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Not all recruiters are bovine by nature

With technology available to almost everyone, we get bombarded with email, Facebook, Twitter, text marketing etc etc communication on a day-to-day basis. I've got to say at times I've probably slipped and been short with some people. There are some though that I hang up on - usually those calling from New York with a fantastic investment opportunity in the share market!!

What I'm talking about here is the communication that has replaced "general marketing and old-fashioned business development". Not spam. Services that we use most days, or those that may add value to your business or to you personally. Probably more business to business marketing/selling. If I go back years ago, we tended to, at the very least, listen and respond. Mostly it was a polite "thanks but no thanks" and everyone moved on. Some we embraced and utilised. Balanced provision of service, balanced utilisation. Sort of "partnership-like".

But what I've noticed in recent times is the proliferation of downright rudeness in business. No response, no acknowledgement, silence. And it seems to have gone from an illness to a disease, even become an epidemic.

And I mention this because having been around in this sector as long as I have, I can talk from experience over time. Whereas "clients" (and let's put them in quote marks because they're not unless you're doing business...) used to be pleasant and polite, with some acknowledging the expertise we do bring, and doing business, today it's an absolute minority who even dare to respond. I receive almost as much as I get and unless it's the above-mentioned investment opportunity from New York, my view is that if someone has taken the time to research your company and present something that may have some benefit to your organisation, then they deserve at least a moment of time. Again let me reiterate, I'm not talking about spam that is sent out in massive volumes. And we can tell the difference.

I have a "response philosophy" - RWART - Respond Within A Reasonable Time". Sometimes it's immediate, sometimes five minutes, sometimes a few hours if I'm busy. But I always respond. If for some reason I don't, it's because I may have forgotten, and once I'm aware, I apologise. Doesn't matter who, at what level. It can be as little as 15 seconds to say "Thanks for your email, but at this stage we don't require a left-handed Nuclear Scientist. But thank you for thinking of us." (That took 17 seconds because I type with two fingers and spelled "thank" "thnak" and had to correct it)

Now let me tiie this into the recruitment sector. I know many tout for business unprofessionally because with recruitment having such a low level of entry, the problem is exacerbated with many "cow-people" (political correctness here) jumping in and out of this industry. That's hard to control if there are no controls. There are never likely to be any controls so we're going to be stuck with these "bovine people" as long as the service exists.

So I make a plea. Not all recruiters are bovine by nature. Many of us have been around for a while, and helped thousands find jobs, careers, and new lives. Computers and job websites don't do that. And whilst there are some very good internal recruiters out there, most move around quite prolifically and will contribute very little other than facilitating a process. Try and call an internal recruiter for CV advice or career advice? Or to just to "chew the fat". I htink finding Bigfoot would have more success!

And just in closing, I'd also implore you to think about this. The next time you ignore a recruiter, your next communication with that recruiter may be for that dream job that they are advertising. How would you expect them to treat you?

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Static or Dynamic?

I wrote a piece some months back entitled "Leave your Resume in the Car" which was about the fact that when people employ you, they employ YOU and what YOU bring and generally make the decison to hire on "soft stuff". This supports a recent survey out of the US that gave the following statistics relating to the interview.

33% said they made the decision to hire or not within 90 seconds and this was supported by 47% saying it was through lack of knowledge of their company, 38% on grammar and confidence, and 33% on fidgetting. The biggies were a whopping 70% on appearance, 65% on clothing, 67% on failure to make eye contact, and 55% on how the candidate dressed, acted, and how they walked through the door. Only a small 7% said that WHAT the person said affected their decision to hire. There were a whole lot of others such as waving your hands around and not smiling as well - annoying things that made employers say "No".

Now for those who have a wonderful CV, this should be quite enlightening and make you rethink how you go about presenting yourself, because whilst you may have the skills, if you inadvertantly pick your nose during the interview, you'll blow it (excuse the example....). And in the content of your CV, if you blather on about the detail of the jobs you've done, and the wondeful things you have achieved, perhaps you're turning prospective employers off before you even get to first base - consideration! Appeal then follows.

I often say to people that in the end, no matter what, if the client likes you and you like them, then you've got a pretty good chance of getting together.

So that brings me to the next step in this. Should we ditch resumes entirely? Because in reality, they are a static singularly dimensional document of a slice in time of YOUR evaluation of your career to date. Does that respresent you the best? The next step are the likes of LinkedIn profiles as your "presentation", and whilst I hear you saying "but they are simply a copy of my resume on line", they are not. Yes, they have some of the content of your CV, but they tell a much bigger story about you, because your profile tells other things. Not perfect, but better, because you can change it, update it, improve it. Slightly dynamic. Once a prospective employer has your resume, that's it. Static.

I'm not going to go into too much detail here because that's for another time and place, but the future is about presenting yourself completely differently (and I might add clients presenting themselves" entirely differently) and in a way that is really dynamic and representative of what and who you are, and what you can bring to and do for, an employer. And ditto for the companies (again, another story on this).

Resumes are an historical document that were designed for posting and then faxing, and both these media are almost dead. So why are we still using them in today's age of technology? A very good question, even if I may say so myself! I'm hoping that in years to come, we will be viewing examples of resumes at MOTAT and saying "Wow, is that how people used to get jobs?"

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The Looming Precipice Some Recruiters Face!

I know it's been said so often and is hackneyed but we're now in a place economically where we haven't been before. It's quite unusual because on one hand we are seeing the development of some of the most technologically advanced "temptations" and fleeting positive signs in the economy, but it also feels we're sliding towards a big black void that seems to not want to go away. Perhaps this looming precipice is a result of having those "temptations" thrust in front of us and being unable to resist! But I digress. And what's this got to do with recruitment anyhow?


Well, a couple of things - technology and the looming precipice! For some that is.... Because the same illusionary or perhaps delusionary behaviour is alive and well in our sector. Carry on regardless even though the precipice is firmly in sight! Now don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating the demise of the recruitment industry just as some commentators have done recently. Quite the opposite in fact, because when it comes to sourcing the best talent, regardless of technology or internal processes or an internal recruitment team, I'm proud to say that as an industry, we still stand firmly on our own feet, albeit some with slightly rounded boots!

This is predominantly brought about by one problem. If we take industry standards as the norm, we don't offer value for money and cost far too much for what we do. And my reference to the comment of illusion and delusion is firmly at the "head-in-the-sand" recruitment stalwarts who bleat on relentlessly about how much value we offer and "we're worth it" whilst their clients (or prior clients) recruit internally. We've single-handedly created our own "competition" due to this. It's basic economics. When something is expensive, people look for alternatives and unless you meet the market, they go elsewhere or take up that alternative.

It really came to a head recently when the Government announced that it was going to go out to tender for External Recruitment Services. I attended a number of sessions they ran pre-empting what was about to happen and there was much wringing of hands and lamenting that the world was going to end - which it may have for some. Not a jot of what a great opportunity it was for security, continuity, and developing relationships with the biggest employers in the country. All it was about for most was that their fees would be slaughtered and for some it has. And about time. For general recruitment, no-one should be paying double digits anymore or if you do get into double digits, it should be "just" and there should be a very valid reason, such as enormous experience or specialisation. In other words, something is brought to the table. I've heard some spectacular stories recently of 15, 17, even 18% fees and whilst I'd just love all that money, it beggars belief that in today's economy that recruiters are justifying it - and that some companies are still prepared to pay it.

I make no apologies for self-promoting, but we restructured years ago in anticipation of what we could see looming and just as most other industries and sectors have also done the same, our industry still seems to think it needs flash offices and exaggerated overheads - hence having to charge high fees - when in fact it's experienced consultants who actually deliver the results. And that can be done from anywhere. And to unashamedly self-promote more, we have a team of exceptionally highly experienced (with an average of over 20 years' experience each) operators who work remotely , have little or no overheads themselves, no corporate overheads, and we pass on those savings to clients - and mostly with single digit fees.

But we are not entirely on our own. The recruitment industry must have some relatives in the retail sector with the recent grizzle by the Retail Association about people trying clothes on and then buying them at a fraction of the cost over the internet. A fitting fee? Try getting real, and getting competitive!

We've already made the changes needed to survive today, and we're doing well. We're delighted to have been selected on the All-of-Government External Recruitment Provider Panel - and I would like to believe due to the philosophy we espouse and practise.

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Leave your resume in the car...

There is much discussion today about the relevance of the resume in today's talent acquisition market. There are so many other tools that are much more contemporary. Just as job boards have taken over from newspaper advertising, so too are social networking sites making the resume redundant.

A resume is a singular dimensional documentation of historical data and that person's "proposal" endeavouring to sell themselves to either the head-hunter or the company. In that sense it is useful as it spells out the skill the person has in either how they express themselves in written language and a useful chronology of their work history. But that's about it! It does nothing to represent how well they may do in the role they are seeking.

For one, the resume tells you nothing but history and often, it's just that person's interpretation of what they've done, and as I've discovered, that turns out to be revisionist, fiction and/or a fairy tale in terms of the leadership and management competences represented in the document. And if you pay for a professional resume-writing service, then a resume is neither a true predictor of good writing-ability nor solid evidence that the candidate is possesses the skills they say they have. Someone may be quite adept at using the "right" buzz words and phrases, but it can't substitute for the human elements and conditions that you've identified. Those...and background checks and due diligence.

I'm a great fan of dynamic "presentation" and sitting down with someone and learning more about them as a person. This does much more. This coupled with the likes of a dynamic profile, such as LinkedIn is a much, much better reference point because whilst it may contain historic information, it also expands on the person by their associations, their groups and activities, and other information that creates the full picture of "the person".

But I'd go one step further. I believe the formal interview today is redundant. In reality, it's about the relationship that the person can develop, whether it be fleetingly as they grab that coffee prior to meeting you (how they interact with the server), how they relate to you, and in the end, how they relate to the client and others within the company once they meet them. After all, a company contains a plethora of relationships both internally and externally, and this is what makes success or failure in a company. So in the end, when someone is interviewed, it can ba as simple as "do they like each other?" and this cannot be expressed in a resume or any written document, or via a formal interview where formalities prevail.

So always ask for a link to a prospect's professional profile and if you're cheeky, check out Facebook, because a picture (or a movie..) really does paint a thousand words!

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Contributing to Christchurch

It won't be a quick fix - it simply can't be - but if this Government is smart, they will precipitate fast learning programmes to provide the "local" resource to fast-track the reconstruction.

Nothing could have prepared us for what has happened in both Christchurch and Japan, let alone the anticipated further fall-out we have yet to see. Whilst we are intimately connected to the international community and will feel the effect of Japan, our focus and priority has to be local and fixing our own "neighbourhood" first.

Christchurch. We know from the media and social media the physical and emotional effect and the "estimate" of what's needed to fix and function again, but even then, we all know the goalposts will continue to shift over the coming months and years. Money and materials are needed, but so is the right labour force to bring it all together.

So what is the real impact of the Christchurch Earthquake. Whilst there's been headlines like 40,000 people being out of work, the reality is that won't happen. We have been told that Canterbury contributes 15% to our national economy. I heard a figure the other day that 77% of Canterbury economy is unaffected. So that means that only 23% of the 15%, or just under 3.5% is the real figure, rather than 15% - that's if all those figures interrelate. On one hand people will lose jobs - there's no question about that as businesses either close or don't re-open - but others will open in response to what's happened and hopefully pick up the people who are available. Others will do what's needed to find work, as they have done after the Pike River disaster, whether that be moving to other areas of the country, or overseas, in particular Australia.

It's inevitable that jobless numbers will rise in the coming months, and there will be a misalignment between supply and demand as an adjustment occurs with the available and required skills. On one hand we'll be screaming out for workers in the "hard-to-find" categories, on the other we'll be lamenting about those who can't find work as well. It won't be a quick fix - it simply can't be - but if this Government is smart, they will precipitate fast learning programmes to provide the "local" resource to fast-track the reconstruction. How this is done will either inhibit or precipitate the rebuild. Supporting this, skills will need to be brought in and this will put pressure elsewhere as particular skills sets descend on Christchurch and create greater shortages in other centres. This will force labour prices up, just as it already has in Canterbury. Basic economics - supply and demand. Just one example are people with insurance industry claims backgrounds - try and find anyone available currently!

And then there are those I term "the somewhat forgotten" - the people who are leaving Canterbury for good. Probably those who will find it hardest to secure work will be the blue collar brigade, general labour, the semi-skilled, and recent graduates. There's already pressure nationally in these categories and the additional people will probably push this sector of unemployment up higher than the national average in the short-term. But the professional areas, and those where traditionally there are shortages of high demand skills, should immediately "slurp up" those exiting Christchurch seeking work.

Our contribution? We'd like to help those who have been "displaced" - those people seeking work in other centres. But we can only handle and help those in our category - professional and/or $60K plus. If you are one of those people or know anyone, send them our way. And if we place them in a job, we'll donate a minimum of 50% of our fee to the Red Cross Appeal to help those they have left behind.

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Watch the ALL NEW "MasterCandidate" on TalentTV!

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realise that rocking up in a tee-shirt and jandals (I exaggerate for media effect) and knowing diddley-squat about the company wouldn't stand you in good stead to sweep the job from the other 500 applicants.

I've written about this before, but feel it's time to bring it up again

There are many programmes on television about property, food, and managing out of control kids. At the moment we're inundated with them. Yet there has been very few that focus on jobs and careers. The funny thing is that without a job or career, you're likely to lose your house, you'll struggle to eat, and because of how you feel, your kids will be even more out of control! A job is the foundation of society, and the foundation of family and people's greatest investment, yet there is little recognition of the importance of this aspect of life other than if you haven't got one!

I was a bit heartened recently with the advent of a series called "Would like to Work" but this "heartening" was rather short lived because it was a rather shallow execution of a very important component of life. For a start it was hosted by a "foreigner" and whilst I have no doubt as to his skills, it cast a flavour of "colonialism" on the programme. And the participants were clearly in a desperate position and at a level that wasn't too difficult to define where the problems lay. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realise that rocking up in a tee-shirt and jandals (I exaggerate for media effect) and knowing diddley-squat about the company wouldn't stand you in good stead to sweep the job from the other 500 applicants. I'm delighted they got the job, but in the end we knew they would anyhow otherwise the episode would not have shown! There were some useful snippets in the show, but in the end it was "theatre" or "television" rather than being at all useful. But then I suppose entertainment is what television is about, not information.

The small component that was addressed did not do justice for what needs to go into changing jobs or careers, especially at the professional and executive end of the market. And this is an area that is not that well served, other than by companies that step in once the axe has fallen. In typical fashion, we in New Zealand box on regardless and rarely evaluating that what we're doing is really what we want to do, or are best at doing. "Back of the envelope" stats say that up to 70% of those in jobs would change if they could. It's quite frightening really!

So let me address another small part of a small component of job hunting - the CV. We should not assume that because someone is very good at what they do at a senior level, that they are good at "selling themselves". In my nearly 30 years in this business, I've seen some pretty atrocious CV's come in from very senior people, not just in content, but in layout. And whilst on this, the adage of "less is more" does not apply to changing your career. A "2 pager" for a senior level role is a nonsense, and anyone who tells you that is how you should do it, doesn't know what they are talking about. You need enough detail to sell yourself (tweaked for the specific role) and support your application (relevant information and detail for that role) in a meaningful and targeted way.

But it goes way beyond that. Every aspect of your application needs to be viewed beyond the actual event. For example a CV with errors and spelling mistakes (attention to detail and carelessness - haven't you heard of spellcheck?), or technology failing when applying for a role (Using Explorer 4 on the home computer - how tech savvy are you really?), whilst appearing minor, may be perceived as a symptom of a bigger problem.

There's a lot that needs addressing before the CV and lots and lots after the presentation of this document. It would be useful if there was more emphasis in this area in the mainstream media. I'm not talking about "histrionics and entertainment" but more about tying useful information that will assist people in the quest for their desired.

So I look forward to the launch of "MasterCandidate" where people create new "recipes" for their career success!

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"Thinking Talent" - a new dimension

"How you think becomes how you operate within your company, and ultimately how the organisation stands in the market in the eyes of your customers. And the combined "thinking" of your people is imperative to be aligned with your company objectives, otherwise it simply won't work."

Having been in this business for nigh on 30 years, I can honestly say that it gets harder by the year to find the best people. Is it because the skill level has dropped through our well-publicised flailing (read that as failing..) education system? Or could it be that companies expect more and that the bar keeps getting raised? I suspect that these factors contribute to it. But increasingly it seems that the criteria companies are seeking in their employees expands beyond the skills and into territory that we've taken for granted over the years, but rarely put any definition around.

I'm talking about the soft skills, those neatly defined under "culture fit". The funny thing though is that what often gets missed in this equation is that every new person brought on board contributes to that culture and whilst many companies require someone to "fit their culture", the reality is that every new "recruit" (or departing person) alters the culture in some way, sometimes positive, sometimes negative. The culture of a company is the sum of the combined "personality" of the people and shifts ever so subtly over time as each new person arrives, or likewise as someone leaves. How often does one person have a huge influence on success or failure of a company or a division of a company? We can think of many high profile examples in New Zealand and I'm sure many of us have experienced this within our respective employment situations.

There is something much deeper here that I believe has greater influence on success or failure of a company, and there are a number of New Zealand (and international) companies recognising this.

Thinking style.

How you think becomes how you operate within your company, and ultimately how the organisation stands in the market in the eyes of your customers. And the combined "thinking" of your people is imperative to be aligned with your company objectives, otherwise it simply won't work. The simplest example of this is that if you have a business that promotes a quality product, and your people think in terms of producing replicated quick outcomes, then you've immediately got conflict. And another would be the failure of many a great idea because the "inventor" or "technical expert" has been unable to communicate to the market.

The underlying mismatch in company objectives and individual thinking is now a compounding problem. The catalyst for this is the quantum shift in the last two years in the environment in which we now operate. Many at the helm have never had to contend with this "new economy".

So we need new thinking, and talent in our companies who think differently. Air New Zealand are doing it and recognised now as real innovators in their sector. Whilst Telecom have come under a lot of criticism recently for their new adverts of the "CEO in the river", who could ever have imagined Teresa or Sir Rod taking the same approach. I believe it heralds a new way of thinking for Telecom. And I'm sure the likes of Pinnacle Life, KiwiBank, Whittakers, and Hell Pizza would not have got to where they are without some innovative thinking as well.

And it's not just about marketing. It's supporting it with new talent, or unleashing the existing talent in an environment that supports it. But it has to be done consciously, not just randomly. There are some great tools out there that assess individual thinking and your companies "collective thinking". For example Herrmann International has a tool called HBDI that assesses it. And we recommend it.

If different thinking is required going forward, then you need those recruiting for you to also think differently, otherwise it may be more of the same. Our innovation demonstrates this new thinking and our significant experience supports this.

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Talent Selection and Careers - the last thought?

"We'll often spend more time deciding on where we'll live, what car we'll buy, or the clothes we wear, rather than on our job or career direction. And we'll tolerate jobs we don't like, whereas if we don't like our house, we move."

It's funny - the area of our life that affects us the most and the place we probably will spend most of our life, only figures when things go pear-shaped. I'm talking about your career, your job, the place where you spend time to earn a living to survive. Yet we'll often spend more time deciding on where we'll live, what car we'll buy, or the clothes we wear, rather than on our job or career direction. And we'll tolerate jobs we don't like, whereas if we don't like our house, we move. We're funny creatures.

That also goes for companies. They spend exhaustive amounts of time researching purchasing capital equipment, finding suitable premises, bringing in expensive expertise for all areas of their business, yet often take a DIY approach to their biggest expense - employing their most valuable asset, their staff. Like many DIY's, some work well, but many end up disasters and cost a company plenty, sometimes the company. We're seeing a few high profile examples of bad decision-making in hiring staff, especially at the top.

But one thing a decent recession does is sober people up in all areas - because they have to. The last 12-18 months has seen the job market shrink. Some say by around 50%, some say more. That means organisations have reduced their "churn" of talent markedly, and taken stock of what to do going forward once the prognosis for business looks like improving - which it seems to be doing now in most areas. Before throwing the sharp unemployment rise in the December quarter at me, remember this is an historic figure and where we are at now will be reported in April. We love looking back, and making decisions on what was, not what is!

So what the best thing to do going forward. Firstly employ talent. It might sound simple, but many organisations remain gun-shy. Today's new environment presents a different set of challenges for companies. Most talk about lower margins, which means either getting used to lower returns, or thinking differently and engaging people who will help you think differently. We are seeing real examples of that with the innovation coming out of the likes of Air New Zealand and our software sector which is developing some world-leading products. But if it's all a bit too risky, then you need to rethink your strategy of how you engage talent. Not just the type of talent, or the style of talent, but the basis on which you engage that talent. A predominantly permanently employed workforce gives you no flexibility to manage your costs, or engage different expertise to meet changing market demands. A healthy balance of permanent, fixed term, contract, and temporary staff can be your greatest asset today because it allows you to control and manage your business operations in the best way to meet this market - which at the best is fragile. And engage the best talent available without necessarily increasing fixed overheads.

And on the other side of the coin, the message is the same. People seeking work have to think differently as well. And candidates have never had it better to "tout their wares", but they don't. Poorly executed CV's or "prime selling documents" are common, often plagued by mistakes, and often at the highest level. It's a bit like selling your house in an unkempt state or your car with one flat tyre and the door open. You just don't. Yet the effort put into the preliminary "promotional product" is often terrible. There is an old adage "Hire for attitude, train for expertise" Restated in terms of the 21st Century, this means thinking past the pure technical skills and competencies you have, and promoting who you are and what you are capable of doing, and relating it to today, not the past.

There are fantastic new channels for people to promote themselves, yet they are little used. We still defer to the inefficient CV which is a singular dimensional description of what has been, and someone's generic self-evaluation of what they think they can do for the recipient's organisation. The scary thing is that initial decisions are often made on this document by people who really don't understand how to interpret this into today's much changed environment. And this is probably singularly why there are so many bad decisions made.

In spite of the recession, we are still faced with extreme talent shortages in key areas that could have huge impact on our economic growth. Successful companies have already figured it out and secure and hang on to the best talent. The challenge for most is how to find that talent and get hold of it. And it takes talent to do that.

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So what happens now?

2010 is shaping up as an "interesting" year.

The last 18 months has changed a lot of what we have been doing in many spheres of our lives. We're probably spending less but also borrowing less, and definitely taking less risk. We have seen an "inversion" - some of the wealthy and those we may have admired or even respected, have lost everything, and some through no fault of their own, again, lost everything as well. We will see the fall-out for many years to come. The word "normal" has disappeared from our vocabulary and been replaced by synonyms of "unknown". A client recently said that 2010 is shaping up to be an "interesting" one, and he then went on to explain how we use the term "interesting" a lot when we don't want to say what we really think! That's an "interesting" interpretation, but so true.

In the latter part of 2009, we saw a welcome change, with our formal shift out of the recession heralded by very modest economic growth. Real estate was back on the increase, unemployment was stabilising, and over Christmas, retail spending was up. So 2010 has dawned with a much more positive feeling and cautious optimism in most spheres.

One of the anomalies of the last 18 months has been the employment market, even though unemployment rose. Economists predicted double digit unemployment. Those of us in the front line, and in the know, said "Rubbish!" (Well, I for one did!). And we were right. The revised figures are around 7%, and even then, that may be a stretch. Sure there have been some pockets of unemployment categories, but generally, the employment market has held up and good skills remain difficult to secure. What has been different is that companies have held on to good people and this has been supported by the less risk averse staying put. A bit like the housing market starved of good listings which has pushed the prices of good properties upwards!

So what do I see happening this year in the employment market over the next 12 months? I'm confident we'll see more "churn". People will start "peeping out of the curtains", looking over the landscape, and start looking at other opportunities. A couple of surveys in the last 12 months pointed out that more than 50% of those employed were not happy in their jobs, but weren't prepared to change in recessionary times. I don't blame them because security prevailed, but discontent only can be tolerated for so long and as things improve, we'll see more people seeking new opprtunities and their roles becomng available - and so on.

We all predicted that contracting will come back strongly, and we saw this definitely happen in the last 2-3 months of 2009. Fixed term roles have also emerged as options for companies, as they provide a "half-way house" for both companies and employees going forward. Both these options are beneficial for all parties as it provides either the toe or the foot in the water, as opposed to jumping in. 2010 will see these categories increase, but the supply of good contracting talent will remain tight.

As far as skill shortages go, we will see this exacerbated in the coming year, because as the economy ramps up, the demand for top talent will increase to feed this growth, and we may even see a stutter in this desired growth due to the lack of appropriate skills available.

But it's not all bad. There is a silver lining to the recession, and the fact that some "baby-boomers" have been affected financially. Many have no choice but to continue working, with some saying they'll still be working in their seventies. The desertion of the management and professional skill ranks that was predicted to happen from about now until 2015 just won't happen, and the steady hands needed to guide us forward will remain.

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Prying Loose that Scarce Commodity

In 2010, securing the right talent will be crucial. It could be worthwhile to start looking now.

What has come out of the last year or so could be described as a contradictory outcome. But what has been different this time is that as sharp as we went in, we seem to have emerged more quickly than the experts have predicted. During the gloom some months back, these "experts" predicted that unemployment would peak perhaps 8 or 9% and even some predicted double digits. I recall thinking "No way. What's happening now is that the lack of skills we've experienced over the last 5-10 years will be absorbed and we'll never see that happen. We'll be lucky to get to 7%". And this is now what these "experts" are predicting. Maybe we won't get out of the 6's... The economists manipulate figures. We're at the front line experiencing the reality.

Therefore what does that really mean to the labour market we operate in? Firstly, we still have skills shortages in key professional areas, and especially those that are targeted for growth - infrastructure and engineering, professional services around change and productivity improvement, sales, HR change management. Exacerbated by companies hanging on to good people, this is being supported by those people hankering for security which these economic times demand. The problem here is that the very good people who contribute to the normal churn in employment aren't participating yet, and have to be pried loose at the very least. I can think of many examples in the last year when people would have moved for the sake of change, or dissatisfaction, but have stayed put to maintain security. Probably not that good for productivity or wellbeing though. Risk aversion is one of the key drivers today in many spheres of business and the resources that make business tick.

So then what can drive the change and kick start that essential movement and create a natural churn? For a start, business, employers, organisations, companies - all those entities that engage talent in some way, shape, or form - recognising that to keep sitting on your hands is not going to move things forward. Perhaps sticking a toe in the water and engaging more risk-free contract resources, or taking a bit more risk and employing the talent you need to move forward. And we facilitate this every day. If we don't have the right set of skills for you at our finger tips, we know where to go to find them.

Getting back to unemployment, our rate just announced is 6.5%. In the US, the official rate is 9.8% as I write this - that's 50% higher! Our talent pool is much smaller and more fragile, and as we gear up, the previous skills shortage will be intensified by demand in areas that have already been in high demand. So as the sun sets on 2009 and we gladly see the end of what is touted as the toughest year for as long as many remember, 2010 will dawn with its own set of problems - coping with demand for a new type of skill set and resources to fuel anticipated growth. I suggest starting now because it may take months to either find someone, or pry them loose.

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With experience comes intuition

Have you wondered why some in our sector make some of the most fundamental mistakes?

We've talked often how the advancement of the new "generations" (X & Y) will impact on management and decision-making in the future. We won't dwell on that too much in this article, but more on how intuition often aligns with experience, not technology and "speak".

One of the things we have been adamant in assembling the industry's best, is experience. Because with experience comes the hard-to-define factors, which we'll call "intuition". You may wonder that the CVs we put forward do not routinely include psychometric test reports, or an extended written assessment of each candidate. Our processes do differ from the usual, in that we interview not always in our office, but spend some time over the phone, via Skype, or by meeting candidates informally.

There is a reason for this. Our team have many years experience in recruiting - decades in fact. At last count, our average was 22 years and rising!

During our conversation with a candidate, and after carefully reading their CV, we can intrinsically distinguish the calibre of that candidate and suitability to a role. This capability stems partly from life experience, and also from working with many types of psychological test batteries, alongside our own brain that tells us "yes" or "no". This has enabled us to hone our interpersonal assessment skills to evaluate accurately who fits and who doesn't. We have seen over the years the matches and we have we have at times been party to the regrettable outcome of subordinating our better judgment in favour of the report of even the most reputable of psychological test instruments.

Our clients come to trust that each candidate we put forward is right for the job and right for the people they will be working with.

The value in our service is linked to our intuitive assessment, pragmatic observation, and interpersonal skills refined over many years.

This approach to consulting, coupled with our "fair and reasonable" approach to fees, means our clients get what we believe is the best value for money service in the market today. And whilst others are rapidly losing their market, we are doing the opposite.

We are pleased that our clients enjoy value for money, unburdened by overhead costs most of which are completely unrelated to the result that our clients want.

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It's all different now, but really no different than it has been!

There's been a lot of talk recently about doing things differently in all spheres of our life to comply and align with the "new order" that we are faced with every corner we turn. I don't need to list these as the list will be almost endless and because everyone is affected differently in their own way.

And nowhere is it more prevalent than in the recruitment field, and to be frank, we are leading the charge. The world has changed forever, Governments are governing differently, companies have had to change and rethink strategy, and of course people have had to adjust their lives and their livelihood. So it makes sense that two of these components that make up the composition of the workforce - companies and people - require a different approach to the essential "linking" that puts the two together. But a different definition of different, which I'll come back to.

The advent of the Internet and Social Networking has seen the interlinking and communication between people in an almost lightening-like way and for those of us who use Skype and Skypemail, or similar methods of communication, it creates instant communication and response. The dynamics of communication have changed in that once the button is pushed, you can't retract what has been communicated, whereas with the humble letter that sat ready to be posted, could be retracted or not posted once either the emotions subsided, or the view was modified.

I've seen a few articles and questions posed about social networks and their role in our industry, and many comments (mainly from wide eyed IT people..) as to how these networks will be the vehicles that people will both manage their careers, and that companies will source talent - because both get to know each other "intimately". Well, can I politely say "Rubbish"! I have yet to see any evidence or any statistics that point to this as happening, and the only anecdotal evidence is that "it's going to happen, it must happen".

The facts are this. Social Networks are just that - social networks. They are there for "defined connecting purposes". They are a new dimension for transmitting information and creating discussion, imitating an environment where in the past people would chat, share views, slap each other's back, touch, see each other eye to eye. But they also are a dangerous environment where information can be falsified, hyped, and stretched - certainly not the risk environment that "supplies" your workforce.

Can I draw a rugby analogy. The rules have changed, the players are different, it's become professional, and sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, no matter how hard you try! But in the end, the game hasn't changed much. It's about getting the ball over the line and between the posts. Recruitment is the same. People in roles doing what they do best for specific outcomes.

Graham Henry still personally coaches, and uses Assistant Coaches and specialists, and they use technology cleverly to help them gather information to facilitate their coaching better. We know he uses texting, but technology hasn't replaced the personal touch and the grit that face-to-face coaching achieves. And talent selection is exactly the same - using technology to facilitate the process much faster and more efficiently, but utilising personal expertise to select and get the right person over the line.

So what then is our definition of "different"? Well, by not being too different to how it's always been, by simply being more efficient via technology, having the best expertise on board, and in our sphere, keeping costs low to ensure that you receive fair value and low cost services. And it's really not that hard to do that!

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The Age of Fairness

I think you will agree that events in the world over the last six to twelve months have created a new paradigm for business. Amongst other things, what people seem to be reacting to the most is real or perceived unfair business practice. This has manifested in many ways. Take some common examples such as banks and their high mortgage break fees, supermarkets and their resistance to lowering food prices, the likes of an "iconic New Zealand company" seeking to be propped up, and migrant workers being given preference over resident New Zealanders. This is not even mentioning the dodgy and sometimes illegal business practices that have been exposed and made headlines recently.

Whilst everyone is always looking for a bargain, the reality is that there aren't that many bargains out there. And you have to be fast to get the bargains. Or cashed up! What people are after is fairness. And they will react against anything they perceive as unfair.

During the last ten or so years, the emphasis of fairness has really only applied to the unfortunate, as opposed to everyday practice, and part of the reason why we are in the situation we are today is that the balance has not been there. Going forward, this will be the catch-cry.

So what has this got to do with our business? We are no different in that as an industry sector the recruitment sector has taken advantage of its position and has not been prepared for the eventuality that the market will change. The advent of the internet and the emergence of recruitment centres has given clients access to the very same channels that we have and to all intents a company can "do it themselves" quite easily. Or so they think. But I'll come back to that.

To date our charges, like some other sectors, are made up of a lot of softer, not so tangible factors that go right from talent search to talent placement. For example:

1. Engaging a strategic ad search process to unearth the right group of candidates (many of whom, particularly at the senior end, still prefer to go through a discreet, non-direct process)

2. Putting a shortlist to you that helps you make decisions rather than overwhelm you with choice.

3. And then the important bit - negotiating the right deal for you and the preferred candidate.

4. Where discretion may be required especially if you are letting people go in one area, and bringing others on elsewhere.

5. Quickly accessing contracting resource from a preselected pool of highly experienced professional people to meet an urgent need.

In essence, there's not much point in dealing with a recruitment agency unless they do these things well, really well.

Now coming back to my earlier point about "doing it yourself". Whether you put the odd job ad up on a job board or have a fully fledged career website, doing it yourself has it pitfalls. Unless you have a well developed screening process in place, it's easy to become lost in a sea of CVs, especially in a candidate surplus market. The other point is there is only so much of the full recruitment process that can be managed online. You still need to interview, shortlist, negotiate and appoint. Convenience has a lot to do with it too - many organisations just don't have the time beyond the "I need someone, I need them now".

All I'm saying is as recruiters, we do "earn" our fees. However, it's high time to "review" these fees down to fair and realistic levels and be transparent about what you get for your talent acquisition investment. We've done it and it's a model that works well in the current economic climate.

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Prophets of gloom vs profits of boom

Whilst I don't want to down-play the seriousness of the world recession and its impact on the New Zealand economy going forward, the media has certainly painted a picture of a blanket "doom and gloom". My view is that like in "boom times" people go out of business, just as much as some prosper during "gloom times". Not wanting to sound a bit cliched, but it's about turning adversity into opportunity, and some people are good at that.

It reminds me of an old story that has been modified so many times, but to give a local spin, but it goes something like this:

"An older guy runs an established takeaways on the Waikato west coast. His burgers were recognised as the best around and people would drive from Hamilton, Te Awamutu, Cambridge and beyond, just to sample them, such was their quality. He was technologically illiterate, and because he was so busy, he rarely read the newspapers and never watched television as he couldn't get reception. His son, who he hadn't seen for some time, and who was a stockbroker living in Auckland, came to visit one weekend last October, and informed his father that there was a serious recession and that the economy was falling apart. He said that he needed to prepare for the inevitable and ensure his future security. So to reduce his costs, his father cut down on the size of his burgers and got cheaper cuts of meat and contents. Obviously his burgers weren't as good, so many of his loyal customers decided that the drive was no longer worth it and his turnover dropped dramatically, and by the end of December he closed the shop down. When his son visited him a couple of weeks back to console him, the father said 'You were right son. There is a recession and business is hard. I can only but thank you for your worldly advice'."

Much of what we do becomes so self-fulfilling, and whilst we know that there are certain realities with what your customers will do as far as spending goes, there are ways to combat downturns. The recent surprises around Christmas spending seemed to confound the media and once some good news came out, the reporting seemed to fade!

Over the 26 plus years of involvement in recruiting to New Zealand businesses, I have seen the same mistake made over and over again. In boom times, companies spend and do little to preserve their cash reserves to insulate them from times like these. And they don't staff smartly. It's almost like it doesn't matter, when in fact those who have been in business for a long time should know that the good times simply do not last.

A very good client of mine, whose group is rather cashed up (yes, they have a visionary CEO who staffed smartly!), sees this as a time of opportunity and a chance to grab market-share. The funny thing is that they have had no redundancies and little restructuring, other than to make be more effective in doing business. In fact they are currently establishing a large greenfields national business in a sector where they see growth, and that means they require more people, not the opposite. It's all about how you see the situation.

It is also not uncommon to see the shedding of roles such as Marketing and HR in these times. Clever companies don't automatically see these areas as a "cost", but use them to ensure that the best external customer initiatives, and internal people strategies, support their business endeavours effectively and profitably. The cardinal sin is shedding sales and customer service staff - something we are seeing more and more of. Then the downturn does become a self-fulfilling prophesy for these companies. As someone said to me the other day "It's all about holding your nerve"!

So what's going to happen around the structure of employment, or engaging people? In experiencing a number of these downturns over the last 25 plus years, in previous periods, the market shifted to utilising resources differently. Expertise is still needed and we saw a marked increase in the use of contractors, even when the market was less sophisticated. We've already seen a lift in this category and anticipate demand in areas associated with enhancing revenue, managing costs, and facilitating change, all areas where excellent resource is available in the market.

Take the opportunity to take an opportunity! Ensure business continuity by utilising the best asset available - skilled people - in an effective way, without adding to fixed overheads. And who knows, you may even turn those prophets of gloom into profits of boom!

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Staffing in difficult times. It's all about "shift" and "demand".

Having been through many downturns over the last 25-30 years and observed from a recruitment perspective, all I can say is that this time the market is quite different. What precursed the previous situations or indeed followed the "crash", was the job market tumbling and unemployment climbing rapidly. The experts predict rising unemployment, but from a base of around 3%, we have a lot of "slop" to take up. I don't believe it will be the same this time and unemployment in general will be the preserve of the blue-collar and unskilled labour markets more so than the professional levels.

Engagement of resource is going to be the key. What we seem to be experiencing is a shift in the way that companies are engaging resource. In the last two months, we have never been busier, but quite specifically in the contracting area. And if not in contracting, roles that require quite defined skills around recovery, restructure, backfill, change management, profit enhancement - you probably get the picture! The advantage for a company is that you can bring in the resource, utilise it for whatever you need it for, and then move the resource on when it's not needed. Again, I recall many years ago "selling" the concept of professional contractors and the flexibility they provided.

In recent years the contracting concept almost merged with traditional recruitment because with the talent shortage, the process of recruitment was often done at break-neck speed and this speed confused the market as to the basis someone was recruited on. The difference between engaging contract resource isn't about the speed with which you engage the resource, it's the type of resource and the reason why.

Many years ago I coined a phrase for this - smart sourcing. And it's probably only going to be the smart companies who get through this unusual market situation relatively unscathed. The public sector has practised smart sourcing for many years and are probably best poised to successfully get through the next year or two because they quickly bring the right resource on when they need it. Don't confuse the right resource with wasted resource!

With the new National Government focusing on the likes of infrastructure projects, streamlining bureacracy, and enhancing essential services, we will see a shift in demand for resource and new projects and roles around this new direction. Those companies supplying this demand will have a new-found market and will do well. So no different to any change or shift in demand, those who adjust or have the skills will be in demand.

It reminds me of the electronic revolution and how those who hung on to manual processes faded quite quickly. I recall in the early days of contracting coaching some senior Accountants to learn spreadsheeting skills. Imagine now practising as an Accountant without being able to drive Excel! Those who didn't shift moved out of the profession, and those who shifted, created a strong demand for their services.

So "shift" and "demand" are the keys. Shifting roles, shifting skills, to allow organisations to cope with constantly shifting times. And demand for the skills to cope and help with these shifting times.

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The wait is over and the message is clear!

The result of the election has given the new Government a resounding mandate for change. This is not unusual in these very unusual times. We saw it in the US Elections and we all knew that it would happen here. We now await to see how fast and how effective that change will be. And whether some of the change promised will or can happen.

One thing for sure, we are going to see a change in the labour market, especially in the Government ranks. The Key Administration has promised to freeze the public service at the level it currently is, so whilst that may happen, the requirement for resource will continue unabated, and most likely mean that the demand for contract resource will increase in the short term.

New Zealand is a bit of a microcosm in that our labour market has been so starved of skills for so long, that in spite of the looming recession, our unemployment figures are still low and to all intents and purpose, even the worst case scenarios are predicting us rising to 5-6% whereas countries like Australia and the US are predicting much higher figures and perhaps heading towards double digits. Whilst our unemployment rate has risen slightly from 3.9% to 4.2%, employment growth has increased slightly and labour force participation hit an equal record high of nearly 69%. So that's not too bad when you hear the figures coming out of the US and Australian predictions.

I still think that the regions will fair better than the cities because our economy thrives on the dairy industry and in spite of reduced demand worldwide, the fall in our dollar should counter some of that fall-off in demand. Certainly whilst we have seen a slowing and a waiting and seeing approach, it appears the cities, particularly Auckland, are fairing worse.

Having said that, there are many companies operating counter-cyclical to the over-all situation who will take advantage of the market and look at taking market share through shrewd and careful strategies of growth. We all have to eat, sleep, travel, wear clothes, drive cars, use power, drink water, and still have some leisure time and enjoyment. There will be areas that will likely grow, such as those associated with DIY, or for example, BYO restaurants (as oppsed to those that are more expensive). People provide these activities, services, and products, and they are employed by companies or organisations and they will continue to do so.

So it is not all doom and gloom. My message - if you're out there looking or thinking of changing, chose your industry or sector and do your due diligence. Or else you could call me and we can help!

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So how are jobs faring during the crisis?

I always try and think of a silver lining out of any negative situation, and the employment market is probably the one of the few aspects of the market that is currently holding up - certainly in our category. Whilst we are certain to have casualties to the world-wide "meltdown", "credit crunch" (or any other euphemism you want to call it...), especially those reliant on the local market, the world-wide shortage of talent will continue, and in fact, those with the proven skills to manage through these situations will be in even greater demand.

In New Zealand we also have the "election factor". This always accompanies the lead-up to any election, but with the outcomes less than certain, this has compounded our economic situation more than usual and has enhanced the "waiting and seeing" for companies.

So what's in demand? Firstly those who have expertise in those "subject matters" that have experienced continued shortages. Technology, engineering, accounting, marketing, supply chain, HR (especially around change management) - in fact most areas that require some form of tertiary qualification. Again, whilst there are regions more affected than others, generally the economic "slowdown" has not been accompanied by a slowdown in the demand for good talent. Talent in any way that maximises revenue output, or minimises cost can only be good.

In the last ten years we have experienced relative economic prosperity. Many of those at the head of companies came to their positions during these times, and it is now that their leadership is tested and under scrutiny - and pressure. Managing during boom times and managing during these times requires a different set of skills and whilst some may adapt, many may struggle and simply not know what to do. So companies have two choices - change guard at the top (which may be less than palatable) or bring in suitably skilled resource alongside management to ensure survival, continuity, and on going success. Extra cost? Sure, but what is the cost of no action.

I am a great advocate of utilising external resource - and in fact essentially pioneered the formal concept here a quarter of a century ago! Oh how time flies! But there are many ways that this can be done to meet your budgetary requirements. The most expensive of course are the big consulting firms and I have my view on their effectiveness around operating in the real world. At the other end of the scale are organisations (many N4P's) that offer mentoring services for free. Again I have a view that if you pay nothing for something, then generally that may be the value you get - but I can be convinced otherwise!

Somewhere in the middle lies the solution. Independent Contractors who you either engage direct, or through an organisation such as ourselves. Most have "been there, done that, got the tee-shirt" relating to the effects of 911, the Asian Crisis in the 90's, the '87 Crash, and other downturns. Many of them are "baby boomers" who thought about retiring, but now will be in even greater demand. These skills sets may be our saviour because inherently and intuitively they should know what to do.

So there is something positive from this latest turn of events. Experts predicted that we were going to have a "desertion" from the ranks of management by retiring baby-boomers over the next 5-10 years. Not so fast - many will stay by choice, by demand, and some by no choice.

So there is a silver lining after all! Or could it be a silk purse?

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