Idealpeople Blog: October 2007

Thursday, October 18, 2007

We've Moved!

We've moved!

You can follow goings-on with us over at

You can also revisit all the content up here at our new home.

No further posts will be made here.

We look forwards to catching up with you.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

It's because he's in a Ferrari...

Would Lewis Hamilton win if he was driving a Toyota instead of a speedy McLaren? Would Jenson Button win if he was driving a McLaren instead of a slow Honda? When looking at the success of any team made up of two discrete units, it's important to know which component is adding the most value.

The same applies to Recruitment Consultants and their Employers.

This dilemma is common in many tertiary sector industries but even more so in recruitment. The question, as a user of recruitment services, is: Which entity is adding the most value to my recruitment campaign, the consultant or the company they work for? When you consider that most good consultants make/receive the initial call from company X with vacancy, take the requirement, locate suitable candidates, arrange meetings, close offers, smooth problems and ensures that the person stays, is this primarily down to the company you're dealing with (their training, approach, ethics etc) or is it an example of a brilliant recruiter working for a not-so-brilliant company?

This question gets even more interesting when you consider that many organisations have a list of recruitment companies they use which they will not avert from. It's classic loyalty-based purchasing (maybe you caught ITV's Tonight on this exact subject a week or so ago). That's fine, but the problem with using loyalty as a yardstick when assessing recruitment partners is the general high staff turnover seen throughout the industry, which means that more often than not, you end up working with a different "Account Manager" to the one who gave you the great service in the first place - meaning that loyalty is sometimes completely mis-placed. Consultants moving between rival companies have to deal with restricted covenants in their contracts, so chances are that (legally at least) - as a customer, you have no choice other than to stick with the agency. Moving forwards though, who should you stick by? The Consultant or the company? How much should loyalty figure in your partnership decisions?

There are things you can look out for which will shed light on how whether the service you get is coming from the agency or the Consultant:

1)Do you receive CVs or have interviews arranged when your contact is on holiday? If so, you are working with a company who has some sort of continuity plan in place and/or a group of consultants who work together. Both good things.

2)Documentation. A company should provide tools to make the consultants and your lives easier. What standardised documentation are you seeing? (e.g. CV overview cover sheets, vacancy value propositions, corporate brochures, tailored recruitment branding literature for your company, standardised employment references etc)

3) Pro-active candidate sourcing/event sponsorship. Is your recruitment firm giving your consultant the power to get the exposure you need in your market? A good recruitment company will be offering its consultants the financial backing and opportunity to be making a splash at industry events to increase your campaigns coverage and the consultant's credibility to candidates.

4) Who have you met? A good consultant will try and meet clients he or she believes he will be working with for an extended period and/or intensively. If you have met your consultant, whom else did you meet? MD's are usually fairly busy people but it's fair to say that the more senior the contacts you met were, the more time will be dedicated to filling your roles.

The moral of story - be careful who you share your loyalty with.

We're Hiring!

When we started this blog we *promised* ourselves we wouldn't use it for shameless self-publicity. Whilst we haven't completely changed our minds, we did want to let you all know that we're hiring - so if you're looking to work in recruitment, take a look at our latest ad:

Four of the UK's top 11 Recruiters work for Idealpeople, according to recommendations left by LinkedIn users. Can you say that about the company you're working for?

People are our business, and we want our people to be the best. Through on-going training and support, the backing of a strong brand and an exceptional reputation amongst world-class technology companies throughout the UK and worldwide, we've earned our right to be picky about the clients we work with and the quality of Recruiter we hire.

Our business is a world away from the classic high-volume cold calling combined with a "bums on seats" resourcing model of most so-called "IT Recruitment" companies. By employing a methodology which involves close client relationships, high-quality technical and competency-based candidate screening and a focus on both classic contingency resourcing and Executive Search, we're well known for our ability to attract and introduce the very best talent against well defined but demanding requirements across R&D, Development/Test, Sales, Professional Services and Marketing. Known for the depth of our technical and market knowledge and our exceptional success rates, it's hardly a surprise that we have so many satisfied LinkedIn members willing to recommend us.

We're currently hiring in Milton Keynes and Uxbridge. We're looking for talented trainees with no experience (the foresight to expand your jobsearch onto LinkedIn is a good start..), and for proven recruiters with strong sales backgrounds combined with a passion for and/or knowledge of the technology space to join the team. You provide the skills, and we'll provide you with the chance to work alongside some of the UK's best recruiters, as well as a potential six-figure OTE.

To apply, please get in touch with our Hiring Manager, Nick Gallimore, either via e-mail or call him on 01908 562785.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Social Networking Overload

Everyone's talking about Social Networking, Web 2.0, Mashups, AJAX, Final Convergence and Commoditization. Is this a real renaissance or are we back to the infamously buzzword-inventing days of the slightly pre-dot-com era?

Social Networking is the latest, greatest on-line trend. The general view is that sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace and the rest of them are must haves for communicating, organising your life, keeping in touch, making new friends, and - maybe even - getting hired. If the millions of avid Social Networkers are right, if you're not on there, then you're so utterly uncool and behind with the times, so incapable of adapting to new techniques, and so far out of date that you might as well not be here at all.

However, this general concensus isn't necessarily backed up by expert opinion. Enjoy some quotes:

It's a fad like hotpants and bellbottoms, Steve Ballmer, CEO, Microsoft
"Social media" is a functional advance pimped out as a revolution, Michael Hirschorn, Journalist,
Nobody is as clever as everybody, Alan Moore (Author of "Communities Dominate Brands" - which you can buy here)
Reflects completely and widely the kind of "freedom" in interaction and appearance that today's kids look for, "The Doc"
If used right a great way to be hired but be careful what you share and with whom, Idealpeople

The upsurge in the popularity and use of Social Networks has led to literally hundreds of of new sites being launched. To those who are avid Social Networking users, the general temptation is to sign up, sign up, sign up. After all, the last thing any keen Social Networker wants is to miss out on the early stages of the new major site. Not being signed up and not having the most connections could lead to missed opportunities, couldn't it?

This is called Social Networking Fatigue or Social Networking Overload.

A truly modern phenomenon, Social Networking Fatigue refers to the principal cause: An excess of time spent on networks in purposeful, or casual browsing activity on 'Social Networks'. This erosion of your precious time is worrying.

The principal effects/symptoms include neglecting those you love and the other important people in your real, non-work life, and neglecting time you owe yourself for non-work activities - whatever turns you on. Paranoia about the corporations to whom your details are visible might set in. Information overload in the form of excessive 'request to connect' type invitations can feel overwhelming and lead to classic anxiety symptoms, which is the pre-cursor to stress. Stress just isn't cuddly and fun.

You see, being part of a Social Network isn't as easy as signing up. Whilst you may only need an e-mail address to do so, the effort that goes into being part of a Social Network is huge - the constant barrage of invitations or friend requests, the array of questions and messages....any person without significant time on their hands is going to seriously struggle to be a "proper" part of a Social Network community - particularly if they are trying to manage six or seven discrete "networks".

Social Networking Overload is becoming quite common. We ran some searches to find out how it feels to be a sufferer, and here's some random but genuine quotes: "Yet another Social Networking Invite. Kill Me Now". "I've got it in a way I can't even explain". "948 friends added on Facebook... Two Hours....Can I have my Two Hours back now?" "How many networks can one person join?"

Some say the answer, or 'cure' to all this stress is 'Social Network Aggregation'. Imagine a Dashboard or Browser, where you could manage all your social and business networking activity without having to cross connect. Apparently there are a few apps out there which claim to have this problem wrapped up already.

However, whilst we wait for this to become mainstream, here's our tips on effective Social Networking, followed by our current point-of-view in terms of which are the best tools for getting you noticed by recruiters.

How to prevent information overload with Social Networks

But it's the latest thing....
Avoid 'Leading Edge' syndromes. Don't think that you need to be on every latest and greatest community roll-call of membership just because it's new. Resist the temptation when you get your next "invite" by asking yourself honestly: "Have I got time in my life for another time-sucking social network?"

Due Diligence for Privacy
How much do you really want a corporation, web enterprise, or any other business to know about you, and your personal information, even down to your current employer, job title, location, email id, drinking habits, sexual preferences.... Would you broadcast this information in an auditorium of strangers? Be wary: it's a jungle out there. Don't forget the importance of trust in supposedly trustworthy networks.

Be Picky
Take advice from existing users of networks on what value they have had out of it, and choose the network or networks that work best for you. Try and stick to just one or two, and pay attention to working on building and keeping your valuable connections in one or two places.

The key to avoiding social networking from messing with your life is to count carefully the hours whittled away in endless well of the internet, and especially inside social media. Your social life away from the keyboard should matter more than your social life online.

Which Social Networks will be helpful in my Jobsearch?

MySpace - the original "you must be on there" Social Networking site. To be honest, it's the least of all to be able to help you in your job search, primarily due its focus on your personal life rather than your professional. Your MySpace page is more likely to put them off hiring you.

Facebook - the current "you must be on there" site. Often touted as a tool for recruiters and for getting spotted, and rumours have recently linked it to a partnerhsip with a online jobsite. To be honest, we don't get it. You can't search on anything other than name, all profiles are private until you're's actually of very little use to a recruiter from a candidate-sourcing or headhunting point-of-view.

LinkedIn - the best tool by far for conducting a private, discrete jobsearch and for "getting noticed" by recruiters and employers. Because of it's reliance on a CV-like profile and the fact that it's searching is good (i.e. profiles can be and mostly are public), it works for us as a brilliant recruiting tool.

Ecademy - similar in approach to LinkedIn, and similar audience, although less well-known and a lot less used by recruiters

Viadeo - up-and-coming, and has a unique slant, although at the moment the majority of users are in France. We heard on the grapevine that Viadeo is going for it in a big way in the UK at the moment - but it will take an awful lot to convince recruiters that it's better or equivalent to LinkedIn - particularly given the amount of time some have put into establishing and growing their LinkedIn networks.

Quechup: Do not, under any circumstances, sign up to this. It's a spam engine built on a Social Network. And we're not joking.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Why online recruitment sites mostly suck

We've noticed recently that it's very difficult to find much in the way of opinion about job boards. We've tried hunting down some feedback on the type of service candidates are getting. But it seems that people don't seem to have a view on them. The general job-hunting public don't seem to have any problems or complaints about their job-board based trials or tribulations. We tried all sorts of searches on Google, with very little opinion from candidates featuring in the result.

Recruitment companies, on the other hand, are a different story. We found this , this and this, without even trying. Harsh, negative feedback, all based on the quality of service being offered by recruiters to candidates.

Now we don't think that this is particularly fair. Why are we getting the stick (and indeed in part accepting responsibility) and the job boards coming off so lightly?

We can break down the complaints that candidates have about the recruitment process into a few key subdivisions:

1) The agent didn't listen to me/didn't know what they were talking about
2) The agent lied to me/sent my CV without permission/keeps calling me about jobs I'm not interested in.
3) I never received a response to a job I replied for

The first two complaints are clearly the fault of the agent in question. The third complaint - one of the most common that we're aware of, is always targeted at the recruiter, but - in fact - is rarely the recruiter's fault. The blame, in truth, should lie firmly with the job boards.

The online job board industry has been around for some ten years. The idea behind the entire industry was to make it easier to apply for jobs, and to make it easier to fill jobs. By easier, what we actually mean is quicker. You see, rather than taking time and care over applying for a job - putting effort into writing a strong covering letter and taking time on a CV, candidates can now click a few boxes (often hundreds of boxes) and send off generic CVs with a one-line covering letter to as many jobs as they like, all at once. Great.

Now, we see recruiting as a multi-dimensional contact sport, and we know that we would be lazy if we were whining about the job boards mainly because they are our only or even main channel. We also take time to maximise our impact on these boards with compelling copy - rather than cut and paste job descriptions impersonating adverts, like some of our competitors do. We feel we have a right to moan, as we pay for a service, measure the ROI, and frankly, aren't getting enough of it!

Part of the problem comes from candidates who don't get the reply they want from a submission to a job they thought they were perfect for, who will then (often to protect the Ego!) occasionally assume that "The job wasn't real anyway". This really isn't helped by job boards out there from re-posting expired ads to boost their content when the job had been filled weeks, months, even years ago. Central to a job board's pitch to advertisers is that "we have X number of candidates", and in order to attract candidates they need lots of jobs. So they just keep posting jobs that we've asked to be removed. We won't name names here, but it has happened to us, even after we asked them to please stop it. We've also lost count of the number of times we receive calls from candidates asking for feedback for job applications that we've never received. We always put direct contact details for all of our Consultants in our adverts for this very reason.

Our key gripe though comes from the user experience that job boards offer candidates. The job board is responsible for allowing candidates to apply for a job. The job boards are the ones setting the criteria for who applies. The job boards make no effort to introduce screening procedures or functionality which might screen candidates. The job boards make no provision (with one exception that we know of) for us to quickly offer feedback to candidates or to update an "application tracking" chart, and they offer no facility for a candidate to find out whether the application was received, what the response was or indeed any kind of interactivity. Instead, they leave recruiters to fend off the blame for the experience that the job boards are providing. (And remember, it's the job boards' technology which allows your mobile number to be visible to thousands of recruiters, so is it fair to blame those recruiters for constantly calling?)

There's one particular example of a job board which exemplifies this perfectly.

This particular site offer candidates the chance to "rate the agency". When we first heard that a major job board was going to allow candidates to rate the service of the agent/agency that they had applied to, we smelled trouble. This system is then used on their homepage to list the "ten best agencies" - great PR for those lucky enough to be at the top, although maybe not so great for the companies not on that list. I wonder what would happen if we ranked our clients (our paying customers) in terms of quality of work environment, or salaries offered, on our homepage? What would the customers outside of the top ten think?) In principle, the idea of feedback on a service is a great one.

However, let's look at a scenario:

- Recruiter Posts Advert
- Every candidate who has registered an interest in hearing about jobs within that sector is e-mailed and encouraged to apply. Hundreds do. Just as many use the site's basic search functionality (which, by the way, encourages terrible adverts to come up first in the results by virtue of the number times a particular search term is used)
- Recruiter Brings in 140 CVs for that specific role
- Recruiter selects the best of the candidates (For the sake of argument, lets say 10)
- Recruiter disregards all applications from those who aren't even remotely qualified, whose CVs don't make sense or those who just aren't quite right
- Recruiter interviews selected candidates
- And the cycle continues

Most recruiters will have at least ten live adverts at any one time (not counting the ones which have been filled but which are still being advertised by the job board). So that's over 1000 candidates who haven't been successful, who either receive a generic "thanks but no thanks" response, or nothing at all. Either way, it's far too high a number for one recruiter to be able to go back to and offer in-depth feedback, which, in the absence of any sort of candidate-focused update system on this site, becomes a major bug-bear for candidates.

This particular job board actually allows ALL those people to rate the agency (based on their experience). Now, let's assume that all the 10 people short-listed and interviewed found the recruiter was professional, warm, knowledgeable about the market in question, the client, the role, and was ever-so-helpful in providing detailed feedback, sensitively. In short, they had a great customer experience. Lets also assume that they went to the feedback form on the job board, and gave a positive appraisal of the agency and the agent; and here's the important bit - because they experienced all aspects of the service.

Fair Enough. But what about those other people? What about the 130 who didn't make it? Is it fair or legitimate for them to give a complete appraisal on a 'marks out of 5' basis on aspects of the agencies service that they never even had!!? We are talking here about things like "Market Knowledge" as well as other areas which would have required a more involved interaction for anyone to make a fair assessment.

We even had an Account Manager (employed by the job board in question) who dismissed this system as "Laughable". "It doesn't mean anything" - they said. So why should we suffer this nonsensical appraisal system?

It's fine to measure satisfaction guys, but please, it's not fine to ask people who didn't experience a service to rate it. It's not fine to put this on your homepage.

Recruiters for the most part, see you as a jobseeker as a real living talking sleeping walking human being. Recruiters have to treat every candidate they seriously interact with as a prospective client. Good logic. The job boards, however, are big, ugly, sweating machines that genuinely do see their game as purely based on numbers.

Next time you apply for a job, why not consider the experience that the job board have offered you? They facilitate you to apply for 50 jobs in one go. What do they do to help you keep track of those? What do they do to help you get feedback or status updates? When you put your CV up there, whose fault is it that you got 75 calls the next day? What do they do to make sure your CV is only seen by suitably qualified candidates? What do they do to protect your personal information? Who are they regulated by? What did you think of their service? Do they let you give them feedback? How many e-mails did they send you about jobs which were unsuitable? What kind of information do they ensure that recruiters provide about advertised jobs? What do they actually do apart from make a lot of money for running rubbish adverts? What value is there in using them? Whose fault is it that you didn't receive a response?

We have plenty more to say on this front - so keep your eyes peeled for more (including the end-of-year statistical analysis of all the major job boards - which we figure we can publish, on our homepage)

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

How to Write a CV Part Two - What's In it For Me?

How to Write a CV Part Two - What's In it For Me?

Welcome to Part Two of our CV writing guide. In case you didn't catch it, part one is here.

Before we begin, let's talk about selling for a moment. There are many different ways of "selling" a product or service. We're generalising a little, but a bad sales pitch generally follows the structure of get in touch - talk about what the company/product do or does - ask if it's of interest. A good sales pitch, on the other hand, follows the structure of get in touch - identify problems - explain how the product/service solves those problems - close deal. This is called a "benefit-led" sale. The relatively simple premise is that you have a far higher chance of gaining interest if what you're offering solves a problem faced by the customer than you do if you just tell them about the product's features.

For all intents and purposes, a CV is a Sales Pitch. It's your chance to pitch your background, skills and experience to a hiring manager. As with any Sales Pitch, it's vital that you make room in the CV document for Benefit-led-selling. It's a very powerful technique - particularly because hardly anyone does it. Now, before you wince at the thought of selling yourself, which often requires hideous amounts of 'self assessment', take a look at this easy methodology.

First let's look again at the problem. We would rate the majority of CV's we get sent here at Idealpeople (And we are talking about a prevailing number of people in the £40,000 and higher bracket - nearly twice as high as the national average wage in the UK) as poor - primarily because

They simply offer a monotone historical dialogue - they almost read like your average job specification.

For Example:

- I was in charge of the corporate website
- I managed a team of 15 developers
- I conducted business analysis of a proposed CRM system

OK, so we concede that this type of information is useful to a point, and we also know that there's a hangover from Auntie or Uncle telling you that urban legend about CVs needing to be 2 pages or shorter or else they won't be read (quite simply the worst piece of advice ever given out).

Think about why companies recruit.

Do they do it just for the sake of it? No.
Do they do it just because they fancy having another employee knocking around the office? No.

They do it because they have a problem or problems which need solving. They need to buy people and skills to solve that problem.

What a CV should really do is answer the questions in the employer or recruiter's mind:

- What will this person deliver for me?
- Will they be able to solve my problem?
- What kind of return am I likely to get on my investment in this person?
- What has this person delivered in the past and what was the benefit for their employer at the time? What problems did they solve?

So, in simple terms, you should, where possible, mention a benefit or impact for every 'feature' of your experience, and even in every descriptive point about what you did. Think for a second what measurable value your last employer(s) gained from you being there. What was the impact of what you did?

Applying this principle to the above statements, we can change them to:

- I held responsibility for the corporate website, and was the driver behind a total design overhaul of the 3000 pages it contained. The outcome of this overhaul was a five-fold increase in visitor traffic and improved user feedback. This extra traffic led to a £500K increase in online sales.
- Through my management of a de-motivated team of Developers, I managed to reduce staff attrition from 60% to 6%.
- I conducted business analysis of a proposed CRM system, and the results were presented to the board. A decision was taken to implement the software, and as a direct consequence, customer uptake increased from 2000 to 3400 in a six month window.

Now, you could argue that we already solved the problem in our last set of tips - getting rid of the adjectives leads to facts rather than conjecture, and reveals proof and fact rather than personal opinion. Well, we think that by applying a further layer of features AND benefits, rather than just plain old features is a design overhaul your CV probably desperately needs. Also note that, yes, there ARE adjectives in the above statements. However, not a single one of them is subjective in nature of sits without being backed-up by hard statistics, in benefit form.

CVs with no benefits suggest someone who's never had a positive impact on their employer - otherwise known as someone who's never solved a problem, otherwise known as someone who isn't that attractive to hiring managers.

Take another look at your CV and ask yourself: "How many of my features need benefits?"

Meet the Candidate Update

We are pleased to announce that the extremely capable, Cambridge University Educated Software R&D Manager/Director, and author of our "Meet The Candidate" series "Successful leadership, focussed, not Blinkered" as featured on the Idealpeople website and blog on the 4th of October 2007, has been hired. From all of the team at Idealpeople we wish Scott all the success he deserves in his new position.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

How to prevent your staff from being headhunted

There isn't a business we know which is totally recruiterproof. Getting your people 'stolen', 'poached', 'pinched' or otherwise taken by a competitor, or even a non-competitor, really really sucks.

This is possibly a strange set of tips for a Recruitment Company to give away. We aren't here to make excuses for what we do, or even re-bottle and perfume it as 'Executive Search'. We are here because we feel business often fail to recognise and implement simple steps to stop people from soliciting away your top performing, A-player people.

Why are you telling us this?
Well, even we get headhunted - the shortage of good recruiters is a serious one. But we also have a *unique* insight into how to stop Headhunters from taking people away.

Estimates from the likes of the CIPD (That's the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) are that it costs a whole bundle of money to replace someone, and we aren't just talking about the Recruiter Fee to replace (typically 25% of base salary component) but also the Management time spent devising the new job specification, screening CVs and interviewing - all of which adds up to lost productivity. Then there's the intangibles such as 'emotional attrition' - AKA blows to morale - from key or popular people leaving. Some estimates suggest that when really key people leave, the loss can be as high as 150% of a candidate's base salary component. Think about a seriously high-performing salesperson who manages your major accounts and 'owns' the relationship, a CIO or even a CEO. And let's be honest - the majority of Headhunters and Recruiters won't be chasing your average or lacklustre performers, they will be after the top 25% - the people who are most aligned to your profit margins and who drive your success. Worse still, the more visible your business is, either through great PR, Reputation or just plain old size, the more open you are to approaches from the Poachers, Recruiters, Headhunters, or believe it or not Staffing or Recruiting Managers at Competitors who are under instruction to "go and find the best".

With this in mind, welcome to our tips on how to avoid Headhunters.

Train the Gatekeeper
Sounds obvious, but training the receptionist to act as a true gatekeeper against Sourcing Consultants isn't often done properly. A good Sleuth will be smart enough to use clever, vague, and even downright deceptive techniques to hurdle over the person who picks up the main switchboard. Many companies, perhaps the majority, already have no-names policies, no direct-line, no-email policies - but this alone isn't enough.

Train your receptionist to be smart and vigilant. Train them to do all of these things:

- No names policy (In defence to "what's the name of your X Manager")
- No email policy (In defence of "I have an important email for Ms X but I don't think I have written down her mail right...can you please tell me what it is")
No direct lines policy (In defence of "what's the direct line for Ms X?" )
- Tell them to maintain their apparently pleasant demeanour to all callers but be inwardly wary that they might not be all they appear to be.
- To be resistant to angry people, and always be calm, sticking to protocol. (It's not unheard of for a recruiter to call under such pretexts as acting like a customer or potential customer).
- To be on the lookout for the same person calling, say, more than 3 times in an hour and asking for more than 5-7 names.
- To be especially suspicious of people who call for people who used to work for your company years ago.
- To always, even when the board is lighting up with calls, ask the name of the person, and the reason for their call before putting them through. An inexperienced recruiter may lose bottle and look for an alternative method.

Engage with your People
Employee Engagement is a favourite HR buzzword of recent years. However, it's the most important means of keeping your people motivated, and IN your business. Engagement is achieved by managing people in an inclusive fashion, aligning your business drivers and objectives with their own aspirations and goals.

It sounds like an impossible vision, but many companies (look at any of those with very low attrition and/or unusually high profits) do manage it. This issue will be discussed in more fitting space, as it's a heavy topic, but even if you think it's unrealistic or simply aspirational to achieve, think again, and make your first priority being an 'inclusive', 'enjoyable' and 'engaging' business.

People who are bought into your business, who are treated fairly, who know you care, who are well managed, developed, empowered and challenged usually won't be tempted to leave.

Find out why people are quitting - and listen
It makes me ashamed to say that a only a slight majority of businesses conduct even the most basic of exit interviews. It's not just sensible from a legal perspective - it's pretty damn important. So do them.

Dig deeper into why they are quitting and you have a means to address the problem. Further still, if appropriate - get the leaver to give you the name of the firm who bought the person, the name of the company they are joining, what they will be doing etc. Find out the name of the Headhunter and the name of their Company.

OK, so they won't always tell you but it doesn't hurt to ask, now that they are leaving they might feel they have little to lose by talking, especially if they have some residual loyalty. I have read about a company who did this, and saw a pattern of people leaving via a staffing firm one manager in this FTSE company was actually using! Now, we are certain this was an isolated case of disgusting malpractice, but had they not asked the question of the leaver, recording the results - they might never have known.

Get to know the Headhunters in your Sector
We're not talking about the ones you already give work to. We are talking about the bad ones with your business in their sights and a laser beam, telescopic, infra-red, super megapixel image renderer attached for 100% accuracy. You won't ever know all of them, but Search people tend to work specific (sometimes niche) markets and by knowing the names, and firms, you can at least 'be prepared'.

Don't make counter-offers - pay people what they are worth
Making a counter offer might seem like a good idea in some business-critical situations involving a key member of staff. With only rare exception, the best policy is never to make a counter offer. They only breed resentment from staff who feel abridged that they weren't paid that before, and colleagues who hear gossip that X has had a payrise will spread like wildfire. Soon lots of people will threaten to leave, with silent demands for a hike in salary. Paying people what they are worth might also sound like a tough, although noble objective, but there are ways and means of ensuring you are competitive payers.

Create an environment of confidentiality - beware the insider
The best headhunters obtain qualified referrals, and not always from people outside of the company, but sometimes from within. This is very dangerous and can lead to poaching of entire teams in the worst cases. This can spell disaster - so to prevent this, don't just contractually bind them to keep company secrets and identities of individuals from headhunters - emotionally bind them by reinforcing the notion that the competitiveness of the business - and ultimately this influences their take home pay, career prospects, training budgets lies within the loyalty and ultimately discretion of all the staff. Ensure that discretion is a norm in your business. Keeping secrets is good. It's not enough to just create a policy document, it's important to keep it's visibility high to both existing staff and new starters.

Incentive Schemes - "Report the Headhunter"
One tactic to try is the "report the headhunter" incentive scheme. This involves offering some sort of incentive to anyone who reports names of Headhunters who have been calling them back to HR. We came across one company who offered money for every confirmed contact (they set it up so that the employee would have to provide e-mail or other written proof of the contact) with a Headhunter. The found out quite a lot about what was going on - and managed to identify a number of their own suppliers who were trying to Headhunt people out.

Be aware of - but don't ban, Social Networks
Facebook, Bebo, MySpace, and perhaps most significantly Linkedin, are regularly harnessed by Headhunters looking for talent. Be aware that they exist and are a very real channel for losing staff who are 'extra visible'.

Ask them not to do it
Despite some of the prevailing negative assumptions about the ethics of Headhunters, the majority are just people at the end of the day, and may respond positively to a request to "Just leave us alone" - especially if the request is a call to the Headhunter. We suggest that the majority would simply stop after a letter or a polite phone call from a senior manager at your company.

Voicemail & "Out Of Office" logic
Don't get people to leave their mobile numbers on their voicemail. Even more importantly is not to give too much away on bounce 'out of office reply' on emails.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Meet The Candidate Part Three: Successful Leadership: Focused, not Blinkered

Welcome to the latest installment in Idealpeople's Meet the Candidate series.

We'd like to introduce you to Scott, whose background is primarily in Software Development/R&D Management and whose expertise is in driving increased productivity and efficiency across Development / R&D teams, and delivering high quantities of releases to tight timescales. Having gained experience with market-leading companies in the DRM, Security and Storage fields, Scott is now looking for his next challenge to build upon his strong business-focussed and customer-facing expertise.

To highlight Scott's expertise at leading Development Teams, we asked him to come up with an article outlining his approach. Here's the result of his hard work:

Successful Leadership: Focused, not Blinkered
by Scott Marshall

In business today, there is ever-increasing pressure to be more competitive, which in turn leads to the need for organisations to be more efficient, and staff to be more productive. The high-tech nature of many industries requires specialised experts, able to focus on very specific tasks and goals necessary to achieve the business objectives. The organisation should obviously be motivated to provide the resources to achieve these goals, and to remove, or prevent, impediments to staff productivity.

Or so the theory says. In reality, organisations are replete with institutionalised obstacles that hinder, or even completely prevent, employees from performing their jobs effectively. This is obviously not what senior management wants, so how and why does this situation arise, over and over again?

Part of the problem is the growing need for specialisation: expert staff focused on narrow areas of the business. This focus is good; it allows highly-skilled staff to perform well in their area, without being distracted by other parts of the organisation. But this focus cannot exist in isolation. There need to be other staff managing the bigger picture - the interactions between the individually focused groups. A business achieves its objectives by the coordinated action of all its separate parts, and if that coordination is missing or inadequate, the business will fail.

To take one typical (but real and genuine) example: a large company had a large, in-house Facilities department. It provided excellent service to all the employees, allowing them to focus on their own jobs rather than worry about whether their telephones worked or the drains were leaking. But this company decided its Facilities department cost too much, and shut it down, outsourcing Facilities management to a third-party supplier. This supplier did its job well, and the company was happy that it had improved efficiency and reduced costs. But that was only the superficial picture: it turned out the third-party supplier's contract only covered a fraction of the useful services the in-house team had provided. The company's staff found they were spending more and more time pursuing trivial Facilities issues, and therefore their own productivity and ability to achieve their business objectives dwindled.

The immense hidden cost to the company of having its own, specialised, highly-paid staff changing light bulbs, calling telecoms providers to fix network problems, etc, was never adequately considered. The management focus on reducing facilities costs had become a blinkered view of Facilities in isolation. No-one was looking at the bigger picture. The new structure of Facilities provision started to control the rest of the business, by the adverse impact it had on all staff, which is patently ridiculous. Facilities (or any business function) must serve the overall needs of the business; it is not a business goal in its own right. Instead of asking the question "how can we reduce Facilities costs?" management should have asked "how can we best provide a Facilities service that enables the organisation to function most productively?"

This example is not to pillory Facilities departments specifically; exactly the same story could be told for any business function in an organisation, and its interactions with other parts of the business (see the further examples below). But it is easy to see how this type of problem arises. A particular senior manager is always under pressure from his or her management (and usually rightly so!) to reduce costs and improve efficiency within the domain controlled by that manager. This is the issue: the need for specialisation in today's complex organisations extends up the management tree. Managers have their own business objectives on which they must focus, and cannot possibly be expected to understand, or even know about, all the complexities elsewhere in the organisation.

Of necessity, senior managers (along with, in fact, all employees at every level) are forced to make decisions with imperfect information. If they did not, the business would freeze with inactivity waiting for the perfect information that will never come. So making such decisions is not a bad thing; what is bad is not recognising the imperfection of the situation and allowing for it: that is, a focus on one issue makes people blinkered to the related issues. The difficulty is that senior managers often aren't given the opportunity to see these other issues. Once a decision has been taken, the rest of the workforce, including other managers, will correctly feel it is their duty to support the decision and to do their jobs as effectively as possible given that decision.

If someone finds that the consequences of a decision actually hinder their ability to do their job, they will often with the best intentions try and creatively find a way around the obstacle - and for isolated cases this is exactly the correct solution. But if many people are hindered by the same obstacle, and all of them are repeatedly seeking spot solutions, this is obviously a great inefficiency. What is required is a mechanism for highlighting these obstacles, reducing the imperfection of the available information, so that the higher-level decisions can be modified to remove the obstacle: in short, a process improvement feedback loop.

Such feedback loops exist in many small-scale (department-level) processes, but they are rare at the organisation level, and this is a critical omission. The reasons for this omission are varied. Often it is simply the case that there is no mechanism for reporting and collating obstacles. In some organisational cultures, there may be fear of reporting problems, in case it is seen as "whinging" or inappropriate questioning of a senior decision. That is unfortunate, as almost always the issue has been raised by someone with the genuine desire to improve both organisational productivity, and their own ability to achieve the goals the company has set them. It is important to recognise this and permit and encourage constructive suggestions at any level. The setting of any goal or objective should automatically come with the follow-up "...does this serve or hinder the overall organisational goals?" If it hinders, stop. If it serves, the further follow up is then "...and what else does the organisation now need to do to support the achievement of that goal?"

An example of this occurs frequently in organisations adopting the Agile project management methodology Scrum. One feature of Scrum is that it provides explicit daily visibility of any impediments to successful project completion. For Scrum to work, it expects these impediments to be removed (which can include such things as changing an objective to render the impediment irrelevant, etc). This requires commitment from the organisation: it is a two-way contract. If an organisation wants a project to adapt and use Scrum, and obtain all the benefits Scrum provides, the organisation must also recognise that all business functions interacting with that project may need to change their behaviour too. It is very rare that one business function can make any substantial productivity improvements in isolation, without support from other parts of the organisation.

This can be very difficult to achieve. Those other business functions weren't asked to use Scrum. They have their own objectives and constraints; they are focused on their own goals, as specified to them by their senior management. They are unlikely to respond to requests from another project - and it would be wrong for them to do so, otherwise they would be forever thrashing between conflicting requests from across the organisation. This is why organisational-level feedback is so important: it provides a controlled mechanism for highlighting the critical interdependencies, and allows the organisation to evolve and adapt to remove any obstacles amongst those dependencies. Without this, a well-intentioned focussing on one set of goals quickly becomes a blinkered ignorance of the overall objectives, and an organisation quickly degenerates into a set of competing silos, rather than a cooperating whole. Staff are put under increasing pressure to perform and deliver, in an environment that increasingly prevents them from doing so!

The best leaders are those who prevent this happening, and who most effectively balance the cooperation needed across the whole organisation, with the focus required for individual tasks. These leaders will expect high performance and productivity, and will provide the means to achieve this efficiently and effectively. By doing so, they will ensure success for their staff, their organisation, and themselves.

And finally, an example which highlights some of the key points discussed above.

In another company, technical staff needed specialised computer equipment, for the work they were doing implementing a large project. Towards the end of this project, some of this equipment failed during critical system testing and needed to be replaced. The project manager began using the organisation's procurement process. The first obstacle was that the necessary equipment wasn't part of the corporate standard, so needed special additional approvals that would take extra time. The second obstacle was the the procurement department had a backlog of work, so wouldn't be able to process the order for several days. When the project manager then learnt that the preferred supplier would take a further fortnight to deliver, he gave up. This all meant his project would miss its critical deadline.

He went to his own computer, looked up an internet supplier, and in less than a minute had ordered the necessary parts using his own credit card. The parts were delivered the next day, work continued and the project completed on schedule. When he claimed back his expenditure, he was formally chided for not using the procurement process, with only a vague, informal acknowledgement that his action had actually saved the project. How demoralising! Worse, the company did nothing to address the obvious defects in its systems that were hindering its employees' ability to deliver.

First, the idea of corporate standards for purchasing wasn't working; the standard was set so narrow that almost all requirements fell outside it. The standard had been set by IT management; it was their goal to have standard equipment configurations to reduce costs. They had achieved their goal, but at the expense of the wider business. Second, the procurement department had its goals of service delivery for purchasing requests; by servicing all requests in strict order, it was able to meet its goal - but this inflexibility made it completely unable to help other departments meet critical business objectives. Finally, the restriction on using only preferred suppliers helped the purchasing team meet their goal of maximising discounts, even if that meant other parts of the business would suffer as a result.

The mentality in many organisations are that these rigid, blinkered controls are in fact necessary to prevent chaos. While there is obviously a need to have controls, the point here is that those controls must be constructed to support and serve the business - not control it. Staff should not have to be put in the position of taking risky, heroic actions (such as buying critical company equipment on their own credit card - unless of course that is the agreed process!). At the very least, it gives staff a demoralising dilemma: should they follow the system, and be chastised for failing to meet the goal set them by the company; or should they cause trouble by ignoring the system in order to meet their goal? Either way, frustration, productivity losses and demoralisation are the result.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Video CVs: The Future of Job-Seeking?

Building on something we mentioned in the first instalment of our CV tips - in which we made a point about how CVs are taking a little bit of stick for being unfit for their purpose, we thought we'd open some dialogue on Video CVs. To the unitiated, a Video CV is a presentation of your skills using Video, and not a traditional paper-based medium, as the format.

According to some commentators, the Video CV could well be the future.

So, true to form, here's our viewpoint.

First, we'd stress that to date, we've not yet seen what we would term a true Video CV. So, to form a truer opinion, we had to do some digging. Thanks to the wonder that is Youtube, we were able to sit down and watch some.

Looking through some of the examples, there appears to be a common structure, and that is people standing in front of a camera, reading their paper CV. There are some more creative efforts, but the "evolving format" seems to be one of adding a name and a voice to a CV.

We found this a bit surprising. We have seen some brilliant video-based presentations as extras to CVs: presentations, showreels, portfolios - and we have seen the benefits that these extras can make to an application.

We decided we needed to know the benefits that Video CV's are supposed to give candidates. So we did some more research, and here you go:

- More chance to get noticed: the central premise is that a Video CV is different, and creates an impression, giving you a higher chance of sticking in the mind of the person reviewing the application.
- Offers a unique chance to really put forward your personality, abilities, talents and motivation.
- Demonstrate your personality, experience and communication skills far better than you can do on paper.
- Give yourself a competitive edge over rival candidates.

All of these are fair enough as differentiators in support of Video CVs, but we think that unless people are careful about how they create their Video CVs, then all of these will be missed. Video as a media format was created to deliver content in a different way. Newspapers portray their content in a different way to Television News. Written newspapers allow depth of information, and they allow people to digest information in whatever order they please, and at whatever pace they decide on. TV on the other hand has to portray information differently: the ordering of the information is fixed - but the visual element of television allows for information to be presented differently.

You wouldn't see the value in a TV newsreader sitting in front of the camera reading the newspaper, so where's the value in a Video CV consisting of a candidate reading their CV?

If this is as far as the Video CV ever goes, then there are other problems with the format in general. These are:

- It takes longer to watch a two minute video CV than it does to read a CV. As crass as this sounds, most CV readers are able to review a CV very quickly: they're looking for specific information which indicates the suitability of someone's background. Irrelevant applications can be screened out quickly. With Video CVs, you'll have to keep watching until the end.

- Video CVs aren't searchable. Technology already means that if you put your written CV on-line, Recruiters can find it and get in touch. A Video CV can't do this.

- It potentially opens a candidate up to discrimination. Just imagine if the hiring manager doesn't like your haircut or the clothes you wear.

We fully support the use of Video CVs. But we do so with a bit of a plea added on: if you're going to produce one, make it something more than just you, stood in front of a camera. Make it something which showcases what you've done and what you've achieved - but take it completely away from the traditional CV format. Think if I were asked to make a TV show about me, what would I do? not If I were asked to read my CV out loud, how would I do it?

We look forward to seeing some examples....