We work in a frustrating industry, because businesses are so readily identifiable. And because there is no point in being in business if we cannot make money out of it.

Here is the issue, there are two situations where we as an agency can tell you very little. First of all, the client may be working confidentially. If you phone up and ask about the franchise and the location, and we answer then we have told you which business we are talking about. End of confidentiality.

So if we are recruiting for the Lada and Zastava dealer in Stevenage, there is likely to be only one. (Okay, I know the franchises disappeared a long time ago, but I didn’t want to embarrass any of my current clients).

Even if I say they are in the Home Counties, north of London, you are probably going to guess that it is between one of three dealers. Which is how rumours start.  So we have to be careful, and we have to respect the wishes of our client, especially in these days of GDPR.

And then we have the call out of the blue. Someone we don’t know asks ”Can you tell me what franchise and where it’s located please?” Bluntly, no. But let me explain why.

I know you find it difficult to believe, but agencies short of jobs will phone up to find out who the recruiting client is. Even more difficult to believe is that candidates will phone up and then apply directly, having told us they are not interested. It has even happened to us with candidates we trust, so there’s a very good chance that people who have no loyalty to us will bypass us.

This is our lifeblood, it is what we do. We try and put good people in front of good employers. And we try and respect our clients’ and candidates’ confidentiality completely.

So we’re not being awkward, but we often need more of a conversation with you than just give up the information immediately. In any case, it is often better to have somebody represent you professionally into an employer rather than be one amongst hundreds of applications.

But we are here to help.

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It is so easy to apply for a job nowadays. Advertisements allow you to submit your CV in a couple of seconds. Some people take even longer and craft a well-prepared letter.

I am not saying that we do not get creative from time to time, but often our clients are very specific. Take a recent job advertisement. We were looking for a Regional Operations Manager for an overseas distributorship. Automotive experience was essential.

In addition, on the first line of the client’s job spec, the ability to speak fluent Russian. So today I open up my inbox and there is a long, detailed letter from a very nice gentleman who speaks fluent Arabic and has worked only in the cosmetics industry.

Do me a favour, do not waste your time. I am all for “thinking outside the box” but you’ll need to satisfy at least one of the two criteria in our advertisement, either have worked in automotive or speak fluent Russian. And in truth the only way you would have got past us as gatekeepers was if you had both.

It probably makes you feel as if you are busy. But you do yourself no favours and you waste an enormous amount of time. Spend that time more productively looking for businesses for which your experience is relevant and approach them directly, rather than just waiting for job ads.

You are much more likely to have success.

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Recruiters often have a big problem with candidates who are so desperate not to be misunderstood that all they want to do is explain everything.

This might be on their CV – my record is 23 pages and I have no idea what it said after the first two. 6 seconds to make an impression? 2 pages, 650 words maximum, enough said.

Or it might be in an interview. Any interviewer will know the sort, you asked the question “Tell me about your current role” and they start “Well, before I begin….”. You know you’re in trouble – they’re probably going to go back to nursery school, take you through their education, their difficult time at university before their first apprenticeship, their marriage, their kids and all the holidays they’ve had before they eventually get back to talking about where they are at the moment.

It is the fastest route to the exit door.  You have to be disciplined – if you are this sort of person then ask somebody else to listen to you. Get them to stop you every time you go off subject.

Those old enough to remember it, or who have plugged into Dave, might have watched the Two Ronnies – the whole point of Ronnie Corbett sitting in his Red Chair going off at tangents was that it was a comedy.  It was meant to be funny and a caricature.

But most of us are busy people, if we ask a question we would like a direct answer. So nowadays if somebody utters the dreaded words “Let me put it in context” I will stop them. I’m not interested in the context, otherwise I would have asked it myself.

We all get annoyed at politicians dodging the question, you’re not likely to get very far at interview if you do the same yourself.

And you are not going to get as many laughs as Ronnie.

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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.

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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A I, as it is known, is just starting to invade (and I use that word deliberately) all areas of our lives. And nowhere is this more true than in recruitment. You may not be aware, but systems out there, despite the advent of GDPR, are being developed that will look at your LinkedIn profile and make a decision about you.

But, and here is the scary part, it won’t just look at your LinkedIn information, though it is capable of making a decision about you on just that. It will also trawl your connections, your Facebook profile, your Twitter feed, and there it even talking about your Netflix, your Amazon and your Spotify histories. And in these days of open banking, your bank account and your credit history.

Imagine your application being turned down because the computer says you’re not linked to the right person, or because you listen to George Michael? Or you jumping straight to the top of the list because candidates who reviewed holidays in Bali on TripAdvisor are more likely to be creative?

I’m not saying that any of these are not relevant, what I do worry about for the future is how people will game this information, just like they have done on review sites. I am sure, because it is artificial intelligence, the systems will be developed to outwit the gamers, just like Google has developed systems to outwit search engine optimisation specialists.

The future is looking scary, isn’t it? Fans of Black Mirror (watch “Nosedive” but make sure it is not on your history!) will recognise the ethical dilemmas posed by making sure you get enough likes on your social profile to be viewed as valuable to society. If we are obsessed about it now, imagine what it will be like in the future.

Happy days.

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People who find themselves out of work do one of two things in my experience. Either they have a very high opinion of themselves and refuse to look at anything even slightly below the job they have just come out of, or they go completely the other way and look at anything. Insecurity and fear of being out of a job forever means they take the first thing that comes along. Even if it is completely inappropriate.

If you are in the unfortunate position of finding yourself unemployed, do not panic. But equally do not dismiss every job that comes your way because you will not stoop so low. The one thing you have in your situation that costs you nothing is time. Time to speak to people, to explore opportunities, to get known by other employers. And you never know where an opportunity or a conversation might take you.

The test I have always recommended is “If this was the only opportunity around in three months time, would I look at it?” If the answer to that is yes, then look at it now. You can always turn it down, but if it is the only game in town and it is interesting why not have a chat?

Good luck, it is not an easy market but on the other hand you have real skills. Believe in yourself and talk to as many people as possible and you’ll probably find the ideal opportunity.

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When I am looking at a CV, I want to make my own mind up. So I am not interested in your opinion of yourself. After all I would expect it to be high, surely you believe that you had the right skills to move on to the next role? And if you cannot say nice things about yourself, who can?

A CV that impresses me is normally from somebody who has made a difference to the companies they have worked for. Who can show me they have improved turnover by say 20%. Who have improved profitability by perhaps 50%, who have increased workshop efficiency by 10%.

So do not be tempted to give me a whole load of skills that I will ignore. Especially if you are a genuine performer. If you know you are, shout about it.

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