Community: The Social

What makes you employable?

Standing out from the crowd and being able to identify your skills are just two of the tips that productivity ninja Graham Allcott lets us in on during his live chat about employability. Graham dropped by to answer your questions on building your confidence, getting back on the career ladder, online volunteering and more.


Graham Allcott: Hello everyone, nice to be here with you all. Feel free to ask any questions :)

clementine: I left university in 2010 with a BA. I'm due to have a baby at the end of January next year and I plan on being a stay at home mum for a few years. I'm very aware that it will affect my employability in the future though. Do you have any ideas on how to avoid falling behind and to keep my skills up to date during early motherhood?

Graham Allcott: Thanks for your question Clementine. Can I ask what kind of general career sector you're looking at?

ashah: What did you study at university clementine?

clementine: My BA was in English and American Literature. I then started an MA in Social Work but I left because I wasn't sure if it was the right career for me. I'd like to work in the social/voluntary sector.

Graham Allcott: I think one thing that could be interesting is if you're able to do some kind of part time work or something online, while you're at home. This will help you to keep your foot in the door a bit. There are some good resources such as NCVO's 'Working for a charity'. They do some good courses as well as online resources which might help as well.

clementine: Thanks!

Claire: You could also volunteer for Leaders, that's all done online :D

Helen - TheSite mod: Yep, we're hopefully going to add an online learning element to TheSite  Leaders too :)

Graham Allcott: So much of work and volunteering is available online now. There are lots of skills to be gained from home.

clementine: Yeah, I agree that studying and working online would be the easiest route. I'm hoping to do more work with TheSite too :)

Graham Allcott: And of course, there are some amazing transferrable skills from motherhood. The trick with that is making sure you can sell those skills to employers. Does that help a bit?

clementine: Yes, thanks Graham it does. I initially thought volunteering but didn't think a lot about volunteering online.

Graham Allcott: Glad it helps :)

CptCoatHanger: Should we not be sceptical about taking 'Getting Ahead Advice' from someone who's gotten ahead by giving advice? It all feels a bit Tony Robbins to me.

Graham Allcott: Good question. At university I made myself employable by doing a lot of volunteering work. I've also had quite a varied career that has included working for charities, working with major businesses and even some work with government - as well as founding a couple of initiatives as well - those are some of the perspectives I can bring.

Helen - TheSite mod: Thanks for clarifying this experience Graham :)

Graham Allcott: I'm giving advice here based on those experiences.

sam: I took a two year break from work and I'd like some advice on how to start again? I feel that this break has affected my career. I feel low in confidence when it comes to applying for jobs and going for interviews, especially when they ask what I've been doing for two years. I need a job soon but I feel it's a little late to start in a new organisation. I have plenty of freelance work experience as well as two years full time experience as an H.R manager. I'd also like some advice on writing a CV and writing cover letter.

Graham Allcott: Thanks sam, good question. I'm wondering whether some form of internship or perhaps a short term contract might be a good stepping stone? I think the key thing is to not go back to starting at the bottom of the ladder. Often it's much easier to get a job that isn't at the bottom of the ladder if you're already in a job - it doesn't usually matter if the job you're in is temporary or long term.

There are probably lots of other ways that you can do activities that can boost your confidence too. I would make working on your confidence a particular focus and remember that an interview panel won't believe in you if you don't believe in yourself. Putting over the best version of you in a confident way is your best bet, even if you don't feel that confident inside.

sam: Thanks Graham but I do want to go for a full time job. I need to make money as I'm planning to adopt a child. Should I start with a mid level job and look for a company where I see a future or should I look for a job in a company where I make money but there aren't many future prospects? Getting money and having a long term job is going to be a priority.

Graham Allcott: My idea with the temp thing is that it is often easier to get work quickly when temping, especially with freelance experience. And when you have a job, you are much more attractive to an employer. So starting off with a temp job means that you are in a better position to get a more long term job that you want. Plus, going to interviews for temp and shorter term jobs can help give you interview practice and build your confidence. Does that help a bit?

sam: Yes Graham thanks, it's  good advice. I'll look forward to getting some interviews!

clementine: Temping over Christmas last year really helped with my self confidence. My friend temped for a while and her CV looked amazing, it shows adaptability.

Helen - TheSite mod: Great, thanks Graham. We have a very quick question from Hope - 'What age did you start volunteering?'

Graham Allcott: Hi Hope. I did some volunteering at school, so I would have been about 13. It was working in a cafe fundraising for TRAID. My main volunteering really started in my second year of university. University is a good place to get some volunteering experience while your loan is paying the rent and you don't have to work full time.

Claire: I'm in a job that I'm very passionate about, a job I love and worked hard to get into. However, I sometimes struggle to stay motivated with work life. I don't know if that's normal as I do love my job. I work in a nursery looking after children and I've been there for about four years now. I love it but I have days where I lack motivation and think why do I bother going in?

Graham Allcott: Thanks for your question Claire. My question back to you would be, are there any particular things happening at work at the moment that you think might be having an impact on how you feel?

In general in terms of motivation, always make sure that the goal that you are aiming for is out of your head and on paper, that you've written in down. It sounds like a trivial thing but doing that commits it to being a real aim that exists in the world. Psychologically, it makes you feel different about plans you have made to have them written down.

The other good thing about this is that you can revisit those goals regularly. Sometimes we need to be reminded about our motivation for things otherwise we let the everyday worries get in the way of the bigger picture.

sam: Claire, I think what you feel is very normal. Is it due to the monotonous side of the job? I don't know what rules are in place but is there a way you could make it more interesting?

Claire: It's just got really demanding at the minute. We have a challenging child, so that's quite tough and stressful. We also have to do a lot of paperwork so I think that could have something to do with it as well as other members of staff.

Graham Allcott: I'm wondering whether this lack of motivation is perhaps also being felt by other members of the team? It may be that there are changes that can be made to accommodate the challenges of this child. Even if you have done everything you can, it might be worth sharing these on a team level so everyone can air them publically. This might also spark up some new ideas about how to tackle it.

It does seem like it is something that is affecting others too, so could be something you could bring up together and work out ways to try and deal with.

Claire: Yeah I guess so. It's just got to the point now, where I don't want to go to work.

Graham Allcott: It might be worth finding one trusted colleague who you can talk to in more depth. And finally, it's worth thinking about whether you could be in the right career but with the wrong employer?

Claire: Yeah, I guess I have a lot to consider :)

Graham Allcott: Good luck Claire, I hope things look up a bit soon.

Helen - TheSite mod: Yep, lots to keep you thinking Claire, I like the idea of coming up with ways to work as a team a bit better if you can. On to Flow's question...

Flow: I do a lot of voluntary work. I have always been interested in work, but I'm only 15. Are there any paid jobs I can do? If not, am I doing the right thing by doing voluntary work to get more experience?

Graham Allcott: You're definitely doing the right thing by doing voluntary work Flow. In terms of the particular career that you want to go into, it might be worth looking at the volunteering you're doing and making sure you have some that fits your potential career.

For example, if you're volunteering with a small charity and you want to go into marketing, you could ask the charity you are working with if you could also spend some time working in the marketing section.

Flow: I volunteer at Scope and I work with St John's Ambulance with young children.

Graham Allcott: Is that the sort of thing you're interested in Flow? There are lots of transferable skills in that work too. Any skills you can gain around leadership and management is great - leading a team or liaising with other volunteers always looks good too. Here's a link about work for under 18s too.

Helen - TheSite mod: Advice guide also has more info on the rules for those over 14 but under 18.

"Don't just list skills, tell stories. For each skill, you should be saying 'I did x, which means I am good at y so for this role it means I could transfer this skill z'. There's a nice little phrase 'facts tell, stories sell' - try and paint a picture of yourself."

Flow: I'm interested in working with air traffic control at the moment, so I'm looking into going there for my work experience this year.

Graham Allcott: That sounds great, sounds like you're really on top of things. It would be worth thinking about volunteering you can do to give you skills in planning, attention to detail, strategic thinking etc., or conducting aeroplanes ;)

Helen  - TheSite mod: Cool, thanks Graham, next question is from Megan.

Megan: I'm finding it really difficult to find a job. I understand it's difficult for everyone at the moment with the job cuts but I feel as though being a student in college and not having any previous job experience really puts me at the bottom of the pile. How can I go about upping my appeal to employers? I'm struggling with what to put on my CV and it's getting slightly disheartening.

Graham Allcott: Thanks Megan, I agree, it's a very difficult time right now. I'm wondering if there are some things that you can do to help you stand out from the crowd. I have a friend who has written a book called 'Ideas Man' and he tells a story about wanting to get his dream job at Channel 4. To stand out from the crowd he sent pizza at lunch time to the interview panel boss with a personalised note introducing himself and asking for him to be shortlisted for the job.

Obviously you can't do that for every job - but standing out from the crowd is something to think about! You also need to 'play the game' to an extent. One way of doing this is to structure your CV and covering letter by addressing each of the points on the person specification.

Don't just list skills, tell stories. For each skill, you should be saying 'I did x, which means I am good at y so for this role it means I could transfer this skill z'.

There's a nice little phrase 'facts tell, stories sell' - try and paint a picture of yourself :)

Megan: I find I don't have any skills that I want to put down. I've looked into volunteering and contacted one where I live but unfortunately I was too young.

Graham Allcott: I would disagree that you don't have any skills. It might be a case of thinking about how to talk about the skills you have gained from your studies or elsewhere in your life. An example might be perhaps you didn't do a lot of volunteering but were part of a sports team or through the essays you wrote or the coursework you did, you showed planning or leadership skills.

Helen - TheSite mod: Megan, it sounds like you might be the organised one in your family - I'm pretty sure you sort things out for your siblings from time to time?

Graham Allcott: Yes, that sounds like a good one too!

Megan: That's a good idea Graham and yes I am the organised one Helen ;)

Helen - TheSite mod: Haha, I knew it! Show that off. You can also talk about taking the lead in peer led activities - you don't have to mention TheSite - but you're often an initiator.

Graham Allcott: In terms of volunteering, you could think about looking for online volunteering as well as anything available face to face. Well done on being proactive looking for volunteering. A budding productivity ninja I'm sure Megan.

Megan: Could you define online volunteering? I'd love to do some online volunteering but haven't found anywhere.

Bob: Look on Megan, they have loads.

Megan: I've recently made an account on vinspired Bob, I'll take a look :)

Graham Allcott: Volunteering online can be all sorts of things. If you do a volunteering search on you can specify 'virtual volunteering'.

Helen -TheSite mod: You can also find a lovely definition in our virtual volunteering article.

Graham Allcott: Great, thanks Helen.

Megan: I guess it's just a case of searching until I find something. I want the freedom to be able to go out and buy things.

Graham Allcott: Best of luck Megan. It sounds like you've got lots to work with so keep going and you'll get something eventually :)

Megan: Thank you :)

Bob: I recently got a job but I think they must have been really desperate to employ people. I've done no training whilst others there have been to university. The people I'm working with are also really horrible to me, saying horrible things and letting me know I'm not wanted. I can't stand the job but I need the money, shall I just give up on it all now? I'll never get my dream job :(

Graham Allcott: There seems to be a lot of different things going on here and it sounds like you're experiencing a really difficult time. On a really serious note to start with, it might be worth looking into whether your company has policies around workplace harassment or bullying.

Bob: I'm nearly 18 and everyone else is much older than me.

Graham Allcott: There are usually lots of procedures in place designed to stop the kind of thing that may be happening there.

Bob: It's my supervisor saying it though.

Graham Allcott: If there is someone within the organisation who you can confide in, it might be worth asking them their opinion on the behaviour of your supervisor. If there is no one you can turn to within the organisation, perhaps sit down with a family member or a trusted friend.

Bob: I don't really have family and my friends don't live in my city.

Graham Allcott: I'm sorry to hear you don't have friends or family nearby. Maybe even chatting on the phone to them could help?

In terms of your other question about needing money, remember it is easier to find another job while you have a job. This might mean doing the minimum to get by in your current job while you research and job hunt and try to get other interviews elsewhere. Do you feel that you are lacking the introduction training for the job, or more lacking the qualifications as you are a bit younger?

Bob: I get income support because I live independently and I'm at college. The course I'm studying will help with the job though.

Graham Allcott: I see. Is it possible for you to get any more training from your workplace as well as your college course?

Bob: They haven't offered me any and I'm not sure I have time to do it unless they do it during working hours.

Graham Allcott: As difficult as it can sound, life is too short to do a job where you are really unhappy for a long period of time. I think there is a decision there about whether you try and make changes within the job or stick it out for a little while longer, as you apply for other jobs.

Helen  - TheSite mod: Even when training isn't offered straight up it's worth asking about and finding out what others in the job have.

Graham Allcott: I hope that gives you some things to think about Bob.

Bob: Thanks.

Graham Allcott: Thanks for all your questions tonight, it's been really interesting. Good to meet you all!

wavy: Thanks Graham. I just sat in and watched but it was a very interesting chat.

Helen - TheSite mod: Thanks for your questions guys, we'll hopefully have other chats like this in the future. In the meantime, remember you can always askTheSite - we have a work and study section that can answer lots of questions on a range of topics too.

sam: Thanks Graham it was a pleasure :)

Graham Allcott: Bye everyone :)

Graham is a social entrepreneur and as well as a background in a number of charity projects, he's the founder and director of Think Productive, the UK's leading productivity workshops company.  Think Productive offers a contemporary take on time management training, tailored specifically for the stressed and information-overloaded world we now live in.  Their famous email training workshops help people to get their inbox to zero inside of three hours and they also provide training on running effective meetings.  Graham's book, "How to be a Productivity Ninja" is out now.


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