Listen to what Paul Drew, a specialist careers advisor, has to say …
I’m Paul Drew and I work at the London Business School. I’ve been doing careers work for almost 30 years now. I’ll be honest, when I came out of my A levels I had no idea what I wanted to do. So I took a couple of years that I like to call it a gap year but I didn’t know what was going to do. I had no idea if I was going to university. So I took a couple years off, did some jobs and did some travelling. It was great and I thought actually maybe I should go to university. So I did and completed a law degree and still didn’t know what to do. I knew I didn’t want to become a lawyer but I didn’t have any idea what next so I did some business stuff, which was quite interesting.
So I kind of fell into my first job. There was no plan, absolutely no plan whatsoever. It was purely luck that I became a headhunter, an executive recruiter, and I fell into that. I did it quite nicely for about 20 years. I enjoyed it and I worked for some big firms, worked for some small firms and worked for myself. The thing I liked most about recruitment and head hunting was I get to hear about people, stories and about their career. I enjoyed that so much I decided to do another master’s degree in career counselling and career management and I was at the of 43 at this point.
So I became a full time career coach and that led me in the direction of where I am now, London Business School. We work with lots of people and a lot of them have gone into their 30s and they’re a bit stuck. They’re wondering, “Do I really want to continue doing the job that I do?”
What do you say to someone who’s not sure if they want to continue doing their job?
The thing that really strikes me is that one of the really important things for going to work is to have some purpose and to have some meaning in your job. To feel like you’re contributing and you’re doing some good stuff. It’s not just about the money. Money obviously is a big part of it, but to feel like you’re challenged and also to feel the organisation you’re working for has meaning and purpose. An example of one organization I love is the NHS. The NHS has a purpose and that is to make people better and I like that. I like that in some organisations are very clear on their purpose and their mission.
I think it was president Kennedy who launched the American Space Programme back in early 1960s. He set a goal right at the beginning of his presidential term to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. He was going around the Houston Space and saw a cleaner. So he went up to the cleaner and said, “What do you do?” The cleaner answered him and said, “I’m helping to put a man on the moon”.
I don’t know if it’s a true story or not, but I like the story that everyone on that moon shot mission had a purpose. I think that’s the same with the NHS. In the NHS we would think of doctors and but the NHS is a really broad organisation. It has over a million employed in almost any role you can think of. It has HR people, finance people, IT people porters, cleaners and so on. Every function you can possibly think of is employed by the NHS.
What is one piece of career advice you can share?
My advice will apply to anyone. It doesn’t matter if you’re 16 years old and you haven’t got much work experience. Or if you’re 45 years old and you’ve got quite a lot of work experience. It will apply if you’re taking a career break so you can bring up children or whatever your situation is. This advice applies to you.
My advice is think about what motivates. Why do you want to go to work? Why do you want to work for this particular organisation? Also think about how your experience is relevant to a role that you’re applying for.
A lot of you will be finding jobs and they’ll be advertised on various places like LinkedIn. I think having a reason for doing it is really important. This is because one of the first questions you get asked in an interview is “tell me about yourself”. You need to introduce yourself and tell someone about you and about the experience that you have. And you know what? A lot of people don’t do that very well. It doesn’t matter if you’re 16 or 18, 21, or if you’re more advanced. Taking some time to think about the work that you’ve done and what the achievements were and the impact that you had in that role is really important.
We’ve all have a career narrative. What’s really important when you tell someone about yourself in an interview is backing up your story. You are doing this through your CV and your LinkedIn profile but you need to be able to tell someone about the key moments of your journey and about the most impactful moments. I like to think of this as you the golden thread. It’s the thing that runs through your story. If you can tell someone, “this is where I’ve been and this is where I am now, and this is where I want to end.” That is a good way of framing your story.
An example is that you’re 18 years old and you’ve got a little bit of work experience. Maybe working in Costa Coffee or McDonald’s. People wouldn’t think that experience holds much value. But I would say that it is quite valuable. Working in those sorts of jobs teaches you teamwork. So if you’ve been studying for your A levels or GCSEs and you can show up on time, put a shift in, working as part of a team and they’ve trusted you with some responsibilities for 6 months to two years then that shows what I would call the hard work gene. Especially if you’ve been doing it while studying. It’s very important for you to be able to communicate that to an interviewer. That the work that you’ve done can lead to creating this story about who you are and what motivates you.
There’s different reasons for enjoying work, and really think about that. Think about what were the things that you most enjoyed because in my experience try and do things that you enjoy. If you enjoyed it, you were probably quite good at it and those are the things you probably want to do more of in your career.
Are there any exercises people can do at home?
I urge you to spend some time and think about the jobs you’ve done. Take a piece of paper and write those things down that you most enjoyed. Firstly, think about a time when you were at work, or volunteering or whatever it may be, when you were firing on all cylinders. You felt really good after you came home at the end of the day. So think about the things that you enjoy doing when you have had a really good day and you feel valued. Think of what you did. The second thing would be to think of a time where you were challenged at work. “Today challenged me and I came out of it.” “I felt good about it because…” This will help you figure out the kind of work you want to do more of.
All of this can be invaluable information. Any job can teach you transferrable skills and even things in your personal life can too. For example, if you’re part of a football team or a band, that shows you can work as part of a team, show up on time and leadership.
What advice can you give to someone applying for a role they haven’t necessarily done in the past?
It’s really important to link what you’ve done in the past to where you are now and where you want to go.
Showing the linkage between them shows what we call causality. It shows a direction rather than someone who appears to be lost. So find something in your story that links to the job that you’re applying for. Every job will have transferrable skills.