If you really want to understand someone, walk a mile in their shoes

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned is the importance of seeing things from the other person’s perspective.  I learned it on my first assignment in my first graduate job, when four weeks out of University I found myself managing a project, working on the client site, sitting next to my customer every day.  Pretty daunting.

I had to understand what their key issues were very quickly: they were paying for my time by the hour and understandably, they wanted to see results.  The approach I developed still serves me well now, 22 years later.  So how does this apply to you?  Can putting yourself in the other person’s shoes help you get a graduate job….?

I think there are two simple but powerful things that you can do to improve the way you engage with potential employers.

First, think about whose shoes you need to wear.  Who really influences whether you get that job or not?  Is it the graduate recruitment team who are reading your initial application?  The HR manager who does the first telephone interview?  A recruitment consultant, who you hope will put your cv forward for the job you want?  Or the Senior Partner, who has the final say after they interview you at the assessment center?

It is probably all four, and perhaps some others too, but the key for me is: when you are interacting with them, can you understand what is driving them, and what you can do to press their hot buttons?  What keeps them awake at night, and what can you do to show them that putting your application through to next stage / giving you a thumbs up after the telephone interview / sending your cv to their client / hiring you into their business unit will help them sleep easy?

As an example, when I was a graduate recruiter, I was driven by five things:

  1. Cost.  I did not have an infinite recruitment budget.  I could not visit every course at every university to find students.  So what could a candidate do to make it easy for me to find them?
  2. Return on investment.  Recruitment costs, salary, training costs etc. all add up.  But you will be working for a business which wants to claw back that investment, and more, because that is called profit.  How long would it take you to generate a return on investment if I hire you?
  3. Risk.  I worried about hiring the wrong candidate almost as much as I worried about missing a good one.  Is a company’s recruitment process about selecting in, or screening out?  How would you show me you were the good candidate?
  4. Potential.  I was not recruiting based only on what you could do for the company on day 1, I was also looking at how much you could develop given time and experience.  So how could you show me what your potential might be in 5 years time?
  5. The long game.  I wanted the candidate to be right for our company, and I wanted our company to be right for them.  Neither side wins if you leave after 6 months.  The selection process tells me if you are right for the company.  But how do I know that you have really decided that the company is right for you?

I worked in graduate recruitment for four years.  I don’t know how many students I met in that time – 5,000?  10,000?  I did see students who had answers for all these questions, but they were few and far between.  But they were the ones that got hired.

What would you have done to make my decision to hire you straightforward?

Finally, I mentioned that there were two powerful things you can do when you are standing in the other person’s shoes.  The second one relates to that staple diet of most Assessment Centers: the group exercise.  Ahhhh, you know you love them.  My next blog will talk about some of the great (and not so great…) behaviour I saw on those exercises.  Get your boxing gloves ready.

Gary Argent

Director of the Career and Skills Development Service at City University London

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