If, like many managers, you feel hungry for promotion in the new year, you will stand a much better chance of success if you do careful groundwork before the interview, says Petra Cook

Now that the Christmas break is behind us and the January sales are in full swing, many of the UK’s retail managers will be looking to achieve success in the final quarter of the financial year.
But it is also a good time of year to consider the next steps for career development and in particular, aim for promotion.
In a recent survey carried out by the Chartered Management Institute, one in five managers have made a new year’s resolution to seek promotion with their current employer while almost the same number (22%) have decided to change jobs.
Although most people’s resolutions are discarded with the turkey leftovers, you can in fact maximise your chances for promotion and career progression with some thoughtful preparation.
Make sure that you are ready for promotion as, if you are successful in your ambition, your new role will undoubtedly bring with it significant new responsibilities and also, possibly, a considerably greater workload. Look before you leap. However, if you feel confident that you can do the job well and you have appropriate experience, then you are already halfway there.
When seeking a promotion within your company, you must make sure that you prepare thoroughly before any interview.
Although it is an internal interview, you must treat it as any other job interview because your assessors will need to compare your experience, skills set and attitude with those of other candidates.
So while you may believe you are best for the job, do not assume that your employers will just because you already work with them.
Try to find out as much as you can about the job, including the extent of duties and relationships, the history, expectations and the reasons why this role has become vacant.
Did the previous job holder leave the company or were they promoted? Is it a newly created role and if so why has it been created?
This is where your knowledge of the organisation will be beneficial as you can talk to others in the relevant department to find out everything you possibly can about the job.
It is also the time to patch up any weak areas in your knowledge about the company and your understanding of its structure and services.
Depending on your length of service you may need to ask colleagues about unfamiliar areas of the business or company history so that you maximise the competitive edge you have over other candidates and feel confident going into your interview.
If you are successful in the interview and are selected for promotion, you will have new challenges and possibly a different team of people to work with, so make sure you ask relevant questions about the position.
What would your new responsibilities be and what are the likely challenges? How will you be supported and what development opportunities exist?
The interview itself is an ideal chance to find out as much as you can from your managers about their expectations of the role for which you have applied.
It is essential to know exactly what will be required of you and the extent of the job before you are appointed.
After all, you want to be successful in the new role as well as successul in the interview!
Finally, if you are not selected for promotion, remember to ask for feedback about your performance from your employer.
Perhaps your interview technique let you down or maybe your employers felt that there were some skills gaps that need to be filled before you are able to take on a more senior position within the company.
If you are able to identify areas for personal and professional development, you can seek to gain the relevant experience and skills so that you can ensure you are successful when the next opportunity for climbing your career ladder is presented to you.
n Petra Cook is head of Public Affairs, Chartered Management Institute, www.managers.org.uk
Welsh Innovation
Helen Gregory
Cows and sheep dotted across the Welsh landscape might create a nice pastoral scene but the region’s agricultural mainstays of beef, lamb and dairy don’t add up to a prosperous food and drink industry.
Tight, even non-existent margins are forcing producers to add value by coming up with innovative products that appeal more to supermarket buyers and bring in a better return. As yet only some have dared toy with their products, but there is a hint of a movement in progress that suggests Wales could be turning a corner.
Take, for example, Celtic Spirit Company. It has already made a name for itself by producing Welsh regional spirits that have international appeal. Its Danzy Jones Wysgi Licor is derived from burnt Rosehip fruit and local herbs, while Celtic Poteen is a white spirit. Both have listings nationally. But it’s now making a radical departure with Eze Cocktail, a multi-layered drink in a single serve plastic glass, with names such as Grand Slammer and Woo Woo. A membrane separates up to five different ingredients, which is punctured by a drinking stick. Celtic Spirit currently uses bought-in ingredients such as peach snaps and tequila, but MD Ben Jones plans to introduce its own products once Eze Cocktail is established. Says Jones: “I wanted to do a ready-to-drink product that stood out and have worked on this for over two years - it means that we can’t do anything else for a while.”
Meanwhile Tropical Forest Products near Aberystwyth, a fair trade company, has found itself a niche by importing honeys from tropical regions of the developing world such as Zambia and Vietnam. It is committed to taking all of the honey that their producer groups can supply, finding a market for the products after purchase. Branded Tropical Forest, many are now being sold in Waitrose and Fortnum & Mason and have successfully tapped the ethical consuming trend.
Anglesey Novel Foods is also using imported product to stand out. Using organic quinoa imported from Bolivia and Ecuador, it has come up with a new vegetarian product. The ancient grain, grown in the high Andes and used by the Inca civilisation, is washed and sprouted, fermented, pasteurised and packed. It is then processed into chunks, mince or blocks which are flavoured with Indian spice or Mediterranean herbs and can be incorporated as a meat substitute into many traditional recipes such as chilli con carne, lasagne and sweet and sour dishes, sold as Quinova.
It is of course harder for meat and dairy producers to invent completely new products, but some are determined to extend their appeal. Catering butcher Bwydlyn secured a slice of the market for new food products by taking an Italian idea and modifying it for the UK. It developed Italian-style Bresaola, a dried, cured, marinated beef product, which can be served as an hors d’oeuvres or as a starter.
Chairman Hywel Jones says: “We wanted to add value to certain cuts of meat that were unfashionable, and decided to look first at silverside with a view to creating a new identity for this meat in Wales and the rest of the UK.”
It sells to the catering trade and Jones reckons that the concept has proved popular with shoppers who are even happy to pay more for his Bresaola than the Italian variety. He’s now working on a lamb version.
These ideas are just some of the many that the region has spawned in recent years. Bethan Jones, who runs a marketing skills development project at the WDA, providing training in sales and marketing as well as mentoring small businesses to develop their promotion and marketing performance, says in the two years since the project started it’s worked with some fantastic Welsh products. “We give them practical advice and training - the results have been very good with companies increasing sales with existing customers and opening new accounts.”
She agrees that some products simply need to be tweaked to tempt consumers, but says true innovation must be founded on invention. “Some of the products are Welsh with a twist and some are completely new, such as goats’ milk fudge.”
The fudge in question was dreamt up by Lorraine Heaton, who started making the sweets in her kitchen after her baby daughter developed eczema. She swapped to using goat’s milk as a drink but wanted to give her daughter a treat using milk from the Nubian, Toggenberg and Golden Guernsey herds she keeps at a farm in Talley, near Llandeilo.
The hand-made confectionery, called Kid Me Not, comes in plain as well as additive-free varieties of chocolate, mint, vanilla, Welsh whisky and rum & raisin. Says Heaton: “We’re doing a lot of food shows so that people can taste it and get over any preconceptions they might have about goat products - we’re in a good position because we think it’s unique at the moment.”
She’s been helped by the Food Centre Wales at Horeb and admits that her job would have been a lot harder anywhere else in the country: “The support we’ve had from the Food Centre has been fantastic - they’ve given us a lot of advice. Carmarthen Council’s food development officer was also very good. I’m probably not the only person to be making this product, but I am the only one who’s had the marketing support.”
And he disregards strict definitions of the word, preferring to acknowledge work that suppliers do, whether they think they are being innovative or not. “Innovation is anything new to your company you haven’t done before, which can mean new products, packaging, processing or the way staff are managed.”
And David Lloyd, director of the Food Industry Centre at the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff (UWIC), adds: “Innovation is a new process or product which adds value.”
This can just mean reducing salt and fat levels to meet the demand for healthier fare or using more quality ingredients - such as Welsh Black Beef rather than just plain beef. It’s something the Authentic Curry Company has taken on board. It makes traditional curries and ready meals combined with regional ingredients that result in products such as Welsh Black Beef Curry and Chicken Cymru (made with Caerphilly Cheese). Its Welsh Beef in Brains Dark Ale Curry (made with Brains dark ale, Welsh Beef and Prince’s Gate water) won a bronze award in 2004’s True Taste awards and got a listing in Tesco. But MD Paul Trotman doesn’t want to reinvent the wheel. He says it’s easier to develop a product than to come up with something completely new: “I need to fill my factory with volume and you can’t do that with brand new products which you have to attract a new market for - you have to strike a balance.”
And he adds that regionality isn’t always something to shout about either: “Until four or five years ago we were operating in the Welsh market, which meant flying the flag for Wales, but outside Wales that doesn’t always mean anything. We tend to lose our identity when we cross the Severn Bridge and it’s more about products standing on their own two feet.”
The WDA thinks the three key trends at the moment are convenience, health, and enjoyment, and innovation here can be rewarded. But innovation alone can’t make for a successful company, as Celtic Spirit’s Jones says: “You can be the best around and no-one will buy your products unless you market them properly.”
Bethan Jones agrees, saying in a fast changing market companies have to be innovative in their approach to marketing as well, to capitalise on market trends such as health issues.
Even so, you often have to be patient to see your efforts pay off. Anglesey Novel Foods MD Nick Goss says although Quinova was launched three years ago, only Booths Supermarkets and health food stores stock it - which rather flies in the face of retailers’ claims that they’re looking for healthy, convenient, and more importantly innovative food. “It’s a unique product but as we’re not a big company we haven’t got a big above the line spend to back it up. We hope consumers will discover it through food exhibitions and health stores and that being very innovative will give it a platform.”
There are about 700 food and drink companies in Wales, about 90% of which are SMEs. Bwydlyn’s Jones thinks that if they have a passion for something it doesn’t matter how small the company is. “You need to put yourself in the consumer’s shoes and ask what they would want. They are prepared to pay for quality these days and we have the advantage of being flexible and responsive.”
Like many others, Jones acknowledges that he needs to do that bit extra to make an impact, but it seems that Welsh producers around the region are meeting the challenge. Says UWIC’s Lloyd: “Wales is on a roll - it’s going to be quite an exciting country for new food products in the next five to ten years.”

Case study
Jolly millers Anne and Matt Scott started up a flour production company after getting fed up working at Royal Mail.
The pair started milling flour three years ago at Bacheldre Watermill in Powys as a sideline to running a campsite, but the enterprise has grown into a viable business and now has products listed in all Waitrose stores, as well as Harrods and Fresh & Wild.
Buyers like the products but also buy into their innovative methods; Anne and Matt are true artisan producers, using a working watermill and producing organic flour - the only one of its kind in Wales. This uses organic UK grain to produce the flour, along with a spelt grain from Germany that is used to make Spelt Flour. Says Matt: “This is an old Roman grain with gluten in it that’s easier to digest than the type you find in wheat, so it’s good for people with wheat intolerances - very soft white bread just fills up the gut and makes you bloated.”
The company produces a range of traditional quality flours; its traditional Bacheldre Flour is milled from local wheat grown at Bacheldre Farm, along with Strong Malted Blend Flour and Plain Unbleached White Flour - all packaged in traditional brown paper using modern graphics, with traceability emphasised.
“The way we produce flour (using traditional grinding stones) means the grain doesn’t get heated up and doesn’t damage the wheatgerm, which is important because the wheatgerm contains vitamins - a lot of companies take that out of flour because it’s the first thing to go rancid. We try to be environmentally sound and want to retain artisan skills rather than pushing large volumes out of the door.”

Expert opinion
David Lloyd, director of the Food Industry Centre at the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff (UWIC).

“Wales is bucking the trend in terms of growth rates in food despite the fact there’s not often a great range of Welsh products in supermarkets. Beef, lamb and dairy producers are struggling for margin so we try to help them add value so for example, milk farmers in a very competitive market are producing yoghurt. But success depends on how you develop a new idea and whether you have the funding to do it. Although there is lots of innovation going on the success rate probably isn’t as high as it should be and we need to find out what the inhibitor is - something we’re currently conducting a survey into.
“We see quite a few start-up companies coming from a catering background who want to translate a recipe into a retail product while other people have a farm and want to utilise excess products. Innovation can often be about a new ingredient, process or packaging - such as a baker that started producing half pack full size loaves very successfully.
“We’re now looking at what the future trends and food types will be, such as improved quality chilled products and functional food.”