Tag Archives: jobs

Getting a graduate job in the real world

They lied.

There is no job. Not one that you want.

Careers? Don’t you mean work?

What work exists is often poorly paid, with no prospects and doesn’t use your skills.

Ok, it is not quite that bad … but it is certainly not the world you expected.

Despite what people may think, you did work hard at Uni and learned what you were supposed to. You now have the post nominals to show for it. Unfortunately you also have the debts too. Of course you don’t start repaying the fees until you earn some money, but the debt is still there. Others that you owe money to are not so understanding. They want cash now. You can pay minimum amounts each month, but the bill isn’t shrinking.

And all for what?

Your ambition is deflated, your motivation has disappeared, and your finances are none existant. You are skint, disheartened and starting to get worried about a McJob being a serious career choice.


Not it is tough, but tough luck.

Get over it.

The world has changed. The job market has changed. Employment has changed. You know this; but your parents, the politicians, many others in work don’t know this. Those who have lost their job in the last 5 years know it, but not most of those lucky enough to still have a salary.

The harsh realities of work in 2013 

… and what you can do about it

1) Your parents world of work has almost disappeared.

The world your parents had/have is mostly gone for most recent graduates and has already disappeared for those with low skills.  For them, employment is likely to be low paid and temporary for the foreseeable future. And by this I mean, the rest of their working lives. And by working lives I mean until you die. Retirement is not going to be any different from the life that they have now – just with higher medical bills (and not just in the US, we will all be paying soon). So you keep on working until you cannot. As a graduate, you have a chance to one day enter that elusive group of well paid, highly skilled workers, but don’t bank on your degree being enough. It isn’t. Today you are in the ‘may have potential‘ group. You are still likely to start on lower pay than you want, but at least you have the potential to improve this. Most in the low skilled group do not – not unless they spend a lot of time investing in their own development. Your primary challenge is coming to terms with this, and showing a potential employer that you are a safe bet. Shift your mindset. Stop complaining. Don’t moan. It is what it is. Now learn the rules and start playing the game TO WIN. This is the most important step. If you don’t shift your mindset, you might as well apply to McDonalds now … just don’t rely on getting the job. They might not want you.

2) Your current CV is unlikely to get you the job you want.

Jobs are still being advertised. You can apply, but you a playing a lottery. I’m not saying don’t apply – just don’t rely on this working – not unless your change the way that you think about this. If you do apply, then be the best you can. Most CVs will end up in the bin. Many will be auto-sifted by computers or recruitment agencies. Very few people will be interviewed. The odds are against you. If you apply – make your CV first class. There are some excellent resources available, so READ THEM and FOLLOW THEM. Invest in your future, by investing time in your CV. Get others to check it. You need ZERO spelling mistakes and no grammatical errors. Check the fog level. Make sure the readability is at the right level. Focus on achievements. Never lie. Make it personal, be a person not a robot. Have a PDF, Word and text only version (to copy onto websites). Amend this for EACH application that you want. If you want to mailbomb with generic CVs then expect the reaction to be the same as the junk coming through your mailbox – a fast-track to the bin. Recognise that there is nothing such as a perfect CV, but it must do the best job that it can do in selling you. Ask friends or family who work in HR to give feedback. Share with friends and get comments. Listen carefully to what they say and make a judgement call on whether to change it. You don’t need to have one CV. You can have a ‘safe’ core CV for clearly defined roles or a more creative ambitious one for roles that ask for this, but then build on this. Above all, your CV needs to answer one question ‘why should you hire me?‘. This is NOT the same as ‘here is what I can do‘. Do you really want the job? Then make that message jump out from your CV and application. Never be afraid to apply for any role that you think you can do. Don’t be afraid to try, whatever the requirements ask for. You have your work cut out – and the chances may be close to zero, but small chances are better than none. It may also get you noticed or retained online by an agency, HR department or hiring manager. Whilst on applications … many companies will never contact you once you apply, even to say no. There are some legal reasons, but this is mostly about resources and cost. Personally I think this is disgraceful, but it is a fact. Don’t stress about this. Just keep going. if they don’t reply – fine. Keep going. Don’t judge a company by this. Keep moving forward. Keep applying. Be glad that this is online and you don’t have to pay postage! 200 applications means that you still have several thousand potential employers left to speak to. Blue-chip companies are great – but also the hardest to get into. Don’t forget smaller companies, charities and other not-for-profit organisations. Charities still have paid employees.

3) Your network is best way to get a job

If you have rich, well connected parents with great connections, then use them. You can now skip the rest of this post. The harsh reality of work is who you know still matters. Many will say the only thing that matters. This is what the best schools and Unis provide – great networks. Sorry. I don’t like it, but I don’t get to fix it. So you need to think how you can use this knowledge. Simple – get to know people. You need a network. Don’t wait. You need to start building your own network as soon as you enter Uni, but it is never too late. Connect (Twitter, Facebook, any channel you can] and follow people you respect, can learn from, want to work for. Read what they write, attend events [lots are free] and speak to people. Ask questions at events. Don’t be shy to ask for advice, but spend the time thinking about your question. Never, ever by shy about asking for advice or for help. You will be surprised by how often this works. My Dad used to say, ‘the worst thing that people can say is no’. He was right. But never beg. Put your fears aside and ask. Remember though that your social profile is YOU, so be careful. Either separate personal and professional identities or NEVER post anything personal. if you have a personal profile, keep it personal. Lock down the security and don’t post anything stupid however much you think you have locked it down. Whatever you think of it, employers will check social media – so make sure that they only see positive things. Clean up your online history and fix security and privacy settings. Don’t look to be invisible, as this is just as dangerous – you want to have a life and be found, but think of it as a showroom. A customer should never see the back office or the store room – the same goes for your life.

4) Collaborate for success

Finding a job is mind-numbingly draining. You are forever on a roller-coaster of applications and rejections. Are there others that you can share this time with? This is easier at Uni than after. It doesn’t have to be face to face – although this is preferred. Find people who you will gain energy by collaborating with. If they sap energy – dump them. The collaboration should be a thread of your professional life too. Find others who you can share ideas and thoughts with and invest time and invest mental energy in developing ideas and thoughts. Increasingly your insight is your most valuable asset – not what you do, but how you can interpret and manage an opportunity or problem.

5) Make things happen – get proactive

The most important point of all. Be proactive. Keep moving. Keep pushing forwards. Publish, network, learn, interact, collaborate, read, call, email, follow, comment on … KEEP MOVING FORWARD.

Finally. Good luck.

5 useful resources:

  1. Need a job, invent it article by Thomas Friedman
  2. Lifehacker get hired guide
  3. 99U How to get hired when starting out
  4. Forbes article on referrals
  5. Guardian guide to graduate job hunting

Why your job description should be as short as possible

Don’t write long job descriptions, instead pose exciting challenges that inspire candidates and open a dialogue about what role they can play in helping your company.

Thanks to LinkedIn I am fortunate to be contacted with a lot of prospective opportunities. Most of these follow the same predictable process.

Agency/HR person: I have an exciting role that you may be interested in … can I send you the job description?
Me: [After checking the basics] sure I will have a look …

What then happens is that I usually receive an overly detailed job description containing:

  1. An uninspiring job title
  2. A generic checklist of skills and experiences (often not particularly related to the job)
  3. A detailed list of character and professional attributes that are usually generic to any job

Agency/HR person: What did you think?
Me: Do I tell the honest truth or be polite? The answer I give is a combination of both. “I am not interested, the role is not for me”.
Agency/HR person: Why is that? [I am aware that they need to submit a number of candidate CVs and that a good candidate is easy money]

The reason is all too often the same … because there is nothing in any of this that is exciting.

What the company or the agency has done is define a generic role, looking for generic skills to do a generic job. This may not be reflect the reality in the employer, but a generic job description doesn’t help me differentiate between companies. It you ask for generic skills, I see a company that sees me simply as a resource.

Assume that you already have an income and a job you enjoy – why would you be interested in that. People are not resources. I am not.

No company that is going to be great to work for sees people as resources. You cannot say people are your most important asset and then call them resources.

I want a company that doesn’t want to hire generic resources, but wants to engage people. Intelligent, passionate, smart people who want to commit to the challenge and leverage their experience, networks and knowledge to deliver success.  Diverse, interesting and complex people.

This is a world away from the way that most HR companies and most agencies think.

If you want to hire the best people, inspire them from the very start.

Don’t write generic job descriptions, instead define exciting challenges that inspire candidates to play a part in defining HOW the problem is solved.

Don’t define exactly what you think you want in terms of experience (as you may miss excellent candidates), but instead provide a candidate with the opportunity to WOW you. If they can WOW you, they are much more likely to WOW customers, partners and your other employees.

And above all don’t write LONG job descriptions. Write short ones that explain the ambition, inspire passion and challenge the applicant.

There is an overhead to this. It takes longer to deal with real people than electronic CVs, automated sifts are not going to work and you will need to have conversations with more people. The upside though is that not only do you have a better chance of finding a great candidate for the role you are advertising for, you also have a chance to link candidates you see potential in with upcoming roles (thereby removing the whole search task and cost as you can approach directly 1:1 when the time comes). More importantly than this, you have an opportunity to show every unsuccessful candidate why you are a great company. You may not want to hire them today – but you are likely to want to keep them as a future customer, partner or supporter.


5 Tips to hire great people

I am always amazed at how many companies really make a mess of hiring people.

What should be an opportunity to engage energetic and passionate people wanting to find an outlet for their professional talents instead becomes a meaningless game, usually won by diligent CV writing artistes willing to play the tedious charade of the recruitment process, or those with the means to pay someone to do it for them. 

The CV checking process will sift out the worst candidates, the inarticulate, the bad spellers and those too lazy to actually tell you that they can do what you are asking for … but it doesn’t help you in finding and hiring great people. It will never help you find those truly exceptional people that can drive your business forward, be a A+ contributor and most importantly make your company a great place to spend a great deal of your life.

Why is this?

Why does the hiring process find it hard to identify brilliant people?

To understand this we need to look at how people are hired in most companies.

The whole process starts with a ridiculously overstated and irrelevant job description. This usually bears little resemblance to the actual role. It sets a bar so high that few who actually do the job in the company today could apply for it. Hiring managers ask for every technology, skill and experience they can think of rarely considering whether this is really needed, or more importantly whether it is physically possible within the constraints of time and space to acquire these skills [and if it was, whether that person would take a role paying what you are paying].

Next comes the CV sift.

You now reject any candidate telling the whole truth (because we know that the job description is almost always unattainable) and instead find the candidate who lists the most skills they can physically fit on paper and can best panel beat their previous job experience (whatever it was) into what you are  asking for. At this point, a sanity check would help [is this realistic for someone age 22], but instead hiring managers start getting excited about how they can hire great talent at the low rates they are paying.

And then we move to the interviewSmart managers and HR departments know that much of the CV will be ‘polished’, so they adopt ‘competency questions‘. Instead of asking for an explanation of what is written on the CV (knowing it may be untrue and impossible to verify), they look for insight from previous employment … 

Can you tell me what you were proudest of?

What was your most challenging task?

How to you manage conflict?

Managers think they are finding the best candidate by doing this. What they are doing is finding the candidate best able to demonstrate their mastery of memorising stock answers from the interviewees bible. If this is what you want then fine, but don’t think a great answer means a great hire. It means a practiced interviewee. Nothing more.

Competency questions will provide additional information than just asking about what they did between 2008 and 2009, but in many cases will simply reinforce biases. This may help you identify a cultural fit (because they are like you), but not a great hire.

And then the final steps …

Intelligence and left field questions: such as ‘how many golfballs could you fit in a Boeing 747‘. Useful perhaps if you want to sell 747s to Nike or Calloway, but otherwise of limited use in assessing the fit for most roles. These questions say more about the arrogance of the interviewer. Instead ask ‘real world questions’, whether about the role of about life. These are the really hard ones and will tell you a lot about the candidate.

Personality tests : These have the same problems as competency questions. A few minutes researching your company and some time practicing these online will help capable candidates deliver an ENTP or INFJ result as needed.

References. Useless. The only value is identifying those applicants with no friends, no contacts or no money (to buy them). You would never list a poor reference, and most employers are too frightened of the legal consequences of a negative reply, so you risk wrongly interpreting a response such as ‘we cannot provide references’ anyway.

So if the old style processes are broken what can companies do to find the right people?

5 Tips to hire great people

  1. Define what outcome you want, don’t only focus on the skills you think you need. Beware of long lists of skills and experiences. Keep it short, focused and open. Allow the candidate to shape the application if you can. Allow passion and energy to shine through. Ask yourself whether your process would allow a great candidate to be identified. A less defined role means more potential applicants, but also a better chance of finding a brilliant hire.
  2. As far as possible allow the applicant to demonstrate their ideas and value throughout the application process. When you meet and interview people, don’t be afraid to challenge the candidate. Put them on the spot. A great candidate will love this because it is an opportunity for them to shine, to show you what they can do and tell you why you should hire them.
  3. Keep an open mind and be aware of your biases. Would a 30 year old who has travelled around the world and volunteered be more valuable than a 22 year old ‘never worked’ Ivy League graduate? What you hire someone in their 40s who was changing careers and wanted a chance? Would you hire someone in their 60s who wanted a new start? Constantly think about who you are hiring for – you? your company? for your customers? What matters most? Remember diversity means you are reflecting the real world.
  4. Be respectful. Applying for roles takes time. Attending interviews costs money. ALWAYS respect this. Thank candidates who apply. All of them. This is a cost of business. Don’t be cheap. Never use ‘if you don’t hear from us’ in applications. Show respect. Only advertise for roles you are going to hire for. Don’t lie, don’t cut the salary to a lower level, don’t  promise what isn’t there. If you want to have an extensive process, then consider paying expenses for candidates as they progress. This cost is a fraction of the cost of picking the wrong person, and a tiny fraction of the cost of firing a bad candidate.
  5. Remember that hiring is a two way process. Never forget this. Great candidates are always interviewing you. Average candidates want a job. Great candidates want a company worthy of their time and efforts. Keep checking that you are answering questions that they may have. Before making the job offer, allow the new hire to spend some time in the company with people in a similar role to what you want to hire them for. Allow the candidate to ask questions to those in role, perhaps over lunch or a coffee without you being there. You want the candidate to know the reality of the job and willingly sign up to this. If you don’t, then you are simply a holding place until they move.

None of this is a recipe for success, and there are whole books dedicated to this, but getting the basics right, showing respect, being honest are great starting points.

And one final tip you should follow if you pick just one.

Hire passion

Work has days when everything goes wrong, clients cancel, projects fail and delivery is missed. When the chips are down you want to be with someone who stands with you, holds out a hand and starts to fix things, not someone who tells everyone what is wrong. Think carefully about how you identify that person, because when it really matters, character is what counts, make sure you are looking for that. 

Freedom, education and the failure of politicians

Part 2 of a two part series on debt and freedom.

Part 1 is Freedom vs. debt and the dangers of financial heroin.

Is all debt bad? Should you never buy things?

I’m not arguing that you don’t buy things, but flip this around.

Instead of saying,’how can I borrow to buy this now?’ instead ask, ‘how can I increase my income to buy this sooner’.

If you can’t increase income, then wait.

Are there exceptions to this?

Yes. If you follow business school logic, then you should borrow money to finance asset purchases to increase income. I’d agree to a point. For me, it is about the level of the investment vs. the loss of freedom. Prudent borrowing for significant increases in income make sense. Large unproven investments don’t. This is common sense. Betting a company using borrowed money  (we often call these mergers) is dumb. Most mergers fail, most don’t deliver promised value, so again, minimise risk and buy smaller assets at a pace you can assimilate them. This worked for Cisco, and hundreds of other leading companies. Big takeovers are painful, risky and divert attention from being a great company.

Personal finance writers say that mortgage debt is good debt. I agree to a point. It is debt, but you need somewhere to live, but the basic rules of evaluating debt vs. freedom still apply. Be prudent. Big debt reduces freedom. Very big debt is stupid. House prices may rise, but not for a while. You may see the price rise, but we are more likely to see inflation rise and you lose the house. Better have a smaller house and be confident you can keep it, then a large one that you risk losing (big houses cost more to run, so the total cost of ownership is much higher).

For me though, there is one other type of debt that is OK. One type that individuals, companies and countries should borrow for:


It doesn’t matter whether you are an individual or a country, investing in your capability to be better at what you do, to raise the level of what you do is a great thing. The benefits for you personally, for society and ultimately for humanity are all positive. The challenge here is not the absolute value (education is rarely a wasted investment), it is the timescale of the payback period. Longer is better, it gives you time to earn and pay back without risking freedom. Shorter payback periods risk freedom (which is bad), so the right decision can be to not invest. This means that the decision needs to favour the decision to invest, but at a level where the loss of freedom is managable.

When I see application levels in 2012 for Universities in the UK falling, then we have the mechanism wrong. People are making the decision that the debt is not worth the loss of freedom (in many cases they are correct). What we should see in times of economic austerity (and by the way, this is here for a generation), is the foresight from politicians in particular to take the long view and change this equation so that investing in yourself, in raising the bar for the individual, for society is a good thing. The introduce mechanisms and payment models (business models in the commercial world that incentivise this). Today, they don’t.

Why does this matter?

Because this is how you increase income and total value. Whether as an individual, a company or a country. If we want to fix the finance problems personally and as a country, we need to be able to increase our income. This requires investment. For people this means education. We still need to cut expenditure, so most of the cuts are right, but NOT in education. It is education which raises our ability to generate income. There are a host of other factors too such as removing red tape, reducing the cost of running businesses, and these are also correct, but they are essentially the same thing – increasing freedom. Don’t focus on micro-policies, look to bigger ideas which shift the equation.

Reducing costs for businesses, reducing red tape all increases freedom. This is good. If debt and freedom are linked, then changing one side impacts the other.

Should we prioritise education over health spending, over defence, over social security, over any other demand on government?

My view is simple, yes.

All of the others are costs. Costs should be cut, the only thing you should invest in is assets, that is things that grow in value – and people are the ultimate asset.

Investing in education is the best way to grow personal and national income. Cutting spending reduces outgoing (debt), but has a number of other consequences, namely a reduction in demand and a reduction in confidence. Not just consumer confidence, but ambition. It is the loss of ambition and confidence that is the problem. People can live with cuts and austerity and falling service if they can see the long term end goal is better, and worth it. We put up with house renovations, painful exams, visits to gym, diets and all other personal sacrifices because we focus on the end goal.

Once we lose ambition, we don’t seek to grow, we seek to minimise our losses. We accept where we are and we make this best of it.

This is the complete opposite of what is needed.

The same principles apply to people as they do to a country.

The problem this time is that if we don’t have the long term positive vision, it is hard to see the benefit of the cuts, and this is why cutting without a vision of a long term positive goal is wrong. Reducing debt is good, no doubt about it, but this should be to meet a long term benefit. Simply cutting without defining the benefits, or making any investment will make our problems much worse. It should have balance in this. We are not saying cut this to protect that. We cut everything, we cut across the board. The result as I said is a loss in confidence and opposition to the cuts. This  worsens the effect of the cuts as the loss of confidence at a consumer and business level amplifies the impact.  At a human level, for the poorest and least educated in society (the most vulnerable) the impact is crushing. Not painful, not challenging, but crushing.

It destroys people. It destroys their ambition; it destroys their confidence in themselves and it destroys their health.

And this is where politicians are failing us.

Cutting is easy. You see where the expenditure is going and cut it. Simple as that.

It really is that simple. Start with the big numbers, cut these.

Find lots of smaller ones that are less visible and cut these harder.

For contentious cuts, simply promote those as policy changes over the longer term. They are still cuts.

The skill is not cutting, but reducing expenditure whilst not harming our future, and in this we are failing. Falling growth rates (second recession is predicted), plummeting consumer and business confidence and a loss in applications to University (and a host of other indicators) show this.

Cutting is one side of the equation. The other side is being completely missed.

We are not defining our end goal, we are not defining what we are cutting for. We are not investing in our ability to grow income and get out of this position.

If confidence remains low, then continued cuts will not only reduce expenditure, but will impact our ability to generate revenue. This decreases income – the very opposite of what is needed. For companies, it commits them to a slow and painful decline. For people it locks them into poverty and low-wage incomes.

Take any job, any field and think about this:

Doctor, mechanic, designer, teacher, driver, builder, telephone sales, writer, engineer …

  • Don’t invest, don’t learn, don’t grow = static income, then falling income. Ultimate end goal can be unemployability.
  • Invest in yourself, be better at what you do, produce better goods, deliver better services, increase quality = sustained, then growing income

This is the same for businesses.

It is the same for countries.

So don’t simply argue against the cuts. They are needed, but challenge politicians to do their job and lead. To show how we will prosper over the long term, how we will increase personal and national income and attain a sustainable, then secure position. Cuts alone will not work.

If the politician is  devoid of ideas, then share yours. Contribute. Share ideas at online forums, policy groups, consultations, surgeries, anywhere your voice can be heard. Challenge them not to cut, but to grow. Challenge the logic and challenge the vision.

And if none of this works, stand against them. Nothing is as effective in getting the attention of a politician than the prospect of an informed candidate with ideas and popular support standing against them.

How to find the best jobs and identify the best candidates

A post by the Microsoft blogger J.D. Meier on Job Creation got me thinking.

The original article that J.D. refers to in Strategy+Business introduces the book by Jim Clifton, the Coming Jobs War.

Whereas the book focuses on the need to create good jobs, J.D.’s post builds on this by drawing out a key aspect of work that is often missed in many jobs – the need for entrepreneurism. In his role, J.D. sees this as a core capability, but this is a far from a common occurrence – either in job descriptions or in the CVs of the applicants.

– Most job descriptions give detailed breakdowns of the exact tasks and functions to be completed and the experience needed. This is reinforced at review time as we are measured against the yardstick that was defined a year ago, often with little regard for whether the world has changed.

– Most applicants CV’s cater to these by listing what they have done, and where they have done it, but they struggle to communicate passion for what they care about, and find it hard to communicate their potential.

And we wonder why this isn’t working.

What we are failing to recognise is that the tighter the job description, the smaller the space the person has in which to leverage their own passions, skills and experiences to improve the role. Instead of setting a high bar, the job description too often becomes a ceiling on what is achieved. The job description becomes an innovation killer. For the individual, the inability to improve the position, to help shape the role, to raise the bar on what is possible moves us further and further away form this being a ‘good’ job.

It is here that J.D. gives the solution.

– Include entrepreneurism as a core requirement of the job.

Of course there will be a set of core skills that are required in any position, but don’t become obsessed on trying to define everything.

Define the need to grow, shape and improve the job as an essential skill.

Instead of defining a known set of tasks, define a desired outcome and invite candidates to share how they would meet that challenge.

Let candidates share their passion and experience to enthuse you with how they will embrace the challenge. Give them the trust, support and confidence to invent, to design, to imagine, and critically to contribute. This is entrepreneurism. This is what makes a good job.

Abraham Maslow knew this when he wrote about the Hierarchy of Needs in 1943.

If you define a job as a series of functional tasks, it is defined at the ‘safety’ level. The one above food and water.

That is not a ‘good’ job. It is a job.

Work = pay. That’s it.

But there is another way.

If you focus on problem solving, creativity and provide the freedom for expression, you are describing self-actualisation, the ability to be who you are – the very top of Maslow’s pyramid.

If a job is to be a good job, as Clifton correctly says is needed, then we need to stop seeing work as a series of functional tasks and more as opportunities to use our talents to achieve common goals. This applies to all jobs. It isn’t about the status of the job, it isn’t about the income either (although the pay should be equitable).

Successful companies already know this, but as applicants continue to outnumber available positions, job descriptions are again becoming increasingly detailed as companies seek out the ‘best’ candidate. They don’t get them of course; inevitably they get the person best able to craft a CV that tells you what you want to know. This is a valuable skill, but is not the one that is going to make the appointment successful.

The best candidates know that unless they can leverage their talents, their skills and experiences, it is simply a job, not a good job. It may be well paid, it may have good benefits (and these are important), but it is going to be unfulfilling and they will ultimately be unhappy there.

This is why people can be paid a lot of money and be utterly miserable.

This is also one explanation why employers can be inundated with CVs but still fail to find candidates that capture their attention or spark their interest. The paradox is that the tighter they define the job description, the less chance they have of finding the candidate that they are really looking for.

So tips for employers and applicants. 

Employers – If you want to attract the best candidates, pose a challenge, define the direction, not the path. Seek creativity, innovation and passion. Leave space in the description for a candidate to interpret the role. Purposely define a ‘good job’. It takes time, you need to see a lot of candidates and this costs more money, but the end result is positive for the employer and the employee and will be repaid in commitment and results many times over.

Applicants – Don’t just describe what you have done. Of course, cover this, but focus on what you can do. Communicate what drives you, what you are passionate about and what you want to achieve. Link your passion to your achievements. This won’t work with all job applications, but when you do find a job, you know they have hired you because they want you. And you will have a good job.