A chat with…

Nic Deason: Contract Recruitment & Research Manager

Job search advice from a seasoned recruiter (for anyone – students and all job seekers)


I caught up with Nic Deason in Cambridge recently to gain her insights and advice for job seekers. Nic’s had 20 years or so of recruitment experience – she knows a lot – and she’s not shy with her ideas – which is great if you’re a job seeker.

Here are Nic’s insights, suggestions and advice. 

What’s your best advice for job seekers?

Spend time and effort getting crystal clear about what your ideal job looks like. Journal what it is – the hours you work, the culture, travel, team – everything you can think of. The more specific you make this the better. Really go into what you want in detail. Vision it. Take out all the extra perspectives: what your partner wants, your family wants because as soon as you start adding in what everyone else wants, your thinking narrows.

Or if that’s too hard, go into what you don’t want, because then you’ve got a place to start understanding what you do want.

Do people actually take your advice and do this?

No! People don’t understand the time and effort required to do this. It means taking your blinkers off and thinking about the ideal. It doesn’t mean just taking an hour and jotting a few things down or making a list. (Most) people won’t do it.

How long is enough?

When you are really happy with what you’ve got and that’s going to take longer than an hour. You’ve got to really get into it and include everything. Make it crystal clear. You’ve got to put the effort into creating your life, creating your future and to do that you need to visualise.  The picture has got to give you absolute fulfilment and if that’s not there, you need to keep exploring.

Why don’t people do this?

Because it requires time and effort and people don’t see the value in spending the time understanding what motivates, excites and fulfils them. They become very reactionary driven by fear of getting out of their current situation, unfortunately. Instead of using this as an opportunity to create and design what sort of role you would love to have.

What’s your background Nic?

I’m a researcher and contract recruitment/HR professional with 20 years of experience. I’m now contracting full time and working with all types of organisations from smaller start-ups to large corporates across most industries. I also contract to a number of Executive Search firms to assist with their research piece to an assignment. The value I bring is in my depth of knowledge and experience spanning over 20 years in this space. I have an extensive professional network that I tap into. 90% of my people come from LinkedIn and Networks. Networks are very important.

What are the biggest mistakes people make?

Jumping from one hideous environment to another. Generally, people revert back to their same patterns of behaviour and to make a change you have to look at yourself as well. People get comfortable in their own dysfunction.

And don’t box yourself in with a job title. It’s too narrow. Think bigger. Take off the blinkers.

Is job search getting harder?

Companies are getting smarter – more sophisticated selection processes and it’s getting harder to get through that. But, there’s still a skills shortage and it’s still difficult to find really good people. Companies need to build a culture to attract really good people. Then if they do that, they’ll probably keep them too.

How do you find people?

90% through LinkedIn. Through my own extensive network, 90% of the time they are already in jobs. They’re not looking.

How else is the selection process changing?

Companies are seeing more value in soft skills – how people connect, work with teams, collaborate, people dynamics, problem-solving, ability to work autonomously and so on. More so than just the technical skills of a position.

And there’s more effort in talking with verbal referees. Dig in and really get deep to pull information.

What if someone has had a conflict with a previous manager and they don’t want to give that person as a referee?

That’s ok. My job is to mitigate risk. My advice is to be open and honest. Be completely up-front, completely honest and explain. We know that some people have had difficult working relationships with managers, organisations etc, ensure you are honest about the situation and experience.

What’s your view on the recruitment industry?

It’s very competitive – a cutthroat numbers game.

What’s your advice for youth just starting out? (Or anyone job searching, wanting a foot in the door)

It’s so competitive, you’ve got to be different and stand-out. My biggest advice is to start building your network straight away. Don’t wait until the end of study. Start thinking about who you’d like to work for, send them your CV, then ring and say you’d like to meet to find out more about them. Then try to meet face to face, maybe over coffee. Explain you have been following them. Explain why you’re interested in them – e.g. you like space, and they work in a firm that has something to do with that. Introduce yourself. Say this is me and look to get some work experience, including unpaid even for only an hour or two. Know that you need to be prepared to go in at any level doing anything. Just because you’ve got a degree, doesn’t mean you will get a job. These jobs are not advertised. A large percentage of jobs are not advertised. Use your parents or friends networks to help you get started.

You have to be really clear about 1) who you want to work for and why and 2) how you can contribute.

You have to get courage and ask to – have coffee or just meet them in person.

Do you have to be an A student to get opportunities?

No. In fact, from an employer’s perspective, hiring A students could be a mistake. Some years ago I worked for a big firm doing graduate recruitment and the CEO and team decided they only wanted A graduates and although I warned that this very narrow-minded might not pay off, however they insisted. We went through a formal interview process, which ended up with not hiring any of the top A students as they academically were brilliant but lack in the softer skills and customer facing experience. We went back to reviewing our criteria and managed to hire B average grads that meet all our requirements successfully. That’s not to say that A students can’t be awesome too! Just not for what we needed them to do.

So, exactly what do students (job seekers) need to do?

  1. Clarify your passion and purpose – what do I really enjoy?
  2. Include reality in that – it can’t be completely idealistic. It’s got to be real as well.
  3. List out things you like to do and write it down.
  4. Identify companies that interest you.
  5. Phone someone (use your family/friend/study) networks to help you and say “I’d love to come and have a chat with you” – go directly to them and ask.
  6. Don’t worry about not having enough skills already, the most important thing is to start making personal & professional connections and to explore what’s out there.
  7. Know that your personal & interpersonal skills will get you further than your technical or academic skills. You have to be personable and put yourself out there.

What about the older job seekers, say 50+?

NZ is a village. Same as above – your personal interpersonal, soft skills and life experience can get you further than your technical or academic skills. You have to be personable and put yourself out there and it’s all about your networks so get clever with your networking and how you market yourself. Get clear on how you can contribute and why you want to work for them. A lot of firms would rather hire a 50+-year-old than a 20 year old. They’ve got the experience that you just can’t have at 20.  And, don’t hide your dates on your CV – just put it all down and be open and up-front.

Thanks, Nic!

For more help, I suggest you check out the relevant Career Spot Ebooks.