Tag Archives: opportunity

Who really gets the top jobs?

Last night in the UK the BBC aired a Programme entitled “Who gets the Best Jobs”.  The pre – programme hype focused on the view that the plum jobs were the sole domain of a privileged few, dependent on who you parents are, where you went to school, who you know.  Nonsense.

Throughout History there have always been those born in to privilege.  I am not suggesting that is right or wrong, it just is.  Throughout history there are countless examples of those that have made ruin of just about every silver spooned opportunity that was handed to them on a silver platter.  Throughout history, there are countless examples of those who have risen from a life of abject misery to achieve great things.  The premise of this program was a nonsense, a non – story.  The only news for me was evidence that the politics of envy are alive and kicking.

I am not suggesting for one minute that who you know and importantly who knows you does not greatly enhance your chances.  If you get a great start in life, sure you are ahead of many of your peers.  However, where you want to school, who your parents are, is no barrier to opportunity, unless you believe it is.

Sure peer group is an important influence.  Sure access to opportunity is a challenge.  But you are not excluded, unless you believe you should be.

Intellect, drive, motivation, ambition, is not dictated by your surname or your ancestry.  It may well be dictated by your circumstances, your drive may stem from events that you have had to deal with.

We are not all born the same.  Some of us are more academic, some of us more practical, we are all unique, we all have different talents, circumstances, different paths, different challenges.  What matters is how you deal with them and what you do with them, how you choose to apply yourself, how you choose to live your life.

If you believe that because of your background and upbringing that opportunity in your life is restricted, then you can bet it will be.  Opportunity in life is not dictated by your postcode, we all have choices.  Your path in life is dictated by what you do with those choices.

Don’t adopt the victim mentality this program perpetrated.  Regardless of your circumstances, your life is what you make it.  Some may have to go through more, have more challenges to face, may have a longer ladder to climb to reach the top.  It doesn’t mean that you can’t get there.  We do not all start from the same place, but we all have the opportunity to get to the same place, if only we apply ourselves in the right way.

Life is what you make it.  What is a “top job” anyway?  A great job is one that leaves you fulfilled, growing, happy.  We all have that opportunity.  In the end only you can make that happen.



Filed under Careers, Opportunity

Why we have too few women leaders

Five years ago I was invited by a large Investment Bank to a recruiters forum to debate gender diversity.  Specifically the issue being addressed was why there weren’t enough female managers in Investment Banking.  How are we going to attract them?  Where are we going to get them from?  How will we retain them?

It was a frank, open, grown up, honest debate.  A lot of good ideas and initiatives were suggested from those 50 or 60 recruiters and HR PRofessionals in the room.  I don’t know how many of them were implemented, but five years on and the debate still rages.

So why doesn’t 50% of the population of the planet occupy 50% of the top jobs?

The numbers speak for themselves.  190 heads of state, 9 are women.  Women occupy only 13% of all the Parliamentary seats available on the planet.  84% of top jobs in the corporate world are occupied by men.  In the not for profit sector, a sector often assumed to be occupied by more women, men still assume 80% of the leadership roles.

From an employers perspective, we are limiting the pool of talent from which we select for leadership roles to only half that available.  Why does this happen?  Particularly when all the research evidences the more diverse an organisation, the more long-term sustainable success it is likely to enjoy.

Rather than give you the perspective of a 38-year-old Anglo-Saxon male, I thought it would prove more insightful to get the perspective of someone who really knows from personal experience the journey that women must take in order to achieve leadership responsibility.

Sheryl Sandberg is the mother of a five and two-year old.  She is Chief Operating Officer at Facebook.  A Harvard MBA, her CV also includes Chief of Staff to the US Treasury and Vice President of Online Sales at Google. She also helped establish the philanthropic Google.org

If you have 14 minutes 58 seconds to spare I implore you to watch this.  There is much here from which we can all learn.  If you don’t have time, I would love to know your views.  Let me have your comments.  Why do we have too few women leaders?

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Filed under Careers, Leadership

Eastern Promise

The balance of economic power has been shifting across the globe for some time, East in the direction of India and China and to South America with the rising global force that is Brazil.  To date this has had minimal impact on talent pools in the G7, the traditional powerhouses of the global economy.  Could this be about to change?

China recently released its National Outline for Medium and Long Term Talent Development (2010 – 2020).  In the document, talent refers to those with “certain professional knowledge or special skills, who are able to do “creative” work and make a contribution to society”.

The document highlights just how China intends to reform and develop its human capital over the next 10 years and addresses how it proposes to evaluate and manage talent across all spectrums of Chinese society.  Also highlighted are the key areas for investment and where the need for talent is most keenly felt.  In the next 10 years China needs more than 5 million individuals in the following areas;

Equipment Manufacturing



New Materials

Aeronautics and Astronautics


Finance and Accounting

International Business

Environmental Protection

Energy Resources

Agriculture Technology

Modern Traffic and Transportation

It will also need a further 7 million professionals in;


Political Science and Law

Medicine and Health

Publicity and Cultural Information

Disaster Prevention

In order to facilitate this there will be a massive focus on education.  More than 20% of the labour force is to receive higher education as the country transitions from a labour – intensive nation to one that is driven by talent.

President Hu Jintao –

“Talent is the most important resource and it is a key issue that concerns the development of the Party and country”.

The challenge for the rest of the world is how it responds to both the opportunity and threat.  Between 1978 and 2006 over 1 million Chinese Students studied overseas, more than 70% of whom did not return home.  The number of Chinese born professionals living in the US and Europe has grown to such an extent that the Chinese Economy has an enormous talent pool to tap in to from beyond its borders, as well as a huge resource of home grown talent.

This has the potential to cause huge issues for talent attraction and retention for Chinas competitors.  The talent pool has gotten ever more mobile.  The world has become a smaller, much more accessible place and long may this continue.  As a consequence opportunity is global.

Business and Political Leaders need to be thinking now about education, talent development, engagement, environment and opportunities that can be created in order that an already stretched talent pool does not become ever more barren.  Taking our talent for granted will cause much pain for future generations.

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Filed under Careers, Talent

Succession Planning Crucial to Success

The Financial Reporting Council has published a revised version of the UK Corporate Governance Code.    This has an impact on all companies, not least in terms of how best practice is viewed and in particular the focus on ensuring succession planning and boardroom accountability is at the forefront of the boardroom agenda.

The code supports

  • The undertaking of externally facilitated board evaluations at least every third year.
  • The Annual Election of Directors
  • Highlights Gender as an important factor in making board appointments
  • Increased emphasis on the role of Chairman
  • The need for constructive challenge from Non – Executive Directors and the central role of the board in risk oversight

Benchmarking your board against recognised standards of best practice is a highly valuable exercise.  Understanding the make up and talent of your board and senior management is crucial to the long-term success of the organisation.  Yet according to a recent survey from Stanford University in the US more than half of those organisations questioned could not immediately name a successor to their CEO.

Worryingly only 50% of those organisations have a written document detailing the skills required for their next CEO and on average boards spend only 2 hours per year on CEO succession planning.

Only 54% of those surveyed are currently grooming a potential successor for the CEO.  What does that say to employees or potential employees about the opportunities for progression and development and the room for ambition that exists in the organisation?

The UK would appear to be slightly ahead on the issue of succession planning.  Not only has the change in the revised code meant that legislatively we are focusing on best practice.

As we move, albeit tentatively, out of recession, I am inundated with requests from customers in a number of areas, not least wanting independent evaluation of the performance of existing board members as well as looking to introduce new talent to their Non – Executive and Executive Teams to take advantage of improved market conditions and enhanced opportunity.

With strengthened balance sheets, many business are seeing now as the time to make the changes to take full advantage.    This is confirmed by a recent report from the Association of Executive Search Consultants who highlight 67% of search consultants anticipating an increase in revenues in the second half of 2010.

Despite rising unemployment, organisations are reporting shortages of talent and retention issues, compounded by research that suggests the number of Executives open to a career move is up from 21% in 2009 to 45% in 2010.  Those functions continuing to suffer from the greatest shortfall in talent are CEO, COO and General Manager with China India and Brazil experiencing the greatest scarcity of talent.

Succession planning is not something that should come as a footnote at the bottom of the board meeting agenda.  It needs to be on the table now.

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Filed under Careers, Corporate Governance, Recruitment

Lessons for the Job Seeker from our sporting icons

I am fascinated by the parallels between business and sport.  As sport itself has become big business the two have looked to take the best of each other in a relentless drive to get even better.  It made me think of what we can take from the very best in sport when looking at our own careers.   I am a huge fan of all sports and love to study the great icons, in particular what makes them tick.  At the very highest level the physical talent and capability amongst the very best is wafer thin.   The difference between winning and losing is mindset.

So how can say Tiger Woods (recent indiscretions aside), Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, Sir Steve Redgrave, Ellen MacArthur et al help us in the pursuit of career success?  Success means so many different things to people and is open so much to how we frame things individually.  However my sense is that there are a number of basic principles that if applied would go a long way to ensuring at least a high degree of career satisfaction.

Without exception all of the above pass Malcolm Gladwells 10,000 hours.  They are dedicated and have practised relentlessly on the fundamental basics required in each of their sports in order that they can be considered the best.  David Beckham was always last to leave the training pitch at Manchester United.  A great pal of mine watched Tiger Woods walk off the 18th Green at Wentworth straight in to the gym for a 90 minute work out before returning to the range to work on hitting some more balls. Michael Jordan shot 500 baskets every day of his professional career.  So without doubt dedication is a critical factor for success.

However dedication is nothing without the vision, the goal, the endgame.  You must be clear about what you want to achieve and you must have a compelling why.  The how is the easy bit, that’s all in the plan and execution.  Why is what will get you out of bed in the morning.

Get really clear on what you want.  What are you looking to achieve and why?  Then work on the how. What is it that you need to do to realise your goal.  Then its on to the practice court to shoot those 500 baskets.

My guess is that Jordan didn’t score every time, that he missed a few and this is how he learned.  He wasnt afraid to miss, he was prepared to try to keep trying in order that he could achieve the level of success that he wanted for himself.  The job search is the same.  Relentless commitment, daily dedication and a lot of missed baskets.  Roughly translated, that’s a lot of shoe leather, conversations, handshakes and coffee.  Some will reap quick rewards, many wont.  However this is the advantage of relentless commitment.  Each conversation you learn more, get clearer, more succinct about what you want and what you can offer.  Each application you get better, each rejection toughens you for the next time, each draft of the CV is better than the last, each interview is an experience from which you can learn and be better next time out.

Dont be afraid to miss.  If you do, dust yourself off, pick up another ball and shoot another basket, strike another free kick.  This isn’t about wanting to be Michael Jordan or David Beckham, this is about doing everything you can for yourself to realise whats right for you.

The job market is tough.  It’s very easy to sit in the warmth of the blogosphere and make smart observations about the relentless pursuit for the job you desire.  But that is what it is, relentless.  There is no such thing as a magic potion or quick fix, but over time you will be amazed just what can be achieved through relentless commitment to the realisation of your goal.

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Filed under Careers

Jobs needed now, we cant afford to wait.

In the lead up to the general election I listened to a live radio show from Redcar, home of Corus and the focus of much media attention as the steel plant has wound down operations and made wholesale redundancies.  As one of the largest employers in the region and one that has turned out generations of steel workers, the questions to the assembled politicians inevitably turned to their plans to generate jobs in the region.

Much talk focused on the development of green technologies and wind farms in particular, a strong area for potential jobs growth in years to come.    However those who thought this would take the heat off the jobs argument were bought back  to earth by the observation from one of the audience, 27 years a steel worker.  In his view the undoubted skills he had acquired over 27 years were very specific to his industry.  He couldn’t afford to wait 5 years for new industry to come to town, he needed a job now.  He was fearful that he could not afford the time and money to re – train and anyway, “at his age”, nobody was going to employ him.  His views were real, raw, frightening and very much held by the majority.

An article I read made me reflect on the impact technology is having on the workforce.  I love innovation and had given much thought to the negative impact technology is having on employment opportunities.  The example in this particular article was a PA with some 20 years of administrative expertise who had been out of work for the best part of a year with little prospect of anything on the horizon.  The bosses that she had worked for over the years now arranged their own diaries, managed their own email, even typed their own correspondence!  Administrative tasks are now managed automatically or outsourced.  It’s not just those in “traditional” industries that are affected, it is all who are feeling the full force of the winds of change.

Whats the answer?  Our SteelWorker is right, 5 years, let alone 5 months, is too long to wait for a new job.  It’s not just about money, what about the massive social impact unemployment brings?  Government must align itself with the needs of its people and its businesses, to engage, to ask what skills are needed to thrive and to deliver the education and training needed to secure employment.  I mean real training, skills training, hands on experience.  Something akin to traditional apprenticeships.  Something that combines classroom theory with practical application.

The same can be said for employers.  Moaning about skill shortages whilst cutting back on training budgets is not the answer.  Engage with the communities in which you exist.  HR, get involved with schools, colleges, training providers, anywhere where skills are being addressed to ensure that those skills are meeting the needs of employers.    Recruiters, encourage employers to make attitude not experience the basis of hiring.  Encourage employers to give people with the right attitude the skills and knowledge they need to succeed.  This will have a significant impact on engagement, retention, performance and consequently the bottom line.

Life through rose-tinted specs?  Its possible, but who is going to pay for it?  The cost of giving people the right skills to get them back in the workplace and making a positive financial contribution to GDP far outweighs the cost to the public purse of paying unemployment benefit.   In a downturn investment in training is a soft target.  However in order to retain competitiveness we need to ensure training and equipping people with the relevent skills for not only tomorrow but today is top of the agenda for UK Plc.

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Filed under Job Creation

Change is inevitable. Long live change!

Like many I have spent the last seven days enthralled by the reactions of my fellow Brits to the General Election.  The first change of government in 13 years and the first coalition government in a generation.  From radio phone ins to TV chat shows, from blogs to tweets, such change has engendered an outpouring of hatred, bitterness, resentment, envy, cynicism, grief, resignation, excitement, positivity, hope, in fact just about any human emotion you can think of. All caused by change.  Its scary, uncertain, exciting, inevitable.

The one thing of which I am certain is the energy that it has brought about, both positive and negative, brings with it enormous opportunity.  Look at the outcome.  We have the chance to alter our electoral system to the extent that the way we are governed in future could fundamentally change.

I have a sense that we are living in one of the most incredible times in human history.  In many ways a modern-day industrial revolution.  Do you think back in the 18th and 19th Century when such huge advances were being made in the way we lived people took the time to reflect on the enormous changes going on around them?

The rise of China, India and Brazil as economic powerhouses, the impact of the web on how we communicate, interact, transact, the amount and pace of change in recent years is incredible.  The world is a small place for those of us fortunate to live in the developed or developing world.  Innovation is immense.   I remember an office before email and mobile phones.  Now smart phones in all their forms are business critical tools.  Google barely existed 10 years ago.  Facebook the same.  Just look at what have they achieved through embracing the opportunities presented by change.

Traditional models and thinking are being tested to the limit and the status quo is being challenged at every opportunity.  Take my own industry.  Recruitment has not changed its business model in 70 years and yet is faced with enormous threats from so many new media and tools.  Many are burying our heads and taking the view that tough economic times mean heads down survival.  I can think of many other businesses that I have had experience of recently who are bemoaning the tough climate whilst continuing to do the same thing they always did without getting what they always got.

Change is scary but it inspires.  It encourages passion and emotion, it creates pain and opportunity.  This is the stuff that keeps us alive.  Long may things continue to change.

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Filed under Opportunity