Taking the next step: Logistics career analysis

We speak to three leading recruitment consultants to get their views.
Logistics, ANALYSIS


As the logistics companies and job seekers gear up for the ‘busy season’ for recruitment, Logistics Middle East sits down with three leading consultants to get their views on all things job related.

LME: What is your view on the logistics job market in the region in the past year?

Brian Cartwright, managing director MEA region, Logistics Executive: The jobs market in the logistics sector has been slow over the past year but it’s certainly improving year by year, especially since 2008/09 when practically every company had a freeze on recruitment or were re-trenching. Now that the summer is over, the next few months are prime time for both jobseekers and companies.

As recruiters, we have to work really hard to hunt out good opportunities for our candidates, but with such a high number of people in the market looking for new opportunites, we haven’t been able to help everyone. Finding the right job in this market is, unfortunately, not a quick fix. There is a lot of competition from other job hunters, and companies want more for their money in terms of how much (or how little) they are prepared to pay people. Yet they do have higher expectations in terms of the qualifications and experience of potential candidates.

Nicola McCart, director, Hamilton Recruitment: The market is steady with regard to vacancies coming up, but it is also vital to point out that there is still a highly competitive market for businesses and for candidates to operate. This has been the case for some time and I don’t see this changing any time soon.

Job seekers must remember this when applying for jobs, presenting themselves at an interview and also managing their salary expectations. With regard to businesses, every business has to justify its spend and that is very much the case when it comes to the cost of salaries for the business. When a company recruits, the obvious selection criteria involves the candidates’ ability to carry out a required job, but we are also looking for candidates that can make a difference. For example, we look for increased profits, and increased efficiency in driving costs.

With regard to logistics sector, there’s definitely a demand for experienced professionals, especially in oil and gas, transportation, aviation, and the humanitarian industries. The other challenge in the Middle East job market is the naturalisation programme.

Mahmoud El-Sharkawy, managing director, Florence International Consulting: On the high level there are always opportunities, and on the high level, where we as an executive recruitment firm work, candidates are always difficult to find. Things are definitely picking up and looking more stable. And there is a lot more regional development when it comes to logistics.

LME: Looking ahead to 2013, do you feel anything will change?

Brian Cartwright: I personally think the future for Logistics-related employment in the Middle East is very positive. For sure there will continue to be ups and downs, both economical and political, which will hinder progress, but there will be progress. That said, I think that the jobs market will continue to fluctuate over the coming year. Most companies are having to fight hard to keep their heads above water right now, but bear in mind that there are still companies setting up new operations in the region, which will lead to new jobs being created. The problems in Europe mean that many of the major European providers are looking towards expanding their wider global operations to help top up any shortfall from their business units which may be suffering in Europe.
On the other hand, there is also an over supply of LSPs, especially in the UAE, which means that fierce competition is ongoing and everyone is extremely cost conscious, but the upside of this is that the top-performing employees are always in demand. Job hunters should try to make themselves as marketable as possible by adding to their experience and qualifications with additional training and education through organisations like the CILT. It is advisable to avoid job-hopping. If your current job is secure, stay put. The grass isn’t necessarily greener on the other side, so before jumping ship, you should really do your homework on any potential new employers.

Nicola McCart: I believe that 2013 will be a better time for business in terms of stability, and hopefully, investments. On top of this, the Middle East has various exciting projects taking place, in the energy sector, aviation, rail, tourism and health and safety. This includes the oil and gas industry– this will generate more opportunities and help with stability.

Mahmoud El-Sharkawy: I think things will only get stronger going forward, simply because this is a developing market. Developing markets by nature crash quicker, but also by nature they grow quicker as well.

This region is a developing market and its growth, as you’ve seen in Dubai this year, will be substantial particularly in the services industry, which is supported by the logistics industry. So I see continued strong growth with probably Saudi, Qatar and the UAE leading the way.

LME: In your view what are the most common mistakes made by candidates when trying to move/ find a job?

Brian Cartwright: People often have unrealistic expectations of how much their salary should increase if they are to move jobs. This ultimately backfires when they don’t get offered the job. Remember everyone is cost-conscious and there are many other job hunters.

Also there are lots of people who spend time applying en masse for a diverse range of positions, many of which they aren’t suitably qualified or experienced for. Think quality, not quantity, and apply for jobs which you can honestly say you are qualified for and where you have a proven track record in a similar role. Don’t waste time sending mass applications, use the time to thoroughly search out the jobs you are suitable for.

Nicola McCart: I’ll start at the very beginning. Candidates should not hand out CVs four to five to six pages long. A CV has to be clear, brief, attractive in content and be relevant to the audience. Your CV is your marketing tool so you have to be proud of what you are sending out to companies.

When considering positions, don’t always rule out a vacancy because of the salary. Think about the opportunities the company can offer, the job security, and the companies’ reputation and culture. You spend most of your day at work, so you have to make sure, if you can, that you enjoy it. And if you are expected to attend an interview, prepare. That’s my most important advice. Ensure that you have a job description beforehand, make sure you know where you’re going, get a map, go on the company’s website and do some research - and I would even use Linkedin to look at the profile of the person who is going to interview you. As far as possible, prepare your answers to the questions you might expect in the interview.

All these steps apply equally to interviewers. Remember it’s a formal interview; they will be interviewing other candidates, too, so ensure you get a professional presentation. Think of business etiquette, your manners, your knowledge and also your appearance. And another piece of advice to the candidate: if you have been offered the job, make sure you ask questions.

Anything you’re not sure of in the contract or in connection with what they’ve said, ask. I’ve heard so many unfortunate stories of people accepting a job and then finding out it was not what they were told in the interview.

Mahmoud El-Sharkawy: The most common mistake, I would say, is focusing too much on short term gains rather than on long term gains or a career i.e. People tend to move for a higher salary rather than thinking about their potential long term growth or moving to a slightly different company.

In your view what are the most common mistakes made by companies when trying to find the right candidate?

Brian Cartwright: Some companies have unrealistic expectations of the level of package they should be paying someone for a particular position. If the package your company is offering for a position is way below the market average then you are wasting your time, because even if you are lucky and manage to find someone, they probably won’t hang around for long. Take advice from the specialist recruiters for the sector who can give you a balanced picture of average salaries in the market for that particular role. If the level of the package on offer is decided by higher powers, then you will need to put a good case forward to show them that you have done the appropriate research and can clearly justify your reasons for needing to increase the budget.
Also, companies are still dragging out the recruitment process far too long; they end up losing top quality candidates. My advice is: identify the need to fill a job vacancy, get the appropriate approval at every level to go ahead with the search, have a clearly defined recruitment process in place, and agree on deadlines with your internal team and any external recruiters. In this way, you can move through the process as quickly as possible to the offer stage.

Nicola McCart: Generally, companies here in the Middle East are highly professional. However, in the past I have experienced a few problems that have affected the hiring process. Some examples of these problems are: companies not truly knowing what they are looking for in terms of their ideal candidate; salary budget minus market expectations; taking too long to make a decision which can result in them losing their ideal candidate.

So either they put trust in a consultant, which is my responsibility to help the firms to find solutions to problems and future issues that may affect the outcome, and I have found that communication in the company with myself as the consultant
was the key to overcoming these obstacles.

Mahmoud El-Sharkawy: The most common mistake that I have observed is that firms are too idealistic in what they are looking for. I believe that companies should focus on the right personalities and the right general experience and they should develop the best candidates. The best candidates will perform well wherever they are, so companies shouldn’t focus entirely on the CV.
In many circumstances, I know that I have placed a certain candidate based on the job description, but not the best candidate for the job. And I have to just follow that job description because the client insists on following that job description rigidly, and they haven’t reached the stage where they have realised the value of executive search and senior headhunters such as us. We can massively impact their business by finding the best candidates. Now those best candidates might not fit the job description 100%, but they are the best candidates for the job.

Unfortunately because there are quite a large number of low-level agencies, sometimes all of us get tarred with the same brush. That is not the best use of an executive search company.

Brian Cartwright Managing Director, Middle East & Africa for Logistics Executive provides some tips for job hunters

Trying to find a new job can be one of the most daunting activities you can engage in, but it will also be a learning experience and very rewarding, it really depends on how you approach it. Here are a few tips and a bit of an insight from my perspective….
I hope you find it helpful!


Before you even write your CV and start with your Job Search you need to have a plan of action…

Here are a few things to consider:
• What’s the ideal job that you have enough experience for and the right qualifications to take on right now
• Which companies would you like to work for
• Who are their direct competitors
• Are your salary expectations realistic
• Which are the main/best jobs boards to use for the job you are looking for
• Who are the main recruiters that specialize in your area of experience in the region you are looking to work
• Can you leverage the networks of any of your existing contacts, ex-colleagues, friends as well as social media and industry groups etc to help open doors with companies you wish to work for, or at least point you in the right direction

Key Points:
Be realistic…
• It’s important to set your sights high but it’s a step by step process, when thinking of your next move it has to be to a position that you are definitely qualified and experienced enough to take on today!
• The market is constantly changing and especially in recent years so maybe the package you earn today is already above the current market average
• No one wants to go backwards but bear in mind the days of a 20-30% pay increase to move jobs are long gone
• A 10-15% increase is much more realistic in the current jobs market
Think strategically…
• Sending your CV around to as many companies as possible is not only time consuming it can also damage your reputation in the market – Don’t do it!
• Take a targeted approach to your job search
• Think quality… not quantity!




Track your progress…
• This can have a positive effect if you are seeing a good response to your applications and are getting invited for interviews etc but be warned it goes the other way too
• What if you applied for 30 jobs and heard absolutely nothing, not even a “thanks I have received your CV” unfortunately this seems to be the usual scenario for applications through online jobs boards and sadly with a large number of hiring companies and recruitment agencies too. (It happens a lot more than it should)
• With the benefit of your tracker you can see where and how you applied and adjust your approach accordingly…
o Was it from applications through online jobs boards where you heard nothing?
o Was it a particular company or recruiter that never replied?
o Were you honestly qualified or experienced enough to be considered for those particular jobs in the first place?
• Maybe you need to rethink your strategy…!

So your strategy is in place let’s move onto the CV…


First of all keep in mind that your CV is purely a tool, its entire purpose is to grab enough attention to get you in front of the hiring manager for a face to face meeting.

Here are some tips:
• Keep it to as few pages as possible 2 pages is ideal, 3 at a push and definitely no more than 4 pages! Remember companies are receiving hundreds of CVs every week during the initial CV sift so if its too long its unlikely the recruiters will have time to read everything in detail and important information may get missed
• Start with your current and most recent jobs, any key experience and qualifications on the first page - if you grab a potential employers interest on page one they will continue reading!
• Ensure any gaps in your employment history are explained on your CV because if you get to interview stage you will be asked anyway so you may as well put an explanation in the first place - too many unexplained gaps could put potential employers off just from reading the CV so you may not even get the chance to explain
• Use tangible facts in your CV ie; Rather than putting I manage the sales team
Instead you could say “I manage a team of 5 sales executives and 1 sales administrator”
• Be prepared to revise your CV when applying for specific roles in order to highlight key experiences / qualifications which are relevant to that particular post
• Consider creating two or three versions of your CV, for example if you have experience in both operational and commercial logistics functions have a version which focuses more on operations and a separate version which focuses more on commercial activity, as well as a more general version which covers all areas

• Avoid using a flashy over formatted CV with too many different colours and loads of different boxes and graphics (Unless you are applying for a job as a graphic designer!) It doesn’t necessarily stand out, it in fact it sometimes becomes too confusing to read and can often end up on the bottom of the pile. Also a lot of companies use automated systems which initially search keywords from CV’s in a database so over formatting could make it difficult for the recruitment software to extract the required information which could further reduce your chances of getting to the next stage!

Key Points:
Keep it simple and concise…
• Use bullet points - avoid writing lengthy paragraphs
• Ideally no more than 2/3 pages long
• Think about how it looks to another person who is reading the CV, you know what you did and what you mean by the things you write but will it be clear to another person who hasn’t done your actual job
• Make sure it looks neat and tidy but don’t go over the top on using loads of different colours and boxes - it’s the information that’s important!
Use Tangible facts…
• Quote numbers – ie; how many clients you dealt with, the number of people you managed, volumes handled in operational roles, budgets, actual results achieved vs targets etc..
• Back this up with actual examples of your past experiences or achievements break this down to the situation/task you were handling, the actions you took and the final result.


Congratulations you made it to the interview stage!
Here is some advice and a few tips on how to make your interview a success….
First impressions count
• Unless advised otherwise wear business attire
• Make sure you are clean, smart, and well groomed
• Go easy on any make up, perfume or aftershave and jewellery
(This will only distract the interviewer)
• Wear something different to the 2nd Interview

Be prepared
If the interviewer can see that you have taken the time to prepare and find out information it demonstrates to them your ability to organise, plan, and think ahead.

Below are a few key things you should find out before your interview.
• What is the history of the company?
• How many people do they employ?
• What is their mission/philosophy/turnover and profits?
• Are they part of a large group, do they own any other companies?
• Who are their competitors?

Check out the company website, look for other information on social media sites, Google search for news articles, press releases etc

Getting to your Interview
• Make sure you know exactly where you are going - do trial run before your interview!
• Allow plenty of time to get there just in case you are delayed
• Aim to arrive at least ten minutes before your interview is due to start, you don’t want to be rushing in late and appearing flustered when you get there

What should you take with you

• A Copy of your CV
• Any relevant certificates
• Copies of any references

It is best to carry this information in a smart and tidy folder as it shows you are organised and it looks presentable.

In the interview
• When you meet the interviewer shake their hand confidently
• Be polite
• Stay calm…don’t fidget
• Accepting a drink if you are offered is fine
• Be honest and be yourself
• Don’t try to answer a question you don’t understand, ask for clarification first
• Speak clearly and use positive words such as enjoy, motivated, and enthusiastic
• Try to maintain eye contact with your interviewer and smile, this shows confidence
• And remember that sometimes the interviewer can be just as nervous as you are

Interview questions

Below I have listed a few questions that are often asked during interviews, it is a good idea to have a few answers prepared for these kinds of questions just in case

Competency based interview
• If it is a competency based interview the interviewer will ask you to give specific examples of experiences, the purpose of this is to see if you can give factual examples of similar situations you have found yourself in with other jobs or life in general and how you reacted, the best answer will always end with a positive outcome for the situation
• This is a good test for the interviewer to find out if you really have the hands on experience you say you have

Example questions (for competency based interview)
• Give me an example of a time you have had to work to a strict deadline
• Give an example of a time when you had to present complex information in a simplified manner in order to explain it to others
• Can you give me an example of a situation where you had to create an agreement between people who originally differed in opinion, approach, and objectives?
• How do you prioritize day to day tasks? (Again give specific examples of a past situation)
Run a Google search on “competency based interview questions” for further information and example questions

Below are some basic interview questions which are often asked
• Why do you want this job?
• What do you know about our company?
• What qualifications or experience do you have that would make you successful in our company?
• What would you say your strengths are? (Try to think of 3 or 4 before your interview)
• Do you have any weaknesses? (Everybody has weaknesses so you can make this a positive answer showing that you are aware of your weaknesses – the interviewer will be impressed if you can demonstrate that you are taking action to improve weak areas)
• Which of your previous jobs have you enjoyed the most? the least? and why?
• Why did you leave your previous job?
• What are your career goals, where do you see yourself in five years time?
• Why should we employ you?
• How would you describe yourself / how would other people describe you?
• What is most important to you in your job?

Questions to ask the interviewer
At the end of an interview you will usually be asked if you have any questions, below is a list of a few good questions you may wish to ask.

• Why has this job become available?
• If I was successful who would I report to?
• What opportunities are there for training / progression / promotion
• What is the next stage of the interview process? When will you be making a final decision?
• What is the salary and or additional / fringe benefits? (you may wish to clarify this in more detail if you are unsure)

Leaving the Interview
After the interview is finished it is important to leave a good final impression so before you leave remember to do the following.

• Shake hands (firmly)
• Smile and thank them for seeing you
• Reconfirm your interest - Tell them you are very interested and you look forward to hearing from them