The importance of back to basics networking..

In recent years I have moved from working in a large corporate entity to a role where the necessity for day to day contact with colleagues has been replaced by social media/video conferencing etc. Living and working 300 miles from my colleagues at head office can be challenging and when you focus on national or international business rather than local business opportunities for face to face contact with other professionals can be limited. If you are not careful you start staring at the wall and talking to yourself!

This is why, as well as working with Cotterell & Gifford, I also spend about 10-15% of my time working on local projects with local businesses which rarely have anything to do with my primary industry specialisation. Part of this is motivated by my strong belief in involving myself in the local business community. Since we made the decision to move from urban, Edinburgh to market town, Hexham this is far more in your face. Yes, I could buy my printer paper from Viking but then again, I could pop round the corner to the PC Support shop and buy it there, it might be 5p more expensive but, if that PC Shop closes I’ll be the first to moan about the shops all becoming bookmakers and charity shops. If I want to live in a town with a thriving center, a strong economy and decent property values etc then it is my duty, as an inhabitant of that town, to ensure that I use my expertise and purse for the benefit of the local area.

The other part of my motivation is that getting involved with local client and businesses when you are a self employed consultant is a good way to stop getting cabin fever!

This morning I attended the Willow Wednesday Breakfast  networking event organised by NorthEastBiz. Now, obviously, being home based I am used to a 15 second commute – a shuffle with coffee from the kitchen to the corporate hub of my home office so this was daunting. I had to be 40 miles across Northumberland by 8.00am. Fortunately my choice of egalitarian transport, a 30 year old Volvo 244 decided to start and I made it in good time. I am very glad that I did. I met several people who I will do business with at some point in the next 12 months, of that I am sure and one of whom we are already discussing forming a strategic partnership which will benefit my main, national business occupation. On top of this, the injection of enthusiasm and the energy of like minded individuals is infectious and it gave be a good dollop of drive to counter the “August – no one’s around” blues.

In this era of in bound marketing and social media it is easy to ignore traditional business networking. However, groups like NorthEastBiz are doing superb work in facilitating these networking opportunities.

Even if your main occupation is interim management or highly specialised, there are always businesses and organisations locally that could benefit from your experience and, OK, whilst you will probably not be able to charge your full rate, you won’t be diluting your brand either and the wins are far more than just on a fiscal level. I would recommend getting involved with your local business networking groups to anyone who is self employed or running their own business even if you doubt that it will help, it’s amazing what you can find on your doorstep.

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Don’t ignore opportunities with local businesses, you can be surprised what you can find on your doorstep

 

 

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Why do I offer a 12 month 100% rebate on my placements?

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I’ve sat on both sides of the ‘recruitment fence’. I have been both poacher and gamekeeper. I understand the pressures that recruitment consultants face and I also understand the issues that the busy HR Manager has to deal with on a daily basis. The friction between both is well debated and obvious to all of us who work in either role. However, what is less examined is what can we do to make life easier for each party?

You see, as recruiters, we share the same goal. That is to ensure that the individual hired is the best person available for that role at that time and that the person hired remains in the role and adds value to their new employer by fulfilling and hopefully exceeding expectations. Which is why I often find it odd that such a great deal of time is spent negotiating rebate periods. In my entire 20 years in the industry I have never had to issue a rebate credit nor have I had to demand a rebate from a supplier. It is a rare thing but it is a valid concern.

We all know that recruitment is often about risk management. For an HR or Procurement professional, it’s very important to have peace of mind around after sales service, often missing from many agencies services.

This is why, for the last few years have offered a 12 month guarantee on my placements. I started doing this, not as a sales gimmick but rather to allow me to become more involved in the recruitment process, if I could demonstrate to my clients that I had a personal vested interest in getting the hiring decision right then they would be far more willing to trust my opinions and utilise my experience beyond that of a CV shuffler. As a buyer of recruitment services, I have never understood why more agencies don’t offer this. As an agent I know it is because it doesn’t often fit into the traditional agency business model. However, I take the approach that I’m not doing my job properly if I am not willing to offer this. Yes, it takes longer and delays sales but it ensures professionalism, and builds trust and that can only be a good thing.

With the advent of systems like Linkedin and the growth of in house recruitment specialists it has become increasingly important for recruiters to offer a level of service that goes beyond merely that of a CV shuffler. Any organisation can subscribe to one of the myriad of CV databases out there. Recruitment fees for what is essentially shuffling these CVs is hardly value for money. No matter how much you wish to automate a recruitment process, the more experience and expertise you can bring to an assignment the better. By offering this I am putting my money where my mouth is and from a professional point of view, ensuring that the client gets the benefit of their cash investment.

 

If you are in the business of hiring staff and you’d be interested in a 12 month 100% rebate on your hires then please drop me a line.

Never make a hiring decision alone!

car towards cliff

The hiring cliff, entrepreneurs are so focused on getting where they need to that they often miss the lethal drop of a poor hiring decision.

Here’s one that might seem obvious but is a banana skin especially for smaller and owner managed businesses and especially for the entrepreneur, so driven and focused on success.

Despite the well known catastrophic costs to businesses about making the wrong hiring decision managers and especially owner managers routinely make the mistake of not being thorough in their hiring process. The easiest way to do this is to ensure you involve someone else in the hiring process.

I’ll let you into a secret, one that I am far from proud of – I’ve been involved in recruiting and hiring both as an HR Manager and as a headhunter for nigh on 20 years and about 2 years ago I blithely wandered into this trap – one that I had been highlighting to clients for years. I thought that my years of experience would protect me from making a bad decision, after all, I have interviewed thousands of people over the years, how could I possibly make a mistake? At the time I was running an engineering business. Like many entrepreneurs I was snowed under, literally, with huge demands on my time. When it came time to hire someone I knew the dangers of getting it wrong but arrogantly assumed with my vast experience that this was unlikely to happen. So I hired a guy based on the recommendation of an associate for whom he was working for at the time. The interview process was, in reflection, quite shocking. Like many business people I was so caught up in my todo list and in the plans for the company that I didn’t do the basics, I relied on the recommendation of the third party without questioning their motives. I was too busy to give this the time I needed to.

I ended up eating a huge slice of humble pie as the individual we hired ended up being a disaster that cost the business tens of thousands, and has resulted in a criminal court case being pursued against the individual in question for theft.

So, what did I do wrong, how could I, with so many years experience of this, got it so wrong?

Now, in hindsight the reasons were obvious but it is very easy, especially with your own business to be so focused on the success of that business to end up falling into these very obvious traps. The mindset you need to succeed as an entrepreneur is one of optimism and positive attitude, you want to bring everyone with you and you will use your sheer force of personality to succeed. However, the mindset you need for interviewing is to temper this with a huge dollop of cynicism, yes sell the candidate your idea and your passion but do not expect that person to share your drive, ambition and passion. They are not you and their motives are not yours, you need to be quite hard on yourself and on them. This is a lot more difficult than it seems.

So, how can you easily avoid making the wrong decision?

The easiest way to avoid this is to ensure that you have at least a second opinion. Here’s some ideas of where to get that from:

– Professional HR Consultants are a very cost effective way to do this. Many offer a service that includes, writing a job spec, helping you shortlist, designing an interview schedule and supporting you with the interviews. They usually charge by the hour or day and you’d usually be looking at a few hundred for this support. Given the potential cost of getting it wrong, it’s money well spent and the time it will save you in process more than pays for itself. I provide a service for small local businesses that gives this support, many others do as well.

– Trusted colleagues, these must be appropriate, it would be inappropriate to ask a potential report of the new candidate to interview for their boss. If you are a small business think laterally,

-a non executive director (get them to earn their stipend!),

-a business consultant who might be working with you in another capacity,

-a friend who knows your business and who might run their own business.

– A family member with an interest in the business, your spouse for instance

-Consider using a headhunter/recruiter and putting the onus on them to support you. As a headhunter I offer a 100% rebate for the first 12 months. This allows me to become far more involved in the selection of the RIGHT candidate to the extent that I have supported client interviews. I have a vested interest in getting it right, not just in placing any old candidate. Very few recruiters offer this level of guarantee, if they don’t, ask them why not?

Whatever you do, make sure you get that second opinion on every candidate and do those checks.

Remember – the point interviewing is not to assess how well a candidate interviews

How many times have you sat in room with colleagues after an interview and someone has turned to you and said: “well they interviewed well”?

I’ve lost count. I’ve also lost count of the number of times I have reminded my fellow panel members that we are not there to assess how well someone interviews, we are their to work out if they are the best fit for the vacancy we are recruiting.

The pressures on ensuring consistency of assessment, especially in competency based interview there is always a danger that a gem of a candidate gets rejected because they didn’t shine at interview. I have always believed that it is the job of the HR manager on the panel to ensure that this doesn’t happen and you don’t end up missing the best candidate just because they are having an ‘off’ day. This can lead to absurd situations and can result in the wrong hire being made just because a candidate is a ‘good interviewer’ I’ve seen panels discuss this and still make the wrong decision “well, I thought ‘x’ would be our hire but she interviewed dreadfully and waffled on for ages and was nervous. ‘y’ however, he’s a superb interviewer and scored highly on the assessment form because of his answers”. As an HR professional you will likely be the most experienced interviewer on the panel. Therefore it is your job to ensure that you get the information you need to make a decision from each candidate no matter how nervous or stressed they are. Yes, an interview is a formal process but you are dealing with humans at the end of the day. We all have ‘off’ days.

I can distinctly recall one interview I managed some years ago. The interviewee was highly nervous, he’d been out of work for 6 months, had a family to support, was under huge financial pressure. The interview started and he was terrible. The first half dozen questions he made a total mess of and the more he could see we were disengaged the worse it got. After forty minutes of this I interrupted proceedings and said “would anyone like a cup of tea?” This stopped the candidate and the hiring manager, who had resorted to roasting the candidate, in their tracks. The tea arrived and we had a general chat. During this chat I confided in the candidate that I could well sympathise with his predicament. I’d been made redundant some years before and, despite being a professional interviewer could not get past second interview. I had a family to support and as under huge pressure and I couldn’t help this coming over in interview as nerves and desperation. My confidence was shot. Eventually I got a job but it was a miserable time which got worse and worse. Was he finding the same thing in his job search? From then on the candidate started to open up and relax. We started again and by the end of the interview all on the panel knew this was the guy for the job. We offered him the role and within the first 6 months he had won 400,000 Euros in new business for the company and opened up Benelux where they had no presence before.

car towards cliff

I’ve found that a bit of preparation with panel members can pay dividends. Pre empting the above situation by understanding a candidate’s personal circumstances and motivation can avoid this and saves everyone time.

 

I’ve found the following steps essential to ensure this doesn’t happen:

  • Spend 5 minutes before each interview running through the CV and circumstances with the line manager. Point out potential areas of concern and also whether or not the candidate is likely to be under stress sufficient to effect their interview conduct.
  • Ensure that you understand any apparent ‘weaknesses’ in the CV. For example: candidate made redundant 3 years ago, unemployed for 6 months, takes the first job that he is offered because he has a family to support but it didn’t work out. A candidate should not be judged too harshly for this. Get the line manager to put themselves in the candidate’s shoes, there is a world of difference between someone who is flaky and someone who had no choice but to take the job
  • Bear in mind the economic conditions out there. If a candidate has been unemployed for a year and has had dozens of interviews despite having huge experience and a lot to offer the chances are that his or her confidence has gone and that they are under huge stress in their personal life due to financial pressures etc. You must bear this in mind and look beneath the nerves. Such a candidate will frequently be an excellent hire because they are so grateful that you had the imagination to see beneath their stress
  • When conducting a Competency Based Interview, should the candidate answer a question with a poor example, ask them for another example, explain the reason for the question. e.g.” We are trying to ascertain how good you are in a crisis, can you think carefully about your career to date and tell us of an event which you believe best demonstrates your ability to ‘x’.”
  • By the same token, if a candidate wanders from the point of the question. Don’t sit there with a fixed grin on your face. Interrupt and being them back on track. What you interpret as lack of focus is often just nerves or even enthusiasm.
  • Desperation in candidates is not a bad thing. There are many things that can motivate it. If someone has a family to support and are unemployed, yes, they will be desperate. You need to see through this and understand and empathise with them. “didn’t like ‘x’ he was too desperate” is not an acceptable reason for rejection.
  • Remember that those who have only interviewed a few times in their career or are coming back from a long career break (back to work mums etc) will tend to be less slick at interview. Bear this in mind.
  • Above all, empathise with the candidate and don’t judge too harshly, there are often reasons for behaviour and interviewing is very stressful.