What career advice would you give to your younger self?
I have recently been asked to deliver a talk to a group of Year 9-11 students (aged 13-16) who want to know more about finding a Digital based role in business. The content around what our business does and the roles we offer pretty much writes itself but finding a way to deliver life and career advice to a room full of teenagers is far more challenging!
On paper, my experience of being a parent to two children in that age bracket (and a third to reach it soon) should mean that I am well placed to deliver advice to that very age bracket. Unfortunately, parenting teenagers isn’t done on paper. As anyone with a teenage son or daughter will know, dispensing advice as a parent is rarely a straightforward process and largely ignored! My solution will therefore be to deliver a talk as an prospective employer, not as a Dad!
The next challenge presented was where do I actually begin answering the question
“What advice would you give to your 13-year-old self”?
My memories of that period in my own life are both distant in time and low on clarity but several things do stand out...
Firstly, I understand even less now, about how a 13 year old is supposed to make decisions about which subjects to take if they believe that it could form their future career path. That’s a lot of pressure on anyone, let alone a child with all their future ahead of them. Looking back now, those decisions had no bearing on my career and frankly neither should they have. My advice now, on that point, would be simply as follows:
Wherever possible, choose subjects you enjoy and absorb as much information and knowledge as you physically can using whatever resource you can. In and out of the classroom. And not just the internet. Speak to people you know, who also enjoy that subject, and take advantage of the knowledge they possess and the perspective they can provide. This advice should apply just as much to the career path you follow as the GCSEs you choose.
You will have to take on subjects that may not be your ideal choice. Applying yourself the best you can, to something that you find a challenge, will be a far greater benefit to your future career than the subject matter concerned.
The second thing I remember was thinking about what job I wanted to do. There was a phase of wanting to be a rugby player. It wasn’t even a job when I was at school but in reality the greater hurdle was ability; both to play and to avoid injury! There was also a phase of wanting to follow my late father’s footsteps into the Police Force (where he served as a Special Constable). I then wanted to be an Architectural Technician, which was his main day job, and I carried this hope into my university years as I read Structural Engineering with Architecture. That didn’t pan out either but other doors opened and a my journey began. So what advice would I give to myself aged 13 regarding finding a career?
Similar to subject choices, I would start with whatever your passions are and what careers might be connected to that – but don’t over-analyse as your ideal job may not have even been invented yet!
Absorb as much as you can about that industry (if there is one you are passionate about) but more importantly gather as much knowledge as you can about about the work place and business in general
Get a summer role/part time role (ideally connected to what you enjoy doing but actually any volunteering, community, job experience will help you work out what you like and don’t like)
Take any opportunity you can to ask anyone about what they do as a job even if it's not something you know much about.
The final thing I remember agonising over was how my qualifications look on my CV. A really difficult thing to do at the start of your career with no context or experience to fall back on now. My best advice looking back now would be as follows:
Do the best you can with whatever qualification you are aiming for. Present them as what you learned, not just the grade.
Your CV is actually more about what else you have done than your grades as a 15 year old. Your hobbies, what motivates you, your values, your personality, what makes you an individual.
Join a sports club or if sport isn’t your thing, find a community club and get involved. Volunteer to coach or help others.
Get a summer job, paid or otherwise. Don’t spend summer holidays in bed!
Speak to business people about what they really look for in a CV (and in an interview).
Reaching the end of the blog, I’m not sure whether the best audience for my talk will be the students to help them make the best choices they can or to remind hiring managers of what it was like to be a young student looking for a job and help them be a better recruiter. And do you know what? I don’t think it actually matters. Anything that any of us can do to help our brilliant young people find the best roles for them is a win-win in my view.