What the political parties plan for one-man bands

  Too close to call: The political parties have each made pledges affecting one-man bands, ahead of what it is expected to be the tightest vote in more than 40 years .

Too close to call: The political parties have each made pledges affecting one-man bands, ahead of what it is expected to be the tightest vote in more than 40 years.

As pledged in their manifesto, or in addition to it, the Conservative party say they will:

  • Look at other ways to offer support to the self-employed, bearing in mind that maternity benefits is “one area of concern.”
  • Ensure that 30-day payment terms are the norm for small suppliers, with 60 days being the maximum in all but exceptional circumstances.
  • Proceed with the establishment of a new enforcement body that will be able to eject companies that fail to live up to the new standards of the Prompt Payment Code.
  • Set up a version of Australia’s Small Business Conciliation Service.

As pledged in their manifesto, or in addition to it, the Green party say they will:

  • Push to exempt businesses with a turnover of less than 100,000 Euros from the EU’s January 1st ‘place of supply’ rules on VAT.
  • Legislate to ensure that the self-employed are paid on time.
  • Apply equal pay and anti-discrimination legislation to contracts between businesses.
  • Ensure contracts provide compensation to be paid for by the organisation employing another should contracts be revoked prior to work taking place.
  • Make unemployment pay available to the self-employed on equal terms to employees.
  • Ensure self-employed people can claim absolutely equal rights with employees in other sectors, based on their average income and hours of work.
  • Offer self-employed people with young children flexibility and freedom from childcare costs, with free care covering school hours for children aged one to five.
  • Oblige BT to provide affordable, high-speed broadband-capable infrastructure for every small business, and to make it available to all rural areas at the same cost as in urban areas.

As pledged in their manifesto, or in addition to it, the Labour party say they will:

  • Give small businesses “a voice at the heart of government” by establishing the “Small Business Administration,” to ensure procurement contracts are accessible and that regulations are designed with small firms in mind.
  • Strengthen the rules protecting small firms against late payment.
  • Require every company working with the Ministry of Defence, regardless of its size or the scale of its work, to sign up to a cyber security charter.
  • Ban recruitment agencies from hiring only from overseas.

As pledged in their manifesto, or in addition to it, the Liberal Democrat party say they will:

  • Ensure a constant flow of highly skilled workers by investing in pre-school education; driving up school standards, closing the attainment gap between advantaged and disadvantaged children, creating almost 2m new apprenticeships and getting more young people (and more disadvantaged young people) into university than ever before.
  • Extend free entitlement of child care to all 2-year-olds and 1-year-olds.
  • Ensure that the regulatory and tax environment is as pro-business as possible.
  • Keep investing in vital infrastructure – both the physical and digital connections.
  • Complete the roll out of high speed broadband to 99% of the UK.
  • Put self-employed and independent professionals at the heart of the next government’s agenda.

As pledged in their manifesto, or in addition to it, the Scottish National Party (SNP) say they will:

  • Be enthusiastic in its support for jobs and business.
  • Always have an ‘open door’ to freelancers, entrepreneurs and the self-employed.
  • Always support Scottish businesses, and take actions to boost jobs and competitiveness and to tackle inequality.

As pledged in their manifesto, or in addition to it, the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) say they will:

  • Introduce an evidence scheme for repeated late payment offenders, as well as proof that timely requests for payment have been made.
  • End the exploitative lending practices of the largest firms.
  • Remove the necessity for the smallest firms and independent professionals to demonstrate compliance in areas irrelevant to the job that is being tendered for in the public sector.
  • Introduce a new trade credit insurance scheme to free up the tendering process by building on the Funding for Lending Scheme and the Finance Guarantee.
  • Extricate the UK from the EU to remove small firms from “onerous” regulation.

What job-seekers get asked at interview

An interview in today’s competitive jobs market often features so many questions that they need to be grouped into two main categories. The first category gently inquires ‘conversationally’ and the second specifically probes ‘competencies.’

Before exploring these two question-sets with top tips from leading hiring specialists, job-seekers should be aware of two additional categories. Each sits at the opposite end of the difficulty spectrum.

  Sign of the times: Candidates in today's competitve jobs market typically face no fewer than four different categories of questions.

Sign of the times: Candidates in today's competitve jobs market typically face no fewer than four different categories of questions.

The first contains ‘standard’ interview questions – the questions asked of almost all of us, whether we’re applying for a blue, white or pink-collar position.

And the second contains so-called ‘curveball’ interview questions. These are questions which every job-hopeful doesn’t want to be asked at all. Let’s ‘bite the head of the frog’ and tackle these trickiest of questions first:

Curveball Interview Questions

  1. How many pound coins could you fit in this room?

  2. Would you come back to work on Monday if you won the lottery this weekend?

  3. Can you describe a time where you had to bend or break the rules to achieve an objective?

  4. Can you give me an example of a business decision you made that you ultimately regretted?

  5. What will be your approach to the job after this one? First come, first served? The most interesting company/project? The best pay?

  6. What would you do if you were the CEO?

Notes on the Curveball Interview Questions

Question 1, asked of a candidate working via ReThink Recruitment, was fired in relation to a role with a media firm. Also cited by the recruiter is Question 2 – ironic, because it was asked by a company involved with the National Lottery.

Question 3 was put to a job-hopeful using staffing group Jenrick to find work. Like all the other questions in this ‘curveball’ category, it forces the interviewee to ‘think on their feet.’ The fourth question, posed to a job-seeker on the books at Outsource UK, gives the interviewee the unenviable opportunity to recall a moment in their career when they overlooked something.

Meanwhile, question 5 wasn’t identified by recruitment company Volt (which provided it) as a curveball, but it too has the potential to 'catch out' anyone who’s unprepared.

Question 6 faced a candidate not pursuing any role near the CEO but, according to agents at Computer People who shared it with Moore News, it is designed to let the interviewee demonstrate a breadth of skills beyond those required to do the job on offer.

The agents added: “[The answer will] show whether or not the candidate has thoroughly researched the businesses, but also what they know about the current state of the market and issues the business is facing.”

Standard Interview Questions – What Job Candidates Are Typically Asked

  • What do you know about our company?

  • Why should we hire you?

  • What are you key strengths?

  • What do you consider to be your weaknesses?

Source: Outsource UK

  • What do you know about the company and this role?

  • Why did you apply for this role?

  • Why should we consider you over and above other candidates?

  • What are the attributes you may be lacking for this role and how do you plan to overcome this?

  • What do you expect from the company you work for?

Source: Volt

  • Why did you leave your last position/why did your last employment come to an end?

  • Have you been on the market for long/how long have you been looking for?

  • Do you have other opportunities in the pipeline?

  • How do you find the current job market?

Source: ReThink Recruitment

Conversational Interview Questions

The following questions are most associated with skills-based interviews, often held by the line manager. They tend to be centred on examples of recent experience and are conversational, in that they allow a ‘to and fro’ between interviewer and interviewee.  

These conversational questions are designed to delve deeper into a job candidate’s profile than the ‘standard’ questions but aren’t meant to be as difficult to cope with as the ‘curveball’ questions. They might require the interviewee to recall a recent experience, but don’t require story-telling – such an anecdotal answer is more associated with ‘competency’ questions. 

Philip Fanthom, managing director of Jenrick, revealed his top three conversational questions:

  1.  In your recent job/project, can you give me an example of how you hit your objectives?

  2. You mention in your CV that you used '[insert skill]' at this organisation. How; in what capacity and what were the benefits?

  3. Can you talk me through your approach to technique when using '[insert skill]'?

Charlie Crook, business manager at Computer People, offered his top two:

  1. Describe a time when you’ve had to work under a high degree of pressure.

  2. Tell me about a mistake you made at work, what happened and how did you deal with it?

Anna Kramer, senior manager of key accounts at Outsource UK, provided her top two:

  1. Tell me about your experience in '[insert skill/position/organisation]'?

  2. How would you previous manager or supervisor describe you?

Sebastien Cobut, operations director of European staffing services at Volt, gave his top three:

  • How do you keep your knowledge of '[insert skill/industry]' up-to-date?

  • What will you do before starting this job to plug any gaps we identify in your skill-set?

  • In which order do you rate the importance of the following?

  1. Employer’s brand and reputation

  2. Employer’s length of assignment/job

  3. Pay

  4. Employer’s technology

  5. Job/position content and responsibilities

Competency Interview Questions

The competency-style of interviewing is similar, in that it uses questions designed to unearth how the candidate has performed in the past, with a view to predicting their future behaviour. These questions are often posed by senior management and/or HR. The questions invite some sort of brief story to be told, with the interviewee’s competencies hopefully at its heart.

  • Can you tell me about the last job you did that required you to generate new revenue/organisational change?

Computer People’s Mr Crook says this question is designed to understand what changes that you, the applicant, delivered in your last job and the success you had. As the potential employer wants to see the interviewee demonstrate “innovation and initiative,” highlighting “motivation and drive” is the key if the candidate wants to give a good answer.

Jenrick’s Mr Fanthom has come across the same competency question, albeit worded slightly differently:

  • Give me an example of where you have been responsible for evoking a change. In your example, state the reason and outcome.

Job applicants being assisted by the Surrey-based firm often face two other competency questions:

  1. Give me an example of when you disagreed with a colleague; how did you deal with it?

  2. What has been your biggest ‘mess up’ in the last 24 months; how did you rectify it?

At Outsouce UK, Ms Kramer says there are four competency questions that its job-hopefuls often report being asked at interview:

  • Tell me about a time when you had to communicate complex information to an audience unfamiliar with that information.

  • Tell me about a time when you had to challenge senior stakeholders. How did you go about it?

  • Tell me about a time when you presented options and recommendations to stakeholders. How did you set about gaining buy-in for your recommendations?

  • How did you handle a situation where your employer changed the brief, or ‘moved the goalposts’?

Job Interview Questions - the 'hot' candidates right now

The vast majority of the probes that job-seekers face at interview are timeless. However, there is one question that two of the recruiters agree is experiencing a major comeback this year -- partly due to employers agonising over their bottom lines. The question is:

* Can you give an example of where you added value to a particular department/employer?

“We are finding that our clients have a greater expectation…than ever before,” reflected Outsource’s Ms Kramer, chiming with another (anonymous) recruiter's belief that hirers currently demand no less than “the world” from new talent.

Computer People agrees that the ‘value-add’ question is the biggest one of the moment, as far as interviews for professional opportunities are concerned.

“Now more than ever,” it said, “[candidates] are being asked in interviews to prove they are bringing something unique to the post; be it industry insight or a scarce skill set,” Mr Crook reflected.

“Candidates are increasingly being asked what added value they could bring to the business, including transferable skills, flexible ongoing support, [or even] if can they travel”.

The question is being fired because although the economy is in recovery, hiring managers are being told to justify their investments, he said.

But there are another two questions that are also increasingly being put to people trying to get hired. Both questions point to a single concern. The questions are:

  1. What is your availability?

  2. Are you actively interviewing at the moment, other than for this role with us?

Volt, which cited the first of these two questions, explained it’s being asked because employers are not generally “prepared to wait” for their new recruits to start work.

“They [hirers] will tend to go with the best solution available within the time constraints they have…Companies just have to fill the vacancies".

Jenrick, whose job candidates have faced the second question, said: “Increased competition for certain skills means employers are now facing a candidate-driven market.

“[This question] reflects a clear increase in the jobs market and opportunities available. [The answer] also helps potential employers size up the competition”.

How not to speak to clients

The words they use; when they use them and how they're used can make the difference for small businesses between a one-off job, repeat work and no work at all.

  My word is my bond: Small business owners often get into trouble because of what they tell their customers.

My word is my bond: Small business owners often get into trouble because of what they tell their customers.

But in the current climate, where competition for contracts is fierce, the small trader's focus should also be on the 'no-nos' - what to AVOID saying.

Whether on the phone or face-to face, drop a clanger just before you were about to receive a commission, or commit a faux pas in the bidding stage, and your chance of winning the work can be lost forever.

Moore News spoke with editorial, PR, marketing and design businesses to help establish twelve things NOT to say to a new lead or prospective client.

1. "Yes, Yes, Yes - I can cater for ALL your needs."

Nobody likes a 'yes-man.' And no matter how tempting the fee, avoid always saying ‘yes’ to every part of the project when all you have is its outline, says Sasha Kader, the founder and managing director of Sakr Design.

Even after careful consideration of the full project-brief, shy away from the all encompassing - 'Yes I can do everything your business wants.' Those 'wants' may change or evolve with the project, but all the client will remember is you promising to take care of their needs entirely.

Kader also says suppliers with a niche offering should be comfortable to show themselves as specialists first, and generalists second.

It follows that a specialist who shows up on a project, or pitch, claiming to have a solution for every problem will make the client doubt just how specialised the supplier actually is.

Worst case scenario is the client will see right through the overzealous approach, "lose trust in you and even buy something you never actually wanted to sell," warns Kader.

2. "That shouldn't take long; I can do it by then."

Never say "Yes, that bit of the project looks easy, I'll be able to finish it by then" if you don't know, in fact, that you can, advises Gill Taylor, a marketing and PR consultant to SMEs. The client will take such a statement to mean that you can definitely deliver by their suggested date.

"I always work on the 'under promise, over deliver' approach -" Taylor explains, which is a mantra that speakers of the statement (1), above, should also remember.

So, "ask for more time if you think you might need it - but then deliver in the timescales that they originally requested," she says.

3. "So what do I get as expenses?"

If there are certain expenses that you can bill the client for, or certain costs related to travel that may entitle you to tax relief, know that the right time to ask about these is not initially. Invariably, your accountant is likely to be a better source of information than your client.

Either way, such allowances will normally be relayed to you in good time. Avoid the mistake that one newly hired PR assistant made, when her first query to her fellow members of a conference team was to ask how the phone system worked, and what number she'd need for an outside line to call her boyfriend. It seemed even more awkward as the team had just heard that the cost of certain calls would be covered by the organisers.

"Within minutes she was on the phone to someone making social arrangements," remembered flabbergasted team member Rona Levin, a PR and Communications consultant. "Not the start that anyone in their right mind wants to be remembered for."

4. "I can start whenever; I'm not busy."

Of course you want to sound accommodating and flexible, but utter the above statement and the customer will wonder why you're not busy, warns Gill Hunt, managing director of Skillfair, an e-marketplace for small business contracts.

"It's much better to say you're terribly busy but could squeeze in a meeting on Friday,” she said, “even if it's not entirely true."

5. "I've pitched enough. Make up your mind."

An editorial supplier put the death of his proposed story to a publisher down to him getting stroppy about how much detail the editor wanted in his pitch.

"They kept on coming back to me for more and more information," said Dr Richard Willis, a published author, recalling his early days as a columnist. "I said to the editor at one point,  'I think that the time has come where I should not be expected to provide any further information about the piece I'm going to write.'"

What followed was an unhappy and unforgiving editor, a subsequent apology from a red-faced Willis and, worst of all for both parties, no commission.

6. "No I can't possibly work then; that's when I meditate."

Making clear to the client from the outset that you can't work certain days because you will be walking the dog, baking a cake, meditating or doing domestic chores is a mistake made by too many flexible workers and home-based businesses.

"It may well actually be OK with the client," Skillfair reflected, "but they really don't need to know about it until after they've decided you're the one to hire or commission."

7. "Yup tot-up costs later, money's tight for us all."

In the current climate, companies will be agonising over their bottom line, although they may give a less concerning reason to delay setting costs and payment terms. The financial director being on holiday is a classic.

But pricing and charging are key for small businesses, and with these issues "there should be no grey areas whatsoever," said Taylor, who has a string of successful start-ups under her belt.

"Always make sure you have your costs 'on the table' before starting work," she advised, "especially where you know that a project is probably going to take longer than a client might expect." One-person suppliers, she urged, should never agree with or say 'I'll get the project under way and will cost it up later."

And blurting out the related, "Don't worry about your payment terms being unavailable, we can sort it later" is equally unwise.

"Don't say [that], as you might find out later that their standard [time to pay] is 90 days - and as a small company that could cause real issues," said Taylor. "To avoid this problem, send every new client a set of terms and conditions which include your payment terms."

8. "I'm the expert; any idea how I can use my expertise?"

This howler is too often heard from niche suppliers approaching prospective clients for the first time.

Specialist writers approaching commissioning editors are no exception. In fact, the would-be contributor to a publication should always be "as specific as possible" when pitching stories or ideas, which should be entirely their own creation, not the customer's, says Willis. He says a potential contributor to a title must never, never say: "I'm an expert in reporting on 'X', can you suggest what I can write about on the subject of X?" 

9. "Do it my way; I'm the expert..."

For Skillfair, small business suppliers who say they know best, and that the project shouldn't be done how the client proposes, is the taboo of "all time," powerful enough to "kill the opportunity stone dead."

"The client has posted a project or made a request for a particular service - and the supplier responds with 'you don't actually need/want that - what you need is something else entirely'," Hunt says.

Here, the supplier is, in effect, saying 'Client, I think you're ignorant and I'm here to tell you that I know better.'"

"You may need to tell the client they're barking up the wrong tree," she reflected, “but try building a rapport before coming straight out with it!"

10. "You'd see my jimjams if we were on Skype."

Employers are well aware that technology has changed how workers operate, so there's no need to prove it.

Contract Marketing Biz's Gill Taylor explained: "When thinking about 'what not to say to clients' my immediate thought is the answer to a question which every client with remote staff asks - or wants to ask - at some point.

"The one about flexible workers and 'at-home' entrepreneurs being able to work in their pyjamas! Yes, we all do it, but no we shouldn't necessarily admit or declare it, even to the friendliest of clients. It just gives the wrong impression."

11. "I once had this hellish client who..."

Bad-mouthing former clients or employers to those you're with now (potentially their replacement) is plainly unprofessional.

Your horror story might be funny and get you a laugh at the time, but ultimately it will make your listeners nervous, and you look bad.

Quite apart from the scary thought that your current client may actually agree with your former client, and disagree with you, it can also make them concerned about becoming the subject of your next anecdote.

Taylor said: "[Later on after you’ve told your tale] in a tense meeting [that you didn't foresee] between you and them, where everything is more formal, you run the risk of the client thinking 'I wonder if this will be his/her next story about an apparently 'bad' client?'"

12. "Once, I was so unprofessional that I..."

Similarly, never recount a tale of when you or your business severely messed up, regardless of how amusing you think you can make it sound. "Lots of us have done it," admitted Taylor, "and sometimes they make great stories - but in the cold light of a sober day, it will definitely undermine your listener's confidence in you; so avoid -- at all costs."