The world and beyond – Surviving in the economic jungle

Advice, tips and tricks on how to engage with the UK jobs market and commercial environment, from a female executive's perspective

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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