inclined to move you up the shortlist.
  7. Compliment the person - Everyone likes praise (method of delivery is crucial for some though). If the opportunity arises give some compliments. Keep it relevant to the interviewer and try not to be too sycophantic!

Overall, keep in mind that you want to generate a sense of similarity between you and the interviewer.

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Can the launch of glassdoor.co.uk help you to identify your employer of choice?

By Sophie Mackenzie, AdMore Recruitment- Specialists in Retail and Hospitality Recruitment, Search & Selection, Talent Management and Career Development.   For those of you who are as yet unaware of glassdoor.com, it is a US based site whose aim is to create a community providing a source of information about prospective employers, job roles and salaries based on anonymous reviews from employees. They have recently launched their UK site, glassdoor.co.uk .

The format of each review comprises Pros and Cons and Advice to Senior Management along with star ratings given for the following criteria: Compensations & Benefits, Culture & Values, Career Opportunities, Senior Leadership, Work/Life Balance and CEO Rating.

It is a simple format and undoubtedly can prove a useful resource when researching companies or preparing for interviews.

Under each company profile, it includes a Recent News section which is useful for ensuring you are up to date with latest Press Releases, results or general news.

Understandably, the large, global businesses have the most reviews (often in their thousands) with some sectors being more broadly represented than others, particularly the Management Consultancies, Technology companies and Financial Services. I would guess therefore that reviews on these businesses are a pretty accurate reflection of working life within those companies.

Within Retail, the major UK brands are represented although many have a limited numbers of reviews – I’m sure this will change as more people in the UK become aware of its existence. Until there is a significant body of material on each company, I think it will be a while before it provides enough insight to accurately reflect what it is like to work for a particular company.

In their Community Guidelines, glassdoor are clear that participants should write balanced reviews without reverting to bitter or overly personal accounts of their own experience. Reviewers must be current or former employees of that business within the past 3 years and so there is reason to assume that the integrity of the reviews is good.

As always with reviews, you must take each contribution in context and look at the overall theme which emerges from a number of reviews. Other factors to bear in mind are the level of the person reviewing (junior candidates will have a different perspective than senior managers although their opinion is no less insightful or valid). Equally with the Interview section, where people provide sample interview questions and insight into their application process, it is wise to be cautious. Interview processes can change and your preparation still needs to be thorough enough to deal with any unforeseen eventualities.

We are all becoming increasingly reliant on reviews whether that is before booking a holiday or buying something and they can be an incredibly powerful tool. Recently, before leaving on holiday, I accidentally stumbled upon some Tripadvisor reviews on my destination. They were so bad that I was tempted to cancel, however I kept an open mind and sure enough, I had a lovely time albeit with my eyes wide open and expecting the worst! With something as important as your career, the more research you can do the better, and as long as you keep an open mind, glassdoor.co.uk should prove to be a useful addition to your ‘career toolbox’.

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What should your Recruitment Consultant really do for you?

By Russell Adams, AdMore Recruitment- Specialists in Retail and Hospitality Recruitment, Search & Selection, Talent Management and Career Development. In a market where organisations are increasing their proportion of direct hires, do you still need to be talking to recruiters and what are they actually doing for you?  Are they really adding any value and what are they doing that you couldn’t do yourself? Indeed with LinkedIn it is now easier than ever before to be found by organisations looking to hire. So are recruiters really adding any value? The answer to that question will definitely depend on who you are talking to. Sadly the industry is lightly regulated and with no formal qualifications it is very easy for poorly trained individuals to operate without much scrutiny or redress. As we are all aware, the market is still tight. With strong competition for most roles it is likely that you will need to engage the services of recruiters in order to try and access the best opportunities in the market.

So what should a good recruiter be doing for you?

Career Advice

A specialist recruiter should be able to give expert career advice and both challenge and assist you in your career goals and objectives. They should be highly knowledgeable in your field and very well connected.  Your recruiter should be a career partner and not just an agent that will place you in a role.

Recruiters can and should provide impartial career advice. When paid commission you need to appreciate that some may have a short term attitude and advise what is best for them and not for you as the candidate. However, the best recruiters will take a look term approach, appreciate that people will remember great advice and certainly never forget bad advice. Although in the short term they may lose out on a fee, longer term if they do the right thing then you are much more likely to engage them when you are looking to recruit. So look out for the signs that they are thinking long term.

Recruiters can if they are willing provide advice across a range of areas including advice on CV’s and Interviewing. They typically do not change for these services but do it as a way of adding more value to the candidates. Again they are likely to only provide in depth advice to those individuals who they have built a relationship with.

Job Search

In addition to some of the added value areas, fundamentally you want your recruiter to give you access to the best jobs in the market. So, do plenty of research and ask plenty of questions; what roles are they recruiting? Who are their key clients? Are they recruiting the types of roles you are interested in? The competition out there is fierce and through building a strong relationship with key recruiters in your sector you can try and ensure you gain access to these roles. A good recruiter should always call you back. In the current market, recruiters are incredibly busy, there are large number of candidates on the market chasing relatively fewer roles, however if you agree up front how to communicate and how frequently then you should be able to find a way that works for both parties.

 Process Management

A good recruiter should "coach" you through the recruitment process.  They should be using their in depth knowledge of the client and the individuals within it to guide and advise you on how to position yourself. They should be able to give you a strong insight into the culture and how you will fit.  The are also likely to get in depth feedback from the client after each stage so make sure they are sharing this information with you, so you can understand what you may need to do more or less of.  In fact a really good recruiter will always think long term. The better ones will coach you through a process even when they aren’t representing you but it is with a client they know. They will appreciate the long term benefits of doing this and the potential for the future.

 Offer Negotiation

Whilst there are a multitude of reasons for moving jobs, increasing your salary and benefits is often an important aspect.  Your recruiter should be instrumental in negotiating the right salary for you.  They should know the client well and will have a real feel for what the client may be willing to pay for someone with your skill set.  But make sure they are clear about your parameters because as much as you want to receive the best offer you also don’t want to put yourself in a situation where you are jeopardising a potential offer because the recruiter is demanding an unachievable  salary on your behalf. Also make sure you understand the full package. The benefits on offer may vary considerably from your current role and other roles you are considering and it is wise to look at the package as a whole. This will both influence your thoughts around basic salary but also may give you some leverage. Make sure you have this information early in the process. Like any negotiation the Recruiter will be aiming to find middle ground that is acceptable to both you and the client. It is ok to push but get a feel for where those boundaries lie.

Post Placement

A good recruiter won’t just place you and collect their fee, they will support you through your notice period and then though your induction into the business. They should provide you with an insight into the key players in the business you are joining, the culture and advice on how to integrate into the business. They should keep in touch and ensure that your induction runs smoothly, feeding back to the client where appropriate.

Conclusion 

Identifying and then building a relationship with the right recruiters will be critical if you are determined to make the best career move possible.

So how can you ensure your recruiter is doing all these things for you? Firstly please choose wisely. It is best to get recommendations and check their credentials.

Secondly to gain this level of advice, support and opportunity you need to invest time in building a relationship with the recruiter. This is easier said than done when working in a demanding and consuming role, so select a small number of well connected recruiters. For some additional advice on job hunting please read our recent blogs Looking for a job in 2013and How to avoid joining the wrong business.

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Top ten tips for candidates from Assessment Centre Veterans

By Jez Styles, AdMore Recruitment- Specialists in Retail and Hospitality Recruitment, Search & Selection, Talent Management and Career Development. Whenever I brief a candidate that there is an assessment centre in a recruitment process I tend to encounter a range of responses. I use the word ‘range’ pretty loosely as in truth the vast majority of candidates dread an ‘AC’ at worst and are ambivalent at best. Occasionally, when working with sales driven businesses you will encounter candidates that positively live for ‘out of the comfort zone’ experiences. Overall, I think my favourite response is from the AC veterans, the guys who have assessed other candidates, been assessed on multiple occasions and probably helped to write exercises previously. They know how it works, what they need to do and more importantly…how to impress. And yes…sssshhhhhh… some even enjoy the experience!

Here are some tips from AC veterans I have worked with:

  1. Prepare. Ask your recruiter for a copy of the competencies/qualities that are being assessed on the day. There is a good chance that the day will include an interview so you will have a great opportunity to really impress. If you are unable to clarify the competencies then ask for a job description or research the business. For further tips for an interview click here; Top tips for a competency based interview
  2. Get your mind-set right. Sales based candidates can skip to point three…this is not a competition. Most companies use assessment centres because they are looking for multiple candidates and/or because it gives a different insight in to candidate behaviour. If you enter an AC with the belief that you need ‘to win’ there is a good chance this will influence your behaviour in the inevitable group exercise and also social situations. It is better to think about being the best you can be. Also, avoid comparing your performance to your peers on the day. Most AC’s have a benchmark score for passing the day so if you beat everyone else but still do not benchmark you will fail.
  3. You are always being assessed. I have attended numerous ACs where candidates have hit the benchmark score, but in the ‘wash-up’ an assessor has recounted a conversation or observation that has created a negative impression. Avoid taking a cigarette break if you can. If you do take a break be aware any conversation you have is still being assessed. Similarly, if lunch is included be sure to maintain good manners and dare I say it sensible food choices. If an overnight stay is involved – stay clear of the alcohol! Finally, be aware of your body language, do not lean, slouch or invade people’s space. Think about your facial expressions when part of any group conversations or exercises – be positive and smile…a lot!
  4. Network. At the start of the day you should make a note of all the assessors, ideally name and job function. Over the course of the day you should spend time with each individual. It is crucial that you prepare a bank of insightful questions prior to the day. They might be geared towards an HR or Operations Director or other relevant function. Assessors will tend to remember the people that have asked intelligent questions and truly engaged them. It is also worth spending time getting to know the other candidates; there are networking opportunities for the future.
  5. Plan each task. In the heat of the moment it is easy to just launch in to a task. However, it is crucial that you take the time to read all relevant instructions. I assessed an AC last year where 5 individuals in a Group task all failed to read one crucial piece of information which led to them all failing the task. You should plan your time and allow for unexpected changes to the structure of the exercise (normally about ten minutes before you are due to finish!). All exercises are generally designed to put you under pressure to complete within a tight time-frame. Do not panic and importantly, ensure you complete the exercise. Finally, if you are offered various materials you would be wise to use them. An obvious one would be the provision of a flipchart for a presentation. Use it!
  6. Nail the Group exercise. Most candidates hate Group Exercises, often describing them as fake or ‘not a reflection of real life.’ While this may be true they are also remarkably affective at putting candidates under pressure which results in a multitude of interesting behaviours that you would not see in an interview or other exercise. There are a few things you can do to ensure you are perceived positively. Most importantly do not ‘over dominate’ the exercise. Avoid (contrary to popular belief) being the person that writes notes or prepares the flipchart presentation, you will quickly end up being side-lined from the conversation. Use your peers name when addressing them and invite the quieter participants to voice their opinion. Express your own ideas and ask for feedback. Ensure the group is on target to complete the task on time and if required steer the group to complete tasks as required. Finally, stand by the group’s ultimate decision/conclusion. Do not fall in to the trap of criticising other group members if faced with ‘apprentice’ style questions from the assessors.
  7. Do not let one bad exercise ruin your day. Confidence is crucial on an AC day and a single exercise will not usually determine your success or failure. If you perform badly on one exercise you must pick yourself back up and move forward.
  8. Take Psychometric exercises seriously. Psychometrics are being increasingly used in advance of AC days to either highlight areas to explore over the course of the day or to provide additional evidence of capability.
  9. Be positive. Over the course of the day you will have numerous conversations and will experience a range of emotions.  It is important that you remain positive and that you express this. Do not fall in to the trap of making any negative comments about the assessors, the AC, other delegates, current employer, ex-boss or your consultant. I have witnessed numerous candidates ‘de-selecting’ themselves through a flippant remark to the wrong person.

I hope this helps and please share your tenth tip in the comments below or via our Blog page on LinkedIn:

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What do you do when your Retail Employer brand needs a refresh?

By Jez Styles, AdMore Recruitment- Specialists in Retail and Hospitality Recruitment, Search & Selection, Talent Management and Career Development. 

The most challenging, and by it’s very virtue interesting recruitment is often when you are resourcing for an employer whose brand does not quite match up with candidate perceptions. This can work two ways. A business may have a great employer brand but in truth be a difficult to place to work and develop a career. Conversely, there are many businesses that have a poor employer brand but are actually a great place to work. This mismatch often arises for two key reasons; firstly businesses change - a company may have had a high staff turnover previously but due to a change of CEO/HRD the underlying problems have been removed. The second reason is that many people confuse the customer brand with the employer brand. Yum! Brands (The parent company of KFC) are a great case in point. Potential employees think ‘fried chicken?’ but do not necessarily know the fantastic, employee- focused career opportunities they offer.

So, what can you do to educate candidates?

I was recently invited to a Retail networking event at Harrods. I’ll declare my hand early; I used to work in Harrods. It was an amazing experience and I can honestly say that it was the most theatrical and exciting place to ‘retail.’ However, it would seem that many candidates do not see Harrods as being an employer of choice. Following a period of change at Harrods (click here for more information) the Resourcing team have decided that now is the time to win hearts and minds.

The event was by invitation only (thanks to Linda Treen for the invitation!) and was aimed at attracting the top talent from retail that had thus far declined to attend a formal interview. It was typically Harrods - held in the Georgian restaurant where we were offered some beautifully crafted bacon rolls served with coffee and tea. The Retail Director, Paul Thomas, kicked off the day with introductions. This was perhaps the most powerful part of the day. There were 8 Harrods employees present; they came from Asda, Zara, Tesco and a collection of large and small retailers. Not the typical luxury backgrounds one might expect. They also had interesting career paths; it would seem that the path from Operations to the Support functions was well travelled. I guess that is the benefit of having the core of your business and its supporting Head office within a few miles of each other.

Following the introductions, a chap by the name of George Hammer talked about his own experience of setting up the Urban Retreat salon concession in Harrods. George is a classic entrepreneur and was quick to cut to the chase. Harrods is not an easy place to work quite simply because the standards and expectations are so high. As he put it, if you want to work somewhere spectacular you will have to take a risk. This is an interesting point, as this is absolutely about confidence. If you are confident in your ability then why would you not be successful? His most memorable quote being; "be exceptional, do not be average." George is clearly an extremely successful entrepreneur, he was the founder of Aveda amongst many other concerns, however he seemed to connect with the audience and many of the candidates present were clearly impressed by his honesty and his passion for Harrods.

Paul Thomas went on to talk about his own career path (Asda - Saturday boy to Store Manager, Sainsburys, Harrods Food Hall) and then fielded some questions. Paul was candid about his own decision to join Harrods with the admission of a wobble during his notice period prior to joining – had he made the right decision?  He was keen to tackle the negative perceptions within the room. A few candidates opened up and to Paul’s credit he dealt with these in a way that encouraged others to raise their own concerns.  He talked about the operational roles being narrower, yet deeper, than normal. He discussed perceptions around a more mature workforce and the ‘stuffy’ stereotypes. He noted that in the four years since they have started measuring employee engagement, they have seen a marked improvement in scores. This willingness to meet these questions head on certainly engaged the audience.

I noted with interest the number of candidates that were keen to formally register their interest in Harrods following some further informal conversations. I suspect that the Resourcing team were slightly surprised to get such an immediate result. Jenny Parry, Head of Resourcing, told me that she was primarily hoping to get the message out there that Harrods is evolving.  Judging by the reaction from the candidates attending, I think they certainly achieved this. It would be interesting to know what other retailers are doing to actively manage their employer brand in what is proving to be a period of intense change in the retail industry, comments below please!

By Jez Styles, AdMore Recruitment- Specialists in Retail and Hospitality Recruitment, Search & Selection, Talent Management and Career Development.