I was watching the game between Liverpool and Manchester City and wondering who would end up as champions.

And it put me in mind of this quote, which I first read in the One-minute Manager I believe -“Feedback Is the Breakfast of Champions”.  In an industry that is overburdened from feedback from all sides, I pondered on feedback, stats and indices and thought about how you distinguish the good from the bad.

Accounts, composite and all sorts of other figures are very detailed, providing all sorts of information, to ratios and you’ve guessed it, feedback to managers.  But is the information they contain really that useful? We all know that statistically there might be a correlation with the size of the tiles in the workshop and the number of used hybrids you sell, a relationship between the number of coffee cups in the waiting room and your service lead times, but is it relevant?

You see for feedback to be useful, it has to be used logically and responsibly.  Take a classic use of statistics and feedback that most people know about and have an opinion about — “the long ball game”.  A phenomenon that took over football about 30 years ago.

Someone sat down and statistically analysed all the televised first-class games over the previous decade.  Apart from the observation that he clearly loved sport and he had nothing better to do, he produced one fascinating statistic.  Analysing all those games, most goals were scored when the attacking team touched the ball only two or three times. In other words, over a period of 10 years the direct route was the most effective.

His findings were actually incontrovertible.  Nobody doubted that his observations were accurate.  But forgetting the adage that there are lies, damn lies, and statistics, it was then used to prove something completely different — if you hoof the ball up the field at every conceivable opportunity, then you are more likely to score goals than if you pass it between you and try and work openings.

Sadly this did two things, it made football almost unwatchable for a while, and after some limited success with this theory, most managers gave it up quite quickly when it proved not to be as effective as first thought.

So when someone shows you a stat that a different coloured tile in the workshop ups your recovery rate, ask why that is? If they say Colombian coffee increases sales, question the link.

There might be a correlation but does one cause the other? Think about it over Breakfast one day.

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I talked recently about an application.

About a candidate who, at first glance, seemed to have had lots of different jobs over the past 10 years.

But, because we know the sector, a closer look showed that these different companies were all part of the same group. We worked it out, but many others would not.

They compounded this by not explaining why, having moved to a new group only this summer, at the end of August, they were looking again. And it gave us no clue, except the name of the company.

There was some crucial information missing that could have cleared this up. Again, we worked it out, because we know that the business he is working at is over 100 miles away from home. But there is no mention of his employer’s location on his CV.

And this is not logical, every other job has a location, but I suspect this was hurriedly put together. So for every previous job where it could be argued that location was not relevant, we had it. But for this one we did not.

A simple sentence like “Reason for leaving: I have reluctantly decided that the daily commute of 100 miles each way is too far” would explain logically and simply.

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Whenever we receive a candidate application it prompts some important questions. Here are a few:

  • Where do they live?
  • How stable is their career?
  • What sort of companies have they worked for?
  • Why are they looking?
  • What do they want?

There are plenty more, but those almost certainly cannot be answered without a conversation. But most of the above should be answered in their application. Purely from the information they give.

Let me give you an example, an application I received today. At first glance I saw lots of different jobs over the past 10 years. Which was discouraging. A closer look, however, showed that despite working for different companies they were all part of the same group. Which was encouraging.

However, having moved to a new job with a new company only this summer, at the end of August, he is now looking for a new a new role. Why? He did offer this helpful note (and nothing more) “I can explain my job moves if you want to call me”.

Really? When recruiters make up their mind about you sometimes in less than 10 seconds, you look as if you have had loads of jobs and we need to call?

You might not get the chance. Make sure we know that you worked for one company under different names for a long time. And if, as in this case, the journey to work was too far, tell us.

We understand if you have made a mistake. But we can’t guess.

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The Internet has changed everything.

With one click of the mouse you can apply to hundreds of jobs, but so can everyone else.

So while it is easier to apply, it is much more difficult to stand out. And it is more difficult for companies to choose the right applicant, so the way they view and sift applications is also changing.

Because just as machines have helped with applications, AI is also doing a lot of the selection. Programs that look at relevance, experience, character, stability and many other factors.  Sifting began with simple pre-qualifying questions, but now recruiters scan application letters and CVs against specific criteria.

Scary. But if you understand what you need to do then you can at least maximise your chances.

Look at your CV, especially the “profile” section. Savvy applicants make sure this profile matches closely what is requested in the advertisement. And because the machine will try to judge what sort of character you are, make sure the profile is full of the “action words” they want, such as “developed”, “motivated”, “created”, “achieved”, “encouraged”, etc.

If they are going to automate their systems, you might as well learn how to game them because everyone else will.

www.hy not?

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Building a career is not for everybody, but we all have different priorities. For those that are very career minded many want to be in control from the start.  Moving up the ladder naturally involves promotion, taking the next step towards the top of your profession.

The problem is that with today’s flat structures there are far fewer vacancies in retail than willing volunteers to fill them.  So instead of the lottery of career progression “it could be you”, make absolutely certain you are the next in line.

If you study the most successful people in your company, or the very successful people within your industry, then you realise it probably isn’t luck.  They are the sort of people who were always destined for the top because they make things happen.

Building a career is a bit like a round of golf.  It is a mixture of good planning and skill and plain old luck. But you know that the very best will ride their luck and will always be better than the average. And not just because they are better players, but because they have the skill and mindset to put things right when they go wrong.

The market used to place much more premium on employees who were loyal and who learned their trade over a period of time.  Today the market is much more results orientated and just by sitting in an organisation will not guarantee promotion.

So instead of waiting for your dream vacancy to appear, you need to make something happen for yourself.

What will that be?

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Sitting where we are, in the middle, we can tell that it is a difficult automotive market.

You get to know the signs – sales managers need to replace key staff quickly, sales staff like to “keep their options open”, senior directors tell you it could be a good time to develop their careers.  Oh, and the honest ones tell you it is hard work.

But there are bright spots, regionally, by franchise, by department.  As a rule though, we know the market is tough. Falling production and falling sales, Brexit, diesel dying – all are conspiring to make people nervous.

And nervous people make bad decisions, or at least different decisions to the ones they make in good times. Which is my message this week – to quote The Hitchikers Guide to The Galaxy “Don’t Panic!”.

Or rather don’t throw away all the good practices you have learnt in rather more benign times, especially when it comes to recruitment.  Because the mistakes you make in haste and under pressure now will only come back to haunt you, and in today’s litigious environment they could cost you a lot.

Take these examples of panic measures from the past couple of weeks, both from reputable, well respected employers.  A manager needed a service advisor quickly, meets a young candidate from a stable background and offers the job almost on the spot, he confirms with an offer letter.  

As soon as notice has been handed in the contract is issued, asking him to break his current contract of a month’s notice and start within a week.  It is made clear that if he cannot agree the offer will be withdrawn.

Another client needs a manger and briefs us on a basic salary – let us say of £50,000.  We put up several candidates, but one in particular we know is strong and emphasise that he is only interested if the offer is indeed the full 50.  Long process, lots of meetings and a call is made to this candidate – would he consider £35-40,000?

You and I know the answer, something unprintable followed by “Why have I wasted the last 3 weeks?”.  The client relents, and offers the full package. Except by now the candidate has lost interest and trust.

In both cases the recruitment was unsuccessful and left both parties feeling aggrieved.  The employers were upset because they felt they had offered what was required and had been rejected – the candidates because they knew there had an attempt to “tuck them up”.

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“I thought it would be easier to look for a new job with time on my hands, so I resigned”

“We had a major policy disagreement, so I resigned”

“I am not prepared to discuss the reasons for leaving as I will not betray my old employer’s confidentiality”

“They discovered that I was looking for another job and sacked me”

Many recruitment consultants, HR Managers and regular interviewers will be smiling at the above. We have heard them all a hundred times and will them again just as often. Sometimes they are true, but you had better be ready to prove it.

Most candidates have nothing to hide, they answer our questions candidly and frankly. With such people we generally have very productive and thoroughly enjoyable meetings, and genuinely feel that we are able to help.

The problem comes with a small percentage who feel that they can bluff their way through any meeting by giving bland and, in their mind, original answers to questions which they would rather you hadn’t asked.

Over the years I have met and interviewed thousands of candidates. During that time I have heard every excuse for dodging a question and the bluffers simply do not impress, they irritate and waste your time. Not only do they waste our time they waste our clients if we put them in front of them.

As a result, we rarely do.

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Lessons learnt in sport, it is a results orientated business after all, can generally translate quite well into business.

For example, Team Sky cycling, and indeed the British Olympic team, have worked on continual improvement for many years. Small incremental gains that put together as a whole give their team a significant advantage. Very transferable.

The concept of team in football, or rugby, the idea of defined, clear roles. The idea of a group of people walking working together towards a common goal. All of these things learnt in sport translate well into business.

And what about lessons learnt in business? I heard the other day that a number of coaches, in this case in rugby, were looking at the way business itself recruits. It was not just enough for them to study athletic performance, fitness levels, playing record. They wanted to look at decision-making, especially under pressure. And to this they were turning to personality profiling.

Now my experience of recruitment in business is mixed. Some companies do it really well, some continue to do it appallingly. In addition the use of personality profiling can, at times, be questionable. Not because the idea of a personality profile is wrong, it is just that candidates can learn how to answer them the way that pleases an audience, and that some tests are way better than others, especially in recruitment terms.

So I wondered really whether personality profiling was the best way to watch people under pressure. After all, the selection process itself is surely pressure enough. Watch people’s decision-making in that environment and it should give you a good idea of how they will cope in a tight game. A game when everything is on the line, just like during the selection process.

I have no idea whether recruitment in sport will change, it will be interesting to see how this is adopted long-term, and whether the ideas stick.

But you cannot deny that it is a two-way street – sport and business are very similar.

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My sons are in their 20s. I think one of the greatest tragedies of their generation is the fact that over 50% of them have gone to university, racked up massive bills and left with a degree that has been, at best, devalued by so many others.

So it is good to see that the government, in the form of Damian Hinds, the Education Secretary, has recognised the technical training is worthwhile. In an interview with The Times in late September he promised to put much more importance on technical training. And to ensure that it was recognised for what it is, an ideal way for technically, rather than academically, minded school leavers to improve their skills and find the right way into the workplace.

It is over simplistic to say that society is divided between thinkers and doers, but there is an element of truth to it. And the sooner that we recognise that technicians, engineers and other skilled trades are just as valuable and important to our society as consultants and academics, then the better it will be for all of us.

And perhaps one day we can return to a system where we are not trying to educate everyone to degree standard, and it becomes more affordable for all.

I spoke to another candidate this week who was going along to an assessment centre. It is not unusual.  

For this one they had been asked to prepare a presentation on the 5, 10 and 15 year strategic plan for the motor industry. And we had a long chat about it, his thoughts and ideas were sound. He had done a lot of research and I think had put together a very cogent presentation, especially for a sales manager.

Except I did ask myself the question. Why are they talking about the long-term, when they really need someone whose focus is on this month’s figures? In football terms, it is great to see someone who can see the redeveloped stadium in five years time and a European Football League, but how are we going to win the game on Saturday?

In other words, if you are going to hold an assessment centre make sure you measure what is relevant to your candidate. You might judge on a great presentation and fantastic strategic awareness, but will they still be there at 6.30 on a Saturday night making sure you met your monthly figures? Will they be logging in at 6.30 in the morning to secure the best used cars on the manufacturer’s system? Will they be worried that Mrs Jones’ car is going to be six hours late?

Because those are the things that great dealer managers worry about and sort, they can’t really control the future of the industry and it doesn’t really matter if they understand it.

But good luck anyway, I hope the presentations go well.

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