Hi there! Just wanted to say welcome to our Blog. I truly hope you find some nuggets of interest here and I would be delighted to hear your comments!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

What’s in a Cover Letter?

Written by Jackie Prendergast, this article was first published in Sunday Business Post April 2012

 So you’ve got your new CV all ready to go.  It has been dusted off, polished, and professionalised to ensure it reflects the best of what you have to offer.  Now what?  Well just in the same way that it is important to tailor your CV to the job for which you are applying, it is equally important that the Cover Letter you use to accompany it reflects the job and the situation.

What do I mean by that? And do you really need a cover letter at all? Surely what matters is your CV.  If you had asked me 6 or 7 years ago I would have said it wasn’t all that important.  However, times have changed; employers are inundated with hundreds of CVs, often from very qualified and experienced candidates, so using every tool possible to help you get the job and set you apart from the competition is vital. 

Your Cover Letter is your best opportunity to make a good first impression, so use it wisely.  Grab the reader’s interest with your knowledge of their company and what you can deliver, give them a flavour of you and what sets you apart from others and help them to see clearly why you would fit not just the job, but their culture and values too. 

10 tips to help you get it right:

  1. This is a business letter so set it out as such – with your address on the top right and that of the Company directly below but on the left.
  2.  Include the date, choose a simple font with 11 or 12 pt and black type, use a formal greeting and sign-off and spell check before sending.
  3. Never send a Dear Sir/Madam – research the name of the HR Manager or the most appropriate addressee for your application.
  4. Start by setting your letter in context – how your application has come about e.g. advertised post, through a contact, speculative etc.
  5. Always tailor the letter to suit the job - it should be clear from the letter that you know what the company is about, what they need and what you can do for them.  Remember that this is not a CV summary so keep it short. 
  6. Don’t focus on what you will get out of the deal.
  7. For speculative applications (i.e. no job has been advertised) identify a particular Department or Role where you could really contribute – don’t expect the reader to do this work for you.
  8. State your availability and say that you will follow-up to discuss the next step (and then make sure that you do) before signing off.
  9. Make every work count and never allow your letter to spill on to a 2nd page – 1 is ample.
  10. Lastly, remember this is your introduction.  Be professional and courteous in your tone and make the reader want to read your CV since that is the next step in getting an interview and ultimately, the job.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Plugging the gaps in your CV

Having gaps in your CV is not unusual, particularly in the current climate.  Many people have fallen victim to redundancy and are struggling to find a job.  Others who have spent time working in the home are being forced to seek employment to make up the shortfall in family finances brought about by higher taxes, levies and reduced salaries for their partners.

Regardless of why you have gaps in your CV, finding some way of minimising them and distracting the reader is important.

The first thing you should be aware of is that employers don’t necessarily avoid hiring someone because they have gaps but unexplained gaps do raise warning bells and would leave any employer wondering what they might be letting themselves in for!

So here are some does and don’ts to help you address the issue: 

  • Lie outright – telling lies on your CV is never a good idea, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t fudge the truth a little or put a positive spin on something
  • Make it impossible for the company to hire you by telling them something that will be an absolute no-no
  • Apologise – give a brief explanation for the gap where necessary and nothing more, you should always project a positive image
  • Just leave big gaps – I can tell you from experience that it raises to many questions and concerns (around issues like instability, criminality, laziness etc)
  • Use formatting such as bold, italics to highlight dates
  •  Assess how serious the gaps are
  • Where possible massage the timeframe by using years rather than months (e.g. giving employment dates as 2001-2010 rather than Jun 2001 – Mar 2010)
  • Be clear about what you were doing during the gap
  • Focus on what you gained from the time and how it might benefit the company (e.g. skills learned, experience of diversity etc)
  • Use a Profile Summary, Key Skills and perhaps even Key Achievements on page 1 to draw the reader’s attention to what you have to offer before they get to the dates (Page 1 – and generally the first 2/3 of the page are most important in a CV so make sure this presents the most positive information)
  • Use headings such as Most Relevant Work Experience to allow you to highlight those roles that are most relevant – this way you can omit some jobs altogether particularly those 15+ years ago
  • Other Experience – use this heading to draw out other relevant information such as volunteering, unpaid work etc on your CV
  • Use your Cover Letter to explain anything that is difficult to cover in your CV – e.g. time off to look after a sick parent
  • Keep busy with things that will be useful to your CV – try to learn new skills, stay up to date with your profession, network, volunteer etc as this will help you to minimise the gaps and will give you something extra to offer the employer

For related material, articles, services and jobs for which we are recruiting go to http://www.consultingexcellence.ie/main/page_individuals_onetoone.html

10 Top Tips for a successful job search

This article was first published in Sunday Business Post, November 6th 2011

So you are out of a job and the constant search is getting you nowhere.  You are not alone.  The widespread redundancies and general economic downturn has left lots of people in that position.  That means a tighter job market for everyone, so perhaps it is time to take a more strategic approach to your job search.

1. Stop! Take Stock
Often when people are looking for a new job, they don’t take the time out to take stock of where they are and what they want.  Reflect on the job you have done, what worked and what didn’t. 

  • Your strengths, weaknesses and key skills
  • What you like to do and don’t like to do
  • What do you value most e.g. recognition, autonomy, responsibility, pay and so on
  • Are there opportunities that would fulfill your needs and plays to your strengths

2. Research
Now do some research - figure out what is achievable and how you might get there. Identify your best options so you can focus on those.

3. Create a Plan
Your job search needs a plan.  Having one will keep you focused on your end goal (of getting a job) and will help you to maintain structure at a time when it is easy to become de-motivated and despondent. 

4. Work your Network
Failing to “work” your network is an opportunity lost.  Identify all your different networks (ex-work colleagues, college friends, golf buddies, etc) and start systematically working your way through them ensuring that everyone knows what you are looking for and what you have to offer.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help!

5. Get your CV in order
It is too late to start thinking about your CV when you spot your dream job.  Create a core CV and Cover Letter that can be tailored to individual jobs as they come up. 

6. Build your Personal Brand
The internet is a regular source of “background checking”.  Start a blog and write about things that will set you apart from the competition (in a good way).  Use LinkedIn. Be aware that what you say and do may be viewed by an employer so clean up your online image.

7. Be focused
Job search is about quality not quantity.  Applying for a hundred jobs for which you are unsuited or don’t actually want is not in your best interests.  Focusing on those that you really want and the companies that you want to work for is far more likely to produce results.  And you won’t have that awful feeling of having applied for tons of jobs and having no success.

8. Get creative
Not all jobs are advertised so get creative in finding out where there are jobs.  Look at announcements in the paper that may suggest an opportunity.  Offer to work on a trial basis to demonstrate your worth.  Create your own webpage with a video CV.  Do what others aren’t!

9. Be prepared
Don’t leave it until you are called for interview to start preparing.  Think about your key achievements and strengths and examples that will demonstrate those to a potential employer.  Research typical questions and consider your answers.  Get help.

10. Keep mind and body healthy
Job searching requires a clear mind, good focus, a positive approach and lots of energy. Ensure you have a good diet and exercise.  Maintain structure and have downtime.  Even if money is tight, get out and meet with friends.  Do something that makes you feel good.  If you start to lose faith, take a step back, think of all those things that are good in your life and most of all, smile!

For related material, articles, services and jobs for which we are recruiting go to http://www.consultingexcellence.ie/main/page_individuals_onetoone.html

Friday, September 16, 2011

What’s in a question? – Avoiding discrimination in recruitment

Most of you will probably know that there are nine grounds on which you can’t discriminate against people.  There are two pieces of legislation which set this out: the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2008 and the Equal Status Acts 2000-2008 which between them outlaw discrimination in employment, vocational training, advertising, collective agreements, the provision of goods and services (including professional or trade services; health services; access to accommodation and education; facilities for banking, transport and cultural activities). Some of you will know all of those grounds and more will know at least a few.

Most of you will know that you shouldn’t discriminate against people in the workplace.  But how many of you are aware that job interviews and other elements of the recruitment process are also covered.

And what does that mean in reality?

Well take the situation where during the “chat” bit of an interview you ask the candidate…“So did you have any difficulty getting here this early?”

Not a problem on the face of it.  But say the person said no and you followed with “No children to get out to school then?” Or imagine asking “What did you do at the weekend?” and as a follow up you said “so you are young, free and single?”

This sounds pretty harmless, doesn’t it?  And what if you asked “Are you married?” or “Do you have any children?” in this same conversation.  Do you think that might be viewed as discriminatory?

The short answer is “Yes, absolutely”.

The problem is this – it doesn’t really matter what your intention was in asking the question, or that you didn’t use the information in a negative way, the fact that you asked the question is likely to be seen to be discriminatory in intent at an Equality Tribunal. Once that is established it is your job to defend your position.

And here’s the thing…it is almost impossible to defend yourself as an employer in that situation. 

So here are some tips to help you avoid / manage such a situation:

  1. Make sure that your Job Description and Advertisement (even if this is a Tweet) is free from any discriminatory language or inferred discrimination – for example don’t say “we are seeking a young, dynamic….”  You even need to be careful about the qualifications and length of experience required as it may be seen as age discrimination – so think long and hard about what is really required to do the job
  2. When you are shortlisting candidates don’t take into account things like age – it is advisable to have a clear set of criteria and to mark applications against that criteria
  3.  At interview don’t ask any question that isn’t relevant.  So for example you could in some instances ask a person about their ability to travel if this was a key requirement of the role
  4.  If you really need to ask this type of question ensure you ask it of everyone: male, female, married, single, old, young etc.
  5. Don’t ever ask about marital status, children, age etc (the nine grounds to be aware of are: Gender, Marital / Civil Status, Family Status, Sexual Orientation, Age, Disability, Race (Ethnicity), Religion or Membership of the Traveller Community)
  6. You should also have clear criteria for each interview stage – mark candidates against that and only that.  The more specific this is the easier it is to defend!
  7. Keep records of interview notes and marking sheets
  8. If you do end up facing a claim you will be asked to respond in writing to the Equality Tribunal – this document will play a key role in the decision so avoid incriminating yourself.  It is the claimant’s job to establish a case in the first instance so avoid doing the job for them!
  9. And if you do need to appear before a Tribunal seek advice quickly to ensure you have a defense (with all the necessary documentation, witnesses etc) in place as early as possible
  10. Remember that the penalties are significant: for someone who is not your employee (i.e. a candidate who feels they lost out because of discrimination) you can be required to pay compensation of up to €12,697 if the complaint is upheld – an expensive “chat” I think you’ll agree!!

So the moral of the story is this: make sure you have good policies and practices in place around recruitment (and your whole employment relationship), follow those policies and practices properly, be aware of what you are asking and why, and if you do get yourself into trouble seek help early.

If you have any questions on anything raised here feel free to contact me – I am always happy to help.

And if you want some interesting reading this recent case regarding a dismissal on the basis of incapacity is well worth a read http://bit.ly/nBkKba

Friday, August 20, 2010

Middle Child at Work?

This article (by Jackie Prendergast) was first published by on www.bloggertone.com on July 15th, 2010.

Some weeks ago I happened to be watching a programme on TV3 when an item came up the really piqued my interest.  Strangely I rarely watch TV3 and watch morning TV even less, so perhaps this was providence!!
The item in question was about families, and more specifically birth order in families.

Alfred Adler first developed this theory – suggesting that birth order impacted on personality and thus behaviour.  Importantly though Adler wasn’t saying definitely that where you were born in the family is necessarily the decider but rather the position you fulfil(led) within the family.  Many others have developed the notion further and equally there have been critics who disputed its relevance.  I have no doubt that this is something you have heard about before, even if on a sub-conscious level.  You may even have referred to others as “a typical first born” or “typical youngest child”.

It really made me think because here’s the thing - I am a middle child. But I am also a youngest and oldest.  Why?  Well for the first 10 years of my life I was the baby of the family – I have two older brothers who still treat me, to some extent, like the youngest.
Then another two siblings came along making me the middle child. Within 6 or 7 years my older brothers had left home and I became, de facto, the oldest.  To a large extent this is a role I still fulfil within our family. So how do I compare to the general theory?

First Born – They tend to be more educated and have a higher IQ than their siblings (in fact there is a suggestion that IQ decreases exponentially with each sibling.) They are often given or assume responsibility for younger siblings and essentially can often act as the surrogate parent. They are often over-achievers, striving to meet their parent’s expectations and always being required to set a good example.  As a result of this position of leadership and power they are often bossy – think an autocratic management style. They get more attention from their parents, building confidence.  They are often “tutors”, sharing learning.  They can be very responsible and willing to help out others.

Second Born – Typically they are very independent and competitive particularly with the older sibling and sibling rivalry often develops in an effort to assert their position.  Constantly strive for equal treatment and can feel aggrieved where they perceive this hasn’t happened.  They may sometimes be seen as a rebel for trying to redress the balance.  They can be quite expressive and creative.

 Middle Child – Also independent but tend to be more agreeable and accepting of situations. They tend to be caring and nurturing, take an objective view in family squabbles (seeing all sides of the argument) and are generally the peacemakers.  They are not attention seeking (mainly because they don’t see the point – they are resigned to their position).  They can be less decisive and less connected often with a tendency to secrecy.  They often keep their true feelings hidden because they don’t want to “rock the boat”.  They tend to be good listeners, good friends and are very flexible and adaptable.

Last Born – The “pet” - frequently spoiled by the whole family. Others tend to be protective of the youngest and regularly make allowance for
behaviour, no matter how outrageous.  As a result the last born are accustomed to getting their own way and expect this to happen.  Consequently they are rule breakers, more adventurous, push or ignore boundaries and can be seen as irresponsible. They are often very charming and use this to their advantage.

Well personally I would say that I fulfil the roles of both first born and middle child within our family depending on the situations and that I certainly display most of the traits associated with those positions.   While I would not consider myself autocratic in terms of management style I can (somewhat shame-facedly) admit to having a tendency toward bossiness from time to time! I am definitely a leader and will often take the lead or steer something forward.  I am most definitely the peacemaker, the person who can look at both sides objectively and find a way forward. Perhaps this is why I am good at conflict resolution.  Truthfully I don’t see any Last Born traits now, although quite probably these were more identifiable in my younger years.
So why am I talking about this subject at all?  Well it got me thinking that if Birth Order does indeed impact on our behaviour in one setting - family, isn’t it entirely possible or indeed likely that it impacts our behaviour in other settings like social groups and, more importantly, work.  And if that is the case, should we identify how this impacts on our ability to manage and lead, how it relates to the likelihood that a particular individual will be a good leader or manager, the extent to which it might impact our efforts to introduce change or apply procedures.  The list is endless.
I can’t help casting my mind back to the people I have managed over the years and matching this theory to their personality and behaviours.  It makes for some very interesting thoughts.
There is of course one other category, Only Child.
Only child – Only children are typically the centre of their parent’s world.  They are always the centre of attention and expect this as the “norm”.  They can be very spoiled and self-centred, have an “it’s all about me attitude”, lack concern for the needs of others and are often reluctant to compromise or share.  On the plus side they can be very confident and reach intellectual maturity earlier.

Now we have all known people who would reflect these traits, whether inside or outside work.  Whether these can, in some way, be attributed to Birth Order Theory I will leave to you to decide.  But think about this - if you were aware of an employee’s birth order, and (if you sign up to this theory) therefore the traits they were likely to display, could you manage them more effectively, play to their strengths, avoid conflict  and generally have a better and more successful working environment?  Perhaps there is even an argument for going back to asking some questions about family at interview...it could save you a lot of headaches!!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Inspiration overload

This article (by Jackie Prendergast) was first published on www.bloggertone.com on March 1th, 2010

It was 4.a.m. when I adjusted my eyes to the darkness to check my watch.  Awake again! But what was it that woke me...ah yes I had a great idea for my business.  I spend some time thinking about the idea and how it might work before drifting back to sleep.
Today I sit at my desk and having completed much of my “must do” work for the day I cast my mind back to this morning.  Now what was that idea again?  I search my brain...and I know it is just there, almost in my grasp but I can’t quite remember.
It probably wouldn’t be so bad if this was the only time I had inspiring ideas and failed to capture or remember them but it isn’t.  My mind is constantly buzzing with ideas.  It might be some new idea I have had for a training course, a blog topic, a twist or new use for some management model, a business generation idea, a solution for a client that I haven’t thought of before, and so on.
It is great that I get all these ideas but the problem is that I hardly ever remember them and therefore I never know how good they were or if I could have used them for mine or someone else’s benefit.  What a waste!
So I have had another thought – I can’t be the only one with this problem, and maybe I can come up with some tips on how to manage those ideas.
1.    Find a method of instantly recording that suits you – people use all sorts of ways to record idea, Leonardo da Vinci was very fond of notebooks but if you prefer use your PDA, email a note to yourself, use a voice recorder, build a word document, excel spreadsheet or whatever. The more accessible it is though, the greater your chances of capturing those really great ideas
2.    Be every ready – once you have a good workable recording method get using it.  Don’t be afraid to jot something down even if you are in the middle of a meeting (it is often the comments of others that lead to our best ideas)
3.    Keep a repository of ideas – even discarded ones are valuable and may benefit you in the future
4.    Use a process like Mind Mapping or Idea Mapping to link and develop ideas (there are numerous free tools or you can learn to do it on paper)

5.    Review and evaluate your ideas regularly – use the “Who, what, where, when, why & how” questions as a starting point to test the validity of your idea
6.    Try it out – there have been a couple of ideas I have been procrastinating over for at least 6 months.  Why? Because I am afraid they won’t work.  But sometimes you just have to try it out and if it doesn’t work out, learn from it and move on
 And why would you do all that.  Well quite simply ideas and creativity lead to development and growth and are a cornerstone of any business, even more so in the current climate. The challenge is in harnessing those ideas and creating an environment in which you allow yourself to be inspired.  Undoubtedly this is a simplistic view of how those ideas might be managed and is only a stepping stone to increasing creativity in your business.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Forget recession proofing, it is time for recovery proofing! 8 strategies to help get you and your people ready

This article was first published by author on Bloggertone February 17th, 2010 View original article and comments

Lots of business owners and CEOs alike got caught on the hop by this recession.  Failure to anticipate the downturn led to businesses revenue and profits suffering.  This of course meant that staff, customers and shareholders suffered too.  Needless to say, there is every likelihood that those same business owners and CEOs will again be caught on the hop by the upturn when it comes.
We have all been in the same mode for what feels like forever…survival.  Everyone (almost) has been forced to tighten belts, cut costs, introduce pay cuts, reduce spend on ‘non-essentials’ like training and let staff go.  But if the first few weeks of 2010 are any indication there is an air of positivity about and some upward movement in sales and business generation.  If we aren’t ready for the upturn our problems may just be beginning.

8 strategies to help you prepare:

1. Business re-modelling – like most businesses you probably have quite a bit of spare capacity at the moment.  Instead of focusing on this as a negative why not use the time and the capacity to take a long hard look at your business.  And I don’t necessarily mean in terms of cutting costs because if you didn’t before the recession you should have a lean business by now.  But think in terms of the upturn that is sure to come (hopefully sooner rather than later).  How good are your systems and processes? Are there improvements and streamlining that can be implemented without over-stretching your budget.  I am not suggesting you make huge investments but that you look for low cost ways of improving effectiveness.  Take a look at your overall business model.  It may have worked well during the last boom but is it the right ‘fit’ going forward?  Make sure that the pain of the last 1 or 2 years doesn’t get wasted – take all the lessons you have learned and use them wisely.
2. Understand and manage your supply base – There are two issues here.  Firstly you need to understand your suppliers and their businesses and be fully aware of their ability to supply you into the future.  Will they still be in business?  Will they have the capacity? Secondly, this is the time for doing deals.  It is a perfect opportunity for locking in prices for a prolonged period – all it takes is a little negotiation nous.
3. Opportunity knocks – one of the biggest problems of a recession is that it is difficult to see opportunity and even if we do see it we rarely have the courage to go after it lest we de-stabilize our already shaky business.    The thing is though if you don’t start looking for those opportunities and gearing up to take advantage of them, someone else will.  And where will that leave your business? – bottom of the competition pile! Remember “fortune favours the brave”.
4. Use that brain power – The very practice of tightening belts and sticking to our core can stifle creativity and innovation.  After all there is no spare cash for trying out new ideas so why bother generating them?  This is a perfect time for brainstorming, building on combined brain power and stirring those creative juices.  Why?
  • You probably have the spare capacity already and this is a great way to extract value and if not, better people can be engaged at a lower cost
  • No-one knows your business better than your people – so listen to them
  • If you stop being innovative, you and your people will have forgotten how by the time the economy recovers
  • Downturns always lead to innovation and “the next big thing”
  • Recession always leads to a bigger and better upturn
5. Invest in your peoplethis is the best time to look at your teams, their skills and capabilities and mould them to what you need for tomorrow.  Are there opportunities for cross-training and job rotation?  Now is a great time to concentrate on succession plans and developing your future leaders.
6. Engage staff – there is no doubt that the upturn, when it comes, will create churn in your people resources.  As soon as the labour market starts to loosen up and good people begin to get offers your business will be in danger all over again.  Unless of course you have looked after them well.  A recent discussion paper by ACAS in the UK identifies four areas to promote and develop employee engagement:
  • Leadership - employees need to understand not only the purpose of the business but also how their individual role contributes to that vision
  • Engaging managers – engaging managers offer clarity for what is expected from the employees, treat their people as individuals with fairness and respect
  • Employee voice – employees’ views should be sought out, listened to and employees made to feel that their opinions count
  • Integrity - if an employee sees the values of the business ingrained in the management team, a sense of trust is more likely to be developed
There isn’t anything new in this but it is a timely reminder that it takes nothing other than a bit of effort to engage employees, build loyalty and protect against “fall-off” at the first sign of a sweet deal!
7. Build a sense of hope
While I am not suggesting that you mislead people about what the future might hold it is definitely time to build some sense of positivity.  This will be a challenging task, when there is so much bad news surrounding us and every day can seem grimmer than the last. But as a leader you can’t allow your people to dwell on the negatives – you need to find a way to instil confidence and hope.  Put a smile on their faces!!
8. Take a longer term view
To a large extent living through a downturn is about survival.  And as such, businesses tend to shorten their planning process, focus on shorter term goals and make themselves as adaptable to the ever changing landscape as they can be.  But in order to come out the other side of recession as a strong and successful business, there has to come a time when you once again start focusing on the longer term goals and objectives.  One of the things you may need to consider is “Is it time to hire again?” It is great people that make great things happen so having the right team with the right capabilities should be a priority.  Try to do determine where your business will be in another 12 to 18 months.  What capabilities will you need to be successful and can you get ahead of your competitors in securing that talent?  Look around you – what are your customers’ plans and what are your competitors doing?
Being ready for the upturn will make the difference between continuing to survive and being a successful, sustainable business.  So what’s it going to be?