Personnel consultant Ern? Dús from PSP Siklóssy & Partner Management Consulting
PSP Siklóssy & Partner Vezet?i Tanácsadói Kft., the Budapest subsidiary of the Bonn-based firm Porges, Siklossy & Partner GmbH, is coming up to the celebration of its 20th anniversary. Personnel consultant and partner Ern? Dús has been part of the company almost right from the start. We spoke to him about the market.
How is business in your anniversary year?
The upward trend that began in 2010 continues. The market has picked up considerably, although we are still quite some way off the peak year, 2008. In the crisis year 2009 our turnover contracted and only began to increase in 2010. This year we are anticipating dynamic growth again.
What is the reason for business picking up again?
It’s mainly a result of the upturn in the German economy. That means suppliers have more orders. For us that means demand for people to fill technical and sales positions is growing again. However, we still have virtually no business from the construction industry and financial services providers. Luckily we deliberately established our firm on several pillars.
What kind of positions does your company recruit for?
We mainly deal with first- and second-level positions as well as specialist positions, with our focus tending to be on people in the second area. Occasionally for regular clients we also look for candidates for positions at the administrative level as well as sales representatives and special assistants. As long as there is reason for an individual search, we step in.
What is the supply of suitable candidates like?
It could be better. It’s not bad in terms of quantity but the quality is increasingly poor. There’s a simple reason for that: in times of crisis firms get rid of their less able employees first. Good employees are thinking very carefully about whether to take up the attractive-sounding offers made by personnel consultants because they have a lot to risk. I know of good people who have been unemployed for months. Sometimes we get several hundred applications for a few vacancies but there are still few suitable people among them. It takes perseverance to find good candidates and often they need to be approached directly.
What is it that candidates tend to lack?
I could list almost all the parameters: language skills (we have even observed a decline when it comes to German), relevant experience and specialist skills. Sometimes one look at a candidate’s CV is enough to realise that they are a job-hopper. PSP, incidentally, is a good counter-example in that respect; there has been no fluctuation since we started 20 years ago. We have only lost a few colleagues because they retired or have gone on maternity leave.
Is the decline in good people related at all to the fact that many good potential candidates are now working to the west of the Hungarian border?
I wouldn’t say that but then we don’t have much work related to healthcare.
What has changed in the past 19 years?
Technically there have been big changes. While we used to get all applications by post, now they all arrive by email. The classic application file with a photo has died out in Hungary. The focus of selection has also changed. At the beginning of the 1990s language skills were a deciding factor, whereas now it is much more about expertise. Although language skills in Hungary are still not available to the extent necessary, they are now a standard requirement in many vacancies. Direct search has become much more important.
Are candidates getting better at applying for the right jobs?
Unfortunately there’s been very little improvement there. Again and again I have the impression that candidates simply don’t read or don’t read carefully enough the job advertisement. It has happened on a number of occasions recently that we received applications that had nothing at all in common with the advertisement, or that a candidate had applied two or three times for the same posts. Of course such candidates are automatically ruled out. The internet has encouraged people to take a more cursory approach. Unlike with classic applications with an application file, for candidates today it makes no difference in terms of costs whether they send out 100 or 1,000 applications.
How do you handle the deluge of applications?
Through quick filtering of candidates. I’m helped by my many years of experience in the field. In the past 19 years several tens and thousands of CVs have passed through my hands. By consistently checking whether candidates fulfil so-called K.O. criteria such as language skills, degree required, qualifications and place of residence, most of the applications can be filtered out in the first round. On the other hand it counts in candidates’ favour if I can see that somebody has made an effort to get the job, for example if they have written a motivation letter tailored exactly to the vacancy in question. That is proof of seriousness. Unfortunately well-considered individual motivation letters are something of a rarity today.
How has the quality of CVs changed?
There are more model CVs around these days and people do actually make use of them. As a result the overall quality is better. On the other hand I often see signs of carelessness, again for example when things are mechanically lifted from a CV model that have no place in the CV of the candidate in question.
What role does the internet play when it comes to advertising positions?
The trend is definitely in the favour of online advertising but print ads certainly shouldn’t be ruled out. We have been the largest jobs advertiser in the weekly economics magazine HVG for several years. Earlier we also used other large media outlets but now when it comes to print media we stick almost exclusively to HVG.
Which are your preferred online websites?
HVG’s Jobline and Profession.hu. The latter is clearly the stronger website. The other websites haven’t worked out for us.
What determines whether you advertise online or offline?
That’s mainly a question of costs. It depends on the size of the client’s budget. We use one of the large online websites, usually Profession.hu, for almost every position. The question is whether we also place an advertisement in HVG or not. Of course it’s also related to the nature of the vacancy. If candidates are sought for first- or second-level positions, then there is virtually no way around HVG, not for reasons of prestige but simply because general directors or sales directors don’t have the time to work their way through the various online job marketplaces. They only take a little time to read newspapers and magazines. I’ve come to the conclusion that good people on that level can barely be found via the internet. They have to be approached directly or be found through HVG.
Why do companies decide to involve firms like yours when they are seeking to recruit staff?
To save time or because they deliberately want to stay in the background. Filling key positions is a strategic question and they may well not want other staff, clients and competitors to get wind of that. Additionally when companies advertise jobs under their own name, naturally they get few applications from candidates working for their competitors, although that is often precisely the aim. On the other hand if a company searches for candidates anonymously, then it can very well happen that a candidate from that very same company applies.
That can also happen to candidates if a personnel consultant is involved.
Yes but at least we don’t pass on such applications. We won’t even tell our clients the names of such applicants. We’re very strict about that. I’ve even lost customers occasionally who insisted on us giving the name of applicants from their own company. I put my foot down there. Keeping such personal data confidential is part of our good reputation.
What else justifies your existence?
Our many years of experience and extensive market knowledge. We are looking for managers almost permanently, rather than every few years or so. The fact that we offer genuine consultancy is also valued. It’s only in very rare cases that the vacancy and the candidate who turns out to be the favourite fit together exactly like two pieces of Lego. With consultancy, however, it’s possible to work out an optimal solution for the client. It’s important first of all to find out exactly what the client’s wishes are. Once we have a rough portrait we start looking. It’s important to recognise what the key abilities are that a candidate absolutely must have, and what abilities they can perhaps be taught with the help of further training later on. Consultancy even extends to clients occasionally turning to us in confidence with certain management problems. Of course I’m not a coach, but in my 25 years of management consultant experience I may well have come across problems of a similar nature and can suggest appropriate solutions.
What is the market situation like?
On our market there are perhaps another 10 to 15 comparable firms. Many of our competitors have a different profile. They offer courses, coaching, further training and temping, whereas we only deal with headhunting. The crisis year of 2009 separated the wheat from the chaff. We now have noticeably fewer competitors but there is also less business around. In any case we certainly benefit from our name being well-known and our good reputation. We have to deliver a quality service every single day to ensure that remains the case.
What makes you stand out from the competition?
Mainly our experience. We only employ people as consultants who have proven themselves in the business world over many years. The personal experience of the consultant is crucial. It’s not the case that the consultants bring in the business and then delegate the task of finding a suitable candidate to less experienced colleagues. They follow cases through to the end for good reason. I still read the applications for briefs that I have acquired myself because I know best who might fit a certain position. The particulars of the candidate may not fit the vacancy exactly, but I know how much leeway there is based on my personal impression of the company and the vacancy in question. In the interests of the client I don’t always stick rigidly to the conditions set out in the job description, which are always an abstraction of sorts. Life is about individuals. Often people who don’t match the job profile exactly can still be attractive to a company, although of course I only recommend such candidates if I’m really convinced that they offer a good solution.
How willing are clients to pay for your services?
Clients have become more attuned to what our work involves. They’ve learnt that our profession is an absolutely normal, necessary one and comes with certain costs. Simply paying a success fee is unrealistic. No consultant worth their salt would accept such a brief. In our industry it is usual for clients to pay a third of the fee when the brief is accepted, another third when the candidates are presented and the final third when the preferred candidate is employed. The last two thirds contain the success components.
How does the future of your company look?
We are thinking long-term. Dr. Patrick Siklossy, the son of our owner, has already entered the business and the future handover on the company group level is assured.
And what about the future of the industry?
Technology and jobs will certainly continue to change, which is why we have to keep on learning. Even the best technology, however, is no substitute for trust and experience. However advanced computers are they won’t replace us any time soon. They are totally unusable for filtering candidates based on the human dimension. How can they recognise if somebody is lying? Checking references would also cause problems for computers.