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Blue Chip vs SME: What’s best to progress your career

As a sales and marketing manager with experience working with both blue-chip businesses and SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises), I’ve seen the best (and worst!) of both worlds.

While blue chips are historically able to weather recessions and withstand market shifts — crucial in this unstable, post-Brexit moment! — SMEs tend to offer job seekers a breadth of experience that blue chips can’t rival.

In fact, we’re currently seeing a real swell of later-career candidates moving towards SMEs, as opposed to the traditional blue chips that traditionally tempt the best talent.

Why do most people make the move to SMEs?

In my experience, there are typically three factors at the core of a decision to throw in the corporate towel at a Blue Chip and shift over to an SME:

  1. Agility: the perceived ability of an SME to react quicker to market conditions.
  2. Autonomy: the perceived lack of red tape and freedom to take true ownership of decisions.
  3. Impact: the desire to be, shall we say, a big fish in a small pond.

But that doesn’t mean you should write-off blue chips entirely! While many blue chips can actually offer jobseekers all of the above — as well as the opportunity for career progression, international moves, and cross-discipline training — some SMEs struggle to do just that. Let’s just say I’ve heard some real horror stories! (But let’s save those for another day…)

In short, it’s often not about the company size, it’s about the company.

So, as a job seeker, what do I need to take into consideration before deciding between a blue-chip or an SME?

First of all, don’t assume anything about the company based on its status. SMEs don’t guarantee autonomy, nor do blue chips automatically turn you into a mere corporate cog!

Instead, test your assumptions at interview. For example, many SMEs will have their founders heavily involved in the day-to-day running of the company, which can go one of two ways:

  1. They want people with experience, who can take the metaphorical ball and run with it, or…
  2. They’re so attached to their ‘baby’ that they can’t relinquish control! (And they might be suffering from the dreaded ‘ugly baby syndrome’, rendering them absolutely immune to criticism.)

Neither one is better or worse than the other, but it’s crucial to consider which approach will suit you. As always, asking incisive questions at interview will be your biggest asset when it comes to figuring this out.

Similarly, remember that SMEs can often be risk-averse, reluctant to rush to market and fail. Meanwhile, blue chips can typically swallow such failures and bounce back. Depending on your preferences, the security of a blue-chip could definitely play in your favour.

It’s also key to remember that you can make just as much of an impact at a blue-chip business as you can with an SME.

Plus, if you’re impatient, the time it takes to land large clients at an SME can be frustrating; meanwhile, at a blue-chip, often you can hit the ground running. I recently moved to an SME having spent 7 years in a blue-chip, and this is definitely something which impacted me! I’d expected my previous clients to bring me all their recruiting needs, but that just wasn’t the case and it took time to re-establish my client base and sort trading terms etc.

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Moving jobs? How to prevent feeling pressurised to accept an offer

Let’s face it: No one wants to feel rushed or forced when making any decision so why should this happen when choosing a job that you’ll be committing to for the foreseeable future?!

But unfortunately, you’re probably one of many reading this blog because this happens far too often.

Most recently, I was working with a candidate who was looking for the perfect Senior Category position. Now, she was very transparent throughout the process, telling potential future employers that she was in the process with other organisations. The first had offered her a role, but she was also in the final stages with the other two businesses.

Instead of rewarding her transparency (and let’s be honest, assessing your options properly is critical to any candidate considering a move!) they gave her an ultimatum saying she had till 5 o’clock on Friday to make a decision!

A lot of it comes down to the agency you’re dealing with so, if you want to avoid feeling pressurised to accept an offer, here are my top tips and warning signs to look out for to ensure you make the right decision.


The 3 alarm bells when dealing with a recruiter:

  1. An Ultimatum
    Understandably you can’t take a month to decide whether or not to accept an offer, but if you are being pushed with an unfair deadline with no justifiable reason then this is a clear alarm bell.
  2. The brief changes
    Another warning sign is if suddenly, the message changes e.g. You’ve been told from the beginning that you’re looking after Sainsbury’s then without much explanation your main focus will be Iceland. Things do change within businesses, but it is important to understand why the role of responsibilities has changed.
  3. They don’t know you
    I’m not talking about your favourite colour, I mean your aspirations, motivators and drivers. If they know this, then they’re way more likely to match you to the perfect company.

 

The 6 positive signs:

  1. The recruiter knows the process from the start to finish
    A good recruiter should be able to map out the whole interview process at the first call. e.g. if they know from the beginning that it’s a 3-stage process with a verbal reasoning test in the middle.
  2. They’ve worked with the company previously
    If the recruiter has worked with the hiring manager or the talent acquisition team previously it not only shows that they are trusted but it also shows that they’ve proven that they’ve successfully placed a good candidate in the past that fits with the company culture. This is super important for you because beyond role and pay, you want to know that your recruiter gets you and will align you with a complimentary company culture.
  3. They’re the companies preferred recruiter
    This may be the best sign of them all. It conveys that your recruiter is not only competent and valued but also speaks volumes that the client is willing to cut all cords with any other recruiter.
  4. They won’t budge until they meet you
    Who can truly understand you and your long-term goals in a 5-10-minute phone conversation? I seriously doubt even your parents can! So, if a recruiter endeavours to meet you because they see the value in talking with a clear headspace and looking at your career development holistically then guess what?! They are a keeper!(Related: See what exciting Commercial Strategy / MS&P, Category / Insight & Commercial Sales opportunities we have at Vertical Advantage now)
  5. Presentation preparation
    Now I don’t mean they literally prepare the whole thing; I mean they’re instrumental to your presentation being successful. They guide you; they tell you what to include, they’re honest about the length and help you be as concise as possible.P.S. Here’s a general rule of thumb if you’re wondering:

    • Don’t be too fluffy
    • Be concise
    • Convey what a good outcome looks
    • Always include initial priorities and longer-term goals and smart objectives
    • Encourage you to know your product e.g. store visits, topical insight
    • Makes sure you know what’s relevant in the category and who the competitors are

    In my opinion, the best recruiters are the most knowledgeable. In fact, they’re so well informed they might even sound like they could do that job themselves!

  6. Really honest feedback
    No one is perfect. That’s why the best recruiter will not tell you what you want to hear. Instead, they will give you constructive feedback as well as help you with developmental areas.

 

Being aware of all these points will ensure your recruiter understands your aspirations, motivators and drivers meaning that will get you the perfect job so you aren’t left questioning it all and feel pressured to make that final decision.

However:

If the role is perfect, location is ideal, packages are in line with your expectations and you like the brand or product – why are you still questioning it?!

Ask yourself honestly: why are you hesitating?!

It’s probably because you don’t want the role, it is better to be honest and not leave companies wondering. You never know where you will come across that hiring manager again.

Accepting offers can sometimes be trickier than the interview process, that’s why it’s always so important to meet your recruiter face to face so they understand your needs and create a bespoke plan for you. If you don’t put the time in at the beginning to express your wants and needs, then it’s no surprise that it can likely crumble when you get to the finish line.

I hope this article has helped you navigate better in what can be an uncomfortable situation and helped you feel a little bit more in control. If you want to discuss further career opportunities, some top tricks I’ve learnt along the way or maybe you’re just after some career advise then please drop me an email on dale@vertical-advantage.com, alternatively, you can reach me on 0207 438 1565. I’m all ears.

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Your ultimate guide to CV writing

If you’re looking for a job, you’ll most definitely need a winning CV. Whether you’re writing your first ever CV, or you’re a seasoned professional; it can make or break your chances of securing that ideal job. Therefore, it’s important that you get it right.

A CV is essentially a document that outlines who you are, what relevant experience you have and what you can bring to your next role. It’s most definitely not an autobiography of your life and employers will often spend under 30 seconds skimming through it.

With this in mind, there’s a number of factors to consider when writing your CV. From framing the content in the right way, to including the correct information and tailoring it to the job you’re applying for. If you’re hoping to secure that exciting role then read on for our advice.

Stick to a clear CV structure
Firstly, ensure that you stick to a clear structure. There are plenty of kicking about online; so have a search and decide which is best for you. For example, if you’re straight out of education and have little experience, your focus is going to be more on your studies and skills.

Alternatively, if you’ve been working in your industry for some time, you’ll likely stick to a more traditional format; starting with your personal profile, before moving on to your experience and then your education.

Either way, the top of your CV should always include your name, contact number and email address. You don’t have to state your full address on your CV if you don’t want to, though do try to include the town you live in, especially if it’s close to where the company is based. Also, you may wish to include your professional title, if appropriate.

Perfect your personal profile
The first main section of your CV is your personal profile. Keep this short, no more than three sentences long and provide a brief summary of who you are and what you can bring to the role you’re applying for. Alongside this, if you have any career goals, be sure to include these.

Just remember that the reader wants to know why you’re the best person for the job. So, if you fail to impress them at the top of your CV, they’re unlikely to carry on reading.

Shout about your experience
Next up is your experience section: possibly the most important part! Here, you can highlight any relevant experience you have; whether that’s work experience, an internship or full/part-time employment.

You should state your experience in reverse chronological order, starting with your most recent position first. For each section, be sure to include the job title, the dates in which you worked there (month and year is fine) and a short overview of any key skills and achievements. To make it easier for the reader to digest, it’s also best to use bullet points.

Alongside the above, when shouting about your achievements in each role, try using numbers to quantify them. For instance, rather than stating ‘I consistently hit target every month’, try ‘I consistent exceeded my target by 20% each month’. It helps to bring your example to life.

Touch on your education
The next part to focus on when writing your CV is the education section. Again, list your education out in reverse chronological order and include any relevant qualifications. If you’ve only just left education, this section will be your main focus and you can go into detail on any key modules studied at University or grades achieved in school/college.

As you progress throughout your career, employers tend to focus less on your education and more on your experience. So, if you have over 10 years’ experience in the industry, you probably don’t need to include details about school or college.

What else should you include?
Aside from the above, there are a few other sections that some people opt to include in their CV. For example, some wish to shout about their hobbies and interests. Again, if you’re just starting out in your career, this section can be useful to include. However, only do so if you actually have something interesting to say and better still: don’t lie!

At the end of your CV, you may also want to include a reference section. Note that you don’t need to actually include references on your CV; simply stating ‘References available upon request’ will suffice.

Tailor your CV to every role
Hopefully, you’ve got to grips with the basic structure of a CV. It’s definitely worth putting together a ‘skeleton’ document that you can work off of every time you apply to a job. However, it’s very important that you tailor your CV to every different role you apply for.

After all, a generic CV that isn’t relevant to the job won’t impress recruiters. They want to know what you can bring to the business and why you’re interested in the role. So be sure to set aside some time to do this.

Keep it concise
Finally, be sure to keep your CV concise. It’s recommended that you stick to two pages – any longer than this and it definitely won’t get read. Use a clear and easy to read font, such as Arial or Calibri in size 11 or 12. Alongside this, ensure that it’s in a format that’s easy to read. Graphics don’t tend to work well on CVs, especially if the company is using an Applicant Tracking System.

Ready to start writing your CV?
So there you have it; your ultimate guide to CV writing. Hopefully, the above information should be useful to you when you’re looking for work. Remember, stick to a clear format and include only the most relevant information. That way, your CV has a better chance of making it to the ‘yes’ pile; once you’re ready to go, why not register it online and see how you get on – good luck!

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What our clients say about us when we’re not in the room

We think we’re pretty great… but don’t just take our word for it!

Here’s what our happy clients say about us:

 

“The Vertical Advantage team have proven to be a value-adding talent acquisition partner for us. In a fast-moving, candidate-driven market, we need partners who act with pace and really understand their candidate network. Trust and transparency is crucial to the success of the partnership and we have faith that the Vertical Advantage team will deliver whenever we ask for their support.”
Talent Acquisition Manager at 

 

“I have worked with Vertical Advantage for a number of years and highly recommend them. They understand my needs and business constraints, tailoring their search accordingly. This is combined with the right level and style of communication to suit my needs, enabling an efficient, yet personable approach and (most importantly for me) the right result… a great Category team. They have a refreshing, clear and straightforward approach to the recruitment process.”
Head of Category at 

 

“Spot on and professional! I have been working with Vertical Advantage since 2015. Their coverage of the FMCG/Retail sector is excellent and the calibre of candidates recommended by the team has been extremely high. I like the no-nonsense approach, their ability to quickly understand our needs and the importance of fit when hiring for Land Securities. It is so comforting to know that one quick phone call gets the ball rolling!”
HR Manager – Retail and Learning & Development – 

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How to navigate a career in the fast-changing world of eCommerce

eCommerce is a continually growing and changing sector.

If eCom is your passion, now is a perfect time to push forward in this market.

In today’s world, eCommerce is a strategic focus for even the most antiquated of FMCG organisations and how to get most out of it is the question on everyone’s lips.

The projections vary (wildly at times) but what is not in doubt is that online sales are only going one way, and as such the demand for talent able to drive that growth is substantial.

In the early days of eCommerce, only responsibility was just tagged to the job descriptions of the likes of Online NAM’s, Category Managers & Shopper Marketing Managers. This was because it only covered about 5% of the sales in comparison shop floor sales so didn’t warrant a specialist position.

As time has passed, businesses have continued to underestimate the impact of eCom and hence underinvested in developing the talent of future leaders.

What does this mean for you?

This short-sightedness should have you licking your lips if you want to pursue a career in it.

A lot is changing.

Even in the last 12 months, there’s been a proliferation of restructures and newly created roles.

The appetite from companies is most definitely there, but the talent to feed it is not.

Why?

Because there’s a lack of competition and a wealth of opportunity for candidates.

Right now, there’s a huge opportunity for eCommerce enthusiasts to fast-track their career.

The pace of development means that the scope to learn new skills and be exposed to new technology is far ahead of the more established areas we typically recruit for.

In a nutshell:

It’s an area tailor-made for curious, inquisitive folk with a thirst for knowledge.

So where do these eCommerce roles sit under?!

Sales? Marketing? Neither? Both?

Increasingly, there is no clear answer.

Whilst that structure is still reasonably common, the creation of dedicated eCommerce & Digital teams has led to a more matrix-led approach.

It now sits somewhere between Sales & Marketing with employees acting as ‘internal consultants’ across the business.

Now, as an eCommerce Manager, you might need to be just as comfortable negotiating trading terms with Online Buyers as you are understanding the role PPC plays in improving the path to purchase.

The days of simply being an ‘Amazon NAM’ are numbered and expecting to transfer ‘bricks & mortar’ experience into ‘bricks & clicks’ is unrealistic.

What does this actually mean for you when you’re trying to navigate a career in eCommerce?

As recruiters were often speaking to people who aren’t eCommerce specialist in FMCG but would like to be. Broadly speaking there are 3 different types of people and here’s the advice we give them:

(Related: See what exiting eCommerce roles we have at Vertical Advantage)

 

Working in FMCG with zero eCom experience?

Know about Cambridge Universities work on Hero Imagery?

Got some thoughts on the INS Ecosystem?

I advise you to:

Learn as much as you can from multiple areas. Soak it all up and start to form a picture of what you enjoy the most.

You might want to remain in a broad role and there’ll continue to be no shortage of demand for that, but equally, if you find an area you love then specialising will pay dividends.

Lack of experience can be made up for by giving your 2 cents/bitcoin on the latest developments in the market.

This is where it’s down to your willingness to learn.

If your company doesn’t have the structure in place to give you the experience you want then start developing it elsewhere – go to events, be on top of the latest developments, get to know the online buyers at the retailers you work with or eCom teams at competitors.


Working in FMCG with some previous eCom exposure but not a specialist?

I advise you to:

Think about moving into a broad, generalist position.

If the structure exists internally to facilitate it, or externally.

 

Are you eCommerce specialist no FMCG experience?

Your best bet here may well be to play to your niche skill set.

Figure out what you know that most people in FMCG don’t and find a company who, if not already there, are moving towards specialisation.

If you’re keen to broaden your experience, then once inside make this clear and find out the best way to move internally further down the line.

In so many areas of FMCG the closed-mindedness when hiring outside of the industry means businesses shut themselves off to talent.

But, when it comes to eCommerce, skills can outweigh market or category-specific knowledge, meaning it can be a great way in for people wanting to break into FMCG.


(Related: See what exciting eCommerce roles we have at Vertical Advantage now)

 

To conclude, is it better to be a jack of all trades and master of none?

A generalist approach is perhaps best suited to SME’s / those with relatively new eCommerce functions.

But it’s unlikely to be the long-term solution.

Why?

Because as the nuances of what it takes to get people to buy online become better understood, the creation of more specialist positions will proliferate.

At the developed end of the market, you already see companies taking a more sophisticated, specialist approach.

Now, structuring their teams with the understanding that eCommerce is not just a commercial undertaking.

A sale online has resulted from the culmination of every touchpoint. I’m positive that the same approach is likely to filter down & become commonplace in the market as time progresses.

If you’re still not quite sure what you need to do in order to progress your career in eCommerce, don’t sweat it!

In a nutshell:

Become so knowledgeable that eventually, people see your talent as wasted anywhere else.

The outcome?

You’ll either impress so much at interview that your lack of experience won’t be an obstacle, or your knowledge and enthusiasm will be recognised internally and allow you to make the case for creating/shaping a role just for you.

Lastly, what does the future look like?

One example I’d expect to see, is more direct-to-consumer specific roles created over the next 12-24 months and businesses leading the way in areas such as this are already nurturing the best niche talent. (I’m looking at you, Unilever).

 

Andy Davies
Associate Director – eCommerce, Digital, Marketing & Sales
andy@vertical-advantage.com

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Career success starts with happiness. Where does happiness end?

Being happy in your career is the foundation to being successful. As Albert Schweitzer said, “success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.”

In today’s world, happiness at work is even more important than it used to be. The millennial generation have high expectations of their career and their employer. It’s no longer enough just to like your job, millennials want to be truly happy with the whole experience. Happiness at work is impacted in a myriad of ways; from salary and people, all the way through to the office environment.

Does the office environment REALLY make a difference to your business?
Some office environments can often leave much to be desired. Desks and cubicles crammed in together, it can seem like companies are trying to utilise every inch of floor space. But space, pleasant surroundings and natural light are essential.

Of course, making improvements costs time and money and is just one of many priorities. But how much of a difference can a working environment really make?


Chain reaction from employee well-being to productivity & retention
The first thing to understand is that employees’ health, wellness and job satisfaction are linked to their environment. If you look at some of the research around this idea, for example Gensler’s UK review into the workplace that identifies how ‘poorly designed, open-plan environments are negatively affecting 8+ million UK workers’, it quickly becomes clear that there is a chain reaction when an environment is improved.

Once the surroundings change, employees begin to feel more comfortable, engagement and motivation increase, followed by improved performance and productivity, along with job satisfaction.

Job satisfaction is one of the key factors for employee retention. This is especially important in a time where people may put quick career progression ahead of loyalty.


How switched on are employers to their employees’ environmental needs?
An MD from a leading office design company explains how companies are becoming increasingly aware of the impact of environment on their employees and they are working towards making improvements.

“Today’s office has developed into one which provides employees with a space in which they can conduct focused work, socialise, collaborate and more. The removal of walls – both physical and psychological has led to a major change in office design and the distinct boundaries that existed between ‘the office’ and ‘the home’ have in many ways been removed.

Many companies are looking to provide a more ‘homely’ feel to the office through enhanced office design. Primarily led by the tech companies such as Google, this design trend is now apparent in firms even within traditional sectors.’”

He believes there are 3 key reasons behind this employer attitude:​

  1. Staff attraction & retention
  2. A desire to ‘give back’ to employees working long and possibly unsociable hours
  3. An aim to foster a collaborative and interactive style of working


Case Study: Leading FMCG brand moves offices

A new environment bring rewards with improved employee retention and engagement
A client of ours that has recently moved offices found their new environment had a big impact on their employees. They identified that their old offices were not “fit for purpose”. In the new office there is a focus on layout and privacy, with “plenty of flexible working space and phone booths for private calls”, making it as easy as possible for employees to be comfortable and work productively.

Our client believes that their new office environment had a visible effect on their ability to attract and retain talent and improve employee engagement levels. ”Our retention rates are high, but we have seen a marked difference in our engagement scores over the last two years since the move.” He acknowledges that there are many factors which impact talent retention, but believes that this can be strongly attributed to the new environment.

To build upon the success of the new offices, the business has a team of committee members who regularly feedback on suggested improvements, making sure that ”any frustrations or concerns don’t go unnoticed.”


Prioritising the office environment
It’s clear that there is a direct link between office environment and employee engagement, productivity and retention.

Some businesses are striving to make improvements, while there are still others that could benefit from giving their office a little more TLC.

In the long-run, as industry professionals point out, investing in improving the working environment can make a real difference. Invest now and reap the rewards of increased productivity and improved retention for years to come.

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Anyone for drinks? How you could leverage current trends in the drinks industry to land your dream job.

The rise of the start-up is as prominent in the drinks industry as it is in other FMCG categories in the UK. Craft is nothing new, you have craft gin, craft beer and craft quinoa vodka, for goodness’ sake, and the category continues to ferment as new brands bubble into the market daily. It’s incredibly competitive but there’s some notable small batch gins really making noise in the industry, like Manchester Gin manchestergin.co.uk also up for a Great British Food Award for 2017

Together with the rise of craft is the tonic and soft drinks industry, with emerging brands like Fever Tree, Fentimans, and Franklin & Sons, now giving market leaders like Schweppes a run for their money. It’s also worth noting the emergence of the ‘low-cal’ category, which suit a more nutrition-conscious nation.

Staying with soft drinks for a moment, a few other categories have experienced growth and seen new contenders enter:

  • In spring water, Cano recently launched Canowater, a brand focused on sustainability and the environment, cannily (sorry couldn’t resist the pun) created aluminium cans of sparkling and still waters, where the packaging alone is enough to tempt you to make a purchase.
  • Tapped Trees is another brand busily making flavoured water cool again from the sap of the birch tree

Another thing I’d like to mention is the wide range of spin-off industries like subscription services. Whilst wine clubs have been around for aeons now, the subscription-based gifting services, whether drinks or cosmetics, or whatever it may be, are still really gaining momentum. One notable is Gin Craft Club with a staggering 20,000 members who receive a different gin every month/two months, along with a hamper-style box filled with related gin paraphernalia enabling you to create your perfect G&T in the comfort of your own home. There’s also a similar one called Caskers for Vodka lovers.

I think it’s a great time to be a consumer in the UK at the moment as the need for brands to keep their innovation pipeline relevant and fresh has never been more important. The result of this is a wider range of ingredients, new categories emerging, and innovative brands at our disposal, resulting in a range of highly creative products on our shelves like never before. However, life is not all about socialising and consuming, so here’s some critical success factors that I have put together about how to find work in the burgeoning drinks industry right now:

How can I get into the drinks industry?

Get yourself out there before you apply anywhere
More often than not you will learn your trade through the trade, so if you are applying for jobs with drinks companies, get out there and understand the brand perception. Identify if they are mass market or premium, who their competitors are, what the price-point is, what the promotions are, and if it tastes good. This first-hand research is especially important if you are making a switch from an entirely different industry.

Choose the business type carefully
If you are a sales professional looking for entry level positions, consider whether you want to work for an SME or if you want to join a larger business where you could get training development, and a better appreciation of other functions and resources like category management, shopper marketing, and consumer insights.


What traits do drinks companies look for?


Show you understand the business

The on-trade to off-trade transition will forever be an issue. If you are a NAE/NAM currently in the on-trade trying to make a switch, you will need to find comparisons with the Grocery/Retail channel. For example, building and negotiating Joint Business Plans (JBP’s, category management approaches, or where you have perhaps had crossover with colleagues in the off-trade in projects before.

Be a brand ambassador!
As we’ve seen with some of the recent trends, this is a really exciting, yet competitive time to be in drinks, so if you are considering a move to a Craft Gin, Beer or Tonic brand, bear in mind that there’s probably a high percentage of other people in the UK who also think it’s a cool job too. To get ahead, ensure that you are able to demonstrate your industry knowledge at interview, it sounds obvious, but think about what brands you like, and why, and make sure the company knows you have been into the trade and done your homework.

Be entrepreneurial
At the more experienced end of the market, let’s say you are thinking of making the switch to SME (another interesting blog covered by my colleague, Richard Bowen) you must be able to demonstrate real (and excuse the somewhat overused term) entrepreneurial spirit: how you’ve progressed, how you’ve worked cross-functionally, and where you’ve created/implemented processes from scratch.

Be prepared to work in your own spare-time
This is something probably more relevant in drinks than most other categories. You may be expected to go to festivals (what a drag!), attend events, collaborate with other brands in sponsorship agreements, deliver tasting sessions, and do pop-ups etc.

Ultimately working in the Drinks industry can involve lots of hard-work yet be extremely rewarding if you are passionate.

G&T anyone?

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The underlying problems in FMCG sales hiring and what to do differently

Clients often put it to me that there’s a scarcity of qualified professionals looking for that second or third job in the Sales and Account Management space in FMCG.

But the truth is, there’s not a lack of impressive professionals. They’re simply just looking in the wrong places.

If you too are struggling to hire a National Account Executives (NAE) or Junior Commercial Talent, there may be some hard truths to face.

In this blog, I’m going to cover the 4 main reasons you might not be getting what you’re after and tips on how to avoid putting all you’re the best candidates off.


1. Candidates aren’t wow’ed by your benefits as much as you think

It might seem obvious, but if an individual has had over a year’s exposure to P&L, they need not only need to be rewarded. They need to be rewarded adequately.

Especially if they have the right skill set.

Remember: It’s rare these candidates can be secured for packages lower than £40k per annum.


2. Candidates aren’t demanding as much as you think

Those who want a £10k pay rise and will only work for a top 20 FMCG brand might sound bold, but in reality, this is a reasonable market rate and requirement when it comes to salary change.


3. They’ve got more options than you think

And I’m not just talking the top brands.

These days there is a whole new world of choice in the start-up, SME space.

What’s so appealing?

The next wave of innocent drinks copycats may entice with modern interior, multi-functional breakout spaces, flexible and co-working options working, cycle to work schemes and other perks like unlimited beer taps and table tennis next to their desks.

This means there’s nothing stopping candidates stepping outside the sector and into the consulting, finance or tech industry.

Remember: it’s likely that they’re able to use their client-facing experience to command a premium.


4. Entry opportunities offered aren’t as exciting as you think

This may come as a shock but not that many people want to trek round the country for a couple of years in a branded Mini. It seems a lot of companies are missing a trick if the opportunity for entry level FMCG sales is limited.

If they don’t come through a graduate scheme and this is the only way to secure an admin-led NAE role they’re probably going to be put off.

Remember: field sales experience is useful but is rarely a springboard into national accounts these days.

 

If you want to bag the best of the best read these 2 tips below:

1. Invest in grad schemes / programmes
As they grow with you, you’ll be able to hold on to your talent for longer.

Candidates who enter the sector earning at £30,000 can easily be progressed within 2–3 years to a larger role earning up to £15–20k more.

It’s often at this point they need a career move to smash through the glass ceiling to the next level.

2. Hire outside of FMCG
Aside from this, my advice to FMCG hiring managers is that you must, must open your eyes and understand there is a huge pool of talent outside FMCG.

If you don’t step outside the box when hiring, you’ll only end up hiring all the same type of people. You can do so much better than only hiring people who have worked in FMCG doing the same role in a similar business. P.S. moving from retail buying doesn’t count!

If you have a diverse pool of talent it adds richness through different lenses of knowledge, experiences, cultures and backgrounds.

Diversity breeds creativity and innovation equating to better financial performance.


A common misconception is there’s a shortage of talent in applicants for FMCG.

But in fact, there is great talent, it’s just you that you’ve been looking into the wrong place! Talent can easily be attracted by some of the sectors mentioned above and elsewhere.

Unfortunately, the industry is still blinkered, and mainly hiring from within.

The bulk of hiring managers want candidates who ‘tick every box’

What do you need to do differently?


Firstly, get real!

When you change your mindset you change the game.

If you are doing any of the 4 points I mentioned above, then I can guarantee the candidate will be bored in three months and looking for his next step in 12 months at the latest!

Remember: there’s always someone else prepared to offer an extra £10k and a bigger job.

So, forget the industry and focus on the person.

Find the right competencies, the right personal attributes, which match your brand values, and train the rest!

In three months, that person will be a far stronger and more positive employee that’s genuinely grateful for the opportunity your business gave them.

If you want to read more about this topic and understand why sales professionals are moving from retail to the supplier side more and more, check out my colleague, Richard Bowen’s most recent blog.

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From Hong Kong to Manchester in 1460 days

As we all get used to waking up in the year 2017 I am once again starting a new year in the UK after 4 years of living and working abroad in Hong Kong – ‘Asia’s World City’. I have now spent an equal proportion of my career in the UK and Asian FMCG markets, and only recently returned to the city of Manchester (where I call home).

Unsurprisingly the UK hasn’t stood still since 2012; I’d barely stepped from the plane and dusted off my flip-flops when Brexit was announced – a monumental piece of our history.

Needless to say, the UK FMCG industry has moved on significantly too and I’ve spent some time comparing the Asian markets with our UK market. I think there are some key factors to consider, whether you are considering a move to Asia or returning home after an International assignment. Or indeed if you are recruiting International talent.


International Relocation
Asia is dynamic and moves fast, which is one of the many reasons so many people choose to live and work there. If you are considering an International move, there are a few things to be mindful of:

  • Those with Visas will ultimately be favoured whether moving to Asia or the UK from other parts of the world.
  • The mechanics of the FMCG/Retail industry will be very different depending on the market, for example; HK is quite insular and localised along with other parts of APAC and can be difficult to penetrate as an outsider without local market expertise and/or language. Also, the Retail landscape is very different, with none of the major UK/Global retailers ie Walmart/Tesco operating there and very few big store supermarket formats which ultimately changes the dynamics of the supplier-retailer relationship.
  • As an Account Manager/NAM on the supplier side it is likely you will find trading/negotiating with Buyers very different going from say New Zealand to the UK or the UK to Hong Kong/Dubai and language plays a big factor here.
  • You should be able to live without a salary for a period of up to 6 months which is how long it could take you to find a job if you are not relocating with your current company
  • Those that are successful at finding jobs are the one’s usually on the ground, able to get in front of recruiters and people hiring, but also have a buffer period that gives them some breathing space.


Coming home

Sometimes the biggest hurdle for people coming back to the UK or their native country after a stint overseas is the disparity of salary and cost of living.

  • Tax!!! Clearly if you are coming from a place like Hong Kong/UAE etc then you will have become accustomed to paying either very low or no tax whatsoever.
  • If you are moving home, you will need to factor in the higher tax rate when considering salary but you will also need to appreciate if you have been out of the UK market for a significant period of time there will be a degree of acclimatising yourself and a period of adjustment which may be a concern for a future employer, and remove some of your bargaining power when negotiating salary.
  • Your international experience will be deemed invaluable to certain organisations but far less useful to others, candidates with recent UK experience could be deemed as a safer bet which could limit the opportunities available to you.

The industry you left will have changed and your network may have moved on, channels may be classified differently, retailers may no longer exist, companies will have merged, or have been taken over and the overall industry landscape is likely to have changed.

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Is a recruitment business more like a noodle bar than you think?

I’ll come clean. As an economics graduate working in recruitment, I really don’t spend much time mining the ‘intellectual resources’ gathered during my degree. But a great article by Mark Ritson in Marketing Week a few months back got me thinking about elasticity of demand and supply in recruitment.

According to Ritson, a noodle bar in Singapore received a Michelin star and hit a massive boom in demand – way beyond what it could supply. This gave it an unusual opportunity: to increase prices without affecting sales volume.

Did the owner do it?

No.

According to Ritson, he is ‘hopeless at pricing’.

See, inelasticity – where price increase does not lead to a significant drop in demand – is a dream situation for most businesses, and one that may sometimes never happen.

If you’ve earned it, use it!


Inelasticity and recruitment
So consider this: in recruitment, inelasticity is a reflection of client loyalty and agency quality.

The conditions for kindling inelastic demand, mean agencies need to adhere to a meaningful value proposition.

Pricing is too often used as a negotiating tool, but it’s a mistake to define the ‘value’ of your proposition in purely monetary terms.

You owe it to your brand – the promise you make to your customers and clients – to keep the price representative of the high value they get from the product.

So the question to consider, particularly in recruitment, is:

How far does your brand let you increase profitability without damaging customer and client trust?


Stretching your elasticity
There are many factors that affect your ability to be inelastic, however these are the key ones.

Supply of candidates

Good quality, reliable candidates, relatively scarce in a particular specialism make for a more inelastic situation. Their negotiated salaries and recruitment costs can be increased without damaging demand.

Quality of service

Make it easy for clients to get great candidates, and you’ll achieve overwhelmingly positive client experiences. Client loyalty is a strong sign of service inelasticity; you can set your own prices without damaging demand.

Brand representation

Where the client brand is not properly understood, the right hire can be hard to find. The better the understanding of that brand, the less likely high prices will affect demand. In addition, all the effort you put into marketing your great recruiter brand must be reflected the price you charge.


What can we learn from this?
Rapid competition at a micro level, and uncertain political events at the macro, mean in 2017, recruitment is going to hit that price-value conversation with employers more often.

The problem is, negotiation to a lower rate really leaves three choices for recruitment agencies:

  1. Suck it up and carry on.
  2. Walk away and risk future work with that client.
  3. Adjust your service proposition to match the fee you are being asked to charge. For example, let your clients know that they will be serviced by the more junior members of staff. Just like in a hair salon!

None of these options will be good for your brand you have spent so much time and money building. If you’re a specialist, providing candidates others can’t, offering a level of service unmatched by rivals, a pricing proposition that undermines this will damage your credibility and your inelasticity.

Walking away from business never sits well, but your company’s values can sometimes be more important than potential business. As a recruitment agency, we’re not afraid to walk away from clients and PSLs when the terms don’t reflect the value we bring to a company’s hiring solutions.

What are your thoughts on pricing in recruitment?

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