At school, you’re pushed along constantly. Your time is structured for you. Work is not generally like that, at least for any good job. And so that’s an area where you need to be able to organise your time, organise yourself, and be aware of what you actually enjoy and what you’re actually good at. And work experience is a fantastic way of finding that out. Being in the workforce, whether it’s interning, volunteering, doing a bit of work for your parents or a friend, anything gives you an opportunity to learn how to do things you didn’t know how to do, how to work things out for yourself.
This all contributes to what we call common sense, which is essentially what every employer is looking for in a young person. Work experience is important for young people because it helps them develop employability skills, like communication, confidence, and team working. It also lets them understand what employers are looking for and to make the right decision about their future career.
When talking to a candidate who has already had some work experience, I think it’s helpful in two ways. Firstly, it means that they are already somewhat up the learning curve about how the world of work actually works, and they can talk in rational terms, so they’re likely to do better in the interview, but also it tends to make them a lower risk candidate to hire because they’ve already proven themselves in some environments. They may even have some references from places that they’ve done work experience, and that gives me confidence that they’re going to be successful.
We’re obviously interested in their technical aptitude for the subject, and that may well be their grades, particularly in STEM subjects. But we’re also interested in their rounder selves, not just perhaps the CV boosting things they’ve been told to put on their CV, but what they’re genuinely interested in, things that they’ve shown passion for, and they’ve gone and done absolutely of their own accord, and it almost doesn’t matter what that is. It could be football or keeping snakes, but just some evidence that they are unique individuals and that they can convey that and become passionate about something.
Common sense, which is a function of experience, which means they have to have had other experience in work. I’m looking for proactivity, someone who doesn’t have to be told absolutely everything that they have to do. They can work it out for themselves. Someone who can see that there’s a gap. Why don’t they just fill it? They just know that things need doing. They do them. That’s what I mean by proactivity. And that’s all partly skills, but it’s also partly aptitudes. So hard working nature, collegiate, wanting to be part of team, wanting to help. The skills we value most in looking for new recruits are communication, confidence, and team working.
We also look for people who are flexible and resilient and who can come in and get on with the job in hand. One of the most important things is behaviours, simple things, like timekeeping and meeting deadlines and really being committed and enthusiastic. I think the ability to work as a team, the ability to communicate effectively, even if, you know, you are quite technical in nature, is really helpful because whatever we do in any job function these days, we do as part of a team, and so the ability to work as a team, communicate effectively.
Young people quite often– not always– lack confidence. And I say this because I’ve seen so many young people come through in interviews, and I just know they’re a no. I know within 30 seconds. And it’s not because they’re badly dressed. It’s not because they haven’t got A grades in their CV. It’s even dafter and simpler than that. They didn’t stand up straight. They didn’t walk in and smile. They didn’t hold their hand out and give a firm handshake. They showed lack of confidence in their body language. They showed that they didn’t want to be there. They showed they didn’t know anything about your business or what this opportunity was.
They weren’t looking and sounding positive and excited and proactive and knowledgeable about this opportunity. And you could tell all of that from their body language. At school, you’re micromanaged. But in the world of work, you’re typically given a fairly ill-defined goal and left largely to your own devices to achieve it. And therefore, I think if there’s one thing you can do to really help students to prepare for the world of work, it’s to start giving them some of that responsibility. Give them a goal, give them some time to think about how they’re going to achieve it, without kind of micromanaging their time.