Feeling ‘forgotten’? Seven steps to reclaim control of your future

From turning rejection into opportunity to identifying strengths and matching these up with a suitable role or industry, there are lots of things students and graduates can do to lessen any sense of feeling ‘forgotten’ by their university during Covid-19, says Results Strategist, Cel Amade

This past year has been tough, and the graduating classes of 2020 and 2021 may not have had the same opportunities as preceding classes to gain additional skills before graduation day. In the blink of an eye everything changed. Internships, job offers, and graduation plans went out the window. These cancellations and postponements left many graduates around the world feeling overwhelmed and, in many ways, forgotten by their university.

University is a great platform to explore and strengthen our natural talents and strengths safely. The reality is – exploring one’s strengths in order to do what we love post-graduation is not an obvious choice, but it’s a crucial one if you are after personal and career fulfilment and not just ‘any job’.

When students and graduates find themselves feeling abandoned, forgotten, or let down, they often find it harder to believe that they have what it takes to achieve their graduate goals. On that note, here are seven steps that I would recommend to any students and graduates looking to combat the idea of feeling forgotten by their university and to shift their focus to ideas they can actually execute. Ideas that are within any student or graduate’s control and that can help them design their own world after graduation.

1. Forgive yourself for past mistakes, shame, blame, guilt, regret or anger

We all have our fair share of shame, blame, guilt, regret or anger. Whether it is the shame of thinking you’re not employable after graduation. The blame for getting your internship or job offer cancelled. The guilt of what you could have done while you were too immersed in your studies, busy procrastinating or the pain of regret that comes with all of the above… Even though we cannot change our past, the most valuable thing students and graduates can do for themselves is to forgive their past and understand where they are now in relation to where they want to be.

2. See rejection as an opportunity

Too often, recent graduates use someone else’s definition of success before coming to the realisation that they have been rejected for roles that had nothing to do with their strengths. And from that perspective, rejection might not feel so painful after all.

Rejection can provide graduates with the opportunity to choose a role that is more in line with their natural talents and strengths. Rejection can provide more clarity. More clarity often equates to greater confidence in knowing what value a graduate is bringing to the table. And this increased confidence lessens the idea of feeling forgotten. Rejection might even make graduates realise that they have paid little attention to what they really ‘want’. Perhaps, for example, they have been applying to big companies all along just so that they could tell themselves and others that they work for ‘a big company’.

3. Identify your strengths

When we use our natural talents and strengths, we tend to feel more engaged and productive. We feel happier and energised. We get that buzz that comes with doing what we enjoy and we feel like we are being our ‘true self’. We are not pretending to be someone we are not. A great way to identify our strengths is to think back to some of our biggest achievements and try to identify which strengths were used to achieve those great outcomes.

4. Ask for feedback

If you are having trouble identifying your strengths, ask for feedback. It would be premature to conclude you have no strengths or natural talents. Everyone is good at something… Reach out to friends, peers, university staff and colleagues that know you well and ask them to help you answer these three questions.

  • When you need to ask for my help, what do you generally come to me, versus anybody else, for help with?
  • What do you see as my biggest strength?
  • What do you think makes me unique?

Any common themes in their responses – and that also feel right – would be a good indication of what your strengths are. Their responses will also be a reminder that your university connections have not forgotten you.

5. Exercise your strengths

The largest room in the world, is the room for improvement. Being aware of our strengths is life changing, but it’s only truly transformational when we choose to use our strengths. Once you have figured your strengths out, look for opportunities to apply those strengths. What resources does the university have? Are there any volunteering projects or partnership opportunities with student societies that would enable you to exercise your strengths?

Actively participating in leadership activities or creating new opportunities to reconnect with the university as you exercise your strengths can help combat this idea of feeling forgotten or abandoned by the university. There is boldness, genius, magic and power in recognising your strengths, using your strengths and taking strategic action towards your desired result!

6. Follow the rule of five

Match your strengths to a job type, field, or industry you would enjoy working in and get laser-focused to achieve your goal, by following the rule of five. Commit to do five (big or small) tasks every single day that bring you closer to your definition of a successful graduate life or your desired result. These five tasks could be as simple as sending five LinkedIn messages to professionals who are currently working in your dream role and which might allow you to gain insights of what their role entails on daily basis.

7. Define success in your own terms

What does a ‘successful’ graduate life look like for you? What industry or field do you wish to work in? What impact do you wish to have in the world of business and management? How do you wish to be remembered? Do you belief you can achieve it? Being able to define your own meaning of success clearly will add a sense of purpose to your life and get you one step closer to achieving it.

Cel Amade is a Results Strategist who delivers workshops and keynotes to facilitate, guide and inspire university students and graduates. Her educational YouTube content has amassed more than 433,000 views in the past year. She is committed to helping students make a smoother transition from university to graduate life and feel empowered to design their own world.

 

Are professional networking sites hazardous to job searches?

The importance of understanding how to use LinkedIn and other professional networking sites, and the risks of overuse, highlighted in research from Emlyon Business School’s Nikos Bozionelos

Professional networking sites, such as LinkedIn, have long been hailed as one of the best ways to connect with others in a professional capacity; through online networking with those in the same industry, its online CV platform and its easy-to-use job searching and application features. It’s safe to say the platforms’ main purpose is to connect people for new professional opportunities, and this is exactly what it does. 

In fact, according to LinkedIn, 100 million job applications are submitted through its platform every single month – which makes it seem like the ideal place to seek new job opportunities. This is certainly the case, but only if the platform is used correctly and wisely.

Common beliefs challenged 

In a study conducted at Emlyon Business School, we looked into the effective use of LinkedIn as a job searching platform to determine whether there was any best practice for finding a new role. A key finding was that jobseekers who excessively use professional networking sites (PNS) such as LinkedIn, to search for jobs are less likely to find a job via that route. 

Two common beliefs seem to be that the amount of time you dedicate to looking for job opportunities via PNS is of equal importance to other factors, such as qualifications and experience, and that the more applications you launch, the better your chances of finding a job. These beliefs were challenged by the findings of the aforementioned study, which surveyed 104  employed individuals in France at the end of 2019. The respondents represented all age categories, with a third aged 45 years old and above, for example, and were relatively balanced in terms of gender, with 41% women and 59% men. 

Respondents completed questionnaires that covered: frequency of use of PNS (all of them were using LinkedIn); intensity of interaction when using the platform (i.e. the degree to which they connected with other individuals and organisations); the number of job applications they launched; their desire to change jobs; and the number of job offers they had received. They were also asked for their main reasons for using PNS, and the impact they believe it has had on their careers. This data was supplemented with questionnaire responses from 28 people who were involved in recruitment, and four interviews with hiring managers and HR professionals with more than 85 years of working experience between them, to gain a recruiter’s perspective. 

A cautionary note for candidates in frequency and intensity of use

The results found that 70% of the employed individuals perceived that PNS had increased their opportunities for a career change, including finding a new job and changing their occupation. Indeed, 44% of respondents indicated they had found their current job through PNS. 

There was also a very clear pattern between the length of time they have been using PNS for and the desire to find a new job. The less time people were using PNS for, the greater their desire to find a new job. However, the vast majority of participants did not think that use of PNS increased their desire to change jobs. Therefore, our data suggests that it is the desire to find a new job that may entice people to start using PNS rather than the other way around. 

Yet, arguably the most arresting findings were how frequency of PNS use, intensity of use, amount of job applications launched, and the number of job offers received were related to each other. The relationship between frequency of use and receipt of job offers resembled a U-shape. People who used PNS either very infrequently or frequently had the highest chances of reporting receiving a job offer. Those with intermediate levels of frequency of use were the least likely to report receiving a job offer. 

The pattern with respect to intensity of use – defined as the amount of effort expended to contact others and launch job enquiries – was the reverse. Results here approximated an inverted U-shape, with the chances of receiving a job offer increasing until a point at which the chances then drop dramatically. An increasing intensity of job search via PNS was therefore beneficial to finding a job until a certain point, but too much effort was detrimental to the receipt of job offers. Finally, the amount of job applications launched was negatively related to job offers, the more applications launched the less the chance of them leading to the receipt of a job offer.  

Taken together, these findings suggest that a high number of job applications and a high number of attempts to contact others on PNS do not, in themselves, bring the best outcome. In fact, if viewed in terms of utility (a useful scientific index of benefits divided by effort expenditure) the outcome is close to the worst possible. The most plausible explanation is that PNS users who initiate many contacts and launch job applications with high frequency through PNS may lack selectivity. They may, for example, take all responses as ‘invitations’ to apply and launch job applications regardless of whether the positions fit their skillset, background or experience. 

Launching a great many job applications is also likely to lead to applications not being thoroughly put together. Such applications can often lack sufficient detail, or a persuasive cover letter, which fail to impress recruiters. As a consequence, there is less chance of identifying those jobs that suit them best and they have less time to prepare their application adequately and maximise their chances of success.

Indirect importance of a strong profile

The responses of recruiters and HR professionals were in line with the findings from the main survey. Eight out of 10 recruiters felt that PNS are most useful for expanding one’s professional network and becoming aware of opportunities rather than for directly applying for jobs. Their responses also pointed out the importance of PNS for indirect success in the job market – seven out of 10 noted that they look at applicants’ PNS profile, regardless of the route via which he/she applied for the job. 

It seems that the best approach to using a PNS, such as LinkedIn, to search for jobs is to view the social media platform as a way to network with as many relevant people as possible. Putting a name to a face and having general conversations can increase a person’s chances of being informed about, or applying for, a job that fits their skills, experience and desires. This is more effective than just applying for any job that is loosely related to their desires. 

PNS may also be more beneficial when used as a piece of personal branding, self-promotion and an impression management tool – making it easier for recruiters to see a candidate’s skillset and knowledge and making them more accessible to these same recruiters. 

In the circumstances created by the Covid-19 pandemic (or other crises of a similar nature), people should ‘keep their nerve’ and hold on to the above approach. The pandemic is far from being over in the ‘western’ world, and firms will continue to be cautious while trying to maximise resource efficiency – hence, they are less likely to hire. When they do hire, they will be very selective to attract, and get, exactly the right person (and they will have the luxury of a larger-than-usual pool of well-qualified candidates). 

An approach that allows PNS users to launch well-thought and well-prepared applications for the jobs into which they fit most will therefore maximise the chances of success in a difficult market. Enhancing one’s personal branding through a PNS profile – at which firms look at – will further enhance the chances of success in a job application. 

Nikos Bozionelos is Professor of International HR Management at Emlyon Business School. His research focuses on careers and career management, employability, individual differences in the workplace, high-performance work systems, and cross-cultural issues in management.

This article originally appeared in Ambition – the magazine of the Association of MBAs (AMBA).

Strategy is not just for organisations

People need to plot their course for the future as much as firms, and using the same processes deployed by organisations can help develop your career strategy, says Saïd Business School’s Kathryn Bishop

Sarah works in the head office of a UK retailer, and has been frantically busy over the last few months, as her employers have moved their business online. They’ve made rapid changes, opening up new distribution and delivery methods and investing heavily in web design and data collection.  This was all new to them – and to Sarah, too. She has had to learn fast to oversee these new developments, and work closely with people in partner organisations whom she has never met and whose work she doesn’t really understand. It’s been a demanding year, and it doesn’t look as if things will ever go ‘back to normal’, or return to the way they were.

As we come out of the pandemic, Sarah is wondering what to do next – and so are her employers.

She has proved to herself that she can adapt and pick up something new quickly – and this could help her to make a transition into completely different role. Could this be the right time for her to pursue her interest in film, maybe by working for a media distribution or streaming business?  Or should she stay where she is? After all, online retail is here to stay and there will be plenty of new developments in the months ahead. 

Sarah needs to plot her course, decide whether to make a move and to time it to best advantage. And that’s precisely what organisations will need to do, as consumer behaviour continues to change.

Defining new strategies

Strategy teams inside organisations are gearing up for the work ahead, researching new market trends and devising possible new operating models. They are also thinking about the right time to implement these plans.

So, as they sharpen their pencils and get to work, there are parallel questions for each of us: what are you going to do next? Where do you want to work in the next few years? Is this the right time to change employers or even to move into self-employment? And if you are forced into making some changes because of post-pandemic pressures, how will you decide what to do?

Applying strategy ideas to yourself

This is the what, when and how of strategy: what to offer the market, and when – and how best to make these changes. There’s a why, too: has the organisation’s purpose, its reason for being, changed in this new context? All those questions apply to Sarah, and to all of us, as we try to manage our working lives for the next few turbulent years.

‘Strategy’ is a word with multiple definitions but here’s one: ‘a set of guiding principles which when communicated and adopted in the organisation generates a desired pattern of decision making.’ Having our own set of guiding principles will make the next few years easier to navigate.

Start with a focus on the present, and then look forward

For individuals, these principles come from your view of both the present and the future: where are you now, and where do we want to be?  To develop your own strategy for you, start where organisations typically start: look at your current skills and resources and see what’s working well now, and what’s not going so well.

Add to that a view of your ideal future – where do you want to be in five or 10 year’s time? – and you will have a much better basis for deciding on your next step. For example, Sarah might conclude that her aim is to be promoted into a much more senior role and that therefore she’d be better off capitalising on her current experience and networks and staying where she is.

It’s easy to ask these questions about your possible future options, but they are often hard to answer. The tried-and-tested strategy processes used by organisations can help you develop your own answers, so that you are ready to make the choices and seize the opportunities which lie ahead for all of us, as we move into our next normal.

Kathryn Bishop is an Associate Fellow at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford and Chair of the Welsh Revenue Authority. She is also the author of Make Your Own Map: Career Success Strategy for Women (Kogan Page) – written for women, but containing ideas that will work for everyone.

BGA members can benefit from a discount on Make Your Own Map, courtesy of the Book Club. Please click here for details.