Published: 01 February 2017

Last week has been a bit of a trip down memory lane for me. 
 
The launch of T2 (Trainspotting 2) with all the media reminding us that the original Trainspotting was out 21 years ago – yes, 21 years ago! 
 
This was the same time that the Soviets were launching the world’s biggest space station Mir, just three weeks after the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster. 
 
On this same day last week I also spent a morning at a local school in Ashford, Kent doing mock interviews with sixth form students, along with 25 other local business people, helping prepare students for university and job interviews for the future.     
 
Norton Knacthbull School, according to their website, is a “popular and highly regarded selective school for boys (and 6th form girls) combining traditional values with a vibrant learning environment”. “Traditional” was certainly right - it stirred memories as it was just how I remember my school – freezing school hall, peeling paint, bells ringing, hard seats and small wooden desks and rows of curling black and white team photos in the corridor.  One of my associates mumbled something about Hogwarts – but Hogwarts was much more 17th century rather than 1970’s.

I regularly interview university graduates and interns for technology and creative roles at Sagittarius – bright, well qualified people expecting to walk into well paid, high level roles without conducting any research or preparing well formulated answers to standard interview questions (not you Evan Waters – our current and very useful intern).
 
I regularly wonder why no one at the universities is coaching the graduates and setting their expectations for their entry into the commercial world – but the students at Norton Knatchbull were a real breath of fresh air and gave me hope for the future. They had obviously been well prepped and coached to make eye contact, give firm handshakes, dress smartly and introduce themselves before they sat down. Which in itself is impressive for 15 and 16 year olds. 
 
They came clutching CV’s and application forms they had prepared in advance – which I guess you could put down to efficient and proactive teachers. They came in on time and were all really engaged with the experience and process – all of which sets them above and beyond many of the grads I interview...
 
I “interviewed“ five students, including a future Concert Pianist, Lawyer, Mechanical Engineer, Google Web Developer and a young man who wasn’t 100% sure but felt his future probably lay in Economics in the City. 
 
All of them had a plan or a strategy, they all knew that hard work was needed, they were all well researched, and they all knew what they were good at, particularly the Concert Pianist who was particularly single-minded in his drive and ambition.  
 
Undoubtedly they were top performers and achievers of their peer group, just the sort of driven individuals you want to be able to choose from when you are recruiting. 
 
But as employees and recruiters what do we need to be doing to secure this kind of talent? What do we need to do secure, engage and retain this type of talent in our business?? 
 
Obviously we need to be offering a truly exceptional environment for people to work in, both physically and emotionally, supportive, creative, and collaborative, somewhere where people know their opinion matters and their future is important to the company. Somewhere where they can grow, learn and express themselves.  
 
I believe we are well on the road to this at Sagittarius. The company has invested time, effort and money in our Employee Engagement Programme over the last three years and it is really paying off now. But is a long-term commitment and it is cost worth it.   
 
So despite the morning at the school being cold and full of coffee out of polystyrene cups, and not having any immediate pay offs for Sagittarius, it was an invaluable experience for both me and the agency.
 
Understanding more about why we invest so heavily in engagement, and the message of not judging a book by its cover was reinforced, the school was old fashioned but the morning proved that the teachers were progressive in providing this valuable experience for their exceptional students.
 
And for the students? I hope they took some of my advice away with then for their interviews for universities and in the long-term future, for jobs.
 
I hope they remember to ask their potential employers “What‘s in it for me”? What will you offer me to secure my talent? What investment are you going to make in my career when I join your team, why should I come and work for you?", as well as being prepared to demonstrate their own potential and commitment to an employer and passion for what they bring. 
 
Interviews are a two-way conversation, a cliché I know but important to remember if you want the best and are the best.
 
And Mr “ I want to work at Google”. .. if you find you want to start out closer to home (i.e. in Kent) let me know. 

Claire Battle

Claire Battle

(Joint) Head of Talent

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