How to really get ahead in the job market

In a competitive world, first-class academic qualifications are not enough to get pupils into a good university or lead to a well-paid job…

A recent survey for the Independent Schools Council of 2,057 parents showed that they rated “Better start to life/more chances in life/better chance for future careers”, as the third most important reason for sending their child to an independent school. This compared with “Better results/would get on better” which was seventh.

 

“Qualifications may not be enough”

In an increasingly competitive and global world, many young people are realising that “just” having first-class academic qualifications may not be enough. So, what do students need to give them the edge both in terms of getting in to a prestigious university, and subsequently, to a rewarding and well-paid job? If you talk to admissions officers from Oxford or Cambridge, for example, they will say that they have, by default, to look beyond A level or IB results because most of their applicants are predicted straight A or A* grades.

At the same time, employers frequently lament the fact that many school leavers and graduates are simply not “work ready” when they start to apply for jobs. This is often regardless of whether they have good academic grades. Having been captain of the rugby team or head girl, helps but is not enough. This is because, while identifiable leadership roles are, of course, a bonus, it is often the skills that have propelled them into positions of this kind which are most important.

 

“40% of jobs today were not even thought of 10 years ago”

In a rapidly changing world where 40% of jobs today were not even thought of ten years ago, it can be hard to determine which skills will be most relevant and stand the test of time in a rapidly changing jobs market. There is an increasing realisation – indeed acceptance – that, in addition to solid academic qualifications, a young person needs to demonstrate that they have a range of “life” or “non-cognitive” skills too. Most parents are aware of the importance of interpersonal skills – getting along with people; being able to work as a part of a team and being able to demonstrate confidence, but there are also other qualities that make a real difference for employers.

 

Looking for team players

Megan O’Malley, head of recruitment at McKinsey & Company, the global management consultancy firm supports this view.

“Academic results are important but we also want recruits who are team players and can demonstrate commitment and leadership in other activities, not just in the exam hall. In our experience, range of academic and extracurricular backgrounds creates stronger, more effective teams.”

And interestingly, Laslo Bock, Senior Vice President of Google states, “there is no correlation between good exam results and good employee interview scores. How you perform in the workplace is not the same as how you perform in college.”

 

Slotting into a flexible and responsive workforce

Supporting their findings, business lobbying organisation, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) comments, “employees today are required to demonstrate a range of qualities and skills enabling them to be part of a flexible and responsive workforce.”

There is now evidence to suggest that academic qualifications and subject or functional knowledge count for around 50% of a young person’s ability to do a job well – at any level. The other 50% is made up out of an individual’s ‘character’ – focus, persistence, ability to cope with failure, make connections and think critically. Some of these attributes are a valued by-product of the act of study itself. It might seem a grind at the time, but application and good study skills will stand a young person in good stead when the world of work beckons.

 

‘Socialisation’ at school

Many young people will already have picked up many of these characteristics from their family background. But in addition, the ‘socialisation’ continues at school and this is where the extra-curricular activities have such an important role to play. There may be complaints about having to run around a hockey pitch in the rain or give a presentation to parents on a Saturday morning, but this is exactly where important characteristics such as resilience, determination and confidence are acquired.

 

Reaching their full potential

Exam results are a useful proxy, but on their own they are not enough. Parents need to ensure that their son or daughter can understand how to improve and make the most of their skills. Some of the best schools use psychometric profiling tools to help students identify their strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, interests and aptitudes, and then link them to possible future careers. This, in turn can help a student understand their passions, choose what further studies might suit them best, and be motivated to pursue a career where they can reach their full potential. Other schools invite in stimulating speakers and send their students on “employer insight days”.

There is a real role for parents here too. If your school is looking for volunteers to come and talk to the students about your occupation, remember that this can give young people valuable insight into the world of work and what it might entail. Equally, lobby school leaders and governors to start taking careers advice and guidance seriously. When it comes to our children’s future, as they say “every little helps”.

 

Virginia Isaac is the Chief Executive of The Inspiring Futures Foundation, which gives expert careers advice and guidance to young people and helps them make informed decisions about their future.

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