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Top Employer Concerns During the COVID-19 Crisis
What are Adelaide's property employers saying about the Coronavirus and how are they managing their workforce and business? In these challenging and unprecedented times, businesses are having to think fast and navigate constantly changing issues around employment, team management, resources, government support and finance. In this interview series, we hear from leaders in Adelaide’s property industry about the impact of Coronavirus on their business and how they’re coping.
Featured in this article is Gary J Smith Manager – Rental Department Deanne Goodwin, Harris Real Estate People and Culture Manager Tahnee Curzon, and The Form 1 Company Director, Chris Gill.
What is the biggest impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on your business?
I think the biggest impact on our business has been felt in our property management department. The role of our property managers has changed so much in the past month. Our normal property management tasks still exist but they’ve taken a back seat to the financial aspects of property management. There's been a lot of confusion and disruption and we spend much of our time finding solutions as well as providing emotional support to tenants and property owners. Sales have also been impacted with people reluctant to sell and buy right now. It's always a concern in business when there is so much uncertainty.
Mental Health is probably the largest impact, particularly within the sales team. Our property consultants are very much ‘people’ people and they thrive on the busy energy in the office, as well as finding job satisfaction in dealing with people face to face and a constant change of environment. Being cooped up at home most of the time and limited face to face interaction with our large team, they are finding it hard to stay motivated.
Our volume of Form 1 preparation files for April 2020 are down 40% in comparison to April 2019, which is in keeping with sales agencies' numbers and my expectations. I have kept monthly Form 1 preparation figures for the last seven years and Form 1 preparation usually mirrors the number of properties released to the market. It seems sales market volume is also down 40%, so the trend continues.
Have you had to reduce the size of your team or let staff go as a result of the current situation?
We haven’t had to make any changes so far. Our aim is to do everything we can to retain all members of our team because they’re incredibly important to us. In fact, we just employed a property manager to cover someone on maternity leave, who’s proving to be highly valuable.
No. Our strategy was very much that our people are our greatest asset and we didn’t want to lose that. Instead, we took the approach of reducing hours and getting staff to take annual leave rather than cutting numbers. We will need our whole team on board when this crisis is over, and we highly value the talent we currently have.
Form 1 preparation is seasonal, so I have always had a mix of casual and full-time staff. I’m very pleased to say that all my full-time staff been retained. Unfortunately, there is no requirement for the same number of casual staff in the current market.
Are you and your team working in the office or from home? How is that going, and did you have adequate systems and procedures in place to make this a smooth transition initially?
I’m incredibly proud to say that we reacted very quickly to the COVID-19 crisis and were able to change our workplace structure overnight. It was imperative that we protect the company, our clients and our team. As a result, we have a mixture of people in the office and at home. We were lucky that we had excellent systems and procedures in place before the pandemic. Adjusting to the new structure in the first week was hard, especially for those working from home but they’ve all settled in and its working well now.
Being a very high-tech driven company, we already had the technology and systems in place to allow our staff to work remotely, including our reception team. At this stage, staff are allowed to work from the office if they prefer, but our guidance is for them to work at home. 3 of our 4 offices are still open and the majority of staff are working remotely.
At present, we have a mixture of people at home and in the office. Some tasks are just easier to do in the office than from home. We have always been set up to work remotely which was an advantage when restrictions were first introduced, so the transition was fairly seamless. I have found complying with the COVID-19 rules to be easy to manage from all locations.
Are there any positives or opportunities that have come out of this situation for your business or team?
This situation has really tested our flexibility and has confirmed how important it is to have cloud-based programs in place and to stay up to date with technology. We may even keep some of the new initiatives we put in place once we return to normal. Amongst this uncertainty, I've been impressed to see how our team has stepped up, embraced change and we’ve seen some real leadership skills emerge.
Our team is communicating better than ever before, and I also think staff have been really impressed with how Harris as an organisation has handled this situation. Our considered and measured approach, and the leadership from Phil has really shown how much of a professional business this is and our staff can also appreciate how much we really do value each and every one of them.
The importance of an accurate Form 1 has never been more apparent than in the current market where buyers are not plentiful. Fortunately, we have a good reputation for knowledge and Form 1 accuracy delivered in a timely manner, so we may see an increase in market share over the coming months.
What do you think will be the longer-term impacts on your business and your industry going forward?
At this early stage it’s hard to depict what the long-term impacts on the industry might be, particularly not knowing how long the current situation will continue. When the current legislation surrounding tenancies expires in October, we believe our rental department will be dealing with some very difficult situations that have emerged as a result of the temporary laws.
Many landlords will consider selling or may be forced to sell if they have experienced financial hardship themselves, and with fewer investors buying into the market, potentially there could be a rental shortage going into 2021.
As a company, we have become stronger, learned new skills and adapted to new ways of doing business. Our ability to embrace change and provide leadership has helped strengthen our brand, instilled confidence in our team and we believe we will thrive in the future.
Obviously there will be a financial impact that we will need to recover from, and waiting for the market to gain confidence once the pandemic passes will take time, however, we believe because of how strongly we have handled this situation and the resilience we have shown as an organisation, our clients will have even more confidence in us as a professional services company and we expect this to help us grow the business even further. For our staff, we believe in retaining our staff instead of cutting numbers we hope to gain even further engagement with the company and hopefully, longer-term see a lower turnover rate of team members.
I can’t see any long-term impact. We are heading into the winter months which traditionally has reduced real estate volumes. If all goes to plan, there should be no impediment to a vibrant spring and summer real estate market, so any decrease in numbers during this COVID-19 period will likely be made up by the end of the year. I expect similar Form 1 preparation numbers for 2020 that we did in 2019, just that the peaks and troughs may be different from usual trends.
How to prepare for your video interview
The popularity of video interviews has increased in recent years, but with restrictions put in place due to the Coronavirus, video has become the easiest and most popular way to conduct job interviews. Whether you’ve had no experience or lots of experience with video interviews, we thought it an important time to provide advice on how to make the best impression via video.
Some of the questions we receive from candidates are:
- What should I wear?
Candidates should not scale down their level of presentation for a video interview. We recommend maintaining the same level of dress and presentation that you would adopt for a face-to-face interview. As the saying goes, ‘you never get a second chance to make a first impression’ and this is no different with a video interview. For more detail, view our article ‘How to dress for job interviews’, available on our website.
- What equipment will I need?
You will need a computer or laptop enabled with a webcam. If you don’t have a computer, you can also use a smart phone or tablet on a stand. You will also need video software such as Skype, FaceTime or Zoom etc. Ask your interviewer what software they will be using before the interview.
- Where should I conduct the interview?
We suggest taking the interview in a quiet room with lots of natural light and a neutral background if possible. If you don’t have a neutral background, make sure that things are tidy behind you. Where possible ensure the light hits your face from the front rather than from behind, otherwise you may look like you are in the dark. Phones seem to manage this much better and some laptops automatically adjust for light/darkness, but others don’t. Use the camera on your device to conduct a practice run at the time of day of your interview if possible, to see how you look.
Great tips to remember
- Conduct a practice run with the tech
Ensure you have a username and password set up if required. Work out where you are going to position your laptop or phone and if you need any props to hold them up. Get this working in advance so that your phone doesn’t fall over in the middle of a meeting and the person on the other side is suddenly looking at your ceiling. Browse the internet for some great hacks on homemade phone stands if you don’t have one.
- Allow time to set up
Make sure that you have everything ready to go 10 minutes before the meeting, in case any technical issues occur. Have a copy of your resume with you, a glass of water if you need it and turn off your phone. If you are using your phone for the interview, turn off notifications and call waiting, as it may make the screen on the other end go blank while the notification is coming through.
- Where to look on the device
Remember to look into the camera, not into the middle of the screen, even though this can be hard to do.
- Keep earphones handy
Using a headset, earbuds or earphones can reduce interference and improve the clarity of sound. We recommend keeping some handy in case the sound quality of your video call is poor.
- Practice the interview
Before your interview we recommend recording yourself on a computer or phone answering some mock interview questions. This will not only help you to feel more comfortable in front of a camera but will provide the opportunity to evaluate your responses.
- Voice and body language
Unlike face-to-face interviews, a video interview shows only your head and shoulders, therefore scaling back your ability to use body language to communicate with your interviewer/s. However, you should still maintain good eye contact and can use your hands to express yourself. Your verbal communication is even more important during a video interview, so your voice should be clear, strong and avoid mumbling.
Lastly, let any family members know that you have an important meeting and advise the interviewer if you have family at home, so they understand your situation. If you can’t avoid having kids and pets nearby, remember that you can use the mute button when not speaking to reduce any ambient noise.
We hope these tips help you to prepare for your next job interview and wish you success in winning the role.
Craziest Criteria Clients Used To Recruit Staff
Our clients have used some strange and surprising criteria to select employees over the 21 years we have been working in the property and real estate industry. We reveal our list of the funniest, weirdest and downright bizarre criteria clients have used to select staff, showing the stranger side of what really can go on behind the scenes in recruitment.
It is important to note that we wouldn’t recommend our clients to use any of the methods outlined below. The methods listed are from many years ago and we would never breach the confidentiality of any client or candidate. The industry has thankfully become more professional over the years!
One client used the birth dates* of short-listed candidates we put forward to determine if they’d be a good fit for their organisation. The candidate had to have what they deemed to be a suitable birth date before the client would look at their resume.
- Car cleanliness
One client would use the cleanliness of a candidate’s car to determine whether they would be a suitable employee. Their method was to walk the candidate to their car after the job interview to see how dirty it was. Note to self – must wash car!
- Front garden neatness
On one occasion a client called us to raise concerns about the tidiness of a candidate’s front yard. We found out that this client would drive past the homes of any potential employees to see how tidy they were and used this to evaluate if they’d be a good fit**.
- Throw a ‘bomb’ into the job interview
At a real estate conference years ago, a speaker recommended a job interview method to the audience for testing how their candidates coped under pressure. It was called ‘the bomb technique’. They suggested that during job interviews, the interviewer should suddenly remember they had to urgently go shoe shopping (or a similar scenario that worked for them) and insist that the interviewee accompany them straight away. The idea was to see how the interviewee would react to this strange scenario.
- Star Signs
Multiple clients have looked to the stars to decide if candidates would be a good fit for them. On those occasions this method was used to recruit personal assistants and administrators that would be working very closely with the employer. Once, after receiving a resume for a short-listed candidate from us, a client requested their birth date so they could send the details off to their astrologist.
Recruitment techniques today
Some of these methods used years ago have been replaced with more technologically savvy ways to ‘snoop’ on potential employees, such as Facebook ‘stalking’ (also known as looking at someone’s Facebook profile) or looking at someone’s house on Google Earth (if the home address is known). Were these methods a violation of privacy laws? At the time, perhaps no, but today, employers need to be very careful not to discriminate against potential employees.
Whilst we can have a chuckle about these past selection methods, compared with today’s standards, many of us would view this behaviour as unfair, discriminatory and an invasion of privacy. Whatever your thoughts about the methods adopted, the truth remains that many employers want to know more information about potential employees beyond what is achievable during a job interview.
If you have your own stories to share, we'd love to hear them.
* Recruiters haven’t been allowed to include birth dates on resumes sent to clients for many years, as it can be used to discriminate against candidates.
**We never disclose a candidate's address to employers until an employment contract is signed.
When Employers Can't Ask About Salary History
Is the disclosure of pay history an unfair part of the recruitment process?
A growing number of states in the US are passing laws preventing employers from asking candidates about their salary history. There are currently 20 bans in place across 17 states with that number looking to increase. With many trends in the US making their way to Australia, what would the impact be if Australian employers could no longer ask job applicants what they were paid in previous roles?
In July 2019 Lion Co became one of the first companies in Australia to ban questions about pay history during the recruitment process, in a bid to tackle the gender pay gap. The brewing company found that questions about salary history helped to sustain lower salaries for women.
For employers, the crux of the issue is: does it matter what a candidate was being paid previously and will it make a difference if this is not asked?
Jane Carey, CEO of Edge Recruitment says " Salaries are always a sensitive topic and many of our clients ask us for advice on pay rates for people in the property industry. All things being equal, a salary range for a role should be established up front. If someone has been paid significantly less in the past, why should that mean that they are not paid a fair market salary for a role going forward?"
Employers may be worried that recruiting without this information could increase their wage costs. Whilst this is an understandable concern, there are compelling benefits to implementing a ban of this nature. For example, paying more market accurate salaries should lead to greater employee satisfaction and improved retention rates, thus decreasing recruitment and training costs and improving overall performance and efficiency.
If a law like this passed in Australia:
- It would encourage employers to do more research on market salaries for relevant job roles when preparing to hire staff.
- It would result in more gender equal salaries and lessen the pay gap between men and women.
- It would encourage employers to apply a more merit-based approach to recruitment – focusing on a candidate’s skills, experience and value brought to the role.
Whilst employers wouldn’t be able to ask what a candidate earned in their last role or previous roles; they would still be able to ask what salary a candidate was looking for.
Understanding underpaid and higher paid salaries
If a candidate has been underpaid in previous roles, relying on historical salary information to set a salary may cause an employer to make inaccurate comparisons between them and other applicants. Relying on historical data to evaluate higher paid individuals may also unfairly skew employers' decisions. There may be credible reasons why a candidate has been paid more than others in the past, such as:
- Working in high paying geographical locations
- The rarity of their skill set
- A candidate shortage of that role at the time they were hired
In Australia, it is against the law to discriminate against job candidates based on age, gender, race or religion etc., but it is commonplace to ask questions about pay history during the recruitment process. Are we perpetuating an unfair system of pay? Would you welcome the change? We’d love to hear your thoughts.
How to Covertly Find a Job When You're already Employed
Your guide to job searching on the quiet and getting it done in half the time
It’s time consuming to scroll through job boards, prepare resumes, coordinate interviews and follow up phone calls and even more so when you’re employed full time. It’s also hard to keep your job search hidden from the people you work with. To help make your job search easier, we have provided 6 simple tips that will keep your job search secret and cut the time spent on this important task by half.
- Hide your profile updates on LinkedIn
Making changes to your LinkedIn profile can be a signal to your employer that you’re looking for a new job. Any profile updates you make will be broadcast to your network unless you turn off this notification in your settings. To keep any updates secret, go to ‘settings and privacy’, select the ‘privacy’ tab, then turn the ‘sharing profile edits’ button to ‘no’.
- Be picky
Put some thought into the type of role you want and the type of employer you’d like to work for and use this as a base to start your job search. Being selective about the types of jobs you apply for will not only cut down the time spent job hunting but will also increase your odds of winning those jobs that you apply for. When your skills and experience closely match the requirements of the job you’re applying for, you’ll have a higher likelihood of success. For example, there’s a low chance of success when applying for a senior property management role if you’re a sales administrator with no property management experience (unless you’re willing to undertake some training first).
- Use a recruiter
Many job seekers who choose the ‘do-it-yourself’ approach will spend hours trawling through job sites, applying for jobs online and cold calling employers to follow up. Smart job seekers know that using an industry specialist recruiter can greatly speed up the process of finding that ideal role. A specialist recruiter keeps their finger on the pulse of their industry and maintains close relationships with employers and industry peers, all whilst keeping your information confidential. They instantly know when vacancies become available and can recommend you for appropriate roles straight away (if you are right for the job of course). Spend a little time upfront preparing your resume and meeting with a recruiter to discuss your career goals and it will be well worth it.
- Keep it professional
Never use your work computer or work phone to make calls to recruiters or potential employers and certainly don’t look for a new job on work time. Using work resources to aid your personal job search shows a lack of respect for your current employer and can also send the wrong message to future employers. It also makes it much more likely that you’ll get caught.
- Schedule interviews outside work hours
Scheduling job interviews while you’re working full-time can be tricky. Try to schedule them before or after work or at lunch times to avoid having to make awkward excuses about your absence.
- Use appropriate referees
We often get asked by candidates which referees to use when they’re already employed. If you wish to keep your job searching secret, our advice is to use existing employers as referees, not your current boss or colleagues. However, if you have been in your current job for many years, existing referees may seem out of date. In this instance, it is appropriate to use clients as referees. Choose clients that you know well and have established a good relationship with. You will, of course, need to ask their permission first, explain the situation and ask them to keep your job search confidential.
Job hunting can be a stressful time, bringing up questions about your career path, financial security and the state of the job market in your industry. Being smart about how you spend your time and how you conduct yourself throughout your job search will improve your experience. If you’re looking for a job in 2020, we hope you’ll use this guide as handy reference.