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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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

Be different – stand out

One of the questions I am most frequently asked when I’m speaking to students, is “How do I stand out from all the other students? We’re all applying for the same jobs, and we all have the same qualifications“. It is a fair question to ask – with supply exceeding demand employers tend to be picky. Very picky.

Be-Different-3 What practical steps can a student take? Actually, it is surprisingly easy. Continue reading

New concepts – how difficult can they be to understand?

I recently found myself having to explain something which would have been straightforward enough, had I been talking to another adult. But I was talking to my eight-year-old daughter, and it was more complicated than I could have imagined.

She wanted to take a camera with her on a school trip. She has only ever seen me taking pictures with a Nikon D80 SLR, or with a multitude of different mobile phones – most recently the hugely impressive 41 megapixel Nokia 808 PureView or the Nokia Lumia 900. She hasn’t ever seen photos taken on anything other than a D-SLR or a mobile phone. Indeed, she’s never used anything else herself, but as the rules expressly forbade even old mobile phones without a SIM, she was left wondering what the alternatives were.

The solution I proposed was a disposable camera.

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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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Slow down, and get more done!

Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to get things done, and how little time there is?

The usual reaction to seeing time ticking away is to pick up the pace; to work a bit faster; to cut corners. And that sometimes works – if you’re running late to catch a flight, it might pay to hurry along before it’s too late. But I find that more often than not, the faster pace becomes the new norm, and the next step is to increase the pace once more in a never-ending cycle.

I have recently been encouraged to do things differently, and it is working. I’m deliberately slowing down, and I’m seeing the benefits – I’m getting more done.Slow Continue reading

Graduate CVs – actions to improve

Some things just never seem to change. After a recent “drop-in” session for graduates, I sat down to prepare my own summary of the session – the key issues, some newly emerging themes, and a rough guide to the statistics. I find this helps me keep things in perspective, and helps me track any shifts over time. Whilst there are always some new issues, the overwhelming volume of questions relate the the same old things.

What follows is a generalisation and certainly doesn’t apply to everyone, but it represents the bulk of the issues I come across. I conclude with my Top Ten actions. Continue reading

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.


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.

What the Paralympic Games gave us

I was unsuccessful in my sustained attempts to get tickets for the Olympic Games of London 2012. I finally “settled for second best”, and got tickets to the Paralympic Games some three months ahead of them, and long before there was any indication of the excitement which they would bring. I had made the mistake of assuming that the Olympic Games would somehow be better than the Paralympic Games – big mistake! How wrong I was…

The Paralympic Games were not only spectacularly successful from a competitive perspective; looking beyond the competition results themselves, they gave us so much more.

Neil Crofts recently identified Ten things we have learnt from the Olympics on his excellent Making Mondays Magic blog. Thinking about my own experiences of being at the games, this is how I see it: Continue reading


Following the sad news of the death of Neil Armstrong, we have been reminded about the courage of those astronauts who were part of the lunar programme in the sixties and seventies. We’ve re-lived the moments of the first landing, and heard of the tremendous effects on the personal lives of many of the astronauts.

One story which seems to me particularly relevant is the Commencement Address in 2005 which Armstrong gave to the University of Southern California. The full transcript is here:

It is a brilliant address, full of inspiration for those lucky graduates of USC who will have been far too young to witness the events which brought fame to Armstrong, but who will nevertheless recognise instantly his name and accomplishments. The address contained the following paragraph:

What an important message: Graduation marks the start of continuous change and opportunity which will arise. I started to think about opportunity and graduates, and the following themes emerged:

1. Take it!
You will never know the outcome unless you take the opportunity. It might bring a positive change – great news! If the immediate outcome is negative, then at least you know and can close-off that particular avenue in the future. You never know when (if) it will ever present itself again, so take it when you can.

2. Confidence
When we try something new, take an opportunity, we learn something about ourselves. We learn that we’re actually much more resilient than we’d previously imagined. Trying something new – whether it results in success or failure – teaches us that we’re capable of surviving both. It gives us the confidence to take further opportunities in the future as our personal comfort zones expand.

3. Personal growth
Whether we succeed or fail, we grow from our endeavours. We usually learn more from our failures than our successes. Either way, opportunities deliver personal growth.

4. The effect on others
When those around us see us taking opportunities, growing in confidence, learning and becoming bigger people, we affect those around us. They see the change in us and feel encouraged to do the same themselves. It also becomes an invitation to give us more opportunity, to further stretch us.

5. It differentiates us
There are always people who will pass up every opportunity, and by taking it ourselves we differentiate ourselves from them. It sets us apart, and gives us an advantage.

6. It’s not just about being in the right place at the right time
Right place, right time can be hugely advantageous. But unless we do the right thing at that time, we’re passing up an opportunity. Entrepreneurs are the very embodiment of this – they actually do something with the opportunity when it arises.

7. Give others an opportunity
We owe it to others to provide opportunities wherever possible. It is important to create opportunities for others to learn, grow, stand out. Whether that is through work experience, a try-out of a sport or hobby, a job rotation or even a potential promotion, give others an opportunity – you never know what will result.

Neil Armstrong will forever be remembered for being the first man to set foot on the moon. Today he reminded me of the importance of opportunity.