27 May 1987 was the day I started working at Leeds City Council. Looking back as I reach the 30 year anniversary, I imagine not many people have a good idea how their career will work out. 

Despite planning and professional development intentions, extra skills and experience you might gain from volunteering, sometimes it’s about being in the right place at the right time. 

I’ve learnt that sharing what you know can make a good idea great or stop a stupid idea going further. Also there will be times when keeping your mouth shut even when you know you are right can be the wisest thing to do. All these are some of the experiences we pick up along the way but perhaps don’t realise at the time.

Currently, amongst other things I’m involved with, I find myself part way through a recruitment and induction process where six communications and marketing graduates will join our communications team at Leeds City Council. This was going to be a looking back post but it actually seems more fitting to reflect on new blood and share the learning from the recruitment process for future applicants and anyone considering recruiting.

Over 150 graduates applied so it was a lot of work ensuring all application forms were fairly assessed. We could have taken far more applicants to the next stage but, being realistic, it just wasn’t practical.

That meant application forms had to be bang on the money and specifically relevant to the placements we were offering. Last gasp, generic applications stand out as much as those where applicants have done their research and tailored their applications accordingly. 

Learning point 1 – it shows if you can’t be bothered with an application form. If you can be bothered; that shows too. You need to make the effort if you want to be taken seriously.

Learning point 2 – if you get an invitation to an assessment day or interview and are asked to confirm you are coming, please do. It really helps to get off on a good footing, recruitment is as much about attitude as it is knowledge.

The recruitment process included an application then, if successful, an assessment day including group problem solving, written and creative tests and discussions with our wider team. If selected, applicants then had to navigate an interview on a separate day.

When assessing these young people it reminded me what I was like when job hunting. As a father of both an apprentice and a graduate who is now six months in to a work placement, it also brought back what it’s like for young people trying to get on the employment ladder. It’s not easy.

Learning point 3 (for recruiters) – don’t underestimate the time it takes to prepare and carry out a graduate recruitment exercise.

Whilst time consuming and mentally exhausting it was a really rewarding experience, especially seeing those that hadn’t totally nailed the assessment day then give us what we were after at interview.

Learning point 4 (for recruiters) – Apprentices and graduates have little experience of real working life. They are applying for an entry level role that will show them how to work as much as what to do. They sometimes need the benefit of doubt when assessing their experience so don’t be too harsh on assessing. You can always use an interview to confirm or allay any doubts you may have. Have a range of people of different ages and experience doing the assessing too as it brings different perspectives.

One thing you do know when you are making recruitment decisions is you will disappoint more people than you please. That’s tough but part of the process and learning for next time. The most poignant moment for me was when feeding back to one of the interviewees who just missed out. I took some time to ask them how they felt the whole assessment day and interview process went for them? Had my feedback made sense and did they agree? Following the feedback they thanked me and the recruitment panel for making them believe in themselves again as before the process they had doubted their ability. I know they will be successful soon.

Learning point 5 (for recruiters) – take time to give constructive feedback to those who are unsuccessful. They need to understand they have not failed and may have been really close. It’s the smallest things that may make a difference for them next time.

For the successful ones, I can see they are some of the smartest young people; streets ahead of where I was when I started. They’ve all gained good educations and clearly demonstrated they wanted a career in public sector comms and marketing. They’ve also navigated my killer interview questions.

Learning point 6 – if you come to an interview for a comms and marketing job and haven’t worked out what your personal strapline would be then…really!! what were you thinking?

When they start, much as they shouldn’t forget what they’ve been educated to do, they will need to have an open and enquiring mind, don’t forget common sense but also realise they won’t change the world in six months. Patience is a virtue. I know.

Half a dozen new starters in a team of 30 odd is a big ask. We know it will take time and effort to help them get settled in and up to speed with how local government works. It will change our team dynamics, and definitely the age profile. In the long term it will get us nearer to being the team we want and need to be.

So it’s rewarding for me to know I’ll get to support them and get them started on the right track, sharing what I’ve learned and importantly what I didn’t but would have benefited from if I had.

Learning point 7 – as your career progresses and develops into a leadership role, it becomes more about how you do things and encourage others to learn, progress and be better than yourself.

Some of our new recruits may start on the same day I notch up 30 years service. They will get cake on their first day. 

None of them were born when I started my first day at work. I hope some remember their first day in another 30 year’s time. 

And obviously share their experience for their newbies.

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