Legal Recruitment from Ten-Percent Legal

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

What questions are asked in an Investors in People Assessment?

Recently Ten Percent Legal Recruitment was assessed for the investor in people accreditation. We worked very hard on this and spent some time as a company ensuring that all our procedures and policies were in place and that our staff were aware of the various requirements of the Investor in People process.

We wondered how the assessment would go and also what the questions were likely to be during the interviews.

The assessor was very friendly and explained from the outset what she was wanting to do and we were already aware that we would have thirty minute interviews with the directors and managers and twenty minute interviews with the staff. We also had the Investors in People programme so we were able to look and see what the actual questions would be based on, but there was nowhere to indicate what questions would be asked in the investor in people assessments.

So if this helps anyone else, here are the questions we were asked in our investors in people accreditation:

The assessor asked us what the division of the company was and spent some time querying this with us. She also asked us what evidence there was from when we set up, of how well we had achieved this and our vision and whether we were still on course to achieve the vision that we had in the first instance.

She asked a lot of questions about the background of the company and targeted them towards the general question of whether we had achieved what we set out to achieve or whether we were still working towards it.

Obviously we were careful to identify issues that related to the staffing side of things as we had we were aware that the Investors in People process meant it was to do with the people, but generally we answered the questions according to the company’s aims from the outset.

We also got asked a lot of questions about our training plans and policies and it was evident from the outset that although we had a staff handbook, the information contained within it did not give any information at all about our training policy which was an oversight on our part.

We also had no evaluation of our training policy which was another question that we were asked particularly closely about.

We set out details of our training which in our case is mostly in-house as our Managing Director (i.e., me) does a lot of training and study and is recognised in the industry as an expert on our sector.

I also had to explain all the different paths that the company went down which included alternative business ideas and entrepreneurial developments which for us are very important as we aim to move very quickly into other areas, as and when work drops off or when we identify a niche to go into.

Questions were also asked about how we identified our training needs, which seemed to be a fairly central focus to the interview and something that we found fairly hard to explain, being a very small company.

Our business development plan and training development plan which had been put together by our locally funded business adviser were not deemed satisfactory and a lot of further explanation was required on top.

As well as this, quite a lot of questions were asked about our equal opportunities and the enablement of every member of staff to have the same access to training.

We had been advised to be very careful that everyone in the company knew what attributes made a capable manager and everyone had been instructed to have a think about this and based on information provided to us by our business adviser.

The assessor took careful notes in this particular part and I got the impression that this was fairly important in terms of whether we reached the standard required.

The attributes that our company gave were in recognition of performance, the ability to provide constructive feedback, the ability to build teams, the ability to lead a team, good communication skills and recognition of good performance.

Interestingly during our feedback the assessor did indicate that as a manager in our company, some of these were not really applicable and she would have preferred it if we had thought of our own definitions and given these. We have taken that point on board and she probably was quite right.

Questions were also raised about evaluating training, and one thing we had not thought about doing was setting out the cost or time of our training and assessing whether it was any use to the company. In fact I got sent away during our assessment to have a think about this further so I was in a position to either give concrete evidence or to arrange for the assessment to take place again so we could discuss it. This would be something beneficial for any company to do before the IIP assessments, and it was certainly interesting to do it as it was an eye opener to see what training time I had spent in the previous week, which was over nine hours (without realising it!).

The investors in people assessments took considerably longer than I thought, and I think I was in for my interview for about an hour as opposed to thirty minutes. The difficulty for small companies appears to be that to gather the evidence together to pass the standards is difficult for the assessors, and they have to really think about examples to fit into their reports as there are much lower levels of staff to draw examples from.

Our staff found the interviews very interesting and thought the assessor was very friendly towards them and did not ask them any awkward questions which they were relieved about but also it was interesting to see the interesting questions were saved for the managers and that time was spent on the managers, concentrating on particularly awkward questions that the staff were not asked about.

There were also questions where the staff were asked about examples of training that they had undertaken and how useful this had been for them, whether they thought the managers did a good job and how the managers did a good job and what they thought about the company in general and the structure. The assessor also probed them for information on the company’s aims and values and the direction the company was taking and discussed issues with them on these points in more detail. They did also get asked their understanding of the definition of a capable manager and they were able to give these, but this was again interesting because it does mean that if you are trying to get a large business through the IIP, you would probably need to make sure your staff are fully aware of what their managers ought to be doing, which I guess is fair enough and something I had not really thought about before going through the IIP standard.

Once the assessment had finished I was called back in for further questioning before being asked to leave the room so the assessor could marshal her thoughts. We were informed that we had been recommended to receive the award and the company had met the standard. The next step is for the assessor to submit her report for this to be approved by a board, although it was indicated to us that the overwhelming majority of reports go straight through without any further issues and this is applicable to pretty much everybody.

So what does this mean for our company? Well, the fact that we will be investors in people accredited means that there are some companies and governmental bodies who will now take us more seriously, and recognise that we are a company they can do business with. The anecdotal evidence from business friends and acquaintances is that the investors in people standard can be very beneficial as it indicates a, that you have staff, b, that you recognise them and c, that your company has met an internationally regarded standard and has policies and procedures in place across the company.

I am pleased with everyone’s efforts within the company to achieve this status and I’m glad that we have managed to put it in to place (presuming the board let us through).

If anyone has any ideas or suggestion on how to recognise and reward staff for their efforts in going through the investors in people, I would be glad to know about them. A company our size flying to Florida for two weeks would be slightly excessive!

Jonathan Fagan is Managing Director of Ten-Percent legal recruitment who are now investors in people accredited, I’m very proud of all my colleagues. You can contact Jonathan at www.ten-percent.co.uk or e-mail at cv@ten-percent.co.uk or telephone 02071274343.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Effective Credit Control for Business

Good debt management - our experiences and systems

As recruitment consultants, we have spent eight years trying to work out ways to get our clients to pay our invoices in good time, thus ensuring a decent cash flow for our company, but also ensuring that our terms and conditions are adhered to which then benefit the clients as they get generous rebate periods considerations if anything was to go wrong with a placement.

In the eight years that the company has been operating, I estimate that on three separate occasions we have had to send bailiffs into firms, and on at least ten occasions we have had to issue proceedings either in the county court or using the small claims procedure.

We have tried a whole raft of measures over the years with law firms to get payments made in good time, and this has become the following procedure:

When we issue an invoice, we ask the firm to choose their charity for our charitable donation (Ten Percent donates ten percent of annual profits to a charitable trust which subsequently distributes the money to various charities).

We also point out the benefit of payment within the period stipulated in the contract as a firm is then able to take the benefit of our rebate periods.

We issue a statement exactly 14 days after a candidate has joined a firm reminding the firm that payment is due within the 21 days to take the benefit of the rebate.

We issue another statement exactly 28 days after the invoice has been issued and the candidate has started work advising that the money is payable.

We issue a final letter requiring payment after exactly six weeks of the date of the invoice and after the candidate has joined the firm.

We send a credit control letter advising that interest and costs have been added in accordance with the statutory position (Late Payment of Commercial Debts Act 1998) setting out a timetable for action which involves giving the date the matter will be passed to external solicitors for them to recover the outstanding debt.

This final step takes place seven days after that letter and without further ado we send the debt off to our external solicitors (if not small claims court level) and ask them to proceed for us.

We provide the external solicitor with the full case, including all the evidence required to issue proceedings so they can speed up the process and have a brief discussion with our solicitor as to whether a statutory demand issued and bankruptcy proceedings taken or whether we issue proceedings in the county court or using the small claims track.

We sit back and let the external solicitors deal with the matter and see how long it takes us to get the money out of our clients!

The worst case to date was a central London firm who ignored everything sent to them including telephone calls, emails, faxes and letters, right up until a statutory demand was issued and bankruptcy proceedings started, at which point they disputed the contract, and we ended up in the country court approximately two years after the original invoice had been issued.

The firm eventually agreed to a consent order to pay the outstanding invoice plus all costs, by which time the costs were almost the same as invoice, and even then failed to pay within the time stipulated in the consent order.

We recovered our money from them, approximately two weeks later I noticed in the Law Society Gazette that the firm had closed down, we had been just in time with our proceedings.

I recall as a solicitor in pratice that a lot of firms are very poor at collecting outstanding debt especially from clients where they think there is the potential of further work and are worried about upsetting them. I think this then passes onto the solicitors' suppliers, as the solicitors think that their suppliers consider things in the same way.

My take on this is very different. Many years ago I worked for a small company in Leicester, with a senior partner who was a very good businessman and gave me two pieces of advice when I left the company. The first one was that a bird in the hand is worth infinitely more in the bush, and that one should never allow discounts or a lack of payment on the basis of future work promised. I have stuck rigidly to this in my time in business and have found time and again that when I have had to take action against firms to get payment, they have come back to me as clients regardless of how long it has taken to get the money out of them.

It’s a very interesting phenomenon because some of these firms have had the full works taken against them including court action, yet they almost respect this and come back to us to use the service again as they can see that not only are we good recruiters, we are cost efficient, fair and run a tight ship.

In summary, when dealing with debt collection, I would apply the same rule to all my clients uniformly, regardless of whether they are going to be good, poor or indifferent clients over the years, although important with any particularly good clients to ensure that you do not upset the apple cart too much when requiring payment! We have sued one of the largest public sector servicing companies in our time however...

Jonathan Fagan is MD and a recruitment consultant with Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment. cv@ten-percent.co.uk or 0207 127 4343. www.ten-percent.co.uk

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Activities and Interests Section on a CV - surely not that important?

I recently ran a CV preparation course at a UK University for the Legal Practice Course students there.

One of the issues that arose during the seminars was the relevance & importance of activities and interests in a CV, and it was interesting that the vast majority of people there had very little to write down on their CVs. Some had put socialising with friends or going on to Facebook and others had put 'playing with my playstation' or 'reading a crime novel'.

Activities and interests are probably the third most important part of your CV. Firstly because when you go for a job interview, you need to have something to talk about with the person interviewing you, and if you have a set of activities and interests, an interviewer can discuss these with you and particularly so if they share something in common.

If you do not have anything in common it makes it very difficult to talk about much... I can think of plenty of interviews where I struggle to think of my next question without wanting to fire a harsh one at a candidate simply because I cannot get anything off the CV to discuss.

The other thing it does is to show that you are someone with a balanced lifestyle in that you are not just working on your academic studies or working in a working environment. The final thing it does is, with the person looking at your CV in the first place, enable the recruiter to be able to identify that the candidate is somebody that they would like to interview.

The activities and interests section basically makes you stand out as a person and although has very little relevance for the bench marking exercise of most firms when they first look at your CV’s and decide whether to proceed on the grounds of your academic background, location and general impression, it can catch the eye and mean that a firm will look again at your CV in more detail.

Your interests either need to stand out as something unique or as something that a partner would put value on.

The value can be either because the person looking at your CV does similar activities themselves or because they see the worth or value of doing that particular activity. Clearly no one has any excuse for not putting an activity down, that includes socialising, going out with friends, watching television and playing on the playstation, it does not take much effort to go and watch a few football matches at a football club or perhaps going to a local ski slope so that you can say that you are developing an interest in skiing.

If there is a five a side league for football in your local area, it can be beneficial to go and join that or if somebody in your family plays a sport, go and watch them doing that.

You do not have to suddenly decide that you are going to get your pilots license or take up kite surfing (although these would be very beneficial), though you do need to have something down on your CV.

From a law firm’s perspective there are a lot of solicitors out there who play five a side football, cricket, netball, running, squash, golf or simply walk the dog and spend time with the family. All of these open conversations (and doors) and if you develop one of these further, it would be very beneficial to your CV.

It would also help if you know what is the person you are going for the interview with likes - I’ve heard of trainee solicitors telephoning the secretary of the partner who is going to interview them and ask what his/her interests are at weekends, so then to be able to discuss this with him or her. Personally, this is slightly too enthusiastic!

Jonathan Fagan is Managing Director at UK legal recruitment experts, Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment. Contact Jonathan at cv@ten-percent.co.uk