Second interview – will you prepare a presentation?

There you are, just heard that you have made the cut and you’re through to the 2nd interview stage! Hopefully you have asked how many candidates have progressed to that stage, so that you have a sense of the amount of competition you have. Continue reading “Second interview – will you prepare a presentation?”

Are you struggling to concentrate?

A guest post from Zena Everett, Speaker and Author of Crazy Busy

Why is your brain constantly frazzled?

Can you remember the last time you were able to knuckle down to some deep, productive work? Or does your brain feel permanently frazzled as you toggle from one task to another, struggling to concentrate?

Find your Flow state

Remember when you last worked in flow? That’s when you were completely absorbed in your work, losing track of time, forgetting about the outside world. Flow is when we are at our most productive and creative. People who regularly work in flow (two hours a day ideally) report greater levels of happiness, work less hours and get paid more.

For most of us, this is a rare treat.  We get into flow once a week if we are lucky. We usually have to hide somewhere to do it.  Office life is a sticky molasses pool of digital distractions, routine administration, needless conference calls, unproductive meetings, powerpoint decks that no one reads and lengthy email chains.  We can’t actually WORK at work anymore.  Real work has to fit around the sides of the fake work.  It doesn’t matter if you are a genius or a goldfish, it’s impossible to concentrate on anything meaningful. It’s ridiculous!


Read these fixes to find your focus

Do one thing at once.  Don’t kid yourself you can multi-task. No one can: we can only do one significant task at once. You can’t listen in a meeting while doing your emails, or take a call during dinner, or interrupt writing a report to handle a query. It is an inefficient and ultimately chaotic way to live/work. Do one thing at once and learn to manage interruptions. Be fully present in whatever you are doing, so you can be 100% concentrating, 100% listening, 100% engaging, as the occasion demands.

Switch off.  Our brain is constantly bombarded with information and choices.   Give it a break. Switch off as many digital channels as you can so you can focus on what’s most important. Don’t check your emails constantly; build a routine of checking them several times a day and switching off notifications in between you aren’t distracted. People can call/text/find you if there’s a genuine drama. You don’t need to have your phone in front of you, pinging away, using up your attention. Wean yourself off it. Set an alarm to check it in 45 + minutes, and put it away. Let me know how good it feels when you try this.

Chunk your time.  Match your tasks to your time. Your diary should contain time to do actual work, as well as time for meetings. If your time is boundaried like this you don’t have to make a choice about what to do next and procrastinate or slide into doing the easy quick hit stuff that’s screaming out in front of you (your inbox). You just follow your plan. Batch up your tasks in 90 minute chunks so you aren’t switching from one to another, but doing all your emails at once, or writing reports, handling client queries, supporting colleagues and so on.

First things first.  Your first chunk of time must be for your priority tasks.  Your brain would prefer the dopamine hits it gets from the quick pay-off of easy, routine tasks like clearing your inbox. It is too easy to get bogged down with emails and queries that add little value whilst create more work for you and everyone else. They don’t move us forwards, but we hope they get us back to square one so that we can do our ‘real’ work. The problem is that we run out of time.  Reverse the pattern, get your energy up with a few quick wins, then move on to the big stuff asap. Just one priority task a day might be a realistic intention – don’t over-estimate what you can do. And perfectionists like me have to learn to live with some unfinished small stuff.

How to prepare for a video interview

Video interviews are becoming common practice, as more and more employers (but also recruitment firms) cut travel costs and are looking for more efficient ways to manage their time. However, in my experience, few individuals are well versed in making a good impression by video link and as this is often the final filter to decide whether you are invited for an in-person meeting, it is important to prepare well. Continue reading “How to prepare for a video interview”

Ready for your telephone interview?

Although we all spent a lot of time on our phones, we actually spent a very small proportion of that time speaking on the phone compared to 10 or 20 years ago. As interview processes often involve some sort of telephone interview, you’re well advised to give a phone interview a bit of thought and preparation. Particularly if you bear in mind that in a face-to-face conversation, 75% of effective communication is non-verbal.

So here are some tips that will help you prepare for a successful call.

Try to find out who will be interviewing you. Will there be multiple people on the call? If possible get their names and titles. Become familiar with these beforehand and you will have one less thing to worry about during the call. Try and get some background on the interviewer. Any insight you can gain about them will allow you to tailor your responses to make the best possible impression.

Make a list of your accomplishments, goals and strengths. On another list write out your weaknesses (or better still: your development needs) and what you are doing to overcome them. On a third sheet write down why you are interested in the company. Think carefully about all of these items as they often come up in interviews.

Never forget that a telephone interview is still an interview. Take time to practice interview questions with friends or family. Ask them to provide honest feedback so you can improve your responses. Mock interview questions can easily be found on the internet. If you get stuck on a question, sample answers to these questions are often provided as well.

During the mock interview, have your friend ask you questions both over the phone and in person. Make sure that they listen not only for content, but also tone, rate and clarity of your speech. If possible, record yourself speaking. Are you speaking slowly and clearly? Can you easily be heard? Is your voice portraying you as a confident and enthusiastic candidate? If not continue to practice until you are comfortable.

Find a quiet space to occupy during your interview. Ideally, there should be a comfortable place to sit as well as a table to lay out your papers. Try and find a low-traffic spot where members of the household are unlikely to disturb you.

Have a copy of your resume and cover letter close at hand. Take out those lists you made while organising your thoughts. In addition keep any notes related to the company that you feel may be helpful during the call. Spread these items out across your table so they are easy to access. Only keep what is truly necessary. Too much paper can be a distraction.

Have paper and pens handy for writing down notes, questions and most importantly, your interviewer’s names.

As the appointed hour draws near, make sure that the television and the radio are turned off. Exit your email and turn off your computer screen. If possible, disable your call-waiting. Let your family know about the timing of the interview so they do not accidentally disturb you.

The main rules are:

  • Think about how you normally answer the phone at home. When you answer the phone, do so by announcing your name, in an enthusiastic style: ‘John Pickles, Good Morning!’ If this is not your natural style, change it!
  • Sound interesting/interested, energetic and enthusiastic
  • Be succinct (don’t waffle)
  • Ask open-ended questions (beginning with who, what, when, why, where, how: these all ask for information, and keep the ball in the other person’s court). Be prepared that they will do exactly the same!
  • Don’t use jargon
  • Don’t swear or use colloquialisms (local phrases: ‘I covered the whole of London on Shanks’ pony’)
  • Be polite: Don’t use their first name unless invited to. Use their title if you know they are for example, a doctor.
  • Use the other person’s name regularly throughout the conversation (but not all the time). Also, use the company name a few times.
  • During the telephone interview, talk calmly, and with warmth. Standing can make you sound more confident and helps project a positive and professional image and smiling creates a friendly and enthusiastic impression. Do not forget to use gestures and facial expressions as you would normally do. They are translated and transmitted down the phone line. Smiling, and taking deep breaths help improve blood flow and improve your articulation.
  • To help you in establishing rapport on the phone, try to match your speaking rate and pitch to that of the interviewer.
  • Be a good listener. Your listening skills will be put to the test here, as your answers will reflect if you have been listening well or not. If you do not hear or understand what was said, do not hesitate to ask that it be repeated. Do not confabulate or make up questions.
  • Answer questions straight to the point, using short sentences. Do not say more than is expected of you. Use facts and figures, and show achievements. Let your interviewer see why you are priceless… do not overdo it of course.

Contact me if you’re not certain or would like more advice.

Good luck!

Maarten Jonckers

Employee engagement – what does it mean, and where do you start?

In any week, we often spend more time (awake) with our work colleagues than our much better other halves, family and friends. As a rule, you don’t marry someone you don’t trust and you do not befriend people you do not like, however some of us find ourselves spending over 8 hours a day in a business we do not 100% trust, working with colleagues we do not really like – how did that happen?

Every retailer knows that an engaged workforce will be:

  • more loyal
  • less inclined to be looking for other employment
  • more productive

… therefore saving the company money in recruitment and induction training, and saving time in managing underperformers.

All great news, however with an ever changing mind set and changing expectations regarding work / life balance, what factors influence employee engagement?

Research shows that the following areas will most affect whether people are engaged in working for your organisation, rather than just being happy in their job. In descending order:

1. Trust in leaders – Does the business clearly communicate their goals (vision, mission, etc)? And is the top management’s behaviour consistent with those goals? Do they keep their promises and do as they said they were going to do?

2. Relationship with immediate line manager – Does your organisation hire people who fit the company culture? Has the company culture been defined? Do managers behave and lead accordingly? What do line managers do to develop strong working relationships with their teams?

3. Environment – We have all heard about the Google offices and perks, not every business can (afford to) replicate that, however as we often spend more time in the office than home, it should look and feel more than acceptable – from furniture to technology, from wash room facilities to break-out areas, from the reception area to the meeting rooms. An easy rule of thumb: would you be proud to show your mother around the place you work?

4. Belief in the organisation – Do the people working for the organisation feel that the purpose of the business is worthwhile, or do they at least like the purpose? Is there an emotional connection? Easier in an upstanding charity business than in an investment bank I’d say….

5. Opportunities for career growth – Do people understand where they fit in and how they relate to others in the structure? Is there a clear path for promotion? Do people understand what would warrant a promotion?

6. Opportunities for development – Do individuals feel that they are coached, mentored, trained, developed, or are they just coming in to do a job, do it well and go home? Do people feel that they are developing their career or do they just have a job with a monthly pay cheque?

7. Relationships with colleagues – How does the business engender relationships and mutual understanding across the business? Not only is it helpful to know how your work ‘fits’ with the rest of the business, it also develops respect for each other when you all know how, together, you make the business tick.

8. Enjoyment of work – The job is the job is the job. Why do people enjoy their work? Different strokes for different folks. Find out from your team what makes them tick, look for common ground – how can you make their work more enjoyable?

9. Compensation level – Funnily enough, compensation is not no.1 in employee engagement, however it clearly is an important factor. If your business is a top quartile payer, than you’ll reduce staff turnover (after all, not all other businesses can match their pay), but you will also be able to recruit the top performers, who are more likely to be interested in career development.  And as long as you can deliver that, you will further reduce staff turnover … more stability in the business equals higher productivity.

10. Recognition programme – Is there a clear and consistent manner in which good work and good ideas are publicly recognised within the business? This is not difficult, yet so many businesses struggle with this or at least struggle to keep going once they have set up a recognition programme. Make it someone’s responsibility to drive this. So easy and so effective.

11. Business transparency – This really links in with point 1. Is everyone in the business clear on why they are there, what the objectives are and how you plan to meet these goals? Do you give regular, company-wide feedback on progress? What has gone well, what not so well? What are the obstacles in your way? Who has good ideas on how to deal with these? Those businesses, where everyone is in the same boat and all are rowing in the same direction, will reach their goals quicker and give their employees a real sense of achievement, belonging and pride!

At a time when demand outstrips supply of talented individuals, we’d better spend time and energy on keeping the ones we have. As a result you may just create the environment and engagement that attracts more talent!

From shop keepers to customer keepers

A guest post by Suzy Ross – Accenture

We must become a nation of ‘customer-keepers’.

By looking at their performance through the customer lens, rather than the usual store- and product-based metrics, retailers can see where exactly most of their profit is coming from.

There is no doubt that retailers across the UK are navigating very stormy waters. The ability to shop anytime, anywhere, anyhow has changed consumer behaviour more profoundly and rapidly than ever before.

Increasingly savvy and addicted to promotions, consumers have never had it so good. For retailers trying to adapt, some long-established principles that have served them well for years have fallen away with remarkable speed.

Even just a few years ago, retail growth was driven by expanding the customer base by opening a new shop in a new location. Retail was about land grab.

Today, as digital capabilities unlock a customer base all over the world, the future is all about a land grab for high-value customers.

The new organising principle for retailers in an omni-channel world is the customer. If retailers continue to make decisions based on a store- or channel- only basis they will miss opportunities.

A couple of examples illustrate why. One menswear retailer had concessions in a number of hotels. Sales per outlet were low and the concessions seemed obvious candidates for shutting down. However, analysis showed while revenue per outlet was low, the business was achieving remarkably high repeat sales from international customers who had stayed in the hotels but subsequently ordered via its digital channels. These stores were critical in acquiring high-value customers.

Another example. A women’s beauty retailer was looking at discontinuing a niche skincare brand. But analysis of its performance through the customer lens showed it was disproportionally important for its high-value, most loyal customers. So instead of discontinuing, the brand expanded.

What’s the common denominator in these examples? The customer. Or rather, it’s the analysis of business performance through the lens of customer profitability instead of through the traditional vector of store and product performance.

That new perspective creates a seismic shift in how retailers can manage their business.

What are retailers likely to find when they analyse their business from this new perspective? Chances are that most profit will come from a relatively small number of individuals.

Our analysis of 28 retailers – across geographies, sectors and sizes – highlights that typically 5% of customers generate a third of the profit, and 35% of the customer base accounts for 80% of the profit.

Even more extreme profit concentrations are frequently found.

More worryingly, as much as 2% of the customer base typically is loss-making because these customers are so adept at using discounts, promotions and returning items.

In fact, this focus on individual customer profitability enables a far more sophisticated set of customer strategies to retain and acquire the highest-value (and potential) customers.

For loyal customers, it’s all about keeping them and potentially nudging them into the next sale or a new category.

For new customers, it’s about managing them through the ‘getting to know you’ phase and converting them to loyalty quickly. And, of course, retailers always need new customers.

But it is about hunting for those with the high potential. Armed with the insights from their existing high-value customers, retailers can target individuals with forensic precision, using innovative, personal and creative marketing to get them on board with the brand.

Being a ‘customer-keeper’ is not a CRM strategy. It affects the entire organisation. The retailer needs to take all of its data and all of its insights into customers and profitability and rethink key areas of the operating model.

For instance, product design teams should now be leveraging customer data as a matter of course, understanding how a high-value customer differs from an average- or low-value customer.

Marketing needs to be assessing every action and investment through the lens of incremental customer lifetime profit.

How this new mindset influences different areas of a retailer’s business is one of the most important factors for them to explore.

A career overseas? What to consider

Over the past 20 years I have been approached many a time by individuals who were in the process for a position in a different country or who had been made an offer for an international post. Their burning question always is: “Should I take it? What do you think?”

My advice always, for any career step no matter where it is based, is to consider where this next job will lead to. Is this a stepping stone to something even bigger and better? Is there a clear career progression in the business you are contemplating to join? Will you, by joining this company, become more attractive to other businesses? (some brands are great to have on your CV – Coca Cola, Google, etc). And, will your achievements in that other country be visible or recognised in the UK? If this is an opportunity to move to an international post within your company, then ask (and look for examples) how good the business is in repatriating their staff to the UK at the end of the assignment.

International experience can give you many, many benefits – from proving that you can make it in a different country, to honing your cultural sensitivity, to opening up a range of opportunities for career progression. However, there are considerations to make and lessons to learn from those who went before you. And these are my observations, region by region:

1. Australia – If you have a burning desire to live and retire in Australia, you have travelled there, know your way around and understand the cultural differences, then a career ‘down under’ could be for you. However, please note that 2/3 of those who go out there, return within 2 years for a variety of reasons:

a. The UK is a long way away and if you have family here (particularly elderly parents) then this is often the no.1 reason for individuals to return to the UK prematurely.
b. When you go out with your partner/ spouse (and possibly children) then often one of you does not settle, particularly if they can’t or don’t work. I have seen that situation turn into divorce, but more often into an early return to the UK.
c. The weather, the beaches, the life style are all great, however Australia is not a sunnier version of the UK. You still need to work in a different culture. If you cannot adapt, it will be very difficult indeed.

2. The Middle East – If you are considering the Middle East, then at least you will expect cultural differences, the necessity to adapt and fit in. The trap in a Middle Eastern posting however lies in the fact that generally speaking retail skills are of a lower calibre there than in the UK. The opportunities in that region are often a good step up from the seniority you have enjoyed in the UK with the (tax free) salary to match – nothing wrong with that, what a great experience. However, on return to the UK, generally people / companies will see you for what you were rather for what you have become, almost ignoring the experience you have gained. It means that on your return, you may have to consider taking a role at a similar level of when you were last working in the UK (with the salary to match), which will feel like a big step back. The reasons for returning are two-fold: either you were forced to return (labour law is a bit different over there and in (often) privately owned businesses, things can change very quickly) or you have decided that you have had enough, because:

a. Your spouse/ partner couldn’t work and hasn’t settled in the ex-pat lifestyle. Whilst you did a reasonable amount of regional travel for work, they are stuck in a complex somewhere.
b. The children are reaching a school critical age and you’d prefer for them to be schooled in the UK, do their GCSEs or A levels in the UK.
c. You have reached a level of seniority in the local business and have hit a glass ceiling, the next step up is (almost) exclusively for locals or family members.

My view on opportunities in the Middle East is that if this is the last move in your career and you want a great experience, to earn some tax free money and have a bit of an adventure then go for it. If this is a mid-career move and you plan to return after 3 years, don’t do it, unless you just want a break from your current routine.

3. The Far East – You have been approached for a great opportunity in the Far East and in most cases, those individuals who have had an approach have already extensively travelled in the Far East for business. You know the place, understand the culture, the work ethic and the pace. Most of those who go out there are successful because they know what they are letting themselves in for. Those who do come back early often cite the reason because spouse/ partner or children did not settle, schooling related issues or they are asked to move on to a local contract rather than an ex pat contract with all the bells and whistles.

4. Europe – An opportunity in Europe? Oh la, la! Interestingly, I have not seen many European postings go wrong. The work / life balance is often better. Of course there are cultural differences, however anecdotally we are aware of these and besides, family and Blighty are only a short hop on a plane away. It is absolutely true that if you speak the local language you are more likely to succeed. That said, in Scandinavia, the Netherlands and certain parts of Germany (Dusseldorf / Essen) or Belgium (Brussels) you can get away with never learning the local lingo. The benefit of a European posting is that most UK retailers will know the market (and the company) you work for and will recognise your achievements whilst there.

In conclusion, there are many benefits from an international career move, it will broaden your outlook, will give you invaluable cross cultural experience and will really test your mettle. However, do not jump into this without due consideration and making sure that you and your family know the country/ region, the local labour law and you weigh up all the pros and cons.

I’m happy for you to contact me if you’re after some independent advice!

Is the counter offer all it seems?

A counter offer is often used by employers to try and tempt someone who has just resigned to stay with the company. Handling such offers can be a delicate situation and requires careful consideration.

Examine your initial reasons for wanting to leave; often the reasons people make job changes are for issues other than money. If this is the case, then it is likely you will return to those same issues after the initial glow of more money and feeling appreciated by your current company wears off. On the other hand, if money, or not feeling appreciated was the primary reason for making a change, you might be happy with accepting the counter offer. It is a good idea to list out the pros and cons for each opportunity and discuss these with someone whose opinion you value.

Consider the risks

While there are risks in going into a new position with a new organisation, there are also risks in accepting a counter offer. Depending upon the relationship you have with your management team, and the corporate culture at your present company, accepting a counter offer could change how you are viewed. There is the possibility of being seen as disloyal, and if the outside offer came at a very crucial time — say, when losing you would have been disastrous to a vital project or the bottom line — you may cause some animosity if the employer feels there is no choice but to counter offer to keep you on board. These feelings could pass in time, but it is also possible for you to be targeted for replacement, or passed over for promotion, important projects etc. at a time when it is more convenient for your current employer. This scenario assumes that you have not yet accepted the offer from the new employer, and your current employer, learning of your potential departure, makes you a counter offer. If, however, you have already accepted an offer from the new employer, it would be considered somewhat unethical to withdraw your acceptance based upon a counter offer from your current employer.

So what now?

You still have to do what is right for you. In the end, after weighing all the factors and discussing them with family members, close friends or a mentor, you will need to make a decision. Ultimately, you need to do what is in your best short- and long-term interests. And usually, what is appropriate for one party is appropriate for both parties concerned — even if not always apparent at first.

You get what you pay for

To minimum wage or not to minimum wage, that is the question.

This week’s headline news of Aldi increasing their pay structure made me think. As a retailer, would I want to pay the minimum wage, the living wage, London weighting, an extra 10% … or just blow that whole pay structure out of the water and hire the very best people for the job, which would mean that their salary is determined by supply and demand?

There are a few examples of where that has worked extremely well – staff in Apple stores tend to have taken a step back in seniority when joining, but have maintained their previous salary level – Apple gives great service. And Costco are paying well over the odds with the result of a great shopping experience, extremely helpful and friendly staff and virtually no staff turnover.

I can hear the collective sigh from all finance directors and budget holders, thinking that they cannot increase the payroll-to-sales ratio in stores any further, as it has invariably already taken a hammering due to lower level in-store sales and increased online turnover.

Playing devil’s advocate, let’s assume that online turnover continues to grow at the detriment of in-store sales (pretty likely in my opinion), this will mean that an increasing number of stores will become unprofitable and will close (even more likely).

One option open to most retailers is to improve the in-store customer experience and fight the bricks and mortar sales decline with extrovert staff who want to be there, who can relate to customers and who will make the shopping experience stand out from the dreary experience one receives in most stores.

We all know that one store where the service was excellent, where that shop assistant was just brilliant and where you walked out with a smile on your face. And here is the problem, why can we only remember one such store?

I think now is the time to be bold and hire the staff you want (not just those you can get), pay over the odds, train to within an inch of their life and measure results. Just one such hero in each store will have a huge effect on morale, if managed properly, and give the other staff something to aim for. Raise the bar, create memorable experiences for customers and you may find that the extra spend on wages will be outweighed by the extra sales and margin.

These are investment hires, so a return on investment is required, it is eminently measurable, so why hesitate?

CV writing. Or filming ..?

You’re looking to change jobs or you’re just looking for a job, you may have sent your CV off a few (dozen) times and have had no real result or joy.

Put yourself in the recipient’s shoes, it’s difficult to get a feel for someone’s personality and creativity from a CV and cover letter.

And from your point of view, it is difficult to stand out from the crowd. So the choice is either get really creative with your CV, or think of an alternative way of representing yourself. Unless you’re applying for a graphic design job, there are limits to what you should do with your CV, as its ‘personality’ must be in keeping with the type of position you’re interested in or qualified for.

So what’s the alternative?

We already see that the making of a video clip is part of many entry level position selection processes. These positions see a high volume of applications and it is much quicker to judge candidates visually than from their CV. Of course, in a sense it is also self-selecting, as some people are not prepared to go to the trouble of filming themselves, whereas they may have been tempted to just fire off a CV.

Unilever says that since it has started to use video as part of the job application process, it is getting a higher rate of acceptances on job offers and it has improved its diversity.

So how is this relevant to executive roles and positions?

Well, it isn’t. Not yet anyway.

And here is my point. In my opinion in a world where the number of searches on YouTube are similar to the number of Google searches, video / visual representation is becoming increasingly important. Just look at how many video posts there are on LinkedIn and on Twitter.

So, it will only be a matter of time before we will be presenting ourselves by an introductory email and a link to a video clip … and perhaps a CV attachment as well.  For any position, from shop assistant to CEO.

As that time has not yet come, what an opportunity to stand out from the crowd right now!

So how do you go about it? Here are a few steps to consider.

  1. Plan before you start writing your script.

It is important to make an impression as quickly as possible, so introduce yourself and sum up in a sentence or two why you’re the best person for the job. Follow this with quantifiable achievements, plus comments or examples about your leadership style and your experience to date. Don’t be a clown, however if you can inject a bit of humour then that will make you sound more confident and will give the recipient an idea of your personality.

  1. Rehearse

Know what you are going to say, in what order and what words you will use. Make sure you do not come across as a newsreader. You could put post-it notes with bullet points around the camera if you need an aid. Think about your posture, body language and facial expressions – all this, whilst making sure that this is you and not some act that you cannot live up to in the long run!

  1. Shoot

Do a few test runs to make sure the lighting is right, you have paid attention to the background and that you are happy with the distance of the camera. Just filming your face as a close up would be weird. However it is your choice whether you want to sit, stand, just film your upper torso behind a desk or anything else. Find some examples on YouTube and see what you like and what works for you. Shoot several takes until you are happy with the end result.

  1. Edit

If you’re not a confident editor, avoid using too many graphics or animations – although a title with your name and contact details is a good idea. If you want to splash the cash, then find a professional editor (probably a 19 year old with a penchant for online gaming). The aim should be to create a coherent video without detracting from your message. Remember, you’re being judged on your skills, personality and presentation, not your video editing skills.

Finally, seek out honest feedback from a trusted friend or mentor.

  1. Submit

It is probably easiest to upload it to YouTube or Vimeo in order to share it with any recipient. I’d recommend that you keep your video private, so that only people with the link can see it.

Then create a well-worded email and Bob’s your uncle.

Will this get you the job? No. Will it make you stand out and be more likely to be picked out for an interview? Most likely.


Good luck and let me know if you need any help.

Maarten Jonckers