Madrid, Spain – Alvaro Arias has over 20 years’ experience in business management and management consulting, working for renowned companies specialized in talent selection. For almost five years, he has had the role of Partner in charge of Spain and Latin America at Pedersen & Partners, an Executive Search firm with more than 50 offices around the world. In this interview, he draws on his extensive industry experience to tell us what he values most in a prospective candidate from the Energy, Construction and Engineering sectors.
What is the main objective of Pedersen & Partners when attracting talent?
At Pedersen & Partners, we are fully committed to our clients. From the moment we commit, our only objective is to provide them with the best talent in the national or international market within a reasonable time frame, ranging from three to five weeks.
For this reason, our work not only lies in identifying candidates, but also in understanding their skills and knowledge, investigating their reputation and work career, analysing their motivations, and finally advising our clients to make the best decision.
In which profiles are you specialized?
Pedersen & Partners is focused on Steering Committee positions, and positions of strategic importance for the company. Depending on the size of the company, we can fill positions in senior management, business line management, business development, strategic planning, operations management, finance, marketing, etc.
"Pedersen & Partners is focused on Steering Committee positions and those of strategic importance for the company"
Our most active sectors are Industry, Engineering, Infrastructure, Energy, Logistics and Transportation, IT, Financial Services (Banking, Venture Capital and Insurance) and Professional Services (strategic and operational consulting).
Have you noticed any effects from the current economic situation in Spain?
Salaries have been adjusted considerably, especially the fixed portion. For example, before the crisis, the CEO of a medium-sized subsidiary (turnover of EUR 60-200m) would be earning a fixed salary of EUR 180,000, but is now more likely to earn around EUR 120,000.
We are seeing more flexibility regarding mobility than before the crisis. Candidates who were previously reluctant to accept a job that would require a change of residence are now willing to work anywhere in the world.
Thirdly, closing a deal has become much more complicated. On one hand, candidates who currently have a job are now more conservative and it’s difficult to get them to make that leap. In fact, they are afraid of change. On the other hand, clients are more reluctant to hire unemployed candidates, because they do not trust their motivations.
And how is the situation for foreigners?
The salary adjustments have been much more pronounced in Spain, because we came from a situation of excessive exuberance, and things have now gone the other way. Mobility has traditionally been more common in other countries, so they are accustomed to relocating. Markets like the UK and USA have candidates with a more open attitude and more flexibility. To conclude, the period of adjustment in Spain has been more traumatic than in most European countries and the USA.
What kind of profile do your clients demand for managers in Spain? Do the criteria differ a lot from other countries?
We have a network of offices in over 50 countries, many of them emerging markets. We also have a documentation and research centre centralized in Moldova, with a single worldwide database and a single criterion for codifying candidates. Our database is possibly one of the largest in the world at management level. In terms of skills, the demanded profile is very similar in all countries. A Supply Chain Director is the same worldwide; any differences are specific to sectoral or cultural aspects within the country.
What common personal values do you seek in candidates within the industrial sector (Energy, Construction and Engineering)?
Ethical behaviour is fundamental for a manager. For us, indicators of ethical behaviour at work include the candidate’s professional reputation among co-workers, former bosses and subordinates; consistency of decisions and professional approach; consistency between personal and professional values; ability to subordinate personal interests to higher ones; treatment of others; the ability to face reality.
"To detect this ethical behaviour, we use a methodology called behavioural interview, coupled with references"
Values are ways to express behavioural principles. Principles are immutable but values change depending on the context, country, culture, etc., and of course the sector. For example, in the luxury sector, an important value can be personal appearance, education or exceptional treatment, whereas in the health sector the predominant value may be contributing to society or helping others.
In terms of education and training, what are the skills and knowledge most in demand?
This depends on the sector and the level of the position. In general, what is most valued is a career path that allowed the candidate to acquire relevant experience for the position and the industry. This experience translates into knowledge, contacts and reputation.
Once this requirement is fulfilled, other more general aspects are valued such as teamwork, initiative, commitment, enthusiasm and flexibility. For this reason, younger candidates are sometimes chosen.
Training is an aspect that we always consider, as it is a clear indicator of the level of commitment, quality and professionalism of a candidate. A person who has invested in training is a safe asset. Training is a standard that we set and is fixed for life. We value comprehensive learning, not only academic study but also qualities such as whether the person speaks multiple languages, has been exposed to other cultures and has outside interests.
As well as personality traits, to what extent are other personal experiences valued, such belonging to a group, participating in sports or voluntary work?
Such experiences are increasingly important and valued. A person who has studied hard, but not invested time and effort in friendships or hobbies, will not stand out or will be trapped in technical or administrative work, because he has failed to learn to manage the complexity of human relationships.
Voluntary work gives a very clear signal about the motivation of the person and what drives him: his capacity for sacrifice, commitment, to give to others, to give back to society. When it comes to volunteering, here in Spain we are far behind other countries but we are also making great progress, and it is increasingly common among young people.
What differentiates the talent required for each area of the industrial sector (Energy and Gas, Construction and Engineering)?
In the Energy and Gas sector, the attraction and retention of customers is one of the keystones of the business. They must be provided with very powerful technology platforms that enable them to effectively relate to their broad customer database and be very efficient in the commissioning, maintenance, incident management, etc.
"Experience in Big Data, CRM and the cloud are key to working in the field of Energy and Gas"
Today, one of the most important developments in the Gas and Energy sector is digitalization. It is essential for energy companies to take full advantage of what the digital world offers – making use of tools such as Big Data, CRM, the cloud, mobility applications, etc. People with experience in this area have a great advantage for working in this sector.
The Construction sector has been very badly affected by the economic crisis, especially because it was previously a very active sector. Companies went into debt and had overcapacity, but they have all made adjustments and started to internationalize. They have learned to do business outside Spain and deal with other administrations. These construction companies highly value international profiles with work experience in other countries.
"Construction companies value highly international profiles with professional experience in other countries"
Similarly, companies in the Engineering sector have significantly reduced their footprint in Spain and expanded their presence in other countries. These companies are seeking engineers with the ability to lead projects outside our borders.
What piece of advice would you give an ambitious student who is about to enter the labour market?
The first thing I would tell him is not become obsessed with his professional progress. The important thing is to do things right and move one step at a time; to spend a few years in technical positions. Progressing organically from technical to leadership positions is highly valued and will allow him to do his work responsibly and knowledgeably. It will generate empathy with his subordinates, and will allow him to make good decisions and have the security to defend them.
Secondly, I would advise him to be patient. Frequent changes between companies are not good and do not generate trust; it’s better to stay with one company for some time and build a career in it. Successive changes (three or more) with short periods of employment (two years or less) can be interpreted as instability or lack of professional competence.
What attitude should a student adopt, who has just started in the labour market and wants to progress professionally?
Maintain a spirit of humble listening, observation and learning. Get involved in projects. Work with people from other countries and get exposure to other cultures. Be open to new challenges. I think that you should choose your specialization when you are certain of what you want. Meanwhile, the more options and experiences, the better.
To what extent is the knowledge of languages valued in a candidate?
Language skills are not enough; they must be accompanied by international experience that comes with exposure to other cultures and ways of working. Only in this way can a professional properly interact in an international environment and not be perceived as "odd."
Given two candidates with similar profiles, what would make the difference between the two of them?
Motivation is a very important factor, and in the end is what clearly tips the scale. Companies want excited and committed professionals who transmit enthusiasm, and people whose life purpose is aligned with the company’s aims.