I was recently tasked with simulating interviews for a group of school leavers. To start with I wasn’t too enthralled about going. I was there on behalf of a colleague who’d had a better offer – I was sure I would rather be at a corporate bash sipping champagne too! But on reflection, perhaps it was actually her who missed out and not me.
It was great to see a bunch of young people, just verging on adulthood, representing raw untapped talent. Without the taint of corporate cynicism or office politics, their dreams had no bounds. In ten years’ time they saw themselves in fantastic jobs, living in America, acting in Hollywood and driving fast cars. However, the foundation of these plans was based on very little or no experience of the world of work. That place is very different to the safety of school and parents most of them have right now, and my hopes for their futures were tinged with the sad reality that not all their wishes would come true.
Just like anywhere there was a real mix of characters, but interview-wise they generally fell into one of two distinct categories; those who were confident (either real or fake), and those who were shy. The unique and unexpected thing I found was that regardless of where they fell on this spectrum, they were clear about their strengths and what they were good at, as well as their weaknesses and what they weren’t so good at. Despite our experience, how many of us can say we take such an honest view of ourselves?
It’s this type of experience that takes one back to the murky depths of our memories when we were likewise fresh and young and eager to take on what life threw at us (oh how little we knew!). For me, it was just over half my lifetime ago that I planned to change the World. Now here I am, a little (ahem) older and hopefully a little wiser, but still the World is still pretty much the same and those plans are gathering dust in a drawer. Where did all that time go, and what do I really have to show for it?
I thought I’d do a little survey and ask each of my “candidates” what they thought the acronym “HR” stood for. I interviewed the whole day and only one knew the answer. The career path I have chosen is something that 90% of teenagers haven’t got a clue about. Of course I didn’t either when I was their age, and if someone had tried to explain it to me, well, it might have gone a little something like this;
Young Helen: So what do you do in “HR”?
Old(er) Helen: One of the things we do is determine pay and benefits that will engage employees and help motivate them to do their jobs
Young Helen: What jobs do they do? That sounds far more exciting, I’d rather be getting paid for doing a great job than just sorting out the pay!
Old(er) Helen: We also do other stuff like learning and development – organising courses that ensure people have the skills they need to be competent in their roles.
Young Helen: Er, again can’t I just go on the course? I’m sure that would be far more useful and enjoyable!
Hopefully that made my point, which is that is very hard to explain HR to a sixteen year old with plans for World domination without sounding completely boring.
Like with any other recruitment process, at the end of the interview the tables were turned and they could ask the questions. They came out with some corkers that demonstrated insight beyond their years and struck to the heart of me – had I made the right career choice? If I could go back would I change anything? Nothing like a good bit of soul searching to throw you off course! Needless to say these issues have crossed my mind from time to time, I’m sure they do for everyone, but I don’t think anyone has ever asked me outright before.
What I told them was this. No, I wouldn’t change anything. And I meant it. I’ve always told myself that regret was pointless – there’s no going back. Some of them even faced the same dilemma I had at their age – should they choose an artistic career, which they loved, but had a low chance of success? All I could tell them was, take other people’s opinions on board but at the end of the day, do what is right for you. I hoped that was enough. I felt the pressure of someone’s future resting on my advice. The advice nobody gave me all those years ago.
While I thought each of those young people were amazing individuals, I felt the most affinity with, and feared the most for, those who were most like me. Yes I know, classic interviewer’s bias, but this wasn’t a real recruitment situation. In reality, confidence matters more than almost any other skill. Not just at interview, but before that. This is wrong. Recruitment companies are missing out sifting through candidates based on how they can sell themselves via a few words on two sheets of A4. Amazing talent and potential are still found in the most quiet, unexpected corners.
So I never managed to change the World. I hope these young people can.