How to dramatically increase your chances of getting a job in today’s economy

By Susan November 16, 2011 16:45

How to dramatically increase your chances of getting a job in today’s economy



As a speaker, I often talk in schools to students in 4th, 5th or 6th year. I often hear adults complaining that teenagers are a tough bunch, they don’t listen to advice, they are immature and unaware of the realities of the world, etc, etc. While teenagers are certainly a challenging audience (and often admit it themselves!), I find that they are very aware of today’s realities, sometimes painfully so. Much more than we give them credit for…


A few years ago I gave a talk at a school. After my talk one student came up to me and asked, “Do you think there will be much cuts in the budget this year?”

I said, “I don’t know, were you thinking of something in particular?”

Social welfare and child benefit.”

“But you’re too young for either of those! Unless I’m wrong…”

“No, no, you’re right; it’s just that my father has been out of work two years, and I wanted to take home something positive to tell him tonight, to cheer him up.”


This was heart rending.

What do you tell someone so young, whose family has been hit hard by the recession, who lives in a home where money is tight?


Give yourself the very best life you can


I said “You could worry about all of that, but it wouldn’t really help your dad, would it? What will really help your parents is if you give yourself the very best life you can.” He is probably in college by now.


On October 11th I talked at a school in Limerick. I started off by asking: “How many of you are worried about getting a job? How many of you think there are no jobs out there?”


Almost all hands went up.


That’s a sight to make anyone weep. Young Irish people are mired in anxiety, some of them see their own brothers and sisters having to emigrate to find work, or see the power being cut off in their own homes. They feel powerless and guilty for being dependent on their parents, even though they’re still very young.


This is why I find it very important to talk to students in schools. They need hope and inspiration, more than ever. If I can give them that, I feel that I have accomplished something. And I also love talking to young people. They are very open-minded, their outlook on life is still fresh. They are hungry to hear how other people have done it – they love learning, they just hate being taught, really…


You have the power to make it be alright


I didn’t try to allay their fears by soothing promises of “It will all be alright, don’t worry…” What good would that have been?! In fact, it would have been quite insensitive, since who knows what they are going through? And I don’t think it’s very helpful, either, as many young people at that age feel powerless.


After all, what freedom of action do they have? They don’t vote, they don’t earn money yet, they have to obey their parents, their teachers… They are dependent, and as a result they feel helpless. How could I possibly ask them to “just trust me on this one”? And how can I promise them that it will be alright? I can’t predict the future.


What I do know, though, is this: they have the power to make it be alright. They can choose to widen their horizon, to increase their skill set, to be tomorrow’s solutions to today’s problems.


A widely held view is that economists always get it all wrong and can’t get us out of the recession. I tell students that if they are not happy with today’s economists, well, they can study and become tomorrow’s better economists.


I want students to leave my talk feeling empowered, feeling that they are very much in the driver’s seat. I can’t promise them that it will be alright, but I can show them how they can make it be alright.


Hint: it does take some work.


Since when is it cool to not work hard?


I had a lot of fun with that one. I absolutely silenced the whole lot of them by asking: “Since when is it cool to not do your homework? To not start revising for Leaving Cert? To never work hard? I’m an employer. Do you think I would hire you in my organization with that kind of attitude?”


You could see their collective jaws drop – “WHAT?!”


But you could also hear the discreet sighs of relief of those who are made fun of because they’re “swots” (I used to be one of them). At that age you don’t know how to handle it, it’s an embarrassment, but later you find it’s actually a badge of honour. It puts things in perspective to hear that you’re actually doing it right, from somebody who is an adult, but was sitting in your seat not too long ago. They might not necessarily take this from a teacher, because everybody knows teachers come from another planet altogether. Right?


Don’t study hard. Study smart.


I also shared some of my experience as a Leaving Cert student. Maybe it’s irrelevant, but I’m still proud that I got 100% in my French oral. Is that boasting? I don’t care, as long as I worked hard to get that result, and as long as I can tell other people how I did it, so they can replicate it.


I got 100% in my French oral, and I didn’t study half as hard as other students in my class. I loved French and could enjoy learning the language without the stress the rest of them were going through because I studied smart.


See, the language oral has marks for “communication” (understanding what the examiners say) and “language” (actually speaking good French). So when the examiner asks “The European economy seems to be in a lot of trouble right now. Do you think it will recover?“, think of this before you break into a cold sweat:


There aren’t any marks for actually answering the question.


Seriously…The examiner knows an 18-year-old doesn’t have the answer to life, the universe and everything. How could a Leaving Cert student answer a question about the European economy, when even the G20 are scratching their heads?


The question is just a conversation starter. Remember, you get marks for showing your examiner you understood the question, and then for speaking French. And that’s what I did in my own oral. I completely took control of the conversation.


I might have answered the question above with “Personally, I think the European economy is indeed in a lot of trouble at the moment, and I think there is no easy way out of this. I know a little bit about this because I study Economics, as well as A, B, C and D [insert detailed account of my life at school]. Even with economic problems, Europe is a beautiful continent and I’d like to visit many countries like Greece and Germany on holidays. Speaking of holidays, last year I went to [insert detailed account of summer holidays].”


There you have it. Is that cheating? Absolutely not. Remember, nobody said you actually have to answer the question. Take the initiative, and the examiner can just sit back and listen to you. They will be very happy to give you an excellent mark.


Little did I know that ten years later, I would be teaching the exact same principles of smart thinking and smart work to corporate audiences.


Getting a return on your investment“, they call it.


Don’t be afraid to stand up and stand out


Most students are afraid of the future, some of them even have to face difficult situations in their homes, and I want to give them ideas, show them what I did to pay my way through college, for example.


And then there are the ones who are very ambitious, but come from a background where it’s not acknowledged. Their parents worked hard to get them where they are today, but they would feel almost embarrassed to shoot for the stars.


Maybe it’s to do with an Irish mentality of not blowing your own horn, of being mistrustful of sucessful people. It’s a shame, because it holds people back.


To a degree I come from a background like that, where modesty was emphasised. My mum and dad always encouraged me to be a good student, of course, and they never held me back, but they didn’t particularly push me to become a business person, or to be in the media. I did that on my own.


The thing is, if you are ambitious, you end up feeling that what you dream of is not possible, or even that it’s wrong, that you don’t deserve it. I can identify, I used to be like that.


Does it help any of us in the least when a talented young person doesn’t dare to go after what they can achieve? You bet it doesn’t.


Take the opportunity


I look out for students who come to talk to me at the end of the presentation. The pervading feeling among students is that you should blend in, you shouldn’t attract attention to yourself, especially not the attention of adults or teachers! Who knows, your peers might think that you’re “sucking up” to them…


In general only one or two people come up to me afterwards, to thank me and to say they enjoyed the talk. While I do enjoy the compliment, this is not what I’m most interested in. I know that these students are not afraid to set themselves apart from the rest (who troop out of the room as quickly as they can). They stand out, and they will stand out in their own career.


Funny how that simple thing, singling yourself out to exchange a few words with a stranger, tells volumes about your ability to succeed in life. Could it be a predictor of future success? After all, this is how I got my first job.


I always made a point to go to the speaker after a talk and thank them. Once the speaker and I had a short chat and exchanged a few ideas, then I followed up with an email… and got a job interview. That was the starting point in my career.


All young people need is ideas, they just need to know that it can be done, that somebody has done it before.


Then they can go do it.


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By Susan November 16, 2011 16:45