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The Definitive Guide to Job Hunting 4: Understanding Agencies

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QuestioningIt is true that a large proportion of jobs never get on the open market. Organisations will normally explore many internal sources first, before placing jobs with agencies. Using a recruitment consultant to fill a job is an expensive strategy for any hiring operation.

However, the recruitment industry operates on a hugely diversified scale and the range of services on offer to employers means that it is quicker and easier to get a vacancy filled rather than do it internally. Many large corporate employers, who have high staff numbers and many vacancies, have in some cases outsourced ALL their recruitment process to external agencies.

Annually, the recruitment industry is worth about £22bn in the UK. It is a substantial and robust contributor to the UK economy. Realistically, every job seeker is likely to engage with a recruitment consultant during a job search. £22bn in fees represents a huge number of temporary, contract and permanent jobs being placed through agencies. Knowing how to deal with them, and what to expect from them, is crucial to reduce frustration and increase the likelihood of finding that desired job offer.

1. Who pays the fee?

In the UK, it is illegal to charge job seekers for finding jobs. Recruitment agencies, as all businesses, are commercial enterprises and require turnover to be continually successful. The fee is paid by the recruiting employer.

This focuses the relationship between recruiter and client (Fee payer). A different dynamic exists between recruiter and candidate (Job applicant).

The agency must always have the best interest of the client in mind, because that is were the transactional value is.

The candidate’s best interest is represented by the fact that ultimately, there is a job for everyone and the agency, through their relationship with the fee paying employer, is a catalyst to achieve this objective.

2. What is the client paying for?

Selling people is tantamount to slavery. The agency does not own the skills and experience of the candidate, and for this reason has no business offering it for sale. In fact, this is a fact that many recruitment agencies themselves don’t always understand! This is why the Gangmasters Act was brought to life a few years ago – To protect workers from abusive agency practises.

During a recruitment process, the recruiting employer pays for a service that provides them with a candidate pool. Sometimes, the candidate pool is provided by only one agency, but more commonly the service is divided between several agencies and the fee is only paid when a successful introduction is made, and the introducing agency walks away with the spoils.

3. It is a highly competitive business environment

The open agency market is highly competitive because in a “No solution, no fee” environment, it is crucial to win the fee for obvious commercial reasons.

This has developed a high focus on volumes in recruitment, and in most agencies consultants are targeted on a daily basis to deliver KPI’s related to volume. The fact is that, the more activity that is put out, the higher the likelihood of achieving a win.

I don’t personally agree with this form of recruitment, as I believe it to be detrimental to all parties involved. However, regardless of the seniority of the position being recruited or whether it is for a contract or permanent placement: The current recruitment market is driven mostly by volume.

For candidates, the unfortunate fact is that their CV often becomes a means to an end. The end is most certainly to the candidate’s interest: After all, getting the job is the primary objective. But expecting an agency to work solely on a single candidate’s behalf is unrealistic.

4. But its not all about numbers

At the risk of painting a very negative picture, I have to point out that not all recruiter / client relationships are based on volumes and competition. The industry has evolved to a point where recruiting clients have a wide range of choice. People are very important in the recruitment process, and many clients prefer to use the same agency or consultant over and over again because they have established a communicative business relationship. Many long standing business relationships exist where the consultant develops a deep and detailed knowledge of the recruiting business, and is in a position to offer a truly consultative service to both client and candidate.

Sometimes, for difficult to fill or senior roles, clients will retain the services of a recruitment specialist by paying a proportion of the fee upfront. In this case there is no competition from external sources, and the agency will actively search the market to find the most appropriate skills for the client.

These two scenarios are far more constructive for the candidate as information passes freely due to the limited volumes involved.

5. So what about the job applicant?

Finding a new job is like searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack. Regard agencies as the magnets that would attract the needle. After all, this is what potential employers do when the engage agencies. The more magnets you have working on your behalf, the more needles you will find.

Of course, not every job you are offered will be appropriate and you should be entirely in control of the process. Remember, you own your skills, experience and personal information. You should never be placed under any obligation, asked to pay a fee for job seeking services in the UK, or have your details sent anywhere without your express permission.

Without candidates, recruitment agencies can not exist. Without agencies, it will take a lot longer to find a job. It is in a candidate’s interest to develop good relationships with recruitment agencies but is equally important to understand what to expect.

Ask the agency how competitive a particular process is: If you know how many other agencies are involved, you know what to expect. If it is a widely assigned role, the likelihood of success decreases. If it is a retained or exclusive arrangement, then you know you will have better communication and a more controlled process.

Use this understanding to your advantage, and you will have a far more positive job seeking experience. Expecting anything different will leave you feeling frustrated.

Definitive Guide to #Job Hunting: Illegal #Interview Questions

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Not allowedMost job seekers and very often, interviewers have no idea what an Illegal Interview Question sounds like.

Interviews are discussions and most questions are asked sincerely in an attempt to make conversation and to find out more about the interviewee. But often, certain questions might also be asked with a view to discriminate or to exclude a person from a role. Whether intentional or not, the law addresses certain particular areas and ignorance is not an excuse. My suggestion would be that both interviewers and interviewees are sensitive to these and deal with them constructively to avoid potential litigation, and to ensure an objective recruitment process.

Here are a few examples of common stonkers that could potentially cause litigation on grounds of discrimination:

1. Age

  • How old are you?
  • When were you born?
  • When did you graduate / complete high school?


  • Confirming that you are the appropriate age for the required hours or working conditions (Minimum wage and Working Time Directive)



  • Are you British?
  • Are your parents or spouse citizens?
  • Are you, your parents or your spouse naturalized or British born?


  • If you are not a British citizen, do you have the legal right to remain permanently in the UK?
  • What is your visa status (if no to the previous question).
  • Are you able to provide proof of employment eligibility?

3.Criminal Record


  • Have you ever been arrested?
  • Have you ever spent a night in jail?
  • Do you have a record?


  • Do you have any unspent convictions? (A rigourous set of rules apply to the declaration of spent convictions, and there are certain jobs that are excluded and where declaration of all convictions are compulsory.)
  • Doing a CRB check



  • Do you have any disabilities?
  • What’s your medical history?
  • How does your condition affect your abilities?


  • Can you perform the specific duties of the job?
  • What reasonable adjustments must be made to assist you in fulfilling your duties?

5.Marital status or Civil partnership


  • Questions concerning spouse, or spouse’s employment, salary, arrangements, or dependents.
  • Are you married, divorced, separated, engaged, widowed, etc?
  • Is this your maiden or married name?
  • How will your spouse feel about the amount of time you will be traveling if you get this job?
  • Are you planning to have children?


  • Can you work overtime?
  • Can you meet specified work schedules?

6.National Origin


  • What is your nationality?
  • Where were you born?
  • Where are your parents from?
  • What’s your heritage?
  • What is your mother tongue?


  • Verifying legal work visa status to verify eligibility for employment – Are you eligible for employment here?
  • What languages do you speak, read or write fluently?



  • How many kids do you have?
  • Do you plan to have children?
  • How old are your children?
  • Are you pregnant?
  • How old are you? (To a woman between age 25 to 40, which is the average childbearing age in the UK)


  • After hiring, asking for dependent information on tax and insurance forms.



  • What race are you?
  • Are you a member of a minority group?


  • None

9.Religion or Belief


  • What is your religious affiliation?
  • Which religious holidays will you be taking off from work?
  • Do you attend church regularly?
  • “Our uniform excludes turbans” or anything else that relates tothis subject.


  • Can you work on Saturdays? (If relevant to the job)

10.Sex or Sexual Orientation


  • What are your plans to have children in the future?
  • Are you gay?
  • Will you be strong / tall / fit enough to do the same tasks as the men?

Appropriate: None

Definitive guide to Job Hunting: When did you last Google yourself?

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GoogleSo why didn’t you get called for that job interview you so wanted? Or why did the job offer not turn up as anticipated?
When did you last Google yourself?
The reality is that it is becoming very commonplace for job applicants to be “checked out” online before proceeding with the recruitment process. And it is absolutely crucial to make sure that what people find online supports the image you are portraying during your job search.
Google favours social networking sites so it is likely that your LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook profile will trend highly in the search rankings. And regardless of the security protocols you set (Interestingly, many Facebook profiles are public) they will draw conclusions from what they find.

So what are the pitfalls?

1. Inappropriate Pictures

Pictures of you in full party mode, chugging it down or falling over in the gutter might be a laugh to your friends. But that is NOT what you want a prospective employer to see!  Unless you make sure that your security settings are watertight, especially on Facebook, simply don’t put them online.

2. Complaining About Your Current Job

You’ve no doubt done this at least once. It could be a full note about how much you hate your office, or how incompetent your boss is, or it could be as innocent as a status update about how your coworker always shows up late. While everyone complains about work sometimes, doing so in a public forum where it could be found by others is not the best career move. Use this measure: If you won’t say it out loud in front of your boss or colleagues, then don’t post it online for the world to see.

3. Posting Conflicting Personal facts

Disparities will make you look at worst like a liar, and at best careless. Make sure that you are honest about your background and qualifications, and support this with the information you post online. Don’t over – or under state your experience, job title or qualifications. Inconsistencies mean a high risk factor to potential employers and they are likely to simply avoid it by cutting you from the list.

4. Statuses You Wouldn’t Want Your Boss to See

Statuses that imply you are unreliable, deceitful, and basically anything that doesn’t make you look as professional as you’d like, can seriously undermine your chances of landing a new job. We have all heard of people losing jobs because of inappropriate statuses like the Receptionist who posted “I’m bored” during working hours. Worse even, are things like “Planning to call in sick tomorrow” or “I hate the time this project is taking”. It doesn’t only put your current job at risk, but future employers are most likely to avoid you too.

Manage your online profile

You can manage how you are viewed online by simply checking yourself out from time to time. If you see something that is risky, even if it was posted by someone else, just get it changed. The future investment will be worthwhile!

The Definitive Guide to Job Hunting 5: Get the Best out of Agencies

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You never know what you are going to find when you set out on a path to find a new job. Allow the agencies to work with your data to give you the widest possible exposure but don’t expect individual treatment until you embark on a recruitment process (I.e. go for interview). Until then, your CV is purely a number in a huge pool of candidates and it’s the agency’s task to match it to potential opportunities.

1.         The Employment Agencies Act

More than one agency might be working on the same brief, so you might be matched to the same job more than once. Always go with the agency who tells you about the job first. According to the Employment Agencies Act, your CV should only be put forward to jobs that you are told about. In effect, you have to give your permission for your CV to be submitted. You must be told about the job first. Often, because it’s competitive, Agencies will take a flyer at sending your CV in without speaking to you first. If this submission turns into an interview in competition with an agency that actually played the game properly and spoke to you first, thereby losing out time wise to the more aggressive agency, your judgement will be crucial to how the agencies will deal with you in future. If you know what your rights are, you can protect your own position whilst keeping both agencies on side.

2. Don’t carpet bomb your CV

Because of the high unemployment rates, agencies literally get thousands of online job applications every day. It takes a lot of time to sift through these, and the associated cost of registering new CV’s and posting them to databases can become very high. For the recruiter, it can be desperately frustrating to get the same CV day after day after day; applying to every totally unsuitable role on the Internet and creating spam in already overfull Inboxes. You can help by reading the ads before you apply, making sure the job is suitable for you first. Bear in mind that agencies will readvertise jobs until an offer is made. Keep a record for yourself: If you have already applied to a particular job, don’t send your CV in again. If you do, it creates an impression of desperation that might keep you out of the selected shortlist.

3. Engage personally

If an agency to which you have already applied is advertising a job that interests you, why not give them a call? Your CV is already on file; they can look it up quickly and give you feedback there and then. You save them having to look at yet another ad response, you get the opportunity to talk to a human being and create a positive impression for yourself, and you might even be reinforcing your suitability for the role.

4. But don’t pester

Rest assured: Because an agency will get a fee if they place you, they are unlikely to forget about you. Once your CV is on their database it will be exposed to every single search they do. If you are remotely suitable, they will be in contact to talk to you about the job. If you follow-up daily or weekly, you become the “candidate from hell”, to be avoided at all cost because too many pointless phone calls waste time. Of course you are urgently looking for a job, but remember that the agency only has limited control over the process and they don’t get access to every job in the country. Use the time you spend on making these calls more productively: Engage with a range of agencies.

5. Choose your representatives carefully

It is good for every job seeker to be registered with as many agencies as possible to give you the broadest exposure. However, it is also a good idea to choose 4 or 5 specialist agencies that operate in your specific field. They are likely to get more exclusive opportunities specific to your search. Develop relationships by engaging in intelligent, quick phone calls and e-mails.  These are the agencies that are likely to work with your details if they believe you are a strong candidate, utilising their networks to create opportunities were other agencies will only respond to existing requirements. But remember: Because they work in the same sector, these agencies are in competition with each other. Be careful about giving blanket permission about submissions to avoid conflicts of interest.

6. Return agency calls!

A recruiter will call you if there is something immediate and specific on offer. If you don’t return the call, or take weeks to do so, you rob yourself of an opportunity. You also create the impression that you are not interested. The same goes for e-mails asking you to make contact about specific jobs. Even if it is just to say ” No thanks”, the opportunity to engage gives you a chance to further establish your credibility as a top calibre candidate. Make sure the phone numbers on your CV or agency record is up to date so that you can respond to urgent messages quickly.

Guide to #Job Hunting 15: The power of preparation for #interviews

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prepared-not-scaredIt is impossible to stress how important it is to prepare for interviews!

On 2 occasions during this past week, different clients have given me similar feedback: “If only John / Jane lived up to the expectations raised in their CV! They knew nothing of our company (In one case didn’t even realise the company had no manufacturing facility in the UK!), didn’t know what our products or markets were and gave weak examples to support the experience claimed in their CV.”

The clients were left disappointed, having had their time wasted. Sadly, this also reflected on my own service delivery, and I was disappointed too because I spend time with all my candidates before interview to give them all the information I know about the company and role. All they have to do is build on the bricks I have already given them.

However, I’ve also heard from a client how impressed they were with the depth of research an interviewee had done, being able to bring up and discuss relevant business issues outside of his CV that proved his abilities. This set him apart from being a borderline “No” based on his CV, to a resounding “Yes!” based on his research and ability to deliver it concisely.

With so much competition for jobs and the tight current employment market, it still amazes me that candidates waste the interview opportunity. The hiring client wants you to do well; he’s already bought into your CV by spending his valuable time to see you. Why not grab the opportunity to amaze him even further with your information-finding skills and interest in their organisation?

Especially in sales or commercial jobs, interview preparation is crucial. A good sales person will know his customers and competition, understand his product’s routes to market, the issues that affect pricing and the supply chain. By proving at interview that you have the ability and knowledge to find this information, and use it to position your own objectives and abilities, you show that you have the natural traits of a good sales person on top of the information you provide in the CV. Of course, not preparing sufficiently proves the opposite and you will get short shrift from line managers who have achieved their own positions through doing exactly the same thing properly.

#Recruitment and the Data Protection Act – Did you know this?

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Data safeToday, I received my renewal notice from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

Because I last paid this a year ago, it has been out of mind for a while. Best practice with candidate details mean that I naturally store everything on a secure database, and that I don’t send candidate details anywhere without their express permission. The same goes for client information: All data is stored on my database, safe from prying eyes. And I use it with great care and consideration.

I don’t really think about it – It’s an internal process that has simply become part of my daily working practices. But this renewal notification has drawn my mind to it again, and I wonder how many candidates and clients are aware of it?

To quote from the ICO’s leaflet: “The Data Protection Act 1998 places obligations on organisations that use personal information and gives individuals certain rights … every organisation (data controller) the process personal information (data) must notify the Information Commissioner’s Office …. Failure to notify is a criminal offence.”

There are 8 data protection principles embodied in the Act. Summarised, they require that data shall be:

1. fairly and lawfully processed;

2. processed for limited purposes;

3. adequate, relevant and not excessive;

4. accurate;

5. not kept longer than necessary

6. processed in accordance with the data subjects’ rights;

7. secure; and

8. not transferred to countries outside the European Economic Area without adequate protection.

Before you next engage with a recruitment agency, it may be worth asking the following questions:

  • Is your recruitment agency registered with the ICO, or are they contravening the Data Protection Act?
  • Do you know what they are doing with your personal data, how it is stored and how secure it is?
  • Do you give permission every time your CV is sent out somewhere?

If they are not registered, you are vulnerable. Food for thought, methinks!

Discrimination – The recruitment black hole

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DiscriminationUnemployment rates are at an all-time low. And the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) reports that more private firms are planning to recruit even more staff in 2015 than last year.

Any company thinking of recruiting in the near future should be aware that changes to various parts of discrimination law in the past five years makes it an offence not only to discriminate against employees, but people who are interviewed for jobs. In fact discrimination law applies to every part of the recruitment process from job advertisement through to candidate selection to interview and offer/rejection.

This responsibility does not only fall to the HR department: Every person involved in the recruitment process are compelled to comply with the legal requirements to avoid discrimination and potential litigation.

It is illegal to discriminate against age, gender, pregnancy, married or civil partner status, colour, race, nationality, ethnic origins and national origins, religion or belief, sexual orientation, disability. Each of these areas is covered by a separate section of legislation and it is very easy to fall foul of the law by using wording, treatment or documentation that is contrary to the legal requirements.

Its is also important to note that not intending to discriminate is not an excuse in the eyes of the law.

Hiring employers are recommended to document the recruitment process to ensure objective, consistent and structured decision-making. This applies equally to recruitment agencies. Also, an employer must always be able to justify their decision in recruiting a particular person in case of an application to an employment tribunal. If the issue reached a tribunal, you would have to provide evidence showing how and why you reached your decision, and tribunals place more weight on documented evidence than on oral witness. Please note that in some cases, it is not even necessary for the candidate to have applied for the job in order to be discriminated against – Job ads that hint at or contain potentially discriminatory or exclusionary text will stand up in a court of law.

Best practice

It is very important to have an equality policy in place, and to feed this through all the steps of the recruitment process:

  • Job advertisement. It is unlawful for a job advertisement to specify that the applicant must be of a particular age, gender, race, etc – unless being of that gender, race, etc is a genuine occupational requirement/qualification.* (Words like young, mother language, etc. can be construed as potentially discriminatory)
  • Job specification. Identify the qualifications, skills and experience required for the job, eg NVQ level or equivalent, customer handling with experience of difficult situations.  Anything that is not specific to the job should be excluded.
  • Person specification. Identify the personal qualities required for the job, eg focus, persistence, determination. You can set out any genuine occupational requirements or qualifications, but do not ask for any that are unrelated to the job. For example it would be discriminatory to ask for good written English, where this was not required to do the job.
  • Application forms. Only ask for the minimum of personal details. However, there may be certain information you need to ask for in order to avoid discrimination during the selection process. For example, you should ask applicants to indicate if they have any special requirements should they be shortlisted for interview, but asking for their date of birth or marital status might be potentially discriminatory.

Structured process

A well-structured process actually aids decision-making and delivers an objective hiring decision. It is important to document each step:

  • Short list creation. You should document how the choice was made in accordance with the objective criteria listed in the job and person descriptions.
  • Interview notes. Keep a record of how the interviewees performed in relation to questions based on the objective criteria. When interviewing people for a job there are certain questions you should not ask, such as whether a candidate is married, is a partner in a same-sex civil partnership or whether they have plans to have children.
  • Selection decision. Note down how the successful candidate was selected in relation to the objective criteria.

Dealing with Recruitment Agencies

How does your agency respond to the implications of discrimination in recruitment? Recruiters with up to date professional qualifications are likely to be aware of the requirements of legislation pertaining to the recruitment process. If they don’t the implications for client and candidate alike can be severe.



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