Be realistic

You’ve found your dream job, the one you’ve always wanted – it is just perfect. Are you sure about that, or are you overlooking some important detail? How do you respond when a few potential problems emerge?

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Photo credit: TotalWomensCycling.com

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Elements of a great placement

I have often been asked what makes a great placement, and although I’ve not published this before, the list below is a combination of the best practice I have witnessed and recommendations I propose.WorkPlacementsDoneWell Continue reading

Don’t be deterred by contractual obligations

Employers – Are you thinking about starting a placement scheme? Great! Are you worrying about the long-term commitment? Don’t!

Organisations considering running a program of undergraduate placements sometimes worry that it will be a long-term commitment. Such fear can completely destroy any prospect of creating a placement scheme. It’s good to remember that these things don’t have to last forever.

Man Signing Contract

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Got a round hole? Find a round peg.

As I wrote last year, mentors do an important job. Many organisations have excellent schemes for apprentices or graduate trainees and they deliver tremendous results. They have carefully planned development programmes, run by the best people. And they make adjustments when things change, as they surely do, over the years.

But some organisations don’t enjoy the same success despite their best intentions. It isn’t always immediately obvious why they under-deliver. The long timescales inherent in personal and professional development programmes don’t help. But one of the reasons is that the wrong people are involved.

Helping others isn’t for everyone. Some don’t enjoy it; they don’t see the value; or they don’t have the patience. Whatever the reason, some just aren’t cut out for it.

Square Peg Round Hole

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It’s not what you know…

I recently ran an employability session at a secondary school. One of the themes of the day was about what students can do to make themselves more attractive to prospective employers.

Many of the students saw themselves as a trainee Superman or Superwoman – eventually capable of everything, knowing everything. They saw their time now at school and their future time at college or university as being a time for learning everything they needed – forever. And that somehow if they didn’t learn it now, they’d never do so.

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“The End”. It never is though…

On 4th August 2012 Katherine Grainger and Anna Watkins woke up as Olympic champions with gold medals reminding them that a day earlier they had won the final race in the Women’s Double Sculls at Dorney Lake. But now they felt empty, lost and on unfamiliar ground. For every day of the previous four years all their plans had been about working towards 3rd August 2012. Everything they did in training, every little detail they planned was all about delivering their best performance on that one occasion – the final – with no second chances. The only deliverable which mattered to them was a gold medal on 3rd August. All their plans ended on that date. It was as if 3rd August was the last day ever, and nothing existed after it.

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The future – watch it happen or make it happen?

Probably not a name familiar to most, Corning are a huge name in glass products. They deliver components to manufacturers of products which support our everyday lives including mobile phones, tablets, televisions and fibre-optic cables. I first came across them in the context of GorillaGlass for smartphones.

This visionary video shows their view of the future. It’s not all going to happen overnight, but it’s a glimpse of what is on the horizon.

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Want to feel special? Talk to Customer Services.

I recently experienced how it feels when a company really understands its customers. It wasn’t that they knew what I wanted to buy – they knew how I wanted to be treated.

I enjoy coffee and am a big fan of Nespresso. Ever since the early days, I’ve liked their approach to delivering great coffee with convenience. My dream machine would be one of those professional Gaggia machines – but they’re not really practical in a domestic setting. So I’m now on my third generation of Nespresso machines and have encouraged countless others to follow and be part of the Nespresso Club.

Recently my machine developed a fault. The coffee wasn’t quite as good as it should be and I had noticed the occasional small pool of water leaking onto the kitchen surface. Based on my usage, I had received an email from Nespresso Club – “It is time to descale your machine” – and although I’d followed the instructions, it hadn’t helped. I rang the Freephone number and found myself in a completely new world of helpfulness. I wasn’t just a customer – I was a Club Member.

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Foresight not needed

When I meet students, school-leavers and graduates, they often ask me what “real work” is like. They tell me that they’re thinking about a career in this or that, and that they can’t decide between various options. Frequently the options are wildly varying – “I’m not sure whether I want to be a vet or a pilot“; or “I’m wondering whether to open a coffee shop or become a marketing director“.

They spend a lot of time thinking about it all, and weighing up the pros and the cons – the entire process seems rather analytical. There are plenty of factors to consider, including job prospects, expected salary, qualifications, suitability to the role, route to get there etc. All those factors are hard to quantify though, and are so often based on the judgment of others.

Here’s the thing though… when I ask which of the options they enjoy the most, they almost always say they don’t know; they haven’t tried them. So they are considering a career in a particular field which they haven’t ever tried!

When this happens, my advice is usually to go and find out what it’s really like doing the job. Ask to spend some time in an office helping out or even just watching. Most people are willing to find time to help young people if they appear interested enough. Perhaps some employers don’t allow this “on the grounds of health and safety”, or for some commercial confidentiality reasons.

I recently met a young woman who had always wanted to be a teacher, and she figured it would be a good idea to get some work experience before embarking on the qualifications. So she spent a week at her local primary school working as a teaching assistant. At the end of the week, she decided it wasn’t for her. What a brilliant outcome! One week of experience convinced her that it wasn’t the right career choice.

No amount of analysis would have helped. It was the experience which convinced her.

As employers, maybe we should take more responsibility for making “taster” days more readily available to young people. We should be encouraging young people to go out and try things, rather than thinking about them. It’s not more foresight they need; it’s more hindsight, earlier.

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Feel free to comment on this post – I’d be interested to hear your views.
Inixiti – Improving graduate employability. Click here to visit the website.

A big day for students

Today is the day when hundreds of thousands of A-level students get their exam results. All across the country they are variously terrified, shocked, delighted, surprised, thrilled, incredulous and disappointed. For some it is simply another milestone reached exactly as expected, on their journey into a career. For others it is certainly a milestone… but perhaps “turning point” would be a more accurate description.

For many students, today marks the end of their dream. Failure to achieve the required exam results means that they cannot progress to their chosen university. It might mean re-sitting exams next year; it might mean going to a different university to read something completely different; it might mean a complete change of tack, and not going to university at all. In most of these instances, students will regard today as a setback, and for some they will feel it is the end of the world, a dream completely shattered. It may indeed be a major setback, but humans are remarkably resilient. Setbacks become opportunities, which become new dreams and new challenges. Over time, expectations change as those new dreams take shape and come to life. What once seemed like the end of the world will soon be just a turning point.

It is easy for wise heads to look back and see many turning points in their own lives – times  at which something significant happened. Maybe a birth, death or marriage; or a job change or sudden opportunity overseas. As we become older and more experienced, we see how these instances present “timeouts” – opportunities to reflect and react. Younger people don’t have that experience, and are not as capable at handling timeouts. After all, apart from deciding which subjects to study, students generally don’t have to make many “really big” decisions before they leave school. They might not agree that today’s results merely mark a turning point, and they will need a great deal of support from friends and family. The quality of that support is likely to be just as important to them as everything they’ve done for themselves until now. It is likely to be a key part of their short-term recovery and longer-term transition to a new dream.

The press will quote pass-rate statistics throughout the days and weeks which follow, explaining how it is all much easier today than it was twenty years ago. Whether they are right or wrong, it is all completely irrelevant to those students. The lucky ones don’t care – their dream continues; the unlucky ones don’t care – they need a new dream. And support.