Finding employment in today's competitive world can be a bit stressful. Even though you might have all the skills necessary, it seems that it's not all about what you know. Delia Zanatta is the co-founder of Vennpoint, an online marketspace where organisations can find suitable candidates for their available roles and helps industry professionals find flexible employment. With over 20 years of experience in the corporate world and employment industry, Delia shares with us the importance of cultural fit, why psychometric tests are sometimes necessary and how to stand out to secure the job.
Tell us about the story behind Vennpoint. How did you come up with the idea for the business?
The idea behind Vennpoint has been brewing ever since we met about nine years ago. At the time, we were both working for a management consultancy based in London. We started working on a project together, found we shared a passion for helping people and businesses succeed and a similar level of ambition for our careers and our lives and became good friends immediately.
When our lives changed and we became mothers shortly after that, we both faced similar challenges in finding the flexibility and support we needed to adjust to the “new normal” in our lives. We hadn’t lost our ambition and our abilities as professionals, we just recognised that our life-shape had changed and we needed careers that were flexible enough to adapt accordingly (we call these “life-shaped careers®”!). In our case, as mothers, we needed flexibility so that we could also be there for our children. But of course, different people want flexibility for different reasons. And flexibility can mean many things, not just part-time: flexible days, hours, location or even contract type.
But many employers underestimate how precious the benefit of flexibility is and rarely think to mention it in the recruitment process, especially for more senior roles. And the number of recruiters covering flexible roles is limited. So achieving flexibility in a current role or moving to a new flexible role to create a good work-life balance can often feel elusive.
As business leaders, we had also experienced first hand the challenge from a business’ perspective. Businesses need access to the right skills and experience, at the right time and at a cost that fits their budget. But their experience of using traditional recruiters or jobs boards is often time-consuming, costly or results in poor quality matches. Many businesses therefore rely on personal recommendations from within their own network but can be limited by the reach and quality of that network.
So for us it made absolute sense to set up an online marketspace that matches and connects professionals, businesses and trusted advisors and service providers, all looking to work flexibly together. We both left the corporate world and set up Vennpoint in 2015, which we launched online earlier this year.
You both come from 20+ years of experience in senior roles in the corporate world. What made you decide to leave and start your own business?
We are both very lucky to have enjoyed long and successful careers, working for and with some really good organisations and some really good people. But we had got to a point in our lives where we were ready for a different and bigger challenge. We wanted to design and build a business that could go a long way to resolving the challenges faced by professionals and businesses and we knew that the idea we had been testing and refining for the past nine years was what we wanted to focus our attention on.
At Vennpoint, you help professionals find flexible work with suitable organisations. How do you determine the right fit between a candidate and the company?
When we’re looking at our candidates, we look well beyond their last job title or a simple keyword search. We look at the whole person – the totality of their skills and experience, achievements, motivations, desires for the future, environments they work best in and what they need in terms of flexibility – and this is reflected in how we have designed the profiles that professionals complete when they register. We want Vennpoint to be a place they can come to find the support, advice and services they need to build and manage their flexible career – not just to find a job. So in our marketspace, we have teamed up with a whole host of experts that we have hand-picked, to deliver anything from coaching and mentoring through to training and advice, to help professionals understand and describe what they want to do, what their strengths are, what environments they work best in, etc. as well as helping them to work through anything that might be holding them back.
When we’re talking to our business clients, we draw on our years of business experience to look beyond the role description and to really understand what is needed and what kind of person will be the best fit for that company.
How we bring these two requirements together to create such compelling matches is where the magic lies… a combination of understanding professional compatibility and not making assumptions. It is one of the things that our candidates and our organisations value most from us.
Cultural fit is very important for employers and candidates. How would you suggest that companies recognise when an individual fits in their company culture?
Everyone has hard and soft skills that are formed through their experience and shaped by their personality. Identifying and testing the hard skills (ability to do the job) is somewhat easier. But understanding the soft skills (who they are, what makes them tick, what motivates them, what their values are) and how this matches with the values and culture of the business… that can be a little harder.
There’s an old adage… “You hire someone for their skills but fire them for their attitude.” A positive attitude is one of the most important criteria employers should look for when assessing cultural fit. So taking time within the process to really understand this is key. Through our matching process, we look as much as possible at the whole person (not just their hard skills), which ensures we get a good initial match. But nothing can replace face-to-face contact. Formal interviews (albeit a slightly artificial environment) are certainly important. Equally important though is to introduce prospective candidates more informally (but not just a quick “hi”!) to the people they’ll be working with day-to-day. It will soon become apparent how well they fit into your company culture.
FREELANCE VS PERMANENT EMPLOYMENT
Why do you think more and more organisations are seeking flexible professionals such as freelancers instead of permanent employees?
We see a few reasons for this. Firstly, businesses are increasingly turning to freelancers and contractors in order to remain dynamic in the face of peaks and troughs in demand and to access the skills and experience they need, when they need them and at a cost that fits their budget.
Secondly, the supply of freelance and contract resource in the market is at an all-time high (c.15% of the UK workforce currently) and continues to rise rapidly, year-on-year, according to the independent Self-Employment Review published in February 2016 on behalf of the UK Government. Great talent can often find itself restricted in permanent employment and feel that only a small portion of their capability is being used, so they take the step to go out on their own and define their own future.
And thirdly, advancements in technology have created an ongoing need for constant change and innovation – not just in terms of products and services – but also in how businesses operate. This in turn is creating a different working strategy – one more focused on projects that require specific skills to deliver.
All of these trends are encouraging businesses to think differently about the different terms on which they can hire the best talent to meet their changing needs.
WHY PSYCHOMETRIC TESTING?
During the interview process, some organisations request different psychometric testing, including personality type and competencies. How important would you say these are and what qualities do businesses look for in candidates, apart from the professional skills the role itself is based on.
There are many different types of psychometric tests that are often used in the recruitment process, from aptitude and numerical reasoning tests, through to personality and motivation questionnaires and knowledge (competency) tests. Basically, “psychometric” refers to the measurement of the mind.
They certainly have a role to play in the recruitment process as they can highlight aspect of a candidate’s skills or personality that might not be immediately apparent in their written CV or through the interview process. They often appeal to companies in situations where there are large numbers of candidates, where the hire is particularly key/senior, or where a company is finding it hard to choose between two or more very similar candidates.
The key though is that psychometric tests should be treated as an additional source of information, not the only source.
ACADEMIC QUALIFICATIONS VS EXPERIENCE
Some companies place a huge importance on academic qualifications, but there are many industry professionals who have taught themselves more skills from work experience only. Why do you think some companies seek this and in your opinion, which would you say is most important when seeking employment: Academic qualification or experience in the field?
There are certain industries for which academic qualifications are essential as they provide proof of knowledge – medicine and medical research, space and astrophysics, engineering, accountancy, etc. But in most cases, on-the-job experience will trump qualifications and theoretical knowledge, as they are more immediately applicable to the workplace.
The reason so many employers still look at qualifications as a measure of capability, though, is because this is how they were measured when they started their careers.
SECURE THE JOB
The employment market is very competitive. What would you suggest candidates do in order to stand out and maximise their opportunity to secure a job?
During the application process, the key is to make yourself relevant to the reader. Don’t just send out a “stock” CV and cover letter; it needs to be immediately obvious how good a fit you are to the role description as well as to the company itself and how enthusiastic you are about being part of the team. So research, research, research!
During the interview process, make sure you clearly describe and demonstrate your relevant experience, the value you have previously added and the value you can bring to this particular opportunity. Also, demonstrate you understand the company and have enthusiasm for its mission and future.
Don’t see the interview as a one-way conversation though – it’s not just an opportunity for you to convince the employer that you’re right for them; it’s also a chance for you to understand whether the role and the company are right for you. This applies equally to the application process. Don’t just take a “spray and pray” approach to your applications – think carefully about what exactly you’re looking for and be choosy about the applications you make, so that you end up in a role that you actually want to do and that fits with your life-shape. Be as flexible as you can though in how you can work – finding the right role and the right employer can sometimes mean compromising a little within the bounds of what’s feasible for you.
At Vennpoint, you also team up with service providers that can offer mentoring and coaching to your clients. How important would you say these are and what valuable gains come out of these experiences?
Yes, we’ve teamed up with a broad range of experts offering professional and business services ranging from mentoring, coaching and professional development, through to training, advisory and outsourced services (finance, legal, HR, recruitment, sales, communications, social media, etc.).
In our experience, finding a job or finding a resource is often the end of the process for our clients – not the beginning. Many professionals, for example, come to us when they’re at a crossroads in their lives – they’re not happy doing what they’re doing, or their life-shape is out of kilter but they don’t know how to move forward. Our handpicked expert coaches and mentors can help them.
And many businesses come to us knowing they need help but not always knowing exactly what they need. They may not be clear, for example, what skills they already have within their business and therefore what the gap is that they need to resource for. Or they may need help to think through their strategy for growth and therefore what that means in terms of resourcing for the future.
In a market where there are many, many coaches and mentors, we choose only the most highly regarded, who each have their own specialism or way of working that delivers significant impact for our professional and business clients. And actually, the same goes for all of our recommended experts across the whole spectrum of professional and business services, not just our coaches and mentors.
What advice do you have for industry professionals who are seeking employment on a part-time or flexible basis?
When professionals come to Vennpoint they already know that the businesses we work with are open to flexible working patterns, so everyone knows that flexible working is already on the table, which helps. The conversation can then focus on the challenge, tasks, outcomes and deliverables of a role and how you personally can deliver value. As we mentioned before though, be as flexible as you can in how you can work.
The same goes for businesses: if you find the right person but they need a little more flexibility in hours, days, location or contract type for example, then try and be a little more creative – there is usually some way of getting to a solution that works for everyone.
Connect with Delia on LinkedIn