What is high quality work experience?

During the week I have been to the launch of Norwich for Jobs and read through the government’s discussion paper on traineeships. A phrase that keeps coming up – and has frankly confused me – is “high quality work experience”.  It sounds like someone having experience with the Royal Ballet as prima ballerina and completely skipping the corps de ballet salt mines. It would give one a very warped view of what working there might be like.

And young people need to understand that every job matters – each job matters so much that someone is being paid to do it.

One of my first jobs was doing cover for the tea lady in an office in Holborn. Two rounds of every office a day where you were expected to remember what everyone drank including sugar quantities. Turned out I was a poor substitute for Elsie, who effectively was the 1980’s in-house Twitter feed and Facebook embodied in turquoise nylon overalls.

By starting out with easy tasks like distributing post or doing photocopying under the watchful eye of a senior secretary you are soaked in the culture and values of the business – nebulous things which are much harder to grasp as you get older and slot into more senior positions.  Older and more experienced staff are able to instil old fashioned manners, work ethic and respect through example.  Of course there are stories of scary bullies in every office – but that is part of life too.

These early experiences, good or bad, will colour your approach to work forever.  For example it is striking how anyone who has ever worked as a waiter will be more pleasant to restaurant staff than someone who hasn’t.

I looked up was meant by “high quality work experience” – the CIPD “Get Britain Working” paper recommends that these placements are, amongst other things, “supported, supervised and mentored; with managed expectations and feedback; and about gaining transferable skills, or, as they put it tasks, not tea”.  So turns out they mean well managed work experience – the high quality coming from the organisation, not the tasks.

I think this should be made clearer or it appears to undervalue some kinds of work – and all jobs can be good jobs. As for transferable skills – well, I reckon I still make a decent cup of tea.

(www.norwichforjobs.org.uk) (http://media.education.gov.uk/assets/files/pdf/t/updated_%20traineeships%20discussion%20paper%20-%20january%202013.pdf)

Babysitting – a really important experience

So often when discussing “work experience” with a young person they will have little notion of what a great thing it is to be able to add “Babysitting” to a CV.  For someone under 18 “Babysitting” is evidence that a 3rd party had enough confidence in them to leave one of the most precious people in the parents’ lives in the care of a teenager.

Heaven forfend anything awful should happen, and generally things go smoothly, but the little upsets and panics are good learning ground for everyone.  Bit of man-management; bit of negotiation; bit of risk assessment; bit of play and kindness; bit of understanding – these are all ploys used to look after children and not skills to be taken lightly.

The person babysitting needs to be able to illustrate they used some of the above strategies if asked about it in interview.

Personally my most challenging evening was spent looking after a 5 year old French child who shrieked to discover that the family dog (a gigantic Alsatian) had just eaten and regurgitated the family terrapin. The child kicked the dog in anger and the dog had to be persuaded into another room in my best Barbara Wodehouse voice (turns out dogs can understand tone). Then all I had to do was get the sobbing child to bed and sleep and then clean up terrapin entrails – oh, and explain in my best schoolgirl French what had happened to the parents when they finally got back. Life enhancing, character building stuff!!

The Army expects…

Back in the early 1980’s I remember my International Relations lecturer telling us about his trips to the local army officers’ mess.  He gave short talks on things like the threat of International Terrorism and developments in the Middle East. Afterwards he’d come back shaking his head in disbelief at his audience’s lack of intellectual rigour. Bit unfair since, even then, quite a number of army officers were graduates and many were fabulous leaders with many of the “charismatic” characteristics he could only talk about.  Generally, however, enthusiasm, attitude, connections with the regiment and a gung-ho spirit were what the army wanted – the rest could drilled into an accommodating mind, even if it was only there for a short 3 year commission.

30 years later and we have a different sort of army. Leaner, re-organised with fewer regiments and officer with degrees as a matter of course. So compare the journeys of Patrick and Richard over the past two years.

Patrick is charming. Failed to make a positive impact at any of a series of private schools, infact rather the opposite with strings of japes and scrapes to his credit. An excellent skier, well connected, landed with an easy way with people, he would traditionally have been perfect junior Sandhurst material. At initial assessments it became apparent that he wasn’t fit enough – or well informed enough – to stand a chance. So for a whole year he committed himself to getting into the army. He got a pub job to fund himself. He hung out with university students to tutor him through key subject areas and mentor him through the gym.  He ran miles and miles and worked to achieve the magic 55 press-ups and sit-ups in two minutes required of him.

Richard was invincible. On track to get a first class degree in chemistry from a good university, he was a fanatical rower and runner. At school he had been a prefect and captained rowing and rugby teams. His body was his temple, and an unsullied one at that.  While Richard has a good group of friends, he was not the “go to” guy for sympathy, empathy or comfort.

Come the assessment board the two young men headed off – each confident that they had done enough to secure their place at Sandhurst.

Patrick chatted and joked with everyone, sharing stories of his father’s army days and his time spent pulling pints of Guinness. When the physical test came he made the distance and everyone could see what an effort he had put in compared to his initial attempt.

Richard knew about all the critical issues of the day and was on top of all important political stories. Come the physical test he ran extra and kept doing press-ups long passed the required point, even when everyone else had stopped.

The army wrote to both of them at the end of the summer. With regret they rejected Patrick – despite his phenomenal effort and obvious desire to be commissioned. The report from his school had said he wasn’t suited to being in an organised community. The army rejected Richard too. Despite fitness and intelligence in great abundance, the recruiting officer described him as an arrogant f*****k*r who would not be good news for his soldiers. Richard reckoned it was the army’s loss. Patrick was distraught, but resilient in a way he had never previously been. He got a job with a growing company where he is doing sales, and flourishing.

January 2013 Special: Kick Start 2013 with a CV Review

Let’s meet and have a discussion about what your CV is for:

  • we’ll review what you have (or haven’t got) so far
  • talk about the best way to present the CV that you need
  • and suggest an action plan

Afterwards send us your CV and we will help you add any adjustments – and check it for you.

A January CV Review session* and feedback costs £50.00 (incuding VAT).

Real Life SKills holds meeting in Norwich and London. Skype/phone discussions can also be arranged.

To book a session or to find out more email us: info@reallifeskills.co.uk

*approximately 1 hour

Serendipity in 2013

Just as the year starts and plans – PLANS – and resolutions are being made it might not seem all that timely to talk of serendipity. Those special moments of happy co-incidence, good luck, karma… call it what you will, they do happen for everyone, but the difference between people considered lucky and the rest is what they do when the moment arrives.

So first you need to recognise the moment of serendipity and they you need to be prepared to take the opportunity, or risk, it offers.

Let me illustrate this with an example.  A young man trying to find a job in finance goes on a skiing holiday and talks to every middle aged man he shares a ski-lift with.  One day he sits next to a director of a stock broking company who enjoys his company and forth-right manner and gives him his card. The young man follows up with a letter and a call, and got a job as a broker.  Years later the young made has become a middle-aged entrepreneur and is sitting on a train contemplating his next venture.  Sitting opposite him is a young man just like he had been, engaging in conversation, asking questions and being interested.  Our entrepreneur is impressed and offers him a job.

The danger of taking the random moment is summed up in Dr Pepper’s recent ad campaign – “What’s the worst that can happen?” turns out to include being left butt naked; wrestling with the girl friend’s father and so on – but at least the person’s thirst is quenched.  Taking a chance on the serendipitous moment comes with risks: being diverted from your original plan; losing money, confidence or contacts.  The good that comes from such bad moments is when we learn and gain experience.  And the sky is the limit in terms of the good that can come from good moments.

My resolution for this year? Take the chance, embrace the risk, and learn to love and live the consequences… bring on 2013!