Questions racing around the minds of school leavers

Two years ago, I set up Class Careers with the aim of eliminating inequality in careers education in the UK. Since then, as is the general life of an entrepreneur and for the most part, being a one-man team, it’s been a whirlwind of a journey... believe me! I have worked with a number of large organisations including: M&S, Sky, Pinsent Masons and more recently, PwC and Lloyds Banking Group, have delivered into a significant number of schools and spoken to even more school leavers.

And with school leavers, inevitably brings questions. By nature, young people are inquisitive - always questioning, and wanting to find out more. And yet - as I’m sure many of my readers have experienced - when you go into a school to talk about your company, despite how fantastic and engaging your presentation is, when you close and ask, ‘does anyone have any questions?’, the floor goes quiet. A tumbleweed slowly drifts past as members of the once engaged audience tries not to make eye contact with you. It happens. That’s what kids do.

But! if you take away the crowd and the sheer number of peers just waiting for you to make a mistake, or ask a question (most of the time, that stupid question is what they want to ask themselves, but daren’t!), the questions flow in abundance.

So, how do we do it?
By removing the traditional ‘assembly’ scenario and giving students the opportunity to interact with employers on a one-to-one basis, we are able to understand - and answer - the questions that they have. Recently, with one client, around 110 students asked over 750 questions about their company, school leaver schemes and opportunities on offer.

I’ve delivered the Class Careers model into a lot of schools across the country, and I’m still constantly fascinated by the questions that are racing through the minds of school leavers. A while ago, I presented this topic at the AGR School Leaver Forum and at the AGR Student Recruitment Conference and received some great feedback, so I thought it was about time that I shared this information amongst my wider network in a post.

Generally speaking, the questions asked by school leavers can be split into three main categories, of which I'm going to talk more about below:

  1. The Person
  2. The Programme
  3. The Process and Privileges


The Process and Privileges
I’m starting here, in an almost backwards order, because this category contains the single most asked question amongst school leavers - and I’m sure you can guess what it is! Yes, that’s right… before they even know what the job entails, they will most certainly ask ‘How much will I get paid?’ Perhaps they are trying to understand this against what their parents earn, what their siblings or older friends or relatives earn, or what they could buy with that amount of money - whichever it is, it’s a hook for them.

Before I talk more about this, I want to jump back a step and talk about my first point:

The Person
For me, I feel this is the most interesting category of questions as it allows us to identify the kind of support young people need when it comes to the recruitment process. In summary, these questions ask ‘Am I good enough for you?’.

"I don't know what I want to do, can you help me?"

At this age - sixteen and seventeen - students inevitably lack confidence in the recruitment process, as it’s something that they haven’t experienced before. They don’t know what recruiters are looking for, and ask questions that suggest they need guidance and lots of support to make informed choices. For example:

  • I'm studying these subjects, do you think a career with you is right for me?
  • If I study this subject, will you hire me?
  • I'm getting these grades, are they good enough for me to work with you?

It is at this stage that young people need the most support. They want to be able to trust you not only as a recruiter for the company that they might end up working for, but as a person. It’s important to be as honest and as down to earth as possible, so they don’t feel like they are being tricked into something that isn’t right for them.

The Programme
Once we have reached a stage where the young person feels supported enough in the conversation, they’ll become more inquisitive. They’ll start to ask questions about the company and about the programme:

  • How many people work in your company?
  • What will my role be?
  • What will I do on a day-to-day basis?
  • Will I have to do exams?

They want to know the details. And I mean, the nitty-gritty details. Again, this is an opportunity for you to tell them the truth about the programme - the good, the bad and the ugly. Some young people don’t understand how working life works, so let them know that standard hours are 9-5, and in some cases they’ll have to work overtime. Be honest, so they know what to expect when they get into post.

The Process and Privileges
Once they’ve determined that they quite like the sound of the role and the company, and they are confident enough to do the job, they’ll start to ask about the privileges and the recruitment process itself. Again, when talking to young people about the privileges of a role or company, be honest. I’ve worked with a number of companies who are reluctant to disclose actual figures when talking about salaries - which becomes a problem for young people as they feel like you’re hiding something. They want to know what the salary is and what that breaks down to on a monthly or weekly basis. So, just tell them! You can read more on this in a previous post, found here.

"I don't have any work experience, what else should I talk about in my application and interview?"

They will also be very keen to learn about the recruitment process. For many young people, it will be the first time they have experienced the rigorous screening process that recruiters take to ensure they’re getting the right candidate for the job - and it can be daunting. You’ll see questions like:

  •  What's the interview like?
  • What tips can you give me for the interview?
  • Will I have to do a test to get a job?

Again, honesty is key here. Make sure you’re giving them the right information, but offering it in a supportive way so that they don’t feel like they’ll be out of their depth throughout the process. Be sure to tease out of them the skills that they have and show them how even the smallest experience - volunteering or leading a project at school - can be something that they can use to showcase their talents throughout the process.

“I’m based in Leeds, could I come work in London?

This is an interesting question that brings up a topic that is often overlooked when working with apprentices - relocation. Yes! Students are willing to relocate for apprentice jobs. As recruiters, we make massive assumptions when it comes to this - when really, we shouldn’t! Hundreds of thousands of teenagers pack up their lives and move across the country to go to university (granted, many do stay at home), but why are we assuming that those who didn’t choose to go to university, won’t do the same? It’s definitely something that more and more schools are bringing to our attention, so I think it’s time that employers start to openly advertise that they can offer support to young people who are willing to relocate!

Bringing it all together
Since the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy late last year, we have seen very big companies turn their attention towards school and college leaver recruitment, and with this, we have to understand that graduates and school leavers are a very different group of talent and that we should have a very different approach to recruiting them.