If I knew then what I know now

When I left uni (in 2011) I had no grad scheme lined up. I’d like to say that despite much time spent slaving over carefully selected grad scheme applications, I unfortunately never made it past the final round. Or that I’d decided I would want to take a break after uni, give myself some time to work out what I really wanted to do before throwing myself into applications. Regrettably neither of those statements are true. I didn’t have a grad scheme lined up when I came out of uni, principally, because I hadn’t applied for one.

Laziness? You’d be fair to assume as much. But no, I don’t think that’s what it was. At the time I was handling all the other usual things that any averagely busy and driven undergraduate handles - a dissertation, preparing for finals, part-time job (20 or so hours a week), a bit of sport and keeping up a relatively normal social-life - I don’t think I was the kind of person too lazy to send out applications.

The reason I didn’t apply for any grad schemes was because I ‘knew I wasn’t one of those grads that would be good enough to get a place on a grad scheme’. I’d seen the kind of grads that had managed to get job offers before graduation, and I certainly wasn’t in the same league. There’s no way I’d be up to the sort of jobs that ‘those sort of people’ would be doing after leaving university.

- None of that was in a self-pitying kind of way, I should add. I didn’t resent it; I didn’t mind at all. In fact, I’m not even sure I consciously thought about my reasons for not making any. I just knew those were the facts and didn’t try to prove otherwise.

There are two crippling character traits exposed in the above (- they may well be linked, but that certainly doesn’t make the second one a good enough excuse for the first!):

1) I was inclined to avoid attempting things I suspected I wasn’t going to be any good at;

2) I had an undeniably low belief in my own abilities.

(Trait 1 is inexcusable by the way. I’ll focus on Trait 2 for now and save my thoughts on the first one for another time but, in short, just shake it off. Being brave enough to fail and being comfortable with making mistakes is critical for any grad that wants to be successful in his/her career, no matter what route they would like to go down.)

Over the past five years I’ve largely left that second characteristic behind - but I’d really like to see other undergrads with a similar disposition do the same.

What I know now, and what I didn’t know then, was that I’d probably have been fine at all the things that those grad schemes were asking of their applicants, I’d probably have been just as good as anyone else in fact. What I know now, is that my problem wasn’t that I ‘wasn’t one of ‘those grads’ that would be ‘good enough’ to get a place on a graduate scheme’, my problem was that I didn’t believe I was one of them.

So the problem was actually a lot smaller than assumed - there weren’t in fact a whole 12 things that I was weak at (or however many requirements they throw on a job description!). There was just one thing - I was weak at believing in my own abilities.

You’ll have heard the quotes around women supposedly only applying for a job that they can meet 100% of the requirements for, compared with men being happy to apply at 60%, but I don’t think this topic is about gender. What I’m talking about here I’ve actually seen just as much in male candidates as I have in female candidates.

I’m pleased to say that I’ve seen it. I’m pleased because it means that there are grads lacking self-belief, but they have at least enough of it to make an application, to make it through the initial assessment rounds that lead to the first time we get to meet them in person, at the assessment centre.

But sometimes I wonder how many great grads we’re missing out on, purely because they don’t have the courage to send us their applications in the first place.

We’re not going to turn away a graduate who’s brilliant at everything other than believing they’re brilliant at it. Of course we’ll need to put time into helping that graduate, coaching them out of that mind-set, but I think being under-confident yet capable, is much less of a problem than being over-confident yet incapable. One weakness is a lot easier to work with than 12.

My advice to undergrads hesitant to apply for grad schemes that appear better than them, is to really consciously think about the reasons why they’re avoiding making that application. Break it down. Talk to someone who’ll be honest with you about which of the requirements you’ve actually got and which you actually haven’t. Work on them. Or work on it.

Remember, you’ve got nothing to lose - and make those applications!