Flexible Friend and Adaptable Ally: How to Seize the Day

Being flexible and adaptable are mindset qualities that employers want worldwide. They are critical in dealing with chance and change whether you are looking for work, in a job or navigating your career direction. The best-laid plans go wrong, unexpected events occur, unforeseen dilemmas arise, and you often have to work with ambiguity and uncertainty. How can you develop being flexible and adaptable for your job and career?

What is being flexible?

Flexibility is about:

  • Being open-minded and prepared to compromise about what work you do, when, where and how you do it, and who with.
  • Your willingness to contribute and serve even when you didn’t expect to.flexible
  • Changing your plans in a flash if the boss needs you to, so get used to prioritising and re-prioritising.
  • Your colleagues being able to rely on you stepping in to help in a crisis.
  • A ‘give and take’ attitude in work relationships, sometimes outside of your role and responsibilities to meet a deadline or critical business need.
  • A way of increasing your breadth of experience, exposing you to a wider range of activities and responsibilities.
  • Accepting that it’s okay to zig-zag in your career and to try out new things.

What is being adaptable?

Adaptability is about how you adapt to change, uncertainty, new challenges, unexpected obstacles, changing circumstances, new information, and different settings. For example,

  • flexibleReturning home after graduating means adapting to home life again and not treating your parent’s home like a student house.
  • When you start a new job, everything is new and unfamiliar. The quicker you adapt to the way things are done, the quicker you settle in as part of the team and start being productive.
  • Losing your job means adapting to difficult circumstances, where your priorities will change.

No one wants to employ someone who says ‘I can’t or won’t do that’, ‘It’s not my job’, ‘it’s not in my job description’. Nor someone who is too rigid, digs their heels in and puts themselves before others.

Workplace dilemmas

  • Your boss asks you to drop what you are doing and to stay late to complete an urgent job. Do you change direction when necessary? Or do you stick with your own assumptions?
  • A new process is introduced at work. The process you use currently works fine for you. Do you set and re-negotiate priorities when dealing with change? Or do you like to do things the same way time after time?
  • You have a presentation tomorrow and you can’t get hold of a critical piece of information in time. Do you decide and act without having the full picture? Or do you prefer things nailed down and sure?

9 ways to develop flexibility and adaptability

  1. Spot opportunities to compromise and be accommodating. Ask yourself ‘what can I live with?’, ‘what am I prepared to give and give up?’, ‘why not?’ instead of ‘why should I?’
  2. Be curious. Ask questions to ensure you consider all the options. Test out your understanding of what you’re unexpectedly being asked to do without it coming across as a challenge.
  3. Practice patience with good humour in response to changes. Pause, give yourself enough breathing and thinking space.
  4. Seek out diverse views. Explore ideas different from your own to help you think and act differently. Volunteer or work abroad.
  5. Adapt an existing routine. Put a different behaviour inside an existing routine. For example, you could put your top five most important tasks for the week as a screensaver on your mobile. You’ll prompt yourself every time you look at your phone. Here’s the test: if one of your top 5 tasks suddenly changes, will you adapt or will you be thrown by it?
  6. Change a deadline. –Got a deadline to meet next week? Set yourself an earlier deadline to test out your flexibility and adaptability.
  7. Set small goals.  Write down a few things each week that you will be more flexible with. Then track your progress throughout the week. Evaluate your results. Where did you succeed? Where did you fail? Why did you fail? What can you do better next time?
  8. Reward yourself. Give yourself incentives to stick to the goals you’ve set. When you’ve done ‘X’ amount of whatever you’ve chosen, you get to do something you really enjoy doing that you normally wouldn’t have time for.
  9. See the bigger picture. Learn to adapt to the goals of your organisation and make sense of new directions. Recognize that your growing flexibility is a sure-fire way to increase your breadth of experience and progress.

Carpe Diem

flexibleYou thrive if you show how you cope with ambiguity and adapt to change willingly and with agility. Developing a flexible attitude helps you learn to leap more comfortably when change inevitably impacts on your world. Being flexible and adaptable open up options and possibilities, increasing the chance of being in the right place at the right time for you and your ambitions.

Will you seize the day?

youth voice

Youth Voice: What Do Young People Want From Employers?

Vera Brittain wrote an extraordinary memoir, Testament of Youth, capturing her generation’s experience from 1900-1925 including the First World War. The power of that book’s title comes to mind this week when attending a conference on youth employment. What is the youth voice about jobs, careers, and the barriers to entering the world of work in 2016?

Often, these events are filled with seasoned speakers who are practitioners, opinion-formers, policy-makers and decision-makers from organisations involved in the specific topic. And, yes, this was no different in that respect. Yet, refreshingly, the day was also heavily influenced by the testament of today’s youth. It came in the form of both podium speeches and roundtable facilitation and feedback.

Testament of Employers

  • In 2010, a million young people were unemployed. Today, the ONS figure that the UK Government uses is still stubbornly high at 835,000. Youth Employment UK flagged up that’s an underestimate. Research by Impetus and The Learning & Work Institute identifies 1.3 million young people spend six months or more NEET (not in Education, Employment or Training), and 700,000 are out of work or education for over a year.
  • Centrepoint, a homeless charity, reports that homelessness among the young is rising. Sixty percent of the 1000 young people they serve are with them because of family breakdowns. Most are not ready for apprenticeships and traineeships because of their life circumstances. These include sofa surfers, care leavers, and refugees.
  • The Department of Work and Pensions, with recent awareness-raising campaigns on apprenticeships and talent, says that young people struggle with a perception of their own value.
  • InteYouth Voicerserve Learning and Employment, a large apprenticeship provider who provide solution pathways for young people facing obstacles, finds the traditional CV is no longer engaging their client group. It is trying to bridge the work experience gap in new ways. For example, placing young people on the autism spectrum in the records section of the NHS. Also, Digital Credentialism (badges) – non-academic accreditation that evidences what young people can do and have done, articulating it to themselves and employers in a different way. Youth Employment UK is also working along these lines, introducing a free employability scheme open to all 16-24-year-olds and a way of reframing NEETs as aspiring Young Professionals.
  • Thirty percent of the young people Greater Manchester Talent Match place with employers are NEET and not on benefits (and so outside official figures). Eighty percent have mental health difficulties (which decreases through sustained employment). Thirty percent are ex-offenders. It does not believe everyone is appropriate for apprenticeships. It highlights the barriers young people put up themselves, such as lack of self-esteem.

Youth-friendly good practices

  • McDonald’s input focused on recognising talent. Seventy percent of its 110,000 UK employees are in their twenties and under. The company receives 2000 applications a day, of which 1900 are unsuccessful. There is a 4-stage process to get a part-time job. They want it to be a professional process so applicants feel professional and are judged by their potential. McDonald’s is professionalising its apprenticeships (80,000 apprentices to date) and introducing one at degree level. They are trialling ‘minimum hours’ contracts instead of a zero hours approach.

Our people strategy starts with attracting individuals with talent. It’s about the person in front of you. Having a qualification doesn’t make you a great person. We look for people who are energetic, passionate and great with customer service. Everything else we can train them to do.  Cheryl Chung, Head of Communications at McDonald’s UK.

  • Rathbone Training focused on youth voice. Its work builds in resilience and empowers young people to face and deal with obstacles to getting a job and career. The barriers young people face include poor or lack of career advice, homelessness and housing, and difficult conversations with their parents who lack understanding of what they are going through.
  • Learndirect, another large apprenticeship provider, spoke about creating opportunities. Its messages include: apprenticeships are not better routes, they are equal; the opportunity to switch careers at any time is important; the requirement for Maths and English qualifications can create artificial barriers to recruitment; apprenticeships are a huge benefit to an employer’s business. For example, at Lloyds Bank apprentices get promoted faster, their engagement scores and grades at annual reviews are higher, and retention is better at that level.
  • Santander reflected on developing people in early careers. It has introduced WorkWise for 14-18-year-olds, sessions about the world of work, social media, job search methodologies, getting the interview and managing disappointments. In 2016, WorkWise has reached 2500 young people in schools. Santander is in the top 100 Employers of Choice for school leavers. Rathbone Training suggested that banks are in a position to really help those young people who struggle to open bank accounts.
  • IFDS, a financial services company, focused on fair employment. Twenty-seven percent of their 5500 employees are young people and 725 are apprentices. All entry-level roles are apprenticeships with salaries rising from £12.5k to £16k over 18 months. Their top three youth-friendly tips are: open your mind up to what a young person can do – they can and will amaze you; recruit as much on attitude and enthusiasm as qualifications; engage with young people in the community and advise on what you’re looking for.

The consensus emerged from the conference that young people who are furthest from the labour market are far from ready. Fixing systemic barriers is the priority. Many people were struck by the importance of a youth voice, avoiding assumptions about young people, and doing more to make their workplaces youth-friendly. ‘What is my role as a good citizen?’ was a golden thread during the day.

Testament of Youth

Here’s the youth voice from the conference:

  • We want relevant, interesting work experience and to bounce into different taster opportunities.Youth Voice
  • We need to find the balance between our social, education and work situations to make informed choices in our lives.
  • Everyone stereotypes us, painting us with a heavy brush. School careers advisers treat us as just a number and leave it to someone else to bridge the gap for us.
  • Trust us by involving us in the big decisions.
  • 3 tips for young apprentices: it’s OK to make mistakes; ask questions; put in the work if you want to progress.
  • 3 tips for employers: offer typical opportunities you offer to experienced employees to young people; allow young people to challenge existing methods and processes; give young people a chance to control their career and not be afraid to ask questions about it.

Responding to one youth voice

Robbie is a young person from a rural part of Scotland. He spoke at the conference about the lack of opportunities to be a mechanic, what he most wanted to be. He gave four options for his way forward to the 100 people at the conference. The aim was to get people to share in his frustration and to offer solutions.

I’m not going to let the fact it’s difficult stop me. Robbie, unemployed young person.

The audience responded brilliantly, offering clarity and new ideas. By the end of the day, a crowdfunding page was set up with donations rolling in to help Robbie fund driving lessons and overcome the challenge of a daily three-hour round trip from home to college to train as a mechanic. Real problem, real action, real hope.

Will this generation of young people irrevocably change with the blight of unemployment and underemployment? It doesn’t have to be this way if each of us genuinely listens, takes on board the youth voice and does something bigger than ourselves to help.

What will you pledge to do today?


How to Boost your Job and Career Search with Drive

Drive is a set of sought-after employability attributes that will help you seek, gain or retain a job throughout your career. I’m sure you know someone who lacks drive, struggles to motivate themselves and others, doesn’t get things done settles for less than is possible and does not fulfill their potential. Equally, you will know somebody else who is strongly motivated to achieve and wants to makes things happen, is results-oriented, and a self-starter who shows initiative. Which person would you hire?

Sam was in his second year of a business management degree. He got a temporary summer job working at a Gin Festival in his university city. It involved event preparation, marketing and bar work. Sam is self-motivated, ambitious and with a drive to succeed. He took the initiative and created new combinations of gin cocktails that he pitched to his boss. He liked them so much that he introduced the drinks to his menu and invited Sam to join the team on its summer tour of other cities.

Employers want self-starters like Sam. Drive is the essential ingredient to task delivery and job progression. Be explicit in what helps foster your drive, so your prospective employer or manager and colleagues know what makes you tick and how you give your best.

Attributes of drive

Human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined and connected to one another. And when that drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives. Daniel Pink

  • Drive is the feeling of compulsion to succeed and excel at a certain task or in a particular field. It’s your rocket fuel, an energy that propels you from within, the energy required to put the hard work, sweat, and tears into accomplishing something worthwhile. You find a way to do things and push yourself to achieve. You are persistent, persuasive and don’t give up.
  • Ambition is about the hopes and desires to which you aspire. It’s creating your dreams or to be the best you can be right where you are.  Ambition is the mother of intention and the child of intention is action.
  • Initiative is trying new things, speaking up or doing the right thing unprompted, volunteering ideas and better ways to do things, and bringing a fresh approach.
  • Self-starting is where you find things that need doing and problems to solve, where you don’t need to be told what to do every minute or constantly nagged. It’s a ‘can-do’ attitude. You can only motivate yourself, like Sam did – no one can decide that for us. It comes from within and is different for each person. Other people can only create the conditions or environment to encourage us, like Sam’s boss did.
  • Assertiveness is pursuing your goals while respecting the rights and responsibilities of others. It’s being firm and fair with a positive attitude. Driven people are assertive and take responsibility. And most importantly, they know when to say yes and when to say no. Check out this quiz.

12 tips to give your drive momentum

  1. Remind yourself of your sense of purpose and the benefits you will gain.
  2. Create space in your life to develop – show something you are good at or talk about a topic you know well.
  3. Master or improve something that matters to you and that the world needs – take a course, practice, experiment.
  4. Set your expectations for success, aspire to high standards – it will shape your reality.
  5. Do something for others without expecting anything back.
  6. Mentor someone or find a mentor.
  7. Connect with diverse people for mutual learning and sharing.
  8. Seek encouragement from people you trust and respect.
  9. Find inspiration – watch TED Talks and the School of Life, read widely, go to events.
  10. Set goals with milestones to feed your momentum, align with your values, accept responsibility for the actions and hold yourself to account.
  11. Build what you want to do differently into your daily routine so it becomes a habit – learn how to scratch an itch like Mozart.
  12. Don’t pick a job, pick a manager who trusts you so you can show your initiative.

You can’t have drive without energy. To have energy requires rest and recovery, as well as inner motivation and external stimulation. Get the balance right and the sky is not the limit.

Echo Chambers

Echo Chambers and Your Career: How to Get Good Vibrations

The failure of the pollsters in accurately predicting the results is a feature of both the US Election and the Brexit Referendum. What people say or don’t say to those who ask can distort survey findings. Who people listen to, engage with, and where, can distort their sight of the wider picture. As the world becomes more fragmented into tribes, the Internet and social media are creating echo chambers – where we exist in a bubble of similar opinions and beliefs to our own. The consequences can be greater group think and dogmatism, less listening and understanding of other perspectives.

“We live in a moment where people do not know how to hear or understand one another. And our obsession with quantitative data means that we think we understand when we hear numbers in polls, which we use to judge people whose views are different than our own. This is not productive.” Danah Boyd

However, echo chambers have opportunities as well as pitfalls. This post looks at how to maximise them for your career and how to overcome the downsides.

Seizing opportunities in Echo Chambers

Do you recognise the echo chambers you inhabit online and offline? You create your own echo chambers consciously or unconsciously every time you Follow someone on Twitter or Instagram, Like or accept a Friend on Facebook, accept or seek Connections and contribute to online groups on LinkedIn, and sign-up to blogs and newsletters. Today’s increasingly sophisticated algorithms automatically push your preferences and related ones into your timelines. Inevitably, you start to become like the five people you spend the most time with. It’s hard to escape.

Unsurprisingly, people tend not to want a daily stream of posts popping up that will rile them. Consequently, they gravitate to like-minded people, preferences, tastes, and views. Yet, that can be helpful from a career perspective in three main ways:

  • Researching potential employers, their culture, and values for job and career fit.
  • Increasing your visibility and influencing through networking, contributing your views and thought leadership in common areas of interest.
  • Building your professional image, reputation, and identity within a chosen area.

Overcoming the pitfalls

Here are some downsides of limiting yourself in echo chambers and how to overcome them.

  • Lack of diversity. Broaden your network to include people in different roles, fields, sectors, and cultures because studies say being in an open network instead of a closed one is the best predictor of career success.

(Being) in a closed network, the more you repeatedly hear the same ideas, which reaffirm what you already believe… in an open network, the more you’re exposed to new ideas. (The latter) are significantly more successful in their careers. Michael Simmons

  • You narrow your range of job and career options if you always swim in the same pool. Test your transferrable skills, consider combining disciplines and explore outside of your usual boundaries.
  • Narrow-minded because of confirmation bias and lack of rigour to verify what is true. You may not be aware of what you pay attention to, more accepting of false information within your echo chamber, and default to refuting what lies outside. If you want to be on firmer ground and develop healthy scepticism, do your research and ask the difficult questions.
  • Your ability to change through learning and unlearning will diminish. We have to get along with people at work who can be very different from us. To build and maintain those relationships, show curiosity, listen to understand their position, empathise with their circumstances, and engage in genuine dialogue. That means sharing, testing out and maybe challenging each other’s assumptions in skilful and emotionally intelligent ways.

As the elections show, you can’t bring your healthy critical thinking into play without first understanding the what and why of someone else’s view, especially if it’s the polar opposite of your own.

What will you do inside and outside your current echo chambers to get good vibrations for your job and career? 

company size

Company Size: How To Decide What’s Right for You

Would you prefer a small but perfectly formed start-up, or maybe medium-sized is just right? Do you think “the bigger, the better”? Many people are keen to explore the kind of work culture and company size that best suits them – and it can change at different times in your life. The pros and cons of working vary, whether it’s having a more fluid role in a smaller company, having more career progression in a large company or being the master of your own destiny in a start-up company. So, what helps to decide?

Does company size matter?

Those clever people at have created an interactive quiz, Does Size Matter?, which looks at which company size might suit you. Here are some of the differences between them and links to advice from leading experts.

Working for a large company

Company SizeYou’ll likely get access to benefits like private healthcare, generous pension schemes, and a few other perks, too. Your role might be as a specialist, allowing you to focus on your expertise, with the added bonus of a diverse team to collaborate with. If you want a change, a big organisation can give you relocation opportunities and you can try new roles without leaving the company. Here’s the advice leading experts offer on the benefits, drawbacks and myths surrounding working for a large company.

Working for an SME

Company SizeAt an SME, your promotion prospects are greater and your successes are likely to be more visible by the decision-makers. You’ll have more flexibility in your role, allowing you to get involved in many different tasks. An SME is a great place to gain hands-on experience and be creative if you like to learn on the job – and it’s more often about purpose than about the money. Check out the wonderful RISE internship scheme with SMEs in Sheffield. Here’s the advice leading experts offer on the benefits, drawbacks and myths surrounding working for an SME.

Working for a start-up

Company SizeHighlights of working with a very small team include learning on the job, taking initiative, and having a big impact on a company and product. Cutting-edge ideas and experimentation are all part of the start-up experience. Although not all start-ups are successful, improving the company’s viability can also be a fun challenge. Here’s the advice leading experts offer on the benefits, drawbacks and myths surrounding working for a start-up.

Take the quiz to help you discover which company size might suit you. It gives you a starting point to explore and check out the reality.

get hired

How To Get Hired Using The Customer Window

In our busy, attention-deficit world of Gifs and Snapchats, any short-cut that helps a hiring manager get more quickly and succinctly to what you have to offer, must surely be a good thing. This post looks at a framework called the Customer Window and how it can be adapted for job applicants who want to communicate why they would be the right person to get hired.

Imagine your prospective hiring manager is the customer. Just like when you are the customer of a service, you will have expectations and requirements, ranging from the quality, the price, and value, to how the experience makes you feel. The Customer Window focuses on two questions to answer:

  1. What does this employer want and not want from my service or offer as a prospective employee?
  2. What does this employer get and not get from my service or offer if I get hired?

Get hired

The top panes of the window are about ensuring you meet the job requirement in the hiring process. Are you clear about what the employer wants and needs? How can you test this during a job interview? What questions can you ask to see how well you have put your offer across?

The bottom right pane is a mismatch between what you offer and what the hiring manager expects. It’s a common pitfall to rehearse your answers to anticipated questions and stick too rigidly to the script. So, pay keen attention to your listening and observation skills.

The bottom left pane is about delighting the hiring manager with something you offer that has not been considered or adds value in some way.

How one person used it to get hired

I know someone who applied for a job as a team leader in a technical environment. One of the leading criteria was understanding the product area. During the interview, it became obvious her knowledge was limited. However, it also became clear that the team’s relationships were not great. She was excellent at developing people to work well together and had proven experience. She pivoted at the interview, spotting the opportunity, by introducing this added value and they hired her despite her shortcomings on the technical front.

You can apply this framework to any person or group that you want to satisfy. It helps to ensure you cover all the bases, you step into the employer’s shoes and see things from their perspective, and focuses your attention on being laser sharp in communicating what you would provide.

Do you see yourself as a service provider when applying for jobs? Do you see the employer as your customer? Try looking through the Customer Window to help you get hired.


Communicating: What is the Number One Secret Behind The Best?

The singer and musician, Stevie Wonder, was born blind. The brilliant percussionist, Evelyn Glennie has been deaf since childhood. Actress and singer, Marilyn Monroe, overcame a stutter. Their sensory impairments did not prevent them from becoming hugely successful in their lives. They did so much more than make themselves understood. They brought joy to millions of people through expressing their talents and playing to their strengths. And they all knew the number one secret of communicating. This post looks at the lessons for jobseekers.

Communicating intentions

Let’s start with mindset. What is your intention when you communicate verbally? Here are 5 common intentions in the context of job and career:

  • Share, inform and convey – your personality, talents, strengths, potential, your know-why, know-what and know-how
  • Describe and explain – your relevant experiences and skills, complex issues
  • Assert and advocate – your values, beliefs, desires, and ambitions
  • Test and stimulate thinking – your ideas for improvement and solving problems
  • Discover – what employers want, information, ideas, and different perspectives

All these intentions are not enough if the way in which you express yourself verbally does not have the desired impact on other people. What is that impact? To connect emotionally one-to-one or with a group so they feel understood and cared about. Communicating becomes engaging when what you say resonates with the other person. Human connection in a shared space is your primary goal and the number one secret of all great communicators.

And the byproducts are numerous – you build rapport; become likable and believable; you create a positive impression and, over time, a lasting impression. In doing so, you sell yourself and develop relationships at work.

Mindsets and skills

Magician, Brian Miller, talks about the two critical mindsets and skills to adopt and practice more than others if you want to make a genuine connection with people.

  • To listen to understand – for understanding, empathy, compassion and building trust
  • To ask questions – for different perspectives, uncovering assumptions, new knowledge, and showing interest

Watch his excellent TEDx Talk below in which he answers the question ‘What does magic feel like to someone who is blind?’

I’ve never been able to get an audience interested without being interested myself. I find that if someone is talking about their passion—whether it’s horizontal oil drilling, Spanish nurse porn, or stamp collecting—I get sucked in. Penn Jillette, Magician

3 ways to develop your listening mindset

  1. Hold back – Get in the habit of testing your assumptions, ask more questions, make fewer statements.
  2. Check your mood and biases – Consciously enter into conversations with an open mind about the other person or the issue in hand.
  3. Hone your ability – Focus hard and remain in the present moment, practice mindfulness and meditation.

Listening is about giving people genuine attention and that makes them feel good. They will like you more and we all love to be liked. We want to work with people who make us feel good. Listen with your eyes (what you observe), your mouth (what you ask), your head (what you understand), your heart (your intuition), as well as your ears (what you hear).

Listening in your job search

The attitude you choose to bring with you influences the response of the other person. Take a listening attitude to your job search and you will

  • better understand job and business needs
  • gain more of the right knowledge and information, and
  • build rapport with the people who can decide your future.

Continually check out your assumptions about people, companies, and job roles. Listen to the advice of others – then listen to your head and heart to make your own decisions.

Asking questions

Most people I meet just love to talk about themselves. Start talking about yourself in response and you run the risk of competing or showing you are not listening. The shutters come down.

A questioning approach is both a mindset and a skill. It means you are no longer the centre of attention and can feel like turning off the personal spotlight, letting go of control and holding back. That can be uncomfortable.

Asking questions can demonstrate your interest, passion and intelligence for the job. Questions also provide a great marketing opportunity, so you need to think about:

  1. Why you are asking the question
  2. What type of question to ask to shape the answer you seek, and
  3. Know the consequences of each

3 common situations to ask great questions

Communicating the right questions at the right times in the right ways helps build relationships for your job and career search when

  • Networking – if you feel intimidated or tongue-tied, take the pressure off yourself by asking simple questions like“what do you like best about your job?” and “what are your top tips for engaging with your employer?” Ask open questions to get a conversation going and then show your listening skills.
  • At a job interview – Ask probing questions to dig beneath the surface of an issue – like“Exactly what does that mean for my career?” You have a golden opportunity to make an impact when the interviewer asks “Do you have any questions for us?”
  • At an assessment centre – Group activities are a common feature. Ask a relevant question at the right time to stand out from other people who dominate or appear to contribute more than you. Hypothetical questions are great for shaping a discussion, testing an idea or an alternative situation –“What would happen if….?”

You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions. Naguib Mahfouz, first Egyptian Nobel Prize Winner for Literature

In summary, communicating well is a journey from your intentions to the impact you want to have, using listening and questioning to connect with your audience.

career direction

Career Direction: How to Make A More Informed Leap

The lack of institutional careers advice and guidance today leaves young people floundering in rough seas without a compass. Parents approach me for coaching help because of the confusion of their offspring. Helping them decide on a firm career direction is often a well-intentioned parent’s starting point and that can feel like undue pressure for a teenager.

Yet, career paths are more fragmented, diffuse and unclear than in the previous generation. It means placing greater emphasis on exploring. Deciding on a career direction at 16, 18 or 21 is merely a temporary certainty until the next leap. How can young people build confidence by making more informed leaps in their career direction?

A recent CIPD policy report, Alternative Pathways into the Labour Market, points out that:

  • Needing a degree to get a job and needing one to get the job done are very different (hence over-qualified and over-skilled graduates in some occupations).
  • The authors can find no evidence to support the contention that university education reduces the training time needed when people have entered the job. Employers can help by creating higher-skill jobs, and development and progression pathways internally.
  • In an ACCA survey in 2016, 61% of 16-18-olds think employers prefer graduates and 65% saying their parents preferred them to go to university.
  • The existing quality of vocational education and training needs improving. The Government’s target is for 3 million apprenticeships by 2020 and is introducing a Levy on employers of a certain size. The CIPD’s concern is about quantity at the expense of quality.

So you can go to university, get a degree to get you through a door, but it can be a minefield at entry-level to really maximise the gains. Or you can find a quality apprenticeship at the appropriate level. Or you can get a low-level job, start your own business, go freelance, volunteer, travel etc. All the options have implications for funding a sustainable living.

Testament of Youth

It’s important to hear the voice of young people in this. Here’s how it feels to one 21-year-old as they articulate frustration at a narrow mindset in the system and how they experience it:

Throughout the entirety of school you are not accredited for creativity, your own identity or any form of your own ideas. You are accredited for a mark on a paper or regurgitated pieces of information. They spend so much time drilling into you how you should go to university and get a good education. For what? The majority of people have no idea what they’re doing as not enough time has been spent focussing on people as individuals and too much time on what we’re ‘supposed’ to be doing. It is not ‘unrealistic’ or ‘unachievable’ to have different goals to everyone else. Isn’t it better to dream for something than be stuck in a job that you hate for the rest of your life?

Career Direction Signposts

So where can young people and their parents turn? Here are three ideas:

  1. Research suggests that employer contact is the most useful source of career advice through visits to workplaces and work experience. Immerse yourself, test and explore.
  2. Commit yourself to taking responsibility and control for your future by showing your Young Professional credentials. Youth Employment UK gives you access to a range of resources to help develop you for the world of work. Gain a better understanding of what employers look for in an ideal candidate. Learn how to clearly demonstrate your professional development.
  3. The CIPD rightly points to interactive websites like Plotr providing a great basis for the delivery of exciting, up-to-date careers advice to young people. Coaching and mentoring support maximises the benefits. Empower yourself.

You will have several jobs, careers, and work identities in your life. The one you start with won’t be forever. You never stop developing and creating options for your career direction when you reframe education to lifelong learning. Work identity shifts, career direction is not a straight line.

Get clarity by investing in understanding yourself and others, build confidence by doing something that you enjoy or interests you, make a decision and act on it – and repeat when the time is right for you. That’s a path for a more informed leap whatever your stage in life.


What Does Being Professional Really Mean?

To celebrate the launch of the 2nd edition of ‘How to make partner and still have a life’, Heather Townsend, explores what it really means to ‘Be Professional”.

What advice have you had at the start of your career? “Dress for success”, “Always volunteer”, “Be eager, but not pushy” – and plenty more? And I am sure you’ve had it drummed into you that you must always be professional.

What does that mean, exactly?

I don’t think most people really know, judging from the stilted behaviour I see at networking events. Some seem to be so afraid of appearing unprofessional, that they squash every last morsel of personality under a heavy rock and present a dull, corporate, stuffed shirt to everyone, talking about nothing apart from business.


I take their cards with little enthusiasm and make an excuse about needing to circulate. If they stick in my mind, it’s not for good reasons, and, unless they have a stunning reputation, I’m unlikely to send work their way.

So, even if we are hazy about what being professional is –  we are all clear about what it isn’t, aren’t we?

Unprofessional is in the eye of the beholder

I am sure I don’t have to tell you that too much alcohol, photocopiers and body parts, personal comments, sexism, racism, and so on are not professional. You’re too intelligent for that. But, somewhere between these extremes, lies the magic of a real, amusing, likeable, interesting, competent, trustworthy and professional human being.

That’s a start. You won’t ever be able to make everyone like you. My professional standards are going to be different to yours, and different again to the next person’s. It’s a judgement call how far you can reveal personal information about yourself such as your family, hobbies, politics – it will vary according to who you are talking to.

It’s fairly usual to only realise you’ve been unprofessional when someone else tells you so. And you need to decide whether that’s a fair criticism or not.

Professional is not a label you give yourself. It’s a description that you hope others will apply to you. David Maister.

You’ll need psychic ability and common sense

Your firm will have a set of standards to which you should adhere, but these are unlikely to be set out as a checklist. Until you have absorbed the firm’s culture, you might not know you’ve transgressed until it’s too late, and you’re told that everyone knows not to . . . whatever. That’s where you might need a touch of mind-reading. Or watch more experienced colleagues carefully and follow what they do (unless you think they are unprofessional, of course!).

The common sense side of being professional includes:

  • Being inoffensive – but not bland.
  • Never sharing rumours or gossip.
  • Being adult about triumphs and disasters.
  • Never complaining about your firm in public.
  • No backstabbing or undermining colleagues (in your firm or not).
  • Being polite and pleasant even when you don’t like the person.
  • Taking work seriously, owning up to mistakes, and fixing them.

I didn’t need to tell you those, did I?

What’s the basic minimum for being professional?

Like I said, it’s horses for courses, and behaviour that’s fine one day with one set of people might not be fine tomorrow with another set. However, I think there are some baselines below which professional behaviour should never dip. This is my checklist of what being professional means:

  • Taking care of your appearance, dress, and hygiene.
  • Respecting the relationship with the client.
  • Putting the client at the centre of everything you do.
  • Treating your colleagues with respect.
  • Presenting a united front with your colleagues in public.
  • Getting no more than merry if alcohol is served.
  • Not getting into a compromising situation.
  • Not posting anything on social media that could be embarrassing to you, a client, or your firm.

So, once you have ironed out the wrinkles of being unprofessional, just try to be you. Take a genuine interest in the person you are talking to. Share appropriate information about your life. Tell jokes, and laugh. Discuss sport, opera, films, whatever you find you have in common. Build rapport and make people remember you, like you, and want to work with you.

Aristotle said that we are what we repeatedly do. So, if you consistently act in a professional manner, then you will become a professional.

Author Credit

professionalHeather Townsend is a best-selling author and executive coach who helps people make partner in the legal, accounting, and consultancy professions. She blogs on the How To Make Partner website, where you can read many more articles about developing your brand.

The new edition of the best-selling How To Make Partner And Still Have a Life is now out. It’s been called ‘an absolute must-read (and potential life saver) for anyone pursuing a professional career.’

Buy your copy now and get 20% discount with the code H2MPG20

young professional

Young Professional: How to Get A Guaranteed Job Interview

John loved using his hands and designing objects made of wood when he was at school. His favourite subject, Design and Technology, was also his worst result at GCSE. How come? He would make these beautiful ornaments, bowls, and small furniture. Then he would have to write about it. John’s love lay in doing, making and creating, not in describing. It turned him off school and he left at 16. How would someone like John with an emerging talent become employable? How could he follow an alternative path and present himself as a young professional?

young professionalJohn became an apprentice furniture maker. At the age of 21, he had five years of solid work experience and was earning enough to live independently away from home – ironically, in a shared house with university students. Next, he is embarking on a year abroad to North America, teaching snowboarding (another passion) and then seeing how he can use his design skills on his travels. He has plenty of dreams and ambitions like learning chainsaw art, building a log cabin and a narrowboat. A 21st-century explorer.

What has John’s story got to do with getting a guaranteed job interview? As we know, standing out to employers no longer relies solely on qualifications. Your personal journey is unique to you. Furthermore, you have a story to show and tell at any age whatever your circumstances. Most of all, it’s in the showing and telling that you can stand out as a young professional with substance. If he wanted, John could show an employer his furniture products (skills application); explain the difference he has made (customer satisfaction and sales); explore his personal commitment to developing himself (mindset); and present himself as a young professional (identity and reputation).

The single best way to maintain your reputation is to do things you’re proud of. Seth Godin

YEUK Young Professional

There is now a new and innovative way that any young person can show an employer their commitment to being a young professional. Someone like John. Youth Employment UK is a social enterprise campaigning for a youth-friendly culture among UK employers and a platform for the voice of young people on employment issues affecting them. (Btw, declaration of interest – I’m a Non-Executive Director). This week, YEUK launched its free Young Professional membership scheme, open to all 16-24-year-olds in the UK, regardless of education, employment status or background.

Leading employers and organisations like McDonald’s and learndirect Apprenticeships have guaranteed job interviews to any Young Professional alumni applying for relevant opportunities who meet the essential criteria. That’s a direct positive impact on youth employment.

Changing the Rhetoric and Taking Ownership

This is groundbreaking. It shifts the rhetoric away from the negative effects of being labelled NEET (not in employment, education, or training), economically inactive and ‘at risk’ to the positive self-image and pride of calling oneself a young professional with potential.

Our young people are the very fabric of our society. In the not too distant future they will be the leaders of our businesses, economy and political system. Their potential has no limits but the labels we place on them do. The YEUK Young Professional Membership puts the tools into young people’s hands to begin to change the way they and the world see them. Laura-Jane Rawlings, CEO of Youth Employment UK.

And these are not just words. Becoming a YEUK Young Professional shows employers that young people are committed to taking control of their future. Becoming a member starts with passing an online training module. Furthermore, they engage with a programme of self-development in employability skills and behaviours regardless of social background, education attainment or experience. The programme addresses social mobility by creating a level playing field for all young people.

Recent research from the Chartered Management Institute and Ernst & Young, An Age of Uncertainty, found that most young people want more opportunities for work experience. A third from disadvantaged backgrounds lack confidence in their skills and knowledge to get into work locally. Becoming a YEUK Young Professional helps by building self-confidence and enhancing opportunities for work experience and jobs. The scheme already has 100% positive feedback from over 200 initial programme alumni who feel the initiative has boosted their career confidence.

Young People and Employers: How to Sign Up

young professionalIf you are a young person who wants to take ownership and responsibility for your career, becoming a YEUK Young Professional is a no-brainer. Sign up and see the benefits here.

young professionalIf you are an employer of any size, becoming a Community Member is a public commitment to being Youth Friendly. Are you going to guarantee YEUK Young Professionals interviews where their applications meet the essential criteria? Sign up and see the benefits here.