A guide to school leaver programmes

School leaver programmesAre you considering a school leaver programme? Check out this advice round-up from The Guardian’s recent live chat.
What three things are recruiters looking for in school leavers?

Tom Laws, young person’s adviser for the National Careers Service: “What recruiters are looking for can vary between roles, but all employers are after people who: 1) Take an interest in the job, 2) Are able to work independently and within a team, and 3) Are aware of their skills, and how they can help with the role.”

Andrew Shanahan, from Not Going to Uni: “1) Evidence that they’re trustworthy, 2) A sense that they can be trained and take instruction, and 3) Communication skills that allow them to play nicely with others.”

Liz Noble, student recruitment officer at EY: “1) Enthusiasm and interest in the industry they are going into, 2) A desire to learn, and 3) What makes you an individual – what do you like to do in school and, outside of that, shows your commitment and passion for different interests?”

What qualifications do school leavers need?

Rachel Bushby, leader of the A-level and apprenticeship programmes at Tesco: “It’s worth checking with the company you’re interested in applying for because the requirements tend to vary by employer. For example, at Tesco we look for 240 Ucas points (including GCSE maths and English, at grade C or above) or equivalent. You’ll find that companies will have careers sites which can give you lots of helpful information.”

Liz Noble: “It will vary by programme. It’s worth doing your research, so for EY we look for: GCSE or equivalents – Bs in maths and English as a minimum; A-levels or equivalents – predicted 300 Ucas points as a minimum. In terms of subjects – we accept students who have studied any subjects.”

What opportunities do school-leaver programmes offer?

Dominic Wyld, head of early careers for Guardian Jobs: “The confidence and professionalism that school-leaver programmes and apprenticeship schemes give the people doing them is a huge advantage in terms of their future careers.”

Rachel Bushby: “School-leaver programmes offer lots of opportunities. It’s a real job with real responsibilities, and you have the freedom to drive your career and progression, but you’ll also get great support to reach your potential. You get structured training and development opportunities. All our colleagues on school-leaver programmes get mentors and buddies to support them on their journey. You’ve got the opportunity to learn, get valuable work experience and get a competitive salary at the same time.”

Liz Noble: “I would say the positives to these programmes are no student debt, and structured training programmes and professional qualifications. Employers value work experience so much and doing a programme like this gives this to students, which is invaluable for their training programme but also for their future careers. Finally, if students know it is the career route they want to pursue, school-leaver programmes are often a faster route to qualify and progress in their chosen field.”

How can students persuade parents that school-leaver programmes are a valuable option?

Andrew Shanahan: “I think a large part of these discussions is about having them in the most mature and professional setting possible. In that way your parents can see that this isn’t just a fad, it’s something that has been considered with care. This might sound crazy but I think there’s a case for a PowerPoint presentation that takes them through the pros and cons. Then invite them to a meeting where you can present your ideas and get their feedback. If your parents’ buy-in is important, then I think going that extra distance can be a useful way of demonstrating that you are mature enough for them to respect, and support, your decision.”

What can 16-year-old school leavers do to make their applications and CVs competitive against older applicants?

Tom Laws: “In applications, tailoring a document is the key aspect. Many people send the same CV and application no matter what position they are applying for. For example, if you had experience working in a shop part-time while you were at school, you would have gained a lot of different skills. These skills could be adapted to a variety of different roles, but need to be narrowed down to make them more relevant. If you are applying for a role in a care home, for example, focusing on face-to-face skills would be best, as it’s likely that’s what the employers would be more interested in.”

Rachel Bushby: “To make your application stand out, make it relevant – what really stands out is candidates who have done their research. There’s loads of information available, and lots of opportunities to find out more via company websites and social media. A cover letter is always a good way of helping an employer get to know you better, and an opportunity for you to really get across why you want to work for the company and sector. Be creative and don’t be afraid to be a bit different. I’ve seen some really great applications that have thrown the rule book out the window.”

Andrew Shanahan: “Tailoring your qualifications and experiences to the post in question is important, but so is emphasising how your youth is a positive thing, as opposed to your competitors’ age. Where an older applicant may have extra experience and maturity, you can highlight that you’re young and enthusiastic. You are fresh from learning the latest, cutting-edge techniques, and your competitors are possibly several years away from that. It also depends on what industry you’re looking to get into, but never discount that all employers will want new employees that they can shape for themselves – that’s definitely something you can offer them.”

Liz Noble: “Do your research and find out what you can about the company and the sector. If you can, go to open evenings or insight events to find out more and put this on your application. Take a look at the news and see if anything comes up about the company or sector and try and keep up to date – you could talk about this at interview which will be really positive. Find out some of the work that the company has been doing recently. This will help you to understand why you are suited to it and show your interest. Look up some information about the company’s competitors too to show that you understand the market.”

What advice would the panel give to students about the recruitment process, particularly interviews?

Dominic Wyld: “Research. There are some great careers sites out there offering interview advice, live Q&As, CV writing tips, and the principles are the same for everyone. Other than that, a lot of companies have their own social media pages where potential candidates can liaise directly with recruiters and current employees.”

Liz Noble: “Employers’ websites will often include details about each of the steps in the recruitment process. You can always ask the employer what the process will involve and ask for any tips they can give you. In terms of interviews, think of specific examples of experiences, activites, projects or teams that you have been a part of that demonstrate the skills and strengths that you have, so that you can talk about these easily. It’s important to share examples to back up your skills for every question. Use the Star technique to answer questions, remember that the interviewers want details. Above all, remember it’s your hard work that’s got you to the interview – sell yourself, and remember you deserve to be there. The employer does really want to see the best from you.”

Tom Laws: “Practice and research is certainly the key. Just as important as knowing the role, is knowing yourself as well. No one knows what you are good at better than yourself, be it your interests or skills, so an interview is an opportunity to show how much you have to give. Leave your modesty at the door, and don’t give them a reason to pass you up.”

Can school-leaver programmes give students scope to explore a variety of career areas within one firm?

Liz Noble: “This will vary per programme, trainees will need to complete their training programme – but this will often involve the opportunity to experience different departments or projects as part of it. Once the training is completed the options really do open up to move around and explore different career opportunities within the firm.”

Rachel Bushby: “We really encourage colleagues to get experience in different areas of the business. My advice is to be curious about the company you’re in, and be brave. If a great opportunity comes up in a different area that you’re interested in, go for it.”

Tom Laws: “It can come down to the way you push yourself within the company. If you want to experience different aspects of the role, no matter what form of education or employment you are in, just ask.”

Thanks to The Guardian for allowing icould.com to republish this article. You can view the original version on the Guardian website.