In this article I want to explore the need for graduate employers and educators to collaborate successfully to ensure that the talent emerging into the job market understand the competencies employers are seeking, the competencies they possess themselves and crucially how they can demonstrate those competencies when it matters in selection environments from CV writing to interviews and Assessment Centres.
I have worked in employability in education for 10 years, as a recruitment consultant for graduate recruiters and prior to that as corporate recruiter, so I believe I have an informed view on this topic.
Whether global projects with multinationals like AXA or focused recruitment local work; the common themes are the gap between the competencies that employers want and a lack of awareness of those competencies from candidates. Even when the candidates understand the competencies required there is an absence of understanding of whether they have them and how to display them. So how do we close this gap and create understanding?
The answer is for employers to work with educators to create a vocabulary around competencies that is underpinned by practical, fun and realistic experiences where that vocabulary is used, understood and applied.
We run workshops at the University of Gloucestershire tackling this very issue. One student selected to talk through his competencies with the group began by stating that he did not have any that employers would be interested in as he had just bar work experience and was the 2nd XV rugby captain....
After 10 minutes of exploring what competencies he possessed we constructed a list of 10 that I reassured him many graduate recruiters would want; recruitment, budget management, conflict resolution, logistical organisation, strategic awareness, collaboration with stakeholders, leadership, communication, planning and team motivation. He was stunned and reassured that he had things to talk about he had not considered worthy of mentioning because of their context.
Building on this we have delivered events that focus on improving student awareness from Year 10 to final year of University. We look at personal brand, communication styles, performing under pressure (presentations and interviews) and have delivered a new ‘deconstructed’ Assessment Centre day where students not only gain great experience, they emerged understanding what we were looking for and how they had demonstrated those things; thanks to comprehensive feedback.
Understanding your USP’s and how the world experiences you is crucial to grasping what competencies you possess, owning them and talking authentically about them. Millennials are brand lucid and once they understand that they too are a brand and their own marketing department when it comes to career, competencies soon come into focus. We ask; How does your brand stand out from the competition? and competencies alongside behaviours, beliefs and attitudes are the answer.
Another innovation where the University has used us is the concept of speed networking for students embarking on their graduate job search, linking them with graduate employers with vacancies. It is not earth shatteringly in itself but what they asked us to do before the event was progressive.
We looked at confident communication, networking skills and crucially we looked at how to lucidly demonstrate competencies in the five minute informal conversations. It was an evolution of the elevator pitch using the vocabulary of competencies backed up by tangible evidence. Claiming a competency is great but being able to talk about a time when it was demonstrated and also understanding the bottom line was impacted is gold dust and exactly what any recruiter wants to hear.
As graduate employers and recruitment consultants we must take responsibility alongside our education partners to take the mystery out of competencies and how they are detected and measured in a recruitment context. We must get out there into the education community and give the talent of the future every chance to explore, understand and confidently talk about their competencies sharing a common vocabulary from recruitment through into employment.
Published in the Institute of Student Employers Magazine 2018
What is Personal Brand?
Definition: Personal Brand is the way you let the world know about who you are, your personality, values, skills and abilities. Personal Branding is similar to product branding, just applied to the individual. Your personal brand influences how other people view you; by highlighting your unique selling points and helping you to stand out from the crowd.
BUT your personal brand must be a real reflection of your identity; who you are and what you stand for, not just a fake image that you think is what people want to see. It's what people say about you when you are not in the room!
Being Authentic and Appropriate:
Why is your CV so important?
Employers only know as much as you tell them and they discover that information in a way that you can control.
A really effective CV allows the employer to see all of your qualities; the human being, the student and the candidate. Today academic qualifications are increasingly standard, a truly impactful CV can give you the edge by showing the employer the real you.
Personal Brand in your CV:
Your choice of font, structure and even paper tells the employer things about you. The words you use, how accurate the spelling and grammar is, whether you use boring language or exciting language and whether you put your personality into writing it all show through and give them an impression of you.
Don’t just create a boring standard document; think about how you can make a connection with them and stand out from the other CV’s in the pile without being weird and whacky just for the sake of it.
Facts and Evidence:
There is no point sending off a CV that just talks about things in theory. Employers want evidence. So your CV must give them that evidence.
Use concrete facts. Instead of saying ‘I served customers in the shop’ when you are trying to show customer service skills on your CV, you should say ‘I served over 100 customers each day either on the phone or face to face resolving complaints and managing payments’ suddenly you have told them what, how often and how, not just that you did it....
What do employers look for?
Employers just want the next CV that they look at to be perfect for the vacancy they have. They do not want to wade through 100 CV’s to find the right one, they have a list of things that they want to find and they need to be persuaded that you tick the boxes.
You need to understand what kind of a business they are, what type of job you are applying for and most importantly what sort of personality they want to see. Customer Service roles may require a very different personality to a Research Assistant and Police Cadet different to a Hair Dresser. Imagine yourself in the job - does it fit?
Walking the Talk:
There is absolutely no point in creating a CV that you cannot live up to in person. Our Confident Performance Workshop will help you to understand how to impress potential employers with your ability to perform under pressure BUT in terms of your personal brand - be honest about what you can do, be realistic about your ability to deliver and don't make claims for yourself that you cannot live up to. Once you are known as someone who over promises and under delivers it is a tough label to change.
Always Being On Duty for Your Brand:
You never know who might be able to help you in your career, you can never tell which job might be the one that can lead to a fantastic career of opportunities and personal development and so it is important that you always represent the best version of yourself that you can.
Whether you are visiting a career fair, talking to employers, meeting people socially or engaging in social media communication you should always think about the image you are projecting, how people will experience you and how they will remember you.
Some of the best career opportunities come when you least expect them; don't blow it by not being focused on projecting a brand that those meeting you will be impressed by. You are your own Marketing Department and you can control the way that the rest of world views you and as a result you can ensure that you give yourself the best possible chance of being successful in whatever career you choose.
Employability is one of those words that sounds like a think tank have spent a month inventing it; it sounds like it is for someone else, someone who is in the loop and has got the ‘Employability’ text book and has been studying and working on it for years right? Well let’s just put all of that to one side, forget the word for a few minutes and look at what it really means to you in simple terms that you can relate to your life, your career and your future shall we?
I quite like the Manchester Met University definition which is “Employability is the development of skills, abilities and personal attributes that enhance students’ capability to secure rewarding and satisfying outcomes in their economic, social and community lives”
Knight and Yorke came up with a neat definition too; "A set of achievements, understandings and personal attributes that make individuals more likely to gain employment and to be successful in their chosen occupations".
And the CBI say it is “A set of attributes, skills and knowledge that all labour market participants should possess to ensure they have the capability of being effective in the workplace – to the benefit of themselves, their employer and the wider economy.”
So let’s strip our definition back to who you are, what you know, what you can do and what you have done and how they relate to the job or career you might best achieve using all that stuff. I say job or career because I know that despite the market place insisting that we should all want careers some of you are in the 'work to live' camp and see your working life as a series of short(ish) periods with an employer rather than the ‘career’ partnership with one or two employers that everyone says you should want.
Let’s now break those key elements down into the constituent parts and try to understand what each of them means to you and how you can do a little work to understand them better and use them to get what you want.
Who You Are:
This bit is very much about your personal brand about the things that make you uniquely you and which dictate how the world experiences you. It’s 'what people say about you when you are not in the room'. This bit is not about who you should be like or putting on any kind of an act. It’s about being the best version of you that you can be; both authentic (real) and appropriate (suitable) so that the interviewer get’s to see the real you. Let’s face it if the real you turns up and is interested in the job and shows all of the great qualities that you have as a human being then you are off to a flying start!
As a recruiter I know that other recruiters are looking for some essential personality attributes that will make them interested in a candidate; self-awareness, confidence, clear moral and ethical standards, friendly and open etc... let them see what a great person you are by making sure that you remember this bit and don’t get distracted into just talking about the stuff you need to know and be able to do because sometimes who you are can make a massive difference to the recruiters decision making process.
I have often weighed up this choice:
Candidate One – great person, positive and energised needs skills and knowledge development and academic qualifications not top of the class
Candidate Two – didn’t feel I got the know them or their motivation, seems to know the job and is clearly bright and able
And you should know that I consistently recruited Candidate One and was proven right to do so!
Ask yourself what is my brand; what words do I want to have associated with my personality and behaviours by everyone I meet? Then be those words, walk the talk and allow the world to see how fantastic you are. It can and will open doors for you.
What You Know:
Of course there are roles where your knowledge will be key in opening doors to job and career opportunities; there is no escaping the fact that some jobs need you to have a background or specific knowledge base. But you can again do yourself a favour here by research, familiarisation and interest in the sector, industry and a very real desire to learn. Also think about parallel or similar knowledge that you have that can be translated easily into specific knowledge.
What You Can Do:
Might be some things that you have done, can do and can show you have done that are very specific to any job, I’m not talking about those today as I assume that you will be applying for jobs where your level of experience matches the role requirements, that you are being realistic; but there are also lots of other things that you can do that they need to know that you can do, as when they add up they might tip the balance. Communication, customer service, sales, IT, projects, organisation etc all add up to a critical mass of abilities...
What You Have Done:
This might be anything from the standard list of jobs and job titles and responsibilities that you will find listed in the blog on here about CV’s, standard stuff. But it can also be about you thinking laterally about ‘what you have done’ and coming up with some awesome examples that may not be directed job related but can do the same job of convincing and persuading someone that you have got what it takes.
The word competency is a constant in recruitment and employment and the On-line Business Dictionary have a neat definition. They say it is 'a cluster of related abilities, commitments, knowledge and skills that enable a person to act effectively in a job or situation.'
So let’s dwell on that for a moment. You've no doubt done lots of things in your life that qualify for one or more of those categories even if you don’t think you have. Do you need an example to get you thinking in the right way? Ok, well at a UK University I was presenting an ‘Employability’ workshop and asked the question of the group, 'what competencies do you have that an employer would be interested in?' I asked one the students sitting at the back of the lecture theatre for his input which he brushed off by saying he had none, I asked further and found out that he was the captain of the University 2nd XV Rugby Union Team.
I asked him to come up to the front and work with me for 5 minutes on his competencies to see if we could find any. Five minutes later we had a list of at least 10 management competencies and experience that would make him a very appealing candidate for any graduate recruiter; he was experienced (through his captaincy role) in recruitment (picking the team), budget management (membership fees, match fees, paying for transport, pitches, laundry) conflict resolution (telling lads they were not picked) and logistics (getting the team to games, organising coaches and routes) etc etc....makes you think right?
So I guess I am saying that you should value your brand and express it, understand all of your attributes, experiences and competencies and then celebrate them both when putting your CV together and at interview. You may just be the perfect candidate but they will never know unless you show them everything you have to offer and give them a chance to see how awesome you are.
Employability is not about a decision that employers make, it is about you and how you acquire, use, explain and demonstrate everything that you have to give to an employer.
They will be receptive trust me.
What is an Assessment Centre?
Assessment Centres are designed to assess your performance in a range of situations and are generally used by employers as the second or final filter in their selection process after preliminary interviews or screening has taken place. Likely to be designed around assessing you against the job competencies required. Can be long, varied and demanding!
How do I stand out?
How should I behave socially?
Paul Goring has organised, written, hosted and reviewed a host of graduate assessment centres and is a key player in the Consortio Assessment Centre Services that we offer to both industry and through our employability in education programme.
AGR MIPR BPS Lvl B+
All Appraisals Career Career Advice Career Coaching Career Decisions Careers Advice Career Support Coaching Communication Confident Interviews CV / Marketing Flier Education Employability Employers Events Grad Careers Internships Interview Performance Interviews. Interview Advice Interview Tips Job Advice Lucid Stories Management Skills Networking One To One Meetings Personal Brand Personal Development Presentations Reflective Learning Returning To Work Staff Development Student Employability Understanding The World Of Work Your Own Career Manager
What we do
One to One
Who we are