Recruitment Focus – The consultant question

24 February 2012 by
Recruitment Focus – The consultant question

There are strong arguments for using a recruitment consultant to further your career, but it's important to find the right one. Rosalind Mullen reports

The million-dollar question in this internet-savvy world is: why should you use a recruitment consultant when you can simply search for a job on the web? There's no right or wrong, but if you have a well-connected recruitment consultant one of the most obvious benefits is that they can fast-track your job-hunt by targeting your CV at the right employer for your skills.

"Trying to find a job can be time-consuming and overwhelming. If you send out a CV yourself on spec you often don't get any feedback," says Bernadette Howarth, managing director at Flourish. "We know the employers so we can put the right personalities together."

A good consultant can also hone your CV and highlight your skills in what is admittedly a competitive recruitment market. Howarth concedes that in this chilly economic climate clients are careful about filling roles with higher salaries and when they do recruit they expect good candidates who can deliver. She adds, however, that the economy is forcing employers to stop and improve - and there is always demand for trainee staff.

Certainly, as the Olympic year gets under way, the hospitality sector looks more robust than most. "I think the job market is moving and quietly busy," Howarth says. "There's a lot of excitement in this industry and with the right training you can go anywhere."

So, warmed by that thought, read on and find out how an experienced recruitment consultant can make your jobsearch relatively painless…

Bernadette Howarth
Bernadette Howarth
Who? Bernadette Howarth
What? Managing director
Where? Flourish
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How do you tailor your service to help young, inexperienced job-seekers?
We gauge their needs. Many of those starting out in their careers need a metaphoric cuddle, while others need us to be a bit more assertive to help them reach their potential.

What about careers advice?
We give candidates a choice of avenues they could take. If their ambition is greater than their experience, we can haul it in and question their approach. For example, we would advise someone that they need to be very committed to do well in the Michelin-starred sector.

Presumably you pass on feedback from employers after interview?
Absolutely. We might hear that the candidate turned up in jeans or trainers and the interviewer felt their approach was wrong. A lot of success at interview is down to the candidate's approach. They need to be on time, dress smartly and show that they want to learn. Good employers don't mind training the right person.

Do you also provide support after a successful placement?
Yes, we do the aftercare so the candidate can bounce any worries off us. Often hospitality jobs are away from home and so for young people we are like family.

How might you guide a raw recruit?
Well, for instance, we advise young chefs working a split-shift that they need to eat healthily and not fall into the traditional habit of visiting the pub between shifts. Nowadays, lots of chefs will play golf or visit a leisure centre during a break.

How much does your service cost the job-seeker?
We don't charge the job-seeker. Our reward is to build a long-term relationship with candidates from when they start out to when they become managers and recruiters themselves.

Do you specialise in particular roles?
We handle hospitality vacancies, both front and back of house, across all roles and sectors from hotels to hospitals so we can explain the implications of different jobs to people. For instance, we can give them an idea of the number of hours they might work or the effect on their social life of working in a particular sector.

To what extent do you influence the pay package?
We influence it a lot. Many young people find it intimidating to talk about pay. We can advise when it's best to take a lower salary and train on the job and we can explain bonuses, the terms of the contract, advise on the going rate and ensure that the candidate is not exploited. Salary, for instance, should relate to the number of hours worked and not be open-ended.

Top tip
At interview, a positive attitude and a big smile can get you far. Employers want staff who enjoy working with people, and a good employer will give you the right training or experience.

Who? Tony Papa
What? Director
Where? Chef Results
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What makes you an expert?
We've been doing this for 10 years now and we've built up a trusted client base with good employers who pay the wages. We vet the client as much as we vet the candidate and so people feel we can give an honest opinion.

And why are you a better option than, say, an internet search?
There are too many job opportunities on the internet and you don't always know how old they are. We can narrow employers down to suit the candidate and give them inside information, such as what the staff accommodation is like, what the staff turnover is and what the hours are so the candidate is prepared. We have a no-frills approach. I know what it's like to be a chef because I used to be one, so I know that the hours tend to be longer than expected.

So you match the candidate to the client?
Yes. CVs are great but we can get the right person into the job. A bubbly character in a serious kitchen just won't work, for instance. They might pick a job that isn't suitable and we'll tell them if they're not ready or if they're moving up the ladder too quickly. I'll tell them they need to work under someone to become more skilled.

Give us an example of how you can negotiate a better salary package
We have situations where a candidate has a proven track-record of improving turnover, so I'll go to the employer and explain that by paying them more they'll ultimately benefit from a healthy profit. Similarly, if the chef candidate is local to the employer, I'll point out that he is more likely to stay, thus saving on temping fees, so I'll argue for an extra £1,000 or so.

How do you prepare the candidate for interview?
We've got ground rules - we stipulate no trainers, for instance. You need standards for interview, even though a sloppy dresser doesn't make a bad cook. If necessary, though, I might suggest that a practical test is better for a nervous candidate.

Explain how you streamline the employment process
We sift and screen for the employer and speak to the candidate before and after. We select candidates from a massive database of CVs - we look for them being well laid out with key points such as references, mobile contacts, the right dates - it indicates that they aren't hiding anything.

You specialise in chef recruitment - how does that benefit the candidate?
Chefs tend to use specialist recruitment consultants. We're in a niche market and can get people into the higher skill level jobs. Our clients require a standard and we have to fit the bill. It reflects on us, so we have to send people who can impress. We find out who is in it for the career - we can help those with ambition and if they start out at the mid- to lower-end they can come back to us as a head chef wanting to recruit.

How do job-seekers find a consultant with integrity?
We never approach a candidate. You can find the right consultant by checking websites and looking at the testimonials. If there are lots of vacancies on the site it indicates that the consultant is respected. Look at the spectrum of vacancies - are they with brands or specialists? Check them out. Talk to the consultant and find out who they have placed and talk to other chefs about who they have used.

Top tip
Don't jump into the first job you're offered; always look at a few others. Weigh up the pros and cons.

Mark Darby
Mark Darby
Who? Mark Darby
What? Managing director
Where? Berkeley Scott
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How do you complement the Internet and job boards?
We often have access to roles that are not advertised. We can also give the candidate advice on how to structure their CV, how to dress for interview and the types of question they should ask. We would give them a realistic impression of the proposed working environment, but would suggest they did their own research on the company.

Not all consultants are so thorough, how can you spot a bad one?
Some recruitment consultants are only in it for the money. One tell-tale sign is that they put you forward for a job before they've screened you about your preferences. Another, is that they don't fully brief you on a role, or give you advice. Some will even give you a hard sell on a job that you don't want to do.

What level of communication should they expect?
A good recruitment consultant will give you constructive criticism of where you sit in relation to your current experience. If you're unsuccessful at interview, they should find out why from the employer and debrief you.

Why is it helpful for you to negotiate the salary package?
It's often hard for a candidate to discuss money, so we can take the emotion out of it. Maybe they have been made an offer, but they're not sure of the holiday entitlement or number of hours expected - or perhaps they are not happy with the salary being offered. They can be honest with their consultant, who can then liaise on their behalf.

And you stick around after they have started a job?
Yes, if they are unhappy after they've started a job, it's good to be able to discuss any problems with the recruiter, who can support them. Often after a few more weeks, candidates have settled in and are happy.

How can candidates get the best out of their recruitment consultant?
It's a two-way thing. I expect candidates to have taken time to research the marketplace, to be timely, smart, professional and to be serious about their career. They should perform to the best of their ability at interview and take advice.

Top tip
Always call your recruitment consultant back when asked - it's important in order to work together.

The candidate's view
Who? Chris Finnigan, 27
What? Head chef (between jobs)

How long have you used a recruitment consultant?
I started working in the industry when I was about 16, but I have only used a chef specialist for the past six or seven years - and I have stuck with the same one.

What has made you stick with this consultant?
I've got a good relationship with Chef Results. They understand me and get me what I want. They found me the last few jobs and have helped me to develop my career.

Give us some examples
A few years ago, he advised me to take a backward step from head chef to sous chef to consolidate my admin skills, understanding of GPs and the like. He found me a job at Linden Hall, a Macdonald hotel in Morpeth, because he said there would be lots of paperwork involved.

You clearly trust him
Yes, I can ring him up and he'll tell me whether a job is not right for me. Sometimes I'll say "send them over anyway" and when I take a look I can see he is right. He's been in the trade a long time so he knows a lot of people.

What other benefits are there to working with a consultant?
Well, as I have progressed to management, I have used him to recruit staff to work in my brigade. I always put ads out as well, but he tends to get me the right staff and so he saves me money on agency fees for temporary staff.

Isn't it expensive to recruit using a consultant?
The consultant I use sets fair fees for finding me staff. Some consultants charge 10-12% of the salary, but he'll drop his fees to make sure the right person gets the right job. He also lets the new chef settle for a few months before he asks me to settle the fees. He's not a money-grabber, whereas some agencies want the fees within a few days.

So why are you job-hunting at the moment?
I've just left the Grange, a boutique hotel in York, because I need to relocate to Yarm, in Stockton-on-Tees, for family reasons. I'm looking for a head chef position somewhere where they cook fresh food.

Give us a run-down of your career to date
I trained under Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons for four years, then I moved to a restaurant in Oxford as head chef and gained two AA rosettes. I took a step down to sous chef to hone my skills at Linden Hall. I wasn't there long before I was offered the head chef position. I stayed there for two years and then I wanted to move to a smaller place. The consultant found me a position at the Grange, which has a two-AA-rosette brasserie and a grill restaurant.

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