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Dec 15, 2012 02:19 PM IST | Source:

Career coaching that leads to a job

For youngsters seeking a job today, attitude can be as important as knowledge or technical ability gained from an increasingly expensive university education.

For youngsters seeking a job today, attitude can be as important as knowledge or technical ability gained from an increasingly expensive university education.

Graduates might be able to write code for the most demanding of financial trading systems but if they cannot make their ideas comprehensible to others or converse easily with colleagues then their talent is greatly diminished.

This is the conclusion reached by a career coach who offered free counselling to two unemployed graduates after reading a feature in this section under the headline "One in a Million" in November last year. It was written by Jazz Jagger, herself an unemployed graduate at the time, and it described the frustrations of endless internships and no job offers.

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Sarah Dudney was struck by the article and wondered whether the advice and support that she knew would work for a 45-year-old client would also work for someone in their early 20s.

After 11 years of working in recruitment, Ms Dudney founded her firm, Ignite (, in 2011 to provide tailored career coaching and outplacement services and she was prepared to put its resources at the disposal of two candidates selected from the several who responded to her offer, which was also published in this section.

She chose Rob and Zieshan and set herself the goal of giving them the confidence and tactics that would enable them to find work by the summer. One succeeded before the deadline, one just after.

Rob is 21 and dropped out during the third year of a four-year astrophysics degree at Birmingham University, falling back on bar work. He loves sport and is a member of his local cricket team and was a member of the UK under-19 shooting team. Ms Dudney says he is numerate, interested in the City, and completed an internship at JP Morgan in 2010.

By May, Rob had secured a place, thanks to Ms Dudney's help, on the KPMG school leavers' apprenticeship scheme - a six-year salaried contract, which combines work experience with a university course, with fees paid by the employer.

Zieshan is 25 and graduated in business management from Queen Mary University, London, in 2011. He was distracted from his job search by preparations for his marriage in the summer but had worked hard to find employment after graduating. He turned down one offer from a professional services firm in order to accept another - which was then withdrawn as economic conditions worsened.

When he applied for coaching from Ms Dudney, he was finding temporary work with Manpower and found a security job with an agency to make ends meet. Now he is joining Ernst & Young's asset management department working as an account analyst based in London.

Many of the techniques she passed on to the pair are the same as those given to her firm's clients and Ms Dudney estimates that in the six months up to her June deadline, she spent between 20 and 30 hours working with them.

Using weekly or fortnightly Skype video calls, face-to-face meetings and email conversations, she provided guidance on how to generate ideas and create a path that would lead to a career in their areas of interest - for Rob it was actuarial science; for Zieshan back office administration.

They were given help with writing a CV and covering letters or emails; interview and presentation skills; and questioning skills. Advice on how to dress for interviews and meetings was given by Karen Hale, Ms Dudney's colleague and an expert in business image.

They were then introduced to relevant contacts who might offer insights into appropriate career paths: Rob met people at Ernst & Young, Aberdeen Asset Management, and Royal Bank of Canada; Zieshan met contacts via Russell Investments and Invest IT, a consultancy, and reached the final round of interviews for a post at FactSet, a financial data and software company, but wasn't offered a job.

The pair were also set tasks. As part of their instruction in the principles and purpose of networking, they were challenged to collect the details of five relevant contacts at a specific event.

Even with this help, the competition for jobs between graduates is tough: about one in five students who graduated in the last two years remains unemployed, according to the Office for National Statistics.

From working with Rob and Zieshan, Ms Dudney has drawn several conclusions regarding job searches and what employers want from graduates. She says: "Employers today want graduates who are able to transfer confidently from university to the world of work and who offer a very high standard of literacy and numeracy. If they do not have these skills they must address this weakness quickly."

Ms Dudney says a prime example of getting it wrong is using text language in business emails - for example: "thank u for meeting me today".

Graduates must also follow business in the news, she says: "Active understanding of business today, the commercial pressures business people operate under and the uncertainty they face is vital."

She says focus and flexibility of thought are important, as is flexibility of attitude: "In many cases you cannot chose who you work with, so it's best get along with everyone as far as possible."

Graduates also have to be able to move quickly through data to reach insights and introduce their thinking into relevant discussions. They have to be able to work with one set of instructions, given once - and only once. They also need "immediacy" - an ability to grasp problems and get on with working out a solution to suggest to colleagues.

They also have to accept feedback and learn from it: "The Chinese call this 20-25 age group the 'strawberry generation' as they bruise easily under criticism.

"Employers also want graduates who want to work hard and are ambitious for themselves and for their employer. I heard of a UK retailer who in 2012 set up a graduate scheme offering 20 places. It received 10,000 graduate applications but only made 17 offers of employment because it could not find enough candidates with sufficient ambition and hunger."

Ms Dudney says young job-seekers must also move beyond their preferred digital means of communication: "The members of the Facebook generation who will thrive in today's workplace will be those who are just as confident in person and can relate easily to their peers and decision makers in the workplace and are not wedded purely to digital communication.

"They have to listen to, and converse with, anyone in business at any level. This is the most important point for the Facebook generation - they might have the confidence to email Mark Zuckerberg but could they initiate a conversation with him if they were both stuck in a lift?"

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