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Routine or going with the flow …what’s working for you? By Catriona Cookson

Last week I wrote about some handy advice I’d seen written by a chap called Jon Bailey – @SloopJontyB, who had spent long periods of time in a submarine while he was in the Royal Navy. Each week I’m going to take a look at one of the topics he addressed – the first one is routine, this is what he said:

ROUTINE: Life at sea is dictated by shifts and routines. You can tell what day it was by what was for dinner. Make a routine now, test it then write it down & stick to it. Divide your day up in to work (if home working) rest, exercise, meals, hobbies, etc. Do the same for kids.”

When we started working from home the message from the Directors at BLT was clear – “Do what works for you”. For some people that may be starting work very early or some may have a longer break in the middle of the day, or there may be children to consider so we have a huge amount of flexibility. I am sure everyone drifted through the first few days trying to make sense of it all. The increased restrictions came into place on the 23rd March just after I had read Jon’s post, so it seemed a good time to think of routine.

After years and years of living my life to the clock, of having to do things and be places at certain times, I thought I might welcome some real flexibility. But no, I know (if I didn’t know it already)…I like routine and structure, and at a time like this it makes me feel safe. And so over the last ten days I have developed a routine and stuck to it……

  • I have lunch at 1pm every day.
  • I have a tea break at 3pm and a biscuit (because that’s what we do at BLT in the office)
  • I switch off the laptop at the end of the day.
  • I cook every night , no batch cooking at the moment, as there is something very comforting about moving into the next phase of the day and preparing a meal.
  • I work four days in the week, on two of those I run at the start of the day , and on the other two I walk at the end of the day.
  • And what to do on a Tuesday, when I’m not working?.Normally I’d be out for a quick run and then off for a long walk or to a museum or gallery with a friend. So now Tuesdays are a longer run, the day for the supermarket trip as it now takes some time, and some “sorting out” one cupboard at a time.
  • I watch no news after the early evening on any device.
  • Before I go to bed, I get the yoga mat out. Sometimes I do an online session (Yoga with Adriene is very good), sometimes I practise some of the postures I can’t do very well and sometimes I just lie on the floor and breathe and listen to the old tunes on Mellow Magic.
  • And then there’s the weekend ….I run on a Saturday and Sunday morning usually so I’m keeping that going, although I miss the company of my Sunday morning running group. And the rest of the time, well last weekend I spent in the garden making a start after the wet winter, and there are several online screenings available of opera, theatre, ballet so I’m planning to catch up on them sometime soon.

And it feels better ……..there is routine, structure and boundaries. Crucially within the routine there is some choice ……shall I run or walk today? shall I watch tv or call a friend / family this evening?….. and where there is choice there is an element of control and that at this time is definitely very welcome!


What’s your recruitment message? by Guy Barrand

I’ll be the first to admit it – I spoke too soon.

My last post was a couple of weeks ago, in the immediate aftermath of Boris’ work from home instruction. In it, I waffle on about how it was business as usual, that clients were continuing to recruit, nothing will change. I sound quite blasé actually; confident that the BLT infrastructure was working effectively to allow us all to work from home; delighted to hear that clients and candidates were merrily pressing ahead with video-conference interviews face to face to interviews, and there was no sign that there was going to be much adverse impact. How bad could it get after all – over our 32 years of existence BLT’s business of recruiting Indirect Tax and Management Consultancy specialists has been largely impervious to economic rollercoasters and we’ve always come out smiling the other end.

And then it started. Beginning of last week, it became very evident that ‘business as usual’ it was not. The messages were commonly one of the following:

‘Dear Guy, I just thought I’d better let you know that we are implementing a recruitment freeze across the board, and are putting all roles on hold’.

‘I think we’d better pause for now, Guy, you know how it is.’

‘I’m really sorry Guy, but those candidates you had got to final stages with us? We really want to offer them a job, but we’re going to delay getting the paperwork out until things get back to normal.’

‘Those CVs you sent us look great, we’ll arrange to meet them in the office in a few months’ time when we’re back at our desks.’

It’s all perfectly understandable of course; the world has been a bit in shock, and the instinctive reaction is retrench and assess. In the immortal words of the Spice Girls….’Stop right now, thank you very much’.

But just think how that looks. Companies are very fond of saying that people are at the heart of their business. Surely, by freezing recruiting people, you’re effectively saying you’re stopping business? Not a great branding message by any means. Also when things are back to normal, you’re going to want to be back on the hunt for great people to join your company to fulfil ‘essential roles’, whether it be functional roles, or whether to meet growth targets. By doing effectively nothing about recruitment for six months (or however long it’s going to be; hopefully less!), just think how much ground you’ll have lost. And the missed opportunity to get positive messages about your company out there into the market. At the moment, when the practicalities of work are restricted for many, there’s potentially a talent pool out there with maybe a bit more time on their hands to think about their future careers and what they want to achieve in the new world of work that will emerge when we come out of the current lockdown. They could be more prepared to listen to your employment opportunities, and what it’s like to work with you more than ever before. Particularly when some companies are not exactly covering themselves in glory when handling their existing staff’s welfare in the current difficult circumstances. There’s a good number of people out there feeling rather disillusioned about how their current employer has responded to the coronavirus pandemic.

How refreshing then to hear the following messages from some of our more enlightened clients (not as many as I’d like though!):

‘Nothing’s changed; we’re well used to working from home after all, crack on…’

‘The need for that person isn’t going to go away overnight, by the time we’ve found someone and they’ve worked their way through a notice period before starting, everything will be back to normal anyway, so press ahead’.

‘We’ve had a look at our needs, and whilst some of the hiring plans were more nice-to-haves, and we ought really to be a little more cautious about hiring in some areas, these are the roles we’ve identified as being key to our future success; please keep hunting’

‘We’re admittedly going to have difficulty starting new people in our business in the next couple of months. But we don’t want to stop interviewing or making offers, we’ll just agree on delayed start dates.’

‘We’ll talk to anyone who wants to talk to us; we’re taking this opportunity to get some good messages out about our business into the market’

This kind of messaging around people strategy sounds much more positive and forward-thinking. And realistic too!

As for the practicalities of getting people started in new jobs in the current situation, where there’s a will, there’s a way…..we have several people starting new jobs at BLT clients this week ….laptops have been couriered, online induction programmes arranged, and virtual coffees arranged with new colleagues ….it can be done !

Whilst it’s definitely not business as usual, nor should it be, we should all remember that the next line of the Spice Girls song talks about the need for ‘somebody with a human touch’. People will always be key to a business’ health and success, after all.

So think twice before you put a freeze on recruitment, and therefore your business. Now that the initial shock of the current working reality is starting to recede, now more than ever is the time to focus on ways to attract people to your company, whether for immediate needs, or for later in the year.

GNB Bottle 2


What can we learn from a man in a submarine? By Catriona Cookson

There are plenty of articles around at the moment offering advice for dealing with the unprecedented situation we all find ourselves in at the moment ….lots of people who have worked from home for many years sharing their practical tips, IT experts offering virtual solutions and eLearning and psychologist offering mental health support.

I am a great believer in “trusting the experts” and one of the best things I have read is this by Jon Bailey – @SloopJontyB . I don’t know Jon; I just saw his post and it resonated with me – he is ex Royal Navy and spent prolonged periods in a submarine… I figured he knows what he’s talking about. This is his recent post – it’s clear, concise and manageable. I’m intending to write about some of the topics he covers in the weeks to come , (and please feel free to respond with any tips you may have) but for now I thought I’d share Jon’s thread of Twitter posts below.

“During my time in the Submarine Service, I – along with many others – endured many weeks and months cooped up in a steel tube under the waves. I just thought I’d share a few coping strategies for many of you now facing a Covid-19 “patrol”.

ROUTINE: Life at sea is dictated by shifts and routines. You can tell what day it was by what was for dinner. Make a routine now, test it then write it down & stick to it. Divide your day up in to work (if home working) rest, exercise, meals, hobbies, etc. Do the same for kids.

PRIVACY: the only place private at sea was your bunk. Make a dedicated private time / place in the routine. Even if you timeshare the front room get everyone a couple of hours alone. Do whatever you want: watch shit films, pray, yoga, arrange matches: whatever gets you through.

EAT: scran onboard was usually pretty good and broke up the monotony of patrols. Take time to prepare meals. A good mix of “feast & famine” will stop the pounds piling on – one boat dis Steak Saturdays, Fishy Friday, Curry & Pizza nights. On other days soup & bread was enough.

EXERCISE: you’ll have the advantage of not having to use a spinning bike in a switchboard. 20-30mins a day of whatever as a minimum. Fitness Blender on YouTube has workouts for all. It’s a natural antidepressant, breaks up the day and keeps you healthy. Get outside when able.

CLEAN: that house is going to get grungy now you’re spending a lot more time in it. Put time in your daily routine to clean and stick to it.

CONNECT: even during radio silence we still got a weekly telegram from loved ones back home. This was a weekly highlight. Keep in touch with your people. My current work has agreed a daily “coffee” catch up online even if there’s no work to discuss.

PERSPECTIVE: like all other patrols, this one will end. It’s a shit sandwich but better than dodging barrel bombs. Don’t obsess the news or Twitter shit. Bring your world closer, focus on little things that you enjoy & make plans for the future . At least you should have a window!”

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Why now is the perfect time to update your CV….. by Catriona Cookson

When was the last time you updated your cv? Maybe when you started your current role? And that may be some time ago.

We all know we should keep it up to date, but most people never do until they are exploring new options. We are all spending more time at home at the moment and this is a good opportunity to invest in your future and get your cv up to date. CV preferences are very subjective ….and from too many years looking at cvs, I share a few tips below:

Length – one page or two….is longer acceptable? Well, as ever it depends – for those in the earlier stages of your career, two pages should be sufficient and for people who have had much longer careers a third page is fine but not six pages please! Review your earlier roles and reduce content there to save space, concentrate on what you’ve been doing in most recent roles.

Style / Format – I still prefera chronological cv rather than a list of capabilities / skills and am a big fan of bullet points, makes it easy to read a lot of cvs quickly. Profile paragraphs are worthwhile if you have a specialist focus on an industry sector or service line, but too many don’t add anything to your content so save the space for something else.

Show me the evidence – Give some context to your client projects – the team size, the length of the project and most importantly the outcome and the achievements. Too many cvs have too much narrative, that’s where bullet points are so practical in conveying the details.

And remember, the cv is your marketing document, it’s designed to spark an interest either in a “Yes this is definitely a good fit for our open role” or “Interesting cv, worth having a conversation”. No one knows where recruitment and hiring plans will go in the coming months ……some areas of consulting will continue to grow, others may take a pause, perhaps there may be more contract opportunities. What you can do is be prepared, and one of the best ways to do this is to update your cv, and if you’d like us to have a look at it, pop it across and we’ll be happy to help.


Today is my first day of working from home…. by Catriona Cookson

….and it’s going to be an adjustment as it is for everyone. Recruitment is a face to face business and so at BLT we have generally been office based enjoying the companionship of a small group of colleagues, and having lots of face to face meetings with others either office based or in more recent years in coffee shops. We’ve tended to work from home occasionally, typically for personal and domestic appointments requiring some flexibility in the working day.

And then life changed …. we all knew working from home was on the horizon but perhaps not as suddenly as this….no real time to phase it in or adopt the rota systems some companies were planning. I am just very lucky that I have a job and one that can be done from home, many people don’t and I absolutely recognise that…….and so we have to approach this positively.

I have made a simple plan ….

Be outside as much as possible: Start the day with a walk or a run, have a short walk at lunchtime and some fresh air at the end of the day. I am just very thankful the lighter mornings and evenings are here.

Get to grips with (and enjoy) the virtual technology … We have a daily Zoom BLT team video call, which keeps us all connected and many of our clients are using this too to keep conversations going in these uncertain times. And for family too, Face Time with my family in Scotland to keep us in touch.

Cut down on the news coverage – we need to be informed but it serves no purpose to be constantly “checking in” on the news. This morning at breakfast I tuned into Michael Portillo and his Train Journeys, on a very pleasant trip to Southend and out into the Essex marshes. I’ve started watching “Outlander” in the evenings, there are five series so that should keep me going for a while and keeps me connected to Scotland too. And then some yoga stretches before bed … got to keep up the good work even if the classes are postponed for now!

Read, read, read ……pick up a book instead of scrolling through my phone flicking from one thing to another.

Stay away from the biscuit tin during the day! There’s a real temptation to snack during the day while working from home, although to be honest we do like a biscuit with a cup of tea in the BLT office. So, a cup of tea and a biscuit in the evening watching a boxed set is acceptable but I’ll save my treat for then.

And finally, I have bought some seeds ……. I’ve never grown flowers from seed before and so I’m giving it a go and look forward to the burst of colour in the summer months.


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