Thursday, 28 October 2010

What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas

I  am delighted to say that I spend way too much time in Vegas (if that is possible).  If you haven’t spent time in this amazing City then you may not understand but if you have been there you will know why I am so pleased that we do lots of work with Clients on the US west coast as it gives me a great excuse to base myself in Vegas for extended periods of time.

Last December I was sitting at a Poker game in the Bellagio Hotel at 4am on the morning of the Vegas marathon which also coincided with the National Rodeo Finals and a tattoo convention.   At the table were four hard-core cowboys, a couple of tattoo superstars (I had never realised that these guys are like rock stars constantly being approached for photos/autographs – a bit like recruiters in many ways) and a few of the poker degenerates that you tend to play poker with in Vegas when you really should be asleep.  The free drinks were flowing and the banter was lively (as always) when suddenly all these well-rested, fit marathon runners started to trail past ready for the big race.  One middle-aged Vegas local who had spent most of the night somewhat drunkenly arguing with a man from Dallas that David Grey was a bigger name in world music than Frank Zappa suddenly announced that he was going to lose five stone in weight and run the marathon next year.  Well, this seemed highly unlikely as this man didn’t look as though he was shy at the buffet to say the very least and after a few minutes of laughter the conversation moved on.

I was back in Vegas a few weeks ago and bumped into the same Vegas local and guess what?  Yes, you know what I am going to say....he was about three stone heavier, denied ever having said such a stupid thing and offered me the following words of wisdom which is, I think, a Sinatra quote :"I feel sorry for those who do not drink. When they wake up in the morning, that's as good as they're going to feel all day” before heading off to the poker table!   He has less chance of running the marathon this year than Gorillaz being asked to headline at Glastonbury again....

I was reminded of this today when I spoke to a Computer Forensics Investigator who we shall call Steve.  We first spoke just over a year ago when he was working on a short-term contract for a public sector organisation and not enjoying it one bit as he was desperate to get into a large Consultancy where felt his Client- Facing skills would really be utilised.  

Unlike our Vegas friend, Steve put together a real plan.  He called Line Managers from maybe fifteen of the organisations he had identified as where he wanted to work and although some of them weren’t helpful initially his persistence paid off and with regular calls/emails he slowly started to build relationships.  In my opinion, this networking is the absolute key to the job search.  Steve called me regularly becoming a real person rather than just a CV and because of that I really wanted to help him and when I was on a long car journey I would often call him just to chat about how things were going.  

Steve accepted a fantastic role at a major Consultancy today.  This role wasn’t advertised  (for all those people who don’t contact a company if there is no job advertised on their web site, trust me here, most roles in this area aren’t actively advertised) and the first step to securing this job was when he was invited to an informal meeting with one of the line managers he had identified a year ago.  Once he got to interview stage, he was able to make it very clear that he had targeted this company a long time ago and with this clear commitment it is no surprise he was offered the role!

I think this short story clearly demonstrates how important it is to differentiate yourself – whatever your level of experience – and take the time to build genuine relationships with people who are able to assist you in your job search.   If not, there is always the easy way to make your millions in fabulous Las Vegas whilst at the same time discussing the big issues of our time such as the relative merits of Frank Zappa and David Grey....

Monday, 25 October 2010

Something for the weekend

My first ever boss was a big fan of weekend work and he was full of wise, detailed advice such as that if you do a good job and work hard that you may get a job with a better company someday.  Mind you, looking back I think we can discount most of his views as this is the guy who felt that making Steve McLaren manager of the England team was a stroke of genius....

I am currently at the research stage of a major Search Assignment and so worked  for most of the weekend that has just gone and actually quite enjoy working at the weekend with the music turned up and no phone ringing or imminent deadlines to hit.  The nature of my business involves a lot of working with US Clients and also talking to genuinely busy people who can’t take calls during the day so I am used to taking/making calls outside traditional working hours.  Mind you, one of my US Clients - who has now moved on - did take it a little far expecting me to regularly participate in conference calls on a Sunday afternoon that could stretch as long as four hours!  However, in the scheme of things, even that wasn’t too bad compared to some of the other things I could have been doing such as:

·        -  Watching a compilation of Nick Clegg speeches  (Charlie Brooker has posted an amusing article about him today:;
·      -   Listening to an entire ‘Slip Knot’ album on repeat;
·        -  Reading Wayne Rooney’s autobiography;
·        -  Watching either of the Sex in the City Films.

Luckily, in the specialist markets in which I recruit most of the people I need to talk with are online at some stage over the weekend so we often converse via email but I still struggle with making phone calls.  When is an acceptable time to call somebody and why do I always feel the need to apologise for calling  at the weekend?  I try to only call people I know at weekends as we then can usually get straight to the point of the call rather than taking extra time to develop some rapport.

Actually, this rapport building is another issue that I spend way too long thinking about and is a common criticism of recruiters who are sometimes perceived as far too bright and bubbly on the phone which sounds fake.   Don’t you just hate that – I know I do?  I get a lot of sales calls and I really dislike it when someone I don’t know asks me how my weekend was or whether I have anything nice planned for the coming weekend.  I have to constantly resist the temptation to go on a twenty minute rant about how awful my weekend was or how I am due to have some horrendous surgical procedure next week.

No work for me this evening though as I am at Elland Road for a night out with some of my friends from Cardiff as we renew our ‘friendly rivalry’ with the welsh club.  For those of you not lucky enough to be at the stadium to watch low quality football in sub-zero temperatures, you will be delighted to know that you can still follow the latest victory for the Mighty Leeds United live on Sky.....

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Keep it interesting

Like you, I have sat at numerous conferences (occasionally even presenting when the organisers are really struggling) and have often been bored to tears by most of the presentations.   At INFOSEC this year, one particular presenter was well dressed, successful (bewilderingly), and quite possibly the first walking, talking, human sedative who just kept plugging his product in a monotone voice for what seemed like hours.  Ok, so I hadn’t paid to listen but it was still 45 minutes of my life that I wasn’t going to get back and if he had droned on for much longer there was a genuine possibility that my life was going to shortly end – well it was either going to be mine or his and from a utilitarian viewpoint I think I almost had justification!

I was reminded of this presentation today when a really outstanding Computer Forensics candidate was unsuccessful at interview due to being, well, just too boring.  As I have said in numerous articles, in my experience recruiting in this sector, the reason most Computer Forensics people fail to be successful at interview is because their personality goes out of the window and they become just like the Infosec presenter – a robot just answering technical questions in a tedious manner.  

I do appreciate that when an interview has a strong technical content it is hard to avoid this but being aware that it can be an issue has to be the first step to countering it along with ensuring you keep smiling ( but not in that weird way employed by most MP’s), and making lots of eye contact.

As some very wise person once said (probably after a few drinks): ‘knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.’

Monday, 18 October 2010

How much do you earn?

Today really has just been one of those days.

Mind you, it is not quite in the same league as when one of my candidates turned up for an eDiscovery Director role in a Homer Simpson tie (yes, you have guessed it no happy ending here) or when another jobseeker was physically sick all over the desk during the interview (my shocked Client sent me an email titled ‘sweetcorn everywhere’ – nice).  Neither of these are as bad as an ex-colleague of mine who told me the story of one of her candidates who during the interview was asked to draw a picture that best described him. He drew a clown with blood pouring from its eyes, ears and nose.   What on earth is that all about?  Would you have employed him (or even have risked travelling to reception with him alone in a lift)?

As a recruiter one of the things we spend a lot of time doing is talking about salary.  Even now, after all these years in recruitment, I still sometimes find it odd when I have just met somebody and within minutes I am asking what they earn.  Imagine meeting a new person for the first time in a bar and after making small talk about the weather you then ask them about their salary and even more remarkably they are happy to tell you!  Actually, if I kept a straight face I wonder what else I could get away with asking (suggestions in the comments section, please)??!

Anyway, the reason we do so is that because however senior you are salary is still always a big deal and if we cannot come to an understanding on this there is little point proceeding.  If your salary expectations are in my view unrealistic then I  - as with most recruiters – will tell you very clearly that we cannot help you and will wish you well in your search for a new job.

In my experience, as a general rule, it is pretty rare to secure a salary increase of more than 20% of your current basic salary.   There are exceptions such as the Computer Forensics Manager we placed in 2008 who went from a basic salary of £64k to £100k but trust me, this sort of salary hike is very much the exception.

In a discipline such as Computer Forensics, one difficulty I experience is that sometimes people currently working in the Public Sector have unrealistic views about what salary they can secure in the Private Sector.  On a number of occasions people earning around the £40k mark have told me they would need £70k to move roles due to pension constraints and other issues.  Whilst I understand their thinking it is also – in my view - wildly unrealistic.   A similar situation I find difficult is when someone is based in, say Scotland, where the CF opportunities are limited, and they are looking to move to London.  They could be earning £35k and need to earn £50k in London to cover their increased living costs.  However, for the employer based in London why would they pay a a basic salary of £50k when they could secure a local person currently earning £35k for £38k? 

So, this is why we talk about salaries so much to ensure there are no misunderstandings.  However, sometimes when somebody is actually in an interview all the discussions we have had previously go out of the window. Why is this: nerves, ego? Whatever the reason, this brings me back to my bad day today when someone I had spoken to maybe ten times and agreed each time that they were looking for a salary of £60k told the interviewer they needed to earn £ unconfined!  End result:

1, Annoyed interviewer. ‘David, we were quite clear we couldn’t pay more than £60k and ‘x’ told us he was looking for a basic of £80k.  Please don’t waste our time with unsuitable people.’  Recruiter apologises and looks unprofessional.
2, Annoyed jobseeker, ‘I took a day off for this interview – I trust you will pay my expenses’.  Recruiter bites tongue and resists inclination to resort to physical violence as we agreed salary expectations so many times then writes it off as a bad job and authorises expenses.
3, Annoyed recruiter who after having apologised to both (1) and (2) resolves to talk about salary expectations even more often and with even more clarity in future!  Recruiter then ponders drinking a bottle of absinthe...

So, when your recruiter annoys you by talking endlessly about salary expectations please do understand why they are doing so and do tell them what you REALLY think to avoid wasting time at a later date.....

Saturday, 16 October 2010

New article

Are you a fan of cutting edge, insightful, thought-provoking recruitment articles?  Nor me but apparently there are some out there!  In the meantime, why not look at my latest article 'How to seduce potential employers - or even your recruiter' which has just been published at Forensic Focus:

A selection of previous articles/interviews from 2005 onwards can be found on our website:

Another great result for the Mighty Leeds United as we swept Middlesbrough aside this evening but I hope this doesn't mean the end for the 'boro manager and Leeds Legend Gordon Strachan as his interviews are pure comedy!  For those of you who don't follow UK football an example of Strachan's 'wit' was last week when he was grilled by irate local media on how he dealt with the pressure at the club where he has won just 13 times in 45 games."Take drugs, and drink, and smoke," was Strachan's reply!  Unfortunately for the manager not everyone saw the funny side....

Friday, 15 October 2010

Don't miss out....

I have just read an interesting thread on the excellent about when graduates should start to apply for jobs.  Although most of my active work is now senior level recruitment I am still surprisingly often asked to source computer forensics / ediscovery  graduates for some of my Clients.  With the large number of computer forensics courses that have started in recent years and the surplus of supply over demand you would think that recruiting graduates is straightforward?  Sadly not.  The standard of course ranges from excellent to very poor and unfortunately the quality of the graduates is variable which means that if graduates are invited to interview just based on their CV  a lot of time can be wasted.

Still, this is great news for me as it means I can still continue to accept invitations to speak at Universities running courses in this area.  I have been speaking at some Universities for over five years and it is one of the most enjoyable parts of my job as the students are almost without exception incredibly passionate about their subject and eager to learn about the opportunities available to them upon graduation.  Also, a trip to campus always takes me back to those carefree University days and often gives me a chance to catch up with old friends/contacts in different parts of the UK...

When reading the Forensic Focus thread today I wasn’t really surprised that some students aren’t being advised early on about when to apply for specific roles.  When I speak at Universities I am usually shocked at just how unaware students are about the actual roles they are likely to take and how they intend to secure these positions.  I do appreciate that it is difficult for University Careers Officers to offer specific advice about these niche career paths but still, surely a student studying Computer Forensics should at least have some idea about the very real differences between working for a High Tech Crime Unit as opposed to Big 4 organisation?  I guess the key is for the students to be proactive about their future career from a very early stage in their University life so they don’t miss out on opportunities – or to ensure their favourite recruiter is invited to campus to speak not just to final year students but the new intake too!

I trust that like me you will all be glued to the TV screen tomorrow evening to watch the Mighty Leeds United take the three points from Middlesbrough.  Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Too many cooks....

One of the problems with recruitment is that most people have experienced it in some form and that objectively it is incredibly easy – and it is of course, or rather it should be – but this very simplicity causes a large number of people to 'offer' recruitment advice.  The problem is that a lot of this advice although well-intentioned is just incredibly unhelpful to the unsuspecting jobseeker.

I was reminded of this today when on one of the forums where I am active a new graduate was asking for advice about telephone interviewing.  I have probably been involved in over 100 telephone interviews in 2010 (it is a necessary first step for many of our US Clients) so I have sat in on a lot of calls, heard the feedback and so think I have a pretty good feel for what contributes to a successful call.  I certainly have a clear understanding on what makes a bad telephone interview!  Most of the advice on the forum was the standard stuff you would expect about being in the right environment, preparing properly etc but then one senior person (who when discussing his area of expertise is outstanding) suggested asking about the benefits package including healthcare, pensions and transport costs.  Oh dear...

If you are ever asked to take a telephone interview it really isn’t advisable to ask questions related to the colour scheme in the office, the texture of your keyboard, popular bars for a lunchtime beer or the quality of coffee.  Ok, so you can probably get away with any of the above but I would suggest that the cardinal rule is don’t ever ask about the benefits package before you have even met anyone from the company for a face to face interview!!

There is some amazing interview advice available out there - use it carefully!