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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!

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.


Guide to #Job hunting: 5 Mistakes hiring companies make

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hiring-mistakes-300x225Over the past 25 years in recruitment, I have probably seen the best and worst of hiring strategies and recruitment errors. In the past, companies got away with making crucial errors in their recruitment processes or hiring decisions because the market was soft and it was easy to rectify the mistake (usually a miss-hire) by finding a replacement. But as the jobs market becomes more and more competitive this is no longer possible, and the cost in time and pain of miss-hiring is no longer that easy to overcome.

If you are a candidate seeking another job, then being aware of these pitfalls will assist you in judging whether you are in a process that will succeed or fail. There is a far better chance of getting a stable, long-term new job if you can identify selection processes that are not going to be prone to hiring errors.

These are the main pitfalls:

1. Lack of a clear objective

Often, hiring companies aren’t specific enough about the duties, skills, and competencies they need.  Concocting “wish lists” of super-human attributes, combined with unrealistically low pay scales relative to expectations of the experience needed, will create havoc in a talent search. Hazy, ambiguous descriptions along with generalities like “good written and oral communication skills” don’t help either. It is much easier to hit a clearly defined target. This does of course mean going back to the basics of developing a job and person specification, but the longer term benefits are real and calculable.

2. Having an unrealistic idea of what kind of candidates might be available and the money it may take to hire them.

There is no such thing as the perfect candidate, and waiting for one is as unrealistic as searching for one. The only way to become realistic about what the market might bear is to research it, especially in this economic climate as it changes so rapidly. Know what and who is available and the commensurate earnings expected and then plan accordingly. The number of quality candidates active in the market is drastically lower than it was even last year. My clients are often shocked that the salaries locked in by inflexible pay structures won’t allow them to hire the quality or experience they wish for. The rules of supply and demand are in play here: Good skills and experience have become a commodity and this is driving up salaries, whilst also limiting the candidate pool. I’m not saying throw all caution to the wind. I am saying be prepared to negotiate to attract the best talent, or be satisfied with the second choice.

3. The confused objectives of too many or inappropriate decision makers 

Studies have shown that once the number of people in the interviewing and hiring process exceeds three, the probability of a bad hire is greater. The reason so many people are usually involved in the interviewing and hiring process is that organisations, naturally, want to spread the risk of decision-making. But better hiring decisions would probably be made if only a small number of people (In my view, 2 is optimum) manage the process objectively.

But having the wrong people in the decision making process is equally risky. Most managers will claim that hiring good people is the second or third most important function they have, right behind making a profit. So why delegate screening or interviewing of candidates to subordinates who have no real understanding of the organisation’s needs, or subordinates with hidden agendas? If hiring is one of a manager’s most important functions, he or she should take the time and make the effort to do the whole job from start to finish. How can they afford not to?

4. Processes that take too long.

It used to take about 30 days to fill a vacant position. Now it takes between 90 and 120!  And even longer for more senior or complex roles. When the hiring process takes too long, good candidates are lost to more decisive companies, it refelcts badly on the hiring company’s brand, and it gets harder and harder to fill the vacancy. The “shelf life” of quality candidates is increasingly short – This has now become a competition! Maintaining the momentum with candidates (Especially after the first interview, when only the one or two “choice” candidates remain) is crucial to keep them motivated about the process. If things take too long to progress, they simply lose interest and wander off to find other employers who respond more rapidly. Slick, quick process impress candidates and make them feel worthy of a job in the organisation. Slow processes that crawl at a snail’s pace, laden with red tape, puts calibre candidates off and might be a crucial element should they have to decide between two job offers.
5. Poor interviewing techniques.

Preparing a list of questions to ask every candidate, recording the answers, and comparing the responses (Quickly) equate to efficient and objective recruitment. Sadly, this rarely happens.

It is often down to a lack of experience on the itnerviewer’s behalf. After all, its not something they do every day. “Tell me about yourself” is the first question down the wrong road. Most interviewers start with random questions to “get to know the candidate” and never recover. They make copious notes, and then three weeks later try to compare the candidates about whom they remember very little.

A structured, disciplined interview technique that is applied to every candidate in exactly the same manner is the only real way to compare candidates. It is so simple and yet so seldom practiced.  Tight, controlled interview processes with rigid structures applied fairly across all candidates, in a short space of time, deliver the best results. It might be worth bringing an experienced interviewer into the process and to rather observe than conducting the interview personally – This is a real and practised technique that delivers results when a decision maker lacks confidence or experience to interview.

Definitive Guide to #Job Hunting: 7 ways to fail at Interviews

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Interview fail







Mistake #1: Drop your guard in front of “the help.”

Interviewing is stressful. Sometimes you just want to explode. But don’t. At least not in front of anyone who could influence the hiring decision.

Ron Panaggio, regional HR manager for security systems provider SimplexGrinnell recalls one candidate who took himself out of the running when he thought no one was looking. After meeting with Mr. X, a strong contender, Panaggio, who was then working for Emery Worldwide in New York, asked the receptionist who greeted the candidate to share her impressions. Turns out, Mr. X had launched into a profanity-laced tirade about the company’s lack of visitor parking spaces.

Panaggio notes that although the guy may have had a point — the parking situation wasn’t ideal — his delivery, and his questionable decision to attack his would-be employer set off warning signals. “If he was that critical about parking, we could only imagine how he was going to react to substantive policies that he disliked,” says Panaggio.

Employers know that job seekers interact with receptionists and other support staffers — often with their guards down. “They don’t see those people as decision makers, so they tend to be more genuine in their interactions with them,” says Panaggio. But employers routinely ask these employees for feedback. “We like to see whether the interview persona matches the unscripted persona that walks through the door,” says Panaggio. Consider that the next time you’re waiting for a tardy interviewer (who’s probably busy and making do with a reduced staff).

Mistake #2: Over share.

Candidates worried about explaining employment gaps on their resumes have been getting way too personal, says Wanda Cole-Frieman, an executive recruiter. While she enjoys building rapport with the applicants she meets, certain topics are off-limits — or should be. They include descriptions of your medical conditions and information about your sick parents or childcare woes.

It’s not just a matter of propriety. Chatty candidates put interviewers in an awkward position when they raise issues that could identify them as members of a legally protected class. Cole-Frieman recalls that one of her colleagues was forced to contact the legal department for guidance after a candidate announced that he used marijuana for medical purposes. The legal drug use wasn’t a dealbreaker, but raising such issues won’t endear you to interviewers. “We’re trained to say, ‘Thanks for sharing, but we don’t consider those factors in its hiring decisions,’” says Cole-Frieman.

Mistake #3: Assume your resume speaks for itself.

Your resume may have helped you get the interview, but it won’t get you hired. Susan Strayer, a career coach who also works in corporate HR for a Fortune 500 company, urges job seekers to go out of their way to connect the dots for interviewers, highlighting their work experiences with stories that clearly describe what they accomplished in each role and how it relates to the position they are seeking. Don’t assume that your interviewer is familiar with obscure acronyms and non-intuitive job titles that have no significance outside the organizations that use them.

Strayer recalls meeting with an unsuccessful candidate who breezed through his resume, touting his “A-76 experience,” a term that meant nothing to her at the time, and never pausing to explain it. Strayer says he would have been better-served by taking a moment to add, “If you’re not familiar with A-76, it’s a government mandate to ensure tasks are performed in the most cost-efficient way. My role on the A-76 project was to…”

Mistake #4: Show the interviewer how important you are.

You’ve got places to go and people to see — we get it, you’re a big deal. But when an employer has taken the time to meet with you, your undivided attention is a must. “You’d think it was a joke, but employers tell us about candidates who check voicemail and e-mail, text, and even take phone calls during the interview,” says Corinne Gregory, president of Social Smarts, a program that teaches social skills, primarily to young people.

Note to Gen-Yers (and iPhone addicts of all ages): Acing the interview is your primary mission. If you lack the impulse control to keep your hands off your phone, leave it behind.

Mistake #5: Talk the employer out of hiring you.

Especially in this tight job market, you may find yourself interviewing for positions you would ordinarily consider beneath you. That’s what happened to Russ Merbeth, now an attorney with Integra Telecom when he applied for an in-house counsel position with another company. During two days of interviews, Merbeth says he expressed his doubts about the position, which he viewed as poorly conceived and not perfectly suited to his talents. “I basically rewrote the job description for them,” he says. Not surprisingly, they hired someone else.

While Merbeth’s story ended happily — eventually — he would have been wiser to keep his options open. “Always close strong, and get the job,” he says. “You can reject it later.” It’s advice you likely won’t hear from recruiters, but then they’ve already got a job.

Mistake #6: Stalk your recruiter.

There’s a fine line between enthusiastic and desperate, and you don’t want to cross it. Human resources consultant Jessica Miller-Merrell was impressed following her interview of a VP-level candidate for a position with OfficeMax, where she worked at the time. The guy was one of two finalists for the job — until the phone calls.

Two days after the interview, Miller-Merrell was out of the office, attending an all-day training. She had forwarded her office calls to her cell phone and noticed 15 hang-ups, all from the once promising candidate. Though he finally left a message (about a matter so trivial that Miller-Merrell can’t remember its substance) the obsessive hang-ups left a negative impression on her. “Someone at this level should be able to maintain composure and professionalism at all times,” she says.

Mistake #7: Treat social media communications casually.

These days, many employment relationships begin — or end — with social media. To ensure that yours falls into the former category, heed this tale.

Mark Sullivan, director of talent acquisition for Time Warner Cable in Austin, Texas, posted a link to a Senior VP-level job description that he needed to fill on LinkedIn. Among the candidates who responded, was a woman who wrote, “Dear Mark, That link don’t[sic] work.” Her next sentence began with a lowercase letter and was missing a crucial “the.”

“Whether you’re using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or instant or text messaging, you still have to be professional in every communication related to your job search,” says Sullivan. So, keep yourself in the running by proofreading before you hit “send.”

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