Saturday, 30 August 2014

Pushing the employability agenda

Recently I was out for a beer (no photo, obviously) in Richmond with a group that included Albert, who is in advertising media buying and a former Royal Holloway international management masters student.   He was in the process of hiring for a starter position and said something along the lines of "the applicants we have are much the same, all bright, good degree, keen with oodles of motivation and with around twoish years of retail/customer service experience.  The problem is, it's really hard to tell them apart."  
Royal Holloway Ambassadors at UBC

To help reduce the odds of picking the wrong new hire, Albert and his colleagues had devised an assessment centre that sought to assess applicants performance in a group discussion.  Having whittled some down from the plenary session after lunch, smaller group exercises would be used to see how they performed in a problem solving role play.  The kind of thing I regularly get whinged at about, students seem to have an aversion to these kinds of activities, in spite of being told how important they are.  

Key criteria comprised; 
  (1) How do they work along with other people (n.b. team working) and 
  (2) Do they have the likability factor that makes the decision makers want to work with them ?

Reinforcement for me that my mantra of group work is medicine that you don't like the taste of, but believe me it WILL make you better...

Also out for the night was Tina, who studied for the Royal Holloway MBA five years ago,  currently BBC based, she noted that in the media industry it was who you know, how well networked you are and how you get along in a team that were the critical factors in career progression.  (Implicit strong role performance)  She has found that you can turn people off by talking too much about your higher education, and surmised that what is most important is how you draw on the learnings to help drive superior performance your projects and your wider teams goals. 

Sounds a bit like the X Factor, Louis Walsh 110% Irish tones, "I like you", and Simon Cowell assessing the acts likeabilty factor.  Recently I have been putting finishing touches to a paper I have been writing with colleague Donna on Business Engagement that draws on 20 collaborative partnerships with 10 global/local, huge, medium and small organisations.   One of the key benefits of this partnering approach,  that gives students a range of very practical challenges to apply their learning to, are the soft skills and experience gained from confronting problems as part of team.  

This really reinforces the importance of work experience, summer internships and business competitions, like the undergraduate University Business Competition (UBC) I mentor for (picture above)

Royal Holloway MBA students Packaging challenge in Sweden
My new (academic) year resolution, following a request for something similar from Tina and Peter, is using a social media crowd sourcing request for industry 'problems' that can be used for MBA dissertations (due 1 Sep) and my undergraduate marketing plan assignment (due Dec).  I hope that just a painless one page brief, with email contact to help connect valued enhancing opportunities for students to demonstrate practical application of their management learning.  I have been comforted and inspired by MBA Olga who has written her dissertation in conjunction with the exciting Big Data meets UK retailers Demographics User Group.  Examples of companies offering up challenging and sometimes leading edge meaty projects can be found here by way of example.  Do get in touch if this sounds interesting.