When job-hunting, never underestimate the potential benefits of introducing yourself to a recruitment consultant. Although their primary purpose is to fill a vacancy on behalf of their client (the employer), they will guide you through the process, help prepare for the interview and negotiate a salary offer.
"Job-hunters who deal with a worthwhile company, and spend some time with them, will find that they are a good source of objective advice," says Roddy Watt, chief executive officer of Berkeley Scott Recruitment.
"Consultants can advise candidates on what aspect of the industry might suit them," he says.
But how do you tap into this advice? Recruitment consultants are easily accessible through the pages of Caterer & Hotelkeeper - or through the web via caterer.com and totaljobs.com, where they advertise specific posts or conduct a more general trawl for talent. Consultants increasingly have their own websites too, where you can view a list of jobs on offer or register your interest.
As you are going to be circulating personal details such as your CV and salary, you must choose a consultant you feel comfortable with. "Always go by recommendation," advises Sarah Anderson, chief executive of MaydayExec. "Look for someone who specialises in your sector and who opens at times to suit you. I'd say go to a Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) member too."
The REC (www.rec.uk.com) is the association for the recruitment and staffing industry in the UK. It checks members to ensure that they comply with a code of good practice and operates a complaints and disciplinary procedure for those who don't. Its members usually display the REC logo.
A good consultancy won't ask you for money - there's no need as it is being paid on a commission or retained consultancy basis by the client. Applicants are usually expected to fund their own travel to the consultancy's offices for interview but many consultants will encourage clients to reimburse a candidate's travel costs to their premises thereafter.
An extra safety-net for applicants is the campaign for Courtesy in Recruitment (CIR) developed by the British Hospitality Association. More than 100 employers have signed up, as have many of the country's leading recruitment companies. In turn they undertake to bring CIR to the attention of all job-seekers who pass through their hands. The campaign encourages all parties involved to pursue the highest possible standards of conduct and best practice (see left).
Contacts and market knowledge are among the key assets of a recruitment consultant. Many have had careers in the jobs for which they are recruiting.
"We've worked in these levels," says Howard Field, director of FM Recruitment, "and so we understand what we are looking for." They also conduct, or have access to, salary surveys, which means that applicants can check their market worth.
Of those who recruit for the hospitality and leisure sectors, there are many area or job-profile specialists. For example, a consultancy such as FM Recruitment seeks to fill posts in financial and accountancy work, whereas AMR specialises in chefs and restaurant managers. Others, such as Chess Partnership, have the broader remit of hospitality recruitment in middle to senior management level in the UK and Europe.
"Different people suit different companies," says Sarah Anderson, chief executive of MaydayExec. "We try to help them make their expectations realistic."
Job-seekers at the early and speculative stages are referred to as applicants. Only when they are shortlisted or considered for specific posts do they become candidates.
Often the client is not named in an advert, or the advert might contain an invitation to apply for a number of jobs, but this doesn't mean the applicant should take a casual approach. The message from consultancies is that they expect applicants to deal with them as professionally as if they were dealing direct with the employer. This means doing some research beforehand, says Ronald Claus, manager of the hotel and leisure division of Cameron Kennedy.
"Sometimes people expect the consultants will employ them, so they don't angle the letter correctly. Some even think that Cameron Kennedy is a hotel."
Make your letter stand out "To make your application stand out, write a good covering letter," says Nick Charles, partner of Lister Charles. "Match your background and aspirations to the position that has been advertised," he says, "and be precise and inviting about your skills and experience."
The rule is about one page for a covering letter and no more that two pages for a CV. "The record I've received is 11 pages," says proprietor of AMR Ann Mansfield.
For applicants who are making a more general enquiry, the advice is similar. Consultancies still expect you to be specific about your career history and preferred career direction and even if the application is being e-mailed it should be of the same standards in terms of content and presentation as a paper product.
The sheer volume of applications means that it is essential to set yourself apart from the others. Roddy Watt, for example, estimates that his company receives upwards of 100,000 enquiries annually by phone, letter or e-mail yet fills only 7,500 roles a year.
If an application is of interest, the next stage is a phone-call or a meeting with the consultant. At Berkeley Scott, for example, a telephone screening is in place to establish more about speculative enquiries. Here, a specially trained member of staff talks through salary, motivation, and conducts a telephone-based competency interview which could cover leadership and decision-making skills.
Other consultancies prefer to meet first. "We offer a dedicated appointment for a one-to-one interview," says managing director of Portfolio International Lesley Reynolds. "It is a two-way process. The consultant will probe into the candidate's skills and will also be able to answer the candidate's questions."
At the Chess Partnership, account director, hotels, Rachel Bunning, likens this first interview to "putting the flesh on the bones - the CV is the skeleton." The Chess Partnership has introduced a lounge area concept into its London head office for such interviews where applicants are interviewed in comfy chairs instead of over the more formal desktop.
"But we still expect them to treat it as a job interview and dress appropriately," says Bunning. A suit is expected for candidates interested in management jobs, whereas a more relaxed look is acceptable for job-hunters in the leisure sector.
If a candidate looks or sounds promising, all recruitment consultants then follow up references (with the candidate's approval) and promote the candidate to a client.
"Consultancies then come into their own because they pick up on all the subtleties of the recruitment process," Reynolds says. "They help the candidate and client to prepare for the interview and remind the candidate to conduct research."
The next interview is likely to be with the client, and the consultant is unlikely to sit in, unless it is a panel interview, but this doesn't mean that the candidate and consultant wave goodbye.
If the interview goes well, the consultant will have input on salary talks (and what Reynolds terms the difficult "dealbusters") and help both parties negotiate timescales for leaving and starting jobs.
"Both sides can be difficult to manage on this point so we try to control the process," says Berkeley Scott's Roddy Watt, "otherwise it can last three months. And candidates get frustrated."
"Good candidates are like hot cakes," Watt adds, "and the candidates who get the best jobs are those who can move quickly - anything from four weeks to 48 hours. There is no point in starting a job search if you can't move fast."
When you've got the job…
Once you are placed in a job, it is still worth retaining a consultant on your career network, says business development manager at contract caterer Yes Dining Rebecca Stevenson, who was recently placed in this job thanks to David Goldfarb at MaydayExec. Stevenson, who also worked for three-and-a-half years as a business consultant with Tricon, stays in contact with Goldfarb.
"People like David know what's going on and they are confidential. My background as a consultant means that I'm used to taking a global perspective of the industry and David is a resource. He always has an interesting view of the market," she says.
Courtesy in Recruitment As part of its Courtesy in Recruitment campaign, the British Hospitality Association has compiled three charters: for employers, recruiters and job-seekers. Here are some of the key clauses from the recruiter's charter:
* To submit candidates to employers only when the candidate's express permission has been received.
* Never to induce an employee to leave an employer if previously placed by that company.
* To keep all parties abreast of the recruitment process throughout the assignment.
* To disclose all material information to all parties involved in the recruitment process.
* To provide accurate information at all times.
Suzanne Phillips Using a recruitment consultant enabled Suzanne Phillips to make the career shift she wanted from retail into contract catering when she moved from All Bar One to Avenance.
Phillips has since stayed with Avenance for four-and-a-half years, enjoying the range of possibilities within the firm, something which her consultant, David Goldfarb from MaydayExec encouraged her to do.
"He matched me well to start with and has become a mentor and guide. I can really use him as a sounding board and when I've been looking to move within Avenance. He will coach me for the next move.
"I'll tap into his expertise indefinitely," she says.
Beverly King Long-standing contact with Berkeley Scott helped Beverly King move into his job as general manager of the Thistle Marble Arch hotel last year.
"I came across them when I was general manager at the Cumberland hotel in 1999, working on the Fortissimo joint recruitment venture," he says.
A little while later, on Berkeley Scott's recommendation, King was invited to coffee and a chat with Thistle managing director Alex Stuart. Although they got on well, King wasn't then interested in a potential position on offer within Thistle, but he was remembered for the general manager's position at Marble Arch later.
"Consultants help you network," he says, "And the network just gets bigger. The other advantage is that primarily they can give you a good insight into the industry and a good idea of salary. They are helpful in guiding people how to pitch themselves."