How do you show your character and sell your potential if you lack experience or the right grades? It’s a conundrum faced by many young people entering the workplace. With employers demanding that job candidates are a good fit for them to avoid costly recruitment mistakes, the age-old choice of today’s delivery versus tomorrow’s needs is alive and kicking.

UK Shadow Education Secretary, Tristram Hunt, has suggested that schools need to teach character and resilience, citing increasing research evidence to support his claim. It aligns with signs of a shift from competency-based recruitment practices towards more strengths-based ones (take a look at Nestle, Barclays, Ernst & Young, Sunderland City Council and even the NHS).

How can young people prepare for this change?

STAR Struck

A common approach in education is to advise students to prepare for competency-based job interviews using the STAR approach. The rationale behind it is ‘what have you done before that gives me a clue you can do this job?’

The STAR approach involves a 4-step process to demonstrate your competence:

For me, that’s too limiting, mechanistic and focuses on an absence of failure or weakness rather than liberating talent and potential, the past rather than the future. It’s the lowest common denominator.

Yes, we need competent people in our workplaces, but surely our aspirations are higher for people and their capabilities? We need to tap into the creativity, energy, and potential of this generation if we want to achieve the much-vaunted growth business is demanding.

And that will mean employers taking more risks in recruiting people! Judging character, not just functional capability.

Ability can take you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there – Zig Ziglar

For me, values and beliefs can be the key differentiators. As Dan Pink has brilliantly articulated in his book, To Sell is Human, the art of selling ourselves in today’s world is about moving people emotionally. Remember the interview scene in the film Billy Elliot?

WISHful thinking

How can we help young people to learn to leap in a more authentic way?  Here’s an alternative that reverses the STAR approach and injects some more ‘va va voom’:

Try making a WISH at a job interview:

  • Here’s Who I am as a person and this is the difference I make to people around me – what do people say about your impact on them? A prompt for your thinking: if you could bottle it, what perfume or aftershave would you be called and why?
  • This is what’s Important to me about (e.g.) team working and why I feel strongly about it – tell a story unique to your experience, show off your ‘medals’, say what’s acceptable or unacceptable team working to you and your understanding of the employer’s team working ethos
  • This is why I’m genuinely Interested in your business and industry – identify something from your research of the company that stands out to you and makes you want to work there, explain why it excites you, how your aspirations align and what the employer will get to help their business if they employ you, the pain you can help remove or the gain you can add
  • I’d like to Show you why I can do this job AND why I’m a good bet for the future – by giving them relevant evidence of what you have done well, what talents you have begun to show and then painting a picture of how they can be turned into strengths for the benefit of the employer given the opportunity; don’t tell them you’re passionate (don’t even mention the word), show your passion through genuine conviction, tone and body language.

Taking a purely competency-based approach is becoming insufficient to stand out from the many competent people out there competing for jobs. It is increasingly taking something more compelling. The challenge is to do that in a way that is not so artificial as to be unrecognisable from the real ‘you’.  Sometimes you have to ‘fake it until you make it’ to overcome nerves and lack of confidence, but it’s a whole lot easier if you really mean it.

Invest in your self-development and live to learn.  Don’t rule yourself out by not understanding yourself well enough and failing to put it across with both head and heart.

Canadian career expert, Sarah Nelson, is a voice of experience:

“If a person isn’t passionate, that’s one thing – but if they have absolutely no interest in a job or industry, and they aren’t desperate, my thought is that they should find something that connects at least remotely to something they like or they are not only doing themselves a disservice, but also the employer who might be able to find someone else who IS interested.

If you have to decide between two seemingly equally qualified candidates – the one who appears interested trumps the one who does not

So don’t be a STAR man or woman waiting in the sky, make a WISH! Show real interest and say what you believe in to reveal insights into your character and potential, so you get employed and stay employable.