Wednesday, 29 June 2011

What interview questions will I be asked?

When we contact candidates with the good news that a client has shortlisted them for an interview, after the initial pleasure often comes an email or call full of questions, or even panic.  What questions will I be asked?  Will they be competency ones?  What are competency questions?  Help!
There are innumerable questions that you could be asked in an interview; one guide that I saw in the past listed 90 different questions!  However, they tend to be grouped into questions focused on a few core areas:

·         Relating to educational achievement

·         Probing work experience and skills

·         Ascertaining personality and attitudes
In any of these areas, the questions could be competency based or not.  Competency based questions are those intended to elicit evidence that you have exhibited certain behaviours that the employer feels are important to carry out the work successfully. 

Typically the employer will have several levels of competence in mind for each behaviour;
1.       Basic understanding of the concepts in a familiar setting

2.       Ability to apply the concepts in a new setting

3.       Detailed understanding of the concepts and integration into workflow

4.       Expert understanding and application in any setting

They may have positive and negative indicators (example) in mind for each level, for each competency.
Here are some example questions (competency based ones have a (C) after them):

Relating to Education
·         What were your favourite and least favourite subjects in college/university?  Why?

·         Why did you decide to go to university?

·         If you had the opportunity to attend college/university again, what would you do differently?  Why?

·         Describe a time when you were juggling several assignments/priorities (C)

Relating to Experience and Skills
·         Describe your ideal manager / colleague / subordinate

·         What is the greatest accomplishment of your career to date?  Why did you select that one?

·         Tell me about a time you worked as part of a successful team (C)

·         What are your main responsibilities in your current role?

·         What would your last manager describe as your greatest strength?  Weakness?

·         What experience have you had that qualifies you for this job?

·         Tell me about a time when you managed a group to achieve something (C)

·         Describe a situation when you saw an opportunity to change/improve something (C)

Relating to Personality and Attitudes
·         What are your immediate and long-term career goals?

·         What are you looking for in an organisation?

·         Who would give you your best / worst reference?  Why?

·         What did you like most / least about your last job?

·         Tell me about a time when you took a risk (C)

It’s also important to remember that interviews should be a two way conversation – the interviewer will probably ask you whether you have any questions for them.  Having none at all indicates to the employer that you aren’t really interested in their organisation/job!  Make sure you prepare a long list before you go, as they will probably answer some of them during the course of the interview (use the job description and try and imagine doing the work described – lots of questions will probably spring to mind).
There is no way to rehearse answers for all the potential questions you might be asked.  Instead, prepare by working through all your skills and key experiences, matching them up to the requirements of the job description, and having several example situations to hand, ready to use in answer to whatever questions come up.  Preparation is 9/10ths   of the way to succes.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Event - BIALL Conference 2011 : Session Summaries

Following my earlier blog about the BIALL Conference, I sent out a series of Event Briefings describing the various sessions I attended in more detail.  Someone suggested that I make these available to a wider audience by linking to them from the blog - so here they are!  (nb; you will need to sign into a Google Account to view the pdf links)

BIALL Conference - First Day

BIALL Conference - Second Day

BIALL Conference - Third Day

I hope everyone, whether you managed to get to BIALL this year or not, finds them interesting and useful.

- Nicola Franklin

10 Reasons Why Exclusivity is in HR’s Best Interests

Clients may feel that an external recruiter asking for exclusivity on a job role has nothing but their own best interests at heart.  To think this is to miss the detailed picture, however, as there are many reasons why working closely with one recruiter rather than passing the role out to many agencies is the best route from an HR perspective.

While the HR recruitment team may have a number of recruiters on their PSL, each of those firms is likely to have one or two specialist areas where they really shine.  For each specific job vacancy, therefore, there is likely to be one or two agencies on the PSL who are genuinely likely to be able to source closely matched candidates.
Here are ten reasons why working closely with one of these quality recruiters on a specific job brief is actually in HR’s best interests:
1.    You are getting the recruiters full commitment to filling the vacant role.  Where a recruiter knows they are working on the role in competition with 3, 5 or unlimited number of other agencies, you are likely to see a short burst of activity from each one, followed by waning interest and a shift in their focus to another client with whom they have a close or exclusive relationship.

2.    You are putting the onus onto the recruiter to have responsibility for filling the vacancy.  Once they have been given exclusivity, with or without a retainer, they own the issue – and you can concentrate on the rest of your job.

3.    When a role is in competition, the only thing that matters is speed.  The competing recruiters know that you are logging the arrival of CVs to the minute, and that whoever gets a CV in front of you first ‘wins’.  In these scenarios a recruiter who takes time to actually brief the candidate and gain their permission for the submission of their CV loses out, so in reality it doesn’t happen.  Change the scenario to an exclusive partnership and the focus shifts at once to quality.  The recruiter has every reason to make sure that the CVs they put in front of you are for well matched, fully briefed, candidates who are sold on your company and keen to apply for that particular job.

4.    Working exclusively for you means a recruiter can bring all their resources to bear to source talent for you, including the most valuable resource of all – time.  Instead of a quick database search and putting an advert up on a job board, a thorough, detailed search including combing their networks, asking for referrals, and using social media channels.  In other words they will have time to tap into the passive talent market, not just skim off the most actively looking candidates.

5.    Exclusivity means your recruiter has time to take a detailed job brief from you.  A more detailed brief, with the background to the post, the scope of the role, the culture of the firm and the particular department/team will lead to closer matches for you.

6.    Working exclusively means your recruiter can properly screen the candidates before selecting those to put in front of you.  Not just a quick call and wiz over a CV, but in-depth face to face meetings to probe candidates’ suitability and motivations and fully brief them on the roll and sell them on your employer of choice branding.

7.    During the course of the hiring process, your recruiter will have time to gather full feedback after each interview stage, including probing for reservations, checking for other ‘irons in the fire’, and attitude towards the job, people they’ve met and the organisation itself.

8.    Your recruiter will also be able to focus on gathering realistic information on availability, potential start dates, current salary (and package) and future salary expectations, which will save you time and frustration once you come to offer stage.

9.    You will save time and repetition by dealing with just one, competent, recruiter and will be clear on the costs and contract terms you are working under for this role.
10. You will avoid the messy and time consuming issue of several recruiters referring the same candidate to you for the same role.
- Justin Kent

Monday, 20 June 2011

Event - BIALL 2011 Conference

Sage Centre, Newcastle Gateshead
Back in the office today after a very enjoyable three days spent at the BIALL Conference.  So many great sessions, two good evening social events and lots of brilliant people to catch up with!
The most memorable session for me has to be Nick Davies who gave us an excellent presentation on good presentations to engage your trainees.  He spoke on the main stage for an hour with no notes, which was impressive in itself!  Most memorable tips?  Don’t use dry facts and figures, liven it up and make it engaging for people with imagery, stories and metaphor.    For example instead of telling people that “painting the Eiffel Tower takes 60 tonnes of paint, costing £1.8m”   instead bring a pot of paint to the session and get everyone to pick it up – then tell them how many pots it will take and “...too many coats and it will fall over”.
Another great session was run by Mats Bergman, Information Architecture Manager at Clifford Chance on the taxonomy management systems they have.  Mats described how, over eight years, they have moved from “chaos” with multiple lists of terms, to a controlled vocabulary and the majority of repositories of content using their “gold standard”, centrally controlled, taxonomy.  Challenges are now being posed, however, by the firm’s introduction of Sharepoint as a platform in preparation for moving towards cloud computing services – this means they have to consider social tagging and a very different model for creating and managing a taxonomy.
Fiona Fogden gave an interesting description of how she has worked at Baker Tilly to consolidate and streamline their current awareness services.  With a small information team, the demand for more complex and tailored alerts was straining their resources, and the users themselves were suffering from information overload with 6 or 7 different alerts from different sources arriving in their inboxes.  Over the period of a year they moved to a new software supplier (Linux) and new content provider (Thomson Reuters Newsdesk), which allowed them to increase their regular tailored alerts from 35 to 180.
Several people I spoke to afterwards felt that the session by Michael Maher and Kate Stanfield at Integreon, which had been hotly anticipated, still left them with lots of questions about how outsourcing a law library service actually worked in practice.  What about hiring qualified librarians, but those who had never worked in a commercial firm?  What about graduate traineeships and sponsoring people to do their masters qualification?  What about licensing where fee-earners or remaining know how or information staff still want access to sources, as well as Integreon staff – does the firm have to pay twice?
Other really interesting sessions I managed to get to were by Sue Dowey on Customer Journey Mapping, James Mullen on using LinkedIn for more than just connections, Suzanne Wheatley on maximising your personal impact, Sweet & Maxwell on how to use scenarios to make training meaningful for legal trainees, and Penny Bailey on using enquiry workflow management systems.
- Nicola Franklin

Friday, 10 June 2011

Are PR agency salaries the same as 13 years ago?

I joined Scope Communications, now Ketchum, in 1994 and left in 1997/98.  I worked across consumer, corporate and sponsorship and when I left as a senior account manger my salary was £32k per annum.  Tim Court, now a Director at Fabric, left his senior account manager role in corporate PR in 2006 on a salary only slightly higher.

So the question is, have salaries in consultancy PR increased significantly over the years?  In our opinion - no. 

Some salary surveys have suggested that the recession has brought an end to salary inflation seen over the past decade. We have worked with the UK’s leading agencies for that entire period and the salary survey and remuneration levels we discuss with our clients have changed very little through the years.  Healthcare and financial PR salaries have increased but in a comparable way to other industries.  However the core Account Executive to Associate Director salary brackets are broadly the same as they were in 1998.  Where we have seen a real increase, but by no means an eye watering one, is in the salary of directors.  These are now far more commensurate with the role and its degree of responsibility. 

PR undoubtedly remains an attractive and rewarding career for many reasons. However there is no denying that in consultancies in particular the hours can be long, the work can be very full-on, yet the financial rewards for many aren’t compelling.

The cost of living has certainly gone up in the last 13 years so are PR consultancies still able to attract the best talent on these salary levels or are they losing out to the digital and integrated agencies? 

- Justin Kent and Tim Court

Thursday, 9 June 2011

IRMS Event – London Group Meeting on Sharepoint

Last night was an informative and enjoyable meeting of the IRMS London Group, with two speakers giving very different perspectives on the use of Sharepoint for information and records management.

James Lappin from Thinking Records kicked off and turned the traditional speaker format on its head, by having the Q&A session at the beginning.  He asked us to pair up and ask each other what issues or questions we had about Sharepoint.  We then reconvened and he gathered a number of questions from the floor:

  • What are the pros and cons of the vendors of ‘add on widgets’ for Sharepoint?
  • How does it cope with inheritance of metadata from other systems?
  • Is Sharepoint 2010 any better than earlier versions, from an RM perspective?
  • Where should you start – what should you do before you let users loose on it?
  • What level of control/governance should you aim for?
  • What sort of administrative resource do you need to run a Sharepoint implementation?

James then went onto give his presentation – the ‘Horrible history of Sharepoint’ – while weaving the answers to some of these questions into his talk.

Sharepoint has evolved over the years since its initial launch in 2001.  There have been four versions; 2001, 2003, 2007 and 2010. The first version to include any records management functionality at all was 2007, and James feels that many of the functions were not thought through very effectively.

Whilst Sharepoint 2010 has improved its RM functionality in some ways, this criticism holds true in the newer version – for example when declaring a record ‘in place’ Sharepoint will prevent users from deleting the document, or from deleting the document library the document is in, but will allow deletion of the site collection the document library is in...

Mark Field from the Department for Education then gave us an insight into government thinking regarding cloud computing, and in particular the DfE’s approach to using Sharepoint as the platform for this, but in a seamless way that is invisible to the user. 

One memorable phrase Mark used to describe the situation was that government is moving away from their initial ‘Stalin meets hippy’ approach of having one large ‘G-Cloud’ for the whole of government.  Instead they are developing several separate private clouds for various parts of government and, later on, other areas of the public sector.

They have deliberately avoided using any ‘Sharepoint language’ like ‘document library’ or ‘site collection’ or even ‘Sharepoint’ itself.  Instead they have information workspaces – and the access to create and administer one is rigorously controlled.

The strong governance they have put in place is illustrated by their process for declaring records.  A user can manually declare a document as a record, which takes them to a screen to add three pieces of metadata (content type, file and name).  If they fail to do this, then an automatic ‘sweep bot’ moves all remaining documents, which are 1 year old and v1.0 or higher, to the records centre.  Once there, if no one goes to ‘claim’ them in the meantime, after a further 1 year they are all automatically deleted without further review.  It really is a case of ‘use it or lose it’!

Monday, 6 June 2011

Next Steps in Job Hunting

Today I had the pleasure of giving a talk to the library & information studies students at UCL in London.

Talking to the students about the range of jobs where they could apply their skills, and where they could find those jobs, brought home once again the huge scope of the information profession.

Information is ubiquitous, and everywhere it is found it needs to be organised, retrieved and disseminated.  The result is information management jobs everywhere.  Roles that utilise information management skills pop up in the private, public and third sectors, in banks, law firms and in industry, in charities, institutes and societies, in government, local councils and academia – the list goes on and on.

Not only is the location of information jobs so varied, but also the content of the jobs themselves.  Once upon a time the choice for graduating students seeking their first professional post was ‘assistant librarian’ or ‘information officer’.  Today I didn’t even try to put up a representative list of job titles on the screen – the font would have had to be too small for anyone to read!

Evolving technologies has led to all the various types of ‘information work’ to both expand and to blur together and converge; the core skills gained during an information studies qualification can equally be used in information management, records management or knowledge management roles.

As a result of these changes, much of my talk focused on skills analysis and identification, searching for jobs based on the skills they call for, not on job title, and creating tailored CVs to carefully match your skills to those specified in the job description. 

During a lively Q&A at the end of the session one student asked about the impact of social media and especially LinkedIn on finding a job – did I recommend students having a profile on these sites?  I replied that both recruiters and employers make use of sites such as this, either to find people with the experience/skills that fit their vacancy or to compare with CVs and check for professional (or unprofessional!) activities.  My advice would be to definitely have a profile on a professional social networking site, and also to cast an eye over your other, more social/informal, online presence to make sure you giving an impression you’d be happy for your future employer to see.

- Nicola Franklin

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Event - Defragmentation Open Meeting

Yesterday was an exciting and exhausting day, returning after the bank holiday to a full inbox in the morning and then setting up and attending the “De-fragmentation of the Information Professions” meeting in the afternoon.

I’m not going to give a blow-by-blow account of the events at the meeting as that’s been covered ably elsewhere (eg see James Mullen’s blog).

Instead I wanted to pick out a few of the points I noted down at the time, which on reflection I feel are important comments or ideas.

One of the questions being discussed around the tables was “how is technology change affecting information work?”. There was a dichotomy around the table I was at, with some people feeling that improved and more user friendly search technology was making librarians redundant (disintermediation). Counter to this was the idea that the increased volume of electronic information (email, shared drives, Sharepoint, etc, etc) was overwhelming for users and was increasing the need for information managers.

I think this dichotomy highlights a key difference in how these two sub-groups of ‘the information profession’ see themselves – librarians as ‘we find information for people (and they don’t need us any  more)’ and information managers as ‘we organise information for people so they can find it themselves (and people need us more than ever)’.

A key tenet of the debate which cropped up throughout the afternoon was how to articulate the value of information professionals, and indeed what that value is. 
One of the people at my table told a story about the Army, where he used to work, where there was a recognition that they needed someone in ‘an information manager’ role at every level of command, whose function was twofold:
a)    Decide what information that unit needed to function
b)    Decide what information, generated by the unit, would be needed by someone else to function, and get it to them
Everyone agreed that this was a good illustration of what ‘information people’ did and their main value to their organisation or their users.  In other words, without information managers, they wouldn’t function!
One of the suggestions for action was for the formation of some kind of umbrella or federated body to draw all the existing information groups/associations/societies together in some way.
On our table this was viewed as something of a long term and challenging goal, although the benefits, in terms of potential for joint advocacy, joint accreditation of university courses, joint press statements, joint networking events, joint training or other CPD courses, were clear to everyone.  Having one ‘face for the public’ or one coherent voice, would also bring increased credibility and visibility to the profession as a whole.  Parallels were drawn to the engineering bodies with their overarching council, or to the surveyor’s body.
It was also felt that any collaboration would have to permeate every level of the bodies subscribing to it, not just be a CEO/President level ‘signing up’, and also that each of the associations would need to ‘get their own house in order’ internally.  Members of both CILIP and BCS on the table felt that their respective bodies had special interest groups that didn’t really communicate or collaborate effectively with each other, and that needed improving as well as (or before?) trying to get the bodies as a whole to communicate and collaborate with other groups.
During the second plenary session of the afternoon the comment was made that it’s not the fragmentation of the profession that’s the problem – it’s the irrelevance (perceived irrelevance?) of the profession that’s the burning issue.
Organisations will go ahead with organising their information regardless of what we do – if they don’t know “an information profession” exists they will make do without it.  It is therefore a waste of time and effort to bewail to each other that ‘they are doing it wrong’ and ‘we could do it so much better’ – touches of the ‘Echo Chamber’ campaign by Ned Potter.
There is a burning, urgent and immediate need for effective education and advocacy.  I hope that the defragmentation discussion goes some way to help the various associations achieve this goal.

- Nicola Franklin