With the spotlight growing on graduate employability, it’s worth remembering that this isn’t only a matter for universities. Young people can, and should, take control of their own careers and steps to strengthen their hand, considering multiple entry points including apprenticeships. But many also need practical advice.
We asked 20 chief executives taking part in CEO for a Day, a future talent initiative run globally by Odgers Berndtson, for some of their top tips for those starting out.
Here’s some of their advice:
1. “Do challenge the norm, look at details but don’t get bogged down, ask questions, try things and learn and take an active interest in people. Don’t forget that behind all the numbers are people, feel over-whelmed or be over-confident – find a happy medium. And try not to focus on status and hierarchy – all leaders had to start somewhere,” advises David Stevens, CEO of insurer Admiral Group.
2. “The business we are in (Build to Rent) has doubled in the last 10 years, is currently 4.7m households in the UK, and due to grow to 7.2m households by 2025,” says Helen Gordon, CEO of Grainger plc, the UK’s largest residential landlord. “While it is physical buildings, (our business) will be enabled by technology and our service offering will need to reflect this. We will be looking at recruiting more people with good emotional intelligence and good technology skills.”
3. “I think understanding your customer and anticipating their needs are key to addressing the ever-changing nature of healthcare and services. I’m focused on creating an environment at Bupa which inspires and empowers our people to serve our customers,” says Evelyn Bourke, CEO of private healthcare provider BUPA .
Her advice to young people looking to get on? “Do your research – remember to read up about the CEO you’re meeting with, their business, their interests and the wider sector they work in. Be proactive – if you want to know more about a business, experience it for yourself. And ask questions – prepare a shortlist on topics you want to know more about.”
4. Tim Stacey, chief executive of furniture-maker DFS says the next generation of leaders “will need second-to-non interpersonal skills. The ability to engage and motivate teams is critical to good leadership. Therefore fine-tuning engagement and communications skills to ‘bring people with you’ on the journey is a must. Getting a diverse and disparate workforce to genuinely buy into your vision, and be actively engaged in it, is a skill that shouldn’t be underestimated.”
His practical tips for young people looking to get on in the jobs market? “Be authentic. Seek to understand first and work really hard, recognising you need to earn the right to be at the table. But don’t worry about hierarchy, or feel you need to be the cleverest person in the room. And don’t demand respect, earn it.”
5. Professor Mary Stuart, Vice-Chancellor of Lincoln University advises young people to take on new challenges and widen their experience. “Don’t wait to be handed work,” says Professor Stuart. “Volunteer to take on new projects, as long as you have capacity to deliver. Taking initiative demonstrates autonomy, leadership and a keen willingness to further the company’s objectives.”
Since we launched CEO for a Day, over 18,000 students around the world have applied, with more than 400 students and CEOs taking part. For many of them, the experience has turned out to be a game-changer.
Lakechia Jeanne was studying biomedical science at Hull University when she won a place on UK CEOx1Day in 2016. “It was an incredible experience. I was paired with Ian Filby (then CEO of DFS), and our match was perfect, as he had studied chemistry at university. I could see how he used science to create a unique career path and grow in his field.” Lakechia now works in Government Policy and has founded Girls in Science to change mindsets in schools.
Another UK winner, Vikesh Mistry, was studying business entrepreneurship and innovation at De Montfort University when he was paired with Haydn Mursell, CEO of Kier Group. Vikesh has since gone on to join Kier’s graduate training scheme.
Opportunities to gain exposure and experience to organisations are not always obvious. Utilising social media channels and traditional networking can also provide good ways to speak with and meet leaders in organisations, outside the traditional internships or graduate programmes.
One word of wisdom can be key. But whatever the route, being pro-active and tenacious will impress - and could also lead more directly to opportunities.