Talent Management; Graduates your simple guide to assessment centres

25 05 2011

I  have been very busy in recent months assisting a client select young talent for its prestigious leadership programme.  Given that the programme provides a fantastic opportunity for accelerated development and global experience , they set their bar high and rightly so. Our intervention is helping them design and delivery a really robust assessment process. So why the guide? Well I am not going to divulge the secrets of the centre, that would be way too helpful.. but given that the client, a very forward thinking organisation in many ways who  provides each candidate telephone feedback regardless of their success or not, it never fails to surprise me how little applicants know about making a good account of themselves. I am sure there are many I talk to who are hearing for the first time what I consider to be the essentials of applying for a post, not secrets but simple guides to success… so here they are:

1 Do not arrive for an interview without researching the company – this is an insult to the employer and shows lack of interest, drive and motivation to join. Think research not just google.

Dress to impress – not necessarily a suit, but not jeans and trainers, smart is the watch word – unless you are applying to a fashion house or some creative agency who might be impressed by your ‘creative’ streak.  Blue chips on the whole are conservative about what you wear. Dirty shoes show a lack of care for yourself, why would they risk you with a customer?

3 Pay attention to how you look – stubble is cool in the bar, not in the interview ( shows a lack respect ), hair should be under control at least and pony tails look good on ponies and  younger women… maybe at Glastonbury but not in an interview.

4 Questions at interview – please think about what your strengths and weaknesses are  before you get there so you are not surprised or unable to respond. Most good assessment has CBI interviews, based on specific competencies – being artfully vague, giving general answers or being impressive with rehearsed best interview answers volume one will get you no where quickly. Being perfect is not what most companies are looking for or believe, be prepared to show you have self-awareness and can be open about your development needs.  If you are asked a fair question, be prepared to answer it, most good employers will use structured interviews, the days of ” sell me this pencil”  egotistical managers are dead. Recently when asking a candidate where else they had applied, they replied that they thought this was an unfair question. If you are unwilling to share  who else you are applying to with a potential employer ( if you are at an assessment centre they are already spending serious money on you) then why would they feel you are a good hire? There may be places for secrets but not in the interview that is trying to assess how serious you are as a candiate.

5 Analysis exercises – these are there to let you show how smart you are – don’t waste the opportunity by being too big on style and low on content, which in an analysis exercise is arguments based on facts or good ideas.  All fur coat and no knickers as we say in Yorkshire is not good, being all presentation and no content and its not using the opportunity well. Don’t avoid calculations and don’t avoid making a decision, the two biggest faults in many exercises.

6 Group exercises – the clue is in the title, they are designed to see you work in a group  – similar to how you will work in most of your career. So show what you can do. Not all roles are leadership, there are plenty of ways of impressing an employer without having to be in control. Basics, speak … no contribution  is no good, intermediate…. speak up and have some ideas,  better still take a real part and engage others while you solve whatever task you have been given. Yes it’s, competitive and difficult but it also gives you another excellent chance to shine with others.

7 Focus on the roles you want to do– so apply for the industry, the function and the specialist that interests you. Saying you are flexible and can do anything , will try anything, is a sure way to show you have not really considered you career seriously. Do so now, before you apply.

7 tips to make a good impression, to show your skills and experience and to make a good account of yourself. If an employer has taken the time , effort and money to create an assessment process to show you to your best ability don’t waste it – don’t regret your performance  on the flight back home.

You may think this is a conservative view…. for conservative read experienced, as most of your assessors will be. When you are being assessed by 20 something’s with stubble and ponytails then please ignore this advice, but reality is, if you want a leadership fast track career then you need to behave like a leadership potential talent from the minute you engage in the process and the people they trust to select will be experienced.
I would wish graduates good luck… but if they are good it’s not a matter of luck, its a matter of performance on the day and preperation before hand.


Talent and Performance – how strategic does it need to get ?

7 06 2010

Again I am thinking how easy it must be to select the wrong people for strategic roles. Why do I say so? Well it seems to happen so often or more often we allow people to be promoted into strategic roles whilst they are not capable of doing them.  Is this sooooo important? It seems not in many organisations where the rush to fill the gap is more important than the effort put into getting the right person to do the role.  I find this ‘talent sabotage’ process a real issue in many client organizations, either because of pressure from line to fill roles or because of lack of foresight and insight into the damage this does. We are damaging our own companies success by not addressing the issue.

Imagine if you will a sales and marketing dominated company ( say a fmcg or a consumer facing company)  appointing / recently or sometime in the past  – a person of average ability into their sales and marketing head role. So a strategically important role being filled by an average player. Their business success depends on getting more market share, better margins and more awareness of their offer than their competitors but they fill it, for convenience, misplaced loyalty to some long time-server, or just plain inability to select, with an average performer. When their business suffers they look for structural or product or marketplace solutions. Wrong !! Talent in organizations drives performance – right person, right role , right time. Get this wrong and you can spend a fortune on consultants telling you how to change your offer and re-engineer your processes etc, when the problem is the people.

Would you like to undergo a major piece of surgery and be told (or find out later) , that the surgeon is the best they could get, not the best there was? I would like to think that business is the same – minimise the risk of failure – it’s not life or death but the  principle applies all the same.

Talent – the missing generation?

20 01 2010

Recently talking to one of my clients I found an interesting attitude relating to talent and particularly graduates. It seems earlier in the year when graduate recruitment was discussed there was a clear indication from the business, that they needed top quality graduates. Being an engineering company they were normally in tough competition with the other top companies for the dwindling supply of really good engineering gradutes. So all good for this last year with a mandate from the business heads to recruit and a potentially eager pool of graduates to select from, and some really being realistic about their employers offer – all was good in the world.

So what happened? Well it seems lots of internal politics, some over estimation of the ease of doing the process themselves,  lack of understanding of the graduate market place and possibly some apathy from staff. So the company will not recruit this year for the first time in many year- and NOT because of lack of need but lack of focus ! The people tasked with the process dropped the ball, missed the boat, lost the plot and failed to get a scheme together in time to recruit even when the go was given in August.

Why the missing generation? Well not only will there be no 2010 cohort to fill existing needs, but there will be a follow on effect in the university’s they recruit from, the lack of 2010 intake means less presence in the minds of the campus, less word of mouth contact as graduates go through the process of gettting a job they talk about it to friends, mainly others on their course or in their discipline… free PR.  Also internally the lack of graduates can send a signal to others in the professional ranks, thin end of the wedge… not taking on the talent for the first time in years… should I jump before I am pushed?

Now I am not saying recruit in all cases regardless of the economy… not at all… but when the buisness ok’s a  budget for it, analysed the need and agreed they had one, when the market is already tough ( engineers are hard to recruit normally) and when the buisines is doing well !! Now that is madness and there will be a missed generation of future talent who have gone to the competition..hey ho.

The paradox of power – giving leadership away

24 11 2009

Today I have been thinking about how leaders get use power – both explicitly and also unwittingly – to get results they didn’t want.  Let me explain, one of the groups I have been working with is a pharma company talent pool. In exploring leadership with then they shared the company history and the fact that this is a family owned business where the family head is still the hands on leader of the firm. However, the Hr head says that the purpose of the workshops is to devolve leadership power into the lower levels of the organisation. So the will from the top is for others to do more leadership  and take initiative.  What also emerged in the discussion was that the family head longed to be challenged more by his team but that they rarely did so. This is not in any way  unique to this organisation, a similar issue exists in a couple  of my other clients organisations.

So how has this disconnect happened? The leadership talent are looking and shying away from the family head, who really wants to be challenged and give leadership away, but every time they discuss the idea of challenging, revert to their own  need to have strong leadership from the top. The real paradox is that real leadership comes from creating the empowering conditions that allows people to challenge, to feel comfortable in dissent, to take on responsibility and to step into the space that letting go creates.

Good intentions can get derailed by history and habits.  If this family head, a capable entrepreneurial leader, really wants to grow his leaders, he need to let them struggle with creating direction, in the absence of it from him. Jumping in too soon to solve the issues creates some level of dependency and challenging the saviour is not going to happen. Where strategies and directions have always come from the man on the mountain, there is little incentive to learn to climb – these leaders need to start to take actions themselves and discover that leadership comes with a responsibility to set agenda not just follow them and that at times that is uncomfortable.

Talent, graduates and future managers – a word of advice.

15 09 2009

This is the time of year when big employers and last year undergraduates start to pay real attention to the task of hiring.  It seems this year there are more people chasing fewer genuine professional graduate roles than ever before.  What does this mean for both parties; the employer who is seeing larger numbers of applicants all apparently fulfilling their criteria, and for the graduates who are all trying to make themselves stand out from the masses.

Well for employers this is a good time to be in the market for talent. However to cut down disappointment and ensure your talent search really  give you a return,  you must be clear what you are looking for.  Obvious I know, but alas so many employers are using out of date profiles for their talent search, or at best looking for the same sort of people they did last year.  In a market of unlimited choice, such as now, its pays to be really specific in what you are looking for, and getting a system in place to market specifically to that target group and have  an assessment method that REALLY differentiates the good from the average, and the excellent from the mere good.

Here’s the trick, do some analysis of the best performers in your last cohort, and the one or two before that. What makes them distinct from the average performers? D o the same for the more disappointing hires from the same time frame.  Compare the competencies from the distinctly good and those from those that disappoint – there will be a difference and if your smart you can construct on line or mass methodology question sets to find more of the same or better.

Now what about graduates – how do you get noticed and get to the interview?  Step one, realise who has the power here – it’s not you !  When you are applying online to a scheme with an employer and they ask lots of “dumb”  questions that are all contained in your generic cv –  realise that the 2 hours a good online application takes is the first hurdle and if they ask you to outline your biggest strength again,  theres a reason, if they ask you to tell them about your biggest disappointment, theres a reason ( they might even be smart questions in the right format). Failure to pay attention here and writing in ” see cv ” is instant nil point.  On average a screened by human application gets 20 seconds of attention before the next one, online automated , milliseconds, so do as asked is point one.

Now I know, I have a son just gone through this, that the response from many graduates is, this is my final year, I am so busy, there are exams you know, its mad taking so much time over one application – THIS IS TH E REAL WORLD, the point being, if you cannot manage your time,  priorities, and social life to do real justice to the application then do not apply.  The application form is the first test of your conviction , your ability to do as asked.

Secondly if you get to the telephone interview, a common second cut, have some prep done before the call. What do I mean, well this is the MINIMUM:

Research the company web site

Know who their biggest competitors are

Know what their mission statement says, not memorize but understand what is important to them

Know the competencies they are looking for and have some examples ( not as hard as it sounds, most are shown on the careers page, how to apply page or in the more about us section of websites)

Have some note paper to jot things down and have a pen ready!

As a regular consultant with companies recruiting graduates and as a past manager of graduate programmes I am still shocked at how many graduates won’t do the minimum when preparing for interview and the moan about companies not getting back to them quickly.  I think that the good graduates will succeed, and good is well rounded, hard working and those that realise this is a game and the rules are set by the employer – to win you have to play the rules and prepare and train hard to shine.

Good luck this year to all those who are looking for the best, and to the best  – you don’t need luck, just preparation.

Plan to leave – providing credible succession

6 01 2008

When our climb up the slippery career pole has been successful the last thing on our minds is succession. Getting to the top is hard, and the view is to be savoured…isn’t it? The problem is that without thinking ahead about who is going to fill your place, you cannot realistically be promoted any further – or if you have the top job already in the organizatoin, leave with grace for a bigger role in another organization.

Succession is something that we should consider sometime at the start of our tenure in a role as a leader. If you have it in mind, at least on the agenda of things to think about, then you can mentally and in real time test out potential talent in your team for future roles – yours or other promotions. If they don’t meet expectations, then all is not lost, try someone else out, with low risks. If you leave it all until the month or two before you leave you may chose with haste and have time to regret your actions.

 If you recruit or attract internally a talented team then getting them noticed and promotion their competence is something that a leader should always do. Your own reputation will be enhanced as you become known internally as a talent magnet, and someone who can and does provide talent development for the bigger organization. If you select and develop your team well then your successor should and could come from your own team. If you are really good at developing capability then your team will become successors for leaders with less abiltiy to develop thier own successors – all in all not a bad place to be. Think great I ‘ve got a new challenge, a great new job, …. who could I develop to do it when I leave.