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 the ‘Recruitment’ Category

Ode to @KwikFit – Knights in oily overalls!

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kwik fit


As a female driver, I become terribly anxious when things go wrong with my car. I drive that Mini everywhere, and my intention is to keep doing so until the wheels fall off. (Well not literally fall off – but you know what I mean!)

I am also a stickler for good service. Actually, that is not really true. I want GREAT service – especially from the motor trade. The automotive aftermarket is an industry I know very, very well. In the past 10 years, I spent about 75% of my time working with companies (Parts factors, manufacturing companies, distributors) involved in the automotive parts distribution aftermarket.

With a quick calculation, I guess I have recruited and placed about 500 people (Or more) into the aftermarket in the past ten years. They range from MDs and CEOs at the top of some very well-known brands, down to graduates and Junior Sales Advisors in branch based jobs.

My knowledge and experience of this market probably skews my expectations when it comes to service. I know what they expect from me when I have to deliver. Likewise, I know what I expect from them when I need service.

So to the current situation: There is nothing as annoying as a distressed female driver! Yesterday, I got to my car at 5-00pm after a hard consultancy day, to find the left back tyre as flat as a pancake. I even annoyed myself with my panic-stricken reaction: I don’t know how to change a tyre (Yes, I know that’s lame for someone who claims to know the industry inside out) and I don’t have a knight in shining armour on standby to come and rescue me.

So I did the obvious thing, once the panic had subsided: I used my iPhone to google the nearest KwikFit.

As it happens, KwikFit Bracknell was directly on my route home. I got there at 5.1.5 pm.

There were 3 other customers already waiting for their vehicles, so I could see they were busy.

A friendly bloke in a very greasy overall (Well, it was almost home time after all. He had been working all day!)  said they were too busy. But I think he could see my panic and distress. Or maybe the fact that I simply begged changed his mind. He told me it will take about an hour. Clearly, waiting was the best option for me.

Anyway, he agreed to take a look. In no time at all, my car was up on the lift. Half an hour later, I was on my way home, £26 poorer but with the nail removed from my wheel and the puncture repaired.

For a change, I left feeling like a happy customer. The staff were helpful, efficient and honest. They didn’t faff about and simply got on with the job, despite being busy and distracted by the other work they were already doing. And they really, really helped me out.

And I am grateful. Thank you KwikFit.

Written by Cathy Richardson

June 25, 2015 at 2:46 pm

Posted in Recruitment

#Interview advice for #graduates in assessment centers

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Grad job searchLast week, I had the benefit of being involved with a graduate assessment centre on behalf of Hewlett Packard.

The assessment centre stretched over 2 days, with about 40 recent graduates having been pre-selected and invited to spend the morning or afternoon, to be assessed for the graduate development program.

This is quite a high profile program, so the caliber of the graduates was very high. They were all Business Studies, Marketing or Finance graduates, and the minimum cut-off point was either at First or 2:1 level.

The assessment process was simple: Each graduate had to prepare a presentation on their choice of a topic from a pre-set list. They also had to attend a speed interview session (Playfully entitled “speed dating” on the agenda) with a total of 6 interviewers. Each interviewer had 9 or 10 questions to ask within a limited space of time.

The competition was fierce! This is a global organization renowned for innovation and excellence. Getting on the grad program is a sure-fire way to kick-start a fabulous career.

Sadly, not everyone got hired.

So what could those graduates who were turned down have done differently in order to get a better result?

1. How you dress is super important!

The girl who arrived in leggings and dolly shoes was turned down on the basis of her personal presentation, although she did a reasonable interview. How you dress says a lot about what you think of yourself. If you want to work in a professional working environment, you should dress appropriately for the interview. For the gents, it’s clearly a suit and tie, with polished shoes. For the ladies, its a skirt or trouser suit with heels that you can walk in, or smart flat shoes. If you opt for a skirt, it’s probably wise to wear tights too. Always opt for the conservative look where clothing is concerned – It’s a lot harder to overcome negative impressions than to build on good ones!

2. Research, research, research!

Before your interview, Google as much as you can about the organisation. Read their website, their recent press releases, their product literature. Know what is going on in the news or on social media, and know who the main players are. It’s easy to find out who the CEO of a global organisation is, whether there are any major strategic developments in the news, and how the products are brought to market. Sadly, in this particular assessment round a number of graduates got turned down for clearly not having done any research at all, or for claiming the wrong data in the presentations. When companies recruit onto graduate programs, they are looking for the best possible raw material in candidates that can be groomed into successful employees. Interest, culture fit, potential, flexibility, ability and willingness to learn all come into play. It is possible to research an organization’s working culture, to find out their corporate values and to understand why people enjoy working there. You can then use this information to give intelligent and informed answers. If you do not have this information, it will be a lot harder to make your answers relevant enough to prompt a hiring decision in your favor.

3. Understand why you want this job, in this particular company.

Be prepared to be asked this question, and be very clear in how you answer it. During his interview, one chap was asked what his future plans are. He had dreams of being an entrepreneur, and had just recently applied for a grant to get financial assistance to set up his own business. Although his answer was honest, it secured him a regret letter because a graduate development program is for the long term. People who are not entirely focused on getting this job, in this company, will most likely fail.  No company wants to make a high risk appointment where the new employee may rush off at the drop of a hat to achieve other dreams. Being invited to an assessment day gives you a pretty good chance of being successful, if you do well. Don’t waste your time if you are not totally comfortable with the risk that you may just get hired!

4. Get to the point, and quickly!

Whether in a presentation or in an interview, organizing your thoughts is very important. It is even more important when the activity is timed. There is no time for beating about the bush with your answers. A number of people got turned down for not engaging well during the speed interviews. Others got turned down for delivering weak and waffly presentations. My advice here would be to practice beforehand. Get someone to ask you typical interview questions, and try to formulate your answers to be short and punchy. The same goes for the presentation – Preparation and practice is the key to performing well.

5. Smile and keep your energies up

These assessment days are exhausting. You are meeting a lot of new people in a very short space of time, and you have to constantly make positive first impressions.

  • Set the intention to interact with everyone equally
  • Get your firmest handshake and biggest smile at the ready
  • Drink a lot of water to keep fresh and hydrated
  • Keep something to eat handy in case you find yourself flagging
  • Sit up straight, and don’t slouch onto the desk or into the chair
  • Show that you are engaged by listening and answering promptly

It is a stressful and intense scenario in which to find yourself, but you must speculate to accumulate. If you want the job, put the boredom in your pocket although it can be a long and repetitive day. On this particular grad assessment, some of the reasons for rejection was less about the quality of the content the candidates delivered, and more about their energy levels, attitudes and willingness to participate. Lacklustre and uninspiring presentations were other reasons.

To all the graduates out there:  Good luck in finding the best possible place to kick off your new career! You have worked hard to get your education. It is equally worth putting in a bit of effort to get yourself that dream job you deserve and desire.




Written by Cathy Richardson

June 15, 2015 at 2:11 pm

Posted in Recruitment

“I wanna start a fight” – The value of controversy in #social media #LinkedIn

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Last week, some of you may have noticed my little public rant on LinkedIn, via blog post.


It was sparked by the continued appearance of “naughty”-ish photos of ladies in revealing postures on my LinkedIn feed.


To be honest, I find it unsettling to be innocently engaging with my clients via LinkedIn, when unexpected pictures of boobs and bums flash up on my page. They are always accompanied by lewd comments from blokes like “Lovely” or “yummy” or similar. These comments are the reason the pics end up in my feed in the first place. I find it irritating so had the need to vent. And I did – very satisfactorily, thank you very much!

If I want to see lady bits, I have my own to look at. I don’t want to see it in my LinkedIn feed (Especially not slightly saggy, middle-aged lady bits, I dare say!)

And releasing and relaxing as the rant was, it had an unexpected added benefit: The traffic to my LinkedIn profile and blog increased dramatically.

It was, in fact, my most commented on and liked post so far this year.

According to LinkedIn’s stats:

  • My profile views were up 467% from the previous week
  • My ranking for profile views, as compared to other professionals with similar backgrounds, went up by 35%
  • I now find myself in the top 17% of profiles like mine across LinkedIn
  • The job titles and industries of those who looked at my profile was spread diversely, rather than being focused in a particular area
  • I had 12 connection requests within 2 days from people I have not connected with before, and several others which I declined
  • Hits on my blog post for that day, where I wrote the original article featuring a pair of sexy legs in black stockings, went up by 32%

The comments on the actual post ranged from :

“We all need humour and a cheer up though… Let’s not get too serious, if it’s not your cup of tea don’t read it, don’t post negative stuff just search for the stuff you want and join the right groups”


“An excellent ‘rant’ Cathy and I think very justified with some of the current postings on LinkedIn – not just those of women but some of the maths problems etc which belong on Facebook. I have now started to remove people or hide their listings who constantly post such inappropriate matter. Thank you for sharing your view-point.”

Now here is my point:

Social media is about engaging, sharing and communicating.

I think this unplanned exercise has proven that saying what you think, honestly and directly, encourages engagement. I am not saying that starting a fight is good idea, not is it conducive to the wider peace of the community. What I am saying that creating interest means stepping out of the norm, expressing views and opinions, making yourself known for your values and your mindset.

Those who like what they read, will want to connect with you. Those who don’t like what they read, may want to debate with you. Whether they agree or disagree with your statement, as long as it is respectfully delivered, they will remember you.

Social media is not about selling. It’s about being remembered for who and what you are.







Written by Cathy Richardson

June 9, 2015 at 11:04 am

Posted in Recruitment

Is #LinkedIn turning into Facebook or an online dating site? Or are people just #confused?

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This is a rant. And I am not shy to say so!

More and more recently, pictures of scantily clad women with cleavages or legs blatantly on display, are turning up in my LinkedIn feed.

Now, I am not a prude. And I know that boys will be boys. And I worked in the automotive industry long enough to understand that the boundaries between what is appropriate, what is seen as “soft” marketing (Think bikinis on car bonnets as seen in mechanics’ calendars) and what is totally not for public viewing, has become very blurred.

But I am not only connected to men. I have a large proportion of professional female connections on LinkedIn who share my sentiments about this subject.

I have over 2,000 contacts on LinkedIn, and most of those are professional business people who are concerned about their personal and public image. They select carefully, just like I do, whose Friends Requests are accepted and which are declined. They think about what they post onto their profiles, the content of their messages and the image they create through every single action, be that a click or a like, a view or an acceptance.

So why then, do I keep seeing “sexy” pictures of women on my feed?

It appears that perhaps these women are posting inappropriate selfies onto their LinkedIn profiles. Which is then Liked, Shared and slobbered over by every man who engages with that image.

What does it say about the woman who posts suggestive images of herself on a business networking site? I am not sure, but I can hand on heart say that I am too proud of who I am and what I have achieved as a business woman, to want any involvement with that.

What does it say about the men who like, share and comment on those pictures? I am not sure, but I don’t think I would want to do business with them. They may well expect the same from me! And as I said, I don’t do business like that.

So I am going to start removing people who engage in this sort of activity from my LinkedIn connections list.

This is not Facebook, and its not an online dating site! It’s LinkedIn, and it’s for real business. I really don’t want to see pictures like this in my professional feed on LinkedIn. I will remove contacts from my connections list who like, post or contaminate my feed with posts like this. It is misogenistic, destructive to the image of professional women and not conducive to business networking in any shape of form. It is wholly inappropriate behavior.

If you were a woman, would you walk into a crowded bar and flash your knockers or whip off your top? If you were a man, what would you think of a woman who displays that kind of behavior?

When I coach on social media, I always suggest that LinkedIn is like a crowded virtual bar. Those who share, produce valuable content and engage will be noticed, liked and be successful. Those who do things that are not appropriate, will most likely just be ignored.

This leads me to think that, over the years, perhaps some unsavoury people have crept into my contacts list. So it may be time for a clear out.

And it may be time for LinkedIn to think about setting some benchmarks for what is acceptable, and for what is not.LinkedIn

Rant over. Thanks for reading.

Written by Cathy Richardson

June 5, 2015 at 3:01 pm

Posted in Recruitment

Looking for a new #job? Here’s how to get started!

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beg jobSetting your objectives when starting out on a job search

1.         Know what you want

When setting out on a journey, it is only natural to plan a route, get a map, and program the satnav so that we know the best, most direct route to take. And of course, our map indicates where our destination is so that we know when we’ve arrived.

It is surprising how many candidates, when setting out on a job search, have no idea of where they’re heading or what they expect to achieve.

The reality is that, without a very clear plan, your job search will be frustrating and extended.

2.         It’s a competitive numbers game

During 2009 the economic recession caused large numbers of redundancies, flooding the market with senior and experienced people who have possibly not been in the job market for many years. At the other end of the spectrum, graduate opportunities decreased and it is more difficult for fresh graduates to get jobs within their academic areas. Of course, the job market doesn’t only consist of new entries and experienced starters but the diversity adds strain at opposite ends of the job spectrum. Added to the normal churn of people looking for work for totally individual reasons, the volumes of job applications have increased exponentially.

If you don’t know what you want, you won’t recognise it when it turns up. And the likelihood of it turning up, realistically, is a lot smaller now than it was a few years ago due to the sheer numbers of applicants in the market. It’s a lot more competitive.

So my very first piece of advice would be: GET A PLAN!

3.         Make sure you know what you do (And don’t) want

Take some time out and write down what you really want. Not only the financial expectations, but the type of job, kind of organisation, location, level of seniority, etc. Are you planning a career change? Do you want to do exactly the same as before? Where are your flex points? On which points can’t you be flexible?

And as you go through this, keep doing a reality check. The past is gone, what you had in yesterday’s job is unlikely to return. But if you knew what you enjoyed about the last job, and which bits you disliked, you can get a picture of what would suit you best. And then do a reality check again.

You might have to take a drop in pay to get back into employment. If you can be flexible to location, you widen your catchment area and so, increase your opportunities.

4.         RESEARCH! And prepare for a long haul

If you haven’t been in the jobs market for a long time, do some research. What applied even just a year ago, is no longer applicable so it’s really important that you know how to calibrate your expectations.

Making lists and writing down all the information you have about yourself, your expectations and your flex points will give you sound information on which to base your CV. Or CV’s: You might need to do more than one if you have a broad skill set, or want a career change.

The ideas and plans you put down now will inform your actions during your job search. You might become frustrated and despondent later on, so returning to this information will help you get back on track and maintain focus. It might take some time to get re-employed; having something to keep you on course will be useful in keeping you motivated.

Prepare for a long journey. The reality might turn out to be a lot shorter, but realistically the perfect job is not going to turn up quickly. If it does, count yourself lucky. If it doesn’t, don’t beat yourself up because many other people are in exactly the same situation.

Having a plan will keep you focussed and objective. It will also maintain your realistic expectations if things don’t go the way you want them to.

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


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