HR Practitioner’s Diary: Secrets of interviewing

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This week our HR Practitioner rescues a business from insolvency, reveals the secrets of her interviewing process and finds love has green fingers.

W/C 6 June 2005
Another fairly hectic week which involved a project indirectly linked to HR, but at least I’m adding value to the clients’ plight, read on:

Soft skills of HR
A client who has struggled financially for the last two years and has vastly reduced their workforce faced a real dilemma recently.

They occupy a four storey building, but now find they only need to use the ground floor and basement, so the 1st and 2nd floors are of no use at all.

Unfortunately for them, their lease was set to run until 2013 with an annual rental of £95K. On this basis they felt their only choice would be to declare insolvency, lay their staff off and vacate the building – a sad and sorry plight.

Being aware of my strategic planning skills, they requested a meeting with me to look at alternatives – a fresh pair of eyes so to say.

We identified that the lease restricted them from sub-letting part of the building, they could only sub-let the whole. Plan A– to sub-let part of the building - fell at the first hurdle.

In the absence of a sensible plan B (theirs was to ‘do a runner’), I suggested that I meet with their landlords and lay the cards on the table.

The meeting went better than hoped, in that the landlords were open to re-negotiate the terms of the lease with a reduction to the period, floor space and annual cost. I have managed to secure a new lease until 2007 for the ground floor and basement at a new annual rental of £40K.

On the basis of the client’s profit and loss sheets, and forecasts, this was a far more viable proposition which would enable them to remain in business and even give them a chance to become profitable again, allowing for some future growth.

The real ‘win, win’ was that the landlords were looking to expand their business (they are a national firm of reputable solicitors) and they needed additional space for their people. Hey presto – they were able to reclaim the 1st and 2nd floor of my clients building and are undergoing a re-furbishment project to make good use of the space.

Everyone is happy, even me, as I am acting as the go between for the client and the landlord to ensure the project for the re-furb goes to plan with the minimum of disruption to my clients and their call centre staff.

The interesting aspect is that the contractors are happy to deal with me as a point of co-ordination and consultation, as they are only too aware that the managers of the business and the landlords have their own workload to worry about.

The whole project should be completed by the end of September so I will be able to comfortably weave this in with other projects that I may get involved with in the meantime.

In renegotiating the lease I also had the task of checking the small print to ensure it was what was agreed by both parties and I have in turn referred the lease to an independent solicitor for comment and approval. I joke that it’s my bedtime reading, but it really can be something to get your head around and keep the grey cells ticking!

This was an interesting HR angle as it was indirect, but my involvement in finding a good solution has enabled a company to remain in business, 14 staff still have their jobs and the landlord has solved their expansion needs. It’s nice to add value to so many people.

The truth revealed
I carried out an interviewing and selection day for a client for the positions of an Underwriting Analyst and Technical Underwriting Manager.

Having done my homework to understand the precise requirements of the roles, I set about putting a recruitment process in place.

The clients’ advertisement sensibly requested all CVs and applications be forwarded direct to me for selection, thereby saving their managers time in sifting through the potentials. Having narrowed them down I organised an interview and assessment day for the unsuspecting!

I’m told the ‘Kingston’ method of interviewing is an experience to behold, but it seems to have the desired effect of revealing the truth, let me elaborate, without giving away too many of my trade secrets.

As we all know, candidates will ‘sex up’ their CVs to appeal for a particular role, but the first thing I do is apply a system of requesting proof of qualifications and examples of accomplishments in order to establish competency.

Besides a basic literacy and numeracy test, I ask them to undertake the DISC psychometric test. Here’s where the fun begins. I generally share the results with the candidates, but in such a way that they end up telling me things about themselves and their work, before they really realise what they are saying.

If they have been covering up for something then it’s always at this point that the ‘truth comes out’. Using my particular method I have managed to unearth some of the most unsuitable candidates a company could ever wish or never to meet and certainly never wish to employ!

Having studied body language to a great extent, this always makes for very entertaining interview sessions and always helps me to get a little more into the persons head! Most of all though, it’s my ‘off the wall’ questions which really throw candidates to a point when they don’t quite know what has hit them until it’s all over – a bit like a dentist pulling teeth!

Associates fondly refer to my method as the ‘Kingston Psycho Babble’ process, but it works time and time again, and it’s great fun too. The candidates always go away having learnt something about themselves too which can be quite rewarding all round.

As a result I have a follow up assessment day planned in the next week, when we will hopefully select the successful individuals. If they survive my process then they should certainly be good, resilient employees to have on the books!

Old timers get with the 21st century
A long established manufacturer of domestic appliances, wants to improve their staff rewards and benefits scheme. This company probably could claim to have at least one of their appliances in 80% of households all over the UK. Given their ongoing business success they want to review and share that success with their loyal staff.

They haven’t reviewed their benefits and rewards since the 1960’s, so this is an exercise that is long overdue.

I spent an interesting hour with them researching what they have in place and will put in some recommendations in the next couple of weeks. They may not want to do everything at once, but at least they will have enough information to make a difference fairly swiftly.

It was nice to see they were so open to change and are not totally complacent. It would be great to see companies reviewing this area more to improve the morale of their workforce, after all, it is the 21st century!

I’m looking forward to another interesting and varied week and maybe the summer will start properly (where is the hot weather people keep predicting?)

Vital Stats:
For all of those ‘singletons’ out there:

  • Weight – 9st 11lbs (no change, but progress hampered by chocolate)
  • Chocolate – one Kit Kat + rather rich chocolate mousse to impress dinner guest who was suitably impressed and enjoyed the concealed surprise – a raspberry layer – yum!
  • Wine – enjoyed bottle of white wine with dinner guest, luckily he is only walking distance.
  • Cider – one glass after enjoyable nine holes of golf
  • Boyfriends – two dates – first: Dinner guest (long term friend). Precursor to dinner was plant swapping – yes, both keen gardeners (or anoraks) and know our plants. Nice basis to get to know someone better. Forgot to ask him how to treat Hollyhock rust, drat!
    Second date: Another long term friend - played nine holes on a lovely sunny evening (yes, there has been one nice summer night so far). He beat me hands down, but my excuse was getting used to my new clubs. He was a true gentleman and didn’t remind me of my score at all – could have promise here, hmmmmm.
  • Deep thoughts – I like true gentlemen.

Keep it simple everyone and enjoy your week ahead!

*Sue Kingston is a self-employed HR Consultant with 23 years HR experience. Sue can be contacted on T: 07966 216561 or at [email protected]

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