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.

Apparently this is the most feared question in interviews, and features in more Internet searches than any other interview question.

And it’s surprising really, because if you think about it it is the one question that you should know all the answers to. But then most candidates are worried about how they express themselves and how they present themselves in the best possible light.

Well here’s my first tip, don’t talk about yourself, talk about the things you’ve done and achieved, the things that you are most proud of. And give due prominence to the most recent events. It is absolutely fantastic that you got the best A-level results in the country, but if that was 40 years ago I don’t think it is going to impress many employers.

On the other hand, if you have taken your current dealership from bottom of the manufacturers league to into the top 10 in the last two years they may well sit up and listen. If you just tell them you are an inspirational leader they probably won’t take your word for it and ask for some more proof. Achievements, figures, objectively measured results are what matter.

The key thing is to expect this question, it will get asked at least 50% of the time in interviews. Prepare and practice your answer and you will be rarely under pressure when you answer it.

There are some great assessment companies out there and there are some fantastic assessment centre programs that really work.

But equally a lot of people are making a lot of decisions on a lot of assessments that are not perfect.

I read an article last week that suggested that it might be time to can the face-to-face interview. That, because it relies on human reaction, human emotions and gut instinct, then surely it is time to get rid of the process? We know it doesn’t have to, but that’s what the article argued.

Assessment centres are so much better it said. Well they are possibly if they are set up properly and if they ask the right questions.

Many years ago we worked closely with an industrial psychologist who helped to set up a personality profiling tool. We discontinued the project, others had invested lots more and did it better online. Nevertheless it gave me a really valuable insight into the purpose of assessment and how it was carried out.

And they had helped one of the leading supermarkets who were having real problems finding the right checkout staff. Not surprisingly, they had put together an assessment program around a series of interviews. They were getting plenty of people through, but the people either didn’t stay the course or they weren’t very good at their job. This was surprising, as they were choosing the most numerate and literate amongst the candidates to do the job. They figured the ability to read and to add up was pretty crucial for somebody at the checkout.

Except, of course, it isn’t. In an age where barcodes are ubiquitous and computers do all of the adding up for you, why do you need people who can duplicate this effort? What they needed, and it becomes really obvious when you point it out, is people who could recognise different shapes. Why? Because it is quite important to tell the difference between a wholemeal roll and a ciabatta, or between an apple and a pear or between a plum tomato and an organic tomato. Those were the skills they needed, but they were testing for completely the wrong thing.

So I sometimes throw my hands up in despair when candidates fail an assessment with a manufacturer because as a general manager they are too “detail orientated” and not “strategic” enough. Why?

“Retail is detail” is an age-old truism. We are not looking for people who want to conquer the world, as Daksh Gupta, CEO of Marshalls put it to me, great general managers are great shopkeepers, they are not global strategists.

Test for the right thing and you might get the right people.

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Unconscious bias is not exactly a new thing in recruitment, but it is a bit of a buzzword at present.

It is the type of bias that all of us have, and applies most specifically when people are recruiting. Unconsciously we will all tend to favour a certain type, and while we may not discriminate illegally, we might still favour somebody from a similar background, a similar age, a similar height or even, people with beards, red hair or one that has been highlighted most recently, we discriminate against those with a body mass index of over 30.

Interestingly enough this type of bias is the most intractable to remove. Concentrating on objective measures like performance, track record, capability, professionalism are just very hard. Especially if you are not an experienced recruiter.

Where the debate is becoming most acute is over artificial intelligence, because no matter how hard you try to make computer systems impartial, they will only reflect the prejudices of those who have set up the program in the first place.

Let me give you a little example, recently the BBC ran an item about machine learning, they tried to teach a computer to spot the ideal selfie. It worked brilliantly, except the original sample they gave featured only young white women. Guess what, everything else was rejected as unsuitable.

Now that type of bias can be adjusted, but supposing your superefficient, super intelligent system slightly prefers people who listen to George Michael, and you have a standing order with Oxfam? And do not fool yourself, that information is out there and can be looked at.

The world is a scary place right now, lots of decisions we used to make are now done by machines. Surely we have a duty to make sure that they do the job better than us, not merely backup our imperfect prejudices?

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If you send me a CV, make sure it agrees with your LinkedIn profile.

Today is a heavily interconnected world. While your LinkedIn profile does not necessarily correspond with a legally binding document, such as ACV which purports to mirror your career exactly, nevertheless if I have a CV in front of me want to check its voracity, I will either check it against previous applications or against publicly available information.

In a world where it is so easy to apply for jobs, to create a convincing looking CV, to even get a convincing looking did Greece certificate online, employers need to be careful, and so do recruiters.

So if your CV shows me a beautifully stable, secure career and your LinkedIn profile tells me something different alarm bells begin to ring. But if you tell me the truth then almost certainly both things will look the same. And as I have mentioned before, you will also have much less to remember.

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It will be fascinating to see whether automatic systems and technology, of the sort that has become rife in some parts of the recruiting sector, survive after the introduction of GDPR. The new act gives the right for candidates to challenge supposedly “objective” decisions made by automated systems. That could tie recruiters up in more knots than the supposed time it saves them.

I have always found it strange, as often it is difficult to prepare rules that preclude or include automatically candidates from any recruitment process. Sure, there are obvious ones such as franchise experience for technicians, even automotive experience for managers, or degree qualifications where this is a graduate role.

But many automated systems go way beyond that, looking at the sorts of words candidates use in their CVs, what they say in their personal statements, what their job title is. And there are so many inconsistencies and variables in this type of approach I fail to see its use. Not because the technology cannot handle it, but because the person setting the parameters in the first place normally uses unconscious bias to set them. “We must have someone who is dynamic and forthright”, “Literacy and numeracy are essential for this role”, “They must have at least 10 years motor industry experience”.

If you are using such arbitrary, inconsistent benchmarks then you are likely to get challenged. “Dynamic” is often used as a synonym for young – age related discrimination is illegal and can be challenged. “Numeracy” or even “Literacy” might well discriminate against those who are dyslexic. “10 years experience in the automotive industry” automatically discriminates against anybody below the age of 26.

Automated systems are only as good as the person setting them up. But they are nowhere near sophisticated enough yet to be any substitute for an experienced, knowledgeable professional who knows exactly what they’re looking for. And so long as that person is sensible, open-minded and disciplined their decisions are much less open to challenge than an automated system that has been set up badly in the first place.

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