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How to be a must-have, not a has-been

Published on: 24 Sep 2013

Must have not a has beenHave you been parked in a careers cul-de-sac? Many HR professionals have played safe since the recession and stayed in the same roles in the same organisation.  

Hunkering down is an understandable reaction, but as the economy is resuscitated, it is time to re-join the job market and let recruiters (both agency and in- house) know that you are a must-have, not a has-been.

Employers’ recruitment expectations in September 2013 are at their highest level since the 2008 recession, according to The Office of National Statistics and the CIPD/Success Factors Labour Market Outlook survey. “This suggests the employment market will remain buoyant in coming months”, says Mark Beatson, CIPD chief economist. “Jobs growth could even accelerate if the economy is indeed growing more quickly than had been expected”, he says.

How you market the long stay you spent in the same role or organisation during the recession is crucial. Extended periods (five years-plus) with the same organisation can be seen both as a sign of resilience or loyalty, but also as fearful of new challenges. Research into HR attitudes by recruitment specialist Robert Walters shows that more than 52 per cent of HR professionals think that they should change jobs every three years, which means that extended periods need to be marketed carefully, but truthfully, on CVs and in interviews.

However, never fear that you or your skills are outdated. “HR skills haven’t changed a lot in the past five years”, says Jason Willis, UK brand manager for Reed Human Resources.

“HR has always been about mind-set, and how people can fit into the environment,” he says. “Where it has changed is that people have to be adaptable.” Willis explains that since UK downsized, all managers, HR or not, have had to be a jack of all trades. So it pays to demonstrate how flexible you have been over the past five years—such as working with other departments for example, particularly as companies have been streamlined, and companies which were nervous about investing in HR managers have turned to interim HR managers (particularly in recruitment) to fill in the gaps.

At Robert Walters, manager of HR recruitment Ben Wood points out that HR had to adapt to survive, or become a casualty of recession and that those who have up-skilled should make this clear. “The more luxurious areas of HR such as learning and development have been parked or soaked up”, he says.

“Some individuals have had to add additional value to what they do.”

He says that recruiters are interested in those with experience in project transformation and change, employee relations, compensation and benefits.

The aftermath of recession has thrown light on how candidates have dealt with adversity. Candidates should expect this quality to be measured in a competency- based interview. “It shows up in many different ways”, says Willis “such as determination; commitment and a positive outlook”.

And above all, if you want to be a must-have, then steer clear of clichés, particularly the hackneyed: ‘team player’. “This is expected anyway,” says Willis. “You must be able to quantify your achievements. So if your specialism is redundancy, for example, the recruiter wants you to quantify your role in a commercial way. Talk about how you have benefitted the business.”

But above all don’t panic, says Wood. If you remained employed during recession then you were obviously a “must-have“ for your employer, and applicants should stress why they were retained. If your role was dissolved then point out how you have bounced back.

And there is plenty of cause for optimism.

“I genuinely feel that we are moving forward”, says Willis. “There is a feeling that organisations are starting to recruit for growth rather than replacement.”

Written by Stephanie Sparrow