Graduates, make your CV stand out to recruiters!

Your CV is one of the most important parts of your job hunt. Make is stand out from the crowd and convince recruiters that you are an outstanding candidate.

If you are currently in your last semester at university, meeting your deadlines and studying for your exam should be top priority, so anything else could almost seem unmanageable to achieve. However, if you are looking to go into full-time employment after graduating, now is the perfect time to start applying for opportunities!

Your CV is what makes your first impression to a recruiter, so even though writing a CV might feel tedious, it is valuable as it might be the only direct communication with a potential employer. With so many top tips available to you, it can be difficult to understand how to approach this crucial part of graduate job hunting. Although some CVs are unique and tailored to specific industry, there are key elements that recruiters appreciate!

A great CV should:

  • Grab the attention of recruiters and employers
  • Sell your strongest skills and accomplishments
  • Show how you're a match for a position or project
  • And most importantly, get you a conversation with a recruiter or employer (which could potentially turn into an interview)

Before we start looking at what makes your CV stand out, we need to be aware that technology has changed the way CVs are viewed, so although your CV might look nice on paper, it does not meant that it looks good on a computer or mobile phone. So how do you make your CV computer and mobile friendly and grab the attention of a recruiter?

How to make your CV stand out?

  • Avoid embellishments – Your CV should be tidy, clear, have a presentable structure and you should avoid colourful fonts or titles as well as text in fancy boxes (text within boxes will not be picked up by recruiting automation).
  • Up-to-date personal details – Your phone number, email address and location is important! The job search process has changed greatly over the past decade, and most recruiters now base their search on a specific criteria, where location happens to be one of them. You do not want to keep getting contacted by recruiters only to find out your location is detrimental to your chances of an interview, or worse, to find out that you have missed out on a great local opportunity because your CV did not show up on a search as a result of your missing location.
  • Work in reverse chronological order starting with your current role and working backwards. Include your promotion journey if applicable rather than just your current role level. This makes your career journey much more understandable and easier for the recruiter to recognise where your career could potentially be heading.
  • Use keywords throughout your CV – make sure key words stand out. Review job ads that are similar to the ones that you are interested in and look for keywords to incorporate into your CV. This will make your CV perform better in searches which means that it will get seen by more recruiters.
  • Education & part-time work section – Most employers and recruiters will not expect graduates to have numerous commercial experiences, which is why this section is crucial. Ensure that your degree institution and degree classification is visible as well as any extra-curricular and sporting achievements that you might have involved in. Part-time work and holiday jobs add significant value to your CV as they show that you are willing to work hard to gain professional experience. Both part-time work as well as sporting achievements demonstrate your ability to multi-task, plan your time and work as a team.

If you feel that your CV is fine but you are not getting responses, then please share questions in the comments box and I will be more than happy to give you some advice.


Applying for your first job after graduation?

Deciding on your first ‘proper’ job after university is a big decision. A few things that made my decision slightly easier are described below.

Whether you are still at university and getting a head start by exploring your options for next year, or whether you are a recent graduate with offers on the table but finding it challenging to decide which is right for you, here are some key factors which are worth thinking about.

My job search journey began around Christmas last year (during my final year at university) and I found that getting a head start allowed me more thinking space - I highly recommend anybody still at university to do the same. Making a decision will most likely be difficult and will require time and energy so being organised and knowing what you want is a good first step. But how do you know what you want and what is right for you? At the end of the day, this is new for you!

Aside from your parent-approved must haves, such as a good salary and benefits, other things to consider include:

What is the training like?
You want to work for an organisation that supports and encourages you to grow. In order to learn and grow you need great training, especially as a recent graduate with little or no commercial experience. This was one of the most important factors I considered when I was making my decision about who to apply for.

Career opportunities?
It is important to understand what your future with the company looks like. A good way to check whether the company offers this is by researching or asking questions about the existing team and their growth opportunities and/or promotions. How achievable is this? Who will be there to guide you through your growth? How quickly have other grads been promoted?

Company size, big vs small
Bigger companies usually have established ways of doing things including training, progression opportunities as well as the role you are required to do. They are also well-known, so working there will add value to your CV and could set you apart for future roles. Larger companies could also have the funds and resources for a wider range of benefits.
On the contrary, smaller businesses typically have less formality and can be more flexible. As well, you get to wear more hats working for a smaller company, exposing you to more job functions and giving you greater variety and responsibility in your role.

Ask yourself, how achievable are those promotions and which company size is more suitable to you as an individual?

Company culture
This is something that might be slightly tricky to figure out during the initial research or initial interviews, however some things to keep in mind when analysing this are the following:
Are the employees you meet happy to be working for that company? And with one another? And most importantly, do they feel like their work is valued? Do they have clear objectives for their next promotion? Most companies are now on Glassdoor, a useful website to get information about the company. Be open minded however, and make sure you look at the reviews overall rather than focusing solely on the negatives.

Values and vision
This remains one of the most important factors as you need to be passionate about what you are doing in order to be passionate about work. Do the company’s values match your own? If not, can you turn a blind eye to things that you might not feel that strongly about or agree with?
I want to conclude this blog by saying that applying for your first ‘proper job’ is not easy. The main thing is to be aware of what you want to gain out of the company or role that you have in mind and to be organised. Take charge and be organised.

Additionally, manage your own expectations. As a recent graduate with not much commercial experience you are likely to have to start from the bottom. Don’t let that put you off!


Graduating soon?

A number of opportunities await after graduation, but how do you decide which one is right for you? Getting a head start will give you more thinking space (and help you beat the competition!)

If you have read my previous blog, you would have seen that I have spent the past few months talking to graduates. What I am finding is that many are astounded at how difficult it really is to get a job in the field of their preference and the time this initial search is taking them . This comes as no surprise to me, since I was in a similar situation a few months ago. I've got to admit that I made sure to make every second count on my last semester, so I applied to jobs and opportunities quite early on.

You do not need the extra stress during your exams, so exploring your options and different avenues early on (preferably on your last academic year), puts you ahead of the competition and it means that you do not have to worry about it once you graduate. Imagine how good it must feel to have landed yourself a job knowing that all your focus and time can be put into your exams and organising your summer holiday? You do not want your 'last stress-free' summer holiday to be spent sitting in front of a computer applying for jobs and panicking.

As a previous graduate, who has gone through this and is now working full-time and speaking with graduates every day, I would suggest to start focusing on your post-graduate options now. The Christmas break is a brilliant opportunity to plan ahead. Below are a number of options which you could look at which might be helpful for recent or future graduates struggling to decide on a career path:

  1. Gap Year
    A change in location might give you a new focus and perspective. As well, traveling or accomplishing those things on your bucket list might be more difficult to achieve once you begin your full time employment. However, it is key to remember that a gap year is a great opportunity to gain new experiences and skills, whilst giving you time to reflect on what you want to do next, so feeling fulfilled by the end of it should be your aim. It will also help add additional 'life experience' to your CV which employers really value.
  2. Internship
    Internships offer the best of both worlds and are a great way to find out what working for an industry or a specific company involves. It is important to choose the right opportunity that gives you a good experience, especially since most internships are unpaid. This is also a great route to take before full-time employment.
  3. A Master's Degree programme
    This exposes you to a variety of subjects, aiding your personal development. If you decide to do a Master's degree then be sure that it fits with your long-term plans as it is not cheap. It is worth asking, will this help my employment prospects?
  4. Full time job
    Good for those who would like to go straight into work and put their theory into practice. This also allows you to start your career at an early stage, gain experience and earn money! However, if you are trying to put your degree to use and find a job within the field of your studies, bear in mind that it may be difficult to find the perfect role in a specific field. Finding your first 'proper job' is not easy so the idea of starting from the bottom should not put you off.
  5. It is all up to you
    There is no right or wrong answer. It is never too late to change your mind and chart a new way for your career. You will have gained so many transferable skills from university which will be relevant to many jobs. These jobs may not be immediately connected to your degree discipline but your degree will never go to waste. Some of these skills include things such as independence, critical thinking, organizational skills, team work, time management and many more. In our experience, many employers will be more interested in your interpersonal/life skills and abilities than your specific degree discipline.


  • You have plenty of time if you get started soon
  • Do not compare yourself to your friends, your choice and decision is yours to make
  • You are definitely not alone

For those of you looking to go into full time employment after university, my next blog will give you a few tips on applying for your first 'proper' job, so be sure to keep an eye out for that.


Grads, have you been applying for jobs but seeing no progress?

Recruiter to graduate guide, written by a recent graduate-turned-recruiter.

Only 6 months ago I was looking and applying for jobs myself, feeling rejected and not good enough.
Having been through intensive training as a recruitment consultant, I have now moved into my current role, recruiting graduates! During many conversations, I have been able to sympathise with the uncertainty in graduate's voices as they are trying to navigate their way through this new chapter.

The following tips are just a few which can help you stand out from a call list made up of hundreds of graduates. They are simple, effective and do not require much further research or work. Starting my journey as a recruiter, I quickly learned that the thoughts I had as a graduate, which included doubts over the skills I could offer to businesses full of experienced individuals, were far from reality. I have now discovered that graduates bring the flexibility, creativity, motivation and skills that a business needs to stay competitive and dynamic. Changing this mindset and incorporating some of the following tips could be your secret to success!

Set up a professional voicemail message
This is the first form of communication that recruiters will have if you happen to be away from your phone or, like most of us, are screening your calls! This will boost your credibility, make you seem more competent and encourage the caller to try you again. Keep it simple, short and to the point. Make sure you check your voicemails and text messages as most recruiters will try to call first before sending an email.

Have a conversation
When recruiters call they will be asking open ended questions. This is your opportunity to sell yourself, so do not take it for granted. Do not be scared to do most of the talking. If you get asked to talk about your current situation, try to provide some detail rather than a short answer. We like to know that people are capable of answering such questions and holding a natural and engaging conversation. Equally, the ability to communicate articulately is a skill many employers are looking for.

Naturally, your answers will vary, however a few tips include:
Currently working or in education (university) but looking for a new opportunity?
- Talk about what you are enjoying as well as what you are finding difficult (put a positive spin to this and think about what these tough situations have taught you).
- When making a point evidence it with examples, so mentioning figures and statistics is always a good idea such as KPIs, targets, number of assignments/exams completed
- What is important for you for your next role or any future plans you might have, for example studying abroad or any internships/training. (This will open up a new conversation as the recruiter will be able to tell you about the roles that they have available which might be suitable for you).

Unemployed and looking for a job?
-Previous employment and the things that you enjoyed there as well as the reason that you left (again, there could be many reasons for this however try to avoid blaming somebody else for your decision to leave work, and instead talk about everything you enjoyed and your transferable skills as a result of that job).
- If you are participating in any projects or events then talk about those
- Alternatively, feel free to talk about non-commercial elements such as your family, friends or hobbies/sport; we love it when personality comes through, just remember to keep the examples relevant.

Be aware of what is on your CV
As a recruiter, there is nothing worse than asking somebody to talk about their experience within their CV and hearing silence on the other side of the phone. A few tips to avoid the awkward silences include:
Know what is on your CV and be ready to talk about your roles and the companies that you worked for
If there are any gaps within your CV then address those. In order to represent you correctly, we need to understand the reasons behind any gaps.
If you would like to take this one step further and impress then try the following:
- Apply your experience to the job that you are seeking
- Talk about the organization's culture and how you would fit in
- What value can you bring to the organization which is different to other applicants

Ask questions
It is always favorable to ask questions at the end. This does three things, firstly, it shows that you have put some thought into your questions. Secondly, it increases your knowledge, allowing you to assess further if this position and company is right for you. Finally, it demonstrates enthusiasm and interest in the role!

Send a thoughtful follow-up note after your conversation
Sending a note that thanks the recruiter for their time and expresses your enthusiasm for the role goes a long way. A good tip is to mention something that you spoke about during the conversation. This not only shows commitment but it shows that you were paying attention!

I hope this is useful and will allow you to impress future recruiters. If you have found this useful, please feel free to comment and share as I would love to know what you guys think. If there is anything that you would like me to cover on my next blog post then please comment below with some topic ideas. Additionally, if you would like to know more about recruitment as a future career then please comment below or email me at [email protected]

Thank you.


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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