5 Fundamental Rules of Business

Business cloudAsk any successful entrepreneur for their top five fundamental rules of business and I am sure you will get a different list each time. I was asked this question recently, so here is the response I gave my inquisitor at the time:-

1. If you don’t look after the customer, someone else will.

2. Nothing is gained by winning an argument but losing a customer.

3. Always deliver what you promise. If in doubt, under-promise and over-deliver.

4. Always treat customers as you would like to be treated.

5. Your brand is important. It is your reputation as much as anything else. And the reputation of the whole company is in the hands of each individual. You must ensure they know this, constantly.

If I were to give one piece of advice you should take away from this post it would be; the customer should be at the centre of everything you do. Always, always, always think customer!

© RJ Sutton and Mann Island Media Limited 2014. All Rights Reserved.

How to Manage in Business

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How to Manage in BusinessIs it your job to manage a business? I am sure what follows may seem obvious to experienced business managers but I will say it anyway. If you’re the boss then there will be lots of things going on in your business that you don’t know about. There will also be plenty of people who will be trying very hard to ensure that you don’t find out. However it’s your job to know what’s going on. Remember, you are there to manage, are you not? That’s what you’re being paid to do.

It is difficult to manage anything if you are ignorant of the facts. Obviously, if something goes wrong in the business the buck stops at your desk. Excuses based on being unaware of the facts are never acceptable and they only serve to make you look completely out of touch with what’s going on. In fact let’s be truthful, they make you look incompetent.

Your job is to know the business inside out. Therefore you must ensure that you make every effort to know what’s going on. That means putting yourself about a bit every single day. You manage by walking around, talking to people and asking awkward questions. If you walk around asking questions then you’ll have a better chance of knowing what’s going on and finding out things others would prefer you not to know.

It is true that most people are honest and they just want to do a decent job. However if people think no one is looking and/or no one cares, then temptation can lead people to acts of dishonesty. Whether that’s stealing your time for which they are being paid or stealing money or your stock, even good people can yield to temptation.

And then of course there could be other dubious practices going on. How about people cutting corners leading to poor quality products? Poor quality leads to lost customers. How about poor customer service? That would lead to even more lost customers. Lose too many customers and you won’t have a business to manage. You’ll be out of a job and so will many other good people too.

The bottom line is that if you don’t take great care in looking after your interests and those of the business then it is only a matter of time before someone will decide to take advantage of the situation. So walk around; ask questions and don’t allow yourself to be fobbed off with meaningless responses to your questions. Keep probing until you are satisfied that you understand what’s going on.

Keep your eye on the ball or pretty soon there won’t be a ball. Someone will have run off with it. Sad but true I’m afraid.

If walking around is not currently part of your routine, when will you start to make it a daily habit?

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© Roy J Sutton and Mann Island Media Limited 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Secret to business success

Diagram of successI am often asked what I believe to be the key ingredient to success in business. There are many ingredients needed, of course. However one ingredient is crucial, if you are to have any chance of success. That ingredient is sheer determination. The most successful business people always have a determination to make things happen. You have to believe in what you’re doing and you have to able to make other people believe in what you are doing. You have to concentrate on your goals and you must be focused at all times. And you never accept an answer unless it’s the one you want. Don’t let people fob you off with excuses or inferior outcomes. Always challenge assumptions being made. Can they withstand scrutiny? Be passionate about what you’re doing and keep pushing until you get what you want. Business is business; there’s nothing personal. Be polite with people always but be very assertive too. You need to have a very steely core. If people say, “I’m sorry, it can’t happen!” then your response must be, “I’m sorry but it has to happen!” Nothing else will do. Remember, it’s your business and if you don’t drive it forward then no one else will do it for you. And never trust anyone unless they have as much to lose as you.

© RJ Sutton and Mann Island Media Limited 2014. All Rights Reserved.

The dangers of debt

Financial RecoveryIn business debt can be a useful tool if used correctly. However, as with everything in life, there has to be some balance. It can be very dangerous for a firm to carry too much debt. Why? That is because when recession strikes growth and profitability might plunge. With equity if profitability goes then you have no obligation to pay a dividend to shareholders. However with debt there is an obligation to service interest payments regardless of how well your business is performing. If your business is struggling to meet interest payments then it might be forced to take on more debt and/or renegotiate existing debt. If the company’s debt burden starts rising then it will struggle even more in hard times. Ideally you should aim for net cash on the company balance sheet or alternatively only low levels of debt. However good the good times are; they won’t last forever. Eventually the economic bad times will return and that is when you will appreciate your company not being overly burdened with debt.

© RJ Sutton and Mann Island Media Limited 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Always meet and exceed expectations

Fotolia_50378128_XS_3Regular readers will have been expecting a post to the Biz section of my blog yesterday. I do apologise but I decided to delay this post for a day to emphasize a very important business principle. That is if you want to succeed in business you have to deliver what you say you will deliver and it has to be delivered when you say you will deliver it. You must meet and, where possible, exceed customer expectations. Under-promise and over-deliver and customers will love you; the converse will result in everyone being seriously unimpressed with you. Fail to meet customer expectations too many times and inevitably you will lose customers. And that’s bad for business of course. Provide customers with great products and good customer service then they will be always forgiving but only to a degree. If you mess them around one too many times they will simply take their business elsewhere. Always remember that old adage; the customer is king. So you have to treat the customer with courtesy and respect, in the same way that you would any sovereign ruler or head of state. Failing to meet customer expectations is to show a lack of respect. Remember business is not always about money. Saving money here and there by trying to deal with your customers on the cheap is a strategy which would be counter-productive. If making money is your sole aim then you are unlikely to make very much at all. However if you believe in what you’re doing and you love what you’re doing then putting the customer at the centre of everything you do will come naturally to you. Love your customers, treat them well, meet their expectations and you will be well on your way to business success.

Once again, I apologise Dear Reader for the delay in this post. Clearly on this occasion I failed to deliver punctually. By using this delay to emphasize a point, I hope I’m forgiven this once. However I recognise that you probably operate on a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ basis, so I will be very, very careful in future. Thank you for your patience.

© RJ Sutton and Mann Island Media Limited 2014. All Rights Reserved.

How to succeed in business

SolutionSome people can make business seem awfully complicated at times. And yet actually, it’s really quite simple. Essentially business is about solving problems for people. It’s that simple. Well it is if you want to make money at it. Sometimes you might spot a gap in the market. This means there is a problem which has yet to be solved. All you have to do is find a solution. This is a great place to be, if you can find it, because you have the chance to be innovative and no competition means you can make very good margins too. So if you spot a gap in the market, go for it. However don’t worry if there is already a product on the market providing a solution for the problem you have in mind. Just because a product exists that doesn’t mean there isn’t a better way to solve that problem. The early bird might get the worm but the second mouse still has a chance to get the cheese.

As the old saying goes, build a better mouse trap and the world will beat a path to your door. Innovation is the way your business can stand out from the crowd. Clever products, well designed, providing great value for money. If you’re in business, look at products in your niche currently on offer and see if you can improve on them. It’s never too late to produce a new design for an existing product or a new way to do something.

The key message here is to consider the products you have to offer and make sure you understand which problems they solve for your customers. How do those products compare with the competition? And is there any room for further innovation to make it better or cheaper or both. To succeed in business you need to be innovative but, above all, you really must be solving problems for people. Fail to do that and your business won’t last long. However if you can do it well, providing innovation, quality and real value for money, then business success will be yours. If you’re looking for a business role model, then Apple would be a good place to start in my view. They lead the way in their field and have done consistently over many years. They even manage to make their products seem really cool. They manage to give them a ‘must have’ quality too. Now how good is that?

© RJ Sutton and Mann Island Media Limited 2014. All Rights Reserved.

How do I find a new job? (6)

need a jobSo your hard work has finally paid off. You prepared well; you networked like a professional; and you submitted targeted applications to firms with problems for which you would be the ideal solution.

And now you’ve been offered an interview for a role that would be perfect for you.

At this point, remember two things:-

1. Being offered an interview means the hiring manager believes that there is a strong possibility that you are the right person for the job; however

2. There could be perhaps five other candidates in a similar position to you.

This means that you have a very good chance of success but you must assume that you will be up against some serious competition.

So how do you rise above the competition and ensure that you are seen as the best candidate? The simple answer is careful but detailed preparation.

Some preparation you should have done already, notably producing your ‘quiver full of arrows’ [See: How do I find a new job (2) – Tip 5].

Nevertheless you still have more homework to do.

If you really want to secure that job offer, you still have to do some more research prior to the interview, starting with the company.

Tip 16: Do your research on the company thoroughly

If you are going to impress at interview then you must appear to be both knowledgeable of and excited about the company and its prospects.

However, as a hiring manager, it never ceases to amaze me how many candidates fail to do even basic research on the company prior to being interviewed. Failing to do this is not only unprofessional, it also has the potential to be a costly mistake.

If it is clear that you haven’t done your homework on the company, I am likely to be so unimpressed that the chances of you receiving a job offer from me will be close to nil.

If you haven’t been thorough when you really must impress me, why would I believe that you would be thorough in carrying out your duties if I were to offer you a job?

If you’re being interviewed by me I expect you to know some facts about the company and I will be looking for signs that you’ve done your homework. For example at the very least I expect you to know what the company does; what products and services it has to offer; the industry sector in which it operates and its competitive position relative to other leading players in the sector.

Ideally you should also have some idea about the company’s financial position, as well as its plans for the future; any recent announcements relating to major contracts won or projects in the pipeline; what’s going on in the industry; any major challenges it faces; and so on.

None of this is difficult as you will find most of the information you need on the company’s website. A simple Google search will also provide you with plenty of information.

However, if you can, it is also important to get inside the company as part of your research. For instance, if the company is located in a large office building, go in, sit in their reception area if you can and just observe.

Watch how visitors are being treated by staff at the reception desk. Listen to conversions to get a feel for the vibe of the business. What is the atmosphere like? Positive and friendly or is there a hint of unhappy people and/or dissatisfied customers in the air?

A field trip to the company is also a good opportunity to observe dress code. At interview you must dress to impress but the way you dress should be consistent with the company dress code, if you are to demonstrate that you are a good fit with the team. So information gleaned on a field trip can help you with making a good first impression.

If the business has retail outlets, go in and observe. Pretend to be a customer. What are the shops like inside? Are they inviting and friendly or chaotic and unfriendly? What is your impression of staff? Speak to staff and ask them what it’s like to work there. Are they helpful and positive? Speak to customers. Are they happy and satisfied?

Phone the company’s main switchboard with an enquiry and see what that experience is like. Good or bad?

The point of this is for you to be able to gauge company values and corporate culture. This research will shine a light on the way they do things and their values.

Can you spot any obvious things you would change or correct? This might provide you with ammunition for the interview.

It will also give you a clear idea as to whether you will be a good fit within such a business. Remember one of the things the hiring manager will need reassurance on is your fit with the team.

When researching the business on the internet, watch for anything critical of the business and the way it operates.

Do your research thoroughly and the chances are that you will shine.

Just think, if you’ve done your homework and your competition hasn’t then that would put you ahead of them all straight away.

The points made here are not exhaustive, they simply provide an illustration.

In order to get inside the organisation you might need to think a little creatively. However do whatever it takes to get as much information as possible.

Obviously your research should not be limited to the company though.

An interview is conducted by people, or at least one person. Either way you need to do some background research on anyone you are likely to meet, particularly the hiring manager.

Tip 17: Research the hiring manager

Hiring is a risky business and hiring managers are wary about making mistakes.

A key judgement they have to make in the hiring process is whether they will be able to get along with the individual.

Therefore it is essential during the interview that you try to establish a rapport with them. How do you do this? The simple answer is to engage them in conversation, not only at a professional level but at a personal level too.

As a hiring manager, I am always flattered when a candidate mentions a paper I’ve written or a presentation I’ve given, particularly if their comments are favourable and it is clear that they are actually familiar with my work. I’m human, why wouldn’t I be flattered? We all like to think our work matters.

If someone mentions Liverpool Football Club and a recent game they’ve seen, then that too would get a favourable reaction from me and on this subject I can easily be drawn into conversation.

The point is that if you’ve taken the trouble to find out something about me, you have the chance to engage me in informal conversation. Which means you’re on your way to establishing a rapport.

You’re also on your way to becoming a memorable candidate. And that matters too.

So researching the person or people that will be interviewing you is an important element of your pre-interview preparation.

This is easy to do nowadays. A Google search will usually reveal information about individuals.

Social media sites like LinkedIn also contain a lot of information and most people of any significance will have a social media footprint these days.

Also company websites will often contain a short biography for each of their senior staff. So that’s another avenue you can explore in your research.

It’s not difficult, so make sure you do it and do it thoroughly.

And then once you’ve done your research it’s time to anticipate the questions you will be asked.

Tip 18: Anticipate questions

People often worry about being interviewed because they’re afraid that they may be asked a question they can’t answer.

It’s certainly true that if you struggle to answer a question it doesn’t reflect well on you with the interviewer. It is equally true that if you ramble on and on when answering a question that too does you no favours.

When answering questions you need to come across as sharp and professional.

The good news is that questions tend to follow a predictable pattern, so you can anticipate them and your answers can be prepared and rehearsed.

The key thing to remember is that during the interview the hiring manager will be looking at three things; Skills, Motivation and Fit.

So the underlying questions at the back of his or her mind will be:-

  1. Do you have the skills required to do the job?
  2. Do you have the motivation to do the job well?
  3. Will you fit in with the team?

Every question asked will be intended to establish whether you have the qualities and attributes they seek.

Remember this though; if you’re asked a question, you have an obligation to respond to the question but you’re not necessarily obliged to answer it. There is a subtle difference between a response and an answer. Politicians understand this point all too well. You never say anything, if it would not be in your best interests to do so. Why shoot yourself in the foot?

So what questions might they actually ask you during the interview?

Typical interview questions include:-

QUESTION 1: Tell me about yourself?”

This is the classic ice breaker. Don’t panic, the interviewer is simply trying to get the ball rolling.

There are variations of this question, such as “What makes you special?” or “What adjectives best describe you?” or “How would you describe your character?” Essentially the point is the same; give me a quick 10 cent tour around who you are.

Your response should be concise and to the point and it’s important to get the right messages across.

It should have a past-present-future structure to link you and your past with your future in the job for which you are being interviewed. Your response should not exceed two minutes in length.

In that two minutes you should briefly outline your background, what you’ve learned and experiences gained. Outline achievements and how they reflect your personal strengths. Then pull all the threads together to provide an indication of how it all relates to your interest in the job for which you are now being interviewed and how you see yourself developing.

You can be sure of this question as an opener so prepare an answer and then have it well-rehearsed.

If you rehearse your response well, it should come across naturally and it should not sound contrived or learned parrot-fashion.

When asked the question, do not respond with What exactly do you want to know? The last thing the interviewer wants is to be put on the spot.

QUESTION 2: Where do you see yourself five years from now?

This is a very common question at interview. The interviewer is trying to establish whether the vision they have for their department is compatible with your ambitions

Again there are variations of this question, such as “What are your long-term goals?” or “What kind of future do you envisage for your career?”

Essentially the interviewer wants reassurance that any ambitions you may have will not create problems later.

In responding to the question the key point is to communicate that you have an endless appetite for the kind of things they will throw at you.

Start by saying that what happens in five years depends on your performance in this job.

Then say you hope for a career where you can build on what you would be doing in your new role.

Make your long-term goal fit the job.

Don’t make the classic error of forcing the job to fit your deeper ambitions.

Find out what previous incumbents went on to do and whether they did it with the blessing of the interviewers or not.

And don’t give any answer which might suggest that you have hopelessly unrealistic expectations.

QUESTION 3: Describe your strengths?

We’ve all got them and this is your chance to sell yourself. So it’s important to get this one right.

And don’t just waffle on about having ‘good interpersonal skills’ or any of the other hackneyed expressions other people will fall back on when stuck for something to say.

Make them real and make them relevant. And back them up with examples of where you’ve used them and how they’ve helped you with real achievements.

QUESTION 4: What is your worst quality?”

Obviously this is the other half of the strengths and weaknesses question.

As always, the underlying question could be phrased differently. For instance the interviewer might ask, “If you could change one aspect of your personality what would it be?” Alternatively he or she might ask, “Tell me the worst decision you ever made?”

Essentially this is a test of your self-awareness. The interviewer wants to see how honest you can be about yourself. This question is designed to find out how objective you can be when talking about yourself.

However the danger is that you reveal a weakness that is vital to the job. So be careful in responding.

The thing to remember is that there are only three kinds of weaknesses you can safely reveal in your response. These are as follows:-

1. Those that everybody has; providing that you don’t suggest that you have them worse than anyone else.

2. Those which are completely irrelevant to the job.

3. Those you had in the past, but following much hard work on your part to correct them, they no longer apply.

A good answer might be that when you are very tired you can forget the need for a short break.

Remember that whatever weaknesses you do reveal, the interviewer will assume that there are probably three other worse ones that you have kept to yourself.

So don’t pick your worst quality and describe it in detail. The interviewer will simply assume that things are actually much worse.

QUESTION 5: What are your hobbies and interests?

A variation on this question might be, “How do you spend your evenings or weekends?” They might even ask, “What was the last book you read?” The underlying question being, are you a well-rounded and balanced individual?

That is, they want to know whether your life has a healthy balance to it.

However it is also a sneaky way of finding out a bit more about you.

For example, if you do voluntary work for a charity that would suggest you have strong moral values and therefore you’re unlikely to fiddle the accounts.

In responding to this question you need to show them that you do have a balanced life and that you can successfully juggle a variety of tasks successfully.

People who have the energy to play squash or badminton after work are unlikely to be exhausted by a long day in the office.

As always, in responding to this question, be careful. For instance, it would be a mistake to list a series of hobbies where you have moved from one to another over a relatively short period of time, indicating you can’t settle at anything.

QUESTION 6: Reason for leaving?

Your response to this question should enable the interviewer to understand your underlying motivation in seeking a new job.

However it is also another sneaky way for the interviewer to glean some additional information.

For instance, if you bad-mouth your current boss then that would be a red flag to a hiring manager. The assumption would be that if you’ll make disparaging remarks about your current boss then you’ll do the same with any new boss.

So never bad-mouth anyone.

And never reveal commercially sensitive information about a previous employer either. The interviewer will assume that you can’t be trusted.

Moving only for more money would also be a warning sign for a hiring manager. Once you’ve got more money and you’ve got used to having more to spend, where will your motivation come from to do your job well?

Therefore your response to this question needs to be all about your personal development; gaining greater responsibility; broadening your experience; a new challenge; and so on.

Your responses to these questions will result in supplementary questions and the interviewer may have other questions too. However if your responses to these key questions are well prepared then you’ll have a good chance to shine and show yourself in a favourable light.

One final question from the interviewer is likely to revolve around your salary expectations. So be sure to do some research on the market rates for jobs with similar levels of skill and responsibility to the one for which you are being interviewed. You need to be able to be able to back up your expectations with knowledge of what the market will stand.

Also make sure you’ve prepared three or four intelligent questions to ask the interviewer at the end of the interview. Giving you the chance to ask questions is another way of the interviewer testing you. Are you thoughtful with an enquiring mind or are you nothing more than an empty vessel?

More will follow in the next article in this series.

© Roy Sutton and Mann Island Media Limited 2013. All Rights Reserved.

How do I find a new job? (1)

How do I find a new job? (2)

How do I find a new job? (3)

How do I find a new job? (4)

How do I find a new job? (5)

What job can I do?

How do I find a new job? (5):

personal branding on computer keyboard key buttonIf you really want to succeed in finding the job you really want then you need to treat job search like a job. Which means, like any job, professionalism should be at the heart of everything you do.

In this series of articles I’ve often referred to the product ‘You’. The unique set of features and benefits which you have to offer an employer. Job search is a sales exercise but it is also a marketing exercise. And an important part of marketing is the idea of the brand.

Tip 13: Personal branding

Every product has a brand associated with it and you are no different. Essentially the impression you create as you go about your business is your brand. It’s important to ensure that your brand portrays you in a professional light at all times. So, if you haven’t already, you must establish a professional brand for yourself.

To convey professionalism you must ensure you have the following:-

1. An online profile on LinkedIn: Social media is powerful and everyone who is anyone will have a social media presence today, particularly on professional sites such as LinkedIn. A complete, professional profile on LinkedIn is important nowadays.

If I am considering you for a job then I will check out your LinkedIn profile before I interview you. If you don’t have one then I would be wondering whether you are getting a bit ‘past your sell by date’.

If for example you’re a Sales professional and you tell me that you have a wide network of contacts, then I would expect to see an indication of a large number of connections to your LinkedIn profile. If what I actually see is inconsistent with your claims then I will assume you’re exaggerating.

So set up a profile on LinkedIn, complete it fully with a professional looking head and shoulders photograph and start connecting to your contacts.

Once you establish an online presence it’s important to keep the details up to date. It’s also important to ensure that any information available about you online is visible, available, and relevant in terms of where you are in your career, what you have to offer and where you’re trying to go next.

Another important activity on LinkedIn is to participate in relevant Groups. It’s a good idea to respond to questions raised by people in Groups whenever you get the opportunity. This is a perfect way to showcase your talents.

Try to post some interesting content occasionally too. You can also curate and share interesting things you’ve seen and read online. And remember; social media is about engagement. So engage with people on LinkedIn whenever you can. You never know when that might pay dividends.

2. An email address which looks professional: Having a wacky email address like studmuffin69@myemail.com is fine in a college environment. I am sure all of your student mates thought it was fun. Use that with me in a business context and I would be extremely unimpressed.

Set up a separate email account for your job search activity with a professional-looking format such as John.Smith@myemail.com and point all your social networks to that address.

3. A professional signature on your email account: Set up a professional signature on your email account that shows not only your address and telephone numbers but also links to online activity you might have such as blogs, as well as social media sites like LinkedIn. That way every email message you despatch will contain these details and mark you out not only as someone who is professional but also someone who is current.

4. A personal business card: You’re trying to sell yourself so you’ve got to put yourself about a bit and talk to people. You never know who you might meet and when. So be ready to give them your details if they ask for them. The easiest way to do that is to have your own business card which contains all of your personal details. These are inexpensive to buy nowadays so looking professional has never been easier.

5. Make it easy for people to contact you: The phone number included on your CV or resumé, your personal business card and your email signature should be one which either you will answer immediately or it will go to voicemail if you’re not available.

Now once you’ve established your professional brand you can really help your cause if you can get yourself noticed and there are many ways to do this.

Tip 14: Get yourself noticed

If you can establish yourself as an expert in your field then that is a very powerful way of getting noticed. Key to this of course is building up your knowledge and knowhow in your chosen field. That means keeping up to date with developments; attending seminars and exhibitions; reading books on your subject, as well as professional and trade magazines.

Then you have to ensure that people know just how much you know. This can be achieved by writing articles for professional and trade magazines, as well as finding opportunities for speaking engagements at conferences. If you can make a point which is perhaps a little bit controversial then you will get noticed. As the Arab proverb suggests, “Be contrary and be known.”

You must have knowledge but you also must be seen to have knowledge. Without visibility, ability is nothing more than unrealised potential.

Another way to become visible is through writing a blog. Blogs are fantastic because you have complete control over what is published on your blog. Essentially through your blog you can self-publish regular articles about your chosen subject. Generate a following, with the aid of social media sites like LinkedIn and Twitter as a means of spreading your message and increasing traffic to your blog. If you can produce good quality content consistently then you will get noticed, particularly if you’ve optimised your blog to make it search engine friendly.

Alternatively you could self-publish your own video tutorials on YouTube or create podcasts of your chosen subject and distribute them through your blog or through the iTunes store.

There are so many ways to be creative now and all at little or no cost.

Another way to get noticed is through voluntary work.

Volunteering can help you gain exposure as an expert in your field. And it can add value to your CV or resumé too. So if you see an opportunity to volunteer and showcase your skills and expertise in this capacity, then go for it.

At this point a word of caution is appropriate. As your job search starts to gain momentum, and you start homing in on specific companies and jobs for which you believe you could be an ideal match, there is one thing you must always bear in mind; watch out for scams.

Tip 15: Watch out for scams

It is a sad fact that there will never be any shortage of unscrupulous people who are ready and waiting to take advantage of the unwary and the vulnerable. They have absolutely no shame. So even with job search you have to beware of the scam artists.

As an example, a friend of mine recently experienced a scam. He was looking for a new job and he had posted his details on various jobsites and had applied for a number of vacancies he’d seen advertised online. So when he received an official looking email offering him an interview naturally his confidence soared. The email provided a telephone number and advised him to call a named individual to setup the time and date for the interview.

What wasn’t obvious to him at the time was that the telephone number was actually a premium rate telephone number. When he called the number there was a series of interactive voice response messages and then he was placed in a queue. It all sounded very plausible but sadly the setup was bogus and he’d been stung. After 15 minutes in the queue, being charged a premium rate, he realised what had happened and could do little but chalk it down to experience. It proved to be an expensive lesson for him.

These scams can include everything from working from home schemes to paying for list of jobs which are supposedly available but turn out largely to be a work of fiction.

Even some agencies will use tricks in an attempt to generate revenue for themselves. For instance some agencies will trawl jobsites looking for the CVs or resumés of candidates with highly marketable skills. They will then approach companies with the claim that they have the cream of the market. If an employer does express interest then the agency will then call you. However the problem for you as a candidate is that actually most employers hate being approached this way. So the potential is there for you to suffer reputational damage, as well as harm to your professional brand.

Make sure if you are responding to an advertisement that it is for a real job. You must ensure that you are getting genuine detail about a real vacancy. It there is any doubt as to how genuine an opportunity it is, don’t apply.

When you do apply for a genuine job opportunity there will always be a reference number associated with your application. So if you receive an email regarding a job, if it really is one for which you’ve applied then it should quote that reference number. If it does not, then you need to approach it with great care.

Keep good records and make sure you keep them up to date.

And always remember this; be careful out there!

More job search tips will follow in my next article in this series.

In the meantime; in addition to the scams I’ve mentioned in this article, how many more job search scams could you name?

Sharing them with our readers could be a great help to someone, some time.

© Roy Sutton and Mann Island Media Limited 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Previous articles in this series:-

How do I find a new job? (1)

How do I find a new job? (2)

How do I find a new job? (3)

How do I find a new job? (4)

What job can I do?

How do I find a new job? (4):

JobsThe importance of networking was the underlying message in my last article. However there are a number of different routes which potentially provide you with a path to your ideal job.

Job opportunities always exist but it is not always easy to find them. The job market can be complicated. You need to be aware that there is not only a ‘visible’ job market but also a ‘hidden’ market too.

In searching for the job you really want you will need to explore all routes to market.

So let’s shed some light on both the ‘visible’ and ‘hidden’ job markets

Tip 10: The visible job market

The visible job market is straightforward insofar as companies have jobs and they offer them openly to anyone who may be interested to apply.

Whilst there tends to be some integration nowadays between the different routes within the visible market for jobs; essentially there are three routes as follows:-

1.    Advertised vacancies: Historically this has been the established method of making opportunities visible to jobseekers. Vacancies are advertised in the print media such as newspapers and trade magazines, and candidates simply apply as required.

Within job vacancy advertisements, companies provide clear guidelines on the competencies they require. The list of competencies is often split into two categories; essential and desirable.

If an advertised vacancy catches your eye, read the detail carefully. Highlight the skills, qualifications, experience and personal qualities required. Then assess how well you can match the attributes specified and remember the 80/20 rule.

Also remember to read between the lines, as organisations are trying to sell themselves, as well as the jobs being advertised.

To have a real chance of success, you will need to have at least an 80% match with the essential competencies required by the employer.

In the highly competitive job market of today you will probably need most of the desirable competencies too.

2.    The Internet: This second route is similar to the previous example. In this case though, rather than the print media, jobs are advertised through bulletin boards and job websites.

Vacancies are also advertised on companies’ own websites, particularly with medium-sized and large companies.

As in the print media, jobs advertised via the Internet will clearly state the skills, qualifications, experience and personal qualities required.

Most readers will be familiar with job websites and they can be a powerful way of finding opportunities.

Simply register your details and upload your CV or résumé and these sites will even send you email updates of potential opportunities. That is often true of company websites too.

So visibility of advertised opportunities when they occur is easy.

3.    Recruitment consultants: Sometimes rather than advertise directly employers will use a third party as an intermediary in the recruitment process to find the right person.

At the most basic level this is simply an agency arrangement providing nothing more than an initial screening process for advertised vacancies.

Employers advise the recruitment consultant of a vacancy. The recruitment consultant advertises the opportunity on its website and in its job shop, if it has one. It also checks its database for any appropriate CVs or résumés it might have on file.

A sector specialist within the recruitment consultancy will go through all of the potentially suitable candidates and draw up a shortlist of candidates to be submitted to the hiring manager. As part of this process the recruitment consultancy might conduct screening interviews with potential candidates before any shortlist is finalised.

Essentially recruitment consultants are specialists paid by employers to identify suitable people for specific jobs. As they are paid by the employer, they are driven by the needs of the employer. They are not there to find you a job. They exist to find the right people for employers.

They do develop relationships with good candidates because it’s in their interests to do so. When an employer calls them with a resource requirement they want to ensure that they have visibility of plenty of good people. However they won’t be canvassing employers on your behalf.

There is a broad spectrum of consultants working in this specialised field with increasing degrees of sophistication. At one end there is the simple agency arrangement as described above. At the other of the spectrum there are executive search and selection firms. The latter really stepping over into the realms of the hidden job market and executive search firms tend to be tasked with filling the more senior roles.

The key message here is that you need to have visibility with whichever recruitment firms fit with the level of role you are seeking.

Building relationships with recruitments consultants is worthwhile. Not only because you might be a good fit with an active search they’re working on but also because you might be able to help them in their search for the right candidate. You might not be the right candidate but you might know someone who is. As always, helping someone now might pay dividends later.

The visible job market is straightforward. That’s not true of the hidden market.

Tip 11: The hidden job market

Companies do not always advertise jobs for all sorts of reasons. For a start hiring people is notoriously risky. Sometimes firms feel they can mitigate risk by keeping a job hidden until they spot the right person.

There are plenty of other reasons why jobs may never be advertised too.

For example the hiring manager might not yet have approval for recruiting someone but wants to ensure that they have identified the right person so that they can move quickly once approval has been given.

On the other hand a problem might exist but the need to recruit someone has not yet been formally identified. If the right person is already on the firm’s radar screen then they can proceed without the need to go through an expensive recruitment campaign.

In some cases the cost of advertising in the media would be regarded as just too expensive. This would probably be true for small to medium sized enterprises.

And recruitment can often be carried out quicker via the hidden market.

There are two main ways of exploring the hidden job market as follows:-

4.    Personal contacts: Essentially this was covered in Part 3 of this series and it is the front line in your networking activity.

Your personal contacts are the people who can help you get the information you need to find the ‘hidden’ vacancies.

 Through people you know, potentially you can gain access to people that would be useful for you to know.

It’s all about talking to people and finding out what is going on in your sector and where any ‘pain points’ are now or might possibly be in the future.

The main aim when networking with personal contacts is to obtain information and advice about:-

  • Your present and future plans;
  • The direction you might take;
  • Positions and opportunities;
  • Appropriate organisations; and
  • Possible further contacts

Remember; you are after advice that could eventually lead to a job; you are not asking for a job. Think of your networking meetings as business meetings.

When seeking a meeting with a personal contact; make it clear that you are not asking for a job nor do you expect them to know where you might find one.

Also remember that you should never approach too many personal contacts at once.

In talking to people you are seeking referrals. Ideally two names per contact. So if those contacts give you names you will need to follow these up quickly, i.e. within a week or so. Therefore in working your network you need to keep everything manageable.

5.    Direct approaches: This is the creative end of the job search process. It can be as simple as identifying companies for which you think you’d like to work and submitting a speculative letter with your CV. Not a particularly efficient approach but it can work.

A better way is to identify an issue or a problem faced by your target organisation where your particular blend of experience, skills and expertise is likely to be at a premium. Then you might have the chance to present yourself as a solution to a problem.

This could be as simple as hearing that someone has resigned and you move quickly to present yourself as someone who has what it takes to fill the role, therefore saving them from an expensive recruitment campaign.

Alternatively it could be that you’ve read an article in the press about a proposed expansion or the company winning a major project.

When a company has challenges, potentially there are opportunities. The extra demands the firm would have due to an expansion or a major new project, means they are likely to have resource problems, which could mean a chance for you.

So once you have identified a target organisation in this situation, it is important to find out everything you can about them. Look at the problems, the changes and the challenges. Find out about the people too. Who is responsible for what and who might be a hiring manager?

Always aim to approach the person who will be making the selection decision. Don’t just send a letter to the HR department. They may not even be aware of the opportunity and there’s a good chance your letter will get stuck in the ‘not sure what to do with this’ tray.

It’s better if you can identify the person responsible for the new project and approach him or her directly. If you can get a meeting with this person through your network then that would be ideal. Otherwise write a letter to than person making your case strongly and including a copy of your CV or résumé.

As a hiring manager, when I get speculative letters the only ones I will take seriously are those which firstly acknowledge a need which I may have and then go on to suggest how the author of the letter believes he or she might be able to make my life easier as a solution to whatever problem I have at the time.

See the world through my eyes and understand my pain points and I’m willing to listen to you. If I listen to you then it is likely that I will also be prepared to give you five minutes of my time. That is then your opportunity to sell yourself to me.

If you’ve done your research properly, and targeted the company carefully, then getting a foot in the door in this way is a real opportunity. Even if I won’t be hiring immediately, if you’ve made an impression, then you’ll hear from me as soon as I am ready to hire.

So there are five routes to the job market. However it’s important you understand the difference between the visible and hidden markets. And achieving balance in your approach is also very important.

Tip 12: Balance your campaign

The problem with the visible job market is that when a role is advertised competition for that job is very high, unless it requires highly specialised skills which are in short supply.

 A recent survey conducted in the UK provides an illustration as to just how tough conditions are in the job market. Apparently every graduate level role now typically attracts 85 applicants. In fact some skilled roles advertised in national newspapers in UK can attract literally hundreds of applicants. And the situation in most countries is quite similar.

In such a competitive environment winning a job offer is not easy, unless you really are absolutely the right solution to a problem.

Vacancies advertised on company websites present additional problems. For instance they often use computer-driven screening software as the first filter. Fail to mention the right keywords and your application can fall at the first hurdle without ever being seen by a human being, never mind the hiring manager.

Jobs do get advertised and people do get hired through this process. So it is possible to secure a job in this way. However it’s not easy.

You may favour one or two of the routes to market over the others, but you do need to spend time on all five routes to achieve a balanced campaign.

The proportion of time spent on each route should reflect the proportion of opportunities each route yields. Work out for yourself how much of your time should be spent exploring each route.

Far too many people fail to take the hidden job market seriously but this is a mistake. You can give yourself a much better chance of success with the right approach in this area.

It’s also worth noting that older applicants can find the visible routes can discriminate against them. Use of the hidden market means that experience, maturity and skill levels are more likely to be recognised and valued.

More in the next article to help you in winning that job offer.

So if you could have any job, what would it be?

© Roy Sutton and Mann Island Media Limited 2013. All Rights Reserved

Related articles:-

How do I find a new job? (1)

How do I find a new job? (2)

How do I find a new job? (3)

What job can I do?

How do I find a new job? (3):

Key people in a networked crowd.The second part of this series finished with two questions designed to get you to think about your unique selling proposition (USP). Knowing your USP is important in the sales process. What is it that differentiates you from your competition?

You will only receive a job offer, if you can convince an employer that they should buy the product ‘You’. So what makes you special?

Yes, it really is a sales process and a successful sale is made only when a customer’s need is matched perfectly with a product which fulfils that need. In fact the product must be the solution to a problem.

A good salesman or woman is not trying to trick the customer into buying something regardless of need. The sales professional wants the customer to be completely satisfied with their purchase. Not just at the time of the sale but later on too.

In this case the customer is the employer and if you are to sell the product ‘You’ to that employer, and if they are to be completely satisfied, then you must be the perfect solution to their problem.

And you will be a perfect solution for them if you have the skills to do the job; you have the motivation to do the job well; and you fit in well with their team.

That said you can’t sell anything if the customer is not aware of your product. Equally you need to know your potential customers and have an understanding of their needs.

To address these issues requires a process of communication, often referred to as networking.

You could just wait until you see the right vacancy advertised and then make a suitable application, along with hundreds of other people. If you do see a vacancy advertised then that’s great but if you really want to be successful you need to be proactive. You need to put yourself about a bit and start talking to people. And that requires you to do some networking.

However before you can start networking, there is one final piece of preparation required. Like every sales professional you will need a sales pitch. In job-search terms this is sometimes referred to as an elevator statement.

Tip 7: Preparing your Elevator Statement

An elevator statement is a memorable teaser statement designed to grab someone’s attention or at least spark their curiosity to the point where they would want to know a bit more about what it is that you have to offer.

It is a concise statement which encapsulates your USP and which can be delivered in no more than 30 seconds, i.e. the time you might spend with someone in an elevator travelling between floors.

The elevator statement defines the product ‘You’. That is, who you are; what you do; and what makes you special. No waffle just the meat.

Your elevator statement has got to make an impression on people, so make sure you spend some time getting it right. And try it out on friends and colleagues. If they’re not impressed then it’s unlikely that anyone else will be either.

Once you’re happy with the content, memorize the statement and practice delivery. If you’re going to impress people then you’ve got to have an act. Your delivery has got to be slick and professional.

When your preparation is complete and you have your sales pitch ready to go, then it’s time now to start talking to people and increase your visibility.

Tip 8: Research, visibility and the art of networking

The misconception about networking is that people often think that it’s all about phoning people you know and asking whether they can help you find a job.

It’s not! If you try that approach it won’t get you very far I can assure you.

Take the wrong approach to networking and you’re likely to find that even your closest friends and associates will be too busy to meet with you.

If people feel that they might be under some obligation or that you have expectations of them they cannot meet, then they’re likely to feel too uncomfortable to get involved. If they have no obvious way of helping you find a job, they’ll think, ‘Why meet?’

You’re approach will need to be a bit more subtle. Don’t be afraid to network with people but it will help you if you think about it in two ways, as follows:-

Networking is all about research: To spot opportunities you must understand the issues and problems affecting a company or an industry or sector. To understand where any gaps might be you have to do some research. That means engaging with senior executives and professionals and asking them their opinions about the problems and issues affecting their companies and/or their industry. From their responses hopefully you will begin to see where opportunities might be and how you might be a solution to a problem.

Networking is all about visibility: Ability serves no purpose without visibility. You have to promote the product ‘You’ and increase your profile with senior executives and professionals. Ensure that people know all about who you are and what you have to offer. Your aim must be to socialize with the widest possible audience, extending the circle of people to whom you are known within the industry. Ideally you need to be seen as an expert or someone with knowhow. And you need to make a good impression.

Whether you’re in research-mode or increasing-your-visibility-mode the trick is the same. Through people you know, you have to get introductions and referrals to people you don’t know but who you would like to know or who might just prove useful to you, if you did know them. And remember; you never know who knows whom, until you ask.

Start by making a list of everyone you know within your sector, including people you don’t know quite so well. This is your starting point for setting up networking meetings.

Now let’s think about how you get that networking meeting?

Tip 9: Get that networking meeting

In requesting a networking meeting with anyone, always be very clear with them, you are not expecting a job or any advice as to where you might find one.

When you call someone you know to request a meeting, frame the conversation around ‘could they possibly spare five minutes to give you their opinion?’ We all like to think our opinion matters, so people tend to be flattered with that approach. Suggest a meeting over coffee or lunch, your treat, and they’ll be even more inclined to agree.

When you meet, simply ask them to tell you about any problems in the sector as they see it and where they think any gaps might be. Ask them about their companies too. Say you are curious to know where any ‘pain points’ might be. At the end of the meeting, ask whether they can suggest anyone else with whom you should also meet to broaden your understanding of current issues within the sector.

If they suggest names, ask whether they’d be able to facilitate an introduction. Alternatively ask whether it would be acceptable to them if you mention their name in any correspondence.

Before you leave the meeting, be sure to ask whether there is anything that you can do that might be of help them. And be sure to say thank you and keep in touch with them. It’s not a good idea to leave people with the idea that they have simply been used. Remember to give as well as take.

Believe me this approach does work. Certainly it has worked for me.

However you do need to ensure that you’ve done your homework properly before you meet with anyone, particularly any industry heavyweights. That will better position you for a meaningful conversation with them.

If someone does tell you all about a problem which is keeping them awake at night, then you have to think about whether potentially you might be a solution. Alternatively, if you’re not the solution, do you know someone else who could be? Even just giving someone a little help can cement a relationship which might pay dividends later.

Either way, you must always be ready with your sales pitch. Don’t be bashful, when you see an opportunity you must strike. Every winner has a ruthless streak. Remember; if you don’t look after your own interests, no one else will.

The focus here has been on networking. However in job search there are other routes to market and I will expand on those in the next part of this series.

Essentially there are five routes into the job market; can you name all five?

© Roy Sutton and Mann Island Media Limited 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Related articles:-

How do I find a new job? (1)

How do I find a new job? (2)

What job can I do?