How VA weathered the choppy waters of 2019 and what’s next in 2020

2019. I genuinely can’t remember a more interesting year in my working life. Without a doubt, the markets Vertical Advantage operates within have been affected significantly by a stop-start economic backdrop, perforated with changing timelines for a decision on Brexit / the election, etc. Couple the macro-economic situation with changes in regulation, increased advancements in rec-tech and the market dynamics of the consumer space, it has meant this year has been one of the most unpredictable ever in Vertical Advantages 7-year history.

Thankfully we have a weathered the choppy waters of 2019 creating greater niche specialisms within the consumer space by creating a 3rd permanent division, separating E-commerce and Digital from our traditional sales & marketing business which is now lead by Siobhan Nutt, a vastly experienced leader who joined us in June. In addition to Siobhan, we have hired some exceptional talent from apprentice to senior manager level & can proudly say that both our business and our leadership team has never been more diverse.

I’m incredibly proud we have embedded our #DONE values further this year and have built a career progression structure, a highly developed PDP model and an evolving EVP we can be proud of. However, these are simply foundations from which Vertical Advantage should build on in the next 12 – 18 months and the team internally are under no illusions that our agenda is very much focused on strong growth within that time period.

What’s next?

I’ve never been a great believer in big predictions however, 2019 saw a marked shift in terms of the talent we attracted to the business and with further hires planned, our expectation is to continue to raise the bar with the talent we bring in to Vertical Advantage. Outside that, we want to do more for our clients, provide them with better data and more outside the box solutions to their traditional hiring problems. 2019 saw Vertical Advantage work more in Europe than ever before and there’s certainly a driver to continue that trend as our blue-chip client base strives for recruitment partners with greater reach.

I’m in awe of what Jo Miller, our Commercial Directors & the Vertical Advantage team has achieved this year commercially and am humbled by some of the exceptionally innovative clients who we have built new, genuine relationships with as well as our long term customer base who have continued to be loyal to us in the face of stiff competition.

Lastly, I’d like to thank the candidate pool we have represented in 2019 – recruitment businesses are under increasing pressure and scrutiny and without you trusting the consultants at Vertical Advantage to help you navigate the next step on your career path, we would not be in the position we’re in today. Having increased our Linked in following by 600% this year and had over 30 positive google reviews (averaging 5 stars!), I’m confident we’re on a good path to continue our journey on an upward trajectory in 2020.

Wishing everyone a very happy new year & let’s hope for a successful, collaborative and peaceful 2020!


All the best,


Eat, Sleep, Work, Repeat – a newbies guide to working & parenting!

I’m part of several Whatsapp groups of new mummies (like myself) and lately, I’ve noticed a common recurring theme amongst the many topics we’ve covered – “how can I return to work when I’m still so tired?”

I’ve recently been blessed with a beautiful daughter, Joanna, and have come back off maternity leave into a new role, where naturally, I’ve felt the need to prove my ability. It’s been much more challenging than I initially expected it to be!

Finding the balance between work and home, making a good first impression after a rubbish night’s sleep or just generally being able to communicate and form sentences is tough. I’m amazed I’ve been able to put this article together at all!

But on a serious note, it can be tough going back to work as a new parent, whether it’s to a company you’ve been at for years or a brand new one, and a huge part of that challenge is – put simply – you don’t sleep as much as you used to!


Is this issue overlooked?

The Independent recently posted an article that new parents will get 4 hours and 44 minutes sleep per night on average in the first year of their baby’s life, just over half of what is recommended. And since we know that a consistent lack of sleep can lead to various physical and mental issues, why does this issue seem to be completely overlooked by the rest of the world and in particular, the workplace?

From high blood pressure to depression, a consistent lack of sleep can take its toll. A lack of ability to concentrate or increased irritability can lead to arguments with friends, colleagues or partners. My personal best is a recent pointless one-uppance type argument I had with my husband about who got up the most times last night – not proud of this one!

Yet, sleep deprivation can often be ignored as a serious cause of deterioration to mental health and wellbeing and can take you far away from feeling like the “normal” self you once knew!


The “normal” you

I love listening to witty stories from friends and colleagues who have done silly things after a sleepless night that the “normal” them would never have done. My wonderful boss, Andy Davies, as an example, has been known to enjoy the occasional Pot Noodle with warm baby formula after mistaking it for boiling water!

But what happens when these….errors in judgement begin to seep into the workplace?

Can you safely say that your employer, or at the very least, your line manager, would be supportive and fundamentally understand that this is not the “normal” you?

I’m so pleased that I seem to have found “that” company, who genuinely understand the importance of personal wellbeing and having a healthy work/life balance. I do wonder though, how many companies are this understanding and how easy are they to find?

Here’s what I did and what I would strongly advise any returning parent to do in order to probe potential (and current) employers on how they manage new working parents who are still finding their feet!


How to find those hidden gems

  1. ASK THEM!

Now, this one may seem obvious, but it never ceases to amaze me how many people will not probe companies on their policies around flexible working, working from home or sick leave, simply because “they’re scared to ask”.

Whether you’re speaking to your current manager or a potential employee, finding the answers to the following questions will help you massively in understanding whether this company will accommodate your new needs.

P.S. If you’re asking a potential employee, I would definitely recommend saving these questions for a final interview when you have slightly more buying power!

(And by the way…it’s ok to ask these questions – don’t be scared!)

  • What’s your approach to flexible working?
  • How many parents do you have in the company?
  • Do you have children?
  • How many other employees work from home? How often do they work from home?
  • What are my options if I’ve stayed up all night with the baby?

This is much easier said than done!

When you’ve been out of the game for a few months/years, it’s very easy to convince yourself that “you need them more than they need you”.

Well, this is just not the case anymore!

Lots of companies in the UK are struggling massively to find good talent at the moment.

So, even if they’re putting on a good poker face and throwing around the “it’s company policy” line, don’t be afraid to walk away IF their needs don’t match yours. Your priorities have changed now and that’s ok.

The right company WILL understand this and do their very best to accommodate you!



As a new parent, you will constantly be finding yourself in new situations with your baby…some of which had probably never occurred to you until they happen!

Maybe your child gets chickenpox? Or goes through a month-long sleep regression? Or starts nursery? Or you go back to work and realise that you miss your little one much more than you had ever expected you would?

Speak to your new or potential employer about how flexible your contract is if your personal situation changes.

Would they be able to increase or decrease your hours? Change your hours altogether? Put you in a new role?

There’s nothing worse than suddenly finding yourself in a situation where you feel like you are taking on too much and it’s not working for you or your family.

Remember, all of these things will help you balance your new life and new job much better. You don’t need to do it alone!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Are you a new parent returning to work? Or are you ready to return to work after maternity/paternity leave and share these concerns? Perhaps you are a manager yourself and have an opinion on how you would treat an employee-facing these issues?

Fixed term contracts or day rates – which option is better for your business?

I’ve been recruiting into the interim and contract market for well over eleven years now (man and boy) and things have changed over that time.

The interim market has changed even more since then, the day rate interim is becoming a rare breed with more organisations wanting to take on hires on a fixed term contract basis (FTC).

The FTC route is often assumed to be the easier option for organisations, it’s seen as cheaper, you can guarantee a filled job for a certain time.


Because you’ll get an equivalent candidate for the time you need them and you can use the same hiring techniques as you do for a permanent hire.

However, when you really examine the realities of cost and output it may not be more cost effective to hire a fixed term contract. Let’s look at the arguments in detail.

Myth 1: Fixed term contractors are cheaper than a day rate interim/temp
You might think that paying someone £50,000 for 12 months’ work is cheaper than paying someone £250 per day for the year?

One of the things people forget are the hidden costs associated with a salaried role; car, bonus, holiday pay, sick days (did you know that an average Britain takes off 7 days a year in sick leave!), employer’s national insurance, office costs, pensions, training days, the list goes on and on.

Taking these costs into account an average employee costs about double the actual salary so £100K + the recruitment costs. A day rate employee, on the other hand, works about £70,000 per year if you include the agency costs.

You also only pay the days the day rate employee actually works as opposed to effectively paying for your fixed term contract a year in advance.

Myth 2: A day rate temp may not stay for the full length of the contract
We all have the impression that candidates who work day rate are mercenaries and will move elsewhere if they find something that pays more.

I agree that does happen but you can build in guarantees by paying a completion bonus if someone adequately completes the full length of the contract.

I think the fickle interim argument is a little defunct nowadays, most senior interims are professionals who know that their work is their reputation, and have chosen to be career interims as opposed to working as temps until they secure a permanent position. If they agree to a contract they usually see it to the end otherwise they will pick up a reputation they don’t need.

Myth 3: It’s easier to recruit fixed-term contractors (I can use the same methods as permanent recruitment)
Yes, you can use the same process as recruiting a permanent person but I think you have to ask yourself who actually wants to work a fixed term contract?

The nature of an FTC means that you will get professionals who are in between permanent jobs, cannot get a permanent job or are on a working holiday visa.

You cannot offer them the security and neither can they to your organisation.

Employing someone on a day rate allows you access to a completely different market, interims aren’t candidates who can’t get a permanent job but it is a lifestyle choice for most.

This is a market who have taken a conscious decision to work on an interim basis, whether it’s a lifestyle choice, professional integrity, the variety or a number of different reasons.

Interims are a flexible resource to use them as you see fit whether it is to up-skill a team, take on projects, take the pressure off yourself or any other reasons.

They are used to working in an environment where a job spec is not always present and their role is not clearly defined.

You can usually expect an interim to hit the ground running and even perhaps help you define a future permanent role or skills gap in your team.

Myth 4: Interims are too expensive
A marketing interim will not help you do your finances, but you do not pay for an interim straight away.

The agency will bill you on their invoice cycle and so you get the interim to do a job which you do not pay for straight away.

When you take on a candidate who is a contractor you pay the agency the fee upfront, you don’t know how good they are until they start working for you.

If they don’t work out or leave before their contract is up you’ve already paid for this person. You will need to pay for someone new if the role needs to be completed.

With an interim, you pay after the interim has done that day’s work so you are paying for performance to a certain degree. Most of the time you will pay for the temp a month after they have worked.

For a small business, this is a great way to spread the cost of an employee, it is effectively getting interest free credit for employing someone.

Making the right choice for your business or team
From my experience of the interim market and speaking to clients and candidates alike I would say that there are few scenarios where an FTC is better than an interim.

A good benchmark is to ask yourself if the contract is going to be longer than 12 months in length, if the answer is no or it is uncertain, then a day rate interim would be the best choice

Interims can bring a huge amount of experience into a business who would normally may not be able to support someone at that level.

These interims can sometimes be a shot in the arm for business and their presence can still be felt long after they leave.

There are occasions where businesses do not consider the use of interims because of the disruption to the team and clients, but the cost of not having someone in that position maybe even greater.

With these things considered why would an interim not be a viable option?

I’d love to hear thoughts from employers or professionals about this topic and if you have more questions drop me an, I’d love to chat!

The lies behind counter offer myths exposed

There’s an ongoing debate in every industry over counter offers.

Should you turn them down or should you take them? And are you damaging your career if you stay?

Should you always believe what your recruitment consultant tells you?

Or sometimes are they simply saying what they NEED YOU to hear?

Does the looming potential of lost commission have an impact on the advice you get?

With all these questions circulating, it’s clear to see that many people are confused over what the right move actually is.


What makes it harder is sometimes you might not feel your recruitment is always honest by peddling these myths.

Here at Vertical Advantage, we see no advantage in pulling a wool over the eyes of our clients and job seekers.

We believe that the more transparent the process is, the happier and successful everyone is all round.

So, in order to give you a bit of clarity, we’ve deconstructed the 4 most common counter offer myths.

Myth #1 – Say yes and your manager will still think you’re disloyal
When a good employee resigns, an employer might try to get them to stay – not just because they’re valuable to the business, but because recruiting a replacement takes time and money and it’s easier to keep the person they have.

Your recruitment consultant might tell you that if you take the offer, your boss will (secretly or not so secretly) think you’re disloyal and that it will have a negative impact on working in the company.

This just isn’t always true.

Working for a company is a two-way street – if your boss offers you a counter offer it’s because they NEED you in the here and now and if they are going to be able to manage you, they’ll need to let go of any bad feeling.

Remember: They gave you the chance to stay and you took it – so there is no value in them harbouring any belief that you’re disloyal.

Myth #2 – Say yes and your internal reputation is damaged beyond repair
You might be thinking that if you take the counter offer your colleagues will turn against you. You might have had this fear confirmed by your recruitment consultant.

Think about it this way:

At some point in their career, most, if not everybody, in your team will have explored the job market.

Your colleagues may also have been given the chance to stay for a better package and experience.

Even if they didn’t take the counter offer, there’s a high chance they considered it.

So, they are likely to understand your position.

Moving jobs and progressing your career is par for the course – nobody stays forever and never looks around. Your colleagues know this too.

Myth #3 – Say yes and you’ll be first out the door if there’s a restructure
When it comes to a company restructure there will be a massive range of reasons behind any decision of who goes and who stays.

If you are proving your worth to the business, there’s no reason to think that because you once looked externally, you’d be pushed out if the time comes.

It’s important to view a restructure for what it is – a wider business decision – and not an opportunity for your boss to get revenge.

Myth #4 – Say yes and you’ll resign in a few months anyway
There are statistics that come up often which suggest that people who accept counter offers will resign not long after.

This can imply that accepting is pointless.

However, statistics are always open to interpretation.

Even if people end up resigning later, it doesn’t prove that it was wrong to stay.

A decision has to be made based on the scenario at that point in time and stats like this are purely a snapshot of a much wider, more complex decision.

Now the lies behind the counter offer myths have been exposed:

Should you stay or should you go?

No two situations are the same and sometimes accepting the counter offer could be the right move for you.

The resignation / counter offer scenario could be an opportunity for an honest conversation with your boss. The real positive is that if underlying issues are resolved it makes perfect sense to stay where you are.

But think what this says about the state of your relationship with your boss.

Should it really take handing in your notice to get their attention?

Rather than seeing this as a chance to start an open conversation, perhaps it’s really a sign that your relationship isn’t as strong as you thought it was and shows that moving on is the RIGHT step to take.

Also, are there any issues which a counter offer simply couldn’t fix?

Hard facts like a daily commute being too long just can’t be solved with a counter offer of more money or responsibility, so if points like this were bothering you, moving on stands out as the clear choice.

When it comes to counter offers, ideally, it’s better to avoid the situation in the first place.

The best way to make this happen is to address any frustrations you have BEFORE you find yourself itching for a new job.

Think in depth about your career – could you achieve your goals where you are or do you need to move?

Knowing what you want out of your career and your personal tipping point will help avoid the counter offer scenario before it even starts.

If you’re swinging more towards accepting a counter offer, here’s 3 influencers to consider

In a counter offer scenario, there are 3 very different factors at play.

The politics of your company will influence their actions – perhaps they made a counter offer because they can’t afford to recruit somebody new?

Your boss might want to counter offer because they don’t want the hassle of sourcing a new replacement.

Your recruitment consultant may be encouraging you to accept the new offer so they can fulfil their client brief.

So, where does this leave you?

If you’re in the middle.
With these influencing factors, it can be hard to fully evaluate the situation.

Only you are at the centre of any counter offer situation and only you can decide the best move for your career.

If you feel stuck, make the most of your recruitment consultant.

While they want to deliver for their client, good consultants also want to deliver for their candidate.

If your consultant is honest and transparent (and doesn’t feed on the myths mentioned they can provide insightful feedback which could help you see the bigger picture.

How to cut the unconscious bias from your hiring process in 5 simple steps

In 2011, researchers at Columbia Business School uncovered a link between hunger and parole. So far, so innocuous, right?


In fact, it was discovered that the chances of a prisoner receiving parole were, in effect, directly related to the hunger levels of the judge hearing their case. The hungrier the judge, the lower the prisoner’s chances.

This is just one—particularly worrisome—example of something called unconscious (or hiring) bias, which can and does affect everyone at one point or another.

But what is unconscious bias and how can you work to cut it from your hiring process?

What is Unconscious Bias?
Put simply, unconscious bias is when your internalised preconceptions and judgements affect your rational decision making. This can cause you to take other things (often entirely irrelevant things) like weight, skin colour, marital status, gender, age, and more, into account, when what you should really be considering are things like experience and personality instead.

Here are just a few examples of common hiring bias ‘logic’:

  • Affinity: ‘that person also loves craft beer, they must be great!’
  • Halo effect: ‘that person went to Oxford, they must be great!’
  • Familiarity: ‘that person is just like me, they must be great!’
  • Anchoring: ‘that person is paid bucket loads, they must be great!’ (Alternatively, ‘that person is paid pittance, they must be rubbish.’)

As you can imagine, unconscious bias can be especially problematic for hiring managers, who are tasked with making value judgments on a daily basis.

And when you consider the cross-section of people typically affected by unconscious bias—like women, people of colour, and disabled people—it’s easy to see how unconscious bias can undermine company-wide diversity.

With that in mind, here’s how recruiters can work to eliminate, or at least minimise as far as possible, unconscious bias in the hiring process.

How to Cut Unconscious Bias from the Hiring Process

1. Educate yourself on unconscious bias
Congrats! You’ve already mastered step one just by reading this post. But don’t get complacent! I might have touched on some key things to be conscious of (get it?) when it comes to hiring biases, but it’s on you to pin down everything that could be affecting your recruitment process.

And don’t be afraid to call yourself out along the way. After all, unconscious bias is just that: unconscious. We’ve all fallen prey to its insidious charms at one point or another. The trick is to address is face on, actively working to remove it from the hiring process. (Instead of, you know, pretending it doesn’t exist…)

2. Try some awareness training
This leads on from the above. Once you’ve brushed up on the concept of unconscious biases and recognised which ones you might be guilty of, get the rest of the company on the bandwagon. With awareness training, you can work through your own biases while learning how to combat them on a day-to-day basis.

3. Make sure your job ads are worded inclusively
One of the easier steps when it comes to removing unconscious bias from the hiring process is at the job ad stage. Do you use the -man suffix more than you should? Are you using ‘masculine’ language, like ‘fearless’, which may deter women candidates? If so, you might be putting off applicants before they’ve even typed up a cover letter.

4. Remove information which lends itself to unconscious bias
Age, gender, race, religion, even names! Before sifting through your stack (or, more accurately, inbox full of) applications, remove any identifying and possible bias-bringing info. That way, you can consider each and every applicant objectively (at least until the interview round, anyway).

This is one tactic that’s already proved popular with several businesses. Vodafone removed gender from CVs to see whether it was related to the comparative lack of women in tech roles. Ernst & Young no longer requires graduate applicants to include any educational details for similar reasons. Meanwhile, a northern tech company, Bytemark, have had a completely anonymous application system since about 2015, but they openly admit there is still work to be done.

It seems important to mention that at Vertical Advantage we encourage people who are interested in joining our business to get in touch without attaching a CV. We’re also more than happy to interview based on an email or phone introduction only.

5. Tag-team the interview process
Once you’ve worked out the unconscious bias kinks in your advertising and interview selection process, it’s time to do what you can for the interview step. Obviously, this is where things can get tricky as interviews tend towards the subjective.

However, one option includes bringing in more team members in order to get a balanced perspective on the candidate. And it goes without saying that the interviewers should be as diverse and spectrum-spanning as possible.

These are just some starting points for eliminating hiring bias in your recruitment process, although I must say that I think the Australian initiative Recruit Smarter is really getting it right when it comes to removing unconscious bias where possible. I’d love to see the UK take note!

So, candidates and hiring managers, alike: how do you deal with unconscious bias throughout the hiring process?