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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Ask any managing director in our sector and they will all tell you that talent matters. And if talent matters then you will only attract the best if you have a great career brand.

Let me take this argument one step further, a really successful employee could earn you £.5m improving in improved performance, year in year out. There aren’t many franchises where you could say the same about an individual customer.

But every customer that makes an enquiry with you, however speculative, would expect to get a prompt reply. Even if you only convert one out of every 10 enquiries, you would not expect anything less in today’s environment. So you do not see websites saying “We get an enormous number of people asking for quotes on vehicles, if we do not back get back to you assume that we are not interested in your business”

Now study the recruitment section of many websites in this sector. That is almost word for word the quote from one that I looked at this morning. Why not say “We are one of the leading brands in automotive, one of the most aspirational places to work and we value our potential future employees. We value you so much that we won’t even send you an automatic acknowledgement if you register with us?” And I know there are plenty of others like it.

And yet many people in HR tell me talent is so difficult to come by in the industry at the moment. Do you wonder when you treat it like that?

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Or rather, as an article I saw today put it, how do you treat your Silver Medallists?

Because actually this is probably the most important population for your career brand. People who are good enough to be considered in the final shortlist, interested enough in your company to turn up, but the you have to let down.

Many employers are terrible at this. Take feedback we had recently for a candidate – the client had promised to give them fairly detailed feedback after the assessment centre. This is an actual quote when we asked what feedback they had “I have spoken to the recruiting manager, could you tell him he wasn’t suitable for the position?”

The HR Director for one of my best clients, a manufacturer, used to get back to all candidates on the shortlist, and in fact any that he had interviewed at any stage of the process, and print a nice, but standard rejection letter. But at the bottom, on every single occasion, he wrote a personal note thanking them for their attendance, and hoping that he might see them again soon.

What do you do? Do you just abandon them, or do you get back to them quickly and let them know they haven’t been successful? Do you say that you are still interested in them and would love to be able to keep in touch in case something more suitable appears in the future? Because if that is genuinely how you feel, then that is the approach you should take.

Let’s face it, if they were good enough to get onto the shortlist they are probably good enough to be considered again. And if they’re that good then they are going to get listened to by others.

So treat them right. And keep in touch.

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A new report from the Boston Consulting Group and online recruitment company The Network lists the top 10 countries that everybody wants to work in.

The good news for the UK is that despite Brexit we are still in the top five. This was quite a wide-ranging poll with over 350,000 people questioned across nearly 200 countries, so I guess it reflects the wishes of the wider world.

However, before we pat ourselves on the back too much, you should note that since 2014 the UK has dropped from 2nd to 5th, while Germany has moved the other way. The top five countries are

  • The United States
  • Germany
  • Canada
  • Australia
  • The UK

So we are still almost the top destination in Europe. Well Germany has overtaken, but even if you don’t enjoy working here, be assured that most of the rest of the world would do.

I received a telephone call yesterday. It was a cold call but it was unusual, it did not go the normal way. We get targeted continually by telecoms, investment companies and the like. So on most occasions I just politely say that I don’t buy over the phone and put the phone down,

But something about this call made me stop. It was immediately clear that they had studied my website. They had looked at my LinkedIn profile and they had identified people who were common connections between us. So they were able to use names that I knew, companies that I dealt with and so I listened. In the end I did not end up buying, but I listened.

It tells me that a properly researched approach to a company will always succeed better than a “Dear Sir, I would really like to join your company/organisation as I have the perfect background. Yours faithfully” type of approach. If you research the company properly, look for the hooks that will make them stop and think then you have a good chance of them listening. Once they listen, you have a better chance than the next person getting a meeting.

The recruitment market is a competitive one, you need to get the edge if you’re going to be noticed.

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