Tag Archives: Career Coaching Brussels

Losing your team

7 tells you’re on the brink of losing your team

The stats on the level of engagement in all organizations come out overwhelmingly against the boss. 66% seems to be a standard figure for disengaged employees, so let’s work around that. It starts with the top employee who can bail fastest and more easily than the others. Then it trickles downwards, so that means losing your team will be the next step.

The top performer’s departure can blind side you. They are the best for a reason. Part of that is they are tapped into the market and bring their best selves to every situation. Very often their exit will be discreet and sudden. You can rightly be shocked, although some would say that even that might indicate that you are not in touch as you might be. But for the others, there are a multitude of tells that let you know you are losing your team, they are restless and out there testing the market. This might be as active candidates, or actively passive candidates, driving traffic to themselves and raising their visibility.

Whether you have your head in the sand or the clouds, unless you get on the ball, it will trickle down the ranks, until eventually you will be stuck with a team that will not be top calibre.

Multiple departures is a sign that you have a cultural issue which needs addressing urgently. Becoming tuned into the tell tale signs that you are on the brink of losing your team can help you take pre-emptive action.

So how do you know you are losing your team?

  1. LinkedIn not Facebook activity: Lots of it. Maybe a professional head shot or a pimped profile that’s been written with a career coach or by a resume writer. There will be some sensible updates going out on matters relating to your sector, not “likes” of a mate’s posts or selfies. The smart ones will do this on an on-going basis, but most don’t. So this is tell number one for sure. They will connect with recruiters or contacts in other companies and will have forgotten to adjust their privacy settings. Some companies try to limit social media usage, thinking that is the solution to employee retention. But creating a firewall around your employees, isn’t going to stop them leaving. You have to make them want to stay.
  2. Improved professional image: gone is the faintly rumpled shirt or nondescript trousers which have had only passing contact with an iron. Suddenly the workplace outfits are going up a notch with some statement jewellery and jackets on hangers, instead of a puffa anorak on the back of the chair. Shirts are crisp and starched. Shoes polished and make-up touched up. She is dressed to impress and warning tell… it’s not for you.
  3. Looking for metrics: watch out for a deeper interest in budgets, KPIs, targets and numbers, as he embeds his activities with metrics using the Be FABulous approach to prepare his USP or elevator pitch or soundbites.
  4. Loss of interest in next year: Interest in next years’ activity will fall off.  When there is barely a murmur about the bonus situation or summer party, you know you are in trouble. Your employees have opted out of even medium term thinking. Maybe you will see some passive aggressive behaviour, not meeting deadlines or poor time keeping. These are not necessarily signs that your disengaged employee is checking out the job search market.  This is even worse news – they are so demotivated they can’t or won’t be able to leave.
  5.  Networking: Instead of piling down to the pub, your team will be heading for after work professional drinks and events, clutching newly ordered business cards to pass around the room.
  6. Mysterious calls: taken in lowered voices in hallways or spare conference rooms. They are probably head hunters and recruiters
  7. Absenteeism: You will see an increase in requests for a few hours off, only one day’s vacation or recuperated overtime. The unscrupulous will take sick days.

If you see any or all of these tells, you should wake up and acknowledge you are losing your team. Don’t leave it until you have a high number of open vacancies to understand that you need to do something and fast.




Copey paste recruitment

Why copy-paste recruitment fails in today’s market

Getting beyond copy-paste recruitment

Copy-paste recruitment is generally business as usual in most organisations. A job description will be drafted for any open assignment. Usually this involves pulling out the old one, or re-positioning the CV of the last successful post holder.  “Get me someone like….” is a common instruction.

Even if the post was last filled five years ago, the chance of anyone thinking it might have to be crafted differently are slim. Generally the only changes I see are to inflate the qualifications.

Really, your receptionist needs an MBA?

Copy-paste recruitment is limiting

The changes in the market since 2008, means that most hiring managers are missing out on identifying and sourcing candidates with different and non-linear career paths. Many candidates have special and relevant skills which are not always directly evident. Candidates should assume some responsibility for identifying those skills themselves. But more importantly, hiring managers should be capable of going beyond the obvious to identify and source the best talent. This talent may not wear the familiar and comforting keyworded labels.

Why? Because they are missing candidates with those special skills.

This will include those with:

  • Portfolio Careers (a series of related professional activities, connected by the same transferable skills)
  • Or what is shifting into what I call a Cluster Career (a series of unrelated professional activities)
  • Giggers or independent contractors.

A  typical story

Bart graduated in 2009 with a degree in Philosophy as the global economy went into free fall. He spent the next two years doing unpaid internships during the day and working in shops, bars and restaurants as a waiter, bartender, bouncer and even cleaner at night to pay the bills. He worked on short term or zero hour contracts in call centres and creative agencies. He was eventually promoted to Deputy Manager in a bar resto, before he was hired to join the operations team of an event management company.

He had never worked in events, but his skills in running teams, handling difficult situations as well as his sales skills made him a risk worth taking for his new boss. Bart commented “I struggled to find a recruiter who could see beyond my CV. I found my current job through my personal network. Hiring managers have actually said to me  “you have never had a proper job!”  What is a proper job today?” 

As more and more candidates have diffused backgrounds, hiring managers need to consider making changes to their own skill sets and processes, to move out of copy-paste recruitment mode. This will involve:

Fishing where there are fish

Hiring managers in many sectors complain that the talent pool is dwindling. Yet they continue to look for the usual suspects, in the usual places. Time is now to think broader and consider where else might those skills actually be found. This is particularly true in STEM roles or to achieve gender balance and diversity.

Aptitude testing

It is now easy to arrange online aptitude testing, which although not definitive, are reasonable indicators of success, particularly for verbal and numerical reasoning, especially if they are verified. Many hiring managers, recruiters and head hunters are not qualified in even rudimentary psychometric testing.copy paste 2

Transferable skills

Many recruiters and hiring managers wouldn’t recognise a transferable skill if it punched them in the face. Their focus is keywords, job titles and familiar hard skills. It’s now necessary to be able to get behind a candidate’s achievements with some insight, to identify the skills they tapped into to be successful in their previous career professional activities. What ever they might be. Running a Boolean string with keywords on LinkedIn isn’t going to do it.

Behavioural interview

If hiring managers have identified the transferable skills needed for the role, interview questions should be structured to establish if the candidates possess those skills. Behavioural questions should be posed, to indicate how they used them in a previous role or would instinctively know what to do. Candidates can also be assigned tasks and exercises to see how they perform.

Detailed references

Reference collecting is a much under estimated skill. In litigious cultures many are wary of giving too much information in writing. Seeking a reference by telephone is by far the best way to go and questions should be structured and open ended exactly as for an interview.

Asking ” will x be a good candidate for this job?”  of course, gets you a YES answer.

Substituting with  “How would x be a good candidate for this job” will get at least drive some of the answers a hiring manager would be looking for.

What is needed to ensure success?

This is a question I usually pose to referees. Asking candidates will give some insight into their assessment of the personal development needs which can be insightful. It’s also an indication of how they have benchmarked themselves against the job requirements.

Work ethic, commitment and courage

Looking for commitment, work ethic and courage is a valuable indicator of future performance. This is showcased by Bart’s story, but also recently by Stefanie William’s response to Yelp employee Talia Jane who complained about her salary in the public domain and was fired for it. How people respond to adversity can be very telling. Who suits your company best? The tougher suck it up and get on with it (Stefanie) or the empathetic corporate whistle blower campaigner (Talia)? All 3 stories require different types of work ethic, tenacity and courage.

Hiring for attitude and enthusiasm are currently found more in gung-ho memes on Twitter and Facebook, than during any actual selection process. As an increasing number of candidates no longer have CVs that comply with traditional linear thinking, hiring managers are going to have to update their own selection skills and process criteria to identify top talent.

This could be time consuming (read costly) but no more expensive than high levels of churn or hiring the wrong candidate.

Check out your executive search and research options




Career path is dead

Career Path replaced by Cluster Career

What’s happening to the career path?

We all know the concept of  having a career path has shifted. Initially this was almost imperceptible, but in the last few years, it is well.. dying, some would say already dead. We saw the arrival of the portfolio career and now I’m seeing the start something else.  What I’m calling a cluster career.

That is a series of diversified professional activities. Not be confused with a career cluster which is quite different.

Linear Career on the wane

The notion of a vertically linear career path, is disappearing, at the same pace as agile and lean are commonplace. The expansion of the “gig”, on demand or collaborative economy is a key part of that shift. It is estimated that 25% of the total workforce will be working on demand.

In certain traditional professions, linear promotion may still apply for a while longer: law and, medicine, come to mind. But even those knowledge based professions will face change, as they are replaced by artificial intelligence.

Portfolio careers

We then saw the arrival of  “Portfolio Careers,” where career management was based on the identification of transferable skills, which could be used in a range of sectors and functions. This was based on strengths and interests, to create a career strategy which met identified goals and allowed people to manage their own careers.

This approach was blocked by older school hiring managers with traditional mind sets, struggling to cope with a model that doesn’t fit a “copy paste” recruitment mode, which facilitates filling openings with “Mini-Mes”

Cluster Career

This concept has been taken a step further by the Cluster Career, with even further diversification, to include multiple, activities in seemingly unrelated fields.

It can be one activity at a time, in rotation. Pete (The Feet)  is a marine engineer, who is also a chiropodist. Isabella is an auditor who responded to a recent call for graduates to retrain as maths and science teachers in the U.K. Elinor, trained as a lawyer, worked as a journalist, then as a media consultant. Olivia is an environmental scientist, turned tree surgeon.

Or it can be multiple activities simultaneously to suit demand: Martin, works in Instructional Design and as a chef and a hairdresser and switches between all to suit the market. Janice does ad hoc editorial and content marketing, plus beauty therapy (mani-pedi and massage.) Dylan, an events manager, works in a bar, as well as gigging as photographer.

What they have in common is fast and continuous learning skills, an ability to change direction, open mindedness and mental agility. They also have acute trend spotting skills.

Strategic diversification

For this type of career management to be effective, some key concepts have to be applied to take a strategic global overview of a career and then project long term. There has to be clear answers to the following two questions:

  •  Will my knowledge be needed by anyone? Ever?

Demand and supply for skills comes and goes. Technical skills gained in university are out of date before someone has graduated. The list of Jobs being automated gets longer every day. Knowledge and access to skill training is becoming easier, pushing down the earning power of certain skills, as competition increases because of over supply. We have seen that with the glut of life coaches on the market and social media “experts.”  Pete-The-Feet is targeting the 65+ demographic, which after 2025 according to W.H.O. will represent  63% of the global population. Pete’s logic is “we all need feet”

  • Will anyone want to pay for what I know?

The trick will be to position yourself on the right side of demand/supply curve, so that any professional activity you pursue, will generate enough revenue to pay your bills. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is still out there. The talent will be to identify long term skill gaps, where certain competencies are in short supply and take the necessary steps to up-skill. This is a difficult one and why we have seen so many unemployed graduates, because high numbers are studying topics that will soon be obsolete. Any profession involved with the aging population will be in demand. The skills will presumably be anything that can’t be automated or robotized. Ironically, many seem to involve manual work.

Career Planning Today

Previously we have talked about pursuing a passion and finding the ideal career, as if it were one single object or objective. Most people embarking on a career will change jobs every 2-3 years. They are now more likely to be pursuing multiple professional activities, in sequence or concurrently. These activities may, or may not, have compatible transferable skills.

That will make career planning today more challenging. Having an open mind and being a life long learner will be critical. People are going to have more options than ever, which is going to make positioning and pitching, to what will eventually be a new breed of recruiters and hiring managers,  who should be trained to assess diverse skills, across multiple disciplines.  Currently at their core many are still conservative, but they will retire eventually.

The need to be self-aware, self-advocating, self-reliant, self- sufficient, self managing and self- promoting, maybe even self- taught and adaptable is going to increase.

The days when anyone took care of your career are over.

For all career coaching needs contact me NOW




Concerned about a graduating student? Ask this key question

Around this time of the year I am frequently called by parents expressing concern about their offspring, particularly those about to graduate, or who maybe left university last year and are struggling to find a path.  I always enjoy working with this age group, but after extensive experience have added a new question to my intake process.

When was the last time you took cannabis?” followed by “how often do you take cannabis?” 

Notice I don’t ask “do you take cannabis?”  I don’t even ask about smoking. There are any number of ways to ingest the substance. Parents almost always respond in horror  “no, of course she/he doesn’t “  The young person will generally be more forthcoming and usually admit to trying it “but didn’t like it”  or like Bill Clinton “I didn’t inhale

I have come to understand that these responses may not be factually accurate.

Behaviour patterns

Parental concerns are usually centred around noticed changed behaviour patterns of their kids  who they report appear to be: lost, lacking in confidence, not knowing what to do, lacking energy and drive,  not following through, disengaged, having financial issues, moody, withdrawn, sleep and appetite issues, attention difficulties and reduced concentration.

There are of course a number of perfectly valid explanations to explain these patterns of behaviour.  Some of them are associated with normal young adult life.

They might also cover unidentified learning difficulties,  for example recently at least one student had undiagnosed ADD.  They can also cover depression.  44% of US college students report symptoms of depression.

In these cases for concern, I am talking about behaviours that are a barrier, which very often the young adult wants to change, but can’t.  The one area that I’ve learned in the past 12 months that cannot be ruled out is, marijuana usage and even dependency.  Before starting a coaching programme,  I separately ask both parents and students for input on substance use.


According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists  cannabis is the most widely used substance in the UK. Frequent use of cannabis is about twice as likely amongst young people, and nearly 5.3 million 16-24 year-olds have used it in the last year. Although there are strong  health warnings, the drug is perceived in many circles to be a relatively harmless substance that might even be good for physical and mental well-being, unlike its counterparts alcohol and cigarettes. Although in many geographies sale and possession is illegal, there are widespread movements to legalise the drug and some areas it has been. 

This post is not to make judgments about cannabis use, but to consider the potential risks to entry level job search. This may seem self evident to many (I hear an echo of why is she writing about this?) but the number of incidents I have encountered in the last 18 months, would suggest that it actually isn’t.  The discovery has left many parents shell shocked for not reading more into the patterns they have observed under their noses. Perhaps they are “just being kids”  – but for some it means significant long term danger.

If any of the following patterns are evident in the behaviours of a young adult in your life, either as a parent, friend or family member – it maybe time to ask some serious questions:

Here are some red flags


Marijuana usage can be  at the root of under performance or lack of productivity. Whether this is failing grades, failure to deliver projects or results, be on time, stay on task, embark on a job search, get a job or stay in one.  The right questions need to be asked.

Financial mismanagement   

Substances cost money. If your offspring is constantly asking for loans, whether large or small or you are missing re-saleable household items  – these are all warning signs. Combine this with an inability to get, or hold down even a basic job then again a conversation needs to happen

Time mismanagement

Cannabis users frequently are unable to manage their time effectively. They may be late for appointments, procrastinate on tasks they need to tackle, or lose focus once they have started. Perhaps they will prioritise activities which are less important.

Erratic sleep patterns

Sleeping patterns  are strongly impacted by cannabis usage in both ways – sleeping for long stretches, followed by bouts of insomnia. Very often users claim that marijuana helps them sleep, but it also increases heart rate which prevents it.

Memory impairment and problem solving skills impacted

Substance use or dependency has a profound effect on problem solving skills as well as short-term memory. If you see any signs of forgetfulness, these could be important indicators. You might find your child lying about certain things or making  weak excuses for not doing something.

Mental health issues

There is growing research which suggests to connect serious mental illness, including depression and psychosis, with cannabis usage.  Anxiety and even paranoia are reported with habitual cannabis use which worsen over time and  in extreme cases, even schizophrenia.

Eating patterns disrupted  

Clearly if you see your kitchen turning into a brownie production unit that should do it. But generally bursts of appetite, particularly for sweet products and drinks after consuming the drug is commonplace, as is loss of appetite in a withdrawal phase.

Friendship group changed

As with any behaviour pattern it’s no fun spending time with people who are not going to endorse the activity. You may observe your child hanging out with a different group of friends and perhaps being more secretive. If they live away from home this is of course difficult to monitor.

Change in relationships

Managing a young adult whether in your house or as part of your family is challenging anyway, but if there is a shift in your relationship,  you see locked doors, lack of engagement with the family, use of room fragrances, eye drops or cologne, temper outbursts and requests for privacy,  these can all be indicators that substance abuse is involved.

Drug equipment

If there is evidence of drug paraphernalia  – nothing could be clearer.

I’m not suggesting that all young people who struggle to find a path or a job, are necessarily cannabis users – but parents need to ask the right questions if these patterns of behaviour persist. 

Career Coaching

Career coaching, or any other coaching, can’t take place if the client is in an altered state. So if there is a strong feeling that cannabis usage  is part of your young adults lifestyle, then specialist help should be called in. 

Many employers also run drug tests and cannabis can stay in the system for as long as 60-90 days for habitual users. There is much online advice on how to get round these medical tests,  but if employers use behavioural interviews or psychometric testing, candidates under the influence of any substance, are likely to under perform.

One parent discovered his son indeed was an habitual cannabis user, which had negatively impacted his academic results, general behaviour as outlined above and outlook on life. We involved specialist help from the outset. He is now drug free and can start a proper career transition programme.

It’s always easy to avoid looking at the obvious, but sometimes it’s necessary.  What have your experiences been? Please share!

The return of the office Christmas party

The festive period is now upon us. After several years consigned to the doldrums by diminished, recession ravaged budgets, I have it on good authority that this year, with the green shoots of recovery the good old office Christmas party is back in full force.

With an optimistic outlook about an upturn,  many organisations are going back to hosting their annual office Christmas knees-up.   A simple Google search on the topic produces almost one million results in 57 seconds would testify to this hearsay.  The physical reminders are all around us. Tacky earrings, seasonal ties and notices about Secret Santa gifts. The office Christmas party is firmly on the calendar.

Post recession

For most companies the lavish budgets of yester year, with no expense spared events at restaurants or hotels are still history. I’ve only ever read about  the ones featuring ice sculptures, flowing Veuve Clicquot and cabaret artists that people have actually heard of.  My experiences, especially in my early career,  have been more centred around parties characterised by Micawber like frugality: a few mince pies thrown together in the staff cafeteria, accompanied by a solitary glass of something singularly and poisonously unpleasant.

My first ever boss invited me  for Christmas lunch,  ordered two cheese and onion sandwiches, before knocking back five double G & Ts and then going on to eat my leftover onion to take away the smell of the gin.

But for a great number, these renewed office festivities are a return to the dread that they faced prior to the economic crisis. This is synonymous with being forced to make small talk with the boss (or worse still his/her partner) eating limp canapés and drinking inferior plonk with co-workers they would prefer to spend less time with, not more.

Super party-ers 

However,  there are always the super office party goers who regardless of the economic climate subscribe to the theory that if the drinks are on the house they are most definitely going to make the most of it.  These are the ones whose drunken aberrations (which  they don’t remember happening and have no wish to recall … ever)  provide the high-octane fuel of office gossip, well after the half-year results have been published.


For the savvy networker they can represent a great and unique opportunity to raise internal visibility and make strategic alliances. On what other occasion is the whole company brought together under the one roof,  at the same time?

By that I don’t mean chasing the co-worker who figures in their sexual fantasies around the photo copy machine with a sprig of mistletoe. Or slurring to a senior executive that a box of cereal contains more strategic elements than the latest sales plan. That is a true story.  Nor obsequiously trying to ingratiate themselves with executive Board Members who wouldn’t recognise them in a line- up thirty minutes later.

The office party can be a great opportunity to look into your own organisation to simply identify the people whom it would be great and useful to know.

Research them.  Introduce yourself and tell them exactly that!

Have a great time!

Whatever happened to Jane?

One story on women and workplace bullying

A few months ago I wrote about a client who I called Jane. She sparked my interest in workplace bullying in the bullying of women by women. It was enlightening and eye-opening. I shared my discovery experience of the whole process via a series of posts, which hopefully you are familiar with. I examined the reasons why women bully, the methods they use, the differences compared to male bullying, how organisations deal with this phenomenon and finally what victims can do to deal with it.

However, in the intervening months many of you have been repeatedly asking “Whatever happened to Jane?” Jane, you will be pleased to hear, has quietly but effectively been doing what she felt she needed to do and asked me to wait before I shared her experiences until after she had completed her own healing process. She is now in a place where she is looking forward and has given me permission to share her story.


One of the first things I did as a coach was to research bullying, establish what it is and to decide if I felt there was a real issue of abuse in Jane’s case. I’m the eldest of 4, with an authoritarian father and my early career was spent in the steel industry, so personally, I have a reasonably high resistance to intimidating behaviour, so I have to factor that in. But after researching, there was no question in my mind – Jane was being systematically bullied and ground down. What was additionally painful for her was that her husband felt she needed to toughen up and assert herself which added to her feelings of isolation.

Here is a re-cap of her workplace bullying story. She was:

– singled out for public criticism about her work and appearance
– regularly called into her bosses office at 17.20 to be given additional work with tight deadlines
– excluded from email circulation lists and meetings
– only person in the department not invited to a social event at bosses house
– attempts to discuss had been dismissed with contempt
– The HR department would only get involved if a formal complaint was made

Benchmark the case

Jane’s first task was to carry out a health check on her own job performance. In the absence of official feedback, she felt satisfied that her own performance met expectation (surpassed it even). She noted all her major achievements during the previous 12 months and produced a list of metrics to support the contribution she had made to her department. Her second assignment was to make her own research project on general guidelines on bullying within her company and sector and to establish where she felt her own treatment lay on that spectrum. She produced concrete evidence which indicated fairly strongly that sector and workplace guidelines and recommendations were being contravened. This not only helped her trust her own instincts again, but also allowed her talk to her husband in a factual and neutral way about her own position. In her case, getting genuine support from him and dealing with the personal relationship issues which had arisen because of this bullying, was as significant as confronting the situation in the workplace.

Keep a log

She went back and tracked all the instances where she had felt bullied and began keeping a log of each new incident. She asked precise and specific questions relating to feedback on all the issues for which she had been publicly criticised, notably her appearance and work performance. Her emails received no response but the public criticism stopped as did private negative comments. In fact she was given no feedback at all. In just a year under her new manager, she received no formal professional goals or performance review, despite numerous requests.

She also carried out an audit of the emails where she had been omitted from the distribution list and made a list of the meetings from which she had been excluded. She let all her superiors in the hierarchy know that this was happening. She kept a tracking record of the times she was asked to work late and made suggestions for improving workplace through put. Those requests also stopped.


I would love to say that Jane went on to talk constructively to her boss about her struggles with her managerial style, air kisses were exchanged, hands shaken and their difficulties eventually resolved as it might in a movie. But this is her story and that didn’t happen. She had lost all respect for her boss and just wanted to put the whole experience behind her. We had also worked simultaneously on job search strategies and at the end of June, Jane was approached by another organisation and has subsequently accepted their offer.

Happy ending

In her carefully crafted and fully annotated resignation letter and later in an exit interview with HR, Jane stated clearly that bullying was the reason for her leaving. This complaint was not processed previously because it had not been formally introduced. Her manager is now being investigated internally, although Jane, somewhat cynically, doesn’t think anything will come of it as the department produces excellent results. “She’s tough but she gets things done” is the comment made of her boss. She did hear from an ex-colleague that there was talk of introducing an intermediary (buffer) layer reporting into the departmental head, but so far that has not been made official. Perhaps creating a promotion opportunity was Jane’s legacy!

Jane consulted a lawyer regarding suing for constructive dismissal (that is being forced to resign). Her lawyer was doubtful about her chances of winning, although she felt she had a “reasonable” case given Jane’s excellent record keeping. Apparently it would have been stronger if Jane had been physically assaulted or yelled at publically. So interestingly, one moment of extreme physical abuse (male style) carries more legal weight than a year of covert intimidation (female style). Stealth bullying by women is very hard to audit and to prove. Additionally, her company is a global household name and the process could have taken years.

However, she was given the option of gardening leave during her notice period because of “untenable circumstances”. Combined with her annual vacation entitlement and an unpaid “gap period”, she is touring in Asia as we speak with her husband. She starts her new job in November.

Her final words are ” It will never happen again”.

That’s her happy ending.

If you would like coaching on mobbing or workplace bullying  don’t wait to get in touch  


Who to trust

Executive search and recruitment: Who to trust…!

How do you know who to trust in an executive search process?

Many job seekers are often perplexed about how to handle unexpected calls from executive search or recruitment consultants. This is understandable, because even in digital world, the process essentially involves releasing personal information over the phone to total strangers which is somehow more intimate! So how do you respond to those cryptic messages and conversations and know who to trust. They could indeed lead to a golden opportunity for the dream job, but could equally turn out to be pernicious scams.

Why so cryptic? Discretion is in everyone’s interest. It is important to understand that very often the consultant’s hands are tied by their client who want any executive searches or recruitment drives kept under the radar for operational and strategic business reasons. Many companies don’t want their competitors to know what their plans are. Also as a potential candidate you may not want the process broadcast either. One high flying C level executive was approached by an executive search company to join a competitor. Somewhere during the process, (at the client  end, not the search company I should add) confidentiality was breached and the exec was subsequently let go by his employer.

So how do you know who to trust? What is the best way to deal with consultants who might contact you? If you follow the basic guidelines you will be able to establish pretty easily who can best represent you and the sort of red flags you should be looking out for.

1. Establish the identity of the caller: Get all the contact information immediately. Ask for the name of the consultant and the company they represent. Verify spellings, web site details and phone numbers. If possible ask about the specific opening they are calling about, the job title or level, the client company and any other details. Do not be overly concerned if the consultant will only give a thumb nail sketch – it is quite normal to be very discreet at this stage. A good, experienced consultant should be able to outline a position succinctly in a matter of minutes. I would suggest that there is very little to be lost at this point other than some time to at least hearing more about the opportunity if you are open for a career move.

2. Schedule a call at a later date: preferably from, and to, a land line. Most ethical and professional recruiters are happy to oblige. If they are not prepared to do this, the chances are that they are working to meet daily targets. I would advise you to consider that thought seriously before continuing.

3. Environment: Arrange to speak in a quiet environment away from disturbances and interruptions. This could be that dream job we spoke about! Cars or kids combined with mobile phones are both high risk!

4. Research the caller: Check out the recruiters profile on LinkedIn or the company web site. Check if the company is a member of a professional body. If the consultant lacks experience in search (e.g. if he/she were selling real estate or shoes 3 months previously) and doesn’t have the necessary professional qualifications – be cautious. As someone who contacts candidates regularly I am happy to let anyone know how to check my credentials. My LinkedIn profile reference is included in my email address. All my qualifications and experience are listed in full on LinkedIn, together with professional recommendations. My email address also includes blog details which has an informative bio at the side. All this indicates to candidates that I am exactly who I say I am, so I never have credibility issues and am actually never even asked.

5. Research the opportunity: so you can present yourself in the best possible light and prepare appropriate questions. This call is part of the selection process and should be treated seriously. First impressions do count.

6. Verify the relationship with the client company: This is another way of asking if the consultant actually has the recruiting assignment. Some unethical recruiters go on fishing expeditions to harvest CVs to sell on later.

7. Is the arrangement for the search exclusive? This will let you know if they are a retained search company or if they are competing with other companies to present their candidates.

8. Query your suitability: Ask the consultant why he/she believes you might be suitable for the position. This opens a discussion that indicates if the consultant understands the job profile. It also tells you what you need to know so that you can orientate your CV if you decide to proceed.

9. Ask about the time frame and the process: If they are evasive – that is a red flag. This can present issues for consultants, but an ethical consultant should be able to outline the process with a broad brush time frame. Thorough searches generally take between 3 and 6 months.

10. Ask for a profile. Preferred suppliers usually have an outline of one as a basic minimum, or can make a profile available after the initial contact. Clients don’t want organisational details flying around cyber space until there is confirmed genuine interest. If there is any continued evasiveness, even at the client level about the job content, reporting arrangements, how performance will be measured – be very cautious

Take a look at these trusted executive search and research solutions!

What to look out for….

1. CV Harvesters : if a recruiter can’t specify a specific search or a company – be cautious. Sometimes, as I explained, the company name is confidential, which to be fair happens frequently. However, a consultant can say for example “ US, multi-national, Fortune 500, B2B electronics , based in xx” etc.)

2. Protect your contact information if you have any doubts: CV harvesters can pass on your resume to aggregators. These CVs are then used to cull contact information which is subsequently sold to the highest bidders. Don’t include your home address and do use a public email such as gmail.

3. Vague or unresponsive to your direct questions: usually indicates a lack of knowledge = competence and perhaps even integrity. See above

4. The Trojan horse: Occasionally recruiters contact companies with known preferred suppliers, but where they are aware of an open vacancy. The consultant will go through the motions of presenting you as a candidate, even though candidates from the preferred supplier will get priority consideration. There is a risk that your application will be associated with a disreputable recruiter, which may jeopardise future and genuine applications.

5. Sales Targets: Some recruiting companies have a resume quota for their recruiters. They have to make x calls per day and receive x CVs per day. This encourages new recruiters to get resumes with any story possible. The chances of your resume being used for anything positive are very slim.

6. Arbitrary circulation of your CV: Resumes are randomly sent to prospective employers, with the recruiter’s contact information, not yours. Most companies do not follow-up on unsolicited resumes submitted by unknown recruiters. At best it will disappear at worst it will be associated with a poor recruiter.

7. Beware of job boards: Some unethical companies submit CVs to job boards. There your name and contact information are deleted and substituted with the recruiter’s details. Companies interested in your credentials, then have to go through the recruiter and split fees. One photovoltaic expert looking for a candidate for her own department, found what could only have been her own doctored CV on a job board!

Most search companies especially at the higher end of the market have strong reputations and would not want to damage those with unprofessional conduct. They are bound by codes of ethics from their professional bodies. These are just words of caution to protect against the odd ” cowboys” that occasionally creep into any sector!

Good luck!

Small decisions can create BIG changes

How good is your best?

We all think we do absolutely the best we can to resolve issues that challenge us. Losing weight, getting fit, looking for a job. But do we really?

As a recruiter and coach I play an active part in professional networks and also LinkedIn discussion groups. I hear and see individual cries of frustration and anger every day: confused posts in group discussions or I take part in anxious telephone conversations or meetings. There is always the same underlying theme. Individuals are sending out their CVs to all and sundry, networking flat out, and are doing absolutely everything they possibly can to get a job. But something simply isn’t working. The economy, recruiters and HR are all working against them. Their pain is palpable.

There are a few that specifically catch my attention and I always check out their LinkedIn profiles or look at their web sites and when I do, I can immediately see, as most career transition coaches could, where some difficulties might be rooted. It can be any number of things, incomplete profiles, spelling mistakes, poor lay out on CVs and confusing web sites, a low number of connections and so on. So although these are tough times, there are still ways to improve those job searching odds of at least participating in the process.

It may just mean you have to do something different, something very small.  Do this before anything more serious such as depression kicks in. This is clearly going to lead to general health issues, as well as being a barrier to career  and general success. Activity produces results. So does being open to change.

You have to identify what big changes you want to see.

So I suggest looking at the following as a first step:disruptive_innovation-300x2251

1. Log your results: Keep a log of all your job search efforts by date and detail each part of the search process . Each call, each CV you send out. Each networking event. What were the results? Is there an underlying pattern? If you are not making it out of the CV reject pile then you should consider examining the early part of your search- what can you change there? If you are falling down after an interview, evaluate that part of the process. Sometimes people lose track of exactly what they’re doing and especially when we’re stressed, our memories play tricks. We also fool ourselves into thinking we’re doing things in a certain way, when we’re not. Keeping a log gives an incontestable factual record, where no one can be fooled, not even ourselves.

2.How well are you communicating your message? Make sure your message is clear and strong. We tend to think what we’re doing is perfectly obviously to everyone else, but sometimes it isn’t, especially if you have a hybrid or highly technical function. I frequently see documents where what the individual is doing or has achieved, is not really clear, or sometimes not even stated at all. I don’t have time to search through a rambling 3 page CV trying to figure it out. Ask someone neutral from outside your function to review your web site, CV or elevator speech. If it’s clear to them, then it should be clear to everyone else.

3. Is your message powerful enough? I recently coached someone who had trebled the turnover of his business unit in his last job,but that wasn’t even mentioned on his CV. Another guy had closed a $ 0.5 billion ( yes billion) deal at head of state level and he hadn’t stated that fact in those exact words. So use strong vocabulary to market your skills and qualify all achievements with numbers. Don’t worry about boasting. Stating a fact isn’t bragging. It’s all in the delivery and manner and it is possible to recount your achievements without seeming egotistical .

4. Networking: Are you effectively tapping into your direct network and maximising all your contacts? The more people who know about your job search efforts the better. If you struggle with this as many do because being in transition isn’t easy, take steps to build up your resilience and confidence.

5. Connectivity: How well connected are you? Look at the number of connections you have on LinkedIn. If you are not widely connected you will appear on a limited number of searches.  Remember this is a global database for recruiters and it’s all about the maths. Numbers count. If you pride yourself on only being connected to people you know – now might be a good time to re-think your strategy. People who don’t know you could be searching for you. But you don’t know that. I am not an open networker, but 26000 people joined my network in the past 3 days. Your direct network will of course be extremely useful – but it would still be very unwise to rule out indirect networking.

6. Visbility: Raise your professional visibility both on line and off. On your LinkedIn home page you can monitor the number of times you appear in searches – check that out on a regular basis. Change key words and see if that makes a difference. Join groups. Participate in discussions. Answer questions. All of these things help raise your profile. Off line, volunteer for any sort of activity that will raise your visibility in your community, sector or profession. Attend networking events, write professional articles, join professional associations. Once again anything to raise your profile. Do you have business cards? How many do you give out a week?

7. Ask for feedback: Ask for feedback from any or all of the players in the recruitment process. If that’s not possible, many say they can’t get past gatekeepers or only get indifferent and unhelpful neutral answers, brainstorm with a trusted friend, peer , coach or mentor who can communicate constructively possible areas needed for improvement.

If any of this fails consider enlisting professional help.

Socrates said that ” Only the extremely ignorant or the extremely intelligent can resist change

As all of us fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum – so give change a whirl.  Register for a Career Audit to take your career to the next level.