AFTER several career changes and coping with redundancy, Paul Brisk is well-placed to help others trying to get back into the jobs market.
When Paul founded job search services firm Peak Career Consulting in 2004, he was able to draw on personal experience.
Now he is helping people of all ages make a good impression with potential employers through mentoring and support with CVs and interview techniques.
Says Paul: “I left school with very few academic qualifications – four O-levels – and I had no clue what to do.
“My father opened the evening paper and said to me: ‘There’s a job here at the Halifax Building Society, What do you think?’ I went for it and got it.
“I started as a junior in the days when that really meant being the tea boy, but it was fun.
“The juniors used to get teased.I was sent out delivering calendars to our contacts and I was told to get a ‘long stand’ from the post office.
“I was in a queue for a while and when I got to the counter I asked for a long stand. The man behind the counter said: ‘I think someone’s pulling your leg.’ Of course. I didn’t realise I’d already had the ‘long stand’ waiting in line!”
Paul worked at the Commercial Street branch of the Halifax in his home city of Leeds before rising to chief cashier and then chief clerk.
He became one of three assistant manager at the Sheffield branch before getting the chance to be assistant district manager based in Norwich, where he spent six years.
From there, he became branch manager in Letchforth, near Stevenage and Welling Garden City.
Eventually, Paul came back to the Halifax head office to join the society’s lending operations.
“It was a time of high repossessions and I was dealing with mortgage indemnity claims,” he recalls.
“The repossessions were handled by specialist property units.
“I was asked to run one of the units for the north of England and Scotland.
“We had professional valuers, administration staff and it was so successful, they started to close and amalgamate them.
“I was asked to join the senior team at the society’s business centre in Leeds – so my career had come full circle geographically speaking to its staring point.
“We were also using the latest technology at the time, which was pioneered in Leeds and went across the country.
“In 2000, I woke up one morning and contemplated the drive to work from Fixby to Leeds and thought: ‘I don’t want to do this any more’.
“I took the plunge, left the building society – and went on a rollercoaster ride. I had never been unemployed before – what do I do?
“I was introduced to a firm of consultants in Leeds and they ran a two-day workshop on all the latest techniques of finding a job. I’d never written a CV in my life!”
Paul also relied on old-fashioned networking to secure employment. “I had a few solicitor contacts and I told them I’d left the Halifax and did they know of any opportunities?”
He landed a role as customer relations director at Hammonds Direct, a major conveyancing business, which again brought him into contact with the latest technology.
In another flash of inspiration – while driving home – Paul decided to go to Canada for six months.
“I had always had a passion for Canada,” he says. “It coincided with meeting Kathy, my wife-to-be. She handed in her notice and we went out.
“That was really the start of Peak Career Consulting. We were trying to find a name with ‘P’ and ‘K’ for Paul and Kathy – and we were staring at the mountains in Canada – so ‘Peak’ seemed a good choice.
“We came back to Huddersfield and started working out how we were going to do things.
“We realised there were a lot of people coming out of long-term employment over the age of 50 who wanted one-to-one help in finding a new job.
“We knew a lot of people, so we wrote letters and send e-mails.
”We appeared in Yellow Pages and set up a website. We joined the chamber of commerce, attended networking events and from that grew a link to Leeds University and their employability projects.
“We also did some work with the Kirklees Business Broker.
“We provide people aged over 50 with advice about job-seeking, creating a good first impression, interview techniques and CVs.
“But it is equally difficult for young people to get onto the career ladder.
“We are asked for advice by parents with sons and daughters who need help.
“We have met some interesting people – from a graduate in chemical engineering to a Romanian actress! Often, they are people with all the right qualifications, but lacking in confidence.
“When it comes to advice, people want to sit down and talk to someone. We go out to see clients in their own home where they are relaxed and at a time to suit them.
“I have done more interviews at the kitchen table over a cup of tea than I have in the office!
“We can help them put together a CV which will improve their own self-esteem and confidence.“
Says Paul: “People don’t always think they have achieved much, but what they have achieved may be very important to a potential employer.
“A CV should highlight someone’s skills and abilities, what they have achieved in school and their work experience. A CV has to stand out and generate interest.”
Says Paul: “From almost nothing – and wondering how it would develop – Peak Career Consulting has become well-established.
“I take great satisfaction in helping people – working with both older and younger people.
“The best thing is when the client phones and tells you they have landed that interview – and then that they have got the job.
“I helped a guy eight months ago who had worked for a family business for 40 years when it went bust.
“He phoned up and explained that he knew his industry inside out, but he’d got nothing on paper. Within three weeks after our help, he had got a job.”
Paul recognises the value of experience.
“People are coming out of university with degrees, but no experience of life or the workplace,” he says. “We have five grandchildren and the oldest is 16. We are encouraging them as they grow up to get involved in as many things as they can that interest them. I am a great believer in that.”
Paul finds time for relaxation.
“Since leaving school, I have played a lot of golf and it is still my main passion,” he says, “I was a member of Willow Valley Golf Club, which was a lot of fun.
“There are a lot of local competitions and the team I played with won a few things. I’ve also played at Dewsbury Golf Club and after a bit of a break from the sport I’m getting back into it.
“Kathy and I enjoy holidays. We have a passion for Portugal, which stems from my golfing in the Algarve.
“Holidays are becoming more important than ever. It is the only time I have the opportunity to read for pleasure. Last time, I read Kate McCann’s book and Chris Evans’ autobiography.
“I enjoy reading autobiographies of people like Chris Evans, Frankie Dettori and Sting, people who have often come from a poor background and been successful.
“Some of the things they have said about achieving their goals, I have incorporated in my work.
“You need the breaks, but you also need to make things happen for yourself. Nothing was given to them, they had to earn it.”