Monthly Archives

June 2012

Does your job spec answer the question “what’s in it for me?”

By | Attraction, Recruitment

When was the last time you read a job description that was fresh, dynamic, exciting and evoked an emotional response? Even better – it really made you want the job? Probably never is my guess. That’s because job descriptions are usually old, boring, outdated and too long. They are costing you candidates! In today’s market, the highest quality candidates – the talent that companies are finding so hard to attract, recruit and retain – have estimated drop off rates as high as 90% once they have read a job description.  Some of the reasons include:

  1. Doesn’t excite or engage them
  2. Work looks exactly the same as their current position
  3. Their skills don’t meet all the “essential” criteria
  4. Unclear, unprofessional and ‘reactive’ language
  5. Long documents that don’t capture their interest

What doesn’t work 

Imagine all that effort you have put into writing an advertisement, all that money you have spent using attraction strategies and all that time invested in the recruitment process wasted all because of one document.  The truth is that job descriptions have traditionally been a document kept on file by human resources as a ‘must have’ that outlines all tasks, skills, qualifications and experience required to do a certain job within an organisation.  These ineffective job descriptions often include spelling errors, use of internal jargon, are often way too long and wordy as well as being unclear and visually unappealing.

The reality today is that these documents are now being judged by commercially savvy job seekers who know what they want, will pick and choose the jobs they apply for and ultimately accept.  They don’t want just any job – they want an opportunity that presents a better challenge than the one they are currently doing.  Once they read a job description that essentially sounds like the job they are already doing – where is the incentive to change?

The opportunity

This is where the opportunity lies! Most organisations are missing this sales opportunity to entice, engage and excite candidates into their organisation through having an up-to-date, professional and different job description.   If used effectively, a job description can become a sales tool to showcase each opportunity within your organisation as a unique proposition that proves a commitment to investing in people, each role and a strategic recruitment strategy to find the best talent in the market.  One of the best examples I have seen this year was an Editor role with the on-line business community Flying Solo – it was a true sales document, pitching the best parts of the role and what outcomes you would be responsible for driving and how this position contributed to the overall direction of the organisation. In addition, came a values document which detailed ‘what mattered most’ to the organisation and explaination of their five core values and culture. It was inspiring! Needless to say they got a great response and did not have shortage of candidates to interview.

Tips to achieving effective job descriptions include:

  1. Short & simple (not more than 3 pages)
  2. Stating an overall purpose of the role (expressed as an outcome, not an action)
  3. Most exciting tasks and challenges (not all of them)
  4. Outcomes to be produced and key result areas
  5. Transferable skills required to be successful
  6. Current (reviewed every 12 months as a minimum)
  7. Visually appealing

Job descriptions should be used as an attraction tool to encourage candidates to investigate your opportunity further, not to dismiss it and decide on their own accord that it is not worth pursuing.  What are the most exciting parts of your role and how can that be expressed effectively? Is “seeking 5 years SAP experience” as exciting as saying “use your SAP knowledge to lead our system implementation team”?

Keeping job descriptions specific, up to date and focused on the most challenging aspects of a job will result in a wider and higher quality of candidates for you to choose from.  And remember people apply for the work that they will be doing, not the skills they possess – the tip is to write your job descriptions with this in mind.  Candidates in this market have one subconscious question they want answered “what’s in it for me?” and your job as the employer is to demonstrate how your opportunity is better than their current situation and to draw them into the possibility of something better.

Underwood Executive delivers tailored solutions for recruiting and retaining top talent.  

Reward & recognition – the secret to reducing staff turnover

By | Leadership, Retention

When one of my Consultants resigned after 7 years I was excited for her. She was taking a leap of faith and pursuing her life long dream of becoming a paramedic. It was at her farewell when it hit me how important it is to reward staff. In her speech, she mentioned the time I invested $500 for each staff member to pursue a personal goal outside of work.  Funny isn’t it – but as she was talking I was struggling to recall the exact detail of the initiative. On the other hand, she was describing it in vivid detail and the impact it had on her in terms of pursuing a hobby (share trading), which helped her develop her relationship with her husband (he is a day trader).  She loved that I had shown an interest in her as a person beyond what she delivered at work.  Notice she didn’t rave on about her base salary or the significant monthly bonus cheques she got – she talked about several small random rewards that I gave her over the years to recognise her achievements, loyalty and contribution.

It was when I engaged a business coach to help me develop my leadership skills that I learnt the importance of praise, recognition and random reward in attracting and retaining talent.  It sounds simple in theory doesn’t it? Of course staff love to be told they are doing a great job, of course they love a gift voucher for achieving a target or getting a group email saying how wonderful they are. BUT in reality how often does this happen? And randomly? Perhaps when an important milestone comes around or someone lands a big deal, but the day-to-day successes are rarely recognised, let alone rewarded.  I was guilty as charged.

To assist me in taking action in this area and making sure I actually delivered what I knew to be right in theory, I kept a reward and recognition book.  It made me consciously recognise and record what someone did and how I rewarded it.  This could range from a personal email, to a company wide announcement, to a lunch, to a specific gift or even time off.  It didn’t matter, as long as I was consistently rewarding the desired behaviours for individuals to consistently achieve top performance. The book was an easy idea and it kept the importance front of mind as well as myself accountable to take action.

Quick ideas to take action:

  1. Public acknowledgement – giving someone praise in a public forum (team meeting, group email etc) is a great way to pump someone up in front of their teammates.  It is also an opportunity to reinforce company-desired behaviours. I would always share positive client feedback in our sales meeting on a Monday, with any five star ratings receiving a Freddo Frog.
  2. Small rewards, big impact – I know you are thinking chocolate – come on Nicole, no one is going to be aiming for that! Small rewards can often have a big impact – it is often not the gift itself, but the acknowledgement of the performance.
  3. Be specific – how often have you been given something as a thank you that you didn’t like? Maybe you got red wine and you don’t drink red wine, maybe it was flowers that make your sneeze or a subscription to a magazine you don’t read? I developed a $5 – $500 chart for each staff member where they listed rewards in that range that they would value and appreciate. This way the reward was personal to them and well received rather than a generic gift.
  4. All staff recognised – don’t forget non-revenue generating roles! Administration staff were always included in recognising their contribution to the team.  This could be the way they resolve a client query through to their phone manner or going beyond the call of duty.
  5. Random – don’t wait for only the big milestones to say well done and don’t reward the same people and actions all the time.  Your team will get pretty sick of seeing the same rewards, you will lose impact and you could be accused of playing favourites.

Overall, my aim was to be specific with the reward.  What was the behaviour they demonstrated that I wanted to see demonstrated again in the future? Don’t lose the meaning of recognition by just saying well done. Be specific about what the reward is for.  This is important not only for the individual, but also for the rest of the team to hear the right message.

Don’t wait for someone to crack their budget or out-perform last’s year’s record – reward people now for the action they take, the small steps they make and the lessons they learn.  It’s never to late to let your staff know that you appreciate what they do, to say thank you or to publicly reward action and effort rather than just outcomes and revenue.  Random recognition and rewards will win you loyalty and trust as well as assisting to reduce unnecessary staff turnover due to feeling valued and acknowledged.  Human nature tells us we like to feel appreciated and we want to do a good job – so go on, look for the successes, go and say thank you, be specific and randomly reward a team member today.

Nicole Underwood understands what it takes to create, build and grow a successful business. As a previous finalist in the prestigious Telstra Business Women Awards, Nicole consults and coaches individuals and organisations to improve their results through effective leadership and attracting and retaining top talent.

 This article was written for Lifestyle Elements – a great way to reward your staff with their own personal concierge.  

Swamped by your workload? 5 ways to get out of the mess!

By | Performance, Productivity

This week I met up with a client who had over 150 emails in their inbox waiting for their attention. Just the thought made me squirm with discomfort!  How can you possibly respond, action, remember or even read that many emails? How can you honestly be productive with that much content staring you in the face?

This situation reminded me of a common problem I would witness with consulting staff time and time again.  A month would not go by without someone in the team getting themselves in a flat spin about the pile of work in front of them. When my Consultants found themselves in this tough situation, stressed, overwhelmed and really not knowing where to start I would do ‘desktime’.  If any old staff member is reading this now, they will probably be having a cold shudder just at the thought. They honestly dreaded it at the time, but loved it afterwards because they came out clear, focused and organised.

In any job, there are often so many tasks to do and all of them can appear urgent.  It is very easy to get lost in the detail of emails, phone calls and ‘stuff’ that distracts you from the bigger picture goals that you are trying to achieve.

Let me start by saying I am not a micro manager.  I am not interested in looking over someone’s shoulder, critiquing and controlling their every move.  Who has time for a start? I learnt that lesson early in my leadership career that carrying everyone else’s problems and being a control freak is a complete waste of time and effort as well as being incredibly ineffective.

However, there have been countless occasions where a senior staff member, and often a top performer, can get inundated with work and can become quite upset in not knowing where to start or how to tackle what seems to be the impossible.

1. Clear the inbox

If you’re like this client and have an overload of emails, start by getting rid of them. Clear the inbox! Being flooded with emails is usually the downward spiral on a slippery slope to disorganisation and feeling out of control.  As a rule, my inbox will only have enough emails to take it to the preview line, let’s say 10 – 12.  This will usually consist of new emails ready to be actioned, or something I need to refer to that day in terms of reference information.  That’s it.  Everything else has either been actioned or deleted.  My motto has been do it, delegate it, delete it, but don’t delay it!

2. Re-prioritise & re-organise

One afternoon in early 2002, one of my consultants was in tears in a complete panic unsure of where to start.  I spent two hours with her at her desk going through papers, trays, resumes, client files, emails and filing systems to see where it was going wrong.  It was a painful exercise.  She was completely disorganised.  I had to bite my tongue and avoid the lecture of how did things get like this in the first place? That wasn’t going to help.  For her, it was difficult as she felt being exposed like this made her incompetent.  We agreed that the purpose of the exercise was to help, with good intent, find a solution to avoid getting herself in this situation again and to re-prioritise.

3. Clean your space

I have always maintained a clean work-desk policy in all my roles.  At the end of every day, I would insist that all Consultants clean their desk.  This included empty inbox, files away, work in trays etc. Apart from just liking things neat and tidy, there is method in my madness.  A clean and organised workspace has the benefit of feeling like you’re on top of things, being clear in what needs to be done and not being distracted by mess.  There are of course obvious benefits like being able to find things, the cleaners could actually do their job and clean as well as the confidentiality of not having candidate’s personal details lying around.

4. Central list

Through these situations, I learnt that sometimes people just need to go back to basics. I strongly recommend one list – a daily to do list (see are you busy or just ineffective?) where every task or action is recorded (avoiding sticky notes and electronic reminders).  This way there is a central point and you don’t need to rely on your memory (which rarely works).  The inbox can be cleared when there is a central list, your in-tray should match the list with anything that needs to be actioned and the rest should be filed and out of sight creating a clear and organised workspace.

5. Time out & clear your thoughts

When things just seem all too much, I am a big believer in getting up from your desk, taking a deep breath and getting some fresh air.  A walk around the block, a trip to the mall or grabbing a coffee can seem a bit trivial, but honestly it can work wonders.  Physically removing yourself from a situation that is causing stress or where you can’t think straight is an easy remedy to get some immediate time out.  I would often take a notebook and pen with me, to be away from the chaos to refresh and rewrite my priorities to re-focus on what I wanted to achieve.

These tactics were consistently successful with Consultants over the years as they found it helpful (and painful at times!) to have someone external to sit with, to talk to and get some clarity around “ok, what are the priorities again”. It got to the point where ‘desktime’ was even requested!

The client with the 150 emails argued with me, telling me that you should keep everything.  It is a record and you never know when you may need to refer back to it.  I don’t disagree completely ….. but hording hundreds of emails in an inbox is a sure fire way to miss something important or a quality service standard.

Instead of feeling swamped by workload and looming deadlines…clear your head, desk and inbox, reorganise and reprioritise so you can take control.


Nicole Underwood offers a range of consulting and workshop services to help other businesses implement similar success strategies.  As a previous finalist in the prestigious Telstra Business Women Awards, a business coach and entrepreneur, Nicole partners with organisations to improve their leadership, performance and results. Contact Nicole here.



“Let’s connect” – the new way to network

By | Communication, Confidence

Last week I spoke at the UNSW (The University of New South Wales) AGSM (Australian Graduate School of Management) MBA networking evening “Let’s Connect” on the importance of networking.  I don’t know about you… but surely this topic has been done to death? We all know how to work a room and meet new people don’t we? Hmmm….apparently not and it’s clear that professionals still want to know how to do it effectively.

Networking is becoming a redundant term in this modern era of social media where “connecting” is the buzzword.  Every time I open my email there is a new invitation to connect with someone on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google + etc. Never before have we had so many channels and forums to meet new people, discover new opportunities, join groups and discuss and debate with other like-minded individuals.

This connecting is really at the heart of what life is all about. Regardless of whether we are in business, sport, families, friends or community groups, our experiences are enhanced when meeting new people and forming new relationships.  This in essence is what connecting is all about.

These relationships, the connections, the networks you have created and built over your lifetime give you access to information and knowledge that we need to generate business deals, job opportunities, new relationships and long-term success.  It is also these connections in your direct network that have a direct influence and impact on your life.  In fact, master wealth creator Jim Rohn discovered that your “income is generally the average of the 7 people you spend most time with”. Time to change friends perhaps!?!

Let me give you an example, at my daughter’s school I met two parents who have immigrated from the UK and they have been on the verge of being deported as they have been unable to gain employment and therefore the right visas. They have strong knowledge, skills and experience in their relevant fields, both present well, have great communication skills…yet going through the normal channels of finding a job, they couldn’t even snag an interview.  But they’re determined and have been great at connecting! Through the school network, they have been to the school ballet concert, art show, every child’s birthday party, school assembly, drop off and pick up – and instead of standing in the corner, they have taken every opportunity to meet other parents, ask questions and show an interest in getting to know new people.  It’s paid off – they both have new jobs and here’s the thing – it wasn’t through a Recruiter (sadly for me) or a job ad, or via the Internets thousand of vacancies – no it was through good old fashion networking.

Quick tips for effective ‘connecting’: 

1)    Be interested and curious in people – don’t be like the Adelaide businesswoman I met years ago that was looking straight past me when I was talking to her to see who else was more important in the room.

2)    Don’t focus on what somebody’s position, title or label is – people’s influence goes way beyond what’s on their business card.

3)    Describe what you do, don’t just hand over a business card – it opens up the conversation and gets the dialogue moving 

4)    Have something interesting to say – not the weather please! 

5)    Don’t expect an instant return every time real connecting is about building long term relationships, not about an immediate sale or what can this person help me achieve right now?

6)    Follow up on social mediaafter the AGSM event, nearly everyone I met that night has been followed up on LinkedIn or Twitter to stay connected

I think overall the best advice is to think about networking strategically. That is, not what’s in it for me today, but having an open mind of whom can I meet and what can I learn?

Being open to the results is essential, after all this could be a new client, a new job, a new friend or perhaps a new relationship! Connecting is at the heart of what we do – it’s a life skill. Approach networking as an opportunity to learn and meet new people without expectations – you will be pleasantly surprised by the results.

 The most valuable asset of any business is your relationships. Without them, you have nothing. See people you meet today as relationships you can build on as these are the most valuable things you have”

John McGrath