Matt J. McLaren

15th August 2017

Board Room

Social entrepreneurs need people willing and able to say ‘hold on, slow down, let’s rethink this’. They’re called Trustees & they’re not easy to find!

The Charity Commission has issued its first official warning under new powers which came into force late last year. Following an investigation, the Commission found that Wendy Watson MBE, founder of the National Hereditary Breast Cancer Helpline was unlawfully paid £31,000 by the charity whilst she was one of its Trustees (see full story on the BBC’s website here: www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-40887949).

Unlike private companies, which often have a mix of full-time senior managers and outside Non-Executive Directors (NEDs) serving on their Board (which may even be headed by the company’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO)/Managing Director rather than an independent chair); UK charity law requires a strict separation between those entrusted to oversee the charity on behalf of its funders and beneficiaries (the Trustees) and managers engaged by the charity to run its day-to-day affairs (the CEO/Executive Director and their senior management team (SMT)). In particular, even if not directly employed by the charity, Trustees cannot be paid (at least not beyond out-of-pocket expenses) by the organisation whose finances they control in trust for third parties.

The Charity Commission was therefore absolutely right to issue the warning it did in the the National Hereditary Breast Cancer Helpline case, even if (as has been claimed by Mrs Watson’s lawyers) the payments were simply made in error rather being a deliberate or careless disregard for the law.

That having been said, social entrepreneurship is a great thing and certainly should not be discouraged. People willing to invest their talents, time and money to set up a new organisation dedicated to improving the lives of others and making a positive social impact ought to be have a reasonable expectation that, if and when the finances of the organisation they have founded are robust enough to do so without compromising its overall mission, they can and should be at least minimally financially compensated for the work which they do (we do all have bills to pay, after all!)

People considering setting up a socially-minded organisation or enterprise could therefore take advantage of the relatively new Community Interest Company (CIC) model. This organisational setup was introduced into English law primarily with social enterprises in mind. CICs are not charities, and so are not bound by charity law nor regulated by the Charity Commission. Instead they are a special class of company, having to meet the normal requirements of company law (i.e. having Directors, submitting annual accounts to Companies House etc.) but also regulated by an independent CIC Regulator. The key difference between a CIC and a regular private limited company is that the assets of the CIC have to be used ‘for the benefit of the community’ and there is, as such, a limit to the financial returns investors (i.e. shareholders or members) can receive from their investments.

Not being charities, founders of CICs can (as is the case with private enterprise) both serve as a company Director and (company finances permitting) be remunerated for their work. However, speaking first hand as a former Non-Executive Board Member for a small CIC, there are quite a few drawbacks to this organisational setup. The most serious of these is that, as a relatively new kind of entity (CICs were established under the Companies (Audit, Investigations and Community Enterprise) Act 2004) many organisations – including public bodies such as local authorities – don’t seem to fully understand that a CIC is a not-for-profit entity, often treating them more like regular private limited companies. For example, there are automatic exemptions and discounts to charities liable for business rates that do not apply to CICs.

For these reasons I tend to advise those minded to set up new charitable or social enterprises to instead seek to establish a charity. I advise would-be social entrepreneurs to find other people to be their charity’s Trustees, with themselves instead taking on the position of CEO/Executive Director. This has the added benefit of allowing the possibility of remuneration for one’s work once the charity is established and, crucially, when doing so is both financially feasible and morally defensible in the judgement of an independent Board of Trustees.

Nevertheless, social entrepreneurs can be reluctant to follow this model on the grounds that formal control of the charity rests with its Board, of which they will technically not be a member. However, I would argue that would-be founders should view this dichotomy between Board and CEO/Executive Director as a good thing!

Firstly, in order to set up a charity you need at least three people to be Trustees – so if you are the sole founder having secured two volunteers to work with you as additional Trustees, you could still be outvoted anyway! It therefore makes little difference whether you are formally a member of the Board or not.

Secondly (and I say this from experience as the founder of my own enterprise dedicated to recruiting the very best talent for values-led organisations), entrepreneurs have to do an enormous amount of legwork just to establish the organisation, trying to get it off the ground and in a position to undertake the activities necessary for achieving the objectives they set for it; they are thus acting as a manager, not a governor.

The distinction between management and governance is oft written about at length, but it can be easily summarised with a simple example – that of schools. Schools have a Headteacher (their CEO/Executive Director) and a wider SMT whose job it is to manage the day-to-day education of local youngsters – everything from timetabling, to staffing matters, to student disciplinarians etc. The aptly-named Governors are their to hold the Headteacher to account, especially (but not limited to) use of financial resources and the continuing financial health of the school, as well as its educational outcomes (i.e. certificates and grades achieved by students, as well as students’ wider fitness to progress into employment or further study following their time at the school). The Headteacher will attend meetings of the Board of Governors, present reports, answer their questions, propose policies and strategies for their consideration and approval, and ultimately have to explain him/herself if the Governors aren’t happy with any aspect of the school’s performance or management.

This distinction between management and governance clarified then, one can easily see that entrepreneurs are (typically) working as executives and managers, not governors. Their rightful place is at the helm of the organisation as CEO/Executive Director; not one of several Trustees supervising a more disinterested person, simply in virtue of the fact that they themselves didn’t found it, who is managing the charity for them.

Lastly (and most importantly), entrepreneurs – regardless of whether they go on to take on the role of CEO/Executive Director or formally become a Trustee – simply can’t do it alone. This is because the role of independent governors in any organisation is absolutely critical to its success!

The mistake many entrepreneurs make (whether they be seeking to establish a charity / social enterprise or private business) is massively undervaluing the importance of having access to high-quality objective, slightly removed but still informed opinions and independent scrutiny regarding their activities, objectives, outcomes and performance. Even the Bill Gates’, Steve Jobs’ and Mark Zuckerberg’s of this world still get it wrong sometimes!

Remember that old adage: ‘you can’t see the wood for trees‘, well the more you invest everything you’ve got into a project the more likely that you will miss (what may even be fairly obvious) flaws in your aims and activities. Having trusted colleagues who have the intellectual ability, confidence, temperament, knowledge and experience to say ‘hold on, slow down – let’s rethink this‘ is absolutely essential for ensuring not only the essentials of good governance (i.e, sound finances, strong regulatory compliance, effect risk management etc.) but for the overall success of the organisation itself.

Consequently, it is of fundamental importance that Trustees not merely defer to a founder or CEO/Executive Director, but instead always exercise their independent judgement in protecting the interests of both funders and beneficiaries. One can see therefore that it is critical to have the right people serve on the Board of Trustees, not merely yes-men or Trustees in name only (those who like the Board-level title and perhaps want an entry on their CV, but without either the time or inclination to actually do the essential work required).

Of course identifying, engaging, onboarding and retaining excellent Trustees is a massive challenge in and of itself, quite separate from the myriad other concerns any organisation will have, regardless of whether it’s newly founded or more established. That is of course where people like me come in (i.e. recruitment and executive search consultants). We are here to help you find the best people for the job, addressing the talent search and engagement challenge with the experience and expertise necessary to get it right.

So, in summary. there is no excuse for breaking company law or breaching regulations, especially those related to a charity’s fiduciary duties. But that shouldn’t mean would-be social entrepreneurs have to feel overly constrained. By engaging good people to assist you on your social mission from the get-go: trusting them to be your watchful overseers whilst you embark on an incredible but challenging journey, listening to their advice, and above all accepting that you can’t do everything yourself no matter how talented, experienced, or qualified you may be; you can set yourself up for far greater success that might otherwise have been likely. And exactly the same goes for CEOs/Executive Directors of more established charitable and social enterprises seeking to lead their organisation into excellence.

Anyone interested in a free and confidential preliminary consultation regarding Trustee recruitment, or any other matter mentioned here, can contact me on 020 8133 4684 or via email at ED@accessambition.co.uk

Matt J. McLaren is the founder & Executive Director of Access Ambition Recruitment Services

Matt J. McLaren

10th May 2016

It’s our two year anniversary!

It has now been exactly two years and one day since I officially launched Access Ambition Recruitment Services, and what a ride it has been!

Firstly, I want to thank everyone for their fond wishes of success – both in recent days as we hit this milestone – and throughout these last two years. The support, encouragement, and trust of everyone from friends & family to clients & candidates has been hugely helpful and means a lot to me.

You may not believe it to look at us now, but when Access Ambition first started it consisted of just myself, a five-year old (and very slow) laptop, and a mobile phone! We were the very the picture of a new internet-era startup, operating on a shoestring budget, with myself having had precisely zero experience of running a business. The phrase “flying on a wing and prayer”comes to mind!

Indeed, the only reason we’ve enjoyed any success at all has been our clients’ willingness to trust in our ability to add value to their recruitment campaigns, and our candidates’ trust in our ability to represent their interests and enhance their career prospects.

It’s been a bumpy road for sure, with more than few disappointments along the way – and without a doubt still a lot of work to do before Access Ambition will fully resemble the vision I’ve had for it since the beginning – but, two years on I am more than happy with the progress we have made!

Now operating as a limited company with premises in the heart of the City of London, recruiting on behalf clients who are household names, and representing some of the finest and most talented candidates I have ever had the privilege of working with; there is no doubt in my mind that taking that bold (and very risky) decision back in April 2014 to leave my stable job with an award-winning and long-established consultancy to go out and work for myself was the right one.

So, you may now ask, what’s next? Well, in the coming weeks and months there will be yet more change and expansion. We are soon to launch our new, bespoke retained recruitment service, not to mention adding a new consultant or two to enhance our pool of recruitment expertise and experience (watch this space!)

For now, let me just say thank you again for all the support and encouragement so many have given me throughout this endeavour and, as ever, please do not hesitate to get in touch if myself or Access Ambition can be of any help to you now or in the future!

Matt J. McLaren is the Founder & Executive Director of Access Ambition Recruitment Services.

Matt J. McLaren

6th November 2015

Parliamentary Select Committee Quizzes Charity Commission on Fundraising and Kids Company

House of Commons Green LogoCharity Commission Chair William Shawcross gave evidence to Parliament’s Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) on Tuesday about fundraising practices in the sector as well as the Commission’s handling of concerns regarding the former charity Kids Company.

The PACAC session was focused on the self-regulation of charity fundraising, although Mr Shawcross and the Commission’s Director of Investigations, Monitoring and Enforcement, Ms Russell, were also asked about the regulator’s engagement with Kids Company following its high profile collapse earlier this year.

Mr Shawcross asserted that, prior to July 2015, the Commission had over recent years received only one substantive complaint about the charity. It seems concerns were raised with the Commission in October 2014 by a donor about Kids Company’s use of their donation. The Commission’s representatives at PACAC maintained that this was assessed carefully and taken up with the charity but that they ultimately determined there were no grounds for regulatory action or further intervention by the Commission.

The Commission also told the Committee that in July 2015 it acted within 24 hours after specific allegations of financial mismanagement were raised with it for the first time by 3 former employees (see this public statement made by the Commission).

As a result, the regulator insisted on a number of steps being taken by the Trustees and this work was ongoing when the charity closed on 5th August. On 20th August, the Commission opened a formal statutory inquiry to continue to investigate and put on the public record whether concerns about the administration, governance and financial management of the charity were true in light of the then increasing number of allegations in the media made about the charity’s governance and financial management, and to identify wider lessons for other charities and Trustees.

This was in line, Mr Shawcross maintained, with the Commission’s duty to promote public trust and confidence in charities. The Commission says it cannot comment further while the investigation is underway, but will publish a report once it has concluded, to set out its findings and conclusions. Reports of previous Commission inquiries are available on GOV.UK.

On the issue of charity fundraising, Mr Shawcross explained the Charity Commission’s limited role as fundraising activity is self-regulated, and that the recent review by Sir Stuart Etherington recommended that self-regulation should continue, albeit with some reforms.

Mr Shawcross made clear that the Commission does not have the funding or capacity to take on statutory regulation of fundraising. Mr Shawcross stressed that the Commission’s relationship with any new regulatory body will need to be clearly defined in order that both the public and charities are clear about the respective roles of the new regulatory body, the Commission, and other regulatory bodies.

The Commission is currently reviewing its guidance Charities and fundraising to ensure Trustees are clear about what the law and the Commission as regulator expects of them, on which it is set to consult publicly in due course.

Matt J. McLaren is the Founder & Executive Director of Access Ambition Recruitment Services.

Matt J. McLaren

29th October 2015

It’s almost Trustees’ Week!

OK, so you could perhaps be forgiven for being more exited about the Halloween party you’re going to at the weekend or the fireworks on display this time next week. Nevertheless, the yearly celebration of the contributions made by so many in what is often seen as a slightly dull and thankless role can and should also be a source of interest and, dare I say it, fun too!

In addition to being an opportunity to celebrate the contributions of so many volunteers willing to donate their time to help ensure good governance in some pretty vital organisations, Trustees’ Week is a chance to learn more about the role of Trustees and, perhaps, to explore the idea of contributing in this way yourself.

For my part, I have long had my eye on one particular organisation which I would love to get involved with and may just use this opportunity to initiate contact and see if I can be of any help to them, whether in this or any other way.

Speaking of which, there are of course plenty of other ways that you can volunteer for charitable causes if sitting round a board room table isn’t quite your thing – from the very hands on (such as helping out at a local day centre for people with learning disabilities) to the extremely remote (such as running a small charity’s Twitter or other social media feed from the comfort of your own bedroom).

Nonetheless, I do think that it is something of a real privilege to take on the role of a Trustee – the clue is in the name: you are being entrusted to be part of the ultimate decision making body for that charity, even holding the Chief Executive and senior management team to account. Essentially, though you may not have been elected by them, you are there to represent the interests of whatever group the charity exists to promote the welfare of, be they service users, an oft-overlooked group in society, or even animals (which of course have no voice of their own). For this reason, it is more than just a privilege but a solemn responsibility; one which, sadly, has come to be proven all the more serious by recent disasters detailed in the media, such as that involving Kids Company.

If you are interested in becoming a Trustee yourself then here at Access Ambition we might well be able to point you in the direction of some charities on the lookout for people with just your skillset. Similarly, if you are a small and growing organisation keen to find people with specific talents to bring to the Board then please don’t hesitate to get in touch. I am always happy to give my advice for free and, should you wish it, could even run a recruitment campaign for you for a very modest fee (very modest indeed given that Trustees are rightly volunteers and not paid staff). I can be reached on 020 8133 4684 or ED@accessambition.co.uk

Finally, if you are at all interested in learning more about the role of Trustees or would like to go to any of the events organised for Trustees’ Week next week, you may want to take a look the official website and blog for the occassion here: www.trusteesweek.blogspot.co.uk

Matt J. McLaren is the Founder & Executive Director of Access Ambition Recruitment Services.

Matt J. McLaren

5th August 2015

What’s to gain from engaging just ONE recruitment consultant?

lady-1580621-1599x1112

Much like anything, the world of recruitment is vast and varied. Recruitment consultants (and the agencies, consultancies, and outsourcing firms they work for) offer a plethora of different sourcing, search, and selection options – from the high-end discreet headhunting approach, to the mass advertising and screening of hundreds of CVs.

Broadly speaking, however, all recruitment campaigns fall into one of two categories: contingency recruitment or retained search.

Though often associated with higher-end roles, the defining attribute of a retained campaign is not the job role itself but rather the manner in which the campaign is financed by the employer. In short, with a retained search campaign a client will pay a consultant for their recruitment services up front, i.e. before a candidate (or candidates) are successfully hired. As such, retained search entails an element of exclusivity, as clients obviously do not want to pay more than one consulting firm to do the same job.

Nevertheless, the bread-and-butter of recruitment activity is not retained search, but rather contingency campaigns. Again these are not defined by job role (I have successfully recruited for Director and various other senior posts following our engagement by clients on a contingency basis). Put simply, contingency campaigns are the application of the “no win, no fee” approach to recruitment consultancy. With a contingency campaign, a client will usually agree a set fee with a consultant when engaging their services for a particular role (typically expressed as a percentage of the total salary accepted by the successful applicant), only to be invoiced in the event that the consultant is responsible for putting forward the particular candidate who is then eventually hired.

The benefits to clients of contingency recruitment campaigns are fairly obvious – you get all the benefits of the consultants’ skills in seeking, identifying, screening, and assessing potential candidates, as well as access to their considerable networks of talent, and do so with almost no financial risk (i.e. at most you only end up paying for access to one consultant’s skills & network, and only if they are successful in finding you someone you actually then go on to hire!)

This lack of financial risk, however, often leads to clients engaging the services of more than recruitment consultant. In fact it is fairly standard for hiring managers and/or HR leads to send jobs to at least three agencies simultaneously, as well as perhaps engaging further consultants at later stages. From the client’s point of view, this seems to be what our friends across the pond call a “no-brainer”. The thought process no doubt goes something like this: if you don’t have to pay for the services of more than one but can engage the services of all, why on Earth wouldn’t you?!

Well that is indeed a very good question, and the ultimate point of this article. What on Earth can you gain by engaging just ONE consultant? The answer, rather surprisingly, is actually quite a lot. Specifically, you can:

  1. Ensure competition for the role is based entirely on the quality of candidates rather than the time it takes to find merely apparently suitable people
  2. Ensure sincere, consistent, and responsive commitment from consultants to the whole recruitment process, from the initial identification of needs to the successful candidate’s first day and beyond
  3. Lower your recruitment fees as consultants are generally willing to work at lower rates when there is a much higher likelihood of a return on their investment

1. Competing on quality, not time!

There is a very big difference between competing on time and competing on quality. If you are looking to get a role filled ASAP come-what-may, and it really doesn’t matter that much whether the candidate eventually hired is a proper match to the requirements of the job, then engaging several agencies might well be the way to go. They will each, knowing that they are competing against one another, seek to send you suitable CVs ASAP and (I’m sorry to say, since I’ve unfortunately observed it myself elsewhere) they might well be tempted to cut-corners in terms of proper pre-screening of candidates etc. in order to get their CVs over to you first.

It stands to reason that this is very far from the ideal situation. It can often lead to clients interviewing candidates only to find that they are not at all what they expected or wanted from interviewees, no doubt leaving them curious as to why the consultant did not pick up on this prior to representing the candidate – we are rightly expected to know the real candidate that lies beneath the warm words of the CV! Worse still, it can even lead to the hiring of a candidate who is perhaps on paper a good match but not at all the right fit for the organisation. This inevitably leads either to the candidate voluntarily deciding to move on fairly quickly or, failing that, perhaps being asked to go eventually, and usually by the very same people who were in a rush to hire them in the first place!

Quite frankly, the more important a role is to your organisation (and surely the only reason for wanting it filled ASAP is its integral nature to your ongoing operations), then the more care should be taken in ensuring that the right person is hired to the role, even if that takes a little more time. Shipping out a job description to multiple agencies by email in no way helps make this more likely. Instead, sitting down with a consultant face to face to discuss in detail exactly what you are looking for and what kind of person would be the best fit, beyond the mere black and white of the person specification, will do wonders for ensuring that every candidate recommended for interview by us is not only someone who you really do want to meet, but someone who, if hired, would be worthy of your investment over the long term.

2. Getting sincere, consistent, and responsive commitment from consultants to the entire recruitment process, from end-to-end

Secondly, when you seek help from an outside consultant it’s important to ensure that this consultant is as committed to servicing your needs as you are to having them met. Recruitment consultants are usually working on behalf of several different clients for many different jobs simultaneously. It stands to reason that the amount of time and commitment we can therefore invest in servicing any one job is always dependent on the likely return on investment for that job versus others. This likely return is automatically reduced once a client assigns the role to other agencies, rendering it immediately (at least slightly) less of a priority for us.

Conversely, if a client gives us the role to work on exclusively, the likelihood of a significant return on our investment becomes much higher. If we know that we are almost guaranteed (barring any unforeseen fantastic direct or internal applications) to place someone in that role, then we are able to commit significantly more time and resources into identifying the best candidate for the job. Indeed, when I am the sole consultant working on a role, I will not to represent a candidate to it unless and until I have not only met and interviewed them myself in person myself, but already received satisfactory references from recent employers (or at the very least character referees).

It goes without saying that consultants would always love to dedicate equal amounts of time, energy, and commitment to every job role for every client; but the reality of having finite resources at our disposal makes that impossible. By choosing one consultant who has already demonstrated consistent value to your organisation to work on your behalf, you at least guarantee that your job is their top priority no matter how busy they might otherwise be.

Put another way, by assigning a role to three agencies you might get at best 25% effort from three consultants depending on their other commitments, whereas by commissioning just one consultant to work on your behalf you guarantee at least 90% (if not 100%) commitment from them end-to-end, throughout the entire recruitment process.

3. Lower fees!

As I’ve already highlighted, consultants’ decisions regarding jobs they are servicing on a contingency basis are always guided by their assessment as to the likelihood of a return on their investment. It stands to reason, therefore, that when you are discussing the thorny issue of fees, you can get a much better deal by working with only one consultant.

Some agencies do explicit exclusivity discounts (though these often require the client to also not advertise the role themselves directly, something I personally would never insist on given the fact that we are supposed to be adding-value to the recruitment process and not tying clients’ hands behind their back!) Others, such as Access Ambition – my own recruitment consultancy – adopt a more bespoke approach, tailoring the fees to each client according to their other recruitment methods, the relative importance or seniority of the role, and their individual budgetary constraints.

Nevertheless, whatever the individual policy of the particular agency, any sensible consultant will always be happy to agree a more competitive fee arrangement if you are willing to work with them on an exclusive basis for that role.

In conclusion, when it comes to recruitment campaigns employers really can (and certainly should) have their cake and eat it! By engaging a single recruitment consultancy on an exclusive but contingency basis, you get the minimal financial risk associated with contingency campaigns along with the absolute commitment to candidate quality, excellent client service, and end-to-end support traditionally associated with retained search. And to top it all, you can do so whilst lowering your recruitment fees! If you haven’t yet had a conversation with your consultant about working with them exclusively, why not? And remember, if you’re not sure which consultant to choose, I am always happy to provide further tips and advice on what to look out for in good recruitment consultants. Just give me a call on 020 8133 4684 or email ED@accessambition.co.uk

Matt J. McLaren is the Founder & Executive Director of Access Ambition Recruitment Services.

Matt J. McLaren

7th July 2014

The great two-page CV myth!

CVIf I had to single out the most prolific misconception among candidates whom I have registered over the years it would be this: that a CV should never exceed two-pages. I imagine this rule originated as well-intentioned guidance for those candidates who have a tendency to over-share on their resumés – listing every single mind-numbing chore they’ve ever had the misfortune of having to do in every job from their teenage daily paper-round right through to their current management position.

Clearly this is no way to go about marketing yourself to potential employers (though it is still, despite the wide dissemination of the two-page rule, more common than one might think). But then again, neither is it appropriate to stick to an arbitrary limit as if it were some kind of state-mandated requirement. In fact, it might surprise you to learn that my own current CV runs to just over three pages (yes, I still keep one – as should everyone irrespective of what your current situation is and whether you are actively looking for new opportunities, after all you never know when that dream job is going to fall into your lap or an exciting opportunity you never even imagined comes your way.)

Of course my own CV length, as everyone’s ought to be, is something of a generalisation: if and when I will actually use it (to apply for a Trustee position, for example) it will be tailored to the specific application in question with details which are less relevant limited to a minimum (such as the time in my early twenties spent working for South West Trains at a barrier gate) whilst more salient experience (my current position as a Board member of a small non-profit or the details of my time spent serving on my College’s Board of Governors, to continue the example) will be fleshed out in far more detail than might otherwise be the case.

And that is the key to judging how long your CV should be and what the right level of detail to include is: how much relevant experience do you actually have and what level of detail is required to make clear the character of this experience and it’s relevance to the role for which you are now applying.

As a recruitment consultant who routinely looks over a high volume of applications for a single position (and usually with only limited time available), you might imagine that I would rather like CVs which stick to the two-page rule. The less detail you have to trawl though the quicker it is to review all those applications, right?! Wrong! Most recruiters, including myself, rarely read the entirety of a CV anyway. Instead we look for the hallmarks of the kind of key experience and skills that we are seeking and only when we think we have found them do we delve into the detail to confirm this.

The problem with the two-page CV myth is that it frequently puts undue pressure on otherwise exceptionally talented and experienced candidates to not include a sufficient level of detail so as to confirm their brilliance. As a result, mediocrity appears ubiquitous and it can become hard to tell one CV from any other in a pool containing hundreds.

Nevertheless, I am no fan of criticism without constructive suggestion for improvement. So, if not the two-page rule, what should candidates who have a tendency to be too verbose do so as to not scupper their chances. I have three concrete suggestions for you:

1. Embrace the ‘Personal Profile’

This is a short paragraph (no more than five or so lines in readable font size) at the very top of your CV which sets out the context of your application.

Lacking any obvious place to talk about their personality, candidates often fall into the trap of listing such gems as ‘outgoing, personable, fun-loving’ etc. Whilst personality adjectives can be included these should only be to highlight your traits as an excellent candidate for employment, for example ‘a passionate advocate determined to get results for those unable to speak for themselves’. Here ‘passionate’ and ‘determined’ are used, but in a way which not only links to the application you are making but goes towards explaining your motivation for doing the job in hand.

More importantly, though, try to use this space to create a narrative for your application. Most people’s career histories include a collection of jobs they did out of necessity at the time, strategic moves to enhance their career or career potential, and other extra-vocational experience which they have done of their own free volition which may or may not imbue them with additional transferable skills. Without a clear narrative explaining the motivation or strategy behind some of these moves, your career history can therefore appear confused and/or incoherent. Nevertheless, remember you only have a few lines so it is important to be concise. Using brief phrases like ‘having acquired the private sector experience I was seeking I moved on to…’ or ‘upon being presented with a new opportunity I just could not refuse I’ do quite a lot to explain moves which might otherwise appear confused or questionable.

Finally, since whatever else they may or may not read, almost every recruiter will read your personal profile in its entirety, it provides you with an opportunity to point to details further down the page which you want them to take note of, for example by mentioning a particular job title or career achievements. Whilst you should not go into detail here (that is what the rest of the CV is for) think of it like the first page of a novel – your objective is to whet the recruiter’s appetite and get them to continue reading.

2. List Notable Achievements for Every Job

I admit it may be difficult to find some key achievements to list for your time working in silver service during your student years. Nevertheless, if it’s a job like this where you can’t find any any achievements to list, is including it on your CV in the first place really going to help your application? I’m not saying that it shouldn’t be there per se, there are no doubt some employers which would look favourably on those who worked their way through university to minimise their later debt for example; but then surely this should be listed as an achievement, i.e. completing a degree whilst working x number of hours a week and having lowered your student debt by y much as a result.

In short, simply providing details of your job description or duties is not good enough. Neither is having a separate section for achievements in general. You should demonstrate achievements for every job which is relevant to your application, thereby demonstrating how you have added value to each of your (relevant) employers.

3. Be Ruthless in Content Management

The two-page CV myth might just work after all if, and only if, those applying it did not still try to include everything on their CV. The result of this is an incredibly generic CV which has a whole host of jobs and qualifications without much detail about any of them or the candidates’ achievements in those jobs.

Instead, however many pages your CV runs to, you should ensure brevity and concision by being absolutely ruthless about what jobs, experience, and qualifications etc. you detail therein. Ask yourself the question: ‘will including this really make me seem more employable to recruiters?’ Ask yourself that question repeatedly with respect to everything you currently list and take out anything to which the answer is ‘no’. You might then find that a current two-page CV goes down to three-quarters of a page. But that is your opportunity to add in detail for those few small things which really do help your application – and include everything which is potentially relevant and demonstrates transferable skills, especially your achievements.

A small note of warning here – gaps in CVs are not desirable either, largely because the recruiter is seeking to understand your overall narrative. You may therefore still need to list actual job titles to plug gaps, but in doing this you should be mindful that the objective is only to contribute to that narrative and not to explain everything about your time in these roles. A good rule of thumb is to use the minimal amount of page-space you can possibly get away with to list these non-relevant jobs.

In conclusion then, don’t stick to arbitrary page limits, two-pages or any other number, but do rigorously test the relevance of everything on your CV to the application you are making. Weave a web of motivation, direction, and strategy through your CV, utilising your personal profile; and sell yourself as capable of achieving the results employers want to see by detailing your achievements per role to date. This is not a recipe for success in itself, since your suitability for any job will always come down to the person you are and the experience you have irrespective of what appears on your CV and in what format; but it might just help you open a few more doors for yourself so that you can demonstrate at interview how you are the right person for the job.

Matt J. McLaren is the Founder & Executive Director of Access Ambition Recruitment Services.

Matt J. McLaren

20th June 2014

Embracing longer-term thinking when recruiting

The long road to success

You find yourself needing a new Head of Communications, or Public Affairs Officer, or even a basic Office Assistant. What do you? Generally speaking you advertise the vacancy (perhaps to the annoyance of recruitment consultants like myself who may be able to deliver quality candidates more quickly and do not charge unless we’re successful in doing this, but that’s a post for another day!)

Depending on where you advertise the vacancy and the nature of the role, you could end up with hundreds of applications. What do you do with all these applications? Do you read and reply to each one individually? Do you have an autoreply and then only get in touch with the ones you later wish to take forward? How do you screen through the myriad CVs and covering letters received to anything like a sufficient standard in the limited time you have available? All excellent questions which most organisations, including some recruitment consultancies, don’t spend enough time thinking about.

On the whole, people associate a high-volume of applications with more junior-level posts, with the assumption that the majority are not well-suited for the role. But don’t be fooled! By way of example, late last year I advertised a Director of Operations & Deputy CEO position for a mid-size charity on a leading job board and received in excess of 200 applications. What was interesting, however, was that (unlike when we advertised junior posts on the same job board and got high volume but nonetheless lower quality applications) in this case the vast majority of applicants were people who, even if not suitable for this particular vacancy, had an array of useful and interesting experience and were extremely good candidates. In short, almost all of those whom applied were people that myself and/or my fellow recruitment consultants should have been staying in touch with.

And therein lies the rub! Every time an organisation advertises a vacancy, the hirers (especially Line Managers but even HR can be guilty of this as well) too often focus only on the particular requirements of the specific vacancies which they are currently seeking to fill. Now, of course this is understandable, even desirable with regards to an urgent vacancy with limited time to work on it. But, as with all things, taking a slightly more longer-term view might just be beneficial as well.

Those people who have taken the time to apply for your vacancy clearly:

(a) have an interest in working for your organisation;

(b) have invested the time it takes to complete and send in an application; and

(c) are, to a greater or lesser extent, reasonably confident that they would fit in with your organisation’s culture and ethos, doing something like the job which you have advertised.

Those three things are attributes to pay attention to when found in any individual, and are not to be underestimated. So, the next time you advertise a vacancy and get inundated with applications, within the bounds of practicality and efficiency, perhaps try to spend a little more time on the applications evaluating which ones not only meet your immediate requirements but also might perhaps be useful in the future too.

Perhaps consider having a very basic database or mailing list of those people whom have previously applied and whom you thought might be of interest for the future. You could then make your first approach to these candidates when new vacancies arise, perhaps even eliminating the need to advertise. Perhaps talk to the best non-shortlisted candidates on the phone, explaining how they do not meet the requirements, and getting to know them a little better allowing you to shortlist much quicker next time.

Remember, recruitment is not rocket-science, however much recruitment consultants may sometimes try to market it as such. At the end of the day, it just comes down to knowing enough people with the right skill-sets and experience with the ability to discern from among them who is the best person for any given job. Anything you can do to make your life easier in that regard ought then to be embraced.

Finally, remember too that using a quality recruitment consultant whom can be trusted to well-represent you, your organisation, and your brand to both the active and passive candidate markets can make the world of difference in finding the right people and fostering future interest from talented individuals.

Matt J. McLaren is the Founder & Executive Director of Access Ambition Recruitment Services. Matt first published this article on LinkedIn here.