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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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.

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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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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.

Opportunity

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: http://www.usc.edu/dept/pubrel/specialevents/commencement/documents/PastSpeeches-Armstrong.pdf

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.

E = Q + WE + S x C

This is the magical formula derived by Dr Paul Redmond in his book entitled “The Graduate Jobs Formula – How to land your dream career“.

It’s a great book, and essential reading for any graduate considering how to get their first “real” job.  Or anyone involved in the process of helping graduates into employment.

He makes the point that a graduate’s employability (E) is a combination of qualifications (Q), work experience (WE), strategies (S), and contacts (C).  This might not seem particularly novel but as with so many things, it seems easier to understand and rather more obvious when it is written down.  It’s an important reminder of what is important for young people to be thinking about.

All too often these days we see some incredibly lucky, clever, confident people apparently coming from obscurity and making it big – really big.  In the internet age, seemingly everything is possible, and many of the big names of today pursued their dreams with incredible results.  The likes of Sergey Brin, Larry Page, Mark Zuckerberg are rarely out of the news and are the shining examples of what can be achieved these days.  When even graffiti artist David Choe is apparently set to earn $100-200 million for the work he did at Facebook headquarters, it further underlines the message that anything goes, and it’s okay to break all the rules.  “He’s just a graffiti artist – I can do that”.

The reality, of course, is different.  These guys are absolutely exceptional, representing the tiniest minority.  Not all graffiti artists are the same.  It’s great to dream – it would certainly be a dull world without dreams, and progress in prosperity would be painfully slow.  But at the same time, the vast majority of us need to be realistic.

By all means, dream.  But when not dreaming, remember what’s important – Qualifications, Experience, Strategies & Contacts.  If you get lucky along the way, brilliant – you can ditch all those lecture notes and certificates.

Unlocking Britain’s potential

A fascinating report has been published at www.unlockingbritainspotential.co.uk

Two quotes jump right off the page – “We are failing our youth and creating a lost workforce“, and “Education is failing employers and employees“.

And a few key statistics:

67% of employers think there needs to be a collaborative effort between government, employers, parents, individuals and the education system to ensure that those entering the workforce have the skills required by potential employers.

50% of respondents (46% of employees; 53% of employers) say that university does not equip graduates with the right skills for the workplace.

Employers rate future potential on attitude (91%); work experience (55%); education/ qualification (35%).

This report was an initiative from the Adecco Group, partnered with Deloitte and Cisco.  It is a brilliant read, with a number of key recommendations.  The only real worry is that it’s going to take time, money, lots of effort, joined-up thinking, and some serious collaboration to resolve.  That usually only happens when there is clear leadership.  In the report, there is a call to government to take action – will the resultant action be positive, or will there be an “official response”, acknowledging that something needs to be done but disagreeing with much of it?  Some of the actions proposed:

There needs ot be structured collaboration between employers, education, government and other stakeholders to better define what we need from the education sector, and how we measure it.

Employers need to be more engaged in education, and in particular not restricted to major employers.

Teachers need to be given wider support and training, in understanding the needs of employers and workplace norms.

Work experience in schools needs to be formalised.

It’s absolutely brilliant to find such a major study with such clear findings.  The recommended actions are clear.  Let’s see what happens next.