Category Archives: – Recruitment

Bullsh*tters Need Not Apply – Part 2

CV Lies

Having banged on about how too many sales people are let out into the field without adequate training, I’ve also long felt that our managers are untrained in recruitment. Sure, at the end of the day it usually comes down to 3 basic questions:

– Can the applicant do the job?
– If offered, would they take the job?
– Will they fit in?

But, prior to any interviews will be at least one shortlist and this will be down to CVs. Even if HR are involved, the CV and/or application form will be the basis of interview questions.

The most immediate advice I can give is for directors to instruct any managers who are recruiting to put some serious time into looking at CVs: marking them up with notes, queries and questions to ask. Tell them to be aware of anything which ‘just doesn’t look right’. Secondly, it should go without saying that if particular qualifications are essential for the job they must be checked. Finally, in keeping with the best sales technique interviewers should ask open-ended questions (ie questions beginning with who? what? where? when? who? which? or why?) These will enable the nervous-but-honest to open up and talk about their experience – but make it harder for liars to lie. In short, a closed question can be batted away easily by the bluffer with just one word – “yes” or “no”. The burden then quickly falls back onto the interviewer to ask another question giving the liar valuable time to coolly prepare himself. Instead, asking a question such as “In what way did your responsibilities change in your eight years with British Airways?” will make it far harder for the liar to answer convincingly, because it requires a more detailed answer. If (s)he is genuine – and any good as a potential candidate – they will explain what they did during that time, giving you useful information in understanding how that experience is relevant to the vacancy in mind. Following with further open-ended questions will continue to pin down the bluffer.

Recruiting new people always carries some risk. Entrusting your company’s sales to someone without basic checking and unprepared interviewing can be foolhardy. To quote Albert Einstein, “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with the truth in important matters.” However, business owners can’t be expected (nor will they want to) to micromanage every vacancy which comes up in their organisation, but they can – and should – alert their management team to the fact that a significant number of applicants are happy to present themselves less than truthfully.

 

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Bullsh*tters Need Not Apply – Part 1

CV Lies 1

At its broadest, sales is a chain of relationships based on trust. A company places trust in its salespeople to sell its goods or services persuasively and professionally, with relevant departments meeting orders accurately. In turn, salespeople need to trust their company: that the orders they’ve sold will be fulfilled according to what they presented; that they will be paid their salary and any commission due. Both salesperson and employer need to trust that the customer will honour payment on time. Meanwhile, customers will have based their buying decision on information and/or technical data given by the salesperson; they will trust that any promises, special requirements or other expectations are fully met.

Last month, HR Review published an article – ‘The 7 Most Common CV Lies’ – and it struck me just what a breach of trust it is when someone applies for a sales vacancy on a false basis; the sales function is too important to be put into the hands of deceivers. There cannot be many employers who would knowingly allow their product to be sold by someone who fabricated their qualifications or experience. After all, if someone has already lied about themselves, undetected, to a new employer, what kind of standards are they going to apply when dealing with prospects and customers?

These are the seven most common lies – according to employers – which HR Review listed:

1.  Embellished skills set (57%)

2.  Embellished responsibilities (57%)

3.  Dates of employment (40%)

4.  Job title (36%)

5.  Companies worked for (32%)

6.  Academic degree (27%)

7.  Awards/recognitions (15%)

To any employer who never thought about questioning the veracity of a CV claim before, this list will make sobering reading. For the more experienced, it’s a reminder not be too complacent when assessing candidates.

Although I did raise an eyebrow at number 5 (of which more later), I wasn’t surprised by the list. There has always been a minority who embellish their credentials and/or who are economical with the truth. However, recent years have seen a tough job market and while sales jobs are usually plentiful, good sales jobs have been scarce. There’s a generation of young people who have never known a buoyant job market and in order to stand out, some are falling to the temptation to exaggerate. At the opposite end of the experience scale, some senior applicants will ‘reinvent’ aspects of their history in an attempt to improve their chances in a market which seems to favour the young and cheap.

HR Review’s survey also found that 41% of employers would automatically dismiss a candidate caught lying on a CV, while 52% said this would depend on what the actual lie was about.  Having thought carefully about this, there may be circumstances where a slip in ‘employment dates’ (at number 3 – 40%) could be excused, but to my mind the last three are indisputable grounds for rejection, with number 5 – ‘companies worked for’ (one in three have lied) an absolute no-no. By extension, somebody making up a company name is also likely to lie about their job title and the responsibilities they held there. And what about timescale and dates?  Whether a salesperson is working in an entry-level role, or is responsible for hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of business they are expected to act honestly and professionally.  Unfortunately, all too often I hear of dismissals for falsifying orders or because extreme claims were made in sales pitches. I used to say that it’s the 99% dishonest salespeople who give the rest of us a bad name, but then we had disgraced bankers and I thought it wise to drop the joke. As I’ve written before, working in sales is nothing to be ashamed of; it’s an essential role.  In the words of the great Richard Denny: “Nothing happens anywhere in the world until a sale takes place. And salespeople bring in the money that everyone else can eventually live off.”

So what can we do?

In the next part I will be offering some suggestions for how to minimise the risk of hiring people who are less than honest.

 

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Sales Recruitment: Some Thoughts – Part 3

Merry go Round-B&W and Lilac

While we can never stop people looking for pastures new, employers should be doing all they can to minimise the likelihood of itchy feet among their staff. Predictably, better pay and bonus schemes are the causes most often cited by sales people for leaving but the reasons for staying never seem to get much exposure. I wonder why. Because bad news make better headlines, perhaps? Teams which, by and large, get on well with one another, who respect their line-manager and fellow colleagues are not as rare as after-work pub gossip would have us believe. Not surprisingly, in my largely peripatetic role I get to see and experience work environments which range from the genuinely positive to the downright negative, and it doesn’t take an in-depth academic study to recognise the ones where people are more likely to stay in their job for its own enjoyment, sense of purpose and the contribution it makes.

In-depth studies, however, do blame a variety of reasons why employees quit their job on employers. Aspects of the work environment, its culture, and how an employee perceives his/her job and its potential opportunities are commonly observed factors that the employer has failed to maximise or address.

Where studies have made recommendations, the majority advise organisations to tap into what their employees are thinking. Now, nobody is asking bosses to become mind readers – or to be best friends with their staff. But if management are to get the best out of their people, communication channels need to exist and to be open, clear, and two-way. But this also means that staff should take the initiative too. It’s a well-worn joke among HR managers that in any ‘exit interview’ departing employees will commonly moan “No one motivated me… No one gave me any responsibility… No one asked me to apply for the promotion… No one ever…” The list runs on and on. Of course, a good HR will gently point out, er, excuse me, but didn’t you – ie the employee – ever think to talk to your manager…?

Of course by this stage it’s too late. Any respect one side may have had for the other will by now have evaporated. Even if there is a new job to go to, at such times employees tend to feel aggrieved and/or disillusioned, while the employer simply wants them out as quickly as possible. What a pity when I think of the huge amounts of goodwill and enthusiasm both parties once had when the job offer was made and accepted.

Not for the first time or the last time either.

Because all this is another aspect of what I call The Recruitment Merry-go-Round; the one which keeps HR, recruitment consultants and headhunters in clover. (I’m sure there’s a joke in there somewhere about free passengers.) Only for the employer it never really ends all that merrily, does it? However large or small the organisation, recruitment costs are a drain on the bottom line. Every business should make every effort to learn something from such experiences and slow down the ride.

 

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Law Update: Is a repayment provision in a contract of employment an unenforceable penalty?

Scales of Justice 2

Employment contracts may sometimes require an employee to pay back the costs of, for example, training – if he or she leaves the company. In the second of her legal updates, our guest blogger Andrea London of Rosenblatt Solicitors takes a look at how enforceable such provisions actually are…

Background

In response to ever-increasing recruitment costs as well as to remain competitive, many employers are investing in developing their employees’ skills. This has led to a marked increase in the use of ‘repayment’ clauses in contracts of employment. While employers want to have the best and well-trained staff, they don’t want to be left “high and dry” if an employee leaves to join a competitor shortly after a long recruitment process or just after any employer-funded training is completed. However, some repayment clauses are drafted with a heavy hand, and are overly onerous on the employee. Not surprisingly, employees often seek to circumvent any burdensome repayment clauses by alleging that they are a ‘penalty’ clause and so, unenforceable. This, in turn, can lead to a prior repayment becoming a claim by the employee for an unlawful deduction from wages.

The enforceability of such repayment provisions in contracts of employment was recently considered by the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) in the case of Cleeve Link Ltd v Bryla UKEAT/0440/12. Cleeve dealt specifically with the issue of whether a repayment clause of the kind often used in contracts of employment was enforceable against the employee.

The Facts

Cleeve’s contract of employment had stated that that if Ms Bryla terminated her contract or was dismissed for misconduct within the first six months’ of her employment, Cleeve could recoup the total cost incurred in recruiting her from any money due to be paid to her under her contract. After six months’ of employment, the amount reduced per month.

Ms Bryla was dismissed after only three months’ for gross misconduct. Cleeve relied on the repayment provision and recouped the full amount of recruitment costs against her unpaid wages. Ms Bryla brought a claim in the Employment Tribunal for unlawful deduction from wages. The Employment Tribunal held that the repayment provision was a penalty clause and was unenforceable; therefore deductions made by Cleve from her wages were unlawful. On appeal to the EAT, it was held that the Employment Tribunal had erred in its finding; that the clause in question was not a penalty clause but a liquidated damages clause – and was therefore enforceable.

Penalty or liquidated damages?

A ‘liquidated damages clause’ is a clause in a contract which specifies a fixed or determined sum to be payable on a breach by one party to the other (innocent) party. Case law has clarified that in order to determine whether a clause is liquidated damages or a penalty, it must be a genuine reflection of an employer’s pre-estimate of loss that it is likely to suffer if the employee breaches that provision. The key to a repayment sum being regarded as a genuine pre-estimate of loss appears to be that the sum specified must be compensatory.

Practical tips for employers

When including any kind of repayment provision in an employment contract, it is advisable for employers to consider the following points:

1. Ensure that the amount quoted to be payable on breach and/or accordingly deducted from an employee’s wages is a genuine pre-estimate of the loss that would be suffered by the employer if the employee breaches the clause. Ensure the sum is not just a deterrent amount.

2. Bear in mind that the clause will be construed on the basis of how it was drafted at the time the contract was entered into and not at the time of any trigger event or breach.

3. A clause is presumed to be a penalty if it seeks to recover the same amount of money whether the trigger for repayment is, for example, a significant event or just a minor breach.

4. An employer should keep any proof they have (ie calculations) about how they arrived at the amount of repayment sum included in a contract. This may be needed as evidence that the employer properly considered the potential loss it may suffer on a trigger event occurring and that the repayment sum is not just a random figure.

Legal Disclaimer: This article should not be taken as definitive legal advice on the subject covered. If you require legal advice on any of these matters please contact Andrea London of Rosenblatt Solicitors on 020 7955 1433 or email andreal@rosenblatt-law.co.uk

 

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Sales Recruitment: Some Thoughts – Part 2

Merry go Round-B&W and Blue

It’s widely accepted that recruitment is as time-consuming as it is costly, to say nothing of the ‘rock the boat’ implications once when someone has handed in their notice. Whether because of dismissal or resignation (don’t forget it’s illegal to revive a post you have already formally deemed ‘redundant’) the office rumour machine will have gone into overdrive often before you’ve realised you may need to assign someone temporarily to manage any accounts which look vulnerable.

There can be other consequences, too.

Owing to the essential responsibility of the job, a salesperson who’s given notice and still kicking around the building, will often have a greater negative impact on their team than an employee in a different role. Acting alone, sales reps on resignation period have been known to copy client records (and email them to their personal account), make moves to take valuable customers with them, mishandle clients by having lost the commitment to customer service or make approaches to other team members to join them in the wonderful career move they’ll be making. It really is not nice to have to make this list, but it’s not uncommon, and in the unlikely case that anyone reading this has never had such experiences, well lucky you, is all I can say; but that’s the reality. Forewarned is forearmed.

Regarding the wider team, sales departments thrive best as positive, upbeat environments. The imminent departure of one of their own can, rightly or wrongly, remind a team of a better life (and pay) outside. It may also depress morale, affect productivity and create general unsettlement; every single one a motivation zapper and not conducive to making sales. This is why I usually advise employers to just pay off the rep, take the hit, reassure the rest of the team that it’s business as usual and get on with finding the best replacement possible. Understandably, given the economic conditions of recent years this can be hard to accept, but the price of a de-motivated sales force in a still-difficult climate is likely to be far higher.

 

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Sales Recruitment: Some Thoughts – Part 1

Merry go Round-B&W and Yellow

If you’ve employed sales staff for any length of time, you will have learnt to expect some degree of churn in your team(s). Whether it’s because of poor performance, burn out, or the lure of a better bonus scheme, you will understand that it’s not in the nature of many reps (especially young ones) to stay put for very long. Anyone who has experienced the time-consuming and costly hassle of dealing with agencies, posting ads on job sites, sifting through CVs and interviewing, must surely have thought to themselves at some stage “I hope I don’t have to do this again for a long time.”

In a previous life I had a good run in permanent employment at several well-organised and profitable companies, at which a director’s signature was always needed for the weekly stationery order. So far, so corporate. However, not one ever put any restriction on recruitment spend: the assumed message being do whatever it takes to get prospects and customers serviced properly again and sales had better meet projections. The stationery v. recruitment paradox is not uncommon in the business world, and I still muse on the fact that a pack of 3M’s finest yellow stickies could be subject to stricter control than a series of ads in sits vac or agency fees – which in some months ran into thousands.

But this is the point. In most cases, there is financial pressure to fill a vacancy as quickly as possible. Predictably, suppliers are exploiting a need based on urgency – hence their astronomic charges (although the internet has driven down advertising rates) – which buyers will rarely query at the time. The recruitment industry (valued last year at £26.5 billion* – yes you read that correctly) thrives on the pressure to return staff levels to full strength.

Recruiting to fill any vacancy is, at best, about being in control and striking lucky; at worst seeing it as a task to be over and done with and making hasty decisions under pressure. Potentially more disastrous, is falling into the common trap of conceding that ‘bums on seats’ will do – followed by a dollop of bad luck.

In the end, recruitment mistakes will always take time and money to fix, sometimes long after the manager responsible has left – or been promoted. As I often have to remind business owners: “Recruit in haste, repent at leisure”.

* Source: Recruitment & Employment Confederation, 2012-13

 

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