Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Only the Mentally Tough Need Apply; Niki Chesworth Reports from a Business Psychologists' Association Conference on the Skills Expected of Senior Executives in an Age of Austerity

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Only the Mentally Tough Need Apply; Niki Chesworth Reports from a Business Psychologists' Association Conference on the Skills Expected of Senior Executives in an Age of Austerity

Article excerpt

FINDING an executive position in the current economic environment takes longer, involves more scrutiny and requires candidates to undergo rigorous testing to show they can perform under pressure, according to leading recruitment consultants.

"Long gone are the days when you could get a job on personality alone," says Phill Machell, from Michael Page Executive Search. "The barrier to entry -- particularly for CEOs -- is a lot higher since the start of the economic downturn. Employers cannot run the risk of employing the wrong person and there is no leeway for failure."

As a result, candidates can now expect a rigorous investigation of their background, probing interviews and a range of tests to determine their skills to manage in these difficult times.

"Resilience, adaptability and flexibility are the three key skills in demand," says Paul Fox of Redgrave Partners, the global executive search firm. "Certain personalities will thrive in this market. Those with innate commercial acumen and instincts will do well along with those who have foresight and can take the longer-term view while at the same time focusing on short-term issues. Businesses that stand still will die. Those that adapt will thrive. That is why the need for talent has never been greater."

Competency-based interviews, plus role play, written exercises and personality profiling, are being universally used to discover which candidates can genuinely perform under pressure.

"Candidates may be asked to describe a situation where they have had to deal with a specific issue to show that they have actual experience of the problems they may face in the job," says Roland Seddon, regional director for London of Hays Senior Finance. "That is why candidates are advised to prepare examples to cover most of the scenarios they may be asked about."

Specific experience of the market or sector -- and often of dealing with specific issues, clients or systems -- is now also a prerequisite for many jobs.

"Candidates need to differentiate themselves by finding the uniqueness of the job and matching their skills to that. It may mean you face a wait while you find a job that matches your experiences," says Seddon. …

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