How to approach a Skype interview

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By Sophie Mackenzie. Congratulations - you have been invited to an interview! But hang on, the interview is to take place via Skype (or Facetime)…so how should you approach it? This is becoming a regular phenomenon in the recruitment world, so if you managed to avoid it thus far, chances are it won’t be long before you have to go through it. As with all interviews, preparation is everything so here are a few tips to ensure that you give the best account of yourself, albeit via the wonders of modern technology! Setting up Firstly you need to be able to accept an invitation to a Skype interview in the first place so get an account set up and ready to go. Also ensure that your user name is professional. Ideally, you will be given a date and time with plenty of notice. If you are asked to conduct a Skype interview at short notice, try to make sure you allow some time to prepare. Prepare your surroundings
  • Choose the venue for your interview carefully – ideally at home, in a quiet room with a door.
  • Get the lighting right and do a test Skype call in advance to check this.
  • Think about what your interviewer will see behind you – a neutral background is ideal with minimal personal belongings in view.
  • Ensure that pets/children/flatmates are being taken care of and know not to interrupt you!
  • Turn any phones to silent.
  • Position your laptop so that the camera is at eye level – a much more flattering angle.
Appearance You could go for the ‘business up top and party below’ approach (shirt and tie from the waist up and boxer shorts from the waist down?!) However, I can envisage issues with this if you have to stand up to deal with a technical issue for instance. Err on the side of caution and dress as you would for a face to face interview. This doesn’t necessarily mean a corporate suit if this is not in keeping with the culture of the company. You should do your research in advance to get this right and if a recruitment consultant is representing you, they should be able to guide you. In short, you should be immaculately groomed, just as you would for a normal interview Do a test run
  • Test your equipment in advance (a good opportunity to Skype your Mum).
  • Ensure you have a strong Broadband connection.
  • Practice looking at the lens rather than looking at yourself in the corner of the screen!
During the interview
  • Remember to smile
  • Practice active listening (nod, “hmm” etc.) so that your interviewer knows that you are listening and that there is no delay.
  • NEVER type on the keyboard during the interview
  • Keep notes of key points or a copy of your CV to hand (just be subtle if you refer to it during the interview)
  • If there are any technical problems, address it with the interviewer and if necessary call them back – don’t try to persevere if you can’t hear them properly.
  • After the interview, you should email your thanks – just as you would for any other interview.
Ultimately, an interview is an interview, irrespective of the medium in which it is conducted and the rest of your preparation should be thorough as for any other interview situation – read some advice here. By employing some of the techniques above, you will hopefully be able to behave naturally and concentrate on getting across your skills, experience and suitability for the role. Good luck! Click here to follow us on LinkedIn  

What recruiters really want to see on a CV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breaking the news

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

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

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


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


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

Get organised

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

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

SOP (Standard Operating Procedure)

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

Visibility of information

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

Preparing to hand over

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

Out of Office

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

Keeping in touch

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

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

Getting stuff done

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

Plan your return

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

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

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

See you in 6 months!

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How to determine whether your salary is competitive in the market.

During the recession many people have experienced very little or no growth in salary and earnings as companies have looked to carefully control their costs. As many a politician has told us, rises in the cost of living has led a fall in overall living standards over the last few years. But with an improving economy and a rapidly improving job market many people may be looking to improve their earnings as they review their career. At times we all feel we are not paid enough for the job that we do, or assume that there will be others that are being paid more but how do you know if you are being paid the going rate and what is your real worth in the market?

I should start by saying that there is no easy answer to this question. Partly because roles are always slightly different so comparing them can be very difficult. In its most basic form, the salary you receive is what the company perceives is acceptable. In many cases this may bear no relationship to national averages, industry averages, or with what anyone else in your company is being paid. In reality what you are paid will largely depend on the company you’re working for and how it approaches salary structures. It may be their philosophy is to ensure they keep their best talent or perhaps to pay the lowest they can get away with!

So how can you try and determine your market worth?

Compare the market

One of the more accurate ways to establish your worth and the market rate is by analysing some market data. For instance, this could take the form of looking for job adverts for similar roles to identify the salaries that are advertised. As you can appreciate this not an exact science as the salaries offered may well differ from those being advertised and the exact scope and responsibilities of the roles may differ. However this tactic should certainly give you a good feel. The other method of comparing the market is to look at salary surveys from your sector – these are widely available, often compiled by specialist recruiters and can be identified by a quick search on the internet. However, these are often very generic and may not detail the specific role that you perform. Combining this research will certainly give you the best chance of understanding where you sit in the market.

Company culture

As mentioned above, your company’s attitude to compensation and reward is likely to be a significant factor in whether you are paid the going rate for the role you are performing. You are likely to have a feel for this from how it manages and communicates its reward structure. Your company is also likely to have a reputation in the market and whether that is for great culture, great pay, great benefits or perhaps quite the opposite. Either way you are likely to have a gut feel about where you stand.

In it for the long term

As part of your consideration it is also important to look at what the future might hold for your company and your future potential earnings. When companies are doing well and are optimistic about the future they tend to pay more than when times are tough. If your company has a meritocratic culture where success is rewarded then it is likely that if you perform you will enjoy considerable salary growth over time. Even if you feel in the short term you are not being fairly rewarded it is important you take the medium and long term into consideration. It really might not be worth moving roles now for an extra 2or 3 thousand pounds when the prospects of career development are strong. Indeed promotion is the clearly the best way to increase your earnings.

It’s all about the package

The most important element to considering your market worth is to look beyond your basic salary to the overall package that you receive. In my experience benefits packages can vary enormously from company to company and it is really important that the other elements of your remuneration are taken into consideration. Other factors such as pension contribution, bonus schemes, share options etc. can have a considerable impact on your overall earnings and need to be factored in. It is often worth breaking down each element and placing on a spreadsheet to establish the overall value of your package.

Talk to the experts

Specialist Recruiters and headhunters have a unique insight into the market. They are arguably better qualified than most to provide you with an accurate picture of how well you are remunerated for the role that you do in comparison to other people in the market. They are talking to candidates day in day out and will have a feel for where salaries are going. It is worth using relationships you have to try and establish where you are financially positioned in the market.

Know the market

Individuals in your sector are likely to be able to add to the market knowledge you will have gathered. People find it awkward to ask friends, co-workers or former co-workers, but it's often an effective way to find out what the average salaries are within your specialist field. Just be careful, particularly internally, if you start asking everyone in your team or department about earnings. Make sure you ask them for a range for a particular job and not what they are currently earning. That way you are likely to get a more accurate feel.

What if you feel you are underpaid

If you discover through research that you are not being paid anything close to the market rate for the role you are performing you have several choices. One is to keep quiet and look for a new job where you will almost certainly be offered a higher salary. You can keep quiet and keep the job you have, hoping your employer will magically loosen the purse strings. Or, of course you can choose to talk to your employer about what you now know. I plan to cover this subject in a future blog but clearly any such conversation needs to be well thought through and handled in the right way. As the market picks up and candidates have more opportunities in the market it is inevitable that both internal salaries will need to increase and that the market rate for roles will start to edge up. Market wise we aren’t quite at the point yet but as the recovery takes hold it is certainly on its way.

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Assessment Centre Tips: How to approach a commercial exercise

We have discussed the different elements of an Assessment Centre before, namely, Role-play interviews, Group Exercises, Psychometric Testing . One element which we haven’t touched on yet is the Commercial Exercise.

This is commonly used in the Retail & Hospitality industries which we serve however will also appear in other sectors where there is a need to test the candidates’ commercial acumen and strategic planning ability.

It is difficult to generalise about these exercises, as one would hope they are tailored to the specific organisation and therefore will differ considerably. However, there are some general guidelines to bear in mind when faced with this kind of exercise.

What do they entail?

They are likely to be an individual exercise and could take a number of forms, for instance:

  • A case study exercise based on the role you are applying for
  •  A more generic abstract case study based on a different industry sector
  •  A more strategic ‘blue-sky’ exercise where you are expected to come up with an innovation or new idea for a business.
Whatever form it takes, there are several things to be aware of which will help you perform well:

Read the brief

As our teachers used to tell us at school, always READ THE QUESTION carefully! When you are nervous and under pressure it is so easy to get the wrong end of the stick so make sure you understand what is expected and if in doubt, ask for clarification before the exercise starts.

Plan your time

Check the time limit and work out how long you have for the exercise. Then you need to factor in enough time to read the question, make a plan and write your answer. Remember, if you are expected to present this back to the assessors in a particular format, to schedule enough time to prepare. I have seen many an excellent commercial exercise undermined by poor presentation at the end.

See the wood for the trees

These exercises tend to be intentionally wordy and the brief is likely to contain a large amount of information. The key is to read through the brief once, then again in detail. On the second read-through, highlight or annotate the areas which you think are most important or relevant. A lot of the information will either be superfluous (and designed to bewilder you) or be less significant. Analysing which key areas you need to focus on will help you plan your strategy and set a clear target for yourself.

Do your calculations

Most commercial exercises will contain financial information, whether that be projected sales figures, costs or budgetary restraints. Ensure you read this information carefully and look for any obvious trends or indicators which may be important. If you have been provided with a calculator, it is likely that some of the figures may be relevant and you may need to work out percentage changes for instance to support your analysis. Take care not to get too bogged down in the figures however. You need to look at the exercise as a whole however the exercise is there to text your commercial acumen so the ability to interpret financial data is undoubtedly a factor.

Look for links

When analysing the information, keep an eye out for separate pieces of data which may indicate one key issue. They may not be glaringly obvious. The assessors will be looking for your ability to link different pieces of information and put together a course of action accordingly.

Put the information in context

Hopefully in preparation for the assessment process, you will have done your research into the company and read the Job Description. This should give you useful background information about the culture of the company and also what their current focus is. For instance, culturally, do they favour a strong coaching management style or are they purely focused on driving sales? If they are currently driving a growth strategy, they are more likely to be looking for people who can motivate a team to exceed targets and drive sales. If they are cutting costs or restructuring, they will be looking for people who are able to performance-manage a team and streamline processes. For website recommendations for researching companies, click here.

Make your plan SMART

If the brief asks you to deliver an action plan based on the information provided, make sure that any recommendations you make are SMART. This is particularly relevant for an exercise which is closely related to the role you are applying for. For instance, here is an example of a case study for a Regional Manager role:

"You are a Regional Manager for a retail business. You have recently taken over a region of 60 stores. Although you have had very limited time, the Managing Director has arranged a meeting with you in order to understand your strategy for your region. You have been provided an information pack with a range of information as follows:
  • A handover from the previous Regional Manager.
  • The shrinkage report for your region.
  •  Region P&L report.
  •  A customer complaint letter.
  •  A Health & Safety report.
  •  The last performance appraisals for your 8 Area Managers
 Using the information provided, please draw up a 90 day plan for your area." Contained in all the supporting information will be elements which will fall in the short, medium and long term. This can be a useful way of structuring your plan, eg. breaking up a 90 day plan into 30, 60 and 90 days. This also indicates to the assessor that you are able to prioritise between business critical matters and longer term concerns.

You may have some ideas that are more strategic and long term. If so, there is no harm making brief reference to them as long as you make it clear these would not be your first priority.

Use a SWOT as a guide

Irrespective of the type of exercise, using a SWOT analysis as a way of breaking down the information can be useful. By analysing the information in terms of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats, you can formulate a strategy to deal with each of these elements.

Don’t forget the human element

When faced with large quantities of data, it can be tempting to focus on this and easy to forget the impact of your plan on your people. For any role where you will be managing (or influencing) people, the assessors will be looking for clear evidence in your plan of how you will engage the relevant stakeholders. This could include performance management strategies (for a classic management role) or could be about PR/Marketing if you are focused on getting customer buy-in for instance.

Keep your feet on the ground

If the exercise asks you to come up with an innovation or brand new strategy, try not to get too carried away. The key here is to provide balance – you need to think of something unique and ground breaking which you could actually deliver! It may be that you would need other factors to be in place (or have a very large budget!) and you may need to think about how you would market this idea, what the target customer would be etc. but as long as you have a sensible plan, this will bring your idea to life.

Demonstrate your thought process

When the commercial exercise is not based on the industry you are working in and is based on a more generic case study, don’t be thrown by jargon or the fact that you don’t know the industry in question. Focus on key elements which are relevant for all industries eg. who will buy the product/use the service, what is the impact on people, what are the financial implications. What the assessor is looking for is the ability to interpret information, your ability to think commercially and your ability to plan – by demonstrating your thought process clearly and focusing on the key elements, you will be able to display your commercial acumen, even if the context is completely alien to you.

How to present the information

Chances are that how you present the information will be left up to you. If you are provided with flipchart paper, I would be inclined to suggest you use this as it is much more impactful for the assessor than you reading your findings from hastily scribbled notes! Once you have sketched out your plan, write the headings on the flipchart paper and add your key points as you go along. This will give you structure and enable you to expand on each point verbally in the presentation.

Be prepared for questions

Try to allow 5 minutes reflection time to think about what the assessor is likely to ask. Is there anything which you left out? Even if this is intentional, you need to be able to justify your decision. If there is a controversial suggestion or strategy in your plan, be prepared to be challenged on this and if necessary, back it up with figures.

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How to research your interviewer

By Sophie Mackenzie, AdMore Recruitment

No matter how well you prepare for an interview (see our previous blogs here and here for some advice), there is one element which you will not be able to control – the person doing the interview!

Even in the most structured competency based interview, although designed to minimise subjectivity, you will be at the mercy of the interviewer and winning them over is a key aim in addition to demonstrating that you can actually do the job in question!

We have written previously about how you can build rapport quickly in an interview but what other measures can you take to impress?

Well, as ever, preparation is critical and in addition to doing your research on the role and the company, you should ideally research the person you are meeting. Here are some tips:

Make sure you have their name and job title

Sounds obvious but it is so important that you know who you are meeting. There is a big difference between meeting a junior member of the recruitment team, an HR Manager or your future boss. Each of these individuals will have a slightly different perspective and agenda. Here’s what I mean:

A junior recruiter – is likely to be conducting a ‘vetting’ interview to ascertain that you possess the key criteria for the role before they put you forward into the formal process. This could well be conducted over the phone. Click here for our advice on Telephone Interviews.

An HR Manager – will be focused on ensuring that the interview process is consistent and is likely to conduct a competency based interview as a result. Click here for top tips on how to pass a competency based interview. Their knowledge of the role in question will dictate how in depth the questioning is but one thing they will definitely be interested in is how you fit culturally with the company. They will be looking for potential issues (gaps on your CV for instance) so that they are confident if they ultimately put you forward to meet the hiring manager.

A hiring manager (future boss) – they will be focused on whether you can do the job, whether you will fit with the team (will they like you) and how soon you can start.

Once you have ascertained which category your interviewer falls into, you can tailor your approach accordingly.

General research

When you set out to research your interviewer, first reflect on what information you would like to find. Key areas may be:

  • Shared history (companies, sector, University, home town)
  • Shared interests (hobbies, training courses, education)
  • Clues about their personality and management style (overall tone, language used, anecdotal evidence)

LinkedIn is the obvious place to start to research your interviewer, particularly to understand what their career path has been and to see whether you have any common ground eg. companies you have worked for or mutual contacts.

Understanding which companies they worked for and when may give you insight into their experience and management style. For instance, if you know they worked for a company during a period of intense growth, this may indicate they have a strong entrepreneurial style and are used to managing change.

It is worth checking what University they attended and what they studied. Any school information will give you an indication of where they come from which can also be a nice introduction if you hail from the same area.

Reading testimonials, if they have any, will give you insight into what they are like to work with. It is also worth reading their recommendations of current and future employees as they will often include hints about the qualities they admire in a colleague or team member.

Try to look for key words and phrases that are repeated in the profile. As NLP practitioners would advocate, using these phrases in your interview (provided done so in a natural way) will help ensure your answers resonate with the interviewer.

Remember, if you are not connected to them, googling part of their Linkedin profile may enable you to view their complete profile.

Google Search can often produce interesting results particularly if your interviewer has been quoted in the press or has contributed to any conferences or industry publications.

The company website will sometime list detailed biographies of their senior team so it is worth checking this out too.

Twitter is increasingly used by recruiters to identify candidates and flipping this on its head, can be a useful tool to get ‘inside the head’ of your interviewer – providing they have a Twitter feed of course. This should give you snippets of insight about their interests and even sense of humour – all useful to help you build rapport.

PDF search Searching for PDF documents in a search engine is a great way of finding additional information for instance if the person in question has published any articles, presentations or attended any conferences.

Verbal References are useful if you have any links within your network to people who know the person in question either as peers, previous employees or managers. Clearly, discretion is important here – you don’t want word to get back that you have been interrogating a mutual acquaintance!

Director inventories such as the Institute of Directors or DueDil are useful particularly if you are meeting a Director for a small business.

Using the information

Once you have done the general research about the person and in particular their career history, you can start to make some deductions (although be wary of having too many pre-conceptions).

For instance, if the person has recently joined the company themselves, they may well still be adjusting to the culture and the successful recruitment of this role may well be a way to prove themselves internally.

Equally, knowing that the HR Director you are meeting was formally in a senior operational role should give you valuable insight – this is a powerful combination!

Using the information gleaned during your research requires thought and planning. Think about how you can build rapport quickly and establish common ground. Clearly the skill here is doing this in a subtle and natural way.

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Top tips for passing psychometric tests

By Russell Adams, AdMore Recruitment

Psychometric tests are now a commonly used selection tool. If you have never completed a test before they can certainly be daunting. Companies utilise these tests because they are designed to provide a reliable method of selecting the most suitable candidate although they are rarely used in isolation in the decision making process.  Some companies will use the tests as a screening tool by setting a benchmark which applicants need to achieve but others will just use it as an additional tool to assist in their selection decision.

Broadly speaking psychometric tests fall into two areas.

Aptitude:  These are generally focused on assessing your ability to complete particular tasks, assess your logical reasoning and thinking performance.  The market leader in these types of tests is SHL

Personality: These tests are focused on measuring the way you do things and the way you interact with your environment and with other people. It is argued that it is possible to quantify your personality by asking you about your feelings, thoughts and behaviour by categorising your responses.

Both tests are normally conducted on a multiple choice basis and are often strictly timed.

Aptitude Tests

Numerical Reasoning – these are number based tests that include basic mathematics, arithmetic and number sequences.

Verbal Reasoning – these tests focus on spelling, grammar and the ability to understand and interpret statements and paragraphs.

Abstract or Spatial Reasoning – these tests typically use shapes and diagrams to measure an individual’s ability to manipulate data and determine a solution.

Once a score is generated it is normally compared against a ‘norm’ group relevant to that particular position.

Personality Questionnaires

There are a range of personality questionnaires across the market with each focused on measuring slightly different aspects of an individual’s personality. The 16PF test is a commonly used tool of this nature. The vast majority are single user self administered although some provide the option to get 360 feedback from, Line Managers, Direct Reports and Peers.  They are also mostly preference based, some are focused on measuring key elements of an individuals personality such as assertiveness, warmth etc. Others will come at from a different angle such as Strength based tests such as Strengthscope which look at the tasks and activities that are most likely to energise you and lead to high levels of engagement and how these compare to the job profile for which you are being considered.  Occupational Personality Questionnaire (OPQ)  by SHL is one of the most commonly used.

So what can you do to try and improve your score?

Top Tips

1.       Learn about the tests you will be completing – all too often individuals will assume that if they are strong at maths and comprehension then the tests will be a walk in the park. If they have completed psychometric tests before they may also assume that all the tests are the same – they are not. These tests are designed to be challenging and very difficult to complete. You will definitely benefit from trying to learn more about the particular tests you will be completing, exactly what they are designed to measure and how they will be conducted. More often than not the tests will be completed remotely so once you have been sent the link, you will have the opportunity to research the tests. Alternatively, if they are to be completed on site, perhaps as part of an assessment day, you are likely to be told in advance the type of test you will be completing. Familiarisation will definitely assist you when it comes to actually completing them.


2.       Practice in advance – people should practice for psychometric tests like they would any other tests yet in my experience people rarely do.  If you are aware that you may struggle or have a weakness in a particular area then make sure you focus your efforts to try to brush up in this area. Once you know the tests you will be asked to complete then you should visit their website and undertake as many practice tests as possible. As mentioned above SHL are one of the most commonly used tests. You can find some practice tests at  Where possible, focus on the tests that you will be completing but it is worth practicing other tests as all well.  I would recommend you spend as much time as possible doing these as it will impact your performance on the live tests. It is also worth doing this under timed conditions to make it as realistic as possible. This will also help you to start to learn the skill of balancing speed with accuracy which is critical in time pressured aptitude tests.


3.       Refresh your maths skills – for many people they may not have a role where they are required to regularly use maths. As a result it may have been a while since you have been required to complete percentages, fractions, ratios etc. Depending on the particular test, you may be required to perform some of these calculations so it is definitely worth practising and refreshing yourself on some of these techniques. Again this can be quite easily achieved through the wide resources online such as


4.       Get yourself match fit – in order to perform well you need to make sure you are at your best. Tiredness for instance is likely to severely damage your scores in aptitude tests. So it is worth making sure you do everything possible to be as alert and focused as possible on the day of the test.  It can’t just be achieved the night before but if you have a period of time it is definitely worth thinking about mental activities which will help you with both personality tests and aptitude tests. Don’t underestimate the mental benefit you will achieve by using some simple exercises like Crosswords and Sudoku etc. to get yourself prepared.  You can also use other types of questionnaires and surveys to help develop your skills in reading questions, assimilating information and answering questions. Doing this under timed conditions could also really help.


5.       Make sure the environment is right – as I mentioned the majority of people may be asked to complete the tests remotely.  If this is the case then you need to think very carefully about creating the right environment to complete the test. This certainly means you need to be free of disturbance or distraction, where you are able to concentrate 100% on the tests at hand. Other things to consider include areas such as reliability of internet connection. Getting the detail right will hopefully allow you to perform to the best of your ability.


6.       On the day – managing your time on the day will be important if you wish to be as productive as possible. Time can be wasted fussing about running out of time or constantly clock watching. Instead you are better off just focusing on improving the time to complete the tests by practicing them over and over again.


7.       Don’t be a fake on the personality tests  - most modern personality tests are sophisticated enough to ask the same question in slightly different ways to ensure the applicant is being consistent with their answers and that they are not trying to portray themselves as something they are not. Businesses use the tests to understand both your suitability for the role but perhaps more often how you may fit in with the culture and values of the organisation.  Trying to be someone you are not may have the consequence of you joining a business where you are not a good fit and not naturally suited to the role.


8.        Ask for feedback – it is highly likely you will be required to complete psychometric tests again in the future whether that is when searching for a new role or indeed for an internal promotion. I would urge you to seek as much feedback as possible to understand where you have scored well and not as well as this should enable you to focus your development in the right areas. Companies will have accredited individuals who both administer the tests and interpret the results so they should be in a position to give you some detailed information. As I highlighted above, practice is one factor which has a real impact on your scores and therefore being able to focus on your weakest areas will only benefit you in future tests.


Hopefully I have suggested a few simple steps which will assist you in improving your performance on psychometric tests. For many they may be daunting or indeed mysterious if they have never faced them before. But as with many things in life through appropriate planning, practice and focus you can ensure that you perform to the best of your ability.

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How to pass the secret tests at an Assessment Centre

By Sophie Mackenzie, AdMore Recruitment

Having taken part in Assessment Centres as an assessor, a candidate and as an observer, it is my view that companies tend to approach the Assessment Centre in one of two ways. Either a. using the AC scores as the absolute measure of a candidate’s suitability and having an unwavering attitude to the pass/fail marker or b. using the AC scores as a useful indicator of suitability but taking other factors into account.

In the second case, the other factors are undoubtedly related to how the candidate performs as a whole throughout the day and this includes how they interact in between the exercises.

The challenge for a candidate is that it is unlikely you will know which of these camps the AC will fall into – so how do you make sure that you nail not only the formal assessment exercises but the informal elements too?

Do your preparation

If possible, get as much information from your recruiter in advance about what to expect on the day and who will be assessing. This will enable you to do your research about the key individuals in advance.

Equally, think of some topics of conversation to draw on throughout the day – this could be something relevant to the company eg. their latest results or simply a general news item.

Look for clues

You should have read the Job Description anyway, providing there is one, so re-read it and look for indicators about the type of person they are looking for from a behavioural perspective. Doing wider research on Linkedin, the company website and will also give you insight so you can tailor your approach. For instance, they may be a very corporate business who will be looking for a more formal, polished approach. Alternatively, they may be a quirky, more personality-driven culture which may indicate a more unusual feel to the assessment centre.

Dress Code

Your recruiter should be able to guide you on this. Generally speaking, be prepared to wear business dress – it is much easier to remove a tie than magic one from thin air if you haven’t got one with you! As the day progresses, ensure you maintain your level of presentation – don’t be tempted to loosen your tie or take your jacket off unless the assessors specifically mention it.

First impressions count

This is as important here as in every other area of life and as ever it is the simple things that count. Greet everyone warmly with a smile and a firm handshake when you arrive – the receptionist, the other candidates, the assessors. Chances are, you will find yourself in a room with the other candidates over a cup of coffee and this can be an awkward moment, particularly as people often assume that they are in direct competition with each other. This may well be the case, however, by putting others at ease, you will help yourself to feel more comfortable. Also, in doing this (by asking questions, building rapport etc.), you will create potential allies who may come in handy later and to any observers you will get noticed as a positive influence. Please see our previous blog for more detail.

Drink lots of water Keeping hydrated is proven to aid concentration (but make sure you know where the toilets are?!). Likewise, ensure you have a decent breakfast and take advantage of any snacks offered throughout the day – an empty stomach can be distracting.

No smoking

It is a fact that popping off for a fag at every opportunity is unlikely to endear you to the assessors and most importantly is likely to mean that you miss valuable influencing opportunities. Equally, heading in to a small room for a role-play smelling of cigarettes will not go down well.

Turn off your phone!

I know of a candidate who, half-way through an assessment centre, took a call rejecting him from another role which he really wanted. He went into the next exercise, messed it up and consequently blew his chances of securing another offer. Make sure you leave a voicemail explaining you will return calls later and if you have to send a text message, ensure you do it in private. You must make sure you look completely committed and focused on the task in hand.

Mind your manners

This should be a given however I have witnessed potentially good candidates blow it over lunch with appalling table manners! If you have the opportunity, remember to thank the assessors or the facilitator for their hospitality. Courtesy should extend to your conversations – the skill is to bring people into the conversation taking care not to dominate.

Keep your wits about you

There can be a lot to take in but ensure that you understand the agenda and timetable for the day and also which room you need to be in for each exercise. In some assessment centres, particularly for graduates, part of the ‘test’ is how you manage your time throughout the day and they will put you under time pressure intentionally to see how you cope.

Avoid any negativity

As the day progresses, other candidates may start to express their thoughts about the process, particularly if they feel it is not going well. I witnessed a memorable exchange during an assessment centre when one of the candidates openly criticised the validity of the whole event in the middle of the group exercise?! Avoid negative comments at all costs and avoid sharing your opinions about the exercises, even if you agree. You should remain positive and energised throughout the day and give it your best shot irrespective of whether you are privately questioning the usefulness of the event.

Be interested

Whether you are talking to a fellow candidate or to an assessor during a break, show an interest in them. Ask questions – particularly important if you are talking to an assessor, so try to think of some good questions to ask about the company and the role you are applying for. Remember to listen actively. Remember interesting people are interested.

Be yourself

Like it or not, it is a fact that people tend to recruit people they like and get on with. Given the amount of time we all spend with our colleagues, this is actually no bad strategy, providing they can also do a good job of course! Avoid therefore, trying to be someone you are not. Assessment Centres are stressful and pressured and this can often cause people to behave differently than normal. Try to fight the urge to say things you think people will want to hear. If you can relax enough to get your personality across then this will really help the assessors to picture you in their team. Finding common ground will help build rapport so use breaks and lunchtime to steer the conversation away from work and towards extra-curricular interests. This will also make it easier for the assessors to remember you.

One word of warning, ensure you are remembered for the right reasons – an ill-judged joke will not go down well.

Use networking techniques

Assessment Centres can be great networking opportunities so be prepared. Quickly identify everyone involved – who the assessors are and where the other candidates are from – and ensure you seek out each individual, if only for a brief greeting. Take business cards to exchange. Follow up on the day by connecting on Linkedin.

A well-planned, relevant Assessment Centre can be an excellent way of assessing a number of candidates in one go and also gives the candidate a longer period of time with their prospective employer and the opportunity to meet a number of key stakeholders – very useful to determine whether you would fit culturally with the business.

This cultural alignment works both ways and understanding this will help you prepare to demonstrate your personal qualities in between the formal assessment activities.

For advice on how to cope with the formal assessment exercises, see my previous post on Role-Play Interviews, here and my colleague Russell’s post about the Group Exercise. Watch this space for advice about how to handle a Commercial Exercise…

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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!



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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Top CV writing tips

By Sophie Mackenzie, AdMore Recruitment

With the New Year looming and positive news regarding the economic outlook, many of your thoughts will undoubtedly be turning to your career and how you can move it forward in 2014.

Time, therefore, to get your CV up to date. But where do you start?

Here are our top tips for writing your CV - for more detailed advice, please see my previous blog How to write a CV

Beware the over-use of boxes, lines, tables and borders. All of these may cause issues when your CV is sent via email or loaded onto a system. Using a simple Word format with the use of Bold and bullet points to break up the text which will make your CV easy to read.

It’s all about you

In my opinion, CVs should be written in the first person and from your perspective rather than in the third person. This I’m sure is open to debate however as it is a personal synopsis of your career, who better to ‘narrate’ it than you!

Get the length right

As a general rule, a well-written CV should fill 3 pages and only go beyond this if you are at a very senior level. If you are at a senior level and have a CV of two pages, I would bet your bottom dollar that you are selling yourself short. Tips to maximising space:

  • Keep flowery prose to a minimum
  • Use clever formatting (font size, narrow margins etc.) and bullet points to avoid large blocks of text.
  • Be economical with your language without missing any salient points.
  • Leave out the words Curriculum Vitae at the top of the page. Your name will suffice and this will save you a valuable line of text!
  • Keep address details in the Header or Footer or at the top of the page.
  • Keep personal interests brief - one line is fine to give someone a flavour of your interests outside work.
Go back in time

Your CV therefore, should always be written in reverse chronological order. That is, your current or most recent role should appear at the top and descend backwards in time as the readers progresses down the page. Equally, as you go back in time to your more junior roles, the level of detail should also decrease and you can revert to list format. You need to make sure you prioritise space for your most recent and relevant roles.

Contact details

There is a worrying trend of people not including their contact details. I won’t go on about this. Suffice to say that if you don’t include your telephone number, you are unlikely to receive a call inviting you to interview!

Also, a word of caution, if you have a particularly ‘cheeky’ email address, for example,  you may want to reflect on what message that sends out to prospective employers!?

Give it substance

Layout and format is nothing without decent content. Ensure that you give sufficient detail about your role, remit and responsibilities. List your achievements but make sure you back them up with tangible facts eg. figures, awards, testimonials etc. Using the STAR/CAR format will help – click here for more information

Beware of clichés and repetition.

Cliched CV phrases crop up time and time again. For example "Passionate, hard-working and results-oriented team player with strong communication skills."

Try to avoid generic adjectives listing soft-skills like this. Instead, make an impact through using interesting language in particular using ‘action’ words like demonstrated, initiated, supported, motivated to describe your experience and achievements.

Be wary of over-using the word ‘I’ particularly at the beginning of each sentence/bullet point. Try to vary the construction of sentences as follows:

  • Having worked collaboratively with head office project teams, I was instrumental in the launch of a new store format, having full accountability for the critical path in relation to its delivery in stores.
  • I initiated a new best practice for stock-control across the region which resulted in a 15% decrease in stock loss.
Accuracy and integrity 
  • Ensure that any dates listed are accurate and if there are any gaps in your work history, that they are accounted for eg. June 2011 – Oct 2011 Travel to India with Oxfam.
  • Note also that lying on your CV is likely to result in issues further down the line – there are numerous examples of people having lost their jobs after it has been discovered that they lied or ‘embellished’ their CV.

Education and Qualifications

Education should be listed in reverse chronological order starting with your highest qualification. Ensure that if you have a Degree, it is visible.

Check and check again

Please check and double-check your CV for spelling or grammatical errors. I cannot stress how important this is. Cue previous rant in my blog It’s really not that difficult.

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