The Definitive Guide to Job Hunting

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Archive for December 2009

The ghost of Christmas future

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One thing I noticed very much over Christmas 2009: if Charles Dickens was paid royalties on A Christmas Carol, he’d be minting it! The character of Scrooge and his well-published visitations from 3 ghosts have been repeated and performed by so many people over so many Christmases but sitting through it year after year never seems to become hackneyed.

This year, I enjoyed the Muppet’s Christmas Carol, an old rerun that give my family great joy because it is the first proper film my daughter (Now aged 18 en very worldly-wise) ever saw. She can’t remember it, she was only about 2 at the time. But we certainly remember her boggle eyed viewing whilst bobbing along to the music. Those ghosts certainly didn’t scare her off!

Catherine Tate’s Gran character also had a visitation of ghosts, f-ing and blinding as she goes. As with all this lady’s comedy, I found this a bit crass but the rest of the family thought it was a real hoot. Anyway, I noticed the basic Christmas Carol tale was still in there somewhere, slightly obscured between all the modern idioms.

I avoided several of the other aged reruns on telly, but certainly my favorite this year was Jim Carey in A Christmas Carol. What made it even more seasonal was the rather heavy snowfall we drove through to get to the cinema, and slip-sliding our way over the car park. The cinematography is great and the CGI so lifelike and real. Colin Firth’s character’s jawbone is a bit broad for my taste, but otherwise its highly believable and quite scary! Amazing though : How we watch what effectively is a ghost story and end up feeling very festive and ready for the mulled wine and mince pies. In this film, the music is fantastic, all based on carols but really well-arranged and highly effective to bring great swings of mood and pace.

This tale is about Scrooge being warned that, if he doesn’t change his greedy, money grabbing ways, terrible things will happen by next Christmas. For a start, he will be dead. As will Tiny Tim, probably dying a terrible death from hunger imposed by not having a turkey at Christmas.  Worst of all, no one will care about Scrooge’s passing except for whipping the very shirt off his dead body and taking the bed curtains too, for good measure.

Can this possibly be a prediction for the recruitment industry over the next few years? I have always jumped on  a high horse about value and risk in the provision of recruitment services. Over the last few months of 2009, I have seen a real increase in the expectations of paying customers and work seeking candidates for exactly that.

2009 was like an epiphany for the recruitment industry in the UK. Never have we known the market so tough, with unemployment so high and job opportunities so low. Many of the large recruitment companies suffered from the economicturn-down, passing this effect directly on to their high cost base: Redundancies in the recruitment industry were as rife as in the rest of the economy.

Should we learn something form this, and like Scrooge, perhaps realise that the Ghost of Christmas Future has pointed his bony finger to a picture that we have the ability to change, but only if we actually LOOK and SEE what we have to do.

Yet, as 2010 dawns, I see many advertisements for new consultants, those cold seats emptied by redundancy soon to be warmed by bright-eyed and bushy-tailed fresh new recruiters all after the same clients. Are we going to fall in the trap of chasing volume, as we did in the past, and overlook the clients’ need for understanding? Are we going to sell so hard to win vacancies that we forget filling them should be the main priority? Are we going to sales train our consultants to perfection, but forget about giving them sufficient process training so they can deliver on expectations?

Or are we going to take a leave out of Scrooge’s book? Of course, Tiny Tim must still have his turkey but will we start under selling and over delivering to our clients? Will we share the risk factors associated with the recruitment process? Will we flex our fees to stimulate the business cycle? Will we pitch the value of our service against the clients’ service expectation, rather than our own internal drivers?

This all remains to be seen. In my book, after 23 years in the industry, I aim to deliver a fresh and vibrant service to my clients. My contribution to the well-being of my clients’ businesses will be measured in many ways. I want to be part of the bigger picture, not the leading character in my own picture so my brand will be below the line and the clients I represent will take centre stage in my activities. I will take on board part of the risk through creative fee structures and extended service offerings. And I will provide simple, old fashioned good service.

2009 was the bony finger of the future pointing out the weaknesses of the recruitment industry. 2010 will be another tough one and if we want to survive, we must conform and be flexible to market demands.

If not, more names will be carved on cold tombstones in icy churchyards. I’m going to make sure it isn’t mine!

Written by Cathy Richardson

December 27, 2009 at 9:37 am

National Rail: Gulag style customer service comes to London Waterloo

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Last night, I lost my train ticket. It did a disappearing act between coming through the Jubilee Line turnstyle and paying 30p to use the lady’s facility at London Waterloo.

It cost me £18-40 when I bought it at 4 o’clock – A day travel card.

So what does one do? Of course, you ask for assistance. And expect some form, perish the concept, of customer service.

Anyway, there I was, looking exactly like what I am: A 44-year old divorcee with a stinking cold trying to get home after attending Classic FM’s Carol Concert at Westminster Abbey. All on my own, no pack of hoodies in sight, speaking clear and concise (granted: slightly nasally challenged by the cold) English, and I never even said innit once. All I wanted was some help, and to find out the cheapest way to get home.

What I  got, was a rude and bolshy muscleman with a shaved head and very little interest in listening to what I had to say at all. Granted, the young Chinese counter assistant at least LOOKED sympathetic, but I wonder whether that was to do with her severe challenge in the English comprehension department.

“Look lady” says Muscleman, “I get your types every day, trying to buck the system. No ticket, no travel.”

Fair enough, I guess. Except I certainly don’t do this everyday, and when I pointed out that I had a valid proof of purchase, issued by their own ticket office, he snorted. And as for being typecast by someone who had known me for a total of 30 seconds? Well, I will reserve my opinion on that.

So I bought the £13 ticket, whilst having my question ignored of why the return ticket I bought originally was only a fiver more. And then I saw it on his chest: Revenue Protection Officer. That’s when I got it. This big brute was specifically employed to make sure that little ladies like me don’t rob this huge national entity from it’s rightful income. The fact that my rightfully earned income had to pay twice for a journey I only undertook once, proof of purchase regardless, is evidently beside the point.

Ironically, I’ve just posted several forums on LinkedIn with a question about whether a second fee should be due if a client recruited two people off a single shortlist. This scenario always raises conjecture about customer service, and the perceived exchange of values. And often results in a major fee reduction on the second placement.

I guess its a good job the railways aren’t in the business of recruitment. Their revenue protection strategies would bankrupt industry!

Written by Cathy Richardson

December 16, 2009 at 10:38 am

Posted in Recruitment

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Secondary gains: The moral behind the recruitment story

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The primary focus of the recruitment industry is pretty clear to all concerned. It is highly driven, extremely competitive, and attracts individuals who thrive on commercial challenge. By default, it is also high in risk for all parties involved. Because of the financial implications associated with high-profile business relationships in recruitment, we thrive on the primary objective of financial gain. After all, we are in business not charity!

We get remunerated by means of commissions based upon the deals brokered on behalf of our candidates. Our fee structures depend on percentages of candidate income more often than pre-agreed fixed fees, and individual consultants earn commission on the turnover they generate through these fees. The enterprise of recruitment, at face value and like any other business, is about money.

So it is easy, and quite understandable, that we are so driven by our primary objective that other potential gains are easily overlooked. Not because we are insensitive to them, but simply because the overriding prime driver is so strong that it often blocks out everything else.

What are the secondary gains in recruitment?

Every recruiter will have a different answer to this question. Depending on their highly individual internal drivers, some would say the client relationship. Others would say the candidate. Even others would say the personal satisfaction they gain from winning through. And certainly, there will be many other answers, each of them valid.

For a moment, lets remove the financial element from the business equation and place ourselves on the other side of the desk, first in the candidate and then in the client’s position.

The candidate probably feels that we are an important cog in the wheel of his progress. We provide access to job opportunities he might not have had before. A good recruitment consultant will act as a sounding board, giving advice and frequently listening to problems and issues that affect the candidate on a personal level. And without either party being aware of this factor, the recruiter is an immense position of power that can have a dramatic impact on the livelihood of the candidate. Consider this: People define themselves by their jobs. Often, candidates are willing to move themselves and their families across the country in order to gain that dream job. They risk their livelihoods and wellbeing on the recommendation of a consultant whose primary objective is to win a fee. Of course, the final acceptance offer is always the candidate’s responsibility and we can only consult and make suggestions about candidates’ life decisions. But still, the responsibility is enormous.

To most clients, the recruiter is probably a means to an end. We are meant to make his life easier by taking responsibility for part of the recruitment process, but he pays dearly for that pleasure. There are diverse opinions on the value added by recruitment consultants to employing businesses. Some agencies are unwilling to take any of the risk, whilst others operate very closely to their clients in truly symbiotic business relationships where the risk is shared equally. However, the impact of candidates introduced into businesses, especially at senior level, always have a dramatic impact. A newly hired MD has immediate leadership responsibility, and takes the success of the business in his hands. Likewise, the recruiter who introduces him has a high degree of power over the hiring decision by introducing suitable candidates.

By association, the impact of the recruiter’s actions on the business can be huge. Again, the final hiring decision belongs to the client and it is up to us to broker an acceptable arrangement between the parties but this responsibility in itself contains an element of power. The brokering element might highlight a conflict of interest in the way we charge our fees if monetary gain is the prime driving objective of the business relationship.

The true secondary gain for all parties concerned is the three-way win that happens when a responsible recruiter introduces a perfectly suitable candidate to an employer who benefits from having a true star in his business. The candidate has an excellent career, the business thrives through his input and the consultant has won a strong business relationship based on trust long after the fee has been paid and the guarantee period lapsed.

The moral of the story is simple: The fee will find itself if the ground work is done with the longer term secondary gain in mind. The recruitment industry is about people first. Without people there will be no industry: Consultants, candidates, clients, the relationships they build and the actions they take ultimately define the success of every single recruitment campaign.

Of course, luck will always play a part in finding the perfect candidate at the right time. As well as, of course, having the wherewithal and ability to spot that perfect candidate in the first place. That is what makes a good recruitment consultant. Aiming for the secondary win, seeing beyond the imminent fee to the bigger picture of long term secondary gains, makes an outstanding recruitment consultant.


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