When only the best will do…

By at home

Whatever type of career you’re looking for, top employers are waiting for you. So, how do you find them?
Contrary to popular opinion, filling a job vacancy isn’t simply an opportunity for an employer to bestow work on a talented and eternally grateful employee. Job hunters should also ensure that they are on the lookout for a first-class employer.

And there’s good news on the job front. It seems the UK is emerging from the recession. Figures released in August this year by the Office for National Statistics show unemployment in the UK fell by 49,000 to 2.46 million in the three months running up to June. The jobless rate is now 7.8%, the lowest for a year, and the number of people in work rose by 184,000 (also in the three months to June), which is the biggest rise since August 2006.

However, it’s important to realise that not everything in the garden is rosy just yet. A large part of this increase was, in fact, due to a record rise in the number of part-time workers, while full-time workers only increased by 12,000. But, remaining positive, it’s still an increase. If you’re among those looking for work at the moment, and particularly if you’ve been looking for some time without any success, it can be tempting to take the first job that comes along. Martin Pennington, director at the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services explains that it’s important not to take a job that’s not suitable. ‘There are jobs out there,’ he says. ‘But make sure you take one that is right for you.’

He also believes that graduates will be successful in their search as long as they have the right skills and approach. ‘By taking a step back and thinking about what they have to offer, what their interests are and what career path they would like to choose, most university leavers should be able to present a coherent and impressive argument to impress potential employers.’ Martin recommends doing as much research as possible in order to find the right work for you, so here are some areas you should consider…

What to look for in a prospective employer
To remain happy and challenged in your job, you need to find the right company for you as an individual. Consider:

The people
You can tell a lot about a company by the people who work there. Working with talented people creates a dynamic environment and encourages creativity. If there are a lot of good employees, it means the company encourages and rewards talent and this in turn will encourage more talented people to join.

The company culture
The atmosphere and team spirit in a firm are very important, too. You want to feel like you fit in so check out the overall reputation and philosophy of the organisation you are interested in. Is it a young company that organises parties for its staff, or a more serious affair? You don’t want to work for a company that is known for treating its staff badly, or feel as though you don’t fit in, so it’s important that you do your research before you go for an interview.

the company principles Company ethics are often as important as profit. The charity, P3, came first in The Sunday Times 2010 Best Mid-Sized Company to Work For Awards in 2010. P3 provides a range of support services to the most at-risk people and prides itself on offering successful and lasting routes out of social exclusion and homelessness. Martin Kinsella, chief executive of P3 and a social enterprise ambassador, says: ‘P3 is immensely proud to have come out on top. The people who work for P3 do it because they enjoy it and because they want to make a positive difference to people’s lives and the communities they work in. ‘We are a strong business and have a professional approach to the work that we do; the difference is that our profits are reinvested into the company, ensuring more benefit from our work.’

Put yourself first
When it comes to your career, the most important person to consider is you – and making sure you’re happy.

Work-life balance
Check out the working hours – official and unofficial. Will you have to work overtime? Evenings or weekends? Are the hours set in stone or is flexible working a possibility? Around 11% of UK employees work more than 48 hours a week, according to the Institute for Employment Studies (IES). Think about how far away the job is – will you spend hours commuting? Find out if there are company policies in place that help redress the balance.

Mary Mercer, principal consultant at the IES, says: ‘Flexible working has enormous benefits if implemented properly. As well as limiting staff turnover, it can also help to reduce levels of sickness absence, increase levels of wellbeing and commitment and improve effective working and productivity – all of which can impact on an organisation’s bottom line.’

Will you be challenged? Taking on a role that doesn’t interest or challenge you will mean you won’t be happy or content in the long-term. Look for a position that will stretch you and that you will be happy to put 100% of your energy and focus into.

Will you be happy?
According to a Graduates In The Workplace report published by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, 97% of graduates rated happiness as the joint most important aspect of a job (along with career development). Think about whether you’ll be happy with the job, the people, the company and opportunities. If the answer is no, keep looking!

Seven ways to boost staff satisfaction
For employers, good employees are hard to find and harder to keep. But there are areas that will help create job satisfaction among staff and make them more likely to stay…

  1. Ongoing training Offering staff opportunities to further their skills is a great way to show your commitment to them.
  2. Chance for promotion Good career prospects and the chance to move on up is very important as, sooner or later, everyone will get bored with their job.
  3. Good pay We all know times are hard, but financial worries create employee stress and work absences. Paying staff a fair salary will cost you less in the long-term.
  4. Flexible hours Offering your staff the option to work flexible hours and take extended holidays or sabbaticals makes them feel valued and offers them choices.
  5. Feeling appreciated Nobody wants to work for a company that doesn’t appreciate their work. Encouragement and feedback are crucial to making employees feel respected and rewarded and will help to retain good staff. Rewards help, too!
  6. Accurate job SPEC Being regularly asked to do things that aren’t part of the job description will lead to resentment and will encourage staff to look for a new employer who does not take their skills for granted.
  7. Give something back Allowing your staff time off for voluntary work, donating a percentage of profits to charity, improving your environmental sustainability and supporting the local community instills a sense of respect in your staff.

Make sure your new job is for keeps!
Once you have found your dream job, there are a few things you can do to make sure you hold on to it…

  • Make yourself invaluable. Volunteer for more work. If you’re not overloaded, offer to do more. Companies are trying to make cuts so you’ll earn brownie points if you pick up the slack.
  • Be punctual. Simple to remember but important – always be on time. If you’re consistently late or leave early, it shows you have a lack of commitment and respect for the job.
  • Check your online appearance! A lot of staff wouldn’t even think this matters, but it pays to clean up your profile on social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook. Many employers now check these, so make sure there is nothing embarrassing or incriminating on them. If in doubt, alter your security settings so people you don’t know can’t access your profile.
  • Avoid personal tasks at work. Don’t spend working hours texting, making personal calls or scouring Facebook!
  • Talk away. Do network. Get to know your boss and their boss and talk business with them. You’re less likely to be fired if people know and like you.
  • Be positive. Don’t moan or whine. Be positive and proactive in your approach to everything.
  • Think laterally. If your job is under threat, consider working fewer hours or accepting less pay if it means you can stay in employment.

Looking to the future
However happy you are in your job, it’s important to always be one step ahead of the game. Think about what the company offers for your future career.

Is there room for growth?
What opportunities are there for you in the future? Does the company have overseas offices that you can transfer to, or offer a change of direction after a few years of employment? Encouraging staff to grow is beneficial for both employer and employee. Nando’s restaurant, which came top in The Sunday Times Best Big 25 Companies category, encourages employees to grow. Paulo Santimano Sequeira started out as a cleaner at Nando’s and with support from the management, soon became an assistant manager of a store and now oversees health and safety, food safety and licensing. He received paid time off and help with tuition fees to complete a full-time business degree during weekends at Thames Valley University to allow him to progress.

Are there opportunities for training?
While you may be qualified to do the job you are applying for, extra training can help you to both improve yourself and your future prospects. Whether it is expanding your current skills, learning about new technology to make your job easier, or expanding into different areas, a company that offers good training opportunities gets (and keeps) good employees. Careers South West, a learning and employment advisory service, won The Sunday Times Best for Training & Development Award 2010. An average of £1,100 is spent per member of staff a year on training and employees are helped to identify their career aims. They also get coaching and mentoring to help them achieve their potential. Chief executive of Careers South West, Jenny Rudge OBE, says: ‘Focusing on employees and investing in their training and development brings real benefits, such as improved workplace engagement, better staff retention, reduced recruitment costs and greater financial performance.’

Reap the rewards of your labour…
There’s no point beating around the bush, your salary will be a critical decider as to whether you decide to accept a job or not. It’s also important to find out what perks are on offer – these can often make or break a deal for job-hunters.

What is the salary?
Like the song says, money makes the world go round. And while for some, a job is all about the salary, for others it’s less important than job satisfaction or training opportunities. Whatever its importance is for you, you’ll still need to know that the salary is enough to live on. If you believe you’re not paid enough, you’re likely to feel undervalued and you may start to worry about finances. Check out the salaries being paid for similar positions in other companies, and research what someone with your level of skills and experience should expect to earn.

Are there extra benefits?
Whether it’s free gym passes or rewards such as weekend breaks, companies are wising up to the fact that benefits help to attract (and keep) good employees. Absence costs an average of £666 per worker per year, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), so it makes sense for employers to keep you happy and healthy.

Maternity policy: do you know your rights?
Some companies offer additional benefits and policies, but mothers and fathers are legally entitled to paid parental leave.

Ordinary Maternity Leave (OML) is 26 weeks and there is no minimum qualifying period you have to work to be entitled to it. Additional Maternity Leave (AML) starts at the end of your OML, and lasts for another 26 weeks. You can start maternity leave 11 weeks before the baby is due. You must tell your employer when the baby is due and when you want your OML to begin. Your employer must formally respond to you within 28 days, stating when you are expected to return to work after your AML. You have the option to return sooner if you want.

To qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) you must have been employed by the same employer continuously for at least 26 weeks into the 15th week before the week your baby is due, and have earned an average of at least £97 a week. SMP is payable for 39 weeks, the first six weeks of which will be paid at 90% of average weekly earnings and the remainder at the lower statutory level (currently £124.88 per week or 90% of the average weekly earnings if this is less than £124.88 per week).

Paternity leave is just two weeks, and it can begin up to seven days after the birth of the baby. To qualify for Statutory Paternity Leave you must be an employee. You must be taking the time off to support the mother or carer for the baby and intend to be fully involved in its upbringing.

The big bad boss…
This is something you definitely don’t want your boss to be. So think carefully about whether you’ll be able to work well with your immediate line manager.

Is your manager inspiring?
While you don’t have to love your direct manager, at the very least you’ll need to get along. Find out more about your manager’s reputation. If you don’t think you’re compatible or would find it difficult to respect or be inspired by him/her, think long and hard before taking the job.

Supportive management and human resources?
Is there a well-organised and supportive management structure? Contact the HR department and ask about the managerial hierarchy around the prospective role. Who do you answer to and who is your boss answerable to? Does the company have complaints and support structures in place? Does it offer structured training and regular pay reviews?

What makes a good boss?

  • Leadership A good employer needs to have strong leadership skills, which means the strength to take control of employees.
  • Tolerance A good boss realises that employees are human, so some things are beyond their control. You’ll have to be tolerant of the odd mistake or lapse of judgement but not so tolerant that people think you don’t care about results.
  • Courage It takes bravery to command a team and keep employees in check. You have to be brave and trust your instincts when hiring – and firing. Remember, your staff are your responsibility, so their successes and failures reflect on you.
  • Positive attitude Grumpy people don’t make good bosses. A good boss should be, or least appear to be, happy and positive.
  • Patience Sometimes, being a boss takes the patience of a saint. Employees are only human and take time to learn things and they will make mistakes. You have to be able to not get irritated or impatient with them.
  • Empathy A good employer shows genuine concern for their employees. Recognising and rewarding their efforts and showing that you understand their needs is crucial to being a boss.
  • Fun All work and no play makes for a dull life. So, at social events, it’s okay to have fun with your staff. As long as you, and they, know there is a time and a place for larking about. Showing that you’re not just the ‘scary’ boss can help to build better relationships with your staff.

The best employer in the world?
Google regularly comes top in lists of the best companies to work for. It receives about 1,300 CVs every day but as staff retention is so high, there are few openings. But just what makes the company so special?

At its Mountain View Campus in California, Google offers its staff:

  • Free breakfast, lunch and dinner at a choice of gourmet restaurants. Free snacks, too!
  • Five free days of childcare per year.
  • Up to $12,000 a year towards work-related courses.
  • On-site doctor. Physical therapy and chiropractic services are also available.
  • A fun, campus-like environment.
  • Parental leave – up to seven weeks off at approximately 100% take-home pay.
  • On-site oil change and car wash services, dry cleaning, massage therapy, gym, hair stylist and fitness classes.
  • A $500 (£316) new-baby benefit.

A word from James
‘When attending an interview, research the company beforehand. Whether you work in retail or finance, hit the website. Learn as much as you can about its history, management structure and ethos.’

Picture: getty images

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