Working partnerships

01 May 2003
Working partnerships

John Lacombe, restaurant manager, Notting Hill Brasserie, London
French-born John Lacombe, restaurant manager at the Notting Hill Brasserie, knows the value of keeping your ear to the ground in the restaurant world. After all, his personal contacts in the business, along with regular perusal of a certain trade magazine, got him a good way up the career ladder. But it was the relationship with his favourite recruitment agency that gave him that extra boost to where he is today.

Lacombe arrived in London in 1987 at the age of 19, passionate about the restaurant business and determined to become a successful manager in one of the best establishments in town. His first job, as a commis waiter at the Connaught, was a placement following his apprenticeship at a restaurant in the Loire Valley. It was followed by steady progress up the front-of-house ladder in various restaurants in London, found through advertisements or personal contacts.

Five years ago, however, Lacombe realised he needed some extra help. He wanted a new challenge but needed to find exactly the right position. It was then that he approached the recruitment agency, Lister Charles.

"You reach the stage when you need to move on in your career because you are bored and need a new challenge. It's then you realise that you need more than your contacts in the business to help you find the right fit," he says.

"Agencies know about new projects in the pipeline, about which contracts are changing hands and what's going on in the industry. Sooner or later you realise your own contacts aren't good enough to find you the perfect fit to suit your career. They act as a good mediator between employer and manager-to-be, and that's where recruitment agencies come into play."

His first encounter with Lister Charles resulted in a position as restaurant manager with the private members' club, Soho House, in London. When he felt ready to move on he went back to Lister Charles, who placed him with the Notting Hill Brasserie.

It's not just about job placement, though. Of course, recruitment agencies can help you with your CV and prime you for an interview, says Lacombe, but what's important is the close relationship, which means an agency can accurately and honestly assess your suitability for a position.

It's something not all agencies are good at. "Some recruitment agencies aren't personal," says Lacombe. "They will ring you in the middle of service asking for your CV, then there's no follow-up. You often only hear from them at the end of a month when they've got a deadline to meet, and you are no longer ‘John' but a piece of paper. I've been sent forward for jobs in the past by other recruitment agents that I've been totally unsuited for. It's been a waste of my time and the client's.

"Lister Charles know me so well now that they can evaluate my strengths and weaknesses. They are honest about what those are in my case and will push me in the right direction for the good of my career. With Lister Charles I always have an open conversation."

John Lacombe - TIP

First-time users of agencies should always follow recommendations, advises Lacombe, but he also suggests trying more than one at first. "You'll find the one most suited to your needs, but you'll also know more about what's going on in the industry. Remember, not everyone has the same names in their portfolios."

Yuval Fenton, reception supervisor, Eurest Managed Services Twenty-eight-year-old Yuval Fenton arrived in the UK a year-and-a-half ago - in need of a job and unsure if he'd ever get one.

Trained in hotel management in Israel, he went on to graduate in 2001 in the USA, where he was to start work and build his career. But it was not to be. In the months following the events of 11 September Fenton and his colleagues were told by the Immigration Naturalization Service that revised rules meant they had lost the right to work in the USA.

It wasn't all bad, though. Fenton has a British passport, so he decided to use it. He came to London, where, desperate for work, he posted his CV on the internet and started calling recruitment agencies for the first time in his career. It wasn't a good start. "They were very professional-looking with nice receptions. The people I met had pumped-up suits and big words, but I'd never hear from them again," he remembers.

Then, Claire Hughes from recruitment agency Mayday Exec called, having found Fenton's CV on the internet. For Fenton, she was a saviour. "I had no idea if I'd be able to get a job, and then Claire called. She gave me realistic advice on which jobs I should be going for and a rough idea of what to expect salary-wise," he says.

Fenton's launch back into the world of work didn't take long through Mayday. From his interview with Hughes, it took 24 hours to confirm that he'd got a job as reception supervisor with Eurest Managed Services at the Royal Bank of Scotland building in London.

It was a change of direction for Fenton - who had been destined for the hotel industry until then - but a welcome one. He enjoys the regular hours, the potential for development and the working environment.

"I have Claire to thank for realising there was room for me to develop in a different direction. I've always worked in hotels, and this industry is very different. But it is very respectable with very high standards and classy service. We act as hosts for executive guests. I'm supervising my staff and recruiting new staff all the time. I don't work on the weekends; I can structure what I do after work; and I know that I can develop here. Mayday put me in a great position."

And Hughes still keeps in touch: "She still bothers to come and see me at the site every couple of weeks to see how I am. I know that's unique. London can be an overwhelming city, and she made me feel very wanted and welcome."

Yuval Fenton - TIP

Recruitment agencies are very good at putting CVs together and making sure they are in the correct format for the UK. The format of CVs varies from country to country. In the USA, for instance, you never include your age, it's against the law, but here you could lose out if you didn't.

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