The Recruitment Industry needs to change…(part 1)

This is a 2 piece blog, spelling out the challenges before the recruitment industry in its current state (part 1). Then some ideas on how the industry as a whole (internal, agency or job seeker) can find opportunity and adapt in these challenging times (part 2).

Recruitment is Broken

There’s no doubt from the comments and information I’ve seen these past couple of weeks, the recruitment industry like most, is reeling from the global impact of Covid-19. It’s highlighted just how fragile so many industries can be and just how quick things can go from good to (frankly) shit!

Many recruiters were likely sitting on fantastic pipelines and hoping for a brilliant year. Only to have it all stopped when this epidemic really took hold and we all had to act fast.

There’s also many who have unfortunately lost their jobs or been put on furlough because their firms don’t expect the situation to change soon.

But this post isn’t to talk about that. It’s instead to highlight and explore what recruitment, as an ecosystem, could do to help each other out in a time of crisis, like we have now.

The Game

Putting the current climate aside, the recruitment industry model for most agencies, is becoming a law of diminishing returns. A race to the bottom driven by a perception of utility service with little differentiation. Hence why so many new client prospect conversations begin with, and principally focus on, ‘the fee’.

Not the quality of the service, the knowledge of the consultant, evidence of past successes. No, just ‘how much is your fee?’ and if that’s acceptable, the conversation will continue.

The challenge is amplified by its transactional nature, as recruitment typically translates to the early learning game of shape sorting.

This is because it’s a client led model. The client already has the realised and recognised need and so engages the recruiter to fill said need. It’s almost 100% reactive. With tight specs and strict requirements on candidates’ experience.

Indeed, if I, as an agency partner were to think outside the box and bring a round peg for a square hole, I’d run the risk of being chastised for not following the brief. Even when I could evidence and justify why a round peg maybe better suited to the client problem at hand.

This restrictive and reactive nature is further amplified by the evolution of the client/agency relationship.

Past vs Present

In the 2008/9 economic crisis, recruitment was a little different. LinkedIn wasn’t as widely adopted as it is now and the in-house recruiter (TA) role was very much in its infancy.

MSPs (Managed service providers) were the big thing – for those not in the industry, these are recruitment agencies who provide on-site resource to manage a firms’ recruitment needs.

But it was certainly easier to have conversations and maintain relationships with decision makers because not everyone had an MSP. But it seems even the newest start-ups get a TA (Talent Acquisition) onboard early doors and the TA’s control the process and communications with the agencies. They also have a business objective to reduce agency spend and usage by utilising the tools out there like LinkedIn to direct attract.

So as an agency recruiter myself, whilst it used to be ‘we’ve got a PSL’ as the No1 objection I’d hear when prospecting for business; recruiters are now more commonly getting ‘we’re hiring that direct only. No agencies!’

But outside of these supply chain challenges, the issues we all face because of Covid-19 is the locking up of recruitment, even by firms not economically affected by the pandemic, as they look to assess and adjust strategies where necessary.

Grieving Process

The system is in a state of shock and acting cautiously about what next steps to take. Even those still hiring are treading carefully, recognising this is all still very new and they need to understand the bigger picture impacts (should there be any) to them.

What we’ve experienced seems to align to the stages of grief:

  • 1. Denial – “this won’t affect us, it’s not going to be that big” (I think we can agree we’re all past this)
  • 2. Anger – “this is going to be huge, it’s going to affect us so badly, what the heck is going on?” (most are either in this phase right now, trying to make sense of things. Others have moved to stage 3)
  • 3. Bargaining – “what are we going to lose, what are we going to keep?” – this is where those making redundancies are sitting, and those reflecting on their current position so have paused hiring
  • 4. Depression – Those who remain will potentially be feeling a sense of survivors syndrome as they convalesce on what was. What’s important is just how long individuals, teams and companies spend in this phase which will determine the path to recovery.
  • 5. Testing – this is an extension to the Kubler-Ross Model on the stages of grief, however this stage will happen as people and companies understand how to facilitate change.
  • 6. Acceptance – new plans get drawn up. Companies begin to look to the future and consider how the new norm has opportunity ahead of it. This is where opportunity is taken up, investment happens and the shoots of recovery will be found. The quicker firms can get here the better.

How do you get to acceptance quickly which inevitably will lead to areas of opportunity, and how can you play your part – be that as a recruiter, in-house TA or job seeker?

I’ll be sharing some ideas on that in part 2.

Here to Help

Agencies like Blue Pelican, are still here and we’re keen to help where we can. So don’t discount us from your search process.

Even if there’s fewer live vacancies right now, we can advise, give ideas and knowledge share, much like these blog posts have been designed to do.

But if there’s something you would like further insight on. Or if there’s elements I’ve not delved deeply enough into for you. Please leave a comment below, or email me at

In the meantime, be safe and be kind.

Interviewing, Sadistic Bosses & Putting the Employer Under the Spotlight

Practice makes prepared

Interviewing is hard work. It’s something, for most, we don’t practice often. Even those used to interviewing and hiring others every day will find it hard once the spotlight is pointed in their direction.

Being able to second guess what kind of questions, based on the role being interviewed for, will help a little. But you can never get it 100% right and there’s always a curveball to look out for. Like a brain teaser designed to make you think and show you can work through an unexpected problem.

Outside of the initial meet and greet, or screening interview. There’s 2 main forms used by businesses. They either look to measure Behavioural and Potential, or Experience and Evidence based. With the latter being the most popular.

These are typically under the form of competency based interviews.

The Experience and Evidence based interview asks you to provide evidence from your past to show how you have faced and handled similar challenges or issues. If you’re interested in learning about some examples of these types of questions, you can find them here.

Competency questions are designed to put you on the spot to reflect and consider your experience; drawing just one example to meet the brief, and do so in a pressurised environment.

It can be really hard, especially if you’ve not interviewed for a while, getting suitable and powerful examples to spring to mind, and to provide a variety of these to demonstrate depth of experience too is important.

This is why practice is so crucial.

Consider in reflection, some of the things you’ve achieved in your career. What challenges did you have to overcome? How did you do them?

At the time, many of the things you did could have been subconscious or instinctive. Or indeed, just natural to have done something that way. So they fall to the back of the mind and not reflected on critically, or in much detail.

However an interview forces you to become conscious of those subconscious actions, and to walk them through in a structured format, so someone not in your shoes understands what you did, and why.

Be a S.T.A.R.(L)

The typical best practice model to answer any question is to follow S.T.A.R.(L):

  • Situation – describe succinctly the issue at hand. Don’t be too verbose, it just needs to be one or two sentences long.
  • Task – This is the part where you make it clear exactly where you fitted in to the situation, and the specifics of the responsibilities you held.
  • Action – Now it’s time to explain what you actually did and why. Don’t be vague, showcase your contribution properly so the picture is clear to the interviewer.
  • Result – Time to shine, show the difference you made. Again, be specific.
  • Learning – This goes beyond the traditional model. But sometimes S.T.A.R. answers could have negative results, or outcomes you recognise could be improved upon. So you could explain what you learned and how you might apply this in future to achieve a better outcome.

Signs of a sadistic or narcissistic boss

The Brain Teaser

These evil little questions arise, and despite Silicon Valley giants like Google dropping them a number of years ago, there are firms out there who still love to throw in these curve balls. Often under the guise of wanting to “see how people think”, a study by the US Journal of Applied Psychology in 2018 showed these forms of questions were often preferred by hiring managers who also demonstrated sadistic or narcissistic personality tropes.

It’s been proven numerous times the ability to answer these types of questions doesn’t coincide with their ability to do a job well.

They can, however, show an insight to people’s general awareness, as without it sometimes you can’t answer these at all well. Especially with the limited amount of data provided in the questions themselves.

Take this example:

How much money does the London Eye make on average a day?

To approach answering it you’re going to have to make a lot of reasonable assumptions, which will connect with some element of commercial awareness, but unless you’ve seen or been on it, and have at least a basic understanding of Merlin’s business model (the owner), you’re going to come unstuck very quickly.

For example, if you’re not familiar with the, you will probably consider:

  • Opening hours/days
  • How many pods there are
  • How many people per pod
  • Hourly rotation
  • Seasonal variations on visitor numbers
  • Price of a ticket and maybe family discounts

But if you knew the venue and Merlin’s packages, and indeed business, you may also throw in:

  • Broader pricing and offer structure (since they sell stand alone, in advance, on the day and via package deals)
  • Merlin Entertainment’s annual passholder programme – and the fact most can go free, or for a £1 pre-booking fee per person
  • Corporate entertainment sell through rates, costs, etc.
  • Special events, e.g. weddings, fireworks
  • Fixed and variable costs – power, staff, maintenance, taxes, etc.

There’s more, but this gives a starting point to the idea of trying to give a rounded answer….

The trouble is, most will likely consider the first 5 points. Limited by their own knowledge of the venue and Merlin. It’s not their fault they don’t know the unknowns. But they will be penalised by not knowing more, as they can’t show really out of the box thinking.

The question is also ambiguous. It asks how much money is made, not just ticket sales. So you may need to include costs to give a rounded answer. Many people will forget this.

Interviewing – Throwing the spotlight on the employer

Of course, most feel the interview process is all about putting you under a microscope and deciding whether you’re the best cog to fit their machine.

But it is a two way street, and right now, we’re seeing very revealing evidence which shows some employers who would have been choice picks for people just a month or so ago, are now places people might want to think harder about whether to keep them on that pedestal.

There’s examples arising in this pandemic of employers who have spent decades building this external image of being the ultimate ‘employee centric’ operations, only to have immediately hung their staff out to dry, just as soon as the first challenges arose.

Then there’s others who have an untenable positions in front of them, yet have gone beyond the pale to retain staff on full pay. Despite areas of their business not being able to operate what may end up being months.

So consider asking a few questions of your next prospective employer, uncover how they really value their staff when the chips are down.

Leave those who turned their backs on their people when they needed them the most. Including those who had mechanisms available (certainly in the UK) to help, such as the Government funded Furlough, yet chose not to engage with them. So those people were left out in the cold at a time when few jobs were available, and indeed, many industries went into hibernation.

So ask questions like:

  • What was the biggest challenge you faced? How did you look to overcome it?
  • What actions and initiatives did you take to protect jobs and your staff during Covid-19?
  • What behaviours did your leadership team demonstrate when they had to make hard decisions?
  • Who challenged your leadership and how did they respond?
  • When did you take those actions? (i.e. immediately, tried to weather the storm, or waited too long)
  • How did you communicate important changes with your employees?
  • What business values did you/your business demonstrate during that period?
  • Did you offer a top-up to the 80% Furlough initiative so your staff could make ends meet?
  • How did you support your staff through those changes and look after their well-being?
  • Aside from those you chose to let go, how many other people left the organisation and did you ask why?

Should there have been a change of leadership since, it will be prudent to ask how they might have approached it differently. Or what planning they’ve put in place since, should another situation like that occur in future.

It will give you a great insight into whether that’s the kind of place you want to be part of, and whether the employer really does value their people.

An Insight into Public Sector recruitment during a Pandemic

Business as usual, kind of… 

Recruiting within Local and Central Government and the NHS can have its complications on a good day. Now we have found ourselves mid pandemic, overflowed with work and not entirely sure where the last 7 weeks have gone.

A lot has changed in the last two months, the Public Sector is still full steam ahead.

A lot of restrictions have been lifted within Public Sector recruitment, which makes the process that bit easier, less red tape and generally more freedom to place candidates without the restrictions of full tendering process and frameworks restrictions.

We personally have found that Central Government is recruiting as normal and adapting very well to remote onboarding. Local Authorities are still recruiting, some roles directly in response to support with the current pandemic, however with what seems to be a slower than usual response/turnaround time.

The biggest organisation which has been affected, as everyone knows, is the NHS.

Remote support

We have many contractors who work across the NHS, in a variety of trusts from frontline IT support staff to remote working Programme Management. Their safety has been paramount for us and something which we have had to monitor very closely as an agency. We have managed this by working with the trusts to ensure that where possible our contractors can work remotely and with regular update calls to check in on their wellbeing, we have addressed any issues quickly.

As for onboarding within the NHS currently, we have been working closely with the Hiring Managers to ensure safety procedures are in place to minimise exposure and remote onboarding where possible.

Increased demand

With increasing demands on the NHS, we have seen an increase in contracting vacancies, particularly for IT support and laptop rollouts to cover the demands which remote working has caused.

We also work across several technical projects and programmes and each Trust has reacted very differently, some have shut down projects and removed the contractors associated with the outstanding projects, to concentrate on other necessities. Whilst others have gone full steam ahead, several in particular with their windows 10 rollout (not overdue at all!).

We have even found several of our contractors are now being offered permanent placements within their trusts which we feel is extremely positive during this uncertain time, for them to be recognised as valuable and trusted members of the team is fantastic. Our contractors have accepted these offers, with the current circumstance that faces the NHS, this shows that the NHS is doing its utmost to look after its people including contractors to make them feel they have a future career in this great organisation. 

Pulling Together

On the flip side, we have found a vast number of private-sector contractors approach us to do pro bono work within the NHS to support where they can. This is fantastic to see, never have we seen so much generosity and the IT community pulling together to support the NHS. It simply is a sight to behold and something which we are grateful to be a part of and make happen.

Overall, we are working hard to simplify recruitment processes (whilst ensuring all compliance is still met) to give the NHS access to the support it needs in short time frames. We are working fully remotely and available out of hours to reflect the current pace of change, with a bank of qualified and vetted contractors across a range of skill sets.

If you’d like assistance with a project please don’t hesitate to get in touch. With existing frameworks already in place we can find you a solution.

Medical graph

Beware the Opportunists

It seems only in times of crisis you get to really see someone’s true colours.

After all, it’s easy to be generous when times are good. To paint the picture of being a saint. But when times get tough and the veil gets lifted you find out the true mettle of a person or company.

There’s a couple of things I’d highlight to any job seeker to be particularly wary of, should this thing we’re all experiencing persist.


Typically positioned as suitably senior enough to draw in people with credibility and track record. The brief will be tight – looking to just a few companies or a specific sector for people to come from. It will, on paper, look amazing and even offer an appealing remuneration and package.

It’s a hook after all, a fake prize in a contest no-one can win.

Sure, businesses claim this kind of thing never happens. But it does, and they’re tricky to spot. Since they usually blend in to the noise of other hiring going on either in market, or in the business itself. Plus, as a recruiter, it’s not unusual to be given a brief looking for specific sector related experience, or even be limited by a client just to people from their own sector.

The give away comes at interview. You may find you’re meeting with some curious people, asking lots of very pointed questions about your current company. About ideas and strategies, pricing and tactics, as well as what plans are in play. Really trying to rinse you for everything they can get.


Then there’s the ‘presentation task’. Either asking for very specific ideas, strategies or ‘how would you approach x problem’ type topics. They’re usually directly applicable to the business you’re interviewing with, or even a business challenge they’re facing.

Sure, it’s relevant to the role you’re interviewing for and plays to your experience – but that’s why they’re meeting you after all.

One such firm, I’ve since parted ways with supplying, asked me only to find CRM people from their sector. Then, following a brief screening call, set interviewees a scenario question related to managing churn within their sector. To come up with new ideas and strategies they could talk through at interview.

The emphasis was on ‘new and innovative’ – i.e. show us something we’ve not thought of ourselves, or share your company’s new ideas.

Suffice to say I was clear with the client I wasn’t happy sharing the topic and asked for a switch. Maybe keeping it relevant but change the company it was about. Certainly don’t make it about them!

It all smelt too much like a fishing expedition and happened to be for a firm who had very publicly been called out in recent years for a lack of innovation in CRM vs their market competitors.

When the topic switch was declined, I shared my concerns with the candidates and each agreed to cancel their interviews and retract candidacy.


There can be nothing worse than spending hours and hours trawling the internet trying to find that hidden gem, or amazing looking vacancy only to find out it’s no longer live.

I’ve shared in a previous post about a couple of sites who seem to be doing the right thing and checking every advert is genuinely going to hire. These are:

Also our own, as we’re having those conversations with businesses before taking the briefs on.

However there are those who don’t. Which I will now example.

Having seen the news Dixons Carphone have seen a 166% increase in sales since lockdown, I was curious to see if they were continuing with some of the hires being made prior to the announcement of closing the Carphone business.

Landing on their careers page, you’re greeted with a clear ‘we’re not’ notice. So that’s that, couldn’t be clearer…

But that doesn’t stop ‘Google for Jobs’ aggregating a third party site who says they are. Over 100 jobs in fact…

The rat you smell becomes immediately apparent, as the first response is for Carphone Warehouse – a business they’re closing.

Then the majority of the rest seem to be retail opportunities – in an environment where all their stores are closed.

Some are for adverts dating back to November 2019 – so 5 months old!

So be cautious of aggregators like Indeed and Google for Jobs. They’re populated principally by automated bots trawling websites to do the leg work. So there’s no quality control. The sites they list aren’t necessarily the reputable ones, and include sites which seem to be reposting old content in an effort to maintain search rankings.


The balance of power will unfortunately shift from job seeker to employer, should this deepen and we sadly say goodbye to more companies who struggle to keep lights on.

The last time this last happened was following the financial crisis.

Many firms in the months which followed saw the balance of power move, and took the opportunity to deflate salaries and benefits for new hires.

It started with just a handful of firms, testing the waters. But when it proved successful, others followed.

It’s an unfortunate situation to realise we may end up with history repeating itself.

I’ve already experienced clients trying to take advantage of a weakness in the recruitment market by trying to reduce rates – that happened too in the financial crisis. But where it’s not warranted and is just opportunistic, I’ve taken the same stance as before and said ‘sorry’ and walked away.

I’d encourage you, if you’re a job seeker to do the same. Should you find a potential employer looking to take similar advantage. Even if it’s tempting to lower your salary just to get a foot in the door. Doing so just means you don’t value yourself and lack the confidence to stand by your years of experience and track record to know, you’re worth it!

That said, if you’re concerned about how the market is shifting. Reach out for advice and speak to recruiters, principally agency ones. As they have the market exposure and are talking to firms all the time. So can give you some advice which will help with how to position yourself and what to expect as the employment market continues to evolve.


We are still here and we’re keen to help where we can. So don’t discount us from your search process.

Even if there’s fewer live vacancies right now, we can advise, give ideas and knowledge share, much like these blog posts have been designed to do.

But if there’s something you would like further insight on. Or if there’s elements I’ve not delved deeply enough into for you. Please leave a comment below, or email me at

In the meantime, stay safe and be kind.

Make things happen

How to get job search ready

If you find yourself at the beginning of a search, here’s a few pointers to help you get ‘match fit’ for the occasion.


  • Don’t draft it to cover everything you’ve done, it will likely be too long. Stick to the key facts and impact statements around what you’ve achieved
  • Make it achievement biased. It should show the impact you had. Results you delivered. What happened because you were there. Not just a list of responsibilities. Remember, it’s a record demonstrating why you’re good at what you do, not just that you did it
  • Confidentiality – don;t put in anything sensitive in nature. So instead of providing specific metrics around budgets, sales, costs etc put in % improvements or % of/above target metrics
  • Keep it punchy – strip out unnecessary info that’s waffling or boring
  • Keep it under 3 pages, no matter how much experience you’ve got. You’ve got to tell the story of you succinctly, and no-one’s got the time to read a CV which looks like a book
  • Be prepared to tailor it for applications. Sometimes a generic CV won’t cut the mustard. As an example, I recently submitted someone for a behavioural economics role and they were declined. As despite the covering info I supplied demonstrating their expertise specific to this, their CV didn’t include the specific phrase ‘behavioural economics’ and the hiring manager therefore doubted they had the proper experience. So never underestimate the ability for someone to be illogical. If it’s key to the role and you have the experience, spell it out
  • Reduce the space you give to historic or irrelevant employments. If it doesn’t tell the right story of you and the direction you’re looking to take. Reduce its impact on the valuable real-estate that is your CV
  • Be clear, particularly if you’ve had short employments, why. If they’re contracts, simply add ‘interim’ to the job title. It makes a difference
  • Graphics – now I’m not a fan of these. Particularly graphically heavy CVs which need someone to explain them. If it’s just a company logo by the employment, that’s fine. But when someone starts getting fancy with line charts and irrelevant pictures, if it’s not relevant to the application (i.e. you’re a graphic designer), get rid
  • PDF or Word – as a Recruiter, I prefer Word all day long. This is because it’s something I can add a coversheet to, and most clients require me to do so and submit it as the one document. If you’ve PDF’d it, I have to convert it, then fix it, then add my coversheet. It adds tons of time to processing an application and is a headache I could do without. So if you’ve got the choice, send recruiters your Word version, please


Update your LinkedIn profile

It should be a summary of your CV, including some of the key points a CV will also have. It doesn’t have to have everything (especially if you’re not telling your current employer you’re looking to leave). But it should include enough info so you could use it, in a pinch, to apply for a job. Plus of course, ‘Apply using Linkedin’ is a genuine thing too with some careers sites.

Whatever story your CV is selling, your Linkedin and other digital channels should be selling the same story too. It’s only going to raise questions if you’re claiming to be a ‘head of’ on the CV, but on Linkedin you’re saying ‘Manager’ or ‘Senior Manager’.


Change your Linkedin settings to show recruiters you’re open to new roles. Not only does it also turn on the job notifications for you. But we (as recruiters) get your profile highlighted too, which helps.

Be clear what you’re looking for – if it’s just contracts or just perm, please say so. Or don’t be offended if you end up being approached about something you don’t want.


Don’t be overly clever with your job title. Think ‘is this industry standard?’. If it’s not, change it.

For example, I had a couple of clients who used the title of GM (General Manager). Some positioned it as a senior manager role, others at more a Director grade. But most importantly, it’s not a title recruiters search for. So if you have something like this, change your title to fit what the market expects (e.g. Executive, Manager, Senior Manager, Head of, Director, Chief x Officer, etc.)

The same goes for the VP job title. In some, it’s very senior, in others, not so much. Make it clear to others what grade you are or you might be approached by something completely at the wrong end of the career spectrum.


Given most agency job titles are simply Account Executive, Account Manager or Account Director, it ends up returning a generic search result confused with people from sales backgrounds, marketing, PR, digital, etc. and across all industries too, and has proven an ineffective way to search.

So if you’re in a PR/Comms/Digital or Marketing related agency, for example, you may want to explain what you do and add these key words so it makes a recruiter’s life easier to find you.

Most of the time we (recruiters) start by using long list Boolean populated with agency names, some keywords and maybe a job title. That helps us make the results more specific. But if you’re missing any of these elements, you won’t show up.

So if you added keywords by explaining you handled media, PPC, programmatic, integrated marketing, ATL, BTL, PR, etc. etc. you’d show up on more recruiter’s radars and so get more approaches. The same goes for doing this with your CV. Ensure it’s search friendly and you will be tapped up more, as searching online CV databases is similar to searching Linkedin.


This depends on your industry, and whether it’s a standard term. Also consider whether it’s ‘search friendly’. By which I mean, will a recruiter be searching for the term by it’s short or long form. So maybe consider doing both. Most certainly de-jargon things. What your company uses won’t be what others do. So make it clear.

Similarly with technology names or old company names. If they’ve been changed or taken over, update your CV and info to include the latest names for it. Having historic names no longer searched for is wasted content.



Although employers aren’t supposed to be checking out non-professional sites for the inside track on any applicants, it’s just too tempting for some not to have a quick Google or check out Facebook to see what they can gleam from their 2pm interviewee. So it’s best to push up the privacy settings, or take off those embarrassing night out shots you wouldn’t want to be showing someone you don’t know.

We’re still here and we’re keen to help where we can. So don’t discount us from your search process.

Even if there’s fewer live vacancies right now, we can advise, give ideas and knowledge share, much like these blog posts have been designed to do.

But if there’s something you would like further insight on. Or if there’s elements I’ve not delved deeply enough into for you. Please leave a comment below, or email me at

In the meantime, be safe and be kind.

Job searching during a pandemic

It’s no secret, this pandemic has far exceeded the immediate impacts on the employment market which the financial crisis back in 2008. But it’s not all bad news, in fact, there’s many who are profiting from the situation, and even some who can’t keep up with demand.

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