The secret saviours of jobs are small businesses

By Neil Patrick

The UK economic recovery is forging ahead with record numbers of people in work, but is this really the good news we've all been longing for?

Yesterday, I was reading a post on the Daily Telegraph website with the headline, “UK Jobs Growth Rises at Fastest Rate in 43 Years”.

It quotes the ONS which reports that UK jobs “growth between January and March rose to a 43-year high, driving down the unemployment rate to its lowest level in more than five years”.

Other headlines were:
  • The number of people in work rose to 30.43m - a record high 
  • The unemployment rate dipped a tenth of a percentage point to 6.8% 
  • The number of people out of work in the quarter fell by 133,000 to 2.21m compared with the previous three-month period. 
  • At the same point last year unemployment stood at 2.52m. 
Of course the government are reporting these numbers with glee as well. And I don’t wish to rain on the parade. We all need some good economic news and this certainly isn’t bad news.

But neither is it particularly good news when we look behind the headlines. In fact the most noticeable aspect of the data can only be described as stagnation.

“Self-employment” is the number one reason behind both the rise in the number of people in work and the lower jobless rate.

Almost one in seven people - some 4.55m - are now classed as being self-employed, the highest level since records began in 1971. The number of people working for themselves has risen by 375,000 over the past year.

But many of these people working for themselves are not able to get enough work, with 1.29m of them working part time, though for some this is a matter of choice.

Aengus Collins, UK analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit has highlighted the real concern:

"The latest numbers confirm the rapid and continuing improvement of the headline labour market numbers, with unemployment now at a five-year low. However, just as the recession of the last few years was no ordinary recession, so the recovery is displaying some curious patterns (professional understatement? –Ed.).

“This is particularly true of labour market conditions. The UK's unemployment rate fell to 6.8%, but we have concerns about the profile of the jobs that are driving this. The increasing use of zero-hours contracts is well documented …but one of the labour-market developments that can get overlooked …is the rapid rise since the crisis of the number of self-employed people in the UK.

“The recovery of total employment since the crisis has been driven by rising self-employment. (My emphasis –Ed.) Given the backdrop, this is less likely to represent a surge in entrepreneurial dynamism than a fall-back strategy for people who lost jobs during the crisis."

He added that the forced move into self employment may be the major factor behind what he called the "shocking halt" in productivity growth that has occurred since the financial crisis hit in 2008.

And I think he is right. All is plain to see in the graph below. So what if we have a record number of people in jobs? That number means very little if productivity and incomes are not rising too.

Zero-hours contracts result in many low paid workers having completely random amounts of work and consequently pay. Many of those statistically classified “self-employed” are in reality self-unemployed.

Jeremy Cook, chief economist at World First:

"We have seen the biggest quarterly improvement in employment since records began, in 1971, over the past three months. Unfortunately this has not come with a continued rise in ‘real wages’, with average earnings only rising by 1.7pc, the same as last month.

“The disappointment surrounding real wages outweighs any positive sentiment coming from the fall in the overall rate of unemployment to 6.8pc. This lack of wage inflation will keep overall CPI lower in the short term and, more importantly, will allow the Bank of England to maintain low rate expectations into next year."

John Salt, director of jobs website

"Unemployment has now been trending downwards since late 2011. This has led to a steady supply of good news stories for the government, with job creation becoming the cornerstone the Conservative Party’s election campaign for 2015.

"However, the underlying problems in the job market endure. Yes we are seeing more people in work, but youth unemployment remains high when compared to other developed economies as nearly a quarter of a million under 25 year olds have been out of work for more than a year. The government needs to invest more to help the young find full time work and create meaningful job market growth.”

These commentators all make valid points in my view. We remain a long way from a real jobs recovery in the UK. In fact what we have is essentially more people classed as being in work, when in reality they are at best only working occasionally; low paid workers seeing falling standards of living as inflation exceeds income growth and a polarised recovery with strong growth in London and the South east and stagnation elsewhere.

But there is some genuinely good news if we look deeper still:

The number of UK micro-businesses has grown by over half a million since the Great Recession began.

Some believe that this will be short-lived, and that when the economy gets back on its feet, things will return to ‘normal’. However, this ignores the fact that self-employment and the number of micro-businesses had been increasing at a steady rate long before the recession began:

The number of micro-businesses in the UK has grown by an average of 3% a year since the start of this century. They are now very much a ‘normal’ feature of our economic system.

Studies also suggest that at an individual level, the likelihood of a business owner returning to a typical job is low. A Survey by RSA found that only 7% of micro-business owners plan to close their business in the next 3-5 years and do something else.

Governments are not really fans of micro-businesses. They are after all a great deal more difficult to manage and help than large businesses. Governments are large bureaucracies. They like big, policy-based initiatives which can be implemented universally.

A micro-business is the exact opposite. It’s local. It exists day to day on the wits and skills of often just one or a handful of people. They work to extraordinarily short time-scales. They have no time to engage with governments on governments’ terms. They are completely unable to spend their time writing business plans, compiling data and jumping through administrative hoops. They have to find new customers and serve the ones they have to the best of their ability. Every single day.

Micro-businesses are not scaled down large businesses. They require a completely different type of government support. And governments find such complexity difficult to deal with.

The UK has a growing entrepreneurial class of micro-business owners. And these businesses hold the keys to the real future of the UK economy. Not because they will all become large businesses, but because they are by their very nature entrepreneurial. They create jobs and vital experience for the young. And they foster a spirit of self-reliance.

They may not be the next Apple or Amazon but critically, they keep money within their local economy, rather than it disappearing via some complex corporate structure and accounting mechanisms into an offshore tax-haven.

Politicians of all parties need to learn what these businesses really need and start providing it in a way that they can easily absorb it. Not pandering to the wishes of large corporations. Not creating more complex bureaucracy laden ‘initiatives’, but recognising that small businesses need help much more than big businesses. And delivering it in an appropriate way.

The statistics prove the green shoots are here. And the most valuable ones are in the small business sector.

Priorities and time management for an effective job search

By Neil Patrick

The myth we can have everything continues to delude us

There’s an explosion of self-help books, podcasts, webinars, forums. It’s become a multi-billion dollar industry. People spend their money AND time so they can change something about themselves they are not happy with.

People think they want to start a business. They think they want to lose weight. They think they want to become an expert musician. But they don’t REALLY want it. What they fall in love with is the pure attractiveness of the thought. And the myth that we can have everything.

People become enamoured with the idea of their goals rather than the reality of the commitment that’s required to achieve them.

They want to have it all.

Well we cannot. Not you, not I, not anyone.

Everything in life costs time or money or both

Everyone who is a true star at something has a talent for sure, but also dedicates themselves to it.

The idea we can have everything sets us up to fail from the start. But we persist in the belief that we can always have more, we just have to find a bit more time to get it.

So one thing that everyone seems to want more of is time. Including jobseekers.

Tim Ferriss, spotted this emerging market early and made I am sure a very good return on his bestselling book “The Four-Hour Work Week”.

Who wouldn’t like to work just four hours a week and spend the rest of their time doing…well whatever they felt like?

It’s a very seductive idea of course. And the many thousands who bought that book prove this. But it's the idea, not the reality involved in achieving this nirvana which seduces us.

Our number one excuse is time

We deceive ourselves that our lives would be so much better if we had almost infinite freedom to do just about whatever we wanted.

Being too busy is the most tempting excuse. We kid ourselves that if we had more time we’d achieve more.

Well we can’t. And we won’t. Time is finite. Everyone has the same amount every single day.

The only choice we really have is how we spend those hours.

And we still waste that time every day

A while ago I was facilitating a workshop with a group of senior managers. It was about project management. I asked them how much time they spent on their A tasks…the things that they needed to do to achieve their personal objectives that they would be appraised on.

I thought this was a fair way to get them to focus on the most important things they needed to do every day.

And almost all of them said they spent the first couple of hours every day reading and replying to emails. Whilst I am sure many of them worked more than 8 hours a day, that’s still around 25% of their available time spent on admin.

Moreover it was their best time...the time when they were most alert and able to be productive.

Next I asked them what were the biggest organisational problems they faced? The number one answer was communication. Huh?

The urgent stuff was stopping them doing the important stuff

Or what they thought was the urgent stuff.

And the reason they had a communication problem was that no-one actually talked enough to their colleagues. They were all too busy reading and replying to their emails.

What really mattered was communicating the important things and doing it fast. And the fastest way I know to communicate with someone isn’t to send them an email. It’s to speak to them.

How can that be you say? An email is instant. Except it usually isn’t. It’s usually a chain of back and forth commentary and remarks which often spreads out over days. And how long does it take you to write an email? Unless you’re an expert touch typist, I bet it’s much longer than it is to actually say it…

A person to person live conversation is two way and simultaneous. It allows you to reach a conclusion. Not next week, but NOW.

That’s where we fail. We let the things which are most demanding of our attention get it. Even if we know that it’s not really the most important or valuable thing we have to do that day.

The trouble is that we feel so much better when we know we’ve answered all those emails. We think that our team isn’t kept waiting for our decision. Our boss has the information he needs for his report. Our peers won’t accuse us of holding them up or being uncooperative.

That’s a good feeling right? Yes it is. But it also means we have sacrificed one of our most important assets - time - just to get that good feeling.

“I cannot do x because I’m just too busy”.

Bullshit. You either want to do something or you don’t. We often like the idea of doing something, but when it comes down to it, we don’t actually really want to do it.

This isn’t just time management, it’s success or failure

But here’s the problem. Just about every professional person I know that has a job is money rich and time poor. And just about every unemployed person I know is money poor and time rich.

Except they are not. Their time is simply gobbled up by the non-productive tasks in their job search.

Or what they tell themselves is their job search activity.

I’m networking. I’m searching for vacancies. I’m polishing my resume. I applied to 20 jobs this week alone! I’m so busy!

That’s the danger. Letting the most at hand tasks get in the way of the most important ones.

And if you are jobseeking that needs to be the activities which are most likely to lead you to getting hired fast.

Why this is even more critical when you’re job seeking

You may think I am talking nonsense. That I don’t understand just how demanding a schedule you have set yourself. And how hard you are working.

So ask yourself this question:

How do you rank the priorities and most value-producing activities involved in your job search?

If you cannot answer this question, then you have your answer…you need to know what they are.

I cannot make that list for you. But I can suggest some likely candidates for it.

Some things that I think should be at the bottom (or not even on) the list are:

  • Searching job boards
  • Browsing newspaper and magazine job ads
  • Uploading your resume to online databases
  • Emailing people asking if they know of any vacancies
  • Calling up recruitment firms
  • Improving your resume
  • Getting more qualifications

Some things which probably should be towards the top of the list are: 

  • Creating a search optimised Linkedin profile
  • Setting up newsfeeds for organisations in your sector
  • Improving your social media profiles
  • Following relevant people and organisations on social media
  • Sharing and commenting on the content of relevant thought leaders
  • Talking to people in your network who already work in your target sector
  • Growing your network of connections in your industry
  • Making appointments to talk with people that may be able to help you

And last but not least, getting off your computer and talking to as many relevant people as you can face to face. At every opportunity.

You may not agree with my lists. That’s fine. But I am sure that somewhere in your daily schedule is something that you know is robbing you of time. And if you’re really honest with yourself you already know what it is…

Being early – a secret way to access the hidden jobs market

By Neil Patrick

Fortune favours the punctual. Here’s why.

I post a lot of information here about techniques for getting hired in this hyper-difficult jobs market.

And they all involve some amount of effort. But here’s one which doesn’t. It just requires an adjustment of your schedule.

I was talking yesterday with a friend who’s a job search coach and he told me an interesting story.

He had a client who had applied for a job and got asked to attend an interview. She actually arrived almost an hour early and after signing in at the desk began her wait.

At this point, most people will sit down quietly in a corner waiting to be called to their interview. They’ll browse the magazines and newsletters, or read their resume and the job description over again.

This lady didn’t though. It was a busy open plan office and people were coming and going through the reception area constantly. Instead of quietly sitting down, she chatted with a few people. She told them she was there for an interview. And a little about what her background was.

Because she had prepared properly and knew a good deal about the business, she could talk about some of the things she knew the company was doing. She had also perfected her elevator pitch and used this as an opportunity to practise it. One person even asked her for her contact details.

She actually discovered a few more things about the firm that were useful snippets of information for her interview.

She had the interview. And a few days later she was called back to be informed she’d not been chosen.

She wasn’t in the least bit disappointed though. Because before she got this call, one of the people she’d talked to in the reception area had called her already to ask if she’d be interested in taking on a role they needed filling.

The job hadn’t been advertised. It was more senior and better paid than the one she’d interviewed for and she didn’t have to compete with any other candidates. Needless to say, she took the job.

Now this story isn’t statistically proven. It an anecdote. No more no less.

And will it happen to everyone who arrives early for an interview? Of course not.

But neither does it cost you anything. There’s no downside and a lot of possible upsides.

But what I like most about this story is that it shows how thinking outside of the box can make a big difference to outcomes. If this lady had just done the normal thing and quietly sat down waiting for her interview, speaking to no-one, she’d not have been hired. But she didn’t. She didn’t even plan this as a strategy; she just thought she’d make the best possible use of her time while waiting.

It just goes to show – fortune favours the brave…and the early!

An extra way to get found by recruiters when you are jobseeking

By Neil Patrick

I’m always thinking about ways I can make this blog and my Twitter account more valuable for jobseekers.

And this morning I had a flash of inspiration.

I have a lot of recruiters who follow my Twitter account - 500 at least. I also have a lot of job seekers.

But it occurred to me that jobseekers usually don’t have a lot of recruiters following them on Twitter. And recruiters are always looking for ways to find candidates.

So I have decided to try something new.

I have set up a new list on my Twitter account that any jobseeker that wishes to can appear on. Just send me a tweet if you are jobseeking and I’ll add you to the list.

The list is called “My job seeking friends”.

I have no idea what the results will be. Or how many people will join the list. All I know is that the people that join it first will be the most visible because they will be at the top of the list.

There’s no cost, no catches and no downsides that I can think of. It’s no more and no less than it appears.

I’d suggest that if you do this, you also make sure that your Twitter bio contains a link to your Linkedin profile. That way recruiters can go straight to your Linkedin profile.

It’s an experiment I admit, but you have nothing to lose if you are job seeking. Just let me know and I’ll be happy to put you on the list.

I’ll also tweet about it to encourage recruiters to view the list.

It might be a total flop, I don’t know.

But I’m ready to give it a try!

If you are a jobseeker or recruiter I’ll be happy to hear what you think!

Why you need to do less to get hired

By Neil Patrick

We have a problem. The odd thing is we not only know about it, we’re celebrating it.

Last week a friend called me up and mentioned he was really busy at work. He’s not alone. Just about everyone I know who has a ‘proper’ job says the same thing. They almost seem to wear it as a badge of honour.

Shortly before the call, I had been out walking along the riverbank. I do this daily. It’s time to reflect and marshal my thoughts. It is always a more productive time than if I were to stay at my desk.

But I have to force myself to do this. I love my work and the default is always to think, ‘Another hour at my desk and I can tick off another task on my to do list’.

A great post on this topic by Greg McKeown dropped into my Linkedin stream at about the same time. It was called, “The Number 1 Reason You’re Too Busy”. You can read his post here.

Whilst I agree with Greg’s points, it occurred to me that the condition he describes for people at work, is magnified even more in the lives of those who are seeking work. And it’s doing them a lot of damage.

Here’s the gist:

Digital communications are filling all our lives with noise

When we are job hunting, it’s easy to subscribe to job boards. We can follow recruiters on Twitter. We can spend hours every day just on Linkedin. It makes us feel better for a start. We are really busy hunting! And that makes us console ourselves that we are doing all we humanly can to find the next job.

Job hunters send out their resume to every possible position they think might be suitable

I’ve lost count of how many times job seekers have reported that they have sent out their resume hundreds of times – every week! I’ve not achieved anything like that number in my whole life!

The cult of more is served well by its biggest disciple – digital media. Digital media makes it too easy to think we can leverage our job seeking activity. But all it is really doing is accelerating the competition for jobs, making it ever harder for recruiters and hiring organisations to find the right people in the deluge of poorly targeted internet derived applications.

Many positions now attract around 200 applications

Which means the basic odds of getting hired are 0.5%. Getting hired isn't a lottery. The successful candidates win because they are better prepared and more impressive at every stage of the process. And that’s not down to luck. It’s down to detailed preparation and attention to every last detail of the requirements the hiring company wants to satisfy.

You are never going to achieve this by luck. You may achieve it by investing many hours in researching the organisation, polishing your resume so that it precisely matches every requirement and practicing and preparing for the interview over and over again.

No-one can do that for hundreds or even dozens of jobs. But you can do it for a carefully selected handful.

The myth of being busy

If you still think that it’s better to be busy., Greg makes an interesting point. He describes our obsession with busy as nothing less than a bubble:

Why are we so irrational in our behavior? We’re in the midst of a bubble; one so vast that to be alive today in the developed world is to be affected, or infected, by it. It’s the bubble of bubbles: it not only mirrors the previous bubbles (whether of the Tulip, Silicon Valley or Real Estate variety), it undergirds them all. I call it “The More Bubble.”

The nature of bubbles is that some asset is absurdly overvalued until — eventually — the bubble bursts, and we’re left scratching our heads wondering why we were so irrationally exuberant in the first place. The asset we’re overvaluing now is the notion of doing it all, having it all, achieving it all; what Jim Collins calls “the undisciplined pursuit of more.”

This bubble is being enabled by an unholy alliance between three powerful trends: smart phones, social media, and extreme consumerism. The result is not just information overload, but opinion overload. We are more aware than at any time in history of what everyone else is doing and, therefore, what we “should” be doing. In the process, we have been sold a bill of goods: that success means being supermen and superwomen who can get it all done. Of course, we back-door-brag about being busy: it’s code for being successful and important.

And that’s the key. We kid ourselves that being busy equates to the greatest possible effort we can invest and therefore our chances of success in our endeavours are as great as we can make them.

Big mistake.

I’m not saying that if we put our feet up, success will automatically flow to us via some mystical karmic force as yet unrecognized by science.

What I’m saying is that focus and the prioritization of the important things over the urgent things is what makes for success in any endeavor.

But it’s not just a question of prioritization. We all need to be ruthless in eliminating the things we spend time on which are sucking the time away from the important value adding things.

Fortunately this isn’t as difficult to practice as it might seem.

Here are the things job seekers can do right now to avoid being sucked into the black hole of busyness:

1. Get the foundations of your search correct

This means having absolute clarity about the type of role you are seeking. It goes hand in hand with a ruthless evaluation of what your personal competencies and aspirations are. Eliminate everything from your search which isn’t a great fit. Do not be tempted into thinking any job is better than no job.

I know that’s hard to say when the bills are piling up, but the hard truth is that unless there is a perfect match between you and the role, you are wasting your time going after it. And in the unlikely event you do get hired, sooner or later you or your employer are going to regret the decision and seek to dissolve the ‘marriage’.

2. Rest well to excel

K. Anders Ericsson found in “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance” that a significant difference between good performers and excellent performers was the number of hours they spent practicing.

What few people realize is that the second most highly correlated factor distinguishing the good from the great is how much they sleep. Top performing violinists slept more than less accomplished violinists: averaging 8.6 hours of sleep every 24 hours.

3. Don’t add more – discipline yourself to swap

For every new activity you add to your rota, take out one which is a time-sucking waste of your time. Individually they might seem small…but cumulatively, they can devour hours of your time every day.

Unsubscribe from email lists which are filling your mailbox with jobs you are not interested in or suitable for.

Take down your resume from job boards which only get you calls from the wrong people.

Leave the Linkedin groups which are not providing you with real value and suitable new connections.

4. Invest more in your most important relationships

Don’t accept every social media invitation that comes your way. It’s counter-intuitive to say no to good opportunities, but if we don’t do it then we won’t have the space to figure out what we really want to invest our time in.

Invest more in the relationships which are potentially most valuable to you. Just as you only need one job, you only need one conversation to change your future. But when that conversation arises, you need to be delivering your A game, not squeezing it in between a dozen other tasks you have scheduled at the same time.

Less will become the new more

I cannot put things any better than Greg has done in his post, so I’ll leave you with his conclusions:

A hundred years from now, when people look back at this period, they will marvel at the stupidity of it all: the stress, the motion sickness, and the self-neglect we put ourselves through.

So we have two choices. We can be among the last people caught up in the “more bubble” when it bursts, or we can see the madness for what it is and join the growing community of Essentialists and get more of what matters in our one precious life.

Greg McKeown is the author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. His "why" is inspiring people to design their lives and careers in order discover their highest point of contribution.

How to earn money while you look for your next job

By Diana Schneidman

There are millions of things you could do while you look for your next job.
  • You could mow lawns or shovel snow. 
  • You could return recyclables or take a metal detector down to the beach. 
  • You could work breakfast shift at the local fast-food outlet or babysit your nephew. 
Here’s a better idea: You could practice your proven work skills as a well-paid freelancer or consultant working with businesses.

Why businesses? Well, because that’s where the money is. Businesses are more likely to have the funds to hire the assistance they need than individuals are, even if the individuals do have a need that service providers can fill.

This strategy is easier to implement than you may think, and if you have a little gumption, applied with forethought and taste, you can be earning good money quickly in a few weeks or less. 

The secret to success is to get busy with marketing efforts that directly connect you with valid prospects while postponing nice-to-have but optional brand positioning and internet marketing for later.

I’ve been unemployed several times and each time I followed the same three steps to land work as a freelance writer / editorial consultant serving the insurance and asset management industries.

These steps are:

Step #1: Offer a service as similar as possible to what you did in your last good full-time job.

You can jump into marketing with confidence because you understand which companies are most likely to want your services and exactly which benefits they desire. You also know the job titles of those most likely to hire you.

Also, it’s easiest to work independently when you have already polished your skills and can do the work without guidance from others.

Some may advise that you should do what you love and the money will follow. Sounds persuasive but this saying is not always true. Your hobbies and other “love interests” may be in overcrowded fields or talents that are challenging to monetize.

So why not start where you are and offer the service you know best?

Step #2: Contact the best prospects individually . . . and since today’s marketing gurus recommend developing personal relationships, why not start with a no-pressure, simple phone call?

Over the years I’ve made thousands of phone calls on behalf of my services and I only remember one person who hung up on me.

My calls are nothing like the nuisance calls you get at home while at the dinner table.

Since I only phone businesses, I call during business hours. I make the calls myself. I phone live - no recordings for me!

I only phone people who are likely to want my services.

I get to the point quickly and don’t waste time on useless happy chatter.

Sure, some people say “no,” but it’s all in a day’s work. I don’t consider a simple “no” as rejection.

Step #3: Get real! Let’s define getting work quickly as within 30 days, not 30 minutes.

Every marketing technique, from Twitter to advertising, relies on large numbers. So does phoning.

Why not give this simple three-step system a try? Access everything you need to know to achieve success with Diana Schneidman’s new book on Amazon: Real Skills, Real Income, A Proven Marketing System to Land Well-Paid Freelance and Consulting Work in 30 Days or Less.

Diana offers an informative blog and other free advice on how to market freelance and consulting services at

Why the wrong people get hired and how to turn this to your advantage

By Neil Patrick

There are a lot of very average people that get hired simply because they fit a template. 

It’s not because these people are special. It’s because archaic approaches to selection have proved to be astonishingly persistent in many organisations. If you don't believe me, I think you'll change your mind, when you read some of the examples below, at least some of which I am sure you'll have personal experience of.

When these flawed approaches are combined with some bizarre thinking, it’s unlikely the best person for the job will be selected.

You cannot change this fact, but if you know what the process flaws are, you can use this knowledge to your advantage.

I’ve been talking to several recruiters recently about their businesses and how they and their clients go about the process of selection. And it’s clear the best person for a job is often not the one that ends up getting hired.

How can it be, when this is such an important decision and so much time, money and effort is invested in it, that so many poor decisions are made?

Well my conversations revealed that the supposed science of selection is frequently distorted and corrupted by a whole range of instinctive, almost primitive beliefs and practices.

1. Managers define the person rather than the job

Most job descriptions are written so that the desired person’s personal characteristics are much more specifically defined than the characteristics of the job requirements. These personal requirements presuppose what the person hired ought to have in terms of background, skills and experiences. Such profiles not are not job descriptions, they’re ‘person descriptions’.

Since clear definitions of work success have repeatedly been shown to be the main driver of personal performance, it seems obvious that managers should carefully define the work that needs to be done before defining the person they think can do the work.

Specific, key performance objectives should be the main part of a true job description. Not vague and generic characteristics like, “good communication skills”, “self-motivated”, or “results-orientated”

2. Getting the job requires a whole different skillset to doing the job

In an election, when deciding who to vote for, we often judge and choose based on our perception of the candidate’s presentation skills, not their ability to do the job.

Managers do the same with job candidates. They overvalue first impressions, likeability, and communication skills. They instinctively exclude those who are “different” in some way, temporarily nervous, or those who are not slick and polished interviewees.
3. People with personal connections are treated differently

People who are connected to the interviewer in some way are evaluated more fairly than a complete stranger. Strangers are assumed unqualified from the outset.

Ordinary candidates are assessed on the depth of their skills, level of direct experience, personality and first impression. These have been proven by research to be useless as predictors of future performance and fit.

The connected person has an automatic advantage – it’s assumed that they will fit with the team and culture of the organisation. Those who are unknown are not given this approval. They have to prove it and that can be difficult.

4. Managers ask irrelevant questions and assess people on meaningless facts

Brain teasers were proved to be of no value in selection processes long ago, but they remain a persistent feature of numerous interview and selection processes.

I heard of one CEO who predicted team skills based on whether or not the candidate picked up the coffee cups before leaving the interview room. I worked with a senior manager who co-related strong organizational and planning skills with a tidy desk, and would regularly carry out desk ‘inspections’, in the belief this would help him know who was performing and who wasn’t.

More recently, I heard about a manager who assumed that any person that could not keep to the appointed interview time for any reason at all lacked a strong work ethic.

5. The decision process is based on candidate features not benefits

Filling jobs with those who tick the largest number of boxes is a poor but common substitute for hiring the best person possible. The latter involves a dialogue aimed at acquiring an in-depth understanding of a person’s capabilities, aspirations and fit. There’s more give-and-take in the negotiation process. Both sides balance their long and short-term needs.

So, I have no doubt that the hiring processes in many, many cases are flawed and that the best candidates are often not the ones that get hired.

What can you do about this? Yes it’s unfair and counter-productive for everyone involved. But you have to face facts and ignore the things you cannot change, and focus instead on the things you can.

1. Pay close attention to the job description, however flawed it may be.

If the JD has been thrown together without due care and attention to detail, play them at their own game. Make sure that you include every clich├ęd key word from the JD in your resume AND then verify that you have that qualification, by means of providing an example of how you have delivered that result, or shown that capability in your previous job(s).

2. Recognise that the job interview will place undue importance on how well you present yourself, probably much more than how well you can do the job.

Approach the interview not so much as an exercise in showing what you know, more as an opportunity to seduce the interviewers. This is why you should pay close attention to every detail of your dress and personal presentation.

Understand that if you show an interest in the organisation and the job by asking appropriate questions, you’ll actually make the interviewers like you more and they will thus rate you more highly.

3. Adjust your target jobs to prioritise those where you may have a connection to the person hiring

This is where long-term investment in building a good personal network can really pay off. The bigger your network, the more chances you will have of finding vacancies where someone you know personally can come into play…whether it’s by giving you a confidential inside track, or in the best situations, actually putting you forward for consideration.

4. Don’t lose self-confidence following a rejection where you were the best candidate but still didn’t get hired.

I know this is easy to say and hard to do. But if you spotted any of the above process weaknesses I described above in your selection process, you can take heart from the knowledge that: 
  • It was poor process by the hiring firm not your unsuitability that meant you didn’t get hired. 
  • If the firm can’t get this key process right, maybe, it wasn’t such a great firm to join after all. 

For all the talk in HR circles about process quality and selection science, the sad fact is that the process flaws I describe above will probably never be banished completely. But at least if you know what they are, you have a chance to counter them.